EROTIC ART IN THE FIRST CENTURY OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

August 4, 2020

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE destroyed the Roman cities around the Bay of Naples but preserved their buildings and artefacts. Excavations that began in the eighteenth century reveal these cities to have been rich in erotic artifacts such as statues, frescoes, and household items with a sexual theme. Throughout the Empire, the ubiquity of these images and items indicates that Roman attitudes toward sexuality were more relaxed than those of contemporary Western culture.

   

For example, in THE DEADLIEST HATE, When Miriam and Phoebe find themselves in Caesarea, they search among the inns for the one for unescorted women:

   

The inns identify themselves with a gaily decorated façade, a notice boasting their fare, and a colorful flag. The flag for The Hercules was the most flamboyant. It depicted its namesake, massive and muscular, holding the golden apples of the Hesperides behind his back as he wearily leaned on his club. But the flag for another, The Doe, left nothing to the imagination in its display of women cavorting in forbidden ways with men and other women.

   

In another scene, Phoebe and Miriam stop for breakfast at a modest cookshop:

   

Phoebe went inside to claim a table while I eased in line to place our order at the street-side, marble-topped counter. Beckoning me inside just as the counterman’s son delivered our order to the slightly sticky table, she’d arranged both chairs to face the street so we wouldn’t have to look at the paintings lining the back wall, one more ribald than the next.

   

Miriam, of course, as a modest young Jewess, is uncomfortable with displays of erotica. So now, when you read THE DEADLIEST HATE, a winner at the 2016 New York Book Festival, you’ll know more about Miriam’s conflicts with Roman culture. Just click here

 

                 

 

 

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