Sunday, 15 December 2013

Temple Prostitution

Another parallel between the works of Poul Anderson and Neil Gaiman is temple prostitution.

In Anderson's "Ivory and Apes and Peacocks," Manse Everard of the Time Patrol, gathering intelligence in King Hiram's Tyre, gains the gratitude of Sarai, a well-connected member of the palace staff, by freeing her in the temple.

In Gaiman's The Sandman: Brief Lives (New York, 1994), an exotic dancer called Nancy, with a Masters in Women's Studies, explains to fellow dancers, Tiffany and Ishtar:

"The Near East, right? Two, three thousand years ago, one of the love goddesses...Astarte, maybe [Everard's is Asherat]. Every woman in that country had to go to the temple, once in her life. All the women waited in the temple courtyard. Each one had to wait there until a stranger offered her a coin. Whoever he was, she had to go with him, and they'd make out. I think there were rooms in the temple to do it in [Everard and Sarai had to go elsewhere]...The historian made some sexist crack about the women. Because they couldn't leave until someone made love to them. He said the good-looking ones got off early, but the rougher-looking ones sometimes waited in the temple courtyard for months. But that's history for you, all written by men [and that had been Sarai's fate]." (Chapter 5, pp. 11-12)

Nancy and the others then wonder what happens to goddesses Who are no longer worshiped. Do some become exotic dancers? Because The Sandman is a fantasy, we soon learn that the dancer Ishtar is indeed the goddess, a revelation that could very readily have fitted into one of Poul Anderson's fantasies.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I know you are a fan of Neil Gaiman, but I preferred how Poul Anderson handled the issue of temple prostitution in "Ivory, Apes, and Peacocks," to what I've seen of how Gaiman handled the matter in the quotes you gave here. I thought Anderson's treatment was more sensitive and delicate, while I found the quote from Gaiman crude. And, as a Catholic, I don't agree with how the people of Tyre used sex in pagan religious rites because I considere sex to be sacred, a thing rightly done only by married men and women. But, as I said, Anderson's handling of the matter was so well done that it was not offensively pornographic!


Paul Shackley said...

Sure. Gaiman was, of course, presenting the history through the voice of a modern young woman with a Women's Studies Masters degree who was dancing because the money was good and talking to her fellow dancers. I don't think Gaiman himself would have discussed the issue in quite the same terms!