Rome the Perverts Delight by Joe Medhurst

Book Review by caldrail

Imagine yourself two thousand years in the future, looking back to the twenty-first century as a student. Given how little information survives that length of time, and how difficult it is to preserve the digital information we rely on nowadays, what would a student of the future think of us? Now that we live in what might easily become a "2nd Dark Age" in two millenia, what conclusions would we derive from scraps of archeology and history? A porno DVD? One of those explicit scrawlings on the wall of a factory urinal? A grim warning in a newspaper about STDs? Anyone would think we were all obsessed with sex.

Therein lies the problem with trying to research the Roman sex life. It's bounded by expectations and conventions. Almost everyone has at some point heard that the Romans indulged in wild orgies. That they were experts in sexual techniques. That they were lost in a haze of pagan decadence. But is it true? What did they actually do? What was Roman sex all about?

Joe Medhurst has set out to fill that gap in our knowledge. At first sight Rome The Perverts Delight is a very modest volume running to little more than one hundred and thirty pages, regularly illustrated by examples of Roman art, mosaics, maps, and so on. It's a frank and unrestrained exposť of Roman sex which leaves little to the imagination. It goes further, discussing alcohol and drugs. We learn about their attitudes, expectations, behaviour, and morality. The realism is compelling.

I was concerned, when asked to do this review, that this book would fall into the category of tabloid sensationalism. Or worse, that it would be pornographic fantasy dressed up as Roman history - such works I've stumbled across before and have no regard for whatsoever. The author saves himself from outright criticism by paying attention to the ancient sources and deriving his work from them. However, this is not an entirely academic work. Medhurst retains a sense of humour and for those who enjoy reading about sex more than the historical record, there's plenty to savour.

On the other hand there are some unfortunate lapses in presentation. Images with text laid over the top. A badly formatted left-justified paragraphing that looks amateurish, even careless. And whilst the contents are listed, there are no page numbers in the rest of the book to refer to. The pace of the prose is breathless, and increases toward the end, as if the writer was rushing to meet a schedule. I'll avoid the obvious innuendo. The final chapter, a comparison with modern times, is almost a lost opportunity.

Should you buy this book? I must be honest; there are reasons why you ought to. There's a great deal of information collected here that gives us a far more detailed image of Roman sex than our Hollywood epics and television dramas. If you do, I recommend the reader remain wary, always good advice with historical works, and remember that as well researched as it is, Rome The Perverts Delight is prone to bias, and really only suitable for adults.

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