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Related: erotic art - Rome - archeology
Discovered in : 1740s
When Europeans discovered the ruins of Pompeii in the mid-18th century they were forced to grapple with abundantly public images and objects commonplace in ancient Roman culture depicting bestiality and other sexual activities considered taboo to even discuss. Victorians systematically categorized the findings in “secret museums,” thereby setting the stage for the new genre of pornography. [Apr 2006]
Illustration from a paperback 'pulp' novel
Fresco, 1st century AD, at the Villa dei Vetii, Pompeii
DescriptionThe city of Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many smaller places around the Bay of Naples, were Roman municipalities destroyed during an eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79. The eruption was described by Pliny the Younger (see below), whose uncle Pliny the Elder died after making several trips across the bay with a flotilla of pleasure craft and fishing boats to save some of those trapped in the seaside towns. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompeii [Sept 2004]
Lost for 16 centuries
Thick layers of ash covered two towns located at the base of the mountain, and eventually their names and locations were forgotten. Then Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738, and Pompeii in 1748. These towns have since been excavated to reveal many intact buildings and wall paintings. The towns were actually found in 1599 by an architect named Fontana, who was digging a new course for the river Sarno, but it took more than 150 years before a serious campaign was started to unearth them. Until that time, Pompeii and Herculaneum were assumed to be lost forever. The wood/wax plates shown here were widely used as a cheap, throwaway paper equivalent.
Some have theorized, without proof, that Fontana initially found some of the famous erotic frescoes and, due to the strict modesty prevalent during his time, reburied them in an attempt at archaeological censorship. This view is bolstered by reports of later excavators who felt that sites they were working on had already been visited and re-buried. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompeii [Sept 2004]
Erotic art in Pompeii
Ancient Pompeii was full of erotic or pornographic frescoes, symbols, inscriptions, and even household items. The ancient Roman culture of the time was much more sexually permissive than most present-day cultures and apparently had no concept of obscenity or that such art should be hidden from minors.
When the serious excavation of Pompeii began in the 18th century, a clash of the cultures was the result. A fresco on a wall that showed the ancient god of sex and fertility, Priapus with his extremely enlarged penis, was covered with plaster and only rediscovered because of rainfall in 1998. [epd press agency in March, 1998] In 1819, when king Francis I of Naples visited the exhibition at the National Museum with his wife and daughter, he was so embarrassed by the erotic artwork that he decided to have it locked away in a secret cabinet, accessible only to "people of mature age and respected morals." Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, it was made briefly accessible again at the end of the 1960s (the time of the sexual revolution) and has finally been re-opened in the year 2000. Minors are not allowed entry to the once secret cabinet without a guardian or a written permission. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erotic_art_in_Pompeii [Sept 2004]
Pompeii (2)The pious Emperor Theodosius abstained from destroying the not very decent statues and other relics of the heathen, in order to perpetuate and expose all the absurdity and infamy of false religions, and to inspire contempt and hatred of them." --Sylvain Mareschal.
The ancient Roman and Greek cultures had a very different attitude about sexuality than successive European cultures, more akin to that of the Kama Sutra. This, of course, was unimaginable to latter day Europeans, who rigidly compartmentalized body, mind and spirit, and to whom any sexuality was sinful and morbid.
Some of the best artistic expressions of this can be found in the recovered city of Pompeii. Pompeii was frozen in time by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., and not unearthed until 1748. Pompeii was a seaside resort, devoted to the arts, relaxation, and the pursuit of pleasure. The excavators were horrified to discover erotic frescos, mosaics, statuary and phallic votive objects. The moveable erotic artifacts were taken to Naples and kept in seclusion in the Royal Museum. The erotic wall and floor art had lockable metal boxes constructed over them and were displayed to tourists for an extra fee (women and children excluded). When I visited Pompeii in the late 1960s, this peepshow was still in operation. --J. B. Hare http://www.sacred-texts.com/sex/rmn/ [Sept 2004]
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