Violence and sex: the shocking art of the Ancient Remeasured

Works of art that we consider to be shocking and erotic or violent, in Ancient Rome it was quite acceptable.

The inhabitants of Ancient Rome enjoyed the art, full of violence and sex. Some cultural objects of the era may seem to us full of obscenity and violence, but the Romans might have looked at them with new eyes, the author writes BBC Culture.

The eighteenth century was truly a success for the archaeologists. It was then discovered the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum – the Roman cities who died in the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in 79 ad. Only one Villa of the papyri near Herculaneum in the period between 1750 and 1761. from under the layer of ash dug 85 antique sculptures.

But there were also awkward moments. Imagine how was to feel members of the search party in the spring of 1752, otkapivat the presence of the ruler of the Kingdom of Naples Charles VII the most infamous of found at the Villa sculptures. Carved from a solid block of Italian marble, it was a God of fertility and cattle pan making love with a goat.

The right hand pan firmly holding the goat’s shaggy beard, pulling the animal’s head to him and looking him straight in the eye. The king’s direct discovery, to put it mildly, confused.

Unlike most items found in the XVIII century on the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, this sculpture hid away from the public. Take a look at it it was possible only with the permission of the monarch. However, in addition to the horror of the discovery caused and curiosity. The rumor of the indecent sculpture spread throughout Europe, and it quickly became the object of pilgrimage for Englishmen making the Grand tour (obligatory among European aristocrats educational tours).

British sculptor of that time Joseph Nollekens memory recreated the sculpture in a terracotta replica, although in its execution bug-eyed goat rather surprised by the attention the pan, while an animal with a Roman original looks almost submissive.

One of the most controversial of ancient works – the statue of the God of herding and pastoralism pan with a goat, discovered in the ruins of Herculaneum in 1752

Without knowing it, Nollekens stressed in his replica, the aspects of lust and sexual violence, although the original could seem like the Romans much less geeky. Different cultures have different perceptions of the same phenomenon. Works of art that we consider shockingly erotic or violent, in Ancient Rome it was quite acceptable.

In our time, the sculpture of pan with the goat again is among the public rapid pulse. Usually you can see it in the Secret Cabinet of the National archaeological Museum of Naples, along with several other samples of erotic Roman art. And in 2013, pan at the time lent London the British Museum the exhibition “Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”. The inconspicuous sign at the entrance warned visitors that the exhibition “includes sexually explicit material”.

Sinister gardens

In our days it is tempting to define a scandalous discovery in the category of erotica poshiba, but let’s not rush. The Villa of the papyri were stored as a library of hundreds of scrolls. Probably the owner of the sculpture was well-educated and well-read.

Of course, we can assume that with all the finesse of the owner of the Villa he loved to shock the guests with obscenity. However, even a cursory acquaintance with the Roman way of life it becomes evident that this explanation is not enough. Nowadays people often put in his garden decorative figurines of dwarfs. But the Romans preferred a more sexy and bloodthirsty images. At the same exhibition in the British Museum were shown two marble sculptures of flawless execution – a pair of roaring terror of the deer, beleaguered by snarling hunting dogs. Dog biting the ears of victims, sinking claws deep into the deer’s flesh.

A typical example of cruelty in Roman art, Dating from 1-79 ad and was found at Herculaneum: two deer, which is attacked by a pack of dogs

Although dirty in these sculptures no, they, nevertheless, represent a very brutal spectacle. And, despite the undoubted skill of the sculptor, by today’s standards such a disturbing imagination of a scene may not seem quite appropriate as garden ornaments. As well as standing in the exhibition in the same hall a marble statue of a drunken pot-bellied Hercules, intending to relieve themselves.

But the Romans of this kind of art was a good choice. One of my favorite Roman sculptures – a bearded Satyr Marsyas tied to a tree and awaiting a terrible punishment. With him going to strip off the skin behind the daring challenge to a musical duel, abandoned by the God Apollo. To our time survived several statues depicting this scene – including carved out of marble with pink veins, from the colors that it makes my skin crawl. So imagine the bloody flesh that the bare knife of the executioner.

One of the few surviving statues of the Satyr Marsyas tied to a tree. After losing a musical contest to Apollo, Marsyas was condemned to death by excoriation

Similar feeling and famous marble sculptural group of Laocoon, discovered in Rome and placed in the courtyard of the Vatican Belvedere Palace by Pope Julius II in 1506, the Distorted by suffering face of a Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons, their beating in the throes of limbs, obvinenie quick as lightning, sea snakes, for centuries haunt the imagination of Western man. This sculpture has inspired countless artists and writers from Michelangelo to Dickens.

Marble statue, dated 1-79 ad, depicts Hercules in a bad stage of urination after drinking

Not so surprising that the ancient Romans, who regarded service to the state and the authority of the government for the great virtues, at the same time gravitated to the manifestation of primitive instincts in art. In the end, they made the gladiatorial games, which were attended by wild beasts and condemned criminals were nothing but a variant of the ritual of human sacrifice. Ancient Rome was a curious mixture of civilization and barbarism.

The controversial sculpture

As can be seen from the example of the sculpture of pan and the goat, the sex was played in Roman culture is no less important than the violence. A few years ago, shooting for Bi BBC documentary series entitled “Treasures of Ancient Rome”, I visited Pompeii. The fact that one of the city’s brothels adorned with explicit erotic frescoes, I’m not particularly surprised, but I found it strange that many buildings are decorated with plaques depicting erect penis.

Marble sculptural group depicting the Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons, vainly trying to free himself from the suffocating embrace of the sea serpent, which they sent Poseidon

One of the original theories on these signs pointed the way to the nearest public house, of which Pompeii was enough – according to some estimates, at least 35 schools in the city with a population of approximately 12,000 people. But now most researchers are inclined to think that the phallic symbol played in antiquity as a kind of amulet, of a talisman against evil forces.

This version explains the prevalence of the phallus in other contexts of Roman culture: the exhibition at the British Museum, for example, one of the exhibits was a curious item known as tintinnabulum – winged phallus, has its own phallus and lion paws and tail, suspended from the extremities of five bells. Although tintinnabulum found in Pompeii, it probably wouldn’t be too inappropriate to complement the atmosphere at the Villa of the papyri in Herculaneum, tinkling in the garden from the blows of the wind, while visitors view the sculpture of pan having sex with a goat.

Tintinnabulum is a winged phallus, with legs of a lion and tied bells

Such exhibitions, as “Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum”, cause we have an exciting feeling of proximity to our ancient ancestors. Roman bronze bust of a banker is so vital that it seems possible to capture the traits depicted. In the bone vessel still remains of pink pigment, which is possibly unknown to us Roman matron once used as a blush.

But take a look at works like a pan with a goat, and the ancient world is again pushed back into the dark ages, and share our civilization two thousand years become insurmountable gap. We will never be able to fully understand what kind of impression this statue made on the Romans. Perhaps what we perceive as corruption and violence, they have caused fits of laughter. The only thing we can say with confidence, the attitude of the ancient Romans towards sex and violence differed radically from ours.

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