Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fornication Station

In various parts of the human body, we find vault-like or arched structures. Each one is known as a fornix, from the Latin word for an arch or a vault. There is one in the brain, another in the uterus, yet another in the stomach, and so forth.

But the word fornix appeared much earlier in history as an architectural term. In many Roman structures, arched vaults were common features in basements and elsewhere. And since houses of prostitution were often established in some of these vaulted basements, the term fornix eventually came to mean brothel as well as arch. Horace spoke of fornix et uncta popina, which we might translate today as “the joint is a brothel and greasy spoon combined.”

The arches under the circus were a particularly favorite location for prostitutes. Loose ladies were ardent frequenters of the games of the circus and were always readily available to satisfy the inclinations that the spectacles aroused. These arched vaults were called fornices in the plural, and that is the source of our word fornication.

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