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Oct 28 2006

A jolly traipse through the whorehouse of antiquity

pompeiian_whorehouse.jpg
AP photo shows modern whorehouse aficionado re-purposing ancient porn for modern applications.

How I admire Redneck Mother. I don’t raise lettuce or kids, and I haven’t raised much hell since I was about 12, but it shows to go you how very little the blogular among us really need to have in common in order to have so much in common.

For example, every now and then ma chère Mère du cou rouge sends me a link to a news item that worms its way right up under the sensitive, fleshy part of my obstreperal lobe, where it wiggles and writhes like a mid-century Italian actress in peep-toe stilettos. Today La Redneck has done just that, with a link to a story about how archaeologists digging around in Pompeii have finally restored “the jewel of Pompeii’s libertines”, a brothel-full of pornographic frescoes.

This year-long rehab painstakingly restores to its ancient lavish glory — for the delight of tourists who enjoy raunchy murals and of lascivious Pompeiiologists alike — a prison where countless women, kidnaped from foreign lands, deprived of their humanity, were forced into sex slavery and made to service incontinent Roman jagoffs. This hellhole is euphemistically described by the Associated Press, as such things always are when writers desire to romanticize the quaint custom of slave-rape, as a “brothel.” See those scratches? That’s where the “prostitutes” and their “clients” engraved their names. See that picture above the door? That depicts the “specialty” of the kinky whore-of-yore inside. Fanciful, sweet stuff.

It will come as no great surprise to the reader that across the way from this $250K project, in the town of Herculaneum, funding for excavating the Villa of the Papyri — a library of priceless lost ancient texts including possibly unknown works by Sophocles, Aristotle, Livy– has thoroughly dried up. Despite the words of one classicist — “we owe it to the world to dig” — the Italian government says it can’t even afford to maintain the bits that have already been unearthed. Except, of course, when the bits in question are naughty.

24 comments

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  1. Mandos

    Libraries are boring and do not attract the tourists.

  2. sabele

    I’ve been to Herculaneum a few times now -and much prefer it to Pompeii, which is spoilt by the tourist thing being overdone, everything dumbed down, and yes really creepy ‘jokes’ about the brothel.

    I remember my first visit to Herculaneum when I was taken round by a local archeologist passionate about the site and his subject. I learnt a lot and still recall how strongly he felt about the failure to properly fund work and exhibits.

  3. ::Wendy::

    That’s an international tragedy. Personally Brothels are stories I’ve hear way too many times before, so seeing yet another one, no matter how old, is less interesting than discovering ideas and people represented in an ancient library, things that may have been lost and have power beyond looking at pictures of bodies and stories of cruelty….

  4. Burrow Klown

    patriarchy 1, knowledge 0

  5. Delphyne

    Classical rape rooms. Great.

  6. wabewawa

    Devil’s advocating here a bit, but ancient library history no doubt there’s galore enough of already. More insight into the history of the why of this thing that we blame might be useful from a feminist perspective. We’d be, of course, picking amongst the vastly sorrowful-to-us remnants of what the academicians dig up and then interpret from their more “objective” perspectives, but it all kind of reminds me of what I’ve been privy to in terms of Native American observers on archaeological digs. Yep, and probably very, very similar in terms of the kinds of feelings that would bring up for us, too.

  7. jnthnu

    Yeah, really. Books are boring and stuff.

    Let’s all get sexxxed up* and turn out the lights… on the “age of reason”.

    * stupid, brutal, violent, and the power-mad glorification thereof.

  8. junegloom

    I’ve encountered more than a few well-educated “liberal” men who (in a breathtakingly illogical manner) love to use the “there has always been pornography” line of b.s. to argue that the wild and woolly theatre of naked oppression is a natural, intrinsically human phenomenon. Just like Plato raping a flock of ten-year-old-boys, porn (via webcam or a la fresco) is an endemic cultural product of an enlightened civilization. No doubt these are the kinda guys funding the restoration.

  9. Burrow Klown

    I just figured it out! It’s because books are now girly, so why would we excavate a library since they’re full of girly books! If they were full of pictures or comic books, then there would be funding to get out the library.

  10. justtesting

    It’s because books are now girly, so why would we excavate a library since they’re full of girly books!

  11. justtesting

    It’s because books are now girly, so why would we excavate a library since they’re full of girly books!

    Real Men do not seek knowledge. Real Men are on a mighty never-ending quest for wank-fodder.

  12. Cass

    I see how this could theoretically serve an enlightened purpose, like the restoration of slave-pens in Virginia, or those sites of mass, state-sponsored murder among the Mayans. But I’m dreaming, of course.

    As for “the Villa of the Papyri”, maybe they could sell it as a possible treaure-trove of the lost works of Sappho.

  13. Mar Iguana

    I wish all the writings of these Greek “thinkers” had turned to dust before they could be used to justify misogyny. Especially that asshole Aristotle: “For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male.”

