An Ancient Art Form
It seems that in the modern age, to a large extent, we are constantly faced with pornographic images - from lingerie adverts to lads mags. And yet, as this entertaining six-part documentary shows, porn has a very long and varied history that mirrors the very development of civilisation itself - from as far back as the hey day of the Romans and Greeks - adapting itself to the technologies of the time. In short, love it or loathe it, you'll discover that dirty pictures have always been with us.
The Dawn of Porn
In its original meaning, pornography literally means "writing about prostitutes" from the Greek "porne" (prostitute) and graphein (write). The term itself was, however, a made-up word coined in England around 1850 that had a spurious air of age and scholarship about it. It quickly came to have negative connotations and to denote writing about anything sexual, especially in a base manner, when the creation, presentation, or consumption of the material was for sexual stimulation. In comparison, the term "erotica", continues to enjoy something of a higher standing. To avoid confusion, this programme looks at the whole caboodle.
Run Rabbit Run
Of course, trying to define the very beginning of pornography is impossible. For as long as humans have been able to draw or write, they've crafted erotic images and stories. The Greeks and Romans, of course, produced many a sexually explicit artefact, including frescoes, vases, and statues, while sex toys have also been around for centuries. The first actual documented use of a 'dildo' comes from Ancient Greece - made out of leather; wood or stone, dildos were sold by local merchants to single females.
Tis Pity She's A...
Even so, it's difficult to term all this "pornography" in the more modern sense of the word: i.e. graphic depictions of sexual activity designed specifically for the arousal of an audience. The same goes for certain works by Chaucer, Boccaccio, and Marguerite of Navarre and so it is to the Italian writer Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) that we must look. Widely regarded as the founding father of modern pornography, his "School of Whoredom" is a bawdy 16th-century masterpiece as Nanna seeks to "educate" the naïve Pippa with the secrets of her time as a courtesan.
Meanwhile, Danish criminologist Berl Kutchinsky traces the beginnings of modern pornography to the 1650s when three pornographic classics appeared: La Puttana Errante (The Wayward Prostitute), L'Ecole des Filles (Girls School) and Satya. Translated into all the major languages, these astounding novels have in effect become the models for all later pornographic books and movies with their themes of lesbianism, sodomy, seduction, multiple copulation, flagellation, sadism and, as Kutchinsky wrote "...a disregard for artistic merit...monotonous repetitiousness and a constant exaggeration of sexual interest." In fact, in 1655, Samuel Pepys called L'Ecole des Filles "the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw".
By the 18th century, what we might today see as modern pornography started to explode in a big way. One of the most famous works is John Cleland's Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure or Fanny Hill from 1749 - a book which was frequently reprinted and widely translated but not legally available in the USA (can you believe it???!!) until the freaking 1960s! By the end of the 1700s, the notorious Marquis de Sade was dramatising the connection between sex and violence and artists such as Thomas Rowlandson were producing increasing numbers of lewd prints. By this point, you could safely say pornography, as we recognise it today, was at last well underway.