Gays in Pompeii
There has been some really interesting recent work on the plaster casts of the victims of Pompeii. That has meant looking carefully and scientifically at whatever human remains there are still in the plaster (it was never supposed there were many), and often showing that the usual identification of these people is wildly off mark. Figures often assumed to be old men turn out to be young, men turn out to be women, and vice versa. This was one of the themes of a tv programme I helped to make last year.
Anyway, there has been a ‘revelation’ in the last few days that a couple of the casts (above) always assumed to be embracing ‘maidens’ were in fact youngish men. And then the suggestion has been widely reported (including rather tentatively by the authorities at Pompeii itself) that this might be a pair of gay male victims.
OK. There was plenty of same-sex sex at Pompeii, as we would guess anywhere ever. But the idea that this pair of male victims gave any evidence of their sexuality is barking. Who you choose to hug in your dying moments in a volcanic explosion is no indication of your sexual preference, despite what the papers say. Just think!
There is a basic issue of logic and fact checking here. We can all get worked up about so-called ‘fake news’, and some people even want kids to be given classes on it at school. Actually, what we all need is a bit more analysis across the board. If you can tell the difference between good and bad arguments on Pompeian corpses, that is at least a good analytical basis for telling the difference between real and fake news about anything on social media (and vice versa). ‘Transferable skills’, as we are supposed to call them.
There is another issue of course. Whatever the evidence either way, the idea that same-sex sex in the ancient world was ‘gay’ in our post-nineteenth-century sense of the world simply doesn’t add up. If you were teaching students on this, you would want to get across the point that the modern ideology of homosexuality was not necessarily the same as male/male or female/female sex. And it is interesting of course that when these casts were assumed to be female, noone said ‘ah ha .. gay women in antiquity’!
There are actually really interesting stories in Roman archaeology, and great work being done at Pompeii. Pity that those are derailed by this.
new version = http://www.the-tls.co.uk/gays-in-pompeii/