Although the Near East is a real geographical place, in this discussion we are not dealing with actual history, geography, political or social science, but the imagination, which will often wish situations on oneself and others that would be very undesirable in real life. This is especially true of the sexual imagination. If you have any doubt, go to pop literature, the woman's historical romance in particular, and see what difficulties and indignities the writers inflict on the heroine, the reader's proxy. Even in imagination, however, the average Victorian is not terribly perverse. He might enjoy a few shocks to the Victorian lady's draconian virtue and propriety, but he does not want her to suffer unduly. And, taking a step beyond the picture at the bottom of the previous page, we can see by the picture below by Ingres that the lady is pretty comfortable indeed.
I will get back to Hiram Power' statue shortly, but this is a digression necessary to an understanding of the context. First, the painting is by Ingres, who dominated French painting in the first half of the 19th century, rivaled only by his romantic opponent, Delacroix. This painting, usually called "Odalisque and slave" exists in another, better known version which is much darker, with the back enclosed, rather than opening onto a garden. This one serves my purposes a little better. First, this picture belongs to a recognized genera--Orientalist paintings (paintings which stressed the sensual and exotic qualities of the Near East). Some paintings of this tradition were fanciful, some strictly realistic. Most were somewhere between. In addition, this belongs to a popular sub-genera, Odalisque paintings. An odalisque is a sort of slave-mistress. and for the very inhibited West was a symbol of uninhibited sexuality. Like many, perhaps most, 19th century paintings, this one suggests a story. This odalisque is red haired and very pale skinned, suggesting that she is from north-western Europe rather than from the Moslem world. Thus, she is probably a captive like Hiram Power's Greek slave. The red hair is symbolic otherwise--it is surprising how many Andromedas and other heroines in chains are pictured with red hair, even when no geographical suggestion is intended. It is also striking what a very high proportion of the slave girls on the Gor sites claim to be redheads. I am not sure what all the implications are, except that red is the color most associated with sexual passion, and other passion too, for that matter. The startlingly red column in the background of this picture seems both generally sexual and specifically phallic.
Not many Victorian ladies felt comfortable sleeping nude, even alone, in the dark, and under covers. For that matter, many today do not. To odalisque, however, looks entirely at ease, though she is uncovered, it is daylight, and she has an audience--a slave girl playing an instrument and a eunuch guard, more or less a male. She is not even in the privacy of a room, but in an open area of the building with a wide opening to the outdoors. The fact that the landscape is probably a walled garden makes it a little more private, but walled gardens, themselves, are a further sexual symbol.
A great many European women lacked the leisure for a nap during the day, but the odalisque not only has that luxury, but uses the time of two additional members of the household in doing so. As a slave she must perform some sort of service, but clearly it is nothing involving ordinary labor. Obviously, her function is sexual, and equally obviously she does not seem particularly uncomfortable with it. She is, however, relatively free of moral responsibility, since she does not have a choice in the matter. It is not surprising that this is an imaginary scenario with considerable appeal to both sexes.
Below is an even more famous odalisque by Ingres which makes some of the same points as well as some slightly different ones. The painting is called "The Grand Odalisque":