Ancient History & Civilisation

The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, and Longing in the Ancient World

The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, and Longing in the Ancient World

In her previous books, Vicki León put readers in the sandals of now obsolete laborers, ranging from funeral clowns to armpit pluckers, and untangled the twisted threads of superstition and science in antiquity. Now, in this book of astonishing true tales of love and sex in long-ago Greece, Rome, and other cultures around the Mediterranean, she opens the doors to shadowy rooms and parts the curtains of decorum.

León goes far beyond what we think we know about sex in ancient times, taking readers on a randy tour of aphrodisiacs and anti-aphrodisiacs, contraception, nymphomania, bisexuality, cross-dressing, and gender-bending. She explains citizens' fear of hermaphrodites, investigates the stinging price paid for adultery despite the ease of divorce, introduces readers to a surprising array of saucy pornographers, and even describes the eco-friendly dildos used by libidinous ancients. Love also gets its due, with true tales of the lifelong bonds between military men, history's first cougar and her devoted relationship with Julius Caesar, and the deification of lovers.


Section I - The Birds, the Bees, & the Body Parts

Aphrodisiacs: Love solutions from Aphrodite

Anti-Aphrodisiacs: Reverse Viagra or face-saver?

Spontaneous Generation: Birds, bees, wind in the trees

Hymen: A god, a song, a membrane

Clitoris: From a verb to a deformity

Circumcision: Foreskin meddling

Contraception: Birth control, alpha to omega

Pregnancy & Childbirth: Tattoos, prayers, & birthing bricks

Wombs: Hysterical wanderers

Abortion & Infanticide: The sad arithmetic of babies

Section II - Sexual Pioneers Around the Mediterranean

Egyptian Fertility: Lettuce love & lust

Masturbation: Solo sex can be divine

Pornographers: A gender-friendly occupation

The Priapeia: Before e-books there were tree-books

Pherenike of Rhodes: Cloaked in Olympic victory

Koan Silk: See-through is sexy

Thargelia of Miletus: Mistress of the marriage-go-round

Mystery Cults: The origin of the orgy

Prostitution: Love for sale, O.B.O.

Male Garb: Clothes made the man—& the hooker

Pulcheria of Byzantium: Power chastity rocked

Section III - Legendary Loves & Sometimes-Real Romances

The Sacred Band: They were called “an army of lovers”

Alex & Hephaestion: Love conquers all—even Alex the Great

Servilia & Julius Caesar: History’s first cougar

Orpheus & Eurydice: Into the mouth of hell for his mate

Seleucus & Family: Father-son solution to forbidden love

Helen of Troy: Homer launches a durable hit

Pericles & Aspasia: Married to love, not to marriage

Berenice & Titus: Jewish princess almost makes empress

Hadrian & Antinoos: Turned his lover into a god

Section IV - Love Hurts. But Changing Gender Really Smarts

Eunuchs & Castrati: Sensitive men, the hard way

Eunuch Profiles: Household names without heirs

Hermaphrodites: Early warning signs from the gods

Herais, aka Diophantos: Close-up of a gender change

Infibulation: Genital lockups, male & female

Marriage: No shotguns, but everyone from Sparta to Rome had to get married

Adultery: The stinging price of ancient hanky-panky

Divorce: No fault, no fees, no attorneys!

Cross-Dressers: It started with Caligula’s sandals

Gladiator Sex Lives: Even Commodus got lucky

Section V - Red-Letter Days & Red-Hot Nights

Hispala Fecenia: Wet blanket at the orgy

The Isis Sex Scandal: Anubis loves ya, baby!

Abduction, Seduction, Rape: Unwilling partners

Imperial Julia: “Baby on board” was her all-clear sign

Catullus the Poet: Doomed love was catnip for the X-rated poet

Clodius Pulcher: Rome’s lovable, unspeakable rogue

Menstruation: A flower, a curse, a bitumen remover

Lupercalia Festival: Whip it to me, wolfie!

Thesmophoria Festival: Sharing secrets with girlfriends

Section VI - Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing

Sexual Preference: A rainbow of choices

Tribades: Friction between women? Not always a bad idea

Dildos: Eco-friendly—& sometimes edible!

Outercourse B.C.: Foreplay & backstabbing

Kissing: Loving lips versus foul mouths

Straight from the Source: Love candids

Socrates of Athens: Witty & sexy to the very last

Sophocles & Euripides: Brazenly bisexual playwrights

Mandrakes: Grow your own little mannikin!

Filthy Gestures, Images, Language: What obscene really did mean

Section VII - For the Love of It—Pure Passions

Callipygia Worship: Rear end fixation

Etruscan Amore: Open affection, Etruscan style

Perpetua, Christian Martyr: Blood lovingly shed

Octavia & Mark Antony: Mother love trumps the rest

Vestal Virgins: Cut to the chaste

Imperial Branding: Gotta love that emperor—he’s everywhere

Divas Livia & the Julias: Not easy, becoming a goddess

Animal Worship: Fishy love stories & feline tales

Cetacean Adoration: Nearly divine dolphin rescues

Hypatia of Alexandria: Taught the truth, loved it to death

Section VIII - Demon Lovers & Gods Dark & Light

The Great God Pan: Not dead, just poorly translated

Satyr Plays: Satyrists made Athens laugh

Vestal Virgins: Scapegoats in dire straits

Nymphomania & Satyriasis: Uterine fury & sex addiction

Nero’s Career Defilement: Penetrating news update

Emperor Tiberius, Voyeur: The arcane lusts of Tiberius

Eros, the God of Sexual Passion: Under the rose, anything goes

The Erotes: Love posse to the sex goddess

Alkibiades of Athens: Number-one hottie among women—& men

Amazons: Warriors who loved their freedom—& their boobs

Section IX - Love Dilemmas & Lust at the Crossroads

Family Affairs: Incest, three ways

Ankhesenamun of Egypt: Loved her family, not sure about Grandpa

Snake Adoration: Healers, prophets, & bunkmates

Teiresias the Seer: Gender-bender & orgasm expert

Straight from the Source: Love gone wrong

Ovid the Love Poet: Life in the Fasti lane

Sappho’s Bane: Remembering odious Rosycheeks

Hypsicratea: Amazon turned historian? A love story

Empress Messalina: Lost her head over excess husbands

Orgasms: The climax of the mating game—& life