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Fifty Shades of Pompeii Credit: Connie Kang , Connie Kang

Last night, for those tired of the same old “chocolate and flowers” routine, the Penn Museum offered an alternative approach to Valentine’s Day with a lecture entitled “Fifty Shades of Pompeii.”

“The museum asked me to speak about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ as seen through the lens of Greece and Rome,” began C. Brian Rose, professor of classical archaeology and curator-in-charge of the Mediterranean Section of the Penn Museum. “And that’s what I’m prepared to do. Although I should say right at the outset, I never read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’”

Rose’s lecture covered a wide range of topics, from the erotic art of Pompeii to the free expression of homosexuality in Greek and Roman civilizations.

“When archaeologists started digging in Pompeii, they thought that if an erotic painting was in a house, it indicated that the house was a brothel,” Rose explained. “But in recent years, when people managed to find a way to talk about the erotic paintings, it became clear that the most aristocratic houses had erotic paintings in public places — even next to the dining rooms!”

Rose’s insights met with a positive response and frequent laughter from the audience.

“As far as Valentine’s Day goes, this is much better than getting flowers and doing something cheesy,” said Kevin Haughwout, a young engineer from New Jersey who attended the event with his girlfriend, Sarah Malmstrom.

Both Malmstrom and Haughwout praised Rose for his lecturing style.

“The whole thing was so quick, smart and amusing,” Malmstrom said. “A lighthearted approach definitely makes it easier for people to take.”

“I think it’s a clever way of drawing people in, branding the museum in a different way, and framing something that is very academic in a more palatable way for the younger crowd,” said 2009 Temple University graduate Diani Trevisani. “It’s kind of like tricking them into learning something.”

The lecture was hosted by the Young Friends of the Penn Museum, a group of members aged 21 to 45 who are dedicated to bringing young professionals to the museum.

Before and after the lecture, visitors had the chance to mingle and drink cocktails amid ancient sculptures and sarcophagi. Many were drawn to one of the museum’s current featured exhibits called “Unearthing the Masterpiece: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel.” This is the last tour for the two-thousand-year-old mosaic; it will remain at the Penn Museum until May, when it will be moved to the Louvre in Paris and then permanently housed in a museum in Israel.

The museum has often held events themed around the upcoming romantic holiday.

“We try to do something that’s a little lighthearted for Valentine’s Day,” said Emily Goldsleger, assistant director of membership and annual giving at the Penn Museum. Past Valentine’s Day-themed programs have included “Ancient Girls Gone Wild,” “Sex in the Ancient City” and “Cougars, Players and Baby Mama Drama.”

“They have funny names, but we do bring in highly qualified speakers from the museum or the University,” Goldsleger said.

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