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ATHENS (Reuters Life!) - Sex, love and lust among the gods, rulers and lesser mortals of the ancient world are the focus of a new exhibition in the Greek capital this month.
Phallic-shaped lamps, love letters engraved in clay and erotic symbols on lucky charms dating from 7 BC to 4 AD are just a fraction of what visitors will see at an exhibition dedicated to the Greek and later Roman god of love.
"Eros: From Hesiod's Theogony to late antiquity" runs from Dec 10 to April 2010 at the Cycladic Art Museum, featuring a collection of 280 artifacts from 50 museums in Greece, Cyprus, Italy and France, including the Louvre.
The exhibition surveys the changing perceptions of Eros (known as Cupid to the Romans) from the eighth century BC when he was viewed as an influential god to the Roman period when he became less potent and a mere companion to Venus.
Exhibition organizers say visitors should check the modern world's sense of decency at the door when entering, because the ancients had very few qualms about erotic art.
"In ancient Greece, one could see a sexual scene on a public or a private building's crest... people were not prudes," said professor Nicholas Stampolidis, director of the Cycladic Art museum.
"Today everything can be seen in magazines or on the internet, and despite this freedom there is a huge hypocrisy, an inexplicable puritanism," Stampolidis said.
The exhibition is divided into nine sections, inspired by the number of the ancient Greek muses, goddesses of literature and the arts.
It begins with the birth and upbringing of Eros. On one of the vases, his mother Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, is ready to spank baby Eros with a sandal.
Eros grows and with him grows the list of conquests who have been struck by his love darts. What follows is a winged Eros pointing his amorous arrows at ancient gods and humans.
Characters touched on throughout Greek and Roman history include such famous couples as Antony and Cleopatra, whose torrid relationship affected the fate of two of the ancient world's greatest nations.
The exhibition ends with homosexual love, prostitution and erotic symbols on ordinary items such as vases, believed to bring fertility or simply used to cheer people up.
"People will draw their conclusions on humans and Eros and see how this concept was handled in ancient times and how it's being commercialized today," Stampolidis said.
Some of the rooms will have warnings for visitors under the age of 16, but the exhibition is open to schools and children.
"I don't see why children should learn about love only from magazines, from friends and not through art," Stampolidis said.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou, editing by Paul Casciato