Joel Klebanoff: Stuff & Nonsense

To worry is to be. To be is to worry.

Ancient Porn

Naples National Archaeological Museum staircase

Naples National Archaeological Museum staircase

Today’s digital scribbling is the result of a visit to the “Secret Room” (sometimes known as Secret Cabinet or, in Italian, Gabinetto Segreto) of the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

When I was devising a title for this post my first inclination was to call it Ancient Erotica rather than Ancient Porn because porn has more of a morality connotation than erotica. It is not my intent to apply any moral judgement to the pieces of art I saw there. However, on further consideration, I figured that more people use porn as a search term than erotica so I thought I could get more traffic with porn. OK. I admit it. I’m a traffic slut.

Sorry to disappoint you, but I didn’t snap any pictures of the erotica, porn or whatever you want to call it that I saw in the Secret Room. If that’s what you are looking for, a simple web search will find plenty of porn and erotica pictures of all types, including pictures of the works in the Secret Room.

Well, now that I’ve finished trying to get search engines to send porn and erotica searchers to me, on to what I wanted to talk about.

If you go into the Naples National Archaeological Museum, enter the large hall on the ground floor and walk to the back you’ll find a grand staircase; the one pictured here. After an initial straight flight of stairs, the staircase branches off to the right and left before the sections fold back on themselves and then split off again.

Take the stairs to the left. Walk to the very back of the wing on the middle level of the museum. That’s where you’ll find the find the Secret Room. Inside are a collection of explicit paintings and sculptures of erect penises, naked breasts being fondled, and couples, including a man and goat couple, having sex.

The pieces came from the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Most date back to the first century AD. Christ, that’s a long time ago.

Near the entrance there are two larger-than-life statues of erect, disembodied penises. That is to say, they are certainly larger than my life. And they are hopefully larger than any man’s life because, despite being small enough to sit on a single table, a penis that size would still cause catastrophic physiological damage if used for anything other than peeing. Besides, who the hell would want to carry around such a gargantuan thing?

Alongside these stone penises is a sign that says in a few languages, “don’t touch.” This sign engendered two thoughts in me.

First, I wondered, what are they worried about? Are they concerned that these rock penises might get even harder if rubbed? Are they afraid that volcanos will ejaculate out of them if they are stroked too much?

OK. OK. I know that not touching works of art in a museum is the rule, not the exception. Otherwise, after a while these sculptures may erode to merely life-size. But the second question that came to mind was, is such a prominent sign necessary? I mean, really. How many people are that eager to touch stone penises in public? A lot I guess.

Hmm. A very limited number of people touching the penises wouldn’t do much damage. I wonder if there are special exemptions for museum members. Do members get to touch the members? Sorry. I never could resist a bad pun.

If researchers wanted to plot the course of sexual mores in Naples over the past number of years a good place to start would be to look at controls on access to the room. I read that, over time, this has varied from age restrictions to limiting access to adults who were known to have good moral characters. And for a while the room was walled off completely. When I went I didn’t see any restrictions other than if you were coming in a group of more than ten people you were supposed to book in advance.

As I left the room a group of English girls who appeared to me to be in their middle teenage years was preparing to go in. I have to admit that I felt self-conscious about that. I tried desperately to not make eye contact with any of them. Is that normal or is that just another example of my many, intricate, interwoven inhibitions? Or is it an inhibition, but one that’s prevalent in the population?

For the record, I want to note that I went to the Naples National Archaeological Museum because it was listed somewhere as one of the “must sees” of Naples, not because of the Secret Room. In fact, I had absolutely no idea that the Secret Room existed until I stumbled on it while wandering through the museum. Not only that, but because I went to the right when I walked up the grand staircase the first time and the Secret Room is way at the back of the wing to the left (left, when you’re facing the staircase from the bottom), I almost missed it. If I had I would still be ignorant of its presence. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Categorised as: culture


2 Comments

  1. Janene says:

    I’m guess that “don’t touch” sign was there because too many people were doing it. There’s just something about rock hard penises, I guess. Sounds like you had quite an — ahem — adventure in there. No pictures? Aw, shucks. ;)

    • Yeah, I figured that. I just don’t understand who gets off on rubbing stone penises. The penises certainly don’t get anything out of it.

      Sorry about the lack of pictures. You can find pictures of the stuff in the room through a Google search on “Naples Archaeological Museum Secret Room” (without the quotes).

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