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Si qui futuere voluit Atticen, quaerat a(ssibus) XVI.
July 29, 2011 1:51 PM   Subscribe

The Lost City of Pompeii : A snapshot of ancient Roman life via the ruins of Pompeii. Some decor NSFW.
posted by sonika (47 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was prepared for artistic nudity...but not for the preserved expression of that victim. Gonna go off and not sleep for a couple days now.
posted by darksasami at 2:07 PM on July 29, 2011


See that threesome fresco? The common term for the guy in the middle is 'Lucky Pierre'.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:09 PM on July 29, 2011


common term for the guy in the middle is 'Lucky Pierre'

When in Rome... Tonight we're gonna party like it's BCE 79.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:16 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Historians are quick to point out that these are "fertility symbols," comparable to a picture of a cornucopia or flowers. That's true, but still doesn't change the fact that Romans were used to thinking of penis pictures as nice decorations.

Yeah, penis imagery is no big deal in many parts of Asia; Western Judeo-Christian values are definitely an aberration here.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:18 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jebus was punishing them for having all that great sex. (Sometimes I wish I could be at risk for death by volcano).
posted by punkfloyd at 2:24 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Western Judeo-Christian values are definitely an aberration here.

Not exactly.
posted by griphus at 2:25 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


(Uh, NSFW ca. 1536.)
posted by griphus at 2:25 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's true, but still doesn't change the fact that Romans were used to thinking of penis pictures as nice decorations.

They... they aren't? I'm going to have to redecorate. :\








Nah, screw it. I like my penis vases.
posted by Malice at 2:25 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not exactly.

What a dickhead.

I'll get me coat.
posted by kmz at 2:26 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm fascinated that, according to Wikipedia's citation, someone wrote "Sodom and Gomorrah" on a wall in downtown Pompeii either shortly after or shortly before the city was buried. If it was before, some early Christian died extremely smug.
posted by darksasami at 2:32 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mustn't forget the sister site: Herculaneum which was also buried by the eruption of Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D. Incredible finds were also discovered there -- and will be done so in the future, as there is still a lot yet to uncover.

Many of the archaeological objects and items from both sites can be viewed at the Naples National Archaeological Museum
posted by ericb at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Exploring (other) Special Subjects on Pompeian Walls"
http://academicearth.org/lectures/pompeian-wall-painting

Yeah, penis imagery is no big deal in many parts of Asia; Western Judeo-Christian values are definitely an aberration here.

Bhutanese Penis Fascinates Westerners
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2011


... "Sodom and Gomorrah" on a wall in downtown Pompeii either shortly after or shortly before the city was buried. If it was before, some early Christian died extremely smug.

Not a Christian, a Jew ... and likely having visited the site after the fresco upon which the graffiti was found had been unearthed.

Pompeii and Sodom and/or Gomorrah
"[Herschel] Shanks [cites] ancient graffiti etched onto a fresco at a Pompeii building. The grafitti reads 'Sodom and Gomorra.'

In Shanks’s opinion, the text is proof that a Jewish visitor to the ruins believed its fate followed that of the two sin cities that the Bible says were destroyed by God."
The first coordinated excavation of Pompeii basically started in 1748.

BTW -- Graffiti from Pompeii. Images.
posted by ericb at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Linga, Linga, Linga"
posted by clavdivs at 2:56 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Myrti bene felas
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:05 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think penises are still part of decoration in America, they're just not quite as explicit.
posted by chaz at 3:05 PM on July 29, 2011


So cool! I just got back from a week doing an archaeology program in Pompeii. Yes, penises were not only not uncommon then and there - they're still a motif in popular culture in Southern Italy. In Naples you can buy keychains and pendants showing local legendary characters with huge erections, or boxes of penis-shaped pasta (not in the erotic store, in the regular food store) and the penis motif is pretty commonly used in graffiti. Even a lot of plain-looking straight spires or columns are thought to represent the penis - fertility and virility. It's not that it's unremarked on, it seems to be something the Southern Italians relish in a ribald, celebratory way rather than find a source of shame or something to be hidden from children.

Pompeii is endlessly fascinating. Other cool resources: A Virtual Tour of Roman Pompeii and Blogging Pompeii, where a number of scholars active in research post on various topics about the excavation and the city's history.
posted by Miko at 3:39 PM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think penises are still part of decoration in America, they're just not quite as explicit.

Perhaps the NRA is actually some sort of phallic cult.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:43 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


ericb: Mustn't forget the sister site: Herculaneum which was also buried by the eruption of Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D.

The eruption from Mt Vesuvius was broad, and impacted a few other sites to the south-east. Note that Herculaneum is closer to Vesuvius, but actually to the west.

Also, the amazingly detailed AD 79 Eruption site notes that the explosion was probably in late October, based on the clothing warn by the populace were wearing, the fruit and vegetables on sale in the many shops, and that the wine fermenting jars were sealed, which would generally not have happened until late October.

Seriously, check out 79 AD Eruption if any of this is interesting to you - that was a mere footnote. There's a a detailed table and translations of the writing on the walls, maps of all the impacted cities/towns, etc...
posted by filthy light thief at 4:01 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps the NRA is actually some sort of phallic cult.

