Tag Archives: Richard Francis Burton

The Hindu Art of Love

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Hindu Art of Love: The Classic Companion to the Kama Sutra [Amazon, Local Library] by Sir Richard F Burton, translation of Ananga Ranga by Kalyāṇamalla.

Burton The Hindu Art of Love

This treatise on sexual technique, properly titled Ananga Ranga, is more interesting than Vatsyayana, but still not as entertaining as Nafzawi’s Perfumed Garden. Although the introduction insists that “every Shloka (stanza) of this work has a double signification, after the fashion of the Vedanta, and may be interpreted in two ways, either mystical or amatory” (10), it is hard to imagine what mystical significance could reside in some of the long inventories of physical types and postures. A great deal of information is conveyed in tabular form, including auspicious hours for lovemaking, as well as ones suited to particular techniques, data for synastry, etc. I was intrigued by the emphasis on unguiculation in Chapter VIII, but I fail to see its esoteric dimension.

This particular edition is one of Sir Richard Francis Burton’s translations of the Eastern classics of erotic instruction. Some of the best contents in fact consist of Burton’s annotations. His explanation of the “various abominations” performed in order to ensure amatory attraction by secretly administering bodily fluids in the subject’s food is worthy of remark (55), as is his observation that “most English women” have never learned the real delight of carnal copulation but that Ananga Ranga provides effective remedies for the situation (75). Of purushayitabandha, the category of coital positions with the woman superior, Burton notes that it “is held in great horror by Muslims, who commonly say, ‘Cursed be he who makes himself earth and woman heaven!'” (106) (And thus it has come to be known in some quarters as the “Thelemic missionary position.”)

The original text is dedicated to the god Panduranga (i.e. Vithoba), an avatar of Vishnu. It assures the reader that its purpose is to ensure the durability of marriage, by providing the necessary information to promote variety in conjugal activities. So mote it be.

After these came the Periphallia, a troop of men who carried long poles with Phalli hung at the end of them; they were crowned with violets and ivy, and they walked repeating obscene songs. These men were called Phallophori; these must not be confounded with the Ithyphalli, who, in indecent dresses and sometimes in women’s costume, with garlanded heads and hands full of flowers, and pretending to be drunk, wore at their waist-bands monstrous Phalli made of wood or leather; among the Ithyphalli also must be counted those who assumed the costume of Pan or the Satyrs. There were other persons, called Lychnophori, who had care of the mystic winnowing-fan, an emblem whose presence was held indispensable in these kinds of festivals. Hence the epithet ‘Lychnite’, given to Bacchus.

Richard Francis Burton & Leonard C Smithers, Priapeia, Introduction

Hermetic quote Burton Smithers Priapeia Periphallia phalli Phallophori Ithypalli Pan Satyrs Lychnophori Lycnite Bacchus

The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi by Shaykh Nefzawi, translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton.

Nefzawi Burton Walton The Perfumed Garden

Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi’s 15th-century treatise Er Roud el Aater p’nezaha el Khater on the amatory arts is consciously written in the tradition of the Kama Sutra, and he refers respectfully to the existing Indian literature on his topic. I found it abundantly more entertaining than the Indian texts, though. For one thing, it is chock full of anecdotes and parables, and this narrative element gives it a richness that is lacking in the esteemed Indian classic. 

Nor is it short on technical detail. When the author provides instruction in the postures most suitable to coitus between short and tall, fat and thin, it seems helpful enough, but when he goes on to different sorts of hunchbacks I began to wonder if he was just trying to dazzle with his encyclopaedism. Modern readers will also be justly skeptical of the abundant apothecary recommendations. The medical lore of Nafzawi includes a pronounced fear that any fluid might ever enter the male urethra, with warnings of the dire consequences. In a related trope, he also often emphasizes the desirability of dryness of the vagina, even during the act of coition (viz. Chapter 13).

Chapter 11 “On the Deceits and Treacheries of Women” contains some of the most delightful stories. Whether their moralization (and similar remarks throughout the book) points to Nefzawi’s own misogyny or to the anticipated chauvanism of his readership is impossible to determine, but they can be read quite differently than to “Appreciate … the deceitfulness of women, and what they are capable of.” In his description of “Women who Deserve to be Praised,” Nefzawi emphasizes their deference and dependence, which is no mark in his favor, but also is at odds with some of the narrative elements. A feminist Straussian reading of this book would be incredibly tendentious, but great fun nevertheless!

My favorite part of the book was chapters 8 & 9 “On the Sundry Names Given to the Sexual Parts” of men and women, respectively. The various titles might be used as secretly auspicious nicknames for people, and Nefzawi goes a far sight beyond Aleister Crowley’s “Glossary of Synonyms and Phrases from ‘The Nameless Novel,'” in that the Arabic author provides specific characterizations expounding on the qualities indicated by each name. 

My copy is the Castle Books edition of the Burton translation, which provides no editorial framing whatsoever beyond the front flap of the dust jacket, with its three paragraphs of sales copy. [via]