This week, we’re publishing four short excerpts from The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, a fourteenth-century encyclopedia of … well, everything, or everything known to Arab civilization circa 1314. Compiled with dogged dedication by Shihāb al-Dīn al-Nuwayrī, the book runs to more than nine thousand pages; an abridged version is now available for the first time in English. Ultimate Ambition lives up to its bold title—its eclectic, protean entries cover lunar cults, the sugary drinks in the sultan’s buttery, and how to attract your dream woman by burying a crow’s head. Its translator, Elias Muhanna, believes the compendium affords “a view into the kaleidoscopic and multifarious intellectual tradition of the classical Islamic world”; the New York Review of Books calls it “a bizarre, fascinating book that illustrate[s] the sprawlingly heterodox reality of the early centuries of Islam.” Today, the final extract:
On the Medicines That Promote Sexual Potency and Make Coitus Pleasurable, and on the Related Subjects of Medicines for the Penis, Medicines That Aid Conception and Prevent It, and So On
Know that the treatment of sexual potency requires medicines to restore both the interior and exterior parts of the body. With regard to the interior of the body, it is treated with commonly used medicines such as certain food and compound drugs, purees, jams, powders, enemas, and suppositories. As for the exterior of the body, it is treated with ointments, dressings, and medicines that increase pleasure during sex.
Here are some foods that are beneficial for this purpose. Among them is a description of an omelet that increases sexual potency. Take chickpeas, broad beans, eggs, and white onions, and cook them in milk until the moisture boils off. Then put it all into a mortar and pound it fine until it is all mixed together. Then add the yolks of ten eggs, put the whole mixture into a skillet, and fry it in oil. Add some spices, and do not leave it to burn, but instead eat it before it is completely cooked.
A Food That Increases Sexual Appetite
Take a fat hen that has been raised on chickpeas, broad beans, and kidney beans (or string beans), and slaughter and clean it. Boil some chickpeas in a broth full of onions, then dry them and pound them in the fat of three chickens. Then stuff them in the fat chickens and cook it as an isfı dabaja stew, with as much salt as one uses to salt a skink. Sprinkle Chinese cinnamon, ginger, and other spices over it, and place the chicken, once it finishes cooking, on a loaf of bread made with semolina flour, very little salt and yeast. Leave the bread to soak up the broth, and then eat it with the chicken.
Some Mixed Drinks That Promote Sexual Vigor
Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi and others have described various such drinks. He wrote: “Take two ratls* of milk from a young, fair cow. Add some white Persian manna to it and boil it over a hot fire until it has the thickness of honey. Each day, swallow an ounce or more on an empty stomach. This is to be used by those with hot and dry (choleric) temperaments.”
Another drink for those with cold and dry (melancholic) temperaments: Take a ratl of milk, and add to it ten dirhams of Chinese cinnamon, ground as finely as kohl. Leave it for an hour then drink several cups, making sure to stir it so that the cinnamon does not settle to the bottom. Gradually, one should drink it before and after a meal instead of water and when one is thirsty, until one has finished all of the milk and the Chinese cinnamon. Meanwhile, eat tabahaj (a Persian dish) made with lamb accompanied by wine. Do that for a week, during which you should not have sex. This will generate a lot of sperm and create a large appetite for sex.
* The values of weights and measures described in historical sources can be difficult to ascertain. The ratls of Baghdad and Rayy (the two cities in which al-Razi spent much of his life) were roughly equivalent to one pound and two pounds, respectively.
Another Medicine with Wondrous Abilities to Increase Sexual Energy
Take dried star thistle and pound it until it is very fine. Then squeeze some juice from fresh star thistles and sprinkle it over the dried powder in the sun until the latter soaks up three times its own weight’s worth. Then take five mithqals (.75 oz.) worth of pellitory, one mithqal (.15 oz.) of ginger, and five mithqals (.75 oz.) of hardened white sugar, and pound it all together. Sift it and knead it into some honey infused with ginger, then set it aside to refine. The dosage is two mithqals (.3 oz.) in some warm water, or milk. There is no other drink that is as effective for this purpose.
