“Aristotle’s Masterpiece,” A Banned Love Manual From The 1700s, Is Up For Auction & It Has Some Pretty, Uh, Interesting Advice
Today is the day to celebrate romantic love in all its forms — and, if you're inclined towards history, being incredibly glad that modern Valentine's Day is about roses and cheesy cards rather than disgusting love potions and odd medieval romance rituals. And now we have further proof of just how bonkers life between the sheets was in previous centuries, because a book of sex advice first published in the early 1700s is coming up for auction in the UK. And it's a doozy. Bearing the snappy title Aristotle’s Masterpiece Completed In Two Parts, The First Containing the Secrets of Generation, the book was actually banned in England until the 1960s for its incredibly salacious content, according to the auction house in charge of the sale, and only continued to exist because it was printed illegally.
Aristotle's Masterpiece definitely wasn't written by Aristotle, and has led a clandestine life since it was first banned. Everybody from Evelyn Waugh to James Joyce appears to have read it at some point, and versions appeared in Soho sex shops in London in the 1930s, but the book that's up for auction is one of the earliest known copies, and was only recently discovered. And the topics of advice cover everything from marriage to the purpose of the clitoris to conception and caring for infants — but it's when sex is involved that it gets particularly graphic and, to modern eyes, startlingly odd. Here are nine pieces of advice to take away (or not) for your hot date this Valentine's Day.
1. Eat Sexy Animals To Feel Sexy
It's one of the main lessons of the Aristotle book that you are what you eat. And if you want to feel sexy, eat animals that love sex. "Tis an infallible aphorism in physic, that whatsoever any creature is extremely addicted to they operate to the same end by their mutual virtue in the man that eats them," says the author. To that end, all kinds of feasts are recommended for the person of any gender looking to increase their lust and their sperm count.
Among the suggested food are "cock stones, lamb stones, sparrows, partridges, quails, and pheasant’s eggs" (stones are the 17th century term for testicles), "sparrows brains, flesh, bones and all; the stones and pizzles [penises] of bulls, bucks, rams, and bears." Or you could, you know, not.
2. You Can Move The Womb Around The Body With Smells
The Aristotle author firmly believed something that was entrenched in medicine from the ancient Greeks until relatively recently: that women's wombs aren't attached inside the body, and can cause havoc through their habit of "wandering" around. That, obviously, could make it difficult to conceive, so it was necessary to put the womb in its "correct" place again — and the book has a foolproof method: luring it with smells.
If the womb has "fallen out" of its correct place and gone too far down in the body, the author recommends that the lady "apply sweet scents to her nose, such as civet, galbanum, storax, calamitis, wood of aloes", and also should "lay stinking things to the womb, such as asafoetida, oil of amber, or the smoke of her own hair being burnt." The reason? Wombs apparently move around in response to smell. "This is a certain truth," the author writes: "that the womb flies from all stinking, and to all sweet things."
3. You Can Tell Whether You're Having A Boy Via Breast Milk
If you're trying to conceive this Valentine's Day, the Aristotle author has opinions on that too. Many of them. The book lists many tests to determine the sex of a baby. If a woman is having a boy, apparently "her right nipple is redder than the left, and her right breast harder and more plump"; "Her colour is more clear, nor she so swarthy as when she has conceived a female"; and the baby will kick first on the right side of her stomach.
However, there's apparently a more significant test. "If she would know she hath conceived of a son or a daughter," the book advises, "let her milk a drop of her milk into a basin of fair water; if it spreads and swims at top, it certainly is a boy; but if it sinks to the bottom, as it drops in round in a drop, it is a girl. This last is an infallible rule." It is not, according to modern medicine, an "infallible rule."
4. "Virgins" Shouldn't Be Allowed Salt Or Spices
People who haven't had sex are especially vulnerable when it comes to lust... thanks to the food they're eating. That's the opinion of the Aristotle author, anyway, who explains that when girls enter puberty, their menstrual blood "does, by its abounding, stir up their minds to venery: to which also external causes may incite them."
Foods that "heat" the body, under 18th century tradition, are strictly off-limits to "virginal girls," the book opines. "For their spirits are brisk and inflamed when they arrive at this age, and their bodies are often more heated by their eating sharp and salt things; and by spices, by which their desire of venereal embraces becomes very great, and at some critical junctures very insupportable." Stay off the potato chips, according to this guy, or you'll go completely mad with the need to do it.
5. To Have Good Sex, Think Nice Thoughts And Sing Verses
Got your Valentine's Day date into the bedroom? Now it's time to break out the Aristotle author's advice on how to have good sex. Frankly, it's not all that bad, though it does go a little over the top. People who get it on well, the book notes, "let everything that looks like care and business be banished from their thoughts, for all such things are enemies to Venus." It also recommends that lovers, "to invigorate their fancies, survey the lovely beauties of each other, and bear the bright ideas of them in their minds." Sending that nude? Definitely a move, if you're listening to the Aristotle author.
However, the book advises that men should also take advantage of being in the same room as their beloved to serenade them with verses of "amorous rapture." It even provides one for the purpose, which is basically a sonnet about how awesome it is to be sexing them. Which is all very well, but may slightly get in the way of actual boning.
6. Getting Up After Sex Isn't Encouraged Because The Womb Gets Cold
Leaving your lover's embraces, the book insists, isn't recommended, and not necessarily because it'll hurt their feelings. A man having sex with a woman, it explains, "ought to take care not to withdraw too precipitately from the field of love, lest he should, by so doing, let the cold into the womb, which might be of dangerous consequence." That's right: Getting up too soon after sex could lead to cervical chills.
7. Having Sex On Your Period Could Lead To "Monsters"
The book spends quite a long time looking at superstitions around "monstrous" births, with the singularly good advice that one shouldn't have sex with animals. But other potential causes behind "monstrous" progeny are a lot more ridiculous. For one, the book declares that "monsters are sometimes produced by other means; to wit, by the undue coition of a man and his wife when her monthly flowings are upon her."
Period sex, it declares, is "against nature", and charges women with telling their husbands to get off them. "If, therefore, a man's desire be ever so great for coition (as sometimes it is after long absence) yet if a woman knows that the custom of women is upon her, she ought not to admit of any embraces, which at that time are both unclean and unnatural," it notes.
8. Roses Make For Better Orgasm
The Aristotle book repeats the medieval belief that conception only happens when both people have an orgasm together (so much for the idea that the female orgasm was unknown to everybody until the 20th century). And it has some, er, helpful ideas about what to do if orgasms don't happen at the same time, particularly if the woman's is later.
If you're having an orgasm after your partner, it recommends that you are given a vaginal pessary that combines some fragrant ingredients — bay berries, frankincense and cloves — with some slightly less charming ones: ambergris, which is found in whale intestines, and musk from the glands of a deer. Hello, yeast infection. And if that doesn't work, you should cover your belly with a poultice made of red roses, gum, wormwood, and "dragon's blood" (which is actually just red resin).
9. Want True Love? Find Some Quail Hearts
There are charms for virtually everything to do with romance and sex in Aristotle. If you want true love, it recommends, carry a quail heart: women should carry a female one, men a male one. No word on
Whether this makes you in the mood for romance or more in the mood to throw up, it's certainly an insight into the mind of the 18th century lover. So if you feel like complaining about the sheer amount of chocolates dominating your local shop, consider that it could be beaver testicle instead.