This is the story our one source tells. When she was about ten, Neaera, then a slave, was purchased by a Corinthian madam named Nikarete and raised along with several other girls to be a hetaera, or courtesan. Sixteen years later, two men purchased her and took her with them to Athens. After a few years, neither of them could afford to maintain her and offered her the chance to buy her freedom on the condition that she leave Corinth. With some help from others,* she did just that before moving to Athens with her primary benefactor, Phrynion. When he treated her badly, she packed up her household and moved to Megara, where she met Stephanos, who then moved in with her. He eventually persuaded her to take her three children and move back to Athens with him as his wife. Phrynion found out and demanded the return of his woman and his goods. The matter was settled in arbitration rather than the court and both men were given access to her, but were also required to support her.** The prosecution then goes on to talk about her daughter Phano.
In the context of the court case, the importance of this story lies in the question of Neaera’s citizenship and marital status. The case itself rested on Phano’s citizenship, parentage, and sexual behaviour. The prosecution claimed she was illegitimate, a prostitute, not Stephanos’s child, and not a citizen, and therefore could not be given in marriage. As a result, it was incredibly important for the prosecution to prove that Neaera’s claim to Athenian citizenship was false. It was only slightly less important to prove that she remained a prostitute while living with Stephanos. How much of this story and the associated claims was made up, we will probably never know.
*Interestingly enough, this makes her the only example we have of a woman receiving eranos or money raised by a group of friends to help someone meet an extraordinary expense. It was considered a charitable (read: interest-free) loan. There is some evidence that women could and did contribute to these, but there are no direct examples of this.
**Bear in mind that at this point she would have been legally free, not a slave. It was also decided that she had to return all of Phrynion’s goods except those he had bought specifically for her. This is one of the few sources we have that gives us some idea of what might have been considered in Athens to be a woman’s property as opposed to goods owned by a man for a woman’s use.