Untold London, a website that highlights the histories of the capital’s diverse communities by tracing their presence in museums, exhibitions and events, has recently released a free trail that takes you round the LGBT-themed objects at the British museum.
True to the website’s ethos, this is a fascinating guide to the untold histories of several of the museum’s objects and, although readers of certain classical authors might assume that the LGBT aspects of the ancient world were anything but covert, it’s the kind of thing that you never knew you needed until it’s put in front of you. An erudite and entertaining read that includes the fantastic phrase ’cutting the sexual cake’, it takes you through objects both on display and behind the scenes: a medley of statues, poetry and pottery whose significance might not always be obvious at first glance.
Although there’s the inevitable mention of Sappho, this thoughtful pamphlet does cover a wide range of ancient civilizations and, rather than simply highlighting all of the titillating scenes on show (although Zeus knows there are enough of those) it also uses objects like the busts of Hadrian and Antoninus to highlight ancient love stories and changing approaches to sexuality. Furthermore, it also contains fabulous bits of pub quiz-worthy trivia: the fact that the world’s oldest chat-up line was purportedly ‘what a lovely backside you have’, for example.
This exploration of some of the stories behind what can be over-familiar objects in the museum is well worth a read, whatever your orientation, and you can pick up a copy from First Out, Gay’s The Word, the Museum of London, the Hackney Museum or online here.