In the following excerpt from Petronius’s Satyricon (translated by J.P. Sullivan and published by Penguin Classics in 1965), Encolpius, the book’s protagonist, is lost, unable to find his friend Ascyltus. He decides to head back to his lodging and asks an old woman for directions. (The photo shows the street on which the Lupanar is located.)

“I took the opportunity to slip away and started off hastily after Ascyltus. But I was not paying much attention to the way I went, and I had no idea where our lodging was. Whichever direction I took, I came back to the same spot. Finally, worn out with running and dripping with sweat, I went up to an old woman selling fresh vegetables.

‘Excuse me, mother,’ I began, ‘I don’t suppose you know where I’m staying, do you?’

She was amused by my naive politeness.

‘Why shouldn’t I know?’ she said. She got to her feet and set off in front of me. I thought she was uncanny, and followed her. And then, as we reached an out of the way place, the kind old lady threw back a patchwork curtain and said to me:

‘This is where you must be staying.’

I was just telling her I did not recognize the place, when I caught sight of some naked old prostitutes and some customers furtively prowling up and down in the middle of them. Slowly, in fact too late, I realized I had been taken to a brothel. Cursing the old woman’s tricks I covered my face and began hurrying right through the whore-house to the other side. At the very door who should bump into me but Ascyltus. Like me he was worn out and practically dead. It looked as though he had been brought there by the same little old woman. Greeting him with a smile, I asked what he was doing in this dreadful place.

He wiped away the sweat with his hands and said:

‘If only you knew what has been happening to me!’

‘What happened?’ I said.

‘I wandered through the whole town,’ he began faintly, ‘and I couldn’t find where I’d left our lodgings. Then a respectable-looking gentleman came up and very kindly offered to show me the way. He went down various pitch-dark turnings and brought me to this place. Then he offered me money and began making improper suggestions. The woman had already got her money for the cubicle and he had his hand on me. If I’d not been stronger than he was, I should have been in a bad way.’”