Oh dear. When I saw the title of this node I experienced a wave of pleasant expectation
, seeing in my mind's eye a solid and well-documented study of sexual customs and mores of ancient culture
s - from priestesses dedicated to the plasuring of worshippers to the domestic sexual practices
of the nobility and common folk. Alas! Although I do not by any means disagree with either the introduction or the conclusion
of the above writeup, I'm afraid that the meat of it does not live up to my expectations.
Firslty it must be noted and, indeed, stressed, that religious worship, attitudes towards nudity and the proliferation of prostitution do not sexual morality make. Neither do they necessarily reflect a concrete behavioural pattern in any said culture.
True, the ancient Greeks, during a large portion of the Classical age, were fond of depictions of nude figures. However, they themselves no more went naked than the 19th century Parisians admiring Rodin's sculptures or the readers of Loaded magazine today. In fact the Athenian matrons were strictly guarded and secreted creatures who lived in separate quarters to the men and were subject to quite strict decency laws (as were their Roman counterparts). To extrapolate on the sexual attitude of the Greek as a society from the pictures on their vases is to do what the writer so rightly decries: judging the culture by the artifacts it left behind.
Moreover, many of the facts presented in the above article are simply incorrect. Ashur was an Assyrian and not a Phoenicean god, whose name had little to do with phallic potency and much more to do with actual physical and mystical might. God, in the burning bush episode, was not referring to Moses but describing himself as "ehye asher ehye" - I am what I am. There is certainly a linguistic connection to Ashur there, but it is a complex and remote one as we are dealing with very different branches of Semitic languages (Eastern Semitic vs. Western Semitic), both geographically and chronologically.
Prostitution in ancient Rome may have been rife, but it was by no means taken for granted - throughout Roman history there have been countless efforts to legislate, regulate and even ban it entirely. The Romans had what might be described as a quite Puritan attitude to sex - traditionally, it was a pleasurable but essentially functional way of producing more Romans. A man finding his wife in bed with another was legally entitled to slay them both, whereas a man and a woman having sex out of wedlock were liable to fine and imprisonment under the Decency Laws. The largely apocryphal stories involving mind boggling debauchery at parties are to be taken with a grain of salt and were in any case limited to the very narrow layer of upper aristocratic classes. Incidentally, the Bacchantes were originally a religious sect of Greek women who went into violent trances, probably induced by alcohol, on the annual festival of Bacchus, not Roman party goers.
I don't know much about the ancient cultures of India, but I do know for a fact that the notorious Kama Sutra, so famous world over for its explicit sexual guidance, is in fact a social document outlining the proper and fashionable pursuits of the well bred courtier, of which the advice about sex is but a part. Neither its existence nor its contents are any kind of evidence of a free and easy sexual morality in everyday common life. Complete nudity, by the way, is one of the ultimate sins in Hinduism.
So. I've gone on and on about what sex in antiquity was not. But what was it really like? I rather imagine it was not much different from what it is today. Most people had sex sparingly, or with a small number of partners, and usually inside the marriage institution. They were perfectly familiar with the full range of positions and orifices, as is evidenced by even the earliest Sumerian clay figurines, but were perhaps glad to leave the everyday excecution of such to paid professionals. Some temporal and religious authorities railed against the wantonness of the young much as they do today, while other powers were fast at work producing titillating imagery, literature and stage preformances. To quote a venerable old lady speaking about the early twenties in the US in the excellent movie Reds: "people back then had sex just as much as today, we just didn't talk about it so much".