Gay, Explained

Preston Grant

The Gay Graffiti of Pompeii

Pompeii is important because it froze a Roman city in time, so we get to see glimpses of ancient lives caught in their doomed city like a fly in amber.

One of the fascinating things preserved in Pompeii is the graffiti on the city walls where the thoughts of the people are written uncensored by subsequent history, and what we learn is that not much has changed. The walls of Pompeii read like a truck stop bathroom, including some colorful gay comments. As they appeared on August 24, 79 AD:

On the bar-brothel of Innulus and Papilio: Weep, you girls.  My penis has given you up.  Now it penetrates men’s behinds.  Goodbye, wondrous femininity!

On the house of the Citharist below a drawing of a man with a large nose: Amplicatus, I know that Icarus is buggering you.  Salvius wrote this.

On the basilica: Phileros is a eunuch!

On the Eumachia Building: Secundus likes to screw boys.

On the house of Orpheus: I have buggered men.

And who knows who wrote this one, male or female?

On the house of Poppaeus Sabinus: If you felt the fires of love, mule-driver, you would make more haste to see Venus.  I love a charming boy; I ask you, goad the mules; let’s go.  Take me to Pompeii, where love is sweet.  You are mine…

Of course Pompeii wasn’t all gay. Most of the graffitti is straight, like these from the walls of a brothel where we get bragging men and a client’s review:

Celadus the Thracier makes the girls moan!

Gaius Valerius Venustus, soldier of the 1st praetorian cohort, in the century of Rufus, screwer of women

Myrtis, you do great blow jobs.

Two men and a woman having sex, from the Suburban Baths of Pompeii circa 79 BC.

We find similar scenarios in the art of the Suburban Baths. A frieze there shows sixteen sex scenes, including male-male and female-female couples along with same-sex pairings within group sex scenes. Both men and women went to the bathe there, sharing a singular changing room, and we therefore presume these type of images where common and acceptable to the people of the day.

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