cover image The Joy of Sexus: Lust, Love, & Longing in the Ancient World

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

Vicki León. Walker, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1997-3

In concise entries divided into nine readable sections, León (Working IX to V) delivers a snappy ride into the stunning, sometimes barbaric, and always entertaining sexuality of the ancient world. From aphrodisiacs and diaphanous silks to abduction and the very upsetting practice of infibulation, she minces no words exposing the truth behind ancient sex practices. Infamous emperors with a penchant for young boys riddle the pages, but so too do unsung tales of intimacy and affection. For example, the epitaph of a young girl written by her husband, a construction worker: “To the eternal memory of Blandinia... You who read this, go bathe in the baths of Apollo, as I used to do with my wife. I wish I still could.” Not limited to personal histories, the book casts a wide net on ancient sexuality, detailing the extravagant and the plebeian alike. Papyrus pornography, orgiastic festivals, and “breadstick dildo[s]” abound. León’s descriptions are plentiful and detailed, and a vibrant, playful tone runs throughout—a Roman politician is introduced as a “[m]utinous army officer, political turncoat, gang leader, cross-dresser, pirate hostage, and zestful incest aficionado.” This is a fun, enlightening trip into the ancient world not covered in high school textbooks. B&w images. Agent: David Forrer, Inkwell Management. (Jan.)