Hidden Sexuality of the Ancients


With regard to their attitude towards sexuality, the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans fundamentally different from today’s Christian-occidental, Jewish or Islamic world. For a long time, classical studies avoided the subject; today it is a natural topic of research.

Eroticism and sexuality were present in all areas of ancient life. Be it at a banquet, at sports in the palaestra, on walls or in the gardens of Roman villas, in the Lupanar (brothel), in temples or even in the grave – everywhere there were pictures or allusions with a sexual connotation, depictions of genitalia, symbols of fertility and lust.

Even children were adorned with phallic amulets around their necks as talismans. Ancient literature dealt with the subject in all imaginable facets. The Ars Armatoria (Art of Love) by the Roman author Ovid is one of the most subtle poems on the subject ever written.

“Nay, seeing how very beautiful you are, I won’t deny you a few frailties. But what I don’t want, and can’t stand, is to know about them.” – Ovid, Ars Armatoria, Elegy XIV, ‘To His Mistress’

In the Archaeological National Museum of Naples, objects with erotic content from Pompeii and Herculaneum were collected in a room with limited access for centuries, known as the Gabinetto Segreto (secret cabinet).

In 1849, the collection was bricked off and remained off limits to women, youngsters, and the general public. For a century and a half the collection remained out of sight, it was only opened to the public in 2000 and moved into a separate gallery in 2005.

Some of the most famous objects in the former secret collection of the Naples Museum are the ‘Satyr Pan Copulating With Goat’ and the ‘Venus Kallipygos’ (Venus with the lovely ass); the museum also hold one of the world’s most famous collection of assorted Roma terra cotta penises – in Roman times, they were used for good luck,¬†obviously.

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