12/04/2009

Ephesus, Footsteps to the Brothel

We are getting closer to the famous library and we can get a good view as its two-story fa├žade is plainly in view. A person in our the tour group looks down on the marble street and notices a foot print clearly etched in the beautiful marble. “Who would be so despicable as to deface such rare and beautiful remnant of antiquity?” she asks. Our guide gathers the group together over the footprint, smiles wryly and tells us that the foot print was carved in the paving stone to lead strangers to the brothel. Being a port city and a city known for religious visitations, Ephesus was sure to have had a fair number of visitors. Someone, my guess is the major proprietor, carved the footprints in the street to lead clients to the brothel, which was just ahead of us. Prostitution was big business in the ancient world, bringing significant income to the city. It was taxed heavily. Morally, I believe it was one of those things disdained in public but practiced by those who had the money.

Next to the brothel, the bricks of a large bath and public latrine resided. To my regret, I did not get pictures of these. The city planners placed the baths conveniently for a visit after some fun at the brothel and the latrine’s close proximity must have helped reduce accidents in the public pools. The latrine was a large bench cut out of marble with a dozen or more holes for people sit on. It was much like an outhouse, but completely out in the open. There were no walls or roof and it was communal. Yes, the Ephesians were literally rubbing knees with their fellow citizens when they used the latrine. A refinement not seen in modern outhouses was the trough of running water under the bench carrying away the waste. Our guide tells us that wooden sticks with sponges on the tips were used wipe your private parts. The group winces a bit when she adds that the wiping sponges were communal. Winces change to gags when she reveals we know this because it was written that a famous gladiator stuffed one of these sponges down his throat to commit suicide rather than fight in the arena. Hmmm.

I also find it interesting that the brothel is but a stone’s throw from the library and across the street from where many fine homes once stood. I suspect that the brothel was the true center of town.
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