The Joy of Sexus—Lust, Love and Longing in the Ancient World delivers delicious morsels of ancient history with humor, intelligence, and a “wow, get a load of this” attitude (pun not intended. No seriously.).
Author Vicki León packs a whole lot of information into this little book and she does it in a breezy, conversational way. Reading it felt akin to dishing dirt over lattes with a best buddy. And trust me, there was a lot of dirt to dish—everything from desperately doomed lovers to women pornographers; from a goddess of the hymen to a god of enormous appendage; from cross-dressing emperors to religious orgies; and lots, lots more.
Now, to be sure, I’m predisposed to like—nay, love—a book like this. I mean, ancient history combined with sexzy times? Puhhh-lease. The book had me at "Joy."
León lays down her non-judgmental approach to describing ancient practices in the introduction by noting what biologists have been telling us for years—that “researchers in the field have observed more than 450 different species engaging in same-gender mating activities.” Man is no different (except for the being judged, ostracized and sometimes killed for it part).
For some people, it’s a shock to learn that the ancients didn’t even have words for “homosexual,” “bisexual,” or “heterosexual.” Love was love. Status was what counted. Indeed, in one Greek city-state, a military “special forces” group of elite fighters was made up of paired male lovers. These fearsome warriors, Leon points out, had an even stronger incentive to fight to the death—to protect their beloveds as fiercely as they protected themselves.
Throughout the book we meet many real and mythical lovers who give us a glimpse into romantic beliefs of the era, all the while learning about strange birth control methods, aphrodisiacs and anti-aphrodisiacs, and all manner of ways people in the ancient world let their freak-flags fly.
León, who is known for her Uppity Women series and has authored two other books on the ancient world—Working IX to X and How To Mellify a Corpse—continues her successful formula of short chapters filled with well-researched details and pithy observations.
It is one saucy, sassy book that should not be missed!
Full disclosure: the publisher sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review.