The Perfumed Garden
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The book presents opinions on what qualities men and women should have to be attractive, gives advice on sexual technique, warnings about sexual health, and recipes to remedy sexual maladies. It gives lists of names for the penis and vagina, has a section on the interpretation of dreams, and briefly describes sex among animals. Interspersed with these there are a number of stories which are intended to give context and amuse.
In the original Arabic
According to the introduction of Coville's English translation, Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi probably wrote The Perfumed Garden sometime between 1410 and 1434.
1850: Baron R... French translation
The first translation of The Perfumed Garden into a European language was in 1850, by a man calling himself only "Baron R...".
1886: Burton English translation
Burton mentions that he considers that The Perfumed Garden can be compared with the works of Aretin and Rabelais, of the book Conjugal Love. But what he believes makes The Perfumed Garden unique as a book of its kind is "the seriousness with which the most lascivious and obscene matters are presented."
Burton points out that not all of the ideas in The Perfumed Garden are original: "For instance, all the record of Moçama and of Chedja is taken from the work of Mohammed ben Djerir el Taberi; the description of the different positions for coition, as well as the movements applicable to them, are borrowed from Indian works; finally, the book Birds and Flowers by Azeddine el Mocadecci seems to have been consulted with respect to the interpretation of dreams."
1976: Khawam French translation
A new French translation by Rene R. Khawam was published in 1976.
1999: Coville English translation
In 1999, Jim Coville published the first English The Perfumed Garden translated directly from the Arabic original. Of the Burton translation, he says, "details were expanded, episodes introduced and whole sections incorporated from other, non-Arabic, sources. The text is dressed up in a florid prose alien to the style of the original and many of the notes are sheer speculation. The result is a consistently exaggerated and bizarre misrepresentation of the original".
This is vividly illustrated in chapter six, titled "Sexual Technique" in Coville's translation and "Concerning Everything That Is Favourable to the Act of Coition" in Burton's. Burton's translation is perhaps 25 pages long, lists 39 sex positions as well as 6 types of sexual movement, and gives creative names to many of these. Coville's translation is 2½ pages long, and lists eleven unnamed sex positions.