User:Jahsonic/AHE/Renaissance/The erotic vocabulary of the Renaissance everyman
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The visual and literary culture in the Renaissance has now grown to an amalgam of Roman and Greek myths; legends about the founding of Rome, the beauty and wisdom of its famous women and the exploits of its mighty heroes; folklore and fables, as well as stories of biblical eroticism. That ensemble provides a sampling of what men and women have on their minds and gives us an insight into their sexual lives. The Renaissance man now possesses an 'erotic vocabulary' - a popular culture, a collective consciousness or proto-psychology - which can be applied to specific everyday situations. Are you a male victim of sexual harassment? Then you're the Joseph from the biblical story "Joseph and Potiphar's wife." You are woman who is being spied upon? Then you were the biblical Bathsheba or Susanna.
Greco-Roman mythology has already been addressed in our discussion of Ovid and the Metamorphoses. New are the depictions of stories from Roman legends. The themes that easily lend themselves to erotic scenes are the Roman Charity (or caritas romana), the aforementioned rape and subsequent suicide of Lucretia (image), and the The Rape of the Sabine Women.
The latter proves to be a very popular theme. Who are the Sabine women? The story goes back to the origins of Rome. Romulus and his twin brother Remus, legendary founders of the city, prize Rome as a safe haven for anyone in search of a new life. This attracts a population of exiles, refugees, murderers, criminals and runaway slaves. There is only one problem: few women respond to the call of the two brothers and the city consists therefore almost solely of men. Romulus decides that his city also needs to filled with women and devises a ruse. He organizes a big feast and kindly asks the neighbouring Sabine people to join them. The Sabines arrive en masse, and more importantly, they bring along their wives and daughters.
The feast begins. On an agreed signal the Roman freebooters capture 683 daughters and wives of the Sabines and chase their husbands and fathers. The immediate result is of course a war between the Romans and the Sabines. But the Sabine women thwart the battle before it starts by putting themselves between the warring parties and by demanding a reconciliation, just like the women in the Greek comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes had done. Years later the vengeful Sabine men find their women living in harmony with their new-found husbands, many already with offspring. The Romans and the Sabines settle their dispute and the city can continue to prosper. This episode in the Roman founding myth provides the perfect excuse to portray half-dressed men and women in an intense and passionate struggle.