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BRITISH MUSEUM'S HADRIAN EXHIBITION: EMPIRE REPEATS ITSELF

THE WARREN CUP: SEX IN THE CITY

Exhibition Highlights and Historical Background Notes
Courtesy of British Museum
26 October 2008

The Warren Cup: A silver cup with relief decoration of homoerotic scenes

The Cup takes its name from its first owner in modern times, the art-lover and collector Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928). After Warren's death the cup remained in private hands, largely because of the nature of the subject matter. Only with changing attitudes in the 1980s was the cup exhibited to the public, and in 1999 the British Museum was able to give this important piece a permanent home in the public domain.

The cup was originally made up of five parts - the thin-walled bowl with its high relief scenes, raised by hammering; an inner liner of thicker sheet silver with a solid rim, which would have made both drinking and cleaning easier; a pair of handles (now lost) and a cast foot soldered to the base.

The scenes on each side shows two pairs of male lovers. On one side the erastes (older, active lover) is bearded and wears a wreath while the eromenos (younger 'beloved', passive) is a beardless youth. A servant tentatively comes through a door. In the background is a draped textile, and a kithara (lyre) resting on a chest. In the scene on the other side the erastes is beardless, while the eromenos is just a boy. Auloi (pipes) are suspended over the background textile, and folded textiles are lying on a chest. The surroundings suggest a cultured, Hellenized setting with music and entertainment.


The Warren Cup
Roman, mid-1st century AD
Said to be from Bittir (ancient Bethther), near Jerusalem
silver cup with relief decoration of homoerotic scenes

Trustees of the British Museum

Representations of sexual acts are widely found in Roman art, on glass and pottery vessels, terracotta lamps and wall-paintings in both public and private buildings. They were thus commonly seen by both sexes, and all sections of society. The Romans had no concept of, or word for, homosexuality, while in the Greek world the partnering of older men with youths was an accepted element of education. The Warren Cup reflects the customs and attitudes of this historical context, and provides us with an important insight into the culture that made and used it.

D. Williams, 'The Warren silver cup', British Museum Magazine: th-12, 35 (Autumn / Winter 1999), pp. 25-28

J.R. Clarke, Looking at lovemaking : (London, University of California Press, 1998)

Culturekiosque readers should note that the above image is from the excellent and lavishly illustrated book Hadrian: Empire & Conflict that accompanies the current exhibition. It is the work of Thorsten Opper, curator in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum. Highly recommended and astonishing value for money.

Hadrian: Empire & Conflict
By Thorsten Opper

Hardcover: 224 pages
Harvard University Press (September 2008)
ISBN-10: 0674030958
ISBN-13: 978-0674030954
$29.95

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