“In bed, the lovers will not let their hands lie idle; their fingers will find what will arouse those parts where love’s dart is dipped in secrecy.”– Ovid, The Art of Love, Book II
Which is that powerful divinity who, from the hedges and fields west of Agra, soars into the upper airs where reigns the purest light, while from all around the flowers’ drooping stems, brought back to life in the sun’s first rays, entwine themselves into cradles, sweet refuges of harmony, where gentle breezes playfully steal from them their most ravishing perfumes?
Hail, oh unknown power… For at the merest gesture of your gracious head, the valleys and the woods hasten to adorn their sweet-smelling bosoms, and every blossoming flower, smiling, decks her tresses of musk with dazzling pearls of dew.
I can feel, yes, I feel your divine fire pierce my heart, I adore you and rapturously I kiss your altars.
And could you misknow me?
No, son of Maya, no, I know your flower-tipped arrows, the doughty rod of which your bow is made, your standard shining with pearly scales, the mysterious weapons you own. I have felt all your sufferings, I have savoured all your pleasures. All-powerful Kama, or, if you would have it so, dazzling Smara, majestic Ananya!
The principles of what is fair and just and what is not are the same at all times and in all places: they add up to absolute morality. Principles concerning sexual mores, however, vary from age to age and from country to country. From the unrestrained promiscuity of violent tribes to the absolute ban on the ways of the flesh outside marriage, how many different degrees of freedom are accorded to sexual relations by public opinion, and by social and religious law!
With the exception of certain peoples, the whole ancient world considered the act of sex as permissible, on the condition that it did not infringe upon anyone else’s rights, such as, for example, intercourse with a widow, or with any other woman who might not be completely mistress of her own person… Nevertheless, China, Greece and Rome honoured virgins, and India honoured ascetics, members of society who took vows of abstinence as sacrifice.
Looked at from the point of view of mere reason or of egoistical awareness, the tolerance of the Indians and ancient civilisations appears natural, whereas the strict rule of the Persians seems motivated by social or political interest; this is why rules concerning sexual behaviour could be imposed only in the name of a revelation, whether by Zoroaster or by Moses.
Thus there are two great camps that divide people in terms of erotic mores: for some, monogamy is compulsory; for the others, polygamy is acceptable, in any of the forms which it may take, including cohabitation and casual fornication. In studying Antiquity, amongst peoples who did not accept revelation, one must distinguish between the sexual mores of India’s Aryans, on the one hand, for whom religion and superstition intimately and actively affected everything to do with eroticism, and on the other hand, the Aryans of the West, the Greeks and Romans for whom the cult surrounding sexual relations was only the outward manifestation of sexual mores, without any directions or prescriptions for behaviour, and the artistic spirit that idealised and dominated all.
Thus, the naturalism of the Brahmins of India, pagan Antiquity and the principles of Persia or Israel, which Christianity inherited, are three subjects for studies of sexual mores to be reconciled and for which we must highlight the contrasts. The matter for study for the first lies with the scholars and poets of Brahmanism; for the second, in Classical literature, principally in the Latin poets under the twelve Caesars; for the third, with modern authors who write about sexual mores, specialists and theologians…
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