Newly acquired by the University of Iowa for the John Martin Rare Book Room, Aristotle’s Compleat Masterpiece and the other works included here — considered “the first sex manual in the English language” — were not, in fact, authored by Aristotle. Rather, attribution of the works to him was a way to gain an air of authority. The Masterpiece (“in three parts, displaying the secrets of nature in the generation of man”), was first published in 1684, reprinted with great frequency through the 17th and 18th centuries, and was still being printed in England in the 1930s. The edition here is from 1763. The first part covers anatomy, sex, virginity, marriage, pregnancy, midwifery; and religious warnings against polygamy and adultery. The second part continues with the processes of fertilization, pregnancy, infertility, failed pregnancies, and how the sex of the fetus can be determined.
Aristotle’s Compleat and Experience’d Midwife (this edition from about 1765) was an early manual of obstetrics and the disorders and diseases of women in pregnancy and childbirth. It was supposedly “translated” by popular author William Salmon. The Book of Problems (first published in 1595) was a series of questions and answers relating to natural history, rather than human reproduction. Aristotle’s Last Legacy was essentially a condensed version of the Masterpiece.
Come visit this book, or any other of over 6,500 items of antiquity and rarity, in the John Martin Rare Book Room!