The Way of a Virgin/Tale of Kamar al-Zaman

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The Way of a Virgin edited by L. and C. Brovan
Tale of Kamar al-Zaman


King Shahriman had a son, Kamar al-Zaman, who "grew up of surpassing beauty and symmetry," but was unwilling to marry. For this he is eventually cast into prison. A similar fate has befallen Princess Budur, daughter of King Ghayur, Lord of China Islands and Seas, and for a similar reason. The maiden is pictured as one "than whom Allah hath made none fairer in her time with cheeks like purple wine...lips as coral...breasts like two globes of ivory, from whose brightness the moons borrow light, and a stomach with little waves as it were a figured cloth...with crease like folded scrolls, ending in a waist slender past all imagination; based upon back parts like a hillock of blown sand, that force her to sit when she would lief stand...."

Two genii, Maymunah, a woman, and Dahnash, a man, now come into the story, the former as a champion of Kamar, the latter as Princess Budur's. After a long dispute as to the rival charms of Prince and Princess, they convey the latter to the Prince's side, the test of beauty to be as follows:—

Each is to be awakened in turn, without knowledge of the other, and whichever is the more enamoured will be held inferior in comeliness.

Dahnash then changes himself into a Yea, and bites Kamar al-Zaman, who wakes up. The text continues:—

...Then turning sideways, he found lying by him something whose breath was sweeter than musk and whose skin was softer than cream. Hereat he marvelled with great marvel, and he sat up and looked at what lay beside him; when he saw it to be a young lady like an union pearl, or a shining sun, or a dome seen from afar on a well-built wall: for she was five feet tall...bosomed high and rosy-cheeked...

And when Kamar al-Zaman saw the lady Budur, daughter of King Ghayur, and her beauty and comeliness, she was sleeping clad in a shift of Venetian silk, without her petticoat trousers, and wore on her head a kerchief embroidered with gold and set with stones of price; her ears were hung with twin earrings which shone like constellations, and round her neck was a collar of union pearls, of size unique, past the competence of any king.

When he saw this, his reason was confounded and natural heat began to stir in him; Allah awoke in him the desire of coition and he said to himself:

"Whatso Allah willeth, that shall be, and what he willeth not shall be!"

So saying, he put out his hand, turning her over, loosed the collar of her chemise; then arose before his sight her bosom, with its breasts like double globes of ivory; whereat his inclination for her redoubled and he desired her with exceeding hot desire. He would have awakened her but she would not awake, for Dahnash had made her sleep heavy; so he shook her and moved her, saying:

"O my beloved, awake and look on me; I am Kamar al-Zaman."

But she awoke not, neither moved her head; whereupon he considered her case for a long hour and said to himself:

"If I guess aright, this is the damsel to whom my father would have married me, and these three years I have refused her; but Inshallah!—God willing—as soon as it is dawn, I will say to him: Marry me to her, that I may enjoy her; nor will I let half the day pass ere I possess her and take my fill of her beauty and loveliness."

Then he bent over Budur to buss her, whereat the Jinniyah Maymunah trembled and was abashed and Dahnash, the Ifrit, was like to fly for joy. But as Kamar al-Zaman was about to kiss her on the mouth, he was ashamed before Allah and turned away his head and averted his face, saying to his heart: "Have patience."

Then he took thought awhile and said:

"I will be patient; haply my father when he was wroth with me and sent me to his jail, may have brought my young lady and made her lie by my side to try me with her, and may have charged her not to be readily awakened when I would arouse her, and may have said to her:

"'Whatever thing Kamar al-Zaman do to thee, make me ware thereof';

"Or belike my sire standeth hidden in some stead whence (being himself unseen) he can see all I do with this young lady; and to-morrow he will scold me and cry:

"'How cometh it that thou sayest, I have no mind to marry; and yet thou didst and embrace yonder damsel?'

"So I will withhold myself lest I be ashamed before my sire; and the right and proper thing to do is not to touch her at this present, nor even to look upon her, except to take from her somewhat which shall serve as a token to me and a memorial of her; that some sign endure between me and her."

Then Kamar al-Zaman raised the young lady's hand and took from her littre finger a seal-ring worth an immense amount of money, for that its bezel was a precious jewel...and set it on his own; then, turning his back to her, went to sleep.[2]

Thereupon Maymunah changed herself into a flea and entering into the raiment of Budur, the loved of Dahnash, crept up her calf and came upon her thigh and, reaching a place some four carats[3] below her navel, there bit her. Thereupon she opened her eyes and sitting up in bed, saw a youth lying beside her and breathing heavily in his sleep, the loveliest of Almighty Allah's creatures, with eyes that put to shame the fairest Houris of Heaven; and a mouth like Solomon's seal, whose water was sweeter to the taste and more efficacious than a theriack, and lips the colour of coral-stone, and cheeks like blood-red anemone.... Now when Princess Budur saw him, she was seized by a transport of passion and yearning and love-longing, and she said to herself:

"Alas, my shame! This is a strange youth and I know him not. How cometh he to be lying by my side on one bed?"