"Perhaps"?
posted by Hoopo at 4:05 PM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


It seems that several of these storefronts were rented to sex workers, or so archaeologists guess based on the way decorations in one room would suddenly become extremely pornographic (though sexual imagery was everywhere, actual pictures of explicit fucking seemed limited to the brothels and baths). Here is one such house, where one particular room (marked on the floorplan) was full of explicit pictures of sex. Other rooms in the house didn't have paintings like this.

I just took a course on Roman History this semester, with a very knowledgeable and well read (and well traveled) teacher, and she told us that these sort of paintings in brothels weren't just for decoration purposes, they were like a menu of services. The customer could come in, point at his preferred scene, and get what he'd ordered.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 5:05 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I visited Pompeii about 12 years ago, and it was amazing. My personal favorite mosaic.

Ostia Antica, while quite different, is also pretty remarkable.
posted by brundlefly at 5:25 PM on July 29, 2011


Seeing those ruins in person I didn't expect in any way to see erotic art and was somewhat revolted by the tour guides' lasciviousness in wanting to show me the ancient Pompeii brothels. But, paradoxically, it was thinking about the simple humanity of having sex in lava amber that made the horror of that volcanic devastation so vivid in my thoughts.

The nightmare of Pompeii is all the more discombobulating because the place is right at the beginning of the sublime Sorrento Peninsula, smack dab in the middle of sensual heaven.

Nice post sonika. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 5:42 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The common term for the guy in the middle is 'Lucky Pierre'.

Surely you mean 'Petrus Felix'.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:49 PM on July 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


I saw a documentary claiming that a lot of the pornographic artwork, that wasn't attached to the walls, was spirited away to hidden vaults in the Vatican. They showed one extreme sculpture, featuring bestiality. It didn't fit the idealization of an enlightened culture that had been imagined, and they thought there must be some unexplained reason for it. Until that was known, better to hide it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:59 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]



Jebus was punishing them for having all that great sex.

But if we could wake Jesus up and ask him I'm sure he would say, "I don't mind if you have great sex, just try to be loving and kind the next morning, and my name's Jesus, not Jebus"

Its the repressed psycho-monks who made sex a bad thing, and still do to this day.
posted by the noob at 6:13 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


The city was very close to the seaport of Naples, and thus the whore house had depictions of a variety of "possible choices" so that visiting sailors, unable to speak the language, could point to the depiction of what they wanted for their R and R.
posted by Postroad at 6:20 PM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


> (Sometimes I wish I could be at risk for death by volcano).

You know how not-hard that is? In spite of everything they've let Naples grow right up the side of the volcano. Higher every day.
posted by jfuller at 6:36 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This idea of fresco-as-menu is thoroughly at odds with everything I learned on site; this was both a literate and multilingual society, and the frescoes were more about narrative than variety . Citations would be welcome; I think it's a vast oversimplification of the role of the decorative arts. The brothels, prostitution, sex and slavery is uncontroversial, but the need to illustrate in literal fashion was probably not required.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nah, screw it. I like my penis vases.

I'm imagining a vase where you put a single flower in the urethra. Bonus points if the flower is extremely vulvic.
posted by NoraReed at 7:48 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The volcano is overdue for eruption. When we were there, we heard that Naples has a disaster plan which can evacuate 2 million of the 8 million regional residents within 3 days-- and the residents are highly skeptical that even the 2 million number could be effectively managed. Part of the regional culture, as a result, is a Carpe-Diem, New-Orleans-style fatalism that recognizes that when Vesuvius blows, everyone is screwed.

One bit of pathos from the AD 79 story is that the people did not know their beautiful mountain, with its fertile soil, was a volcano. They didn't even know what a volcano was. The previous eruption had been 1600 years prior, when nomadic tribes inhabited the area, and no oral or written history survived to the time of Pompeii's establishment. They would occasionally see smoke and fires at the summit, but they attributed this , logically, to the activities of the gods on the mountain. No one could possibly have conceived the top of this unchanging, eternal mountain blowing clear off one day, shooting jets of fire and debris a mile high, and for three days raining a hot, claylike soot 30 feet deep on a major city of 20,000 or so people, suffocating the minority who declined to evacuate. The whole thing was inconceivable, unimaginable.

