The Penis of Pompeii
In September 2019, my wife and I visited the world-famous ruins of Pompeii. We walked the paths of the past and found… A penis.
When you study sunken civilizations’ culture, you expect to see impressive architecture, archaic artwork, and other high-culture artifacts. But the people of earlier cultures were not all artists, warlords, or master builders. Most of them were ordinary people, and ordinary people have ordinary needs.
In the lavishly restored ruined city of Pompeii at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed the city in 79 A.D., there is much evidence of the everyday life of ordinary citizens.
The tourist guide showed us public drinking fountains, paved streets optimized for horse-drawn vehicles, and even street food restaurants, as we would call them today.
By our standards today, Pompeii would be a small town. According to our guide, it is estimated that between 8000 and 10000 people lived there at the time of the city’s fall. But since the town was an important trading center, there were always many strangers there as well. To create and maintain the infrastructure for so many people is a truly fantastic achievement for that time.
We admired magnificent townhouses and were struck when we saw the many plaster casts taken from cavities left by dying people on the day of the disaster. These casts show people at the moment of their death. It is genuinely haunting and fascinating to still witness this disastrous event in this way after more than two thousand years.
So much culture and then suddenly a penis
However, something else about this day has remained most vivid in my memory. On one of the cobbled streets, our guide suddenly stopped and drew our attention to one of the cobblestones. We had to look a few times before we could really believe it.
Why on earth was there a male genital in the middle of the street here?
As I wrote before, you can find a lot of evidence of everyday culture in…