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Transcript Of RECIPES FOR LOVE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD Vivienne Lo and Eleanor Re

Vivienne Lo and Eleanor Re’em
Throughout history, a huge amount of attention has been devoted to aphrodisia. Yet, in historical research, they tend to feature only in passing comments in studies of love, sex and the emotions, or of food and medicine. The relative absence of monographs on the subject is, therefore, a significant lacuna.2 This chapter will argue that it is particularly a lacuna in the history of science, medicine and empiricism.3 Aphrodisia, as a subject involving products and practices that have induced sexual pleasure, allow us to contribute to the ‘sensory turn’ in history. Calling to mind the aesthetics of an ancient world where the boundaries between what we now think of the domains of individual senses were less distinct, aphrodisia give us privileged access to the gathering of medical knowledge before the observation of the eye took its post Enlightenment pride of place in the conduct of science.4 The subject permits an ‘inquiry into the conditions under which knowledge, or what passed for it, was produced, and the conditions under which those who claimed to do the producing worked’. 5 It also leads inexorably to an investigation of the history of the ‘scientific self’’ and self-experimentation. In what terms did learned people perceive the world in ancient times? These are key issues in comparative histories of knowledge production.
A related case of modern academic amnesia is the erasure of the erect penis from the face of the history of civilisation. In the words of Simon Goldhill, ‘the way we differ from the ancient worlds is also profoundly telling about the taboos and anxieties which shadow the modern sense of the self’.6 He illustrates the enormous erect phalli that populated the worlds of ancient Greece, in religious statu-
1 We are deeply indebted to friends who have helped us with this research: Donald Harper, Vivian Nutton, John Wilkins, Penelope Barrett, Andrew Wear and Laurence Totelin. We also thank the editors of the volume for invaluable comments. 2 Important exceptions include Faraone 1999, Faraone and Obbink 1991; Harper 1998; Umekawa 2005. 3 In this chapter we use the term ‘empiricism’ in both its usual senses. The first refers to the practice of medicine where practitioners, and communities, choose treatments in a logical fashion according to what, in their experience, is deemed to work; and they do not need to know why according to any guiding theoretical framework. The philosophical usage of the term opposes empiricism (anything based on experience) to a priori knowledge arrived at from first principles. Both types of knowledge make claims to universal validity and, notably, a number of philosophers use both. Descartes would provide an example of the latter, though he questioned whether the model of the world derived from first principles was actually so in the experienced world. 4 Jütte 2005: 25 -31. 5 Lloyd 1996: 16. 6 Goldhill 2004: 29; See also Keuls 1993: 75-79.

ary and civic ritual, celebrating Dionysus in the world of entertainment, and as smaller day-to-day objects, sometimes winged, candle-holders and door pulls.7
Figure 1: Red-figure pelike, attributed to the Hasselmann Painter, BM1865,1118.49.
The erotic power of phalli was not limited to mundane sexual engagement. A little known and unique red-figure pelike depicts a woman watering erect phalli as if they were plants. There is later European testimony to this harvesting of disembodied penises by women, a subject crying out for gender analysis: perhaps a joke about male anxiety over the cuckold (it’s likely to have been produced by a man), loss of virility, or the sexual power of the woman in the kitchen (she might cook them), a connection with mystic ceremonies of Athenian women, such as the Thesmophoria? Some phalli had an apotropaic function to protect the state, community and household, marking the boundaries of the Athenian world. Where erect phalli were part of Greek ‘furniture of ancient religion and social life’, in China they seem to have been a common feature of funerary furniture. Huge bronze
7 Goldhill 2004: 30-33.

examples, one double shafted, have been found decorating the tombs of wealthy
Figure 2: Double phalli from Tomb M1 Mancheng, Hebei.
In this context they evoke the potency of images of sexual prowess in sustaining the power of the body, even beyond death. During the 20th century these phalli were one of the most consistently ignored features of ancient Chinese archaeology.9 The quantity of aphrodisiac texts from the ancient Chinese world has also gone relatively unacknowledged and the survival of their knowledge in modern Chinese pharmacology texts goes virtually unacknowledged.
8 Goldhill 2004: 34. 9 Erickson 2010: 80; Li Ling 2006: plate 8.1-3.