Then she looked at him a second time and, noting his beauty and loveliness, said:

"By Allah, he is indeed a comely youth and my heart is well-nigh torn in sunder with longing for him! But alas, how am I shamed by him! By the Almighty, had I known it was youth who sought me in marriage of my father, I had not rejected him, but had wived with him and enjoyed his loveliness!"

Then she gazed in his face and said:

"O my lord and light of mine eyes, awake from sleep and take thy pleasure in my beauty and grace."

And she moved him with her hand; but Maymunah the Jinniyah let down sleep upon him as it were a curtain, and pressed heavily on his head with her wings so that Kamar al-Zaman awoke not. Then Princess Budur shook him with her hands and said:

"My life on thee, hearken to me; awake and up from thy sleep and look on the narcissus and the tender down thereon, and enjoy the sight of naked waist and navel; and touzle me and tumble me from this moment till break of day! Allah upon thee, O my lord, sit up and prop thee against the pillow and slumber not!"

Still Kamar al-Zaman made her no reply but breathed hard in his sleep. Continued she:

"Alas! Alas! thou art insolent in thy beauty and comeliness and grace and loving looks! But if thou art handsome, so am I handsome; what then is this thou dost? Have they taught thee to flout me or hath my father, the wretched old fellow, made thee swear not to speak to me to-night?"

But Kamar al-Zaman opened not his mouth neither awoke, whereat her passion for him redoubled and Allah inflamed her heart with love of him. She stole one glance of eyes that cost her a thousand sighs: her heart fluttered, and her vitals throbbed and her hands and feet quivered; and she said to Kamar al-Zaman:

"Talk to me, O my lord! Speak to me, O my friend! Answer me, O my beloved, and tell me thy name, for indeed thou hast ravished my wit!"

An during all this time he abode drowned in sleep and answered her not a word, and Princess Budur sighed and said:

"Alas! Alas! why art thou so proud and self-satisfied?"

Then she shook him and turning his hand over, saw her seal-ring on his little finger, whereat she cried a loud cry, and followed it with a sigh of passion and said:

"Alack! Alack! By Allah, thou art my beloved and thou lovest me! Yet thou seemest to turn thee away from me out of coquetry, for all, O my darling, thou camest to me, whilst I was asleep and knew not what thou didst with me, and tookest my seal-ring; and yet I will not pull it off thy finger."

So saying, she opened the bosom of his shirt and bent over him and kissed him and put forth her hand to him, seeking somewhat that she might take as a token, but found nothing. Then she thrust her hand into his breast and, because of the smoothness of his body, it slipped down to his waist and thence to his navel and thence to his yard, whereupon her heart ached and her vitals quivered and lust was sore upon her, for that the desire of women is fiercer than the desire of men,[4] and she was ashamed of her own shamelessness.

Then she plucked his seal-ring from his finger, and put it on her own instead of the the ring he had taken, and bussed his inner lips and hands, nor did she leave any part of him unkissed; after which she took him to her breast and embraced him and, laying one of her hands under his neck and the other under his arm-pit, nestled close to him and fell asleep by his side.

...When Princess Budur fell asleep by the side of Kamar al-Zaman, after doing that which she did, quoth Maymunah to Dahnash:

"Sawst thou, O accursed, how proudly and coquettishly my beloved bore himself, and how hotly and passionately thy mistress showed herself to my dearling? There can be no doubt that my beloved is handsomer than thine; nevertheless I pardon thee."

...The two Ifrits went forward to Princess Budur and upraising her flew away with her; then, bearing her back to her place, they laid her on her own bed, while Maymunah abode alone with Kamar al-Zaman, gazing upon him as he slept, till the night was all but spent, when she went her way. As soon as morning morrowed, the Prince awoke from sleep and turned right and left, but found not the maiden by him and said in his mind:

"What is this business? It is as if my father would incline me to marriage with the damsel who was with me and have now taken her away by stealth, to the intent that my desire for wedlock may redouble."

Then he called out to the eunuch who slept at the door, saying:

"Woe to thee, O damned one, arise at once!"

So the eunuch rose, bemused with sleep, and brought him basin and ewer, whereupon Kamar al-Zaman entered the water-closet and did his need;[5] then, coming out, made the Wuzu-ablution and prayed the dawn-prayer, after which he sat telling on his beads the ninety-and-nine names of Almighty Allah....

Strictly speaking, the rest of the story, which, is of great length, is somewhat out of place in this volume. The reader, however, may beinterested to know the upshot of the stratagem adopted by the genii, so we take leave to give it, summarising where necessary.

