Mar 16, 2014

The Secret Cabinet of Homoerotic Art

When I studied Greek and Roman art in school, I noticed something curious.  A beefcake paradise: thousands of male figures, massively muscled, exquisitely detailed bicep-bulges and hard-rock pecs.  We still use the phrase "like a Greek god" to mean a superlative physique.

But tiny beneath the belt.  More like infants than full-grown men.

Were the ancients so much smaller than their descendants in modern Greece and Italy?  Or was tiny sexy, so the artists "enhanced" their models with shrinkage.

The Straight Dope argues that indeed, in ancient Greece, small was better. It quotes the playwright Aristophanes, who says that the most desirable masculine features are: "a gleaming chest, broad shoulders,  strong buttocks, and a little ___."

But I think we were lied to. When the Victorians began digging up ancient artifacts, they were horrified by the gigantic penises, often aroused, appearing on statutes, friezes, columns, and even household implements like beakers and spoons.  So they hid them away in basements or locked "secret rooms," leaving only the tiny or hidden examples on display in museums and available for artistic study.

The most infamous of the secret rooms, the Gabinetto Segreto in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, contains art and artifacts excavated from the ruins of Pompeii.

For a long time it was inaccessible -- it was even walled off in the hope that people would forget about its existence -- but in 2000, it was finally opened to the general public (patrons under age 14 must be accompanied by an adult).

There are enormous phalluses used for every conceivable household object, men with penises longer than their legs, men and male gods having sex with men, boys, women, and goats.

There are also many naturalistic statues, ordinary sized, which is quite a refreshing change of pace after acres of smallness.

By the way, the museum is well worth a visit for its non-erotic artifacts, including one of the largest collections of Egyptian art in the world.

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