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The place is the archetypally decadent yet holy city of Babylon - history's most notorious hot spot. The time is 539 B.C., the eve of Babylon's conquest by the marauding Persian army. The location is the Temple of Ishtar, goddess of love and war, where, according to a strange, sensational paragraph in Herodotus, "every woman who is a native of the country must once in her life go and sit and there give herself to a strange man."

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