Aristotle’s Masterpiece, 17th century sex manual

Aristotle’s Master-Piece was a English sex manual first published in 1684. It was not written by Aristotle, but it was one of the most widely circulated popular medical texts of its time.

An edition printed in 1766 will be up for auction next week.

The book was banned in England from the mid 18th century until 1961. Not surprisingly, people still found ways to read it. James Joyce namechecked it in Ulysses: “Mr Bloom turned over idly pages of The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, then of Aristotle’s Masterpiece. Crooked botched print. Plates: infants cuddled in a ball in bloodred wombs like livers of slaughtered cows.”

It’s not particularly racy to modern sensibilities. Most of it is folksy advice on how to get pregnant and how to ensure healthy pregnancy and childbirth. There’s plenty of outright quackery to be sure (for example, we now know that birth defects are not caused by parental moral failings), but readers in 2350 will probably say the same about our medical knowledge.

Non-collectors can find free ebook versions at archive.org or exclassics.com.