Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome

Overview

The ancient Greeks and Romans were not shy about sex. Phallic imagery, sex scenes, and the lively activities of their promiscuous gods adorned many objects, buildings, and sculptures. Drinking cups, oil-lamps, and walls were decorated with scenes of seduction; statues of erect penises served as boundary-stones and signposts; and marble satyrs and nymphs grappled in gardens.

Caroline Vout examines the abundance of sexual imagery in Greek and Roman culture. Were these images ...

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Overview

The ancient Greeks and Romans were not shy about sex. Phallic imagery, sex scenes, and the lively activities of their promiscuous gods adorned many objects, buildings, and sculptures. Drinking cups, oil-lamps, and walls were decorated with scenes of seduction; statues of erect penises served as boundary-stones and signposts; and marble satyrs and nymphs grappled in gardens.

Caroline Vout examines the abundance of sexual imagery in Greek and Roman culture. Were these images intended to be shocking, humorous, or exciting? Are they about sex or love? How are we to know whether our responses to them are akin to those of the ancients? The answers to these questions provide fascinating insights into ancient attitudes toward religion, politics, sex, gender, and the body. They also reveal how the ancients saw themselves and their world, and how subsequent centuries have seen them. Beautifully illustrated throughout, this lively and thought-provoking book not only addresses theories of sexual practice and social history, it is also a visual history of what it meant and still means to stare sex in the face.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
03/01/2014
The frescoes in the brothel in Pompeii generally cause a stir among tourists. Oil lamps feature wicks coming out of erect penises. The Colosseum in Rome has male genitalia scratched high on a wall to indicate in which of the exit corridors (fornix) one can find a prostitute. Why were the ancient Greeks and Romans brash enough to make erotic art so public, and why are we fascinated with it centuries later? Art historian Vout (classics, Univ. of Cambridge; Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome; Antinous: The Face of the Antique) attempts to answer the question of whether the ancients reacted to these objects as we do. Were the citizens of Greece and Rome as discomfited by these images as some of us are today? What were their attitudes toward sex, eroticism, gender, and the human body? Vout even asks if her book should be considered pornographic. Readers must decide for themselves. This title is well illustrated, with full-color, in-text images of sixth-century BCE to fourth- century CE objects mainly from the British Museum's collection. The volume includes further-reading suggestions in the form of a bibliographic essay. VERDICT Appropriate for those interested in the intersections of sex, art, history, and culture.—Nancy J. Mactague, Aurora Univ. Lib., IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520280205
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 11/6/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 492,598
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Caroline Vout is Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Christ’s College.
In 2008 she was awarded the prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize for Art History. She is the author of Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome and Antinous: the Face of the Antique, which won the inaugural Art Book Award.

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Table of Contents

1. Sex, Love, Seduction
2. Exposure
3. Fantasy
4. Divine Encounters
5. Fatal Attraction
6. Desire for the Antique

Further reading
A note about Greek pottery
Picture credits

Index

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