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Odes to Sexuality
Erotic Literature

Odes to Sexuality
  • An Alexandrian Erotic Fragment and Other... (by )
  • Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare an... (by )
  • Poesias eroticas, burlescas, e satyricas... (by )
  • Erotica Romana (by )
  • Erotica (by )
  • Die Griechischen Lyriker; Griechisch mit... (by )
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Author E. L. James’ now-ubiquitous 50 Shades of Grey brought erotica and sexual kink into the mainstream; however, that by no means indicates that erotic literature is a 20th or 21st century phenomenon. Odes to sexuality and human sexual relationships date back thousands of years, even occupying the highest rungs of poetic verse.

From ancient Sumeria to ancient Greece to the Roman Empire, authors wrote erotic lyric poetry. Some wrote with earthier tones than others, some emphasized morality, and some took a satirical bent. The World Library offers a German language compilation of poetry by the ancient masters: Die Griechischen Lyriker; Griechisch Mit Metrischer Uebersetzung und Pr Fenden und Erklrenden Anmerkungen translated by Johann Adam Hartung. For something nearly as ancient and in English, check out An Alexandrian Erotic Fragment and Other Greek Papyri Chiefly Ptolemaic by Bernard Pyne Grenfell.

Carnal fascination with the procreative act endures. Depending upon cultural and societal attitude, literature exploring the human sexual relationships rises and falls in open popularity, with the ancients being the most accepted with regard to literary worth. This is demonstrated by Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse: Volume I by Thomas Robert Smith.

The more repressive a society becomes, the more taboo becomes erotic literature. As the forbidden nature of such literature increases, so does its prurience. Such attitudes drive celebrations of human sensuality underground with the subsequent degradation of quality. It becomes dark and twisted, less focused on joy and more focused on control. In other words, erotic literature devolves to meet low expectations and descends into pornography.
Scholars agree that, since the 1700s, the quality of erotic literature has declined from sublime to subversive. Exemplified by this is Poesias Eroticas, Burlescas, Esatyricas De M.M. De Barbosa Dubocage : Não Comprehendidas Naedição Que Das Obras D'este Poeta Sepublicou Em Lisboa, No Anno Demdcccliii by Manuel Maria Barbosa Du Bocage (written in Portuguese), a Brazilian poet whose erotic works are still banned in Portugal. In the late 1700s, Wolfgang von Goethe published Erotica Romana, later retitled as the Roman Elegies. His volume of 24 poems celebrates the sensuality of Italian and classical literature and not given wide circulation until 1914 within the larger body of the Venetian Epigrams.

The modern concept of erotica dwells on the explicit description of the physical act of procreation, yet much erotic poetry alludes rather than gets right down to business. The first poem in Erotica by Arthur Clark Kennedy offers a prime example:

All life’s beauty lies in love,
Love whose touch transposes
Barren fields to flowery mead
Where the amorini tread
Ankle-deep in roses.
Let they glamour, mighty Love,
All my youth prolong
Youth that cannot be withstood,
Making this my solitude
Clamorous with song.

By Karen M. Smith

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