Pompeii dig reveals erotic Leda and Swan fresco

Leda and the Swan fresco in Pompeii, 19 Nov 18Image copyright EPA
Image caption Eventually the fresco is likely to be displayed in a museum

Archaeologists at Pompeii have found an erotic Roman fresco depicting Leda and the Swan – a Greek myth that has inspired artists for centuries.

The latest find is believed to have decorated a bedroom in a wealthy home near the ancient city centre.

Pompeii was buried under volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in the 1st century AD. The new find is on Via del Vesuvio, in the site’s Regio V area.

In the myth, the god Zeus turned into a swan and raped Leda, Queen of Sparta.

That event had huge consequences, according to classical mythology: Leda’s intercourse with the swan and then with her husband, King Tyndareus, resulted in two eggs, from which hatched Helen, Clytemnestra and the twins Castor and Pollux.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption An archaeologist carefully removes volcanic pumice from the artwork
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The fresco was near the entrance to a fine villa on one of Pompeii’s main roads

The swan’s seduction of Leda was a potent subject for artists in Renaissance Italy in the 16th Century: it inspired paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Tintoretto, and many other artworks.

The original works by Leonardo and Michelangelo are missing, but copies are on display in galleries.

Leda and the Swan is also a classic poem by William Butler Yeats, a major figure in 20th-Century literature.

Recently an erotic fresco depicting Priapus – a Roman fertility god – was unearthed near the Leda fresco. He is shown weighing his penis on a pair of scales. But the artwork is in worse condition than the Leda fresco.

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Leda’s powerful legacy

Leda’s daughter Helen went on to marry King Menelaus of Sparta and her abduction by Prince Paris of Troy was what triggered the Trojan War, according to legend. Helen had many suitors and was reputed to be the most beautiful woman in Greece.

Clytemnestra was another iconic Greek woman whose story inspired artists down the centuries. She murdered Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, who was a brother of Menelaus.

Zeus became the Roman god Jupiter and Pompeii is rich in artworks celebrating episodes from the Greek myths.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption This is how the Italian Renaissance master Tintoretto depicted Leda and the Swan
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption This is a copy of a Leonardo da Vinci painting of Leda and the Swan
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption This copy of a Michelangelo painting of Leda and the Swan is on show in Italy

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