ROMAN SEX

John R. Clarke, Author
John R. Clarke, Author . Abrams $35 (168p) ISBN 978-0-8109-4263-9
Reviewed on: 06/02/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
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When, in 1968, the men in Clark's Pompeii tour group were ushered into a locked, windowless room in the Naples Archaeological Museum, Clark did not realize that he would eventually become an authority on ancient Rome's sexual iconography. The room, which women were forbidden to enter until the '70s, houses sexually explicit paintings and statues: figures with huge erections; a terra-cotta lamp of a woman making love to a man while swinging iron hand weights; a woman's hand mirror featuring "passionate lovemaking" complete with "her favorite pet." Now an art history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Clark presents some of the pieces that have inspired his last 30-plus years of study. Colorful frescoes, metal objects or ceramics are shown in 114 illustrations (95 in color), divided among nine chapters explaining ancient societal attitudes toward sex ("Woman on Top: Women's Liberation in the First Century A.D"; "Laughing at Taboo Sex in the Suburban Baths"), while subheadings like "Priapus, Protection, and Penetration" offer scholarly and personal anecdotes. A number of the works are published for the first time here. (June)

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