The ancient Greco-Romans had a totally different attitude towards sex (so the minor or the puritanical shouldn’t read further.) Suffice it to have a look at these statues, both beautiful and erotic, to intuitively grasp a sensuality open and entirely different from the Western manners prevalent today. The beauty and natural perfection of these bodies in fact convey the idea – a very simple idea, this very gifted Greek student I recently met would say – that sex wasn’t perceived as lewd or licentious; it was felt instead as one of the joys of life:
It is so simple:
as simple (and beautiful)
as a Greek temple.
Hence sex was enjoyed so naturally though in ways most contemporary folks wouldn’t even imagine, especially when we think that these statues were somehow linked to rituals and religion.
Above we can admire the perfect classical beauty of Venus Kallipygos; below, the statue of a Satyr (which a female Roman friend chose among a set and assured me it was a pretty good erotic sample. I couldn’t but yield to her superior discernment.)
Venus was the Goddess of love (both carnal and spiritual) while a Satyr, according to the Wikipedia – a very good tool for initial research, but nothing more – is “a Dionysian creature lover of wine, women and boys, and ready for every physical pleasure…”. Also child satyrs existed (which seems such a sad thing today, to all of us) taking part in Bacchanalian/Dionysian religious rituals, which usually (or sometimes) involved orgies as well.
At this point I’m really sure that every reader cannot but agree that the Greco-Romans had a VERY different attitude towards sex. No doubt about that. An ENTIRELY different attitude indeed.
If we could forget these are classical statues and regarded them just as they appear to our senses and out of their context we’d surely see them as porn or pornographic. According to the Wikipedia “the concept of pornography as understood today did not exist until the Victorian era. …When large scale excavations of Pompeii were undertaken in the 1860s, much of the erotic art of the Romans came to light, shocking the Victorians who saw themselves as the intellectual heirs of the Roman Empire. They did not know what to do with the frank depictions of sexuality, and endeavored to hide them away ….. The moveable objects were locked away in the Secret Museum in Naples, Italy.”
I do not quite agree with Wikipedia about how and when the modern concept of pornography was conceived, seeming this to me a totally Anglo-Saxon centred observation, forgetful of how history can be ancient.
I might be wrong (or right) but who the hell cares, chissenefrega, this whole Victorian thing being so incredibly funny.
I can see these prudish Victorians feeling themselves as heirs of the Romans (which somehow they were, at least in my view) who much to their horror found out how perverted these Romans had been (at least in their view), while together with the Italians they were uncovering these sexy statues and paintings.
I can imagine their pale shocked faces and especially I’m fantasizing about their shamefully and hastily helping the Neapolitans to hide somewhere the horrendous, abominable truth.
The Neapolitans incidentally were then probably laughing at them a bit as well, being of course much less disturbed than the Victorians by all these “frank depictions of sexuality” (dear reader, try to guess why …).
Getting back to the Ancients, this Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks is uncovering herself and looking back (and down) in order to evaluate her perfect buttocks. The reason is again very simple (and very erotic, I’ll confess.) All originated from a buttock contest between two beautiful sisters, so, who knows, the statue dedicated to Venus-Aphrodite might exactly represent both the winner and her buttocks. I mean – and of course mine is mere historical interest – there is a chance we are looking at her real ass, and not at the usual idealized one. I am pretty sure she evaluated her rear even more evidently since statues were mostly painted in full colour, therefore the direction of her gaze was probably even more visible (pupils etc. being painted too.)
This cult of Venus-Aphrodite with beautiful buttocks appeared in Greek Syracuse (Sicily, Italy,) according to some ancient author, because this is where the sisters apparently lived. Again, needless to say, it would be nowadays inconceivable to dedicate a sanctuary (or a holy place) to a goddess because of a pair of sexy buttocks (read in the Wikipedia the whole peculiar story of the two lovely sisters.)
Venus was the goddess of beauty, fertility and love. The Roman Venus was born around Lavinium not by chance, since Aeneas, the great Roman ancestor (son of Venus, by the way) may there be landed and there probably lived. So technically the Romans were children of Venus but also of Mars, God of War: what a weird mix, isn’t it.