Kamar al-Zaman and the Princess Budur, madly in love but grief-stricken by their separation, are eventually brought together and married. Later, while on a journey, they are again separated by divers mischances, Kamar becoming an assistant to a gardener, while Budur, having adopted male garb to preserve her chastity, reaches the dominios of King Armanus. Here she is taken for a king's son, and Armanus, who is old, gives her his daughter Hayat al-Nufus in marriage and makes her lord of his kingdom. An embarassing situation now arises, Budur being unable to consummate the marriage or to explain her failure to the bride. Matters come to a crisis on the third night when Hay at speaks out. The text continues:—

...Hayat al-Nufus caught her by the skirt and clung to her, saying:

"O my lord, art thou not ashamed before my father, after all his favour, to neglect me at such a time as this?"

When Queen Budur heard her words, she sat down in the same place and said:

"O my beloved, what is this thou sayest?"

She replied:

"What I say is that I never saw any so proud of himself as thou. Is every fair one so disdainful? I say not this to incline thee to me; I say it only of my fear for thee from King Armanus; because he purposeth, unless thou go in unto me this very night, and do away my maidenhead, to strip thee of the kingship on the morrow and banish thee his kingdom; and peradventure his excessive anger may lead him to slay thee. But I, O my lord, have ruth on thee and give thee fair warning; and it is thy right to reck."

Now when Queen Budur heard her speak these words, she bowed her head groundwards awhile in sore perplexity and said in herself:

"If I refuse I'm lost; and if I obey I'm shamed. But I am now Queen of all the Ebony Islands and they are under my rule, nor shall I ever again meet my Kamar al-Zaman save in this place; for there is no way for him to his native land but through the Ebony Islands. Verily, I know not what to do in my present case, but I commit my care to Allah who directed all for the best, for I am no man that I should arise and open this virgin girl."

Then quoth Queen Budur to Hayat al-Nufus:

"O my beloved, that I have neglected thee and abstained from thee is in my own despite."

And she told her her whole story from beginning to end and showed her person to her, saying:

"I conjure you by Allah to keep my counsel, for I have concealed my case only that Allah may re-unite me with my beloved Kamar al-Zaman and then comewhat may."

...The Princess heard her with extreme wonderment and was moved to pity and prayed Allah to re-unite her with her beloved, saying:

"Fear nothing, O my sister; but have patience till Allah bring to pass that which must come to pass. ...O my sister, verily the breasts of the noble and brave are of secrets the grave; and I will not discover thine."

Then they toyed and embraced and kissed and slept till near the Mu'ezzin's call to dawn-prayer, when Hayat al-Nufus arose and took a pigeon-poult,[6] and cut its throat over her smock and besmeared herself with its blood. Then she pulled off her petticoat-trousers and cried aloud, whereupon her people hastened to her and raised the usual lullilooing and outcries of joy and gladness. . . .

We can omit a description of the manner in which Kamar al-Uaman is at length brought to the Ebony Islands, where honour and dignity are heaped upon him, in particular by Queen Budur, whom he believs to be a man and the king of the dominion. Growing suspicious of these favours, Kamar asks permission to depart. The text continues:—

. . . .Answered Kamar al-Zaman:

"O King, verily this favour, if there be no reason for it, is indeed a wonder of wonder, more by token that thou hast advanced me to dignities such as befit men of age and experience, albeit I am as it were a young child."

And Queen Budur rejoined:

"The reason is that I love thee for thine exceeding loveliness and thy surpassing beauty; and if thou wilt but grant me my desire of thy body, I will advance thee yet farther in honour and favour and largesse; and I will make thee Wazir, for all thy tender age, even as the folk made me Sultan over them and I no older than thou...."

When Kamar al-Zaman heard these words, he was abashed and his cheeks flushed till they seemed aflame; and he said:

"I need not these favours which lead to the commission of sin; I will live poor in wealth but wealthy in virtue and honour."

Quoth she:

"I am not to be duped by thy scruples, arising from prudery and coquetish ways; and Allah bless him who saith:—

"To him I spake of coupling, but he said to me, How long this noyous long persistency?'

But when gold piece I showëd him, he cried, 'Who from the Almighty Sovereign e'er shall flee?"'

Now when Kamar al-Zaman heard these words and understood her verses and their import, he said:

"O King, I have not the habit of these doings, nor have I strenght to bear these heavy burthens for which elder age than I proved unable; then how will it be with my tender age?"