Figure 3: A chart of the Vulva. Mawangdui tomb 3 (closed 168 BCE)

Twentieth-century censorship of the ancient world’s preoccupation with aphrodisiac drugs is also apparent in Sir Arthur Hort's 1961 translation of Theophrastus of Eresos’ (c. 370–288/85 BCE) fourth century BCE Historia Plantarum (Enquiry into Plants, hereafter HP), the work that Scarborough claims ‘formed the basis for all succeeding studies of plant lore classifications until Linnaeus’.10 Sir Arthur omitted the section 9.18.3ff about the Orchid (ὄρχις [testicle]) ‘on account of the description of the physical effects’, testifying to the existential crisis of many historians of the time. The omission elicited the objection: ‘Such prudishness in a scientific book is truly shocking.’11 Fifty years later we can do better. Surely, the nature of these ‘physical effects’ is of prime importance to a history of selfexperimentation and empiricism. Like the erect phallus, aphrodisia have also been pervasive not only in the social and religious performance of wealth and power.


10 Scarborough 1978; 2010.

11 As quoted in Gemmill 1973: 127-9; Sarton 1959, vol. 1: 555. For a translation of the missing sec-

tion see Preus 1988: 88-91.



The major challenge of comparative history is surely to find commensurate contexts across cultures and time that facilitate matching case with case. Aphrodisia, as we understand the Greek term, represent all those techniques to entrap and enhance sensual love, sex and beauty traditionally associated with Aphrodite: cosmetics, binding spells, drugs to enhance performance and attraction. This range of topics is also conveniently germane to related evidence from ancient Chinese literature.
Greek and Roman sources for aphrodisia in this broad sense include the writings of the philosophers and naturalists such as Theophrastus, the medical treatises of the Hippocratic writers (fifth to fourth centuries BCE), and Pliny (23-79 CE), as well as Greek and Roman poets and playwrights such as Ovid (43 BCE - 17/18 CE), Archestratus (fourth century BCE) and the Attic comedians as cited by Athenaeus (c. second–third centuries BCE). Information on ancient Greek products that create sexual pleasure and promote competence is quite common in ancient medical literature. Materia medica will mention when a product is aphrodisiac among other indications of its efficacy in treating illnesses and promoting health. Spellbinding texts permit access to the circumstances of everyday love. For love magic, the Greek magical papyri, the works of Julius Africanus and the Greek magical papyri (to fifth century CE), including the demotic Egyptian handbooks provide direct testimony to practices that we know survived from the ancient into the medieval world.12
For China, our major focus for aphrodisia is also recipe and spellbinding literature from the Western Han tomb at Changsha Mawangdui 馬王堆 (c.168 BCE), of the old Han kingdom of Chu 楚. 13 Later testimony to the survival of the relevant recipe literature is taken from among the Dunhuang manuscripts (sealed in Cave 17, c. 1035. As in early Greek medical writing, the authors of these recipe texts were anonymous individuals and in the Greek case their work was compiled into large textual corpora. Their findings speak of the collective memory of countless individuals who contributed to establishing and disseminating ancient scientific knowledge across a millennium.
To understand the broader theme of the emotions we also have to scan earlier philosophic literature of the Warring States (475-221 BCE), here texts attributed to Mencius 孟子(fourth century BCE), and Xunzi 旬子 (c. 313–238 BCE). Our analysis is therefore of the Greco-Roman worlds and China before the first century of the first millennium, with reference to later literature that testifies to the continuity of some traditions. In both Greco-Roman and Chinese worlds this was the period in which one can see major systematisation of medical theory. We could equally be talking of Indian aphrodisia, except that the Sanskrit texts that we
12 Viellefond 1970; Faraone and Obbink 1991. 13 The Mawangdui burial mound was excavated in the early 1970s. It contains three tombs. Tombs no. 1 and no. 2 belonged to the Marquis of Dai (軑侯), Li Cang 利蒼 (died 186 BCE), and his wife (tomb no. 1). Tomb no. 3, from which the manuscripts were excavated, was occupied by their son, who died in 168 B.C. at the age of about 30. For the excavation report see Hunansheng bowuguan and Zhongguo kexueyuan kaogu yanjiusuo 1973: 39–48.