Today, though, the Napolitanos and amalfians know what the mountain is, and still choose to inhabit its sloping sides and marine valleys. Life is good enough there that people are willing to gamble that the next eruption won't happen in their lifetimes. When it does come, it will be a tsunami-scale human tragedy.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on July 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


The Roman baths, the temple sculptures of ancient India ... people back in those days had a loooooot healthier attitude toward gettin' it on than that attitude we've had foisted on us. Any sexologists here who can explain when and how that happened and who pulled the latex over our eyes?
posted by Twang at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2011


The Economy of Prostitution in the Roman World, Thomas A J McGuin, University of Michigan, 2004:
"What did these representations mean to the Romans? The best answer is that more than one response is possible, not only for different persons, but also for the same viewer. Romans found erotic art stimulating in more than just the obvious sense. The art possible functioned as an aphrodisiac; a didactic paradigm; an expression of humor; above all, sexual satire; a display of wealth and/or culture, especially Greek culture, which was highly prized by the elite; or merely as decoration. So it is reductionist, for example, to view wall paintings in a brothel as a sort of pictorial menu of the specialties of the house."
posted by Miko at 8:27 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not sure it was really healthier to have widespread enslaved prostitution and forced sex work in a society with no suffrage for anyone who was not an elite, wealthy Roman male and an expectation of a high individual childbirth rate to populate the families of the nobility. I'll definitely take my free-choice sex life of today over the cards I would have been dealt in ancient Rome.
posted by Miko at 8:31 PM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


BTW -- Graffiti from Pompeii. Images.

Reading the Writing on Pompeii’s Walls
posted by homunculus at 8:41 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's great homunculus. One of the quotes made me laugh: “I’m amazed, O wall, that you have not fallen in ruins, you who support the tediousness of so many writers.”

Metafilter: I’m amazed, O site, that you have not fallen in ruins, you who support the tediousness of so many writers.
posted by empyrean at 10:30 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


We just came back from an Italian vacation with a day trip to Pompeii as well... One thing that added to the pathos of seeing all the ruins was learning that several years before the volcanic eruption, Pompeii suffered an earthquake, and the city was still in the middle of rebuilding itself when the disaster struck. At the court of justice site (off the main forum I believe), there were rows of well-preserved columns that only come up to an adult's chest height as they weren't never finished.
posted by of strange foe at 11:24 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


...people back in those days had a loooooot healthier attitude toward gettin' it on than that attitude we've had foisted on us. Any sexologists here who can explain when and how that happened and who pulled the latex over our eyes?

Well, there's this little thing that happened in the ensuing period, called... the Christian Church.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:26 PM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


In a stairwell, people took turns quoting popular poems and adding their own clever twists. In other places, the graffiti include drawings: a boat, a peacock, a leaping deer.


So... links to poems with rewrites in the comments and image posts?
posted by NoraReed at 12:51 AM on July 30, 2011


This idea of fresco-as-menu is thoroughly at odds with everything I learned on site

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I worked as an excavator in Pompeii every summer from 2002 - 2008. A lot of the things in this article may be considered convential wisdom, but are unreferenced, unsubstantiated, possibly invented or flat-out wrong. I don't understand the point of the article.* There are much better resources out there. See the Blogging Pompeii link above for one example.

*Not the post, I LOVE that there's a post about Pompeii, and could happily talk about it all day. Unfortunately I have to go out of town today, so I'll just leave you with a nearly complete photo archive of what the city looks like now and my favorite collection of images of some inscriptions from around the city.
posted by Eumachia L F at 1:03 AM on July 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


*the place being Pompeii, Italia, not NYC
posted by nickyskye at 3:41 AM on July 30, 2011


Robert Harris wrote a fun informative novel set in Pompeii AD 79
posted by adamvasco at 3:51 AM on July 30, 2011


nota bene: in Google Earth, there are very good street views and sketch-up models for parts of Pompeii.
posted by bendybendy at 6:25 AM on July 30, 2011


unreferenced, unsubstantiated, possibly invented or flat-out wrong

I'm sure a lot of the "museumlore" like this is spread by guides. It seems as though most visitors experience the site through guided tours, and though the guides are licensed, they also take plenty of creative license. I overheard lots of tours there as were working in the structures, and you hear the kinds of simplifications, jokey tactics, and sensationalizations you hear from some not-very-good commercial guides in American historic sites, too. All it takes is for reporters to relay their guides' patter as established understanding to spread a whole lot of not completely accurate information throughout the world, and with hundreds of people a day taking tours, it can spread fast.

The lack of interpretation at Pompeii is striking. You can take an audio tour, which I would recommend, as it seems to carry the bulk of official interpretation - but that's for an extra fee, so a lot of people skip it. You can hire on a pick-up guide. Beyond that, you're out of options - the labels are few and very spotty, there's no orientation, there's a little multimedia in certain richly interpreted sites like Julius Publius, but it seems not to add up to any informative overall interpretive strategy. Very ad hoc. Herculaneum is an altogether different experience, much more what a contemporary historic site visitor has come to expect, with an orientation exhibit, multiligual guidebooks, maps, labels, etc.
posted by Miko at 6:49 AM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You can hire on a pick-up guide."

That's giving me great mental imagery. "Sir! Do you need guidance on picking up other tourists? My rates are very reasonable."
posted by Net Prophet at 7:08 AM on July 30, 2011




When I visited Italu last year I was stoked to see Pompeii. Unfortunately I had a shit tour guide, but it made up for it when he showed us the old "whore" houses. It was really neat to see the sexual positions painted pretty damn clearly on ancient stone walls inside a house. The tour guide was particularly excited about this aspect of the tour. Pompeii is huge, and I easily could have spent a day or two just roaming about.
posted by handbanana at 10:09 AM on July 30, 2011


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