Occasionally intriguing but too-cute history of eroticism in the ancient world.
Until modern times, marriage was never about love, physical or otherwise; it was political and economic. Sensual enjoyment was much easier to find and enjoy with little consequence, and the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians mastered the art. Authors that attempt to make antiquities cute and bring them into the 21st century play a dangerous game. León (How to Mellify A Corpse: And Other Human Stories of Ancient Science & Superstition, 2010, etc.) has written enough to know better than to toss in silly phrases like “round-the-sundial witness protection,” or marrying the prostitute because the man “didn’t want to time-share.” Mythology abounds naturally in a work about a subject in which the players all believe they perform like gods. The business of sex, not only in those who offer it for sale or for their own safety, has been around since Genesis, and the first published manual was distributed by the Chinese 5,000 years ago. Many readers will think that there is nothing new, and of course, there really isn’t—just a new way of presenting a catalog of what people have always done. The author provides a redeeming amount of etymology—e.g., about fornices, beneath which the ladies of the night developed their job description. Forms, positions, aberrations and self-pollution methods eventually give way to a list of famous love affairs, real and mythological, from Orpheus’ love of Eurydice to Cleopatra’s passion for just about anyone who happened to be near. León seems to have been unable to decide whether to write about myths, history or just plain sex, so she just tossed them all into one basket.
At times enjoyable, edifying and humorous, but the conversational style tends too much toward the sophomoric in its attempts to be cute.