might consider, like Kāma Sūtra, are composite texts generally dated to around the third century CE and extant from much later. Moreover, in the case of recipes that tie together longevity and sexual prowess – in the process of vajikarana – those texts (e.g. Caraka samhitā and Suśruta samhitā) are notoriously difficult to date and mainly promote milk products for their impact on ojas (vital essence) drawing on the association of milk with semen (sukra). The Greco-Roman contexts provide a much richer and more coherent comparison.
‘Love’ is the most difficult of the categories to compare. Different types of passion and affection moved the ancient Greeks: eros, storge, philia, and agape. Storge, understood as the love of a parent for a child and familial bonds of emotion, seems hardly relevant to aphrodisia; agape, as the kind of human heartedness that overrides selfishness, seems devoid of the kinds of feelings or lust attendant on sensual love. Physico-emotional passions crystallise in the term eros, with potentially unwanted lust, and torture, or in philia. The word philos was used to describe the family and its close, intimate associates or to describe a philosophical group.14 Philia was a complex emotion: inspired by people with whom one has certain reciprocal commitments, where we also find the encompassing familial feelings of delight and warmth. It was an emotion that might elicit a kiss and embrace or equally hetero or homosexual intercourse with affection. 15
Modern scholars searching for love in ancient China have also failed to find tidy categories. Attention has centred on the words ai 愛 and qing 情 (note the modern word for mood or state of emotions, qingxu 情緒), and we add here also qin 親, which broadly means ‘to treat someone as if they were kin’. In the Warring States, qing meant something like ‘one’s natural endowment’ and from Han times, it was assimilated to an ‘array of notions’ concerned with passion and emotion.16 Ai, the modern word for ‘love’ between lovers and family members, as well as for expressing preferences such as an appetite for particular foods, is no less ambiguous. Closely associated in philosophy with ‘universal love’ or ‘love for each and every one’ as promoted in the school of Mozi (c. 5th-3rd centuries BCE), ai was a transcendent feeling of benevolence as well as sexual love.
14 Humphreys 1983: 67. Humphreys notes that ‘the term philios overrides the distinctions we make between love, family and friendship’. The conventional translation of philos as ‘friend’ might suit the philosophical context but not the familial. 15 Faraone 1999: 29-30; For discussions of homosexual, familial and marital love see Humphreys 1983: 17-18, 42-43, 54-57, 66-78. 16 Andreini 2006; See also Allan 1997: 85.

Since the early 1990s there has been increasing research into how the sensory base of emotion operates in different scientific cultures. Rather than cultivating emotional detachment, as was the prescription for objective and unfettered observation among mid nineteenth century scientists, early Chinese scholars trained themselves as knowledge gatherers through training their bodily qi, a term which came to codify and communicate inner body sensations. This cultivation of learned recorders of the world, their epistemic virtue, meant that the self, the perceiver, embodied what was perceived.17 Constellations of meaning gathered around the notion of qi in the literate communities of ancient China and contributed to a remarkable ability to articulate changes in the inner landscape of the body in their relation to the wider environment. This community attention to the inner world is what might be called an early Chinese ‘sixth sense’, the cultivation of which enabled the management of digestion, body temperature, emotion, passion and pain, the impact of drugs and breathing. These intimate experiences of the inner body were placed on a synesthetic continuum with experiences of the external world: seasonal affect, the influence of the heavenly bodies, ancestral and other spirits. Initially acting as a social marker that distinguished the selfcultivation of the nobility, a repertoire of qi techniques also began to shape the rituals and language of medical practice at the beginning of empire.18
Experiments with pleasure found in the earliest extant texts that theorise sexual cultivation were the ground upon which a new medical language of Yin, Yang and qi was first constructed – a kind of knowing that informed classical treatises on acupuncture and drugs and that, being mediated through the body, never aspired to levels of pure abstraction.19 These new techno-physiologies of the body were premised on the authority of pre-existing writings that were more philosophic in tone and sought to restrain the consumption and display of material wealth. Writings attributed to Xunzi (early third century BCE) recognised delayed gratification and the ‘sustaining’ or ‘connoisseur’ pleasures as the mark of the socially stabilising figure of the ‘gentleman’.20 In Xunzi, we find reference to a body-centred practice in which calming the heart and clearing it of anxiety was a key to a deeper and more prolonged appreciation of pleasure – a pleasure that eschewed the loud, brash and gaudy in favour of the refined appreciation of senses honed to simplicity.21
The sage ruler was a ‘perspicacious’ individual who comprehended the deep structures of the universe through a heightened acuity of the senses. Sensory perception ‘was valued as a genuine part of moral reasoning in ancient China’.22 Thus gluttony and the uncivilised pursuit of sexual satiation were contemptible, but the pursuit of culinary finesse and the mastery of sexual techné belonged to the highest domain of gentlemanly pursuits. The rationale behind male sexual continence, an anxiety shared across the ancient worlds, was that the more
17 Daston and Gallison 2007: 39-41. 18 Lo 2001: 19–51. 19 Lo in Bray et al 2007: 383–424. 20 Nylan 2003: passim. 21 Nylan 2003: 73–124. 22 Sterckx 2003: 72.

