Dick pics aren't just a recent trend annoyingly popping up on your phone. In this edition of WTF History Lessons we take a look at ancient Pompeii and thanks to volcanic preservation we get a glimpse into the dick pics of yesteryear. Cheers for that.

WTF History Lesson #404: Dick Pics

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In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius, the volcano overlooking the Bay of Naples, erupted. The nearby town of Pompeii was blanketed with ash and volcanic rock, killing many of the inhabitants. Although a catastrophe for the residents, the disaster was a gift to archaeologists. Buildings, artifacts, people and animals were preserved by the layers of ash, providing an unrivaled look at everyday life in a Roman town. When later generations discovered the ruins, they found something they weren't expecting:

Dicks. Lots and lots of dick pics.

Dicks on the walls of houses, dicks in the bathroom, dicks on oil lamps and wind chimes, just dicks, dicks, dicks as far as the eye could see. I'm talking about a lot of dicks, you guys. The walls of Pompeii's buildings were covered in frescoes showing couples going at it – cowgirl, doggy-style, standing – as well as more exotic images such as an MMF threesome. It wasn't just the wall-paintings, either; there were erotic statues such as the one of the god Pan fucking a goat. There were also images of the god Priapus. A cheerful fellow with a comically oversized cock, and of penises all by themselves. Penises in little shrines, penises with wings, penises with lion feet, penises with penises. Whatever the excavators had been expecting, a festival of first-century knobs was probably not it.

Reaction to the, ahem, 'art' (a.k.a. dick pics) was … let's say mixed.

Although Pompeii was a priceless historical resource, rightly regarded as a national treasure, the authorities were a little embarrassed by its unabashed celebration of cock. The story goes that when King Francis I of Naples visited the objects on display in the Naples Museum, he was so shocked by their erotic content – he was there with his wife (although considering that they had 11 children together, she presumably knew what was up) and at least one of his daughters – that he ordered them locked away. For over a hundred years, the raciest pictures in the collection were kept locked in a “secret cabinet,” only accessible to to respectable men. These days, of course, the internet means that the wonders of Pompeii's collection of two-thousand-year-old porn are available to anyone at any time.

So what was the story with Pompeii? Why were there so many images of people fucking plastered – literally in some cases – all over the buildings? There are several different answers.

At least some of the art was basically a form of advertising. One of Pompeii's excavated buildings was a large lupanar – a “wolf-den” or brothel. The erotic art in here was probably intended to give visitors an idea of the services they could expect, or simply to get them in the mood. However, not every sexual wall-painting was a brothel ad. Early excavators assumed that explicit paintings were only found in brothels; this idea resulted in them classifying dozens of buildings as brothels until they realised most were ordinary homes or businesses.

So what is all this porn doing in ordinary Romans' houses? Apparently, they just sort of liked it. They didn't think of sex as obscene in the same way that later cultures did – well, it could be, but not necessarily – and often displayed sexual scenes on the grounds that they were joyful, funny, or … well … sexy.

 

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Supernatural Dick Pics... WTF???

But Pompeii's amazing collection of dick art wasn't just there to amuse and arouse its viewers. The countless depictions of penises, either by themselves or attached to a figure like Pan or Priapus, had a supernatural value to the Romans. Priapus was a protective deity, believed to bring good luck and to protect people from harmful magic (the Romans dreaded curses and the evil eye; a wall painting in a Pompeii bathroom proclaims shitter, beware the evil eye). Many homes and businesses contained images of the god or of a phallus as a way of wishing fertility to the family or good luck to the house. Priapus also protected sailors, an important role in a port city like Pompeii.

So the next time you see a film set in Ancient Rome and everyone's looking all dignified and grim, just remember that the walls of their houses are probably covered in paintings of people fucking, and that they thought there was nothing funnier than a novelty lamp shaped like a dick with wings. It'll make them easier to relate to.

 

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