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Pompeii and circumstance: what was hiding in the ruins.

The first time visited Pompeii, as a 13-year-old. I was impressed for two reasons. Most classical ruins are crushing disappointments up close. They usually consist of a few sting columns and a marble stump or two, and resemble 1 Re neoclassical hole at a miniature golf course, But Pompeii was my first ruin to live up to its billing as a genuine, intact Roman town--a sprawling site with temples, villas, baths, and long streets. Even a self-absorbed teenager could picture the infamous summer day n &.D. 79 when the volcanic Mount Vesuvius blew and buried the Roman resort in a smoking shroud of ash

The second impressive thing about Pompeii. though, was more eye-popping--at least to my pubescent eyes. Presented essentially as a classical Hooters by ray Tour guide, the rums Became a running bump-and-grind. where it was made to seem that every other freestanding villa, shop, or temple we passed had been a bordello.

It wasn't until I recently returned to Pompeii. though, that I saw just now drastically that original our had imposed a stunted erotic fantasy on a reality that was, indeed, much more sexually imaginative and acrobatic.

Pompeii was a sexual hothouse, but the bordellos (which numbered about 25 when Vesuvius erupted) were the least sensual thing about the place. Much more exuberant was the sexual iconography that ran way past the whorehouses and into the private homes and villas and baths. In Pompeii sex wasn't something confined to the red-light district. Integrated rote every minute of everyday ire. eroticism was a domestic joy, and privates villas like the House of the Vettii offer up an unembarrassed Fume, Flaunting more phalluses then the average leather bar. the villa is awash in murals of casually copulating couples and naked nymphs, Guarding the house is a painting of Priapus, the god of fertility, weighing his engorged penis, echoed by a fountain statue of him peeing into a basin.

It didn't take any archeological digging on my return to see that the eroticism Pompeii celebrated was pansexual and open to every configuration. Forget a cosmos neatly divided into gays and straights. The murals in Pompeii's Suburban Baths, for one, offer paintings of men mounting boys and a gleeful foursome (a woman performing cunnilingus on another woman while a man plunges into a man kneeling before him). These are committed omnivorous sexual acrobats who do justice to a city ruled by Venus.

The physical was spiritual in Pompeii. The city's statue of dreamy Apollo depicts a flawless nude with a tunic draped languidly are around his muscled arms like a mink stole, intentionally underscoring his nakedness.

If all this can make Pompeii look like a gay utopia that left an enduring legacy, it's also easy to romanticize the past. Slave Boys, of canine didn't have much say over their bodies, and it was only the freeman who could really enjoy the orgy.

Yet even the casualties can't obscure the tact that Pompeii came Close to an honest, nee-ranging sexual embrace, and most heartening are the remains that go beyond the merely erotic. Among the original graffiti, scrawled in the ruins is this inscription: "We are here, two dear friends, comrades forever. If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus." Maybe someday someone will dig up their bodies curled together under the ash. For now their names are enough, and probably Pompeii's best find.

310 B.C.

Pompeii is mentioned by the historian Livy

49 B.C.

The beginning of the Augustan age and the rise of Pompeii as a favored Roman resort

February 5, A.D. 62

An earthquake levels much of the city, though it is reconstructed

August 24, 79

Mount Vesuvius erupts and buries Pompeii and the neighboring town of Herculaneum. At the time Pompeii had a population of 20,000


Archeologists begin excavating the city

RAPHAEL KADUSHIN has never forgotten his first visit to the ruins of Pompeii (page 47) as a teenager. He is an acquisitions editor at the University of Wisconsin Press and originator of the Living Out series of gay and lesbian autobiographies. His own edited anthology, Wonderlands: Good Gay Travel Writing, will be published in February 2004.
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Title Annotation:Familiar faces: gay history in unexpected places
Author:Kadushin, Raphael
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Sep 30, 2003
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