Human beings have been making representations of themselves and the world around them since ancient times. Many of the earliest cave drawings and animal bone sculp­tures have been representations of the human form, usually scantily dressed or naked. Often the poses or implications of the art seem explicitly erotic. Yet it is hard to know to what degree these images were considered erotic by preliterate people, for early erotic art was also sacred art whose purpose was to represent those things most impor­tant to early people—the search for food and the need to reproduce (Lucie-Smith,

1991) . However, by the dawn of the great ancient civilizations such as Egypt, people were drawing erotic images on walls or pieces of papyrus just for the sake of eroticism (Manniche, 1987). Since that time, human beings have been fascinated with repre­sentations of the human form naked or engaged in sexually explicit behavior; in turn, many governments have been equally intent on limiting or eradicating those images.

Erotic representations have appeared in most societies throughout history, and they have been greeted with different degrees of tolerance. Ancient cultures often cre­ated public erotic tributes to the gods, including temples dedicated to phallic worship. India’s sacred writings are full of sexual accounts, and some of the most explicit pub­lic sculptures in the world adorn its temples. Greece is famous for the erotic art that adorned objects like bowls and urns. When archaeologists in the 18 th and 19th cen­turies uncovered the Roman city of Pompeii, buried in a volcanic blast in 79 A. D., they were startled and troubled to find that this jewel of the Roman Empire, which they had so admired, was full of brothels, had carved phalluses protruding at every street corner, and had private homes full of erotic frescoes (FRESS-cohs; Kendrick, 1987). Authorities hid these findings for years by keeping the erotic objects in locked mu­seum rooms and publishing pictures of the city in which the phalluses were made to taper off like candles.

Not all sexual representations are explicit, and many of our greatest artists and writ­ers included sexual components in their creations. The plays of Shakespeare, though hardly shocking by today’s standards, do contain references to sexuality and sexual in­tercourse. The art of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci also included graphic nudity

without being titillating. Still, in their day, these pictures caused controversy: in the 16th century, for example, priests painted loincloths over nude pictures of Jesus and the angels. What people in one society or one period in history see as obscene, another group—or the same group later—can view as great art.