History of Erotic Art

Ancient Greek Vase Painting

The terminology we use these days to describe the different types of erotica has its base in the ancient Greek language. The word erotic comes from the Greek god of love, Eros, while the word pornography comes from the Greek description of the lives and activities of prostitutes, 'porni' being prostitute and 'graphein' meaning to write.

Greek Vase Painting Erotic pictures started appearing on vases from the 6th century BC until the classical period. They were not meant to titillate, but depicted scenes of everyday life. There was no shame or guilt in intercourse and indeed scenes of group sex, homosexuality, pederasty and prostitutes were the convention and regulated by their own laws and morality which would be alien to us now.

Nude women on vases were generally depictions of hetaeras or professional courtesans. These ladies were highly regarded as mentally and physically strong, with wealth and influence on their side. They offered their clients entertainment and personal attention, which was often depicted on vases, including the many different sexual positions possible and the many variations. The subject of marriage and wives rarely feature on vase art. A wife was the means to gain an heir; she was not chosen out of love or because of beauty. Indeed many men did not meet their wife to be until their wedding day. She was not sexually pleasing.

Homosexual love has been portrayed in the art of Greek vases. The love of another male was deemed a superior love to that with a female and a vital part of Greek society. The ancient Greek men spent much of their time together, be it wrestling, sports, bathing or eating. One of the main themes is pederasty, where an older man courts a younger good-looking youth. The role of the older is to instil proper values and standards of conduct in the young boy. Many vases depict courtship between the two and the exchange of gifts. The older figure often has one hand on the youth's genitals while the other hand lifts the young man's chin so they can see eye to eye. It was a great honour for the youth to be chosen and would give them greater standing in society.