eros

Nothing seems to me more absurd than applying our social mores to other cultures. Some have raised nakedness to the heights: others have damned it to Hell. Is one right and the other wrong? The only person who it seems to me has the right to judge is someone from the culture whose mores and behaviour are being considered.

The ‘Peoples of the Book’ (Jews, Christians and Muslims) have a particularly strong aversion to nakedness and what might be considered a ‘restrictive’ view of sexuality. I wish I could go and see this exhibition. Why? Because, though I know this stuff exists, I have seen only a few photographs of it – and I am fascinated by the Classical world. And why have I not seen this stuff? Well, because, though so many museums have lots of examples, these have been kept locked away, only to be viewed by ‘experts’ who, apparently, are far less shockable than the rest of us… What ludicrous censorship! and amazing that a post-Christian society, such as I would consider Western Europe to be, should still feel constrained by this nervousness about sex. It is simply the case that the Classical world did not have the same ‘prejudice’ and these ‘erotic’ works formed a normal part of their everyday lives – if you don’t believe me go and have a look at the frescoes on the walls of Pompeii…

Now whereas in considering the Classical world, our prejudice merely deprives us of what was, arguably, a non-central part of that culture, in the case of Ancient Egypt, such prejudice entirely undermines our understanding of that culture. For a core Egyptian creation myth was represented in the holy of holies of their greatest temples by an idol of Amun, chief of the gods, holding his phallus in his hand. This was because they believed that Amun created the world through an act of masturbation… Now that is a profoundly different way to see the world than having, in that sacred locus, a man dying on a cross…

11 thoughts on “eros

  1. Going on the Egyptian tangent – Osiris’ legend is also associated with the phallus: his body was shredded by his brother, and his sister/wife Isis went to find his scattered remains and repieced them together so that he became god of the Underworld after – the only piece she was missing was his phallus.

    There’s a fascinating article in my Sexual Diversities Course that talked about the transformation from merely a penis (as a part of human physiology) to the phallus (as a simulacrum). I can’t remember the title of the article or the name of the author, but it’s in one of my readers packed away in piles of boxes. 😛

    And to the rest of your post – agree. Oftentimes when we look back at history, we impose our own values and ways of seeing the world on what was past, which dislocates what might have been ‘central’ to that culture.

  2. oh and YES about the rediculous censorship that priviledges the academics. It makes me want to be one just so I can actually get at the good stuff in the British Museum. I went there looking for their famed Chinese painting collection and the entire section was CLOSED!

  3. I was just reading about the Pompeii erotic art recently – and how for many years it was locked away from view… it’s strange that, in a society that believes in ‘letting it all hang out’ in so many ways, there are still museums hiding this stuff. Having an over-18s only exhibition, I could understand. Making it impossible for people to see the stuff and make up their own minds AT ALL? Strange… can only assume that the matter of funding is so precarious for some institutions that they’re afraid of doing anything that might bring the right wingers down on their heads…

    1. yes… there’s a lot of hypocrisy around this topic. I suspect that the core reason for this is an ancient one – that the powers that be didn’t want to rock the ‘glory of the ancients’ vibe that the West was on. After that, it’s probably just habit and the dusty prejudices that no doubt lurk the darker recesses of such institutions…

  4. As far as I am concerned, erotic art is about the first art that has been produced. The moment people thought about creating images, some artist was creating the first porn. Those ancient Venus statues (Willenburg), often described as ‘fertility symbol’ is more likely ancient porn: the artist couldn’t be bothered giving her more than one eye, but took extraordinary care with her privates.
    There’s this urge of scientists to describe all old toys and art things as “ceremonial”, while -as you know- the truth is much closer to modern day man. Why did Betamax fail as vcr system? Because it didn’t have porn. Why did the Internet become so popular? No, not for exchange of scientific information, but for swapping porn. Why were painters in past centuries so interested in mythology? Because it allowed them to paint naked ladies. Why were there so many biblical epics made in early movies? Because they could stick naked ladies in (until, that is, the Hayes office put the censorship foot down).

  5. Apesar de concordar com a sua opinião sobre a estupidez em reservar para “experts” este tipo de artesanato, frescos, entre outros, não gostei da referencia jocosa a Jesus Cristo. Sendo ou não praticante temos de respeitar as crenças uns dos outros.

    1. my reference to Jesus was not intended to be even slightly “jocosa”… what I was trying to do was contrast the mentality of a culture that had as one of its central images a god masturbating, with another culture that had there the image of a man being crucified – a blood sacrifice…

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