But she smiled at his speech and retorted:

"Indeed, it is a matter right marvellous how error springeth from the disorder of man's intendiment! Since thou art a boy, why standest thou in fear of sin or the doing of things forbidden, seeing that thou art not yet come to the years of canonical responsibility; and the offences of a child incur neither punishment nor reproof? Verily, thou hast committed thyself to a quibble for the sake of contention, and it is thy duty to bow before a proposal of fruition, so henceforward cease from denial and coyness, for the commandment of Allah is a decree foreordained: indeed, I have more reason than thou to fear falling and by sin to be misled; and well-inspired was he who said:—

My prickle is big and the little one said, 'Thrust boldly in vitals 'with lion-like stroke'

Then I, 'Tis a sin!'; and he, 'No sin to me!' So I had him at once with a counterfeit poke."[7]

When Kamar al-Zaman heard these words, the light became darkness in his sight and he said:

"O King, thou hast in thy household fair women and female slaves, who have not their like in this age: shall not these suffice thee without me? Do thy will with them and let me go!"

She replied:

"Thou sayest sooth, but it is not with them that one who loveth thee can heal himself of torment and can abate his fever; for, when tastes and inclinations are corrupted by vice, they hear and obey other than good advice. So leave arguing and listen to what the poet saith:—

Seest not the bazaar with its fruit in rows? These men are for figs and for sycamore those![8]

"And what another saith:—

O beauty's Union! love for thee's my creed; free choice of Faith and eke my best desire:

Women I have forsworn for thee; so may deem me all men this day a shaveling friar.

"And yet another:—

A boy of twice ten is fit for a King!

"And yet another:—

The penis smooth and round was made with anus best to match it: Had it been made for cunnu's sake it had been formed like hatchet!

"And yet another said:—

My soul thy sacrifice! I chose thee out who art not menstruous or oviparous'.

Did I with women mell, I sould beget brats till the wide world grew strait for us.

"And yet another:—

She saith (sore hurt in sense the most acute, for she had proffered what did not besuit):

'Unless thou stroke as man should swive his wife, blame not when horns thy brow shall incornute!

'Thy wand seems waxen, to a limpo grown: and more I palm it, softer grows the brute!'

"And yet another:—

Quoth she (for I to lie with her forbore), 'O folly-following fool, O fool to core:

'If thou my coynte for Kiblah[9] to thy coigne reject, we'll show thee what shall please thee more.'[10]

"And yet another:—

She proffered me a tender coynte: Quoth I, 'I will not roger thee!'

She drew back, saying, 'From the Faith he turns, who's turned by Heaven's decree![11]

'And front-wise futtering, in one day, is obsolete persistency!'

Then swung she round and shining rump like silvern lump she showed me!

I cried: 'Well done, O mistress mine! No more am I in pain for thee;

'O thou of all that Allah oped[12] showest me fairest victory!'

"And yet another:—

Men craving pardon will uphold their hands; women pray pardon with their legs on high:[13]

Out on it for a pious, prayerful work! The Lord shall raise it in the dephts to lie."[14] When Kamar al-Zaman heard her quote this poetry, and was certified that there was no escaping compliance with what willed she, he said:

"O King of the age, if thou must needs have it so, make covenant with me that thou wilt do this thing with me but once, though it avail not correct thy depraved appetite; and that thou wilt never again require this thing of me to the end of time; so perchance shall Allah purge me of the sin."

She replied:

"I promise thee this same, hoping that Allah of His favour will relent toward us and blot out our mortal offence; for the girdle of Heaven's forgiveness is not indeed so strait, but it may compass us around and absolve us of the excess of our heinous sins and bring us to the light of salvation out of the darkness of error; and indeed excellently well saith the poet:—

Of evil thing the folk suspect us twain; and to this thought their hearts and souls are bent:

Come, dear! let's justify and free their souls that wrong us; one good bout and then—repent!"

Thereupon she made with him an agreement and a covenant and swore a solemn oath by Him who is Self-existent, that this thing should befall betwixt them but once and never again for all time, and that the desire of him was driving her to death and perdition. So he rose up with her, on this condition, and went with her to her own boudoir, that she might quench the lowe of her lust, saying:

"There is no Majesty, and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great! This is the fated decree of the All-powerful, the All-wise!"

And he doffed his bag-trousers, shameful and abashed, with the tears running from his eyes from stress of affright. Thereat she smiled and making him mount upon a couch with her, said to him:

"After this night, thou shalt see naught that will offend thee."

Then she turned to him bussing and bosoming him and bending calf over calf, and said to him:

"Put thy hand between my thighs to the accustomed place; so haply it may stand up to prayer after prostration."

He wept and cried:

"I am not good at aught of this."

But she said:

"By my life, an thou do as I bid thee, it shall profit thee!"

So he put out his hand, with vitals afire for confusion, and found her thighs cooler than cream and softer than silk. The touching of them pleasured him and he moved his hand hither and thither, till it came to a dome abounding in good gifts and movements and shifts, and said in himself:

"Perhaps this King is an hermaphrodite,[15] neither man nor woman quite."

