Erotic fresco depicting Greek myth unveiled in Pompeii

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
December 11, 2023

Detail of fresco of couple in bed. From southern wall of room 43 (Cubiculum) in the House of the Centurion (IX 8,3) in Pompeii, 1st Century.

A fresco depicting an erotic scene from the Greek myth Leda and the Swan has been unveiled to the public for the first time in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

The well-preserved fresco of the figure of Leda being impregnated by the Roman god Jupiter, disguised as a swan, was found last year during excavations of Regio V, an area of the archaeological park that has yielded several surprises.

Via del Vesuvio, the road on which the upper-class townhouse, or domus, containing the fresco is located, is also being reopened. Archaeologists believe the domus belonged to a rich merchant who wanted to reflect his high level of culture by adorning his home with myth-inspired frescoes.

The image was fairly common in homes in Pompeii and the nearby Herculaneum, which were both destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79.

Leda is an important figure in Greek mythology. She was said to have borne children fathered by Zeus, the Greek version of Jupiter, and by a mortal king of Sparta. According to myth, her children included the beautiful Helen of Troy and the twins Castor and Pollux.

The restored Central Baths and House of the Golden Cupids are also being opened on Monday.

Erotic fresco depicting Greek myth unveiled in Pompeii

An archaeologist at work at the Central Baths, which have opened to the public. Photograph: Cesare Abbate/EPA

Erotic fresco depicting Greek myth unveiled in Pompeii

A detail of a fresco in the House of the Golden Cupids. Photograph: Cesare Abbate/EPA

It is unclear when Regio V, a 21.8-hectare (54-acre) site to the north of the archaeological park that was excavated as part of the EU-funded Great Pompeii Project, will be fully accessible to the public. The dig, which got under way early last year, was the most intensive at the site since the 1960s.

One of the last discoveries was of a fresco depicting fighting gladiators. The fresco was found on a wall beneath the stairwell of what was probably a tavern frequented by gladiators and which provided accommodation on a higher floor for them to sleep with sex workers.

Human remains have also been found, including the skeletons of two women and three children huddled together in a villa, as well as the remains of a harnessed horse and saddle.