There is a myth among some people, including scholars, that
pornographic images began with the invention of the photographic
It is a way, I suppose, to keep us focused on the
idea that today's immorality is far worse than yesterday's. But
that all sexual art before the time of Christ represents a sacred
union is, nevertheless, a lie.
Of course, people have been prevented from knowing
about these images by virtue of our puritanical outlook on things.
The repositories for artifacts here in California contain more than
a few examples of immaculately carved stone penises, the "sacred
pestles" as would be explained to you if you were to wrangle
permission to actually see one. American Indians didn't have a sense
of humor? A sense of the erotic? Not even when rhythmically pounding
acorns with a blunt cylinder?
The sacred is the way we explain away much of what
we can't--or don't want to--understand as erotica or porn. It's
a smokescreen at best. Once Greeks and Romans learned how to make
cheap, molded oil
lamps, the market was flooded with sexual imagery in three dimensions.
Call it sacred if you wish. Whatever lights your wick. But as with
the image above, reproduce the same thing with a couple of models
and a camera and it'll be called porn by just about anyone.
Would it be beyond the realm of modern thought to
believe that through sexual or even pornographic images, cultures
have found a way to mitigate the sexual tensions that limiting access
to sex imposes? Is providing a safe context for sexual imaginings
as wrong and dangerous as it is universal? You decide, but if you
have any ideas, feel free to email
The secret room in the Naples Archaeological Museum,
containing sexual artifacts from excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum,
has been closed to all but the very rich and influential for 200
years. But despite vociferous protest, it is now open to the public.
You do have to go through a few hoops to get in. After you buy your
general admission ticket, you might have to ask about the secret
room (camera segretta). You'll be directed to another kiosk where
you'll be assigned a visitation time and given a voucher good for
that time period. All tours are free and guided by someone who speaks
your language but who isn't necessarily knowledgeable about the
artifacts. You can hire an archaeologist to tell you more about
them if you wish.
The interesting thing is, you are free to take pictures--as
long as you don't use flash. You'll only have 45 minutes to tour
the room, but it's smaller than you'd think considering the hoopla
surrounding the exhibit.
So, follow our tour if you'd like, or click on the
individual pictures to see them enlarged.
Clicking on the thumbnails below will open a full-size
browser for this to occur.
||All photos © 2000 by James Martin
Photo info: I used an Olympus C-2000z to take the photos above.
All of them used natural light and an aperture of f2.0 to f2.8.
Some of them were skewed from having been taken at an odd angle,
and those were corrected in PhotoShop.
||If you're interested in more of the erotic images
at Pompeii, this book may do it. Featuring over 80 erotic works
of art and written by an authority on Pompeii, Eros
in Pompeii will give you a clear understanding
of how the erotic was a feature of Roman life, and not just
brothel decorations. By the way, the erect penis figure was
nothing more than a good luck charm to the Romans.
More Suggested reading on ancient erotica
and sexual attitudes.
Those interested in historical sex and games may wish to discover
Lovechess: The Greek
and Troyan Gods Having Sex, a chess game with
revealing sexual activity between players.
More on Ancient Erotica, Pornography, and Sexual Customs: