Society of Scandalous Pleasures

      In harmony with the Etruscan quest for the uninhibited enjoyment of living came a desire for scandalous pleasure. We know from Greek historian Theopompus of Chios that it was common for Etruscan women to engage in sexual activities with numerous partners even in the presence of their husbands. There was no embarrassment in being naked, and sexual acts frequently occurred in public for all to see. The Tomb of the Floggings has erotic scenes depicting a woman with two men. It was common to partner swap and for women to engage in gymnastic sexual positions. Etruscan men were keen and skillful lovers to their women, although Theopompus reported that the men preferred boys and youths. A scene from the Tomb of the Bigas illustrates an audience for a chariot race of very cozy men with a homosexual couple making love in plain view. A scene from the Tomb of Bulls also depicts a homosexual couple on the opposite side of two heterosexual couples. (; Hamblin, 60-61)

     In addition to the erotic frescoes, items of pottery from the sixth and fifth Century also show such erotic scenes. These may, however be copies or modeled after Greek art of the same period, as it was quite common for Etruscan artists to emulate their contemporaries. The blatant usage of erotic scenes on pottery, in tombs and in combination with Theopompus’s account of Etruscan society tends to reinforce the belief they were more permissive than other contemporary societies. Plato even referred to the Etruscans as immoral and that the word “Etruscan” itself became almost synonymous with prostitute. Roman historian Livy describes the rape of Lucretia in his book History of Rome:

Holding the woman down with his left hand on her breast, he said, "Be still, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquinius. My sword is in my hand. Utter a sound, and you die!" In fear the woman started out of her sleep. No help was in sight, but only imminent death. … When he found her obdurate and not to be moved even by fear of death, he went farther and threatened her with disgrace, saying that when she was dead he would kill his slave and lay him naked by her side, that she might be said to have been put to death in adultery with a man of base condition. At this dreadful prospect her resolute modesty was overcome, as if with force, by his victorious lust; and Tarquinius departed, exulting in his conquest of a woman's honour.

Despite attempts by her father and husband to console her, Lucretia could not bear the thought of her honor being forsaken and killed herself with a knife she concealed in her dress. This story, from the Roman point of view, certainly does not depict the normal Etruscan but may have intended to be an example to the repercussions of societal acceptance of immoral behavior. (;; Hamblin, 60-61)

Tomb of the Floggings Fresco

Tomb of the Bigas Fresco

Tomb of Bulls Fresco - Homosexual Detail

Tomb of Bulls Fresco - Heterosexual Detail

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Artistic Influences & Identity ~ Language in Art ~ Conclusion: Disappearing Culture ~ Works Cited ~ About the Author

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