Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, states that unrestrained intercourse cures dysentery. That museums display this material today also throws light on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collectors who preserved these things for longevity. Many Greek philosophers were lukewarm on the subject of sex. Some of these even had religious significance. On the other hand, Greek physicians took a much more positive view. If you want to make your penis look especially big, soak the root of a specific but unidentifiable plant in good wine for three days and, when needed, tie it to your thigh.
The images that follow present just a few of these sexual curiosities in Ancient Greece - sometimes satirical, sometimes familiar, and often strange. It can even restore sanity. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, states that unrestrained intercourse cures dysentery. Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome --not as evidence for what happened in ancient bedrooms which was probably no more or less remarkable than is happening now but for how some of the inhabitants of these two different and diverse worlds used sex to think about who they were and wanted to be; as evidence too of what turned them on and made them laugh. For somewhere in the clash of cultures, we also learn more about ourselves. Next time you are tempted to think the ancients "just like us," remember these images. Aristotle thought size mattered, but not how you might think: Some of these even had religious significance. Instead, they underline the distance of the Greeks and Romans, and remind us that even if we could time-travel back to ancient Pompeii, we would inevitably be lost in translation; that the Romans conceived of their bodies and of the relationships between men and women, mortals and gods, public and private, differently from the Greeks and from us. On the other hand, Greek physicians took a much more positive view. That museums display this material today also throws light on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collectors who preserved these things for longevity. Not that any of these images make the Greeks and Romans decadent or debauched; not when they are put back into a world in which people hung phallic pendants around their necks and from their doorways and worshipped gods who had the power to punish with their penises. But they have also left a plethora of sexually explicit imagery--statues with erect penises, bestiality as garden sculpture, and drinking vessels, oil lamps and wall paintings showing scenes of rape and sexual intercourse. Aristotle asked "Why are people ashamed to admit that they want to have sexual intercourse, whereas this is not the case with drinking or eating or other such things? They recommended intercourse as a way of countering a wide spectrum of ailments: What follows offers a taster of these images and of my book Sex on Show: Sex hasn't changed much; we are still on that same quest, and many of the sexual attitudes from two and a half thousand years ago are still around today - but there are also some radical differences. Is it because most of our desires are for things we must have, some of them actually being essential for life, whereas sexual desire is a non-vital indulgence? Epicurus yes, that Epicurus, the one who regarded pleasure as life's central purpose said that "sexual intercourse has never done anyone any good, and we should be content if it does us no actual harm" Epicurus, frg. What was their pleasure? If you want to make your penis look especially big, soak the root of a specific but unidentifiable plant in good wine for three days and, when needed, tie it to your thigh. But Zeus split everyone in two, forcing them to wander around on just two legs looking for their other half, with their sexual orientation determined by the genitals of that alter ego they yearned for. Many Greek philosophers were lukewarm on the subject of sex. Ancient Greek medical texts also provide many remedies for male impotence: Sex gives relief to a man bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion, although it harms the woman who is his partner. Democritus thought that people derive as much pleasure from scratching themselves as they do from having sex. Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you.
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