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Pornography: Anatomy of a Term
According to Walter Kendricks The Secret Museum, the term pornography initially simply meant writing about prostitutes (Kendrick 1). The term has grown to reference increasingly taboo subjects over the centuries, though as late as 1857 was defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as writing about prostitutes for the purposes of public hygiene (Kendrick 1). But in the later Victorian era, pornography gradually began to have more and more of a morally pejorative term as something degenerate, the leer of the sensualist (Kendrick 187).
The greater frankness in the ancient world about prostitution, and tolerance of sexuality (at least of adult males) was reflected in the anxiety and shame which accompanied the resurgence of interest in ancient artifacts, resulting in curiosity about and condemnation of lascivious frescos found in the ruins of ancient Pompeii (Kendrick 6). The sights of such ruins were not seen as fit for the consumption of women and children, and only permitted to adult men who were considered cultural and intellectually astute enough to appreciate it, without being corrupted by the sight.
Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization describes how a statue depicting the god Pan having sex with a goatan artifact casually found in the ruins of a venerated civilizationwas profoundly disturbing to a 19th century European society that saw the ancient world as pure, cerebral, and elevated, and had given birth to the greatness of modernity. The image of Pan could not be destroyed…ancient texts and art (Kendrick 202). Kendrick notes one of the learned scholars who first came into contact with the ruins of Pompeii could not bring himself to believe that the Romans spent their days amid a forest of phalluses (Kendrick 9). This underlines the extent to which modern standards influence views of sexuality. In other words, Victorian scholars could not believe that the ancients had such a radically different view of sexuality. Ancient cultures frankness about sexuality was incomprehensible to the Victorians. But even today, where sexuality is displayed much more openly than in an era where even displaying a womens ankle in public was concerned daring, there is a division between the pornographic and the non-pornographic, thanks to this history…
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