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18th-century 'Aristotle' banned manual to be auctioned

world Updated: Jan 04, 2013 16:43 IST
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An 18th century manual titled Aristotle's Compleat Master-Piece - a book on sex and pregnancy - is going under the hammer 200 years after it was banned from sale in Britain.

The manual is thought to have provided information for amateur midwives and young married couples about pregnancy and sex.

It is up for sale at Edinburgh auction house, Lyon and Turnbull on January 9, where it is expected to fetch up to 400 pounds, 'The Telegraph' reported.

According to book specialist Cathy Marsden, despite its title, the manual has little to do with Greek philosophy.

Instead, the anonymous author of the Master-Piece offers dubious 17th century advice - it was first published in 1684, cobbled together from the works of Nicholas Culpepper, Albertus Magnus and, Marsden says, "a good dose of old wife's tale".

This didn't stop the manual from being hugely popular. There were more editions of the Master-Piece published in the 18th century than any other medical text, and it continued to do well on the black market after it was banned for being considered distasteful and lewd until 1961.

The manual, by today's standards, is more amusing than anything else. The edition going under the hammer is thought to date from 1766.

"It's fascinating reading. It tells an amazing story about the changing perspectives on sex. There's nothing in it that would really be considered dirty in our society now.

"There are things which warn parents about what could happen to their children if they sinned whilst conceiving them, perhaps by having sex outside marriage. It would say that your baby would be born all hairy or it would suggest that conjoined twins were the result of the parents' sins," said Marsden.

The manual is illustrated with curious, although not particularly graphic, cautionary images which Marsden thinks contributed to the ban.