Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Guido Parmiggiani


Why is prostitution almost universally considered "the world's oldest profession?" Why was it reviled and disavowed in some places and times; valued and revered in other cultural contexts and historic periods? And how far do we dare go expanding the definition of a prostitute? For example, could it include both the woman who sells her body for money and the woman who sells her body for a wedding ring; the man who sells his labor—the best years of his life doing what he hates instead of what he loves—for a fancy car, stock market portfolio, and retirement plan?

The differing, biological mandates between the sexes gave women the opportunity to compensate for the male's more common bigger size and strength. In ancient Greece, prostitution became a doorway to freedom, a liberation from the strictures of traditional family life and the highly defined and narrow female role boundaries. The prostitute Aspasia, became knows as "the female Socrates" and became a dramatic influence on Greek politics, philosophy and culture. Influential Athenians even brought their wives to hear her. Prostitution freed women like this from the narrow social roles of their time, permitted more education, and activity outsidae the home—they became the beginning of women's journey toward equality.

In Japan, in the beginning of the 17th century, both male and female prostitution was accepted and widespread. The Tokugawa shogunate—worrying that these popular gathering places would foster political opposition—created official red-light districts that—although burned down, rebuilt, and relocated many times—continued as some of the most popular gathering places and still thrive today.

Although prostitution at times enabled many poor but accomplished women to begin the "women's liberation" path toward equality; the price was high—many lived lives of virtual slavery or indentured servitude; many died from sexually transmitted diseases or failed abortions.

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Quotes (49)

“In this was every art, and every charm,
To win the wisest, and the coldest warm:
Fond love, the gentle vow, the gay desire,
The kind deceit, the still reviving fire,
Persuasive speech, and more persuasive sighs,
Silence that spoke, and eloquence of eyes.”

Homer 850 BCE - ? via Alexander Pope
Primogenitor of Western culture
from Iliad

Themes: Prostitution
“Every woman born in the country must once in her life go and sit down in the precinct of Venus [Mylitta], and there consort with a stranger…. A woman who has once taken her seat is not allowed to return home till one of the strangers throws a silver coin into her lap, and takes her with him beyond the holy ground…. The silver coin may be of any size….”

Herodotus Ἡρόδοτος c. 484 - 425 BCE
“The Father of History”
from Histories

Themes: Prostitution

“A woman who loves to be at the window is a bunch of grapes on the highway.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from English Proverb

Themes: Prostitution

“Women can always be caught; that's the first rule of the game.”

Ovid oʊvɪd 43 BCE – 18 CE
(Publius Ovidius Naso)
Great poet and major influence on the Renaissance, Humanism, and world literature

from The Art of Love (8 CE)

Themes: Prostitution

“The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and covered with gold ornaments, precious stones, and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and uncleanness of her whoredom. The name written on her forehead was a mystery: babylon the great the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE via Revelation
from New Testament Διαθήκη

Themes: Prostitution

“The maiden girl carries her gold as ornaments on her body. Her aim is to attract a gigolo... planning to make her cunt and its coverings common property... The mind of a girl and that of a pig are the same: one will wiggle their ass in front of a boy and the other in front of food.”

Gesar of Ling གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ། 11th century CE via Robin Kornman
from Gesar of Ling Epic

Themes: Prostitution

“Nor should she deem herself other than venal who weds a rich man rather than a poor, and desires more things in her husband than himself. Assuredly, whomsoever this concupiscence leads into marriage deserves payment rather than affection.”

Heloise 1090 – 1164 CE
from Letters of Abélard and Héloïse

“She who weds a rich man rather than a poor and desires more things in her husband than he does himself, deserves payment rather than love.”

Heloise 1090 – 1164 CE via Shan Dao

“She'd been respectable throughout her life,
With five churched husbands bringing joy and strife,
Not counting other company in youth;
But thereof there's no need to speak, in truth.”

Geoffrey Chaucer 1343 – 1400 CE
“Father of English literature”
from Canterbury Tales

“Since I have no mind and no body, I am at home both in the mountains and in the floating world.”

Ikkyū Sōjun 休宗純 1394 – 1481 CE via John Stevens
Famous trickster, flute player, and bringer of Zen awareness into everyday life

Themes: Prostitution

“Good friends of the Dharma, so proud,
But a brothel girl in gold brocade has you beat by a mile.”

