Sunday, May 21, 2006

Comic Erotica

I guess, first of all, we need to define what “comic erotica” is. Taking a minimalist view of things, we might reply that it is something that is both comic and erotic at the same time. Needless to say, the two don’t automatically go together. What is comic is not necessarily (or even probably) erotic and erotica is by no means usually funny. However, there is a long and distinguished tradition of famous writers who have linked the two together. If we go back to the Roman poet, Catullus, we can find lyrics such as this.

I entrust my loved ones and myself to you, Aurelius.
And I humbly ask a favor from you,
that if you have ever valued anything,
which you might have wished to keep pure and true,
then modestly guard my boy for me,
not I say from the populace, I don't fear
them who just pass by here and there on the street
occupied with their own affairs.
In truth, I am afraid of you and your penis,
hostile to boys, both good and bad.
Because you let it go where it pleases, as it pleases,
as much as you wish. When it is out, you are ready.
This one boy I ask humbly, I feel, you exclude.
For if foul thought and senseless passion drives
you, wretch, to such a crime
that you plan in your mind treason against me,
Then you will have a miserable and ill fate.
Because with feet tied together you will be run
through your backdoor with mullets and radishes.

I believe that this piece most definitely combines comedy and the erotic. It begins seriously enough with the pleading of a favour. However, before long we discover that the favour is for some friend (Aurelius) to guard the poet’s “boy”. Now this clearly doesn’t refer to his son! This point is fully elaborated in the lines that follow about Aurelius’ promiscuity with boys. Shocking? Perhaps, for us today. However, it was merely whimsical for the readers of Catullus’ verse.

At the end of the 19th century, Richard Burton, the English explorer and Orientalist translated the “Arabian Nights”. Although famous as a children’s book, much of the full length version deals with situations which might be labeled as “comic erotica”. One example would be the story of Abu Nowas and the three boys. Let me quote a relevant section from the Burton translation.

And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Three hundred and Eighty-second Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when Abu Nowas beguiled the youths with his wishes, saying, "We hear and obey;" and accompanied him to his lodging, where they found all ready that he had set forth in his couplets. They sat down and ate and drank and made merry awhile, after which they appealed to Abu Nowas to decide which of them was handsometh of face and shapliest of form. So he pointed to one of them and, having kissed him twice over, recited the following verses,

"I'll ransom that beauty-spot with my soup; * Where's it and where is a money-dole?Praise Him who hairless hath made that cheek * And bid Beauty bide in that mole, that mole!"
Then he pointed to another and, kissing his lips, repeated these couplets,
"And loveling weareth on his cheek a mole * Like musk, which virgin camphor ne'er lets off it:My peepers marvel such a contrast seeing; * And cried the Mole to me, 'Now bless the Prophet.'"

Then he pointed to the third and… kissing him half a score times…(same format)

Presently the drink got into his noddle, drunkenness mastered him and he knew not hand from head, so that he lolled from side to side in joy and inclined to the youths one and all, anon kissing them and anon embracing them leg overlying leg. And he showed no sense of sin or shame, but recited these couplets,

"None wotteth best joyance but generous youth * When the pretty ones deign with him company keep:This sings to him, sings to him that, when he wants * A pick-me-up lying there all of a heap:And when of a loveling he needeth a kiss, * He takes from his lips or a draught or a nip;Heaven bless them! How sweetly my day with them sped; * A wonderful harvest of pleasure I reap:Let us drink our good liquor both watered and pure, * And agree to swive all who dare slumber and sleep."

“Swive” also appears in Chaucer and is an ancient Anglo-Saxon verb for copulate. Abu Nowas is obviously involved in pederasty here, but the intention is clearly comic. This is reinforced by the fact that the ruler of Baghdad, Harun Rashid, bursts into the room unannounced at this point and though he is initially angry with his poet, Abu Nowas, he soon sees the funny side and pardons him.

More recently, Philip Larkin has approached erotica from the comic point of view. For example, there is the famous poem, "Annus Mirabilis" with its provocative opening lines, "Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three(which was rather late for me)/ -Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles' first LP."

It will come as a surprise to no one, that both Burton and Larkin had a deep interest in pornography and after their respective deaths, were found to have maintained large collections of erotic material.


Blogger pluto85 said...

Ari,complimenti per questa composizione!
Riesci sempre a scrivere pensieri toccanti e profondi,che fanno capire tante cose,come dimostra anche questa(composizione)

12:33 PM  
Blogger Jon Aristides said...

Troppo gentile, cara!

10:59 AM  

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