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CULTURE

Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality

Raunchy scenes may redden faces at a new exhibition in Pompeii on art and sexuality in the ancient Roman city, where sculptures and paintings of breasts and buttocks abound.

Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality
A vistor walks next to a "Hermaphrodite asleep" sculpture, in Pompeii's site during a new exhibition entitled "Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii" on art and sexuality in the ancient city. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

 Archaeologists excavating the city, which was destroyed by the eruption of nearby Vesuvius in 79 AD, were initially startled to discover erotic images everywhere, from garden statues to ceiling frescos.

Since those first digs in the 18th-century site, racy images have been found in taverns, thermal baths and private homes, from huge erect penises to a statue with both male and female physical attributes.

READ ALSO: Roman chariot unearthed ‘almost intact’ near Pompeii

It became clear that “this is a city where sensuality, eroticism, are ever-present,” Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel told AFP as he stood in front of statues of bare-chested Centaurs.

The discoveries initially caused “dismay, embarrassment, and curiosity, and were seen by some as a great opportunity to think about the relationship with their bodies and nudity in a very different way”.

Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel, poses during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii”. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The Neapolitan King Charles VII, who financed the excavations, shut some of the more bawdy finds away in a secret cabinet in Naples, only showing them to those of proven moral standing, Zuchtriegel said.

READ ALSO: Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

That secret cabinet still exists today in the archaeological museum in the southern Italian city.

The exhibition, which runs until January 2023 and brings together some 70 works, begins with the vast erect penis on a statue of the god Priape – a Roman symbol of fertility and prosperity.

This photograph shows a “Statue-fountain of Priapus, symbol of prosperity” during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii”. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

Priape and his phallus was traditionally placed in the atrium, the large central hall of Roman houses.

Suitable for children?

Visitors are told this has nothing to do with eroticism, “though the modern imagination gives it this meaning”, says Tiziana Rocco from the Pompeii exhibition office.

The smirking of embarrassed tourists is proof enough of that, despite some wishing it otherwise.

“I think modern American culture is a little bit too prudish, and uncomfortable with the human body,” says Seattle tourist Daniel Berglund.

“It’s nice to see ancient culture that was more open and willing to display and glorify the human body,” the 40-year-old said as he lingered in front of paintings from a “cubiculum”, or Roman bedroom.

Various scenes are shown, including a man and a woman having sex. Further on, a series of oil lamps shine light on images to make pulses race – though the curators have not forgotten that some people will be bringing their children to the exhibition.

“Families and children make up a large part of our public,” says Zuchtriegel, who has put together an illustrated guide for them.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: Pompeii’s treasures go on display at reopened Antiquarium museum

“The theme may seem difficult, but it is omnipresent in Pompeii, so it must be explained to children in one way or another,” he said.

In the guide, a centaur – a creature from Greek mythology that is half man, half horse – searches for a mate.

A visitor walks during a new exhibition in Pompeii’s site entitled “Art and sensuality in the houses of Pompeii. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

On the way he meets Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, Dionysus, the god of wine, and Hermaphrodite, the child of Aphrodite and Hermes, who had both male and female sexual organs.

“It’s a playful way to meet the different figures of Greek myths present in Pompeii,” Zuchtriegel said

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TECHNOLOGY

IN PICTURES: Pompeii tests new robotic dog named ‘Spot’

A robot 'dog' that can collect data and alert staff to structural issues is being trialled at the historic site of Pompeii.

IN PICTURES: Pompeii tests new robotic dog named 'Spot'

Under the amused gaze of many tourists, a robot dog wanders the ancient stone alleys of Pompeii’s famous archaeological park.

Meet Spot, a friendly, yellow-and-black remote-controlled creature with a gangly gait who looks like a dog crossed with an insect – all wrapped up in a robot’s body.

Visitors to Pompeii take photos of Spot the robot.
Visitors to Pompeii take photos of Spot the robot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Spot’s current mission at Pompeii is to inspect hard-to-access areas of the sprawling ruins, to collect data and alert his handlers to safety and structural problems.

“Particularly underground structures where safety conditions won’t allow (staff) to enter, such as in the park’s many very narrow and dangerous tunnels,” Pompeii’s general director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality

Pompeii's site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel poses with Spot.Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel poses with Spot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

His purvey includes surveying tunnels dug out in clandestine excavations, which Zuchtriegel said “unfortunately still take place in the area”.

With its excavated ruins spread out over 44 hectares (109 acres), the archaeological site preserves the remains of the ancient wealthy city south of Naples, buried by ash after the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Spot is driven through an underground tunnel by a technician.

Spot is driven through an underground tunnel by a technician. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Spot – who weighs 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and is about the size of a Golden Retriever – is controlled remotely with a tablet and better equipped than people to survey certain areas of the park.

The robot is made by US company Boston Dynamics, which specialises in robotics, including for the military.

READ ALSO: Italian researchers unearth ancient fast food joint in Pompeii

The company’s website says Spot can be used in industries such as construction, mining and manufacturing, among others, carrying out inspections and capturing data.

Spot in an underground tunnel beneath Pompeii.
Spot in an underground tunnel beneath Pompeii. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Controlling Spot this week in Pompeii was Valerio Brunelli, business developer for Leica Geosystem, which makes a 3D flying scanner, resembling a drone, that accompanies the robot in its rounds.

Brunelli made Spot bow and wiggle for the crowd.

Technicians handle the robot.

Technicians handle the robot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

“Spot is an amalgamation of technology that makes it a robot capable of exploring very complicated places, such as those found here,” said Brunelli.

“It’s a leap into the future for a thousand-year-old park”.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: The treasures unearthed during Pompeii’s six-year restoration

The robot is being used on a trial basis and comes with a $75,000 price tag.

Spot walks among the ruins of Pompeii.

Spot walks among the ruins of Pompeii. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Director Zuchtriegel said a decision on whether or not to buy Spot had not yet been made, but that rapid changes in the technology sector made choosing expensive, high-tech purchases difficult.

“People are always needed, so there will never be a robot dog to be the guardian inside the Pompeii site. That is not the goal.”

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