So he said to her:

"O King, I cannot find that thou hast a tool like the tools of men; what then moved thee to do this deed?"

Then loudly laughed Queen Budur till she fell on her back,[16] and said:

"O my dearling, how quickly thou hast forgotten the nights we have lain together!"

Then she made herself known to him, and he knew her for his wife, the Lady Budur, daughter of King al-Ghayur, Lord of the Isles and the Seas. So he embraced her and she embraced him, and he kissed her and she kissed him; then they lay down on the bed of pleasure voluptuous.……

Here we end our extract from the Tale of Kamar al-Zaman, altough the story runs on for another forty odd pages in Sir Richard Burton's translation. A situation similar to that just described occurs in another story in 'The Nights,' and we shall have occasion to quote from that in a subsequent volume.


"We are told that in the East there was once a woman named Moarbeda who was a philosopher and considered to be the wisest woman of her time. When Moarbeda was once asked: 'In what part of a woman's body does her mind reside?' she replied: 'Between her thighs.'"—Havelock Ellis: Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Vol. 3: The Sexual Impulse in Women.[17]

The amativeness of woman, as compared with that of man, is a question, of course, entirely beyond the scope of this note. We must be content with examining some of the most interesting and pertinent extracts from the works of those qualified to speak on the subject.

At the outset we are confronted with the striking fact that, while the ancients were prone to regard woman as generally amative, even lustful, modern thought has exactly reversed this opinion. "It seems to have been reserved for the nineteenth century," says Havelock Ellis, (op. cit. supra), "to state that women are apt to be congenitally incapable of experiencing complete sexual satisfaction, and peculiarly liable to sexual anaesthesia. This idea appears to have been almost unknown to the eighteenth century.……"

Thus we have two schools of thought, one attributing to woman an intense sexual impulse, even greater than in man, the other holding her sexually frigid by nature and erotic only by pretence or accident. We may helpfully quote again from our Havelock Ellis, who has summarised in masterly fashion? the various authorities on both sides:—

"In the treatise On Generation, (chap. 5), which until recent times was commonly ascribed to Hippocrates," he says, "it is stated that men have greater pleasure in coitus than women, though the pleasure of women lasts longer, and this opinion, though, not usually accepted, was treated with great respect by medical authors down to the end of the 17th century.……Gall had stated decisively that the sexual desires of men are stronger and more imperious than those of women. (Fonctions du Cerveau, 1825),……

Raciborski declared that three-fourths of women merely endure the approaches of men. (De la Puberté chez la Femme).

"When the question is carefully inquired into and without prejudice,' said Lawson Tait, 'it is found that women have their sexual appetites far less developed than men.' (Lawson Tait, Provincial Medical Journal, 1891). 'The sexual instinct is very powerful in man and comparatively weak in women,' he stated elsewhere. (Disease of Women, 1889). Hammond stated that……'it is doubtful if in one-tenth of the instance of intercourse they [women] experience the slightest pleasurable sensation from first to last.' (Hammond, Sexual Impotence).

"Lombroso and Ferrero consider that sexual sensibility is… less pronunced in women… Woman is naturally and organically frigid……' (Lombroso and Ferrero, La Donna Delinquente, la Prostituta, e la Donna Normale, 1893). Krafft-Ebing was of opinion that women requires less sexual satisfaction than men, being less sensual……'The sensuality of men,' Moll state, 'is in my opinion very much greater than that of women.'

"Adler, who discusses the question at some length, decides that the sexual needs of women are less than those of men, though in some cases the orgasm in quantity and quality greatly exceeds that of men. He believes, not only that the sexual impulse in women is absolutely less than in men, and requires stronger stimulation to arouse it, but that also it suffers from a latency due to inhibition, which acts like a foreign body in the brain…… and demands great skill in the man who is to awaken the woman to love."

Here we have one side of the question—a side strangely at variance with ancient thought, romance and history. The supposed frigidity of women is characterised by Havelock Ellis as 'an opinion of very recent growth……confined, on the whole, to a few countries.' (Studies, vol. 3, page 196). He goes on to quote Brierre de Boismont, who wrote: 'Turn to history, and on every page you will be able to recognise the predominance of erotic ideas in women.' It is the same to-day, he adds, and he attributes it to the fact that men are more easily able to gratify their sexual impulses. (Des Hallucinations, 1862).

