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The Royal Museum at Naples
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Pages (PDF): 166
Publication Date: 1871
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This work is a translation of a book by a 19th Century French antiquarian César Fanin. The ancient Roman and Greek cultures had a very different attitude about sexuality than successive European cultures. Some of the best artistic expressions of this can be found in the recovered city of Pompeii. Excavators discovered erotic frescos, mosaics, statuary and phallic votive objects. The moveable erotic artifacts were taken to Naples and kept in seclusion in the Royal Museum.
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The pious Emperor Theodosius abstained from destroying the not very decent statues and other relics of the heathen, in order to perpetuate and expose all the absurdity and infamy of false religions, and to inspire contempt and hatred of them."--Sylvain Mareschal.
THE recollection of the past is the delight and the consolation of old age. In all times the generation about to die out has declaimed against the morals of the rising generation. This concordance of opinion having been transmitted from century to century, it might be expected that as we go back towards the epoch of the Creation we should, come to a golden age of virtue and purity. By the same reasoning, we should as we pass on in fancy to the series of centuries to come, reach an epoch of such depravity that the mind might well refuse to conceive all its enormity. But let us reassure ourselves: this is only the sport of an uneasy imagination, a weakness incidental to humanity. Civilization, far from corrupting manners, tends rather to mollify them. While there was yet in the world but one man and one woman, there existed between them a partnership in guilt. While there were yet only three men, there was already a hoary perjurer, a fratricide, and an innocent victim.
The Holy Scriptures, as well as the profane histories of the first and greatest peoples of the world, present nothing but a series of revolting atrocities. Nimrod founds slavery: entire populations given up to the most shameless debauchery perish by fire from heaven, and the lake Asphaltites swallows up in its poisoned waters the foul remnants of Sodom and Gomorrha; Lot lies with his own daughters; a king of Jerusalem has the feet and hands of seventy princes and nobles cut off, and makes them crawl under his table; Abimelech ascends the throne, borne on the corpses of his brothers whom he has assassinated; Aristobulus condemns his mother to die of hunger; Herod orders the children under two years of age to be massacred. Let us draw the curtain on the bloody and shameful pictures which the histories of Greece and Rome display: they have been sufficiently described.
"Are you inclined to fancy that our race is for ever deteriorating? beware of the illusion and the paradoxes of the misanthropist. Man, discontented with the present, imagines a deceitful perfection in the past, which is only the mask of his own discontent. He extols the dead out of hatred to the living; he beats the children with the bones of their fathers. "To prove the existence of this pretended retrograde perfection, you must ignore the testimony of facts and reason; and if there remains a doubt about past facts, you must ignore the unchanging fact of man's organization; you must prove that he is born with an enlightened perception of the use of his senses; that he can without experience distinguish poison from food; that the child is wiser than the old man, the blind man surer in his step than the clear-sighted; that the civilized man is more unhappy than the cannibal; in a word, that there no longer exists a progressive ladder of experience and instruction," &c.--Volney: Les Ruines, chap. xiii.
Evil and ignorance were born with the world itself, and God willed that man should in course of time grow better as he grew more enlightened. He left him the task of perfecting His work as soon as he knew all its beauty. Knowledge and virtue will reign on the surface of the globe; but, alas! their power, when it has reached the culminating point, will descend again to the cradle; and the end of a great period will be signalised by a reawakening of evil and ignorance. Such is the immutable law: everything is born to die; everything dies to be born again!
It is the office of a voice more eloquent than ours to proclaim these great truths. We who are only obscure lovers of science are contented to examine certain relics and traditions appertaining to the epochs of antiquity, and we say with sincere conviction that manners are now sweeter and purer than they were then; that, in a word, we have with greater knowledge acquired greater virtue.
We are not unaware that certain blind partisans of ancient times pretend that the obscene nudities which continually appear in the literature and art of the palmy period of Greece and Rome, are only indications of simplicity and candour. The savage tribes even of our own day may serve, they say, as a further support to this hypothesis. But what should we thus have to admit? That modesty is only hypocrisy; that the ancients whose language and customs were impregnated with such obscenity, were better men than we who throw a thick veil of mystery over our most innocent weaknesses. You talk to us of savage tribes; but consult those travellers who are most worthy of belief, and they will all tell you that there exists in them an innate feeling of modesty which civilization rapidly develops. And is the rude islander better than the civilized man because he is less modest? Is it also from his simplicity and candour that he attaches such value to staining his tomahawk with the blood of his fellow-man; that he makes a hideous cup of his skull, and finds so much pleasure in a feast of human flesh?
Or did Petronius when he sang a shameful victory over a young stripling; Virgil when he sighed for the beautiful Alexis; Ovid and Horace when they celebrated incest and adultery in pompous verse; deserve to obtain civic crowns together with the poetic palm?
Before Christianity had revealed to the world its great civilizing secrets, men rendered a strange worship to those material objects which acted most directly on their senses. It may even be supposed that a very long time before the Christian era there was no other worship than that of symbols. The divinity who presided over the reproduction of the human species, the miracle of all epochs, deserved the purest homage. That vague desire which precedes the union of two lovers, the burning pleasure which marks its accomplishment, the soft languor that follows, all received a name, a soul, an attribute, and Love was hailed as king of heaven by the acclamation of the world:
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