Ancient and modern

The ancients would have approved of Durham’s prostitute plans

27 November 2021

9:00 AM

27 November 2021

9:00 AM

The ‘globally outstanding’ University of Durham has plans to help its undergraduates who pay their way by prostituting themselves. Three heavyweight ancients, all from different perspectives, might have rather approved of the scheme.

St Augustine, looking at the world as it was, regretted his conclusion but decided that if prostitutes were banned, society ‘would be reduced to chaos through unsatisfied lust’.


By contrast, the most famous old Roman of them all, Cato ‘Carthage must be destroyed’ the Elder (234-149 bc), seeing a young aristocrat emerging from a brothel, applauded on the grounds that, with sexual desires satisfied, he could spend his time on more important things (though he did object when he saw him re-emerging from the brothel the next day).

The political reformer Solon (6th century bc), so the story went, took the same view as Durham undergraduates — using sex to fund-raise with a ‘globally outstanding purpose’ and therefore wholly justifiably. He did this by establishing public brothels in order to build a temple to Aphrodite Pandemos (‘of all the people, global’). He ‘stationed women in various quarters, equipped and ready for all alike. They stand there naked, so that you will not be deceived. If you are not quite yourself, or there’s something annoying you, their door is open — one obol a time. No prudishness — just get on with it.’

Durham’s initiative will naturally have to match its ‘globally outstanding’ values. It could tax the undergraduate earnings, but Durham has quite a decent temple already. Much better to produce an up-to-date code of practice that all Durham’s ‘globally outstanding’ undergraduate prostitutes can ascribe to, i.e. a commitment to ensuring their activities are diverse and inclusive, involving no sexism, racism or exploitation, a living embodiment of the values of Durham’s amusingly titled vice-chancellor.

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