  14. CafeSiren

    I hope that some feminist scholar of Antiquity is right now at work on a book about prostitution in Pompeii that emphasizes how it was based on slavery and exploitation. There is far too much scholarship (and I use the word advisedly) out there that contrasts the “liberated” courtesan with the “oppressed” housewife, without daring to suggest that both are two sides of the same patriarchal coin. The situation reminds me of that “Cat and Girl” comic that Twisty posted a while ago:

    CAT: Who’s winning? Which team is the Patriarchy?

    GIRL: Both. Duh.

    Here’s an idea: why not earmark a certain percentage of the undoubtedly high tourist profits from the Pompeian whorehouse to fund the excavation and recovery of the Herculaneum texts?

    (By the way, I shudder to think of the souvenirs that are being sold there.)

  15. Sophist

    “Devil’s advocating here a bit, but ancient library history no doubt there’s galore enough of already. More insight into the history of the why of this thing that we blame might be useful from a feminist perspective.”

    They’re some rooms with a bunch of dirty pictures on the walls. They don’t don’t tell us anything we didn’t know perfectly well already.

  16. masaccio

    The thing I really liked about Pompei is the impluvium: the houses have courtyards, with roofs that slant toward the middle of the area, so that they cover the sides of the courtyard, providing shadow, and when it rains, the rain falls into a pool in the middle, called the impluvium. What a great design. I tried to have one built in my backyard, but it was just too expensive. I think the guide said that the design also has the advantage of pulling air through the house in the summer.

  17. Leigh

    Porn qua historical artifact. Lovely. Especially since ‘erotic artwork’ is so hard to come by nowadays.

  18. Kenny

    I’ve said it before, but Twisty (who’s taste in cultural critics seems to run more to John Ruskin) shows how and why Walter Benjamin should have been a feminist:

    “Social Democracy thought fit to assign to the working class the role of the redeemer of future generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This training made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren.”

    Women, as an oppressed class, shouldn’t be confused into doing anything for the sake of their “daughters.” It’s by remembering the sacrifices of their mothers that the movement is strengthened.

  19. Mar Iguana

    “The thing I really liked about Pompei is the impluvium: the houses have courtyards, with roofs that slant toward the middle of the area, so that they cover the sides of the courtyard” masaccio

    Unfortunately, you would never have been able to enjoy the lovely courtyard in your husband’s or father’s house. You would have been confined to the women’s quarters and only trotted out if your husband wanted another child or your father wanted to marry you off for material benefit to some old, Greek fart twice your age. If you were a good little virgin, that is. Otherwise, daddy dearest would be selling your ass off to the slavers.

    “Having ensured that the ‘good’ girls were safe from any taint of sexual indiscretion, it was necessary to supply the ‘bad’ girls to cater for men’s sexual appetites. Solon (the great Athenian lawgiver of the sixth century BC) legalized state brothels, staffed by slaves and aliens. While the good girls composed a single category (wives cum mothers), the bad girls were graded from the high-maintenance hetaera — the equivalent of the mistress — to the low-end street walker, who could be picked up for a few dollars near the city dumps where people went to defecate. The whore’s sexuality was a public convenience; she was viewed in terms of a sewer that drained off men’s lust.

    “We have hetaerae for our pleasure, concubines for our daily needs, and wives to give us legitimate children and look after the housekeeping,’ Demosthenes, the greatest of the Athenian orators, is reported to have said. This demarcation associating female virtue with sexlessness has been used to dehumanize women to this day.”

    “Misogyny, The World’s Oldest Prejudice,” Jack Holland

    Yeehaw. Life was good.

  20. Buttercup

    All the indignation above is expressed so much better than I could. All I can say is , Twisty! You said “Jagoff”! Are you a closet Pittsburgher?

    Signed,

    Buttercup, an’at.

  21. meret

    I noticed the emphasis on the “Libertines”

    1. One who acts without moral restraint; a dissolute person.
    2. One who defies established religious precepts; a freethinker.

    And how the fact that the women were slaves is an afterthought – the last paragraph. Not something to think about – much.

    It reminds me of the people for whom pornography is a “free speech” issue. It’s all about *their* freedom. It’s so inconvenient to think about the freedom of women.

  22. redneckmother

    It troubles me to think that someday, LaGrange, Texas will be the site of an “archeological” tourist trap.

    The only realistic representation of brothel life I’ve seen personally was an exhibit of photos from Bill Witliff’s book Boystown. The pictures were candids taken by photogs working in the bars and whorehouses, mostly at the behest of the johns. Every single one of the men in those photos is revealed as the pathetic jackass he really is. The women, on the other hand, seem fully human, which made the whole collection that much harder to look at. Which is, I think, as it should be.

  23. redneckmother

    And no, Boystown isn’t in LaGrange. That’s the Chicken Ranch. (Shakes head.)

  24. RealTexan

    Apparently “Sabele” has forgotten that “-ed” is the correct ending for the past tense in the modern English language. I agree with Mandos on his point that libraries are “boring” but I hope that the tourist income generated by this ancient whore-house will somehow benefit the library excavation. No one ever talks about the great whore-house of Alexandria.

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