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Eroticism in Pompeii

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Eroticism in Pompeii
by Antonio Varone. Translated by Maureen Fant. (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum: 2001. Pg 115, illustrated.) ISBN: 0-89236-628-1.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 11, 2002

What is eroticism, and how was it perceived in the Roman World? In Antonio Varone's new book, Eroticism in Pompeii he explores the nature of eroticism, from an unbiased and unprejudicial manner. He has elected to set his study in Pompeii. Using the archaeological and epigraphic evidence preserved there, when the city was buried after the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, he provides a panoramic overview of eroticism and sexuality in public, private, and religious situations. Throughout, he has tried to set aside our modern notions of morality in order to present this study from the viewpoint of the Pompeians themselves.

To ensure that this work clearly articulates the Pompeian viewpoint, Varone has allowed the Pompeian's to speak with their own voice whenever possible. To this end, he quotes extensively from Martial and other ancient authors. In addition, this book is resplendent with over 100 color illustrations ranging from graphic depictions of the sex act to erotic artwork, such as phallic shaped oil lamps. By modern standards, much of this artwork would be considered obscene. Yet, as Varone points, out, for the inhabitants of Pompeii, erotic images where part of everyday life, both in the private and in the public arena.

Eroticism in Pompeii is organized into thematic sections covering, Eroticism in Pompeii provides an objective introduction into an often overlooked aspect of Roman history. This information will not only help you gain a fuller understanding of the Romans, but it also helps to see the Roman's as they saw themselves, rather than through eyes obfuscated by modern ideas of morality. Varone has handled the material discussed in this book, in a tasteful and scholarly manner. This book is meant to educate, not to titillate. However, due to the nature of its content, and the graphic illustrations, this book may not be suitable for all readers.

Other books in this series:
Related Reviews:

Antiquity Recovered: The Legacy of Pompeii and Herculaneum, edited by Victoria C. Gardner Coates and Jon L. Seydl.
Thirteen essays that chronicle how our understanding of Pompeii and Herculaneum have changed over time, and the place these sites hold in popular culture.

Gods and Heroes in Pompeii, by Ernesto De Carolis.
In this well illustrated book, De Carolis examines the paintings, frescoes, and other pictorial wall decorations uncovered in Pompeii.

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