Jams That Strengthen Sexual Appetite and the Stomach
The author of The Clarification of the Secrets of Sexual Intercourse said: “All jams must contain the following spices: one ounce each of ginger, Chinese cinnamon, cinnamon rind, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, gum mastic, and Indian aromatic wood; half an ounce of saffron, two mithqals (.3 oz.) of sukk,* and half a mithqal (.07 oz.) of musk. Grind these ingredients coarsely and bind them loosely in a flax rag, and suspend an ounce’s worth in every ratl of jam.”
A Recipe for Walnut Jam, Which Promotes Sexual Vigor
Take some fresh green walnuts, whose skin has not yet hardened. Take the outer skin off, and if there is an inner skin that has hard ened, take that off as well. Put them in a stone pot and pour enough honey in to cover them. Bring it all to a gentle boil and then pour it into a glass vessel. Suspend the spices into it, and wash the exterior of the bottle in water (for three days, so that it cools).
Some Enemas and Suppositories That Increase Sexual Appetite, Promote Sperm Production, and Fatten the Kidneys
These enemas and suppositories may be used for one who is unable to consume the medicines we have already presented, whether because of their inflammatory properties or because of an aversion to their taste. In that case the enemas and supposi tories may be substituted and will play the same role. However, prior to using one, one must first administer an enema that cleanses the intestines. That way, the effect of the second enema will be speedier and more beneficial.
A Recipe for an Enema That Cleanses the Intestines and Purifies Them
Take seven mithqals (1 oz.) each of chamomile, flaxseed, fenugreek, and garden dill; fourteen mithqals (2 oz.) of terebinth and star thistle and fig, and cook all of these ingredients in five ratls of water. Boil until only one ratl remains, and strain the liquid. Add fifteen mithqals (2.25 oz.) of sesame oil to half a ratl of the liquid along with seven mithqals (1 oz.) of (hardened) red sugar, and administer it in the form of an enema.
As for Suppositories That Create a Powerful Erection
Take equal parts of carrot seed, arugula seed, autumn crocus, and cottonseed kernels, and knead them together in elecampane water or arugula water. A suppository can be made out of that, and it will raise a mighty erection.
Another recipe: take some ground centaury, pine resin, beeswax, and melt it in lily oil. Make it into a suppository and administer it, and it will produce a wondrous erection.
So much for internal remedies. Let us now recount some medicines that are beneficial to the exterior of the body, such as ointments, bandages, and other medicines that make sex more pleasurable.
An Ointment for the Penis That Excites One’s Lust for Sex
Take two mithqals (.3 oz.) each of pellitory, mace, and long pepper, one mithqal (.15 oz.) each of galbanum and euphorbia, half a mithqal (.07 oz.) each of castoreum and arugula seed, ten mithqals (1.5 oz.) of narcissus oil, and four mithqals (.6 oz.) of white wax. Grind the dry ingredients and melt the wax and galbanum along with the oil over a flame, and then combine them. Set them aside to refine, then rub the penis and pubic hair with it. It is beneficial for the aforementioned purpose.
A Recipe for Another Medicine That Produces Indescribable Pleasure
Take two mithqals (.3 oz.) each of dried and toasted fennel seeds, pepper, long pepper, ginger, pellitory, Chinese cinnamon, nutmeg, wild caraway, and hardened sugar, and combine them after they have been ground and sifted. Dissolve the mixture in fennel water or basil water until it becomes as thick as oil. Leave it to refine in a sealed glass bottle for ten days, and shake it three times each day. Then spread it upon the penis and leave it to dry, at which point you should have sex. Aspire to have the ointment dissolve during intercourse. Be sure not to leave the bottle open, for the air will weaken the medicine’s potency! No woman will be able to resist any man who uses this remedy.
From The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition: A Compendium of Knowledge from the Classical Islamic World by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri; edited and translated by Elias Muhanna, published by Penguin Classics, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Translation, abridgement, introduction, and notes copyright © 2016 by Elias Muhanna.
Translated from the Arabic by Elias Muhanna.