Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome

By Amy Richlin | Go to book overview

Ovid would be the first to agree with Foucault ( 1978a) that all human sexuality is constructed, arguing, however, that construction is not only inevitable but desirable. If the Roman gaze was primarily nude, so then is its object. If anything, it is the female object, rather than the female subject, that may be elided, in these pictures where men hold the mirrors (with the remarkable exception, I think, of the paintings from the Villa della Farnesina, which seem to me--and seemed to the "ragged imagination" of my Roman summer--to represent a female object for a female subject which might speak directly to women without male mediation). From the start, it had been the Roman male self (usually in a political or military role) that was the subject of Roman art. For the Roman male, it was perhaps more significant and noteworthy that in his erotic tabellae he gazed at, objectified, and took possession of himself, as he had been doing in other types of representation all along.

There may indeed be Roman pornography--those representations that speak a language of violence rather than sex, that construct a hierarchy of objectification, that equate female masochism with female sexuality, and that in themselves offer a sexist construction of reality--but I believe we will not find such pornography in these erotic paintings from first-century Rome.

Finally, as for the parva tabella Ovid claimed could be found in Augustus's own residence--for the reading vestris, "your houses," must certainly be correct--it would be nice to be able to report that Carettoni's excavations on the Palatine ( Carettoni 1983) had turned up one such painting in the austere cubiculum to which the emperor reputedly retired for forty years, winter and summer, scorning the extravagance of fancy villas while transforming Rome from brick to marble, or perhaps in the ruins of the technyphion, his famed upper-story retreat ( Suetonius Augustus 72.2-3). So far, no such picture has surfaced. But then, this would not be the first time that Ovid held a less than flattering mirror to the emperor's preferred image, and the digging on the Palatine is not done with yet.


NOTES
1.
I am grateful to Professor Eleanor W. Leach, director of the 1986 NEH seminar on "Roman Art in Its Social Context" at the American Academy in Rome, for introducing me to the vital connection between the art and literature of the Romans and for providing the forum in which the ideas for this paper could be developed and tested. I should also like to express my thanks for the help I received from Professors Mariette de Vos, Jorgen Mejer, David Thompson, and Amy Richlin.

Ancient works cited by abbreviation throughout the text and notes are HN = Pliny Historia Naturalis; Tr. = Ovid Tristia; AA = Ovid Ars Amatoria; QNat. = Seneca Quaestiones Naturales.

2.
Vestris: Crispinus ( Lyons 1792), Reise ( Leipzig 1874), Merkel (Teubner 1881), Guth ling ( Leipzig 1884), Owen ( Oxford 1889), Ripert ( Paris 1937), Luck ( Heidelberg 1967). Nostris: Merkel (Teubner 1889, 1902, 1904), Owen ( Oxford 1915, cf. 1924), Wheeler ( Loeb 1924), André (Budé 1968). Note that Merkel ( 1881, cf. 1889/ 1902/ 1904) and Owen ( 1889, cf. 1915/ 1924) reverse their own earlier readings of vestris to nostris.

For the manuscript tradition of the Tristia, see S. G. Owen's introduction to his edition and commentary of Tristia 2 ( 1924) and more fully in the introduction to his 1892 Oxford

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Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Time Line of Events, Sources, and Persons Discussed xxiv
  • 1: Pornography and Persuasion on Attic Pottery 3
  • Notes 34
  • 2: Tragedy and the Politics of Containment 36
  • Notes 51
  • 3: Eros in Love: Pederasty and Pornography in Greece 53
  • Notes 72
  • 4: The Mute Nude Female Characters in Aristophanes' Plays 73
  • Notes 88
  • Appendix Texts Relating to the Writers of Sexual Handbooks 108
  • Notes 109
  • 6: The Body Female and the Body Politic: Livy's Lucretia and Verginia 112
  • Notes 129
  • 7: The Domestication of Desire: Ovid's Parva Tabella and the Theater of Love 131
  • Notes 155
  • Notes 158
  • Notes 178
  • Notes 179
  • 9: Death as Decoration: Scenes from the Arena on Roman Domestic Mosaics 180
  • Notes 208
  • 10: Callirhoe 212
  • 11: Sweet and Pleasant Passion: Female and Male Fantasy in Ancient Romance Novels 231
  • Notes 249
  • 12: The Edible Woman: Athenaeus's Concept of the Pornographic 250
  • Conclusion 266
  • Notes 269
  • Notes 269
  • Notes 283
  • Bibliography 285
  • Contributors 313
  • Index 315
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