"The laws of Manu," continues Havelock Ellis, "attibute to women concupiscence and anger, the lave of bed and and of adornment. The Jews attribute to women greater sexual desire than to men. This is illustrated, according to Knobel (as quoted by Dillman), by Genesis, chapter 3, verse 16.[18]

"In Greek antiquity,……in love between men and women the latter were nearly always regarded as taking the more active part. In all Greek love-stories of early date the woman falls in love with the man, and never the reverse, Æschylus makes even a father assume that his daughters will misbehave if left to themselves. Euripides emphasised the importance of women. 'The Euripidean woman who falls in love thinks first of all: "How can I seduce the man I love?"' (E. F. M. Benecke: Antimachus of Colophon and the Position of Women in Greek Poetry, 1896).

"The most famous passage in Latin literature as to the question of whether men or women obtain greater pleasure from sexual intercourse is that in which Ovid relates the legend of Tiresias (Metamorphoses, 3, 317-333). Tiresias, having been both a man and a woman, decided in favour of women.……In a passage quoted from a lost work of Galen by the Arabian biographer, Abut-l-Faraj, that great physician says of the Christians 'that they practice celibacy, that even many of their women do so.' So that in Galen's opinion it was more difficult for a woman than for a man to be continent. The same view is widely prevalent among authors, and there is an Arabic saying that 'The longing of the woman for the penis is greater than that of the man for the vulva.'[19]

"The early Christian Fathers clearly show that they regard women as more inclined to sexual enjoyment than men. That was……the opinion of Tertullian (De Virginibus Velandis), and it is clearly implied in some of St. Jerome's epistles.

"Notwithstanding the influence of Christianity, among the vigorous barbarian races of mediaeval Europe the existence of sexual appetite in women was not considered to be, as it later became, a matter to be concealed or denied. Thus in 1068 the ecclesiastical historian, Ordericus Vitalis (himself half Norman and half English), narrates that the wives of the Norman knights who had accompanied William the Conqueror to England two years earlier sent over to their husbands to say that they were consumed by the fierce flames of desire, and that if their husbands failed to return very shortly they proposed to take other husbands. It is added that this threat brought a few husbands back to their wanton ladies.

"During the mediaeval period in Europe, largely in consequence, no doubt, of the predominance of ascetic ideals set up by men who naturally regarded women as the symbol of sex, the doctrine of the incontinence of woman became firmly fixed.……Humanism and the spread of the Renaissance movement brought in a spirit more sympathetic to women. We begin to find attempts at analysing the sexual emotions. In the seventeenth century a book of this kind was written by Venette. In matters of love, Venette declared, 'men are but children compared to women. In these matters women have a more livly imagination, and they usually have more leisure to think of love. Women are much more lascivious and amorous than men.' In a subsequent chapter, dealing with the question whether men or women receive more pleasure from the sexual embrace, Venette concludes, after admitting the great difficulty of the question, that man's pleasure is greater, but that woman's last longer. (N. Venette, De la Génération de l'Homme ou Tableau de l'Amour Conjugal, 1688)."

These and similar quotations, all acknowleding or laying stress on the erotic appetite of women, might be continued indefinitely. Among the other supporters of the opinion quoted by Havelock Ellis are Montaigne (Essais), Schurig (Parthenologia), Plazzonus (De Partibus Generations Inservientibus), Ferrand (De la Maladie d'Amour), Uacchia (Quæstiones Medico-Legales), Sinibaldus (Geneanthropeia), Senancour (De l'Amour), Busch, Gutteceot,[20] Mantegazza (Fisiologia del Piacere), Forel (The Sexual Question), who believed that women are more erotic than men, and Bloch (The Sexual Life of Our Time), who says, "The sexual sensibility of women is certainly different from that of men, but in strength it is at least as great."

For our part, we find it hard to ignore that overwhelming consensus of opinion among early writers as to the erotic nature of the average woman. Was not this feminine amativeness the theme upon which were built the undying contes and fabliaux of Boccaccio, Bandello, Masuccio, Straparola, La Fontaine, Poggio, Ser Giovanni, Chaucer, Brantôme and a host of others? Are we to label Casanova's Memoirs as worthless because his women seem, in our modern eyes, erotic beyond all belief? Turning to the literature of the East, where woman's 'thirst for coition is written between her eyes,'[21] are we to hold the feminine attributes therein described as peculiar to those peoples and times? Must we believe that all these writers fashioned women out of their own lascivious fancy, or that the sexual impulse in the women of those races has totally changed?

Without a doubt, time and custom are responsible for much that seems obscure and irreconcilable. Many of our authorities are writing of an age in which men and women spoke and acted in a manner which to-day seems coarse and inexcusably free. Because in the past woman more readily gave outward expression to her inward feeling, it does not follow now that, by reason of her greater reserve, she lacks these emotions.

History has shown us psychologists and investigators in plenty, but they were not the psychologists of to-day, recording the results of their investigations with meticulous care and detail. The sexually frigid woman, we can confidently assume, was by no means unknown to the ancients. She was, however, unusual, abnormal; and if a sexually frigid woman be accounted abnormal, it is not hard to see why a normal is deemed erotic.