pleasure a woman had, the more benefit there was for the man. Her pleasure was a correlate of the extension of qi through her body.23
Practical substance in the form of instruction to the man was given to this techné of the senses in the literature and culture of self-cultivation.24 He must learn to recognise, respond to and codify all the stages of female arousal: her aromas, sounds, breathing and movements, the feeling of being inside her. The qi (in a sensory experience cognate today with orgasm) emanated from the zhongji 中極 Middle Extremity. By the first century CE this term referred to an acupuncture point, but in the second century BCE it had simply been a lyrical anatomical term for the area in the general vicinity of the uterus. At the moment of the woman’s orgasm the male partner absorbed the Yin essences of the woman, through the physiological interaction of the essences that occurred with the extension of qi in the female body, and the concomitant expression of the emotion of love: If only he can be slow and prolonged, the woman then is greatly pleased. She qin ‘treats him with the closeness she feels for’ her brothers, and ai ‘loves’ him like her father and mother.25
At the height of her rapture the woman is apparently overcome with feelings for her sexual partner akin to those she feels for her siblings and parents. As if this isn’t uncomfortable enough for a modern reader, the man, reserving his orgasm, is simultaneously deriving an increment to his health and strength from the Yin essences emitted by the woman at the point of orgasm -- which resulted in a state of shenming 申明, a brilliance of the spirits for him (and possibly for her).
Recording the essential characteristics of female sexual response were a key to this process. They inhabit a larger discourse with a specialist terminology which interlinked restraining pleasure with the generation of the cosmos, so that ‘whoever is capable of this way is designated ‘heaven’s gentleman’.26 We can already detect that the quality of writing in this technical literature does not reveal the kind of separation between philosophical and technical writing evident in Aristotle’s (384-322) hierarchies of knowledge. To Aristotle the techné of the physician was inferior to the larger rhetorical skills concerned with philosophy, and it was limited by its utilitarian ambitions.27 That is not to say that Aristotle eschewed knowledge acquired via the senses. Far from it. The four primary qualities that he espoused were known mainly through touch: hot, cold, dry and wet. But while it was perfectly possible for a philosophically sophisticated doctor to investigate causes and so be ‘scientific’ according to Artistotle’s criteria, the study of medicine alone was insufficient. Only the freedom of leisure and plenitude would create the conditions for pursuing natural philosophy, and the correct synthesis of rational thought and empirical knowledge to understand the body. Rather, the learned
23 Pfister 2012: 34–64. MWD 4156. 24 Lo 2001: in Bray et al 2007. 25 Harper 1998: 438. MWD 4 (He Yinyang) nos. 66-67 26 Ibid. 27 Wear 2013: 63 n.7, n.8.

