Ethics and Erotics: Receptions of an Ancient Statue of a Nymph and Satyr
A Roman sculpture of a nymph and satyr provides a rich case study for changing ethics of viewing and display, with regard to sexual imagery from the ancient past. I trace receptions of the statue, which represents a mythical sexual encounter, from its Roman context, through its place in Charles Townley’s eighteenth-century collection of antiquities, and then into the British Museum. My analysis reveals that it has variously—often simultaneously—been seen as the object of sexual fantasy, intellectual analysis, and moral and ethical concern, the latter relating to obscenity and, more recently, the representation of sexual violence. It provides a powerful example of how statuary is both reinterpreted in the light of, and contributes to constructing, changing understandings of sexuality and obscenity over time.