Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Courtesan’s Aura

Whilst Arya Stark in the guise of Cat of the Canals is selling clams and oysters on the Ragman Docks she is asked by the crew of the Brazen Monkey, out of Gulltown, where they might find some “sport” to while away their four day stay. After Arya recommends the mummery on the Ship, eel fights in the Spotted Cellar, duels at the moon pool, and the whores of Happy Port brothel, the youngest sailor asks: “What about them fancy whores the singers sing about?” This prompts howls of laughter from his crewmates, who mock him for thinking he can afford one: “That sort o’ cunt’s for lords and such, not for the likes o’ us.” (FfC Cat of the Canals). Much later in the story, Raff the Sweetling describes the Black Pearl as a “fancy whore” and japes about wanting to share her with his boss (WoW Mercy). Neither Raff nor the Gulltown sailors are very sophisticated, but they undoubtedly voice the general Westerosi view. As they see things, the courtesans are simply extremely expensive prostitutes, not fundamentally different from those that exist in every other port along the Narrow Sea, just fancier. The reader might easily share this perspective and not give the courtesans any further thought. Yet this snap judgment could not be more wrong. The whores of the Narrow Sea and the courtesans of Braavos occupy different social spheres and perform very different roles. The ever ambitious Dareon the Deserter recognizes this distinction when he boasts: “Yesterday I ate herring with the whores, but within the year I’ll be having emperor crab with courtesans” (FfC Cat of the Canals). To get a proper sense of the vast difference between these two occupations we will compare the “whores” of Andal Westeros and the sex slaves of Old Volantis, as they are encountered by members of the Lannister family, with the Braavosi courtesans as glimpsed by Sam Tarly and Arya Stark. We shall examine and contrast the social structures they exist within, their basic characteristics, their respective social positions, and the impact of said positions on the larger society. By this road we shall answer the question of what these two social constructs actually mean: what does it mean to be defined as a whore and what is the significance of being a courtesan. Continue reading

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