I learned about the destruction of Pompeii back in Grade 10 in 1954 when I was translating the ancient Latin text by the writer, Pliny, about the eruption of the volcanic mountain, Vesuvius, and the subsequent burial of the town. The devastation unleashed was the equivalent of a nuclear holocaust. From that time forward, Pompeii became embedded in my imagination and acquired the dimension of a legend.

One time my wife and I had the privilege of visiting Pompeii when on a trip to the Amalfi Coast of Southern Italy. Needles to say, I was overcome by emotion at the thought of walking in the very places that I had imagined for the past 55 years (now you know my age!) Everything I saw fascinated me, but one spot in particular caught my attention: the street of the brothels. Our guide invited us to enter one of them, and pointed out paintings on one of the walls done by a local Roman artist back in 70 A.D or earlier. They depicted the various sexual positions customers could demand after paying the appropriate fee. I had a strange feeling of deja vu. It was like going into Mcdonald's or Burger King and ordering a Big Mac, a Quarter Pounder, a Whopper or a Cheese Burger with or without the mayonnaise. The very graphic images also illustrated the American expression about fast-food sex devoid of any commitment: "Slam, bam, thankee, M'am." This Ancient Roman town that had been romanticized in my mind for so long was nothing more than a mere fast food place for sex?

This is why my heart sank. In its simplest expression, sex can be a celebration of the elemental life force. In its more complex forms, it represents a vital bridge linking two individuals. This bridge will carry as much or as little as the two people involved bring with them. When they feel passion or even just tenderness for one another, their sexual activity will reflect their commitment. As a result, their beings will be enhanced. On the other hand, if there is nothing between them except the desire for genital gratification, their experience will be woefully inadequate as far as quality is concerned.

Now I realize that bodily needs have to be satisfied, and that repressing them can have dangerous consequences. We need only remember how sexually frustrated priests have satisfied their cravings with vulnerable adolescents. But how much more fruitful and fulfilling the sexual relationship would be if only those in need of sexual relief could view one another as human beings to be loved rather than as devices for relieving bodily pressures. This is what the paintings at Pompeii brought home to me again with renewed force. Some of the clients frequenting that brothel may have entered with a desperate yearning for tenderness. Most of them probably came just to satisfy their carnal appetites.

I doubt whether anything has changed in the almost 2000 years since these brothels in Pompeii ceased operating on that fatal day when the volcano erupted.

Author's Bio: 

Leonard Rosmarin is Professor Emeritus of French literature and former Chair of the Department of Modern Languages at Brock University in the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada. He received his Doctorate from Yale University where he began his teaching career in 1964, then was appointed Assistant Professor at Wesleyan University, also in Connecticut.

Leonard has become a novelist rather late in life, at the ripe old age of 70 when he wrote his first fiction novel, Getting Enough. Why did it take so long? Here is how he relates his unusual trajectory: "For literally decades I had wanted to immortalize my over-the-top, larger-than-life Jewish family. They were refreshingly un-hypocritical. In fact, they were always brutally frank. They would never stab you in the back; it was always in the chest. So at least you knew where the blows were coming from. They were absolutely transparent. What you see was what you got.

You can visit Leonard Rosmarin at http://www.LeonardRosmarin.com