In these times, when it is the fashion to dissect everyone and everything, we are prone to argue from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the peculiar to the general; sexual frigidity in woman, at first an anomaly, ends in being a trait; the exception becomes, does not prove, the rule.

Needless to say, a great psychologist like Havelock Ellis has a wealth of information to offer on the subject, and we commend our readers to his masterly handling of it. He has something to say on every aspect of the question, from the case of the woman who is cold almost to the point of sexelessness to that of the erotic wife who 'becomes frenzied with excitement during intercourse and insensible to everything but the pleasure of it.' In conclusion, he adjusts the scales with exquisite and scientific precision, holding that 'the distribution of the sexual impulse between the two sexes is fairly balanced.'

Earlier on, however, he makes a point which we shall do well to bear in mind. '……Sexual impulse is by no means so weak in women as many would lead us to think. It would appear that, whereas in earlier ages there was generally a tendency to credit women with an unduly large share of the sexual impulse, there is now a tendency unduly to minimise the sexual impulse in women.'

We shall have frequent occasion in subsequent volumes of Anthologica Rarissima to return to this subject, for, as the student of folk-lore, psychology and human life will readily agree, sexual impulse is perhaps the most powerful basic motive of our many daily acts and tasks.[22]

  1. The Thousands Nights and a Night, translated by Sir Richard F. Burton, and printed by the Burton Club for private subscribers only: Lauristan Edition, limited to 1,000 numbered sets. As the story in the original is of considerable length, we have summarised portions of it, retaining in its entirely that part of the text which will appeal most to the bibliophile. The paragraphing, also, is in many cases our own.
  2. "The young man," says Sir Richard Burton, in a footnote, "must have been a demon of chastity."
  3. Carat=one finger-breath here. The derivation is from the Greek Keration, a bean, the seed of the abrus precatorius.—Note by Sir Richard Burton.
  4. ...In hot-damp climates the venereal requirements and reproductive powers of the female greatly exceed those of the male....In cold-dry or hot-dry mountainous lands the reverse is the case; hence polygamy there prevails whilst the low countries require polyandry in either form, legal or illegal, i.e., prostitution. Note by Sir Richard Burton. See, also, excursus to this story, where the subject is dealt with at length.
  5. "This morning evacuation," says Sir Richard Burton, in a footnote, "is considered, in the East, a sine qua non of health. The natives of India evening as well as morning. This may, perhaps, partly account for their mildness and effeminacy; for:—'C'est la constipation qui rend l'homme rigoureux.'"
  6. "The belief that young pigeons' blood resembles the virginal discharge is universal," says Sir Richard Burton, in a footnote; "but the blood most resembling man's is that of the pig, which in other points is so very human. In our day Arabs and Hindus rarely submit to inspection the nuptial sheet, as practised by the Israelites and Persians. The bride takes to bed a white kerchief with which she stanches the blood and next morning the stains are displayed in the Harem. In Darfour this is done by the bridegroom. "Prima Venus debet esse cduenta" (Love's first battle should be bloody), say the Easterns with much truth, and they have no faith in our complaisant creed which allows the hymen membrane to disappear by any but one accident." The creed, of course, is not peculiar to the East, and realistic descriptions of this "sanguinary combat" will be found in Nicolas Chorier's Dialogues, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, (op. cit.), and other erotic works. C.f. also the modern custom of including a clean sheet among the bride's trousseau. Further remarks on this subject will be found in our preliminary essay to this volume, "Human Nature, Tradition, and Virginity."
  7. "i.e., Not the real thing (with a woman)," says Sir R. Burton, in a note. "It may also mean 'by his incitement of me.' All this scene is written in the worst form of Persian-Egyptian blackguardism, and forms a curious anthropological study."
  8. i.e., Some men prefer sodomy (figs=anus); others natural intercourse (syamore=cunnus).
  9. Note by Sir Richard Burton: Kiblah=the fronting place of prayer; Mecca for Moslems, Jerusalem for Jews and early Christians.
  10. Note by Sir Richard Burton: The Koran says (chap.2): "Your wives are your tillage: go in therefore unto your tillage in what manner soever you will." Usually this is understood as meaning in any posture, standing or sitting, lying, backwards or forwards. Yet there is a popular saying about the man whom the woman rides (vulg. St. George; in France, le postillion}: "Cursed be he who maketh woman Heaven and himself earth!" Some hold the Koranic passage to have been revealed in confutation of the Jews, who pretended that if a man lay with his wife backwards, he would beget a cleverer child. Others again understood it of preposterous venery; which is absurd: every ancient law-giver framed his code to increase the true wealth of the people—population—and severely punished all processes, like onanism, which impeded it. The Persians utilise the hatered of women for such misuse when they would force a wife to demand a divorce and thus forfeit her claim to dowry; they convert them into catamites till, after a month or so, they lose all patience and leave the house. We do not propose to add to Sir Richard's note, reserving our remarks on the subject for their proper place in a subsequent volume.
