Once a name for the repository of items recovered in excavations of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae that were judged unsuitable for public display; now an exhibit of those objects in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

The Secret Cabinet contains the artifacts that made their finders uncomfortable: Erotica and other things of a sexual nature. Just as the texts of Latin writers like Martial and Catullus were bowdlerized to preserve the morals of students, these items were for two centuries kept largely out of sight by embarrassed curators and patrons; until recently, they were also left out of accounts and studies of classical art and civilization.

In April of 2000, the cabinet was finally opened to the public. Some works (originals and copies) have also been replaced in their original settings; the statues and frescoes of Priapus, for example, can be seen back in the ruins of Pompeii where they belong, startling elderly English ladies and chattering American families with their three foot penises and saucy expressions.

The collection includes pornography, smutty visual jokes, and phallic charms and objects. Highlights include:

Pornographic frescoes, sculpture, paintings, engravings and reliefs. These are mostly frank but pretty conventional depictions of coitus, with a single example of fellatio. Various positions are represented, including woman-on-top and rear-entry.

A few of these items were not intended to arouse but are, rather, classic examples of Roman sexual comedy. In one painting, a satyr makes love to a goat (with the satyr's dual nature in mind, why should we assume that they're only attracted to humans?). In another, Pan discovers that the beautiful young woman (or nymph) he was about to mount is a hermaphrodite. (The moment is carefully chosen: Having been delighted to find her so willing, Pan has just uncovered her and found a penis where, he feels, no penis should be. He's shown recoiling, setting his feet for flight, half turned away so we can see his face. She, meanwhile, smiles unembarrassedly and grips his arm firmly.)

Furniture and other objects. One or two tables and tripods supported by ithyphallic Pans/satyrs/young men.

Phallic charms, pendants, ornaments, and wind chimes ("tintinnabula"). Phallic charms were common in the ancient world, and the cabinet includes a huge collection of them, mostly bronze miniatures. Some have limbs and wings; some have penises of their own; some of those penises also have penises. These weren't, of course, pieces of erotic art: As it was for many other cultures (cf. lingam, Thyrsus, the Latin cross, etc.), the erect penis was a symbol of fertility and good fortune.

Source: Notes and memories from a visit in October of 2000.

A news story about the opening: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_715000/715697.stm

The Debutante points out that the Secret Cabinet is known locally, naturally, as il Gabinetto Segreto. This is good to know if you plan to seek it out.

Photographs of some of the items in question can be viewed at the following URLs. Be advised that these sites feature hot Roman-on-Roman action. If you're offended by explicit pottery or are under whatever arbitrary age has been set in your jurisdiction for the viewing of Romecore, consider reading up on the Canadian lynx instead.


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