Apparently, I went to high school once. Can’t tell you much about it, so don’t ask. I spent that five years tripping balls on a powerful brew of angst, lust, and subversive literature, and all my memories of that time are blurred by the hormone haze.
But I do know that at the age of eighteen, I spent a fair amount of time at my private religious girls’ school searching for ways to get my rocks off. This was not before Ye Olde Internete, but it was before Ye Olde Smartphone, and Ye Olde Wifi, and Ye Olde Computer In Every Damn Roome. Hence, it was a challenge to find Ye Olde Wank Fodder without attracting the attention of Ye Olde Puritanical Teachers and putting oneself in line for Ye Olde Smackdown(e).
At least, it was a challenge if you wanted to get your rocks off using literature. Some people who had girlfriends within the school had an easier time. Two of my friends just straight up stored some sleeping bags in the stairwell to the roof, and had at it between classes, when they had a few minutes to spare. I don’t know how they got away with it, except that I’m pretty sure that one of them had magical powers, and the other was the only one who knew how to fix the school’s old and ornery computers. (She would dance this little shaman dance when she was fixing them, and in her spare time, she liked to build robots. The staff just gave up trying to rein her in, I guess. It’s wise to walk softly around a tech guru who commands a robot army, even if she does grope her girlfriend in the stairwell every now and then.)
But my girlfriend of the time lived across town, and anyway, my love of books and my love of girls were always pretty well intertwined. (I will not tell you what fictional character was the object of my first deeply passionate crush, because I still have a few faint flickers of self-respect. Suffice to say, she did not appear in a romance novel, and I hadn’t yet hit puberty.)
Since I’m turned on more by stories than trysts in damp stairwells, I was left to comb our little prim-and-proper library for suitably raunchy material. We did have a copy of The Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall, but since the theme of that book is “lesbianism is pain forever until everyone dies,” it might have been intended to act more as cautionary tale than encouragement. (I still checked it out and stood outside my born-again principal’s office reading it very conspicuously. Because that’s how I roll.) Other than that, it was pretty much a wasteland…
…or so it seemed. In fact, there was a bottomless trove of XXX material, as long as you knew where to look. Or rather, when.
pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,
Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi,
qui me ex versiculis meis putastis,
quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum.
No-one ever thinks to censor the classics section.
The poem above, Carmen 16 by Gaius Valerius Catullus, isn’t the most seductive thing in literature, nor is it where I turned for some mental action during the school day. (Trust me, there are plenty of places in Latin and Greek poetry where you can find women gettin’ some. Rawr.) It’s just a good illustration of the point. Even in our pristine, whitewashed library, you could read a horny old Roman poet from two thousand years back, blasting profanely at his critics:
I’ll take you up the ass and fuck your mouth,
Aurelius, you fruit, and Furius the cocksucker.
So you think that I don’t have any shame
Just because my poems are a little bit sexy?
There was plenty of sex in Catullus’s writings- and in the writings of Apuleius, and Petronius, and Aristophanes, and so many many more. I tore through them in a constant state of wonder. If you read some stately and restrained poem from, say, ancient Rome, it feels as distant and unreal as white marble. It’s a relic, a fossil, and it has nothing to do with you. But when Roman pornography kicks you in the groin, hard enough to make all your bits sit right up and say howdy, then you have a connection that really does transcend time. For that few minutes, you and an ancient author are waggling your eyebrows at each other, sharing the joke.
And when you read this for the first time:
A me psidomena katelimpanen
Polla kai tod’ eeipe moi;
Oim’ hos deina peponthamen,
Psaph’, e man s’aekois apulimpano.
She was weeping hard when she went away from me.
Said, “Oh Sappho, things have turned out so badly.
I swear I’m leaving you against my will.”
When you read that, a woman who lived on the Isle of Lesbos looks at you across a couple of millennia, and winks.