  11. Note by Sir Richard: Koran 51, 9, alluding, in the text, to the preposterous venry her lover demands.
  12. Note by Sir Richard: Arab "Futuh," meaning openings, and also victories, benefits. The lover congratulates her on her mortifying self in order to please him.
  13. Vide note to Excursus to this story, p. 100.
  14. Note by Sir Richard: "And the righteous work will be exalt." (Koran 35, 11). Applied ironically.
  15. Note by Sir Richard: Easterns still believe in what Westerns known to be an impossibility, human beings with the parts and proportions of both sexes equally developed and capable of reproduction; and Al-Islam even provides special rules for them.……The old Greeks dreamed, after their fashion, a beautiful poetic dream of a human animal uniting the contradictory beauties of man and woman. The duality of the generative organs seems an old Egyptian tradition; at least we find it in Genesis (1.27), where the image of the Deity is created male and female, before man was formed out of the dust of the ground (2.7). The old tradition found its way to India (if the Hindus did not borrow the ideas from the Greeks); and one of the forms of Mahadeva, the third person of their triad, is entitled "Ardhanari"=the Half-Woman, which has suggested to them some charming pictures. Europeans, seeing the left breast conspicuously feminine, have indulged in silly surmises about the "Amazons."
  16. Note by Sir Richard: This is a mere phrase for our "dying of laughter": the queen was on her back. And as Easterns sit on carpets, their falling back is very different from the same movement off a chair.
  17. Havelock Ellis is quoting from The Perfumed Garden of The Cheikh Nefzaouis Cosmopoli, 1886, printed for the Kama Shastra Society of London and Benares.
  18. "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."
  19. The Perfumed Garden of the Cheikh Nefaoui: Cosmopoli, 1886.
  20. "In Russia at all events, a girl, as very many have acknowledged to me, cannot resist the ever-stronger impulses of sex beyond the twenty-second or twenty-third year. And if she cannot do so in natural ways she adopts artificial ways. The belief that the feminine sex feels the stimulus of sex less than the male is quite false."—Guttceit, Dreissig Jahre Praxis, 1873.
  21. The Perfumed Garden. As illustrating our subject, the Cheikh Nefzaoui tells a quaint story of a man who, owing to physical disability, was unable to satisfy the sexual needs of his wife. A wise man gives him a remedy whereby his member grows "long and thick." The Cheikh continues: "When his wife saw it in that state she was surprised, but it came still better when he made her feel in the matter of enjoyment quite another thing than she had been accustomed to experience; he began in fact to work her with his tool in quite a remarkable manner, to such a point that she rattled and sighed and sobbed during the operation. As soon as the wife found in her husband such eminently good qualities, she gave him her fortune, and placed her person and all she had at his disposal."
  22. Queen Budur's remark that "Woman pray pardon with their legs on high," (p. 88 ante), finds an echo in Aristophanes' Lysistrata and The EcclesiazusK. In the former play, Athenian woman promise Lysistrata that, if forced to intercourse by their husbands, they will not lift their legs in the air; in the latter, we have a woman saying: "How are we going to lift up our arms in the Assembly (i.e., vote), we, who only know how to lift our legs in the act of love?" Two of the authorities qnoted by Havelock Ellis on p.97 of the foregoing Excursus merit further brief mention. Martin Schurig, author of Parthenologia and numerous other medical works, flourished as a physician in Dresden between 1688 and 1733. Although many of his theories have long since been exploded, his great erudition is much to be admired. His books deal with the most amazing questions; among the many curious passages in Parthenologica will be found the following: "Chastity put to the proof by a hot iron and boiling water"; "Conception without insertion of the penis"; "Andramytes, Kinf of the Lydori, was the inventor of castration of woman, and Semiramis of that of men." Dr. Sinibaldus' Geneanthropeia, published in 1642, is a very remarkable work on physical love and its aberrations, treating, for example, of "The shape of the Phallus"; "Eunuchism" "Aphrodisiacs"; "Influence of the Stars on Copulation"; "Effects and manner of Copulation"; "Pleasure of Copulation as enjoyed by man and woman." Little is known of Sinibaldus' life beyond that he was a doctor at Rome. His Geneanthropeia, according to Pisanus Fraxi, (Index Librorum Prohibitorum: London, 1877), has been rendered, in a very emasculated form, into English, under the title of Rare Verities. The Cabinet of Venus Unlocked: London, 1658. The volume is rare, but a copy is to be found in the British Museum.