I thought about this story after my wife and I had given a talk about Ephesus and read excerpts from Life and Death in Ephesus. Four people approached us afterwards and asked questions about the brothel. I’m much like Morris Gedge at the beginning of James’s story. As I see it, the stories that tour guides tell about the brothel are entirely fictitious—not only fictitious, but also incredible, ludicrous even. There is every reason to believe that there were brothels in Ephesus. but no reason to believe that the house identified as The Brothel was one of them. Its reputation derives from the discovery of a tiny statuette of the god Priapus, or maybe the Egyptian god Bes, now in the Ephesus Museum.
Men looked for these kind of ads when they arrived in a new city. Where are the prostitutes? Sure enough this billboard carved in the stone gave them directions. If you want the love (heart shape) of a pretty girl (image of pretty girl) turn left (left foot) at the next crossroad (T-shape). Sure enough, archaeologists found a two-story brothel up the road to the left. It was even connected by an underground tunnel to the library.
Then a voice in my ear whispers, “Lighten up, Finlay. Honestly, now, aren’t you doing the
same thing? Inventing stories about life and death in Ephesus as if they were
true? While knowing that they're not?”
I answer, “Ah, but what I write is literature! It’s called historical fiction! As a rule, it's true to history when the history is known, and plausible, at least, when it's not known.”
friend of mine was once employed as a docent in a historic house in Portland,
ME. I was much surprised when he told me that he really enjoyed telling the apocryphal stories he inherited along with the job. He’s a very good writer, an
engaging speaker, and I feel sure that he perfected his story-telling like the
artist he actually is. And that’s just where the Henry James story ends up. Morris
Gedge becomes an artist, a story-teller, and James rewards him for it.