- the least likely place to find something hot and steamy.
- But the Ancient Near East section in The Israel Museum’s Archaeology Wing features rare erotic art
- from the land between the rivers (Tigris and Euphrates),
- which predates India’s Kama Sutra by over 1,500 years.
- Such astonishingly intimate works reveal a side to the ancient Near East
- that contrasts sharply with the modesty prevalent in the modern Middle East
Sexual intercourse on a terra cotta plaque from Mesopotamia, early 2nd millennium BCE [Credit: The Israel Museum]
Two clay plaques, small enough to hold in your palm, depict couples copulating in remarkable detail
- Dating from the early second millennium BCE, the Old Babylonian period,
- they come from a 300-year window when mass-produced terra cotta plaques were popular,
- including those that exhibit sexual acts.
Mesopotamian erotica was “really something racy”
- Laura A. Peri, curator of Western Asiatic Antiquities, said when we met in the labyrinthine bowels of the museum.
- “It’s not all, you know, missionary and that’s it”
- The first plaque shows a man penetrating a woman from behind, while standing.
- The second, slightly smaller one, depicts a man and woman in a similar position,
- with the woman drinking beer through a straw from a jug.
The woman drinking beer from a straw was not just a reflection of lifelike sexual encounters
- According to Dr. Julia Assante, a Near Eastern social historian
- but was “undoubtedly a [visual pun].”
- The straw in the woman’s mouth & the man raising a cup of wine to his lips
- were symbolic of performing oral sex on their respective partners.
- The Babylonians held “an exalted cultural view of sex, as inducing an altered state of wonder”
The terra cotta plaques from Mesopotamia yield numerous different sexual positions
- but one of the most popular was what’s referred to technically by the Latin: coitus a tergo – from behind.
- While erotic Mesopotamian art doesn’t detail a specific means of entry,
- anal sex was deemed a popular means of contraception by ancient couples
- before the invention of prophylactics.
- The depiction of couples engaging in rear entry may be indicative of that practice (яплакаль! - Х.Н. :)
- Other plaques show partners:
--- standing up (aka llevame) Ё
--- plain old missionary;
--- some depict women with legs spread, squatting over a comically large phallus.
That the erotic clay plaques were found in temples, graves and private homes
- makes it difficult to generalize about their intended use,
- but is testament to their popularity.
- That excavators found the erotic artwork in high-traffic rooms of homes
- leads Assante to infer that they were accessible to men, women and children.
- “It’s a kind of pop art, because it’s very cheap material and easy to make,” curator Peri said.
- She explained that sexuality was very prominent in ancient Sumerian and Babylonian art and literature,
- particularly in the late-third and early-second millennia.
An Old Babylonian clay plaque on display at The Israel Museum depicts a couple having sex [Credit: The Israel Museum]
Cylinder seals — small cylinder-shaped stones
- etched with figures and cuneiform used as a signet
- occasionally featured men and women in erotic poses.
- Peri, an expert in understanding the symbolism of the seals, noted that
- erotic scenes usually weren’t the central image,
- nor did those seals belong to the king or officials.
Ancient Mesopotamian texts were so graphic in their detailing of the erotic arts
- that “you can really reenact the actions — what they did between the sheets — according to the descriptions,”
- Peri explained when we met at her office in The Israel Museum.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, Mesopotamia’s great literary work
- lauds sex as one of the carnal pleasures humans ought to indulge in
- during our brief tenure on this planet.
- Siduri, a divine alewife, tells the eponymous king of Uruk to:
--- “let your belly be full,
--- your clothes clean,
--- your body and head washed;
--- enjoy yourself day and night,
--- dance, sing and have fun;
--- look upon the child who holds your hand,
--- and let your wife delight in your lap!
--- This is the destiny of mortals.”
Terracotta plaque with an erotic scene; Old Babylonian, around 1800 BC; From Mesopotamia; Height: 8.900 cm; Width: 7.200 cm
“Delight in your lap” was a common euphemism for sex in ancient Akkadian
- the language in which Gilgamesh was written.
- The Gilgamesh epic also describes sexuality as a potent force
- that distinguishes humans from beasts
- Enkidu, the wild man, who becomes Gilgamesh’s comrade-in-arms, is tamed by a temple prostitute
- who ensnares him with her sexual wiles:
--- “She was not restrained, but took his energy
--- She spread out her robe and he lay upon her
--- She performed for the primitive the task of womankind”
Israelite and Canaanite artwork, by comparison, typically had very little overt sexuality
- only nude female figures
- that disappeared after the institutionalization of early Judaism in the 8-th century BCE.
- A mid-second millennium BCE Canaanite scarab seal found at Tel el-Far’a
- near the junction of the Israeli border with Egypt & the Gaza Strip
- shows the figures of a man and woman in a standing posture
- similar to the clay plaque at The Israel Museum.
- Both figures are fully clothed, however, &
- there is no latent intercourse, only the suggestion of it.
Siduri’s advice finds its way into the biblical literature
- appearing in a toned-down version in Ecclesiastes 9:7-9:
--- “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy,
--- and drink thy wine with a merry heart,”
- Kohelet says, among his many iterations of “under the sun.”
- But whereas the Mesopotamians spoke of enjoying sex,
- the Bible enjoins man to “Enjoy life with the wife, whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity.”
- The similarity between the two passages comes as little surprise.
- Ancient Israel was the land bridge connecting the 2 major civilizations of the ancient Near East - Egypt and Mesopotamia,
- its culture was influenced heavily by both
A stark difference, however, was the difference in ancient Babylonian and Israelite perspectives on male homosexuality
- The Babylonians, writes Prof. Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat in her book "Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia"
- “didn’t condemn this practice” &
- observed a live-and-let-live attitude in regard to male-male sex
- The Book of Leviticus, on the other hand, bans lying “with mankind, as with womankind” as “an abomination”
Artifacts from ancient Babylon exhibit latent — even shockingly graphic — sexuality
Read more at: http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2014/01/4000-year-old-erotica-from-mesopotamia.html