As a young student in 1954, I was taught about the devastation at Pompeii while studying the text of Pliny. I learned of the eruption of Vesuvius, which ended up destroying the entire down and burying it under volcanic ash. This historical plight remained stamped into my memory even as I grew older.
Later in my life, my wife and I had the chance to take a trip to Southern Italy, where we were given the opportunity to visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii. Seeing as the memory of my studies was still engrained into my memories, I was overcome with joy to do so, even at the ripe old age of 55. While exploring this old city, there was a part that caught my eye the most – a street filled with ancient brothels. Some of the walls even had some paintings on them, dating back as old as 70 A.D.
These paintings were actually images of different sexual deeds and positions customers could seek and pay for in Pompeii. It was very peculiar, almost as if these sexual acts were orders off a menu just like in a fast food restaurant. I had actually envisioned this ancient Roman city as being an extravagant place of romantics and visionaries, and instead saw a sex menu plastered on the walls.
I must say that this revelation did disappoint me. Sex, in its basic form, is the appreciation of human bodies. When examined more deeply, it acts as a significant emotional link between two people. Sex represents the bond two people have in the most physical form, and as a result, allows the relationship of these individuals to become elevated. Alternatively, if there is no emotional link between two people who only seek sex for physical pleasure, it’s difficult to truly experience everything sex can offer.
Obviously, I do realize that physical gratification is important, as ignoring or even blocking them can lead to damaging, or even dangerous, results. This issue may remind people of the unspeakable actions that sexual frustrated priests forced on defenceless adolescents in their care.
However, sex can be so much more than just a brief, physical release when experience between two individuals with that emotional bond. This is why I felt such disappointment when I saw the brothel paintings in Pompeii. Of course, there were probably some men who visited these places for emotional support as well, but most were more likely only seeking to fulfil their physical needs.
In the 2,000 years since the destruction of this civilization, I doubt there has been any change in the mindsets of people seeking sex.
Leonard Rosmarin is currently positioned as Professor Emeritus of French literature at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. He was previously the Chair of the Modern Languages department as well. Professor Rosmarin holds a PhD from Yale University, where he also began teaching young students in 1964. He followed this position as an assistant professor at Wesleyan University.
Rosmarin wrote his first fiction novel at age 70 called Getting Enough. He attributes his long-awaited debut as a novelist to his large Jewish family that always remained brutally honest with him. Rosmarin claims that even though many things his family said struck him right in the heart, he’s glad that he can take everything they say at face value.