Even the ancient Romans liked their dirty pictures. Bow chicka wow wow.
A newly unearthed fresco discovered in an ancient Pompeii bedroom captures a sensual – albeit uncomfortable – love scene between legendary Queen of Sparta Leda and, erm, a swan. The bird, of course, is really the Greek god Zeus (or Jupiter in Roman mythology) in disguise, and the matter of whether seduction under disguise was actually seduction or rape depends on the interpretation of the story you’re reading (here it appears consensual) – not that Zeus particularly cared for consent.
Back to the story. As legend has it, Zeus in swan form fell into Leda’s arms for protection from a predatory eagle. Even though she was married to Spartan King Tyndareus, the god seduced her on the same night she laid with her husband, resulting in two eggs that eventually hatched four very famous children: Helen (later, of Troy) and Pollux (or Polydeuces in Greek) by Zeus, and Clytemnestra (wife and murderer of Agamemnon) and Castor by her husband.
Though “Leda and the Swan” is a fairly common scene in ancient Rome, this rendition is unique in a few regards. First, she’s normally standing rather than sitting as she is here. Secondly, Leda and her swan lover aren’t usually caught mid-act. Third, Leda is painted to actually look at the viewer as they enter the room. Although, it’s not so uncommon to find raunchy artwork dating back more than 2,000 years.
The unique depiction was discovered last week during a restoration project along the upscale ancient neighborhood of Via del Vesuvio where other raunchy frescoes have been found featuring gods like Venus and Adonis, and Priapus, the ancient god of fertility, weighing his genitals. It’s not yet known who owned the home, but park director Massimo Osanna told Italian news agency ANSA that he was likely a “rich merchant, possibly a former slave who was anxious to elevate his social status through references to high-level cultural myths.”
For centuries Pompeii has helped archaeologists understand what life was like in ancient Rome before Mount Vesuvius spewed volcanic gas, rock, and ash 21 miles into the air to envelop and preserve these sites in 79 CE.
Earlier this year, a family of five remarkably preserved skeletons was discovered as well as the “unluckiest guy in history” (who may have actually been sort of lucky, after all). A study just last month revealed some victims probably died a grisly death by having their body fluids vaporized by the intense heat of pyroclastic surges causing their skulls to explode
Officials say they won’t excavate the other rooms in the home in order to preserve the site and they are currently evaluating whether to bring the already discovered frescoes to a different location for public viewing.
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