Roman[tic] Charity

I’ve had my issues with museums in the past. Just last year I nearly moved to London because of a particularly moving piece in the National Gallery. Needless to say, my experiences made me hesitant to go to yet another museum but at the end of the day I am an adult and I need to deal with life. And so, while in Spain, I landed at the Prado Museum.

I almost didn’t make it in at all as this vendor was selling prints of famous paintings outside the museum as we waited on line. I was so mesmerized by these pictures that, for a while, I completely forgot about the museum itself as the line moved on without me. I contemplated forgoing the museum altogether to focus on these beautiful works but alas, I did not.

I entered and it didn’t take me long. In every museum there is one piece that speaks to me on a level that words cannot describe. This time I found that piece at the very start; this time it was a sculpture. 

It depicted an older man sitting on a block, his feet were chained, his back slightly hunched and his tunic only covered his mid-section. Next to him was a young lady looking away as if she was making sure they weren’t caught, which was smart of her as they were involved in some lewd business! She had taken one of her breasts out and the man was feeding. And boy was he feeding. I was in awe as the romanticism of the piece just lactated out and nourished my soul. I made my way over to the sculpture while thinking, what a dirty old dog! I half expected the piece to be entitled something like The First Conjugal Visit! But the actual title surprised me. The piece was called Roman Charity. My mind tugged in different directions. This was an act of pure charity? A generous action given to a man clearly in need of some sexy time? Did they even know each other? Did she engage in this simply out of kindness? Did she pick just one recipient or did her unselfishness know no bounds? Was this tax deductible?

I needed to read the plaque that described the piece.

The woman was Pero and the man Cimon. Pero was Cimon’s daughter.

Plot twist! Scandalous! I was intrigued. 

Cimon was sentenced to starve in prison and so his daughter visited him daily to suckle him.

This immediately made the piece a little less sexy for me. Even a little less romantic. Yet, no less intriguing.

Turns out that they were discovered but this example of filial devotion was so admired that the prisoner was released.

Wow. What a tale. I suddenly felt empty inside. Imagine, this man was so loved by his family, that his own daughter risked her life, her bosom, and any shred of dignity to save him. I wondered if my daughter would do the same. Then I remembered I didn’t have a daughter. But then I recalled this one young lady once told me she viewed me as a father figure. Close enough!

I called her at once. I carefully explained the situation in every detail and nuance possible. She very carelessly hung up in my face.

That wasn’t the response I was hoping for.

Next best thing: I phoned Mary-Beth, my third cousin twice removed from Arkansas. Next thing I knew she was reading me love letters and sending me nude photographs. I’m not sure where the confusion came into place.

It was then that I realized: I had no one in my life that would sacrifice anything for me. I was alone and I was unloved. And no, Mary-Beth did not count.

I wistfully walked through the rest of the museum, more downtrodden than I had been in quite some time. Where was I supposed to go from here? What was the point of my life? If no man is a failure who has friends, I was most certainly a deadbeat. As the English would say, I am a boob, who is titillated by the most juvenile of things. Never will I know the warmth provided by the bosom of a family. I reached in my breast pocket and pulled out a bust – well the picture of a bust that was on the front of the pamphlet the museum gave out. I was going to look for something new when I saw it and sensuously grabbed my own chest.

I stood before Saturn Devouring His Son, a piece commissioned for the Torre de la Parada by Philip IV of Spain. It was a horrific and explicit picture of the god remorselessly killing and eating his own child to maintain his position of power. Jesus! I was at a standstill, unable to speak. And that’s when I realized: my life wasn’t so bad after all. I could have been met with a cannibalistic fate but I was not! I backed away from that picture and subsequently left the museum with a completely fresh outlook on life. For the first time I think I realized and appreciated the fact that parenting can be a really complicated thing – there are many different ways one can go with it. Sometimes daughters breastfeed their dads. Sometimes people eat their babies. I just had to forget about all that and seize the day! But first thing first: I decided to call my father to thank him for not eating me during my adolescence – even if I deserved it. 

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