Thaïs was a hetaera from Athens, companion of Alexander’s general Ptolemy, who would later become King of Egypt. She was witty and entertaining, and Alexander liked her a lot. Her claim to fame, if you want to call it that, was to have instigated Alexander to destroy the palaces of Persepolis in drunken revelry.

Thaïs appears in some works of art and literature, usually as Alexander’s, not Ptolemy’s, lover. She seems to have been especially popular in England for a while. In 1697, John Dryden wrote an ode Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music, which was put into music by Jeremiah Clarke, a score that is now lost. In 1736, Georg Friedrich Händel composed an ode Alexander’s Feast with a libretto by Newburgh Hamilton, based on Dryden’s earlier work. And in 1781, she became the heroine of one of the first English history paintings, an art that was only just developing in England at the time.

The model for Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Thaïs was sixteen year old Amy Lyon, who would later become famous as Emma, Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress.

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