Young couples gathered close to the Venus temples for petting, necking and even coupling. Youths were probably discreet but what is interesting is that their loving felt somehow enhanced, even sanctified by the presence of the Goddess, which is again unimaginable today. Think of a today’s scenario where teenagers flock near a Catholic or an Anglican church, in spring time, or in any time, for petting and sex. I mean, even the mere thought of it could offend true Christians.
Of course I do ask for pardon though please it’d also be nice if you religious people did some effort as well. We are not here to offend religion(s) nor to make a porn site out this blog (which could make us richer though not necessarily happier.) We are here to talk about our Western roots. And it turns these ancient Greeks & Romans had entirely different views on sex.
Is it bad? Is it good? Difficult to say. We somewhat prefer the ancient views, but it is our personal opinion. We just love to think Sex to be Beauty, love and sex to be a sublime joy of life that shouldn’t necessarily be related to reproduction (like too many Popes tried to teach us endlessly.)
Ok, one might say, if it’s true these were our Western roots, what the hell has happened? Why had we this oppressive revolution that made one of the joys of life into something to be ashamed of? Was it because of the Victorians? Of the Muslims? Was it because of the Christian priests and intellectuals? Maybe in India, who knows, the Victorians had some influence. Out there Kama Sutra was created, the first great text about love and sexual intercourse – beautiful, poetic and scientific – and the Victorians arrived with their not entirely positive influence in this field of human life (if what the Wikipedia says is true …I need some feedback here by my Indians readers.)
As for the West I am sure the answer is to be found at the times when the Roman Empire turned into a Christian Roman Empire, hence from Emperor Constantine onwards (4th century AD: no trace of the Victorians yet lol). Not immediately though. No. It took some time. It surely took some time to become totally repressed.
One last thing. Are anywhere to be found survivals of this ancient freer attitude towards sex? I believe so. We have said (Braudel had said) great civilisations never die. Plus we had entitled this post Permanences III (but changed the title later.) But we do not want to reveal too much about the Roman sex post num. 2.
So, how can we conclude this writing?
2) With Lucretius’ initial prayer to Venus.
Lucretius is a great Roman poet. From his verses one can get a good feel of how a true Ancient Roman felt about Venus. So it is a pretty good conclusion for this Sex and the Romans num. 1 post. If you are lucky enough to appreciate these verses you’ll live a unique experience, a real time-machine experience. This also classics offer, a time-machine experience.
Try then hard to read these words attentively. You might be able to penetrate the mysteries of a lost, arcane – though still living, though still living wonder why – world …
Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.
Initial invocation to Venus.
“Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Dear Venus that beneath the gliding stars
Makest to teem the many-voyaged main
And fruitful lands- for all of living things
Through thee alone are evermore conceived,
Through thee are risen to visit the great sun-
Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,
Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,
For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,
For thee waters of the unvexed deep
Smile, and the hollows of the serene sky
Glow with diffused radiance for thee!
For soon as comes the springtime face of day,
And procreant gales blow from the West unbarred,
First fowls of air, smit to the heart by thee,
Foretoken thy approach, O thou Divine,
And leap the wild herds round the happy fields
Or swim the bounding torrents. Thus amain,
Seized with the spell, all creatures follow thee
Whithersoever thou walkest forth to lead,
And thence through seas and mountains and swift streams,
Through leafy homes of birds and greening plains,
Kindling the lure of love in every breast,
Thou bringest the eternal generations forth,
Kind after kind. And since ’tis thou alone
Guidest the Cosmos, and without thee naught
Is risen to reach the shining shores of light,
Nor aught of joyful or of lovely born,
Thee do I crave co-partner in that verse
Which I presume on Nature to compose
For Memmius mine, whom thou hast willed to be
Peerless in every grace at every hour-
Wherefore indeed, Divine one, give my words
Immortal charm. Lull to a timely rest
O’er sea and land the savage works of war,
For thou alone hast power with public peace
To aid mortality; since he who rules
The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,
How often to thy bosom flings his strength
O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love-
And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,
Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,
Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath
Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined
Fill with thy holy body, round, above!
Pour from those lips soft syllables to win
Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!.”
Of The Nature of Things [De Rerum Natura]
by Lucretius [Titus Lucretius Carus]
(Initial invocation to Venus)
Translated by William Ellery Leonard
Project Gutenberg Text