Ikkyū Sōjun 休宗純 1394 – 1481 CE via John Stevens
Famous trickster, flute player, and bringer of Zen awareness into everyday life

Themes: Prostitution

“Once a woman parts with her virtue, she loses the esteem even of the man whose vows and tears won her to abandon it.”

Miguel de Cervantes 1547 – 1616 CE via Ozell
One of the world's best novelists
from Don Quixote (1605)

Themes: Prostitution

“A pleasure girl is like a razor's edge. [ the true test of enlightenment ]”

Hakuin Ekaku 白隠 慧鶴 1686 – 1769 CE via John Stevens

Themes: Prostitution

“It is not enough to conquer; one must know how to seduce.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE
from Mérope (1743)

Themes: Prostitution

“expelled without a penny and obliged to continue the abominable occupation which to you men seems so amusing and which to us in nothing but an abyss of misery... Ah! sir, if you could imagine what it is to be forced to caress impartially an old tradesman, a lawyer, a monk, a gondolier, an abbé; to be exposed to every insult and outrage; to be reduced often to borrow a petticoat in order to go and find some disgusting man who will lift it...”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE
from Candide

Themes: Prostitution

“Where there's marriage without love, there will be love without marriage.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

Themes: Prostitution

“The desire of a man for a woman is not directed at her because she is a human being but because she is a woman. That she is a human being is of no concern to him.”

Immanuel Kant 1724 – 1804 CE

Themes: Prostitution

“Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE
from Proverbs of Hell​

“The Harlot’s cry from street to Street
Shall weave Old England’s winding Sheet”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE
from Auguries of Innocence (1803)

Themes: Prostitution

“an age which for 20 years has applauded a Hegel—that intellectual Caliban—as the greatest of the philosophers, so loudly that it echoes through the whole of Europe... it's applause is prostituted, and its censure has no significance”

Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860 CE
from Parerga and Paralipomena, "Appendices" and "Omissions"

Themes: Prostitution

“Death is as unexpected in his caprice as a courtesan in her disdain; but death is truer – Death has never forsaken any man”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

“The magnet embraces the iron, the animals come together by the difference of sex... Man alone speaks with distrust, irony, and shame of the miracle which takes place simultaneously in his soul and his body. This separation of the spirit from the flesh has necesssitated convents and brothels.”

George Sand 1804 – 1876 CE
(Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin)

Themes: Prostitution

“That girls should not marry for money we are all agreed. A lady who can sell herself for a title or an estate, for an income or a set of family diamonds, treats herself as a farmer treats his sheep and oxen — makes hardly more of herself, of her own inner self, in which are comprised a mind and soul, than the poor wretch of her own sex who earns her bread in the lowest stage of degradation.”

Anthony Trollope 1815 – 1882 CE
Novelist as teacher

Themes: Prostitution

“Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other's wives.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE
from Das Kapital; Capital: Critique of Political Economy

Themes: Prostitution

“Marriage is so unlike everything else. There is something even awful in the nearness it brings. Even if we loved someone else better than—better than those we were married to, it would be no use... marriage drinks up all our power of giving or getting any blessedness in that sort of love... it may very dear, but it murders our marriage, and then the marriage stays with us like a murder, and everything else is gone”

George Eliot 1819 – 1880 CE
(Mary Anne Evans)
Pioneering literary outsider

from Middlemarch

Themes: Prostitution

“Singing the Song of prostitutes... Singing the song of procreation... singing what, to the soul, entirely redeem'd her, the faithful one, even the prostitute, who detain'd me when I went to the city”

Walt Whitman 1819 – 1892 CE
Premier "poet of democracy" and model for Dracula

Themes: Prostitution

“Prostitution degrades, among women, only the unfortunate ones to whose lot it falls, and even these not at all to the extent that is commonly believed. On the other hand, it degrades the character of the whole world of men.”

Friedrich Engels 1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist

Themes: Prostitution

“The community of women is a condition which belongs entirely to bourgeois society and which today finds its complete expression in prostitution. But prostitution is based on private property and falls with it. Thus, communist society, instead of introducing community of women, in fact abolishes it.”

Friedrich Engels 1820 – 1895 CE
Businessman-philosopher, political theorist

Themes: Prostitution

“Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love; it is the faithless who know love's tragedies.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE
from Picture of Dorian Gray

Themes: Prostitution

“I have known more men destroyed by the desire to have wife and child and to keep them in comfort than I have seen destroyed by drink and harlots.”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats 1865 – 1939 CE

“If prostitutes themselves attract us so little, it is not because they are less beautiful than other women, but because they are ready and waiting; because they already offer us precisely what we seek to attain; it is because they are not conquests.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind

Themes: Prostitution

“The charms of the passing woman are usually in direct ratio to the speed of her passing.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE via Justin O'Brien
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from Maxims of Marcel Proust

“Adultery is the application of democracy to love.”

Henry Louis Mencken 1880 – 1956 CE
alt.right founding father
from A Book of Burlesques (1920)

“Who can trust destiny? It is not blind, it blinds.”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE via P. A. Bien
from Report to Greco

Themes: Prostitution

“Prostitution has been perennial and universal, from the state-regulated brothels of Assyria to the 'night clubs' of West-European and American cities today.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Prostitution

“Man is secretly and ravenously polygamous... and yet the earlier the love, the fresher and deeper it must be; no man can love after 30 with the ardor and self-abandonment of youth... if we could find a way to restore marriage to its natural age, we should at one stroke reduce by half the prostitution, the venereal disease, the fruitless celibacy, the morbid chastity, and the experimental perversions that stigmatize our contemporary life.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Pleasures of Philosophy

Themes: Prostitution

“In evolutionary theory, those organisms that felt the strongest urge to mingle their seed bred most abundantly, so that, in the course of the generations, the sexual instinct grew to an intensity surpassed only in the quest for food... Nature is mad about reproduction and makes the individual a tool and moment in the continuance of the species.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Fallen Leaves

Themes: Prostitution

“Beauty is worse than wine, it intoxicates both the holder and the beholder.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

“He consorted with prostitutes and poets...and with persons even worse.”

Jorge Luis Borges 1899 – 1986 CE
Literary Explorer of Labyrinthian Dreams, Mirrors, and Mythologies

Themes: Prostitution

“The shaman's relation with the Spirit is represented as a kind of love-affair. One is, of course, vaguely reminded of temple prostitutes in the Near East, and of devadasi and Krishna's relations with the adoring cow-girls in India.”

Arthur Waley 1899 – 1969 CE
from Nine songs: a study of shamanism in ancient China (1955)​

Themes: Prostitution

“The culture of Victorian England—a culture of the most elegant lasciviousness—offers a striking example of this religious prurience. Extreme modesty and prudishness in the home so heightened the fascination of sex that prostitution, even for the upper classes, flourished.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Nature, Man, and Woman (1958)

Themes: Prostitution

“all women are prostitutes, marriage is prostitution”

Kate Millett 1934 – 2017 CE

“Incompetent amateurs have given prostitution a bad name... the feminist analysis of prostitution says that men are using money as power over women. I'd say, yes, that's all that men have. The money is a confession of weakness. They have to buy women's attention. It's not a sign of power; it's a sign of weakness.”

Camille Paglia 1947 CE –
Fearless and insightful status quo critic

Themes: Prostitution

“Francis Bacon kept the famine imagery but turned it to rather different ends. He described nature as a 'common harlot' who needed to be 'tortured' in order to make her yield her secrets.”

David Loy 1947 CE –
from A Buddhist History of the West

“one way to ensure that male infidelity doesn't lead to desertion is to confine it to, well, whores... few Victorian men sat at the breakfast table daydreaming about leaving their wives for the prostitute they had enjoyed the night before.”

Robert Wright 1957 CE –
from Moral Animal — Why we are the Way we Are

Themes: Prostitution

“If the goods aren't for sale, don't put 'em in the window.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Utopia Avenue

Themes: Prostitution

“My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth there's hardly any difference.”

Harry S. Truman 1884 – 1972 CE

Themes: Prostitution

“Sex workers are the original feminists. Often seen as merely subject to others' whims, in fact, sex workers have shaped and contributed to social movements across the world.”

Juno Mac 1990 CE –
Compelling Prostitution Advocate
from Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers' Rights

Themes: Prostitution

“Half the world regulates sex work by criminalizing everyone involved. But if you’re forced to choose between obeying the law and feeding yourself or your family, you’re going to do the work anyway, and take the risk... The law forces you to keep selling sex, which is the exact opposite of its intended effect... prohibiting the sex industry actually exacerbates every harm that sex workers are vulnerable to.”

Juno Mac 1990 CE –
Compelling Prostitution Advocate

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