My son and I went to the National Gallery of Art the other day. He’s taking a course on the Renaissance that includes studying its art, and, in his words, “You like art museums more than anyone I know,” so we went together.
We happened upon a tour in progress, so tagged along. The guide was very knowledgeable. We learned quite a bit from him. I have no idea who he was, but the ladies in the group were talking about buying his book.
When we reached the painting above, The Feast of the Gods, I was struck by his phrasing.
The scene depicted is from Ovid.
The central portion of the narrative is at the far right. Priapus, god of fertility, is lifting the skirt of the sleeping nymph Lotis. In the words of our tour guide, and I would guess Ovid, the “seduction” was interrupted by the braying of the donkey, who woke Lotis in time for her to rebuff Priapus. He then demanded that the donkey be sacrificed to him, and that all future sacrifices be donkeys.
That’s the story. I doubt many people today know it, so why should I care?
I care because there are still people who confuse the idea of seduction with rape. There are people who don’t distinguish between an act of violence and romantic persuasion. There are people who don’t understand the entire concept of consent.
Every time we use a word like seduction instead of rape, when we fail to say, “Ovid called it seduction, but Priapus was attempting to rape this sleeping nymph,” we excuse it, don’t we?
Ugly acts don’t deserve pretty phrases.