Thursday, September 29, 2016

Book Review: Aristotle's Masterpiece

Aristotle's Masterpiece, a manual of sex and pregnancy, is said to be published by about 1680. It is not, of course, the work of the ancient Greek philosopher, but its true authorship is not clearly known, the name William Salmon being one suggested. The book has had a long but mostly clandestine career as a quasipornographic book, being banned for many years.
The book begins with an observation that things are slighted only because they are common, though in themselves worthy of the most serious consideration, like the power of Nature, by whichchildren are formed. 
In the first part, the book describes the parts or organs of generation in man, and afterwards in woman; and then the use of these parts. It then discusses the restrictions like the institution of marriage, and mentions the advantage it brings to mankind. 
The second part deals with matters relating to the propagation of mankind to the world. Like, what conception is, what are the pre-requisites, how a woman ought to confront this and her delivery, what all needs to be cared and attended to,and how to confront barrennes.
While describing the man's organs, the book talks about stones, or testicles, so called, because they testify the person to be a man. After a brief description of anatomy of both the man and woman, it mentions 'women are but men turn'd outside in', and men are 'women with their inside out.'
The book then goes int explaining the 'use of those parts in the work of generation, which will excellently inform us that Nature has made nothing in vain'.
The book also contain a good collection of questions with unique answers, like, 
Why is the head of beasts hairy?
(ans: hairs are the ornament of the head and of the brain),
Why doth the nose stand out farther than other parts of the body?
(ans: because the nose is the beauty of the face, and therefore it doth show itself, and shine) or 
WHY hath the mouth lips to compass it? (ans: a man should not be too hasty of speech.)
Lastly, the book has a discussion about physiognomy, the science of natural inclination and disposition of all forms of life. Thus have the seven planets divided the face among them, but not with so absolute a sway, but that the twelve signs of the Zodiac do also come in for a part: the sign of Cancer presides in the uppermost part of the forehead, and Leo attends upon the right eyebrow, as Sagittarius does upon the right eye and Libra upon the right ear; upon the left eye and eyebrow you will find Aquarius and Gemini, and Aries taking care of the left ear; Taurus rules in the middle of the forehead, and Capricorn the chin: Scorpio takes upon him the protection of the nose; Virgo claims precedence of the right cheek.
Though the old fashioned prose contained in this book make the task of understanding the contents, quite a challenge, I could gather a good idea of yesterdays attitude to sex-related issues.