This is (a) a public toilet in a Pompeiian brothel; (b) sanitation luxury for the time; (c) super gross; (d) all of the above.
This episode of Real Housewives of Mt. Olympus brought to you by the latest archaeological news on SmithsonianMagazine.com – and by CLAS-C 491 Silent Voices: Sex and Gender in the Roman World.
VULCAN, GOD OF METALWORKING AND HUSBAND OF VENUS (returning home, throwing tools on kline): I got your message and came home early like you asked. By the way, maybe next time don’t send messages by dove. They don’t do well in my volcano forges. But I don’t suppose you wanted me home to…you know…
VENUS, GODDESS OF SEXUAL DESIRE AND REALLY RELUCTANT WIFE OF VULCAN: Ugh, please. If you weren’t repulsive enough, maybe next time don’t lead into your flirting with burnt doves. No, Juno told me that the mortals are trying to determine when humans first started sexual kissing!
VULCAN: Sexual kissing? You mean smooching? (muttering) Not that I’d know anything about that…
VENUS: Smooching? That’s what you call it? Yet another reason you’ll never learn what smooching leads to. Anyway, the mortals. I need you to smite every last one of them.
VULCAN: I’m confused. Shouldn’t you be flattered that the mortals are studying your world domain?
VENUS: Looking for evidence of the birth of smooching implies there was a time before smooching. It’s insulting. Humans have always been sexual beings under my sway.
VULCAN: I don’t think anyone’s disputing that humans have always been under your sway. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been more humans. (muttering) Not that I’d know anything about fathering children…
VENUS: What was that?
VULCAN: Nothing. How would the mortals even find evidence of smooching? It’s not like that act typically leaves much permanent record. (muttering) Except in your case, of course, with pictures of you and my brother everywhere…
VENUS: Stop muttering, it’s amazingly unappealing. The mortals are going about their little quest in the most disgusting way. They’re not just looking at visual art and poetry, they’re using something called genetics to trace the history of sexually transmitted diseases that can spread through smooching.
VULCAN: That’s actually pretty clever.
VENUS: Please. All the mortals are tracing is the emergence of a disease, not the emergence of a particular behavior that could potentially spread the disease. Do you remember ancient humans? They were disgusting. Like a human buffet of infections and illnesses.
VENUS: Oh right, the public latrines that consisted of a single room where people got together to poo and then “clean” themselves with communal implements. And that was considered the cutting edge of sanitation! Color me impressed.
VULCAN: Thank you for that lovely mental image. But you’re right, mentioning a burnt dove or “smooching” is what kills the mood.
VENUS: There is no mood for us. There is no us. There is only me, shackled to you, and your stupid forges. I’m sure some idiot mortal scientist could have a field day analyzing why ancient Romans imagined their goddess of sexuality married to a repulsive blacksmith. I’d bet even modern humans don’t tell stories that moronic.
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To learn about how ideas of sexuality and sexiness have changed over time, enroll in CLAS-C 491 Silent Voices: Sex and Gender in the Roman World, coming Summer II 2023 with no pre-reqs! Or to explore just how gross ancient sanitation and health really was, enroll in CLAS-C 210 Ancient Medicine and Modern Terminology, coming up Fall 2023 also with no pre-reqs. While you’re waiting, make sure to check back for the continued “Three’s Company” relationships of Venus, Vulcan, and Mars. Can’t get enough of Ancient Greece and Rome? Earn a Classics Minor in just 15 credits!