Vicarious Bacchanalia

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“In many respects, sexuality in the ancient world is not so different from what we see today: one could hire prostitutes, buy dildos in the corner store, and find graphic sex scenes painted on walls in the center of the city,” said Brian Rose, the James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology and professor of classical studies. “But there was far less condemnation of sexual activity, in large part because the sexual habits of the people matched that of the gods they worshipped.”

Rose is also curator-in-charge of the Mediterranean Section of the Penn Museum, where he discussed—among other things—depictions of sexual organs in Roman politics, religion, and society during the Museum’s annual “R-Rated Romans” evening last month. The event, a kind of vicarious post-Valentine’s Day Bacchanalia, was supported by the Young Friends of the Penn Museum. Whether any of the guests drank from the Tarentine red-figure bull’s head rhyton cup, pictured above, we can’t say. But we do know that it was crafted so that it couldn’t be put down before its contents were drained. —S.H.

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