John Follain, Naples, Feb. 13, 2000
THE Vatican has condemned plans to let children as young as 11 see a collection of erotic art so sexually explicit that it has been locked away since being dug out of the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii three centuries ago.
The National Archeological Museum in Naples is to open its so-called "secret collection" of frescoes, mosaics and statues to the public next month. The 250 exhibits depict sexual activity involving gods and goddesses, satyrs, nymphs and pygmies.
The museum decided to display the works, previously accessible only to scholars or with special permission from the director, after they were featured in books. But the initiative has been denounced by the Catholic church as an affront to public decency. "Whatever these things meant to ancient Romans, today they're obscene, full stop," said Father Bernard Ardura, secretary of the Pontifical Council on Culture. "It's outrageous to think children could wander in."
The collection includes Pompeii's own Kama Sutra: a series of frescoes showing sexual positions that decorated the town's baths. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School in Rome and an expert on life in ancient Pompeii, said there was nothing obscene about the collection, every item of which was a masterpiece.
"The Vatican's stand just fuels the widespread 'nudge-nudge, wink-wink' approach to sex in ancient times," he said.
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