Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Summary of 'Aphrodisiacs and Anti-aphrodisiacs' by John Davenport

John Davenport self-published Aphrodisiacs and Anti-Aphrodisiacs in 1869. The third essay is about the title topic; the first and second essays are shorter and not quite on the same topic. Most of the book is in English, though some passages are in French and untranslated, and a few are in Latin, including one in the third essay that Davenport prints in Latin but refuses to translate because of its "disgusting obscenity."

Some of the book's points are summarized here. The information would not be considered medically accurate today, but it is of historical interest.

Essay I

The Olympian gods were "more occupied with amatory delights than with the government of the universe," and so the ancient writers, sculptors and painters were "unrestrained" in the depiction of sexual subjects, as they "could not see any moral turpitude in actions regarded by them as the design of nature, and as the acme of felicity."

Many ancient peoples used the image of a phallus to represent "the reproductive power of the sun in spring-time, as well as the action of that power on all sentient beings." This was popular in "Egypt and Syria, Persia, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy," and in modern times "in India and many parts of Africa, and was even found in America on its discovery by the Spaniards."

One writer believes that Ireland's round towers honor the sun "under the name of Sol, Phoebus, Apollo, Abad, or Budh." [Footnoted to Henry O'Brien, Round Towers of Ireland, London, 1834, Chapter viii.)

The ancient Hebrews honored male genitals, as evidenced by Abraham asking others to swear by putting their hands under his thigh, and by David's naked dance before the Ark, for disapproval of which his wife Michal was punished. The ancient Egyptians also swore by holding the phallus; the author provides an image of the Egyptian god Osiris doing this (Caylus, Vol. VI, Plate I, figure 4). In Dublin and London, the phrase "S'elp my taters!" (so help my testes) gives emphasis to an assertion.


the Cross (symbol T), although generally thought to be exclusively emblematical of eternal life, has also an account of its fancied similarity to the membrum virile, been considered by many as typical of the reproductive powers of nature. * * * The letter Tau symbol T, being the last one of the ancient alphabets, was made to typify, not only the end, boundary, or terminus of districts, but also the generative power of the eternal transmigratory life, and was used indiscriminately with the Phallus; it was, in fact, the Phallus.

Essay II

"The canon law distinguished three kinds of impotency – viz., that which proceeds from frigidity; that which is caused by sorcery (ligature or point-tying), and that which proceeding from some defect of conformation is properly designated as impotentia coeundi."

The one [impotency] most to be dreaded is that which results from the excessive and premature exercise of the reproductive functions, for, as has been well observed, 'the too frequent indulgence of a natural propensity at first increases the concomitant desire and makes its gratification a part of the periodical circle of action; but by degrees the over excitement of the organs, abating their tone and vitality, unfits them for the discharge of their office, the accompanying pleasures are blunted, and give place to satiety and disgust. Such unfortunate persons as are the victims of this kind of anaphrodisia become old long before their natural time, and have all their generative apparatus blasted with impotency. Their testicles withered and dried up secrete nothing but a serous fluid void of all virtue; the erectile tissue no longer admits into its plexus the quantum of blood necessary for turgescence, the principal organ of the reproductive act remains in a state of flaccidity, insensible to the reiterated and most stimulating solicitations; the muscles destined to favour erection are stricken with paralysis, and he violence of their desires, joined to the want of power to gratify them, drives the unhappy victim to acts of the most revolting lubricity and thence to despair.

In France, point tying (nouer l'aiguillette) was believed to be a kind of witchcraft by which one person could make a man unable to get an erection. An aiguillette was the "point" at the top of a man's hose that he would unfasten to undress. To tie the points, metaphorically, was to render him unable to undress. The writer Bodin said that there were fifty ways to cast the spell. Principally, the spellcaster would tie three knots in a cord, reciting "Ribald," "Nabal," "Vanarbi" while the victim's marriage ceremony was underway. In the 16th through 18th centuries, France sentenced people to death for casting such spells. Similar hexes were also reported in ancient Roman and Greek literature, and for such a reason Theodoric was said to be unable to consummate his marriage to Herm├ęberge, daughter of the King of Spain.

