Shameful Body Parts


Erotic scene. Pompeii

Louis XIV’s tutor, François de la Mothe le Vayer, wrote a text entitled « Des parties appelées honteuses aux hommes et aux femmes » (About the body parts of men and women called shameful) in his book Hexaméron rustique. Among other anecdotes, he notes: « As Pliny wrote that the Lampreys have a soul in their tail, a scandalous Poet dared to give a spirit to his own, by this infamous allusion, … et habet mea Mentula mentem (… and my dick has a spirit); which covers a libertine accompanied by impiety. ».

If the spirit, by some chance, can wander its power in these parts, it is nevertheless advisable not to succumb to the spectacle of the imagination, and to be fooled by purely external details.

La Mothe warns: « But one should not believe that the greatness of this part is as great as one imagines it to be. Aristotle maintains that it harms rather than serves the generation: Quibus penis immodicus, infoecundiores iis quibus mediocris, non refrigeratur longo itinere et mora genitura. » (Animals with an oversized penis are less fertile than those with an average size because the cold semen is not fertile and cools down by travelling too far).

We must act of parity here, it is the least we can do. As for the part that the women cover with so much modesty, the Ancients were not particularly stammering. At the festivals of the Thesmophoria in Syracuse, the whole of Sicily ate honey and sesame cakes, which had « the figure of the shameful part of the woman ».

I now come to the heart of the matter, with much more obscure, and no doubt more consequential, extensions.

La Mothe remarks that « Egyptian women exposed themselves with their skirts tied high up for forty days at their new Apis feast; as if they had been in the mood of that infamous Roman, ‘mirator cunni Cupiennus albi’ (Cupiennus, admirer of cunts veiled in white). And Origen reproaches them, refuting the Epicurean Celsus, that they believed that their Apollo entered the belly of the Sibylls to return his Oracles: « Mulierem numen concipere per eas partes, quas conspicere nefas prudens vir ducat » (A woman brings a divinity in through those secret parts which a wise man considers unholy to look at).

God’s ways are impenetrable, we are told, but his Spirit can enter wherever he wishes.

Far from being shocked, the wise man will think a thousand times about the penetrating power of (divine) ideas, for which no barrier can be erected for long. To say that the divinity can penetrate the bodies of women, or halo the Mentula of men, is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather, it seems to me a phenomenal, insidious, fertile, perfectly non-modern idea, and no doubt, by that very fact, promised to a great future, provided that it is taken in a different way than « veiled in white ».

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