Tag Archives: erotic literature

In search of the “breasts like two globes of ivory” citation

Yesterday, as I was browsing through my translation of The History of Erotica, because of my kindled interest in eastern erotica (brought about by Onfray’s book Le Souci des plaisirs (I’ll tell you about this later)), I fell upon the “breasts like two globes of ivory” citation which I had attributed to One Thousand and One Nights when writing my book. The only trouble, when I started googling, I could not find it in digital copies of One Thousand and One Nights, only in a Google Books copy of The Jewel in the Lotus.

Page 1 from "The Jewel in the Lotus"
Page 1 from “The Jewel in the Lotus”

Luck had it that the UA library has The Jewel in the Lotus in its collection so I got it today (13/11/19) and there it was, on page 1, “She hath breasts like two globes of ivory, like golden pomegranates ― beautifully upright, arched and rounded, firm as stone to the touch ― with nipples erect and outward jutting,” with a footnote sourcing it to Burton’s The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night.

Still, however hard I tried, I could not source it in that book.

But I read the entire Jewel book and here are some notes:

In the preface the The Jewel in the Lotus has “lucrative sinks of iniquity peopled by degenerate niggers,” without footnote, does it refer to Burton?

And on page 49, various descriptions of the female pudenda by Burton:

” When he beheld them stripped of their clothes, his chord stiffened for that looking at them mother-naked he saw what was between their thighs, and that of all kinds, soft and rounded, plump and cushioned ; large-lipped, perfect, redundant and ample, and their faces were as moons and their hair as night upon day”

“He cast a glance at the chief damsel and there was manifest to him what was between her thighs, a goodly rounded dome, like a bowl of silver or crystal.”

“parts softer than silk; white, plumply-rounded, protuberant, resembling for heat the hot room of the bath”

This being a work of sexual anthropology, it references many travelogue-like sources Such as Alexander Hamilton‘s New Account of the East Indies [1]:

“The Veyraugee, an austere type of Shivite holy man, is a sect of mendicant priests. An early traveler to India” thus described a Veyraugee: I have seen a fanciful Rascal, seven Foot high with a large Turband of his own Hair wreathed about his Head, and his Body bedaubed with Ashes and Water, sitting quite naked under the Shade of a Tree, with pudendum like an ass.”

Burton on harem castration on pp. 174-5, many of which I cannot find the source in Burton’s text:

“begged her to reveal her intent; and finally, after I was well secured, she said unto me: ‘I bear the intention of removing thy precious stones, the honours of thy yard. I must also apply the blade to thy pizzle.” –unsourced

“and I wept over myself for that I was become even as a woman, without manly tool like other men.” [2]

One of the most valuable bits of The Jewel is its bibliography, which shows some overlap with Ethnography : Castes and Tribes. Main sources are R. F. BurtonJean-Antoine Dubois (Hindu Manners), Paul LacroixKama Kalpa by P Thomas.

“The Turk ruled the Arab, for there thrived in him savage ambition. The Arab possessed subtle genius, but the Turk had keen emotional drive.”


“This pattern of temperament has certainly not changed, as witnessed by the current Middle Eastern crisis.”–p. 187″It was the starving negro hunting the elephant, the starving Arab hunting the Negro, and the ravenous Turk hunting the Arab to hunt the Negro.”, source: The Mahdi of AllahRichard. A. Bermann

The book mentions the braguette, and cites the Essays by Montaigne on this regard.

A few days later, it dawned upon me where I had found the “breasts like two globes of ivory” citation, it was in The Erotic Arts, there on page 84 is the famous quote. It refers to footnote 9 on page 444 which refers to Edwardes again.

But still, mysteriously, I cannot find it in Burton’s online texts.

Nine of the ten volumes of Burton's "One Thousand and One Nights"
Nine of the ten volumes of Burton’s “One Thousand and One Nights”

A few days later, I discover that my library has Burton’s translation in its collection, kept in the warehouse. I order it and when it came, surprise, nine volumes only, the tenth, which features the so-called “Terminal Essay” which I was most looking forward to, was not in the collection anymore, I imagine it stolen.

Tying the loose ends of erotic history

Three years ago I find Le Bât[1], a painting by Pierre Subleyras of a man ostensibly painting on the private parts of a woman. While I knew that it was based on a tale by Jean de La Fontaine, I could not figure out which one.

Last week my friend Paul Rumsey brings the Renaissance print known by the mysterious name “Purinega tien duro” to my attention. It represents a phallic bird.

I start researching.

I find that uccello is Italian slang for phallus. The proof is the Decameron; in the tale of the nightingale (“he hath put the nightingale in his own cage and not in that of another”).

Via that episode I find an enumeration of the more bawdy episodes from the Decameron, being ‘Alibech and Rustico‘ (which I treated at length in my book De geschiedenis van de erotiek), ‘the priest metamorphosing a woman in a mare‘ and ‘Alatiel‘s revirgination‘.

While doing this, I stumble on another Pierre Subleyras painting, The Mare of Peasant Pierre (French: La Jument du compère Pierre), also apparently based on a tale by de La Fontaine, which is the equivalent of above-mentioned Decamerone’s “the priest metamorphosing a woman in a mare”.

The source of the La Fontaine tale is in his Contes et nouvelles en vers, a book I had short-changed in my own book: I only mentioned his rendition of Hans Carvel’s ring, failing to see that it is a compendium, a summary of a great many interesting stories, a  history of written erotica up until that age.

I find that “Le Bât” is translated as “The Pack Saddle.”

I go back to the Contes et nouvelles en vers and I find the text of “The Pack Saddle”. It is the story of a jealous husband who paints a seal (a painting of an ass) on his wife’s private parts, making her inaccessible to other men because the paint would wipe off during physical contact. The wife predictably does engage in amorous encounters, her lover decides to re-paint the wiped-off painting of the ass but he erroneously paints one detail too many. He paints a saddle where before there was none.

         A FAMOUS painter, jealous of his wife;
         Whose charms he valued more than fame or life,
         When going on a journey used his art,
         To paint an ASS upon a certain part,
         (Umbilical, 'tis said) and like a seal:
         Impressive token, nothing thence to steal.
         A BROTHER brush, enamoured of the dame;
         Now took advantage, and declared his flame:
         The Ass effaced, but God knows how 'twas done;
         Another soon howe'er he had begun,
         And finished well, upon the very spot;
         In painting, few more praises ever got;
         But want of recollection made him place
         A saddle, where before he none could trace.
         THE husband, when returned, desired to look
         At what he drew, when leave he lately took.
         Yes, see my dear, the wily wife replied,
         The Ass is witness, faithful I abide.
         Zounds! said the painter, when he got a sight,--
         What!--you'd persuade me ev'ry thing is right?
         I wish the witness you display so well,
         And him who saddled it, were both in Hell.

Case closed.

I feel like I am tying the last loose ends of erotic history.