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Despite their differences with respect to penetration and heteronormativity, the sex-gender systems of classical antiquity and the contemporary West seem to agree in presenting nature as a female body that must be tamed and controlled (Bordo, Carson, Detienne). Indeed, porticoes and picture-windows in Roman houses arguably function to subordinate a feminized landscape to the male gaze through a sequence of framed, orderly views (Bergmann, Clarke 1991). However, an analysis of the frescoes and gardens of the House of Octavius Quartio in Pompeii (II.2.2-5) suggests that its landscapes, both painted and real, elide the boundary between nature and the male body. As represented by the statue of Hermaphroditus in its garden, landscape in this house shifts queerly between “feminine” and “masculine,” a labile metaphor for the penetrability of either gender, or both.

As Platt and von Stackelberg have pointed out, the frescoes of the upper terrace (i) illustrate the dangers of the voyeuristic gaze turned back on itself. At the same time, they open up provocative connections between landscape and the male body. In the paintings flanking the doorway of room f, Diana’s grotto is not simply a vaginal metaphor, but also representative of the wounded surface of Actaeon’s body. In the paintings flanking biclinium k, the locus amoenus is in part a metaphor for the desirable bodies of Narcissus and Pyramus, and each will be transformed into a landscape element, Narcissus a flower and Pyramus’ blood the ripe mulberry. The painting of Orpheus west of the doorway to triclinium h, now lost (Spinazzola vol.1, 390-91, Tronchin vol. 1, 262), encapsulates the tension between male control of or immersion in landscape. Orpheus is depicted charming nature with his song, much as the view out of triclinium h seems to frame and master the lower garden. However, this painted cycle depends on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and so the Orpheus fresco implies the content of Orpheus’ song in book 10: eroticized male bodies transformed into landscape elements (Cyparissus, Hyacinthus, Adonis, Hippomenes). Orpheus himself will be dismembered by the Thracian women at the beginning of book 11, dissolved, like Actaeon, back into the landscape.

As the visitor moves down from the terrace (i) to the lower garden (j), s/he discovers a grotto which is the source for the lower canal. Within is a second depiction of Diana and Actaeon, but now the visitor has been cast as Actaeon, stunned at the sight of Diana by peering into the grotto. If the visitor then continues down the canal, at the other end s/he comes upon a statue of Hermaphroditus, roughly one-third lifesize. Its recumbent posture, right arm lifted up behind the head in the “come-hither” pose (Clarke 1998.68-70), matches that found in sculptures and paintings of Hermaphroditus discovered by Pan. Meanwhile, the uplifted right arm of Pan found in these images matches the uplifted arm of Actaeon looking upon Diana. Thus the visitor, having played Actaeon, now seems to play Pan. Within the billowing fold in Hermaphroditus’ lap Pan (and the visitor) finds an erect phallus, implying the reversability of the scene and thus his (her?) own penetrability.

The queer mutability of landscape in the House of Octavius Quartio is captured by the sculpture of Hermaphroditus, or more fundamentally, by the recess/grotto/orifice it implies in the body of the spectator. Moving in sequence, the painted grotto beside Diana on the terrace (i) leads to the constructed grotto of the biclinium (k), to a second grotto of Diana underneath the terrace, to the drapery fold in the lap of Hermaphroditus, to the penetrable “folds” of the viewer’s own body. Rather than affirming social boundaries, this queer play with landscape dramatizes the complex negotiation of status in this house, elaborately remodeled after the earthquake but reduced in size, with close connections to the shops in front, and potential use for commercial production.