France also introduced a Judicial Congress after a man, "being accused of impotency, demanded permission to exhibit proof of his powers before witnesses". Wives were able to call their husbands before the Congress with the complaint of the husband's impotence. Davenport points out the unlikelihood that "two persons embittered by a law-suit, agitated with hate and fury against each other," would be able to perform sexually before the Congress.

"Experience has shown that, of ten men the most vigorous and powerful, hardly one was found that came out of this shameful combat with success; it is equally certain that he who had unjustly suffered dissolution of his marriage, for not having given a proof of his capacity in the infamous Congress, had given real and authentic evidences of it in a subsequent marriage. This degrading mode of proof, in short, far from discovering the truth, was but the cause and foundation for impotence and falsehood."

The Parliament of Paris forbid the practice of the Judicial Congress, along with any other courts, in 1677.

This essay ends with a passage from a Dr. Willick, who calls semen "the most subtle and spiritous part of the human frame" that "contributes to the support of the nerves." Willicks says that "the emission of semen enfeebles the body more than the loss of twenty times the same quantity of blood".

Essay III

This deals with charms and potions meant to increase the sex drive. He discusses mandrake and what the dudaim in the Bible might have been. The Romans used "the remora, or sucking-fish, certain bones of the frog, the astroit, or star-fish, and the hippomanes [a piece of flesh that a mare bites off the forehead of her newly foaled offspring]...dried human marrow and liver...nail-parings, sundry metals, reptiles, and the intestines of particular birds and fishes, and even semen virile and sanguis menstruus." Albertus Magnus recommended powdered partridge brains in red wine.

Davenport says that nourishing food is the best aphrodisiac. This includes any food that is easily digested (analeptics). It also includes meat of adult animals that includes azezome, a substance that makes the meat appear red when uncooked and brown when cooked. This substance also appears in mushrooms and oysters. Fish, truffles, and chocolate – although not analeptics – are said to be aphrodisiac. (Jean Franco Raucher in the 17th century forbid monks to drink chocolate because of its aphrodisiac property; Davenport says that, "fearful of losing their character, or, what, perhaps, was dearer to them, their chocolate, the worthy cenobites were so diligent in suppressing Raucher's work that four copies only of it are said to be in existence.")

Among drugs, phosphorus is believed to be "essentially an energetic stimulant of the genital organs" but may also produce "the most horrible and fatal results." Ambergris is less strong in its effects both good and bad.

The Indians use Bang and the Turks use Maslac, both derivatives of hemp. In the East Indies, hashish is grown, and in Arabic its most potent form is called Maijun. The Chinese use an opium product called Affion.

Among the anti-aphrodisiacs he counts "milk, vegetables, such as lettuce, waterpurslain, cucumbers, &c., and especially of fruits in which the acid principle predominates".

"...fibulation, from the Latin word fibula (a buckle or ring) was the very reverse of circumcision, since the operation consisted in drawing the prepuce over the glans, and preventing its return, by the insertion of the ring [footnote 201: Comment. in Boerh. Aphor. sec. 1063, Vol. III]. ... Meinsius thinks that the custom of infibulating may be traced back to the time of the siege of troy, for the singer Demodocus, who was left with Clytemnestra by Agamemnon [footnote 205: Odyssey VIII. line 477], appears to that critic, to have been a eunuch, or, at least, to have been infibulated. [footnote 206: Introd. to Hesoid, cap. VI. p. 14. Edit. Plautin, 1603, in voice aoidos.]"

The Romans infibulated singers, actors, dancers, and gladiators, believing that by controlling their lust, they could improve the quality of their performance. "...their overseers closed their shame with a case of metal having a sharp spike..." This was also done by religious people in India. However, "since the lock, which obstructs the extremity of the prepuce only, cannot hinder a kind of erection, nor, indeed, of effusion of the seminal fluid, it cannot do more than oppose the introduction of the male organ into the receptacle destined for it."

The book

John Davenport. Aphrodisiacs and Anti-Aphrodisiacs: Three essays on the powers of reproduction, with some account of the judicial 'congress' as practised in France during the seventeenth century. London: Privately printed, 1869. Project Gutenberg: Free ebook

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