physician must enhance the status of his knowledge and practice through an inquiry into first principles, fundamental propositions about the nature of the world, a view echoed later by Galen in his treatise The Best Physician is also a Philosopher.28
Famous polarities of opinion, however, provide evidence of the diversity of attitudes towards the knowledge and practice of medicine and healing in the GrecoRoman world, and the figure of the practitioner: famously the Hellenistic medical sect, the Empirics valued experience alone, finding an early empiric in Hippocrates.29 An Hippocratic author of the fifth century treatise Ancient Medicine thought that ‘medicine should have its own knowledge independent of philosophy’.30 For the Empirics, whose work echoed this Hippocratic sensibility, much of the search for first principles and the causes of illness was pointless activity. Valuable knowledge came, for example, from the serendipity of drug discovery, together with the recording and re-recording of drug effects, and trial and error.31 Already in the sustained attention to this process we can see a trained observer mediating simple collective empiricism with specific ways of framing the medical object, methods which we will see brought to the nature of sexual stimulation in the next section.
Early Chinese and Greeks alike left records about the sexual body. For the authors of the Mawangdui aphrodisiac literature knowledge about the body required a particular kind of preparation, and one in which expertise in the sexual arts provided enhanced insights. The anonymity of the authorial process suggests a collective knowledge, with acquisition of a shared language, resulting from personal experimentation. By suppressing ejaculation, a man strengthened his qi and jing 精 and gained an increment of youth and vitality. This appears to be a rather dispassionate and medical approach to sex, which pursued enhanced health, altered states of spiritual sensibility, power and longevity for the male partner – later texts even claimed that intercourse with multiple female partners would lead to immortality. The following excerpt is the outcome of a technique that includes both breath and sexual cultivation: drinking wine and eat the five flavours; put the qi in order with intent and the eye will be bright, the ear keen, the skin will gleam, the one hundred mai will be full and the Yin will rise again. From this you will be able to stand for a long time, go a long way, and live for (ever).32
28 Wear 2013: 63 n.4. (K 1.53-63). 29 Lloyd 1987: 158-162. 30 Quoted in Wear 2013: 63, n. 9. 31 Nutton 2004: 149-151. 32 MWD 4 (Shiwen) nos. 40-41. Ma 1992: 914. See also Harper’s note on the re-ordering of the bamboo strips by Qiu Xigui. Harper 1998: 396-7 n. 8.

The focus here was not on procreation but on the more esoteric benefits of abstinence from indulgence, strengthening Yin, the word ‘Yin’ being construed as the penis itself, but also the Yin qualities of the body – its coolness, its moistness, the health of the internal organs and thus the ability to endure both in terms of sexual continence and long life. For men the concern for increasing potency was founded on a fear that, through the loss of the most precious essence and the source of life, ejaculation would deplete their power.
The man who wished to distinguish himself as a learned gentleman had to become a micro-technician of the senses. By the second century BCE practices that trained the appetites involving food, sex and breath cultivation techniques formed the key context within which new physiological ideas emerged. Healing and sustaining a powerful body was thus codified with a new science of the senses. As these anonymous writers began to document an aesthetic experience of how it felt inside to be well and strong, of experiences of desire and pleasure, of digestive satisfaction, of sexual excitement, they created a language of Yin, Yang and qi with sufficient semantic traction that it was able to convey the changing states of the inner sensory world.33
Good health was not consistent with male ejaculation, neither in ancient China nor Greece. Aristotle described the mystical qualities of semen that were related to a divine aether.34 The Hippocratic treatise Generation notes that a man’s seed is drawn from all parts of the body, and particularly its moisture, making it the most powerful part of his make up so that ‘when we have intercourse we become weak’ with the loss of ‘the most potent and richest’ essence of all the bodily fluids.35 Sexual stimulation produced a warming of the body followed by agitation. The combined effect was thought to produce fluidity and foaming (aphrein), which travelled to the brain and down the spinal marrow to the loins. Sperm was then foaming blood that arose from disturbance (taraxis) produced by innate heat.36 Since it exited the body in a sudden spasm the man’s pleasure was brief and his health compromised.
The subjugation of women’s health and pleasure to her power of generation is confirmed throughout Greco-Roman medical writing. Generation sets out a rather mundane physiology of sexual processes that stresses reproductive health and the health of progeny. On the Nature of Women also recommended having children for general health. Regular sex moistened and plumped up the womb and was a cure for many diseases. Illness came to unmarried women.37
Female desire and pleasure were a pre-condition for conception: ‘When women have finished having their periods, they conceive (hold in the belly) especially
33 Lo 2000; 2001: 19-51. The faculty of sight was least competent at perceiving any form of internal qi. External qi was visible as clouds, steam, or the dust and threat of, say, a distant army. Most books on the senses ignore the undifferentiated sea of sensation within the body. See Geurts 2005 for a study of the ‘panopoly of inner states’ described as seselelame in West Africa. For the perception of touch see Kuriyama 2002 and Hsu 2010. 34 Lonie 1981: 100. 35 Alter 2013: 138. For Hippocrates Generation 1 see Potter 2012: 1-24. 36 Lonie 1981: 101. 37 Potter 2012: 194-197.