Kindling Cupid's Fire: ideas about aphrodisiacs in early modern England

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Thursday 23 November
Room 16, Medecroft, King Alfred Campus, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO22 4NR

​It was common knowledge in early modern England that sexual desire was malleable, and could be increased or decreased by a range of foods, including artichokes, oysters and parsnips. This paper will explore the understanding of some early modern aphrodisiacs and show that they were understood not just to be titillating sexual curiosities, but were a crucial element in medical regimes designed to restore and improve fertility. Moreover, in this paper I will begin to unpick the different ways in which aphrodisiacs might have been approached as material objects by considering not just the foods that were eaten, but those that were used as gifts, those used as dildos, and the pungent foods and substances that were used as fumes and fragrances. Finally this paper will emphasise that as natural objects and medicines medical writers used aphrodisiacs to encourage appropriate responses to betwitchment and infertility magic. This paper will reveal that the world of early modern aphrodisiacs was very varied but was nearly always substantially influenced by medical ideas about the fertility of the body.

This talk will be given by Dr Jennifer Evans, University of Hertfordshire.

This is part of the Centre for Medical History. For more information about the centre, click here

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