Campaspe (//; Greek Καμπάσπη), or Pancaste (//), was a mistress of Alexander the Great and a prominent citizen of Larissa. She was painted by Apelles, who had the reputation in Antiquity for being the greatest of painters. The episode occasioned an apocryphal exchange that was reported in Pliny's Natural History: "Seeing the beauty of the nude portrait, Alexander saw that the artist appreciated Campaspe (and loved her) more than he. And so Alexander kept the portrait, but presented Campaspe to Apelles." The biographer Robin Lane Fox describes this bequest as "the most generous gift of any patron and one which would remain a model for patronage and painters on through the Renaissance."
Apelles also used Campaspe as a model for his most celebrated painting of Aphrodite "rising out of the sea", the iconic Venus Anadyomene, "wringing her hair, and the falling drops of water formed a transparent silver veil around her form".
No Campaspe appears in the five major sources for the life of Alexander. Fox traces her legend back to the Roman authors Pliny (Natural History), Lucian of Samosata and Aelian's Varia Historia. They would have it that Campaspe was a prominent citizen of Larissa in Thessaly; Aelian surmised that she initiated the young Alexander in love.
Cupid and my Campaspe play'd
At cards for kisses—Cupid paid:
He stakes his quiver, bow and arrows,
His mother's doves, and team of sparrows;
Loses them too; then down he throws
The coral of his lip, the rose
Growing on's cheek (but none knows how);
With these, the crystal of his brow,
And then the dimple of his chin:
All these did my Campaspe win.
At last he set her both his eyes,
She won, and Cupid blind did rise.
O Love! has she done this to thee?
What shall (alas!) become of me?
The Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca wrote his own play on the Campaspe story, Darlo todo y no dar nada (1651).
- Her Thessalian name is sometimes reported in Atticized form as Pancaste.
- John J. Popovic, "Apelles, the greatest painter of Antiquity" Source quotes from Pliny's Natural History 35.79–97.
- Fox, Alexander the Great, 1973:50.
- Peck (1898).
- "The romance of Australian place names". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 27 May 1964. p. 59. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
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