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Postures of Coition

The Roman voluptuaries were accustomed to ornament their chambers with licentious paintings, the subjects of which were chiefly taken from the works of Philaenis, Elephantis and other erotic writers. Thus Lalage lays a series of tablets, representing different postures in copulation, as ex-votos on the altar of Priapus. Cyrene is said to have employed her pencil as well as pen on this subject; according to Suidas, 'Cyrene was a celebrated whore, known under the name of Dodecamechanos, as she knew how to do the amorous work in twelve positions.' Aristophanes, in the Frogs, also speaks of the dozen postures of Cyrene. Propertius censures the custom of hanging these obscene pictures on the walls of rooms. Suetonius says of Tiberius, 'He had several chambers set round with pictures and statues in the most lascivious attitudes, and furnished with the books of Elephantis, that none might lack a pattern for the execution of any lewd project that was prescribed him.' Ovid writes, 'They join in venery in a thousand forms; no tablet could suggest more modes.' And Apuleius, 'And, having imitated in their every mode the joyous tablets, let her change posture, and herself hang o'er me on the couch. 'The Thesaurus Eroticus numbers seven[1] different postures of coition-

1 In the natural manner, the woman lying supine with legs stretched apart.

Ovid: 'Assume different attitudes according to your shape; one style does not become every woman. She who is noteworthy in face, let her he supine.'

2 Women who desire to become gravid submit their back, after the fashion of the tortoise.

Lucretius: 'Women are thought to conceive oftener when on all fours, because the organs can absorb the seed better when they are lying on their breast with loins upraised.'[2] Ovid: 'Thou also whose stomach Lucina has marked with wrinkles should be used with back turned, as the swift Parthian with his horses.' And the same writer: 'Let those whose backs are sightly be gazed at from behind.' Aristophanes: 'Clinging to the ground on all fours'; and in Lysistrata: 'I shall not squat down like a lioness sculptured on a knife-handle.' The Emperor Augustus, whilst his wife Livia was with child, used to approach her in this manner. And under this heading may perhaps be classed the attitude which Apuleius speaks of in the Tale of the Carpenter and his Wife: '... whilst the gallant, the handsome youth, bending over the woman lying prone along the outside of the cask, cudgelled away like the carpenter.'

[1. Catullus speaks of Novem continuas fututiones.

Sweet Hypsithilla, passion's delight,
My gleeful soul, bid me to come;
Noontide is nearing, bar not the gate--
Hence roam ye not, stay close at home.
Prepare our pleasures in nine fresh ways,
Thighs joined with thighs, nine bouts we'll try:
Instant the summons, dinner is past,
Heated with love, supine I lie,
Bursting my tunic, swollen with longing:
Leave me not thus, dear, your lover wronging.

2. Of like importance is the posture too,
In which the genial feat of love we do:
For, as the females of the four-foot kind
Receive the leapings of their males behind,
So the good wives, with loins uplifted high,
And leaning on their hands, the fruitful stroke may try;
For in that posture will they best conceive;
Not when, supinely laid, they frisk and heave;
For active motions only break the blow,
And more of strumpets than of wives they show,
When, answ'ring stroke with stroke, the mingled liquors flow.
Endearments eager, and too brisk a bound
Throw off the ploughshare from the furrow'd ground:
But common harlots in conjunction heave,
Because 'tis less their business to conceive,
Than to delight, and to provoke the deed;
A trick which honest wives but little need.
--Dryden's Lucretius]

3 Tollere pedes. The woman, lying on her back, raises her feet in order to offer herself more open.

Martial describes how Leda, whose husband was elderly, was cured of hysterics: 'Forthwith the physicians approach, the nurses retire, and her feet are raised in the air: O weighty medicine!' Sosipater has an epigram which alludes to this attitude--

When I stretched Doris with the rosy buttocks on her bed
  I felt within me rise immortal strength,
Her little feet were tamed across my loins,
  And ne'er she moved till we had done at length.

Aristophanes in Peace says,

So that you may, by lifting up her legs,
Accomplish high in air the mysteries.

and in the Birds,

Of the girl you sent, I lifted first her feet,
And entered her domain.

4 Pendula Venus. The woman above, bending over the man.

5 Mulier equitans. The woman riding.

6 Supponere femur. The woman lies partly on her side with her right thigh thrown over.

Ovid: 'Let the woman who is distinguished by the length of her side press the bed with her knees, her neck slightly thrown back'; and: 'There are a thousand modes of venery; the simplest and least fatiguing is when [the woman] lies half supine on her right side.' And elsewhere he says: 'She, forsooth, cast round my neck arms white as ivory, fairer than Sithonian snow, mingled milky kisses with a passionate tongue, and upheld my thigh upon her lascivious thigh.' Catullus: 'It is no wonder, Rufas, why no woman wishes her tender thigh to be placed under thee.' Martial has an epigram on Phyllis, who, urged by two lovers each desirous of being the first to enjoy her favours, satisfies them both at the same time; one raising her leg, the other her tunic. Phyllis, lying on her side, throws her leg over the thigh of the gallant who, stretched on the couch facing her, is swiving her; at the same time offering her buttocks to her other lover.

7 Mulier sedens. The woman is in a sitting posture with legs spread apart, whilst the man stands to her.

Ovid, 'She whose thigh is youthful, and whose breasts are faultless, should stretch herself obliquely along the bed, whilst the man stands to her;': and, 'Milanion supported Atalanta's legs on his shoulders; if they are shapely they should be placed in this manner.'[1] This last posture may either refer to a man and woman standing face to face, he supporting her in such a way that her whole body is lifted up, her thighs resting on his hips; or to the body of the woman lying along a couch whilst the man raises her legs to his shoulders. In Alosiae Toletanae Satyra Sotadica examples of all the above attitudes are given, and the reader who wishes to go further into the subject is referred to Forberg and Aretin, the former of whom enumerates ninety erotic postures (including spinthriae[2]) whilst the latter in his Sonnetti lussotiosi describes twenty-six varieties of congress, each one accompanied by an illustrative design from the hand of Giulio Romano. Amongst the Easterns the modes of congress form the subject of an intelligent study, and their erotic works contain detailed explanations of every possible (and, to a European, impossible) position in which the act of venery can be performed. The Ananga Ranga gives thirty-two divisions; The Perfumed Garden gives forty divisions (together with six different movements during the coitus) and, in addition, describes the most suitable methods for humpbacks, corpulent men, pregnant women, &c.; and The Old Man Young Again, placing the act into six divisions--

1 the ordinary posture
2 the sitting posture
3 side or reclining postures
4 the prone postures,
5 the stooping postures and
6 the standing postures--

subdivides each of these into ten varieties, thus arriving at the grand total of sixty!

[1. Ovid recommends to lovers the apt touches of their fingers as preparatives
for the amorous encounter; and Erasmus explains the term siphniassare
(French--faire postillion) as meaning to insert a finger in the anus during the
venereal act to double the enjoyment; the word being derived from and this
custom being in usage amongst the ancient inhabitants of Siphno, one of the
Cycladean Isles.

2. Spinthriae (from spinther, a bracelet)--a group of copulators, forming a chain or bracelet by their connection with each other.]

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