California is one of our sexier states, so it follows that you can purchase a 17th century sex manual at the 48th California Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend in Oakland.
First published in 1684 "Aristotle's Masterpiece" was an enormous bestseller owing both to its explicit overview of sexual intercourse and to the clever marketing ploy of attributing its authorship to Aristotle. Of course, Aristotle did not actually write the book. Nor was "Aristotle's Masterpiece" the first sex manual. However, the book struck a chord in Europe, where it was widely re-printed and distributed "under the table" for the next 200 years. Eventually, the book was published in over 100 different editions.
"Aristotle's Masterpiece" offers its readers practical advice on copulation, conception, pregnancy, and birth. It also offers insight into such terrors of the 17th century imagination as "monstrous births." It's amusing, when reading through its table of contents, to see the subject matter transition abruptly from a "word of advice to both sexes in the act of copulation" to "pictures of several monstrous births." One can almost sense the glee of its original compiler to finally get to show off some drawings of monster-children.
A fascinating book about a perennially fascinating subject.
The bookseller Jeremy Norman will have a 1684 edition of "Aristotle's Masterpiece" priced at $65,000 at booth 809 this weekend.
(Images courtesy of the CA Book Fair)