Bare-breasted snake beauties of ancient Crete!

When I was about ten years old in 1961, I eagerly awaited the arrival of a movie called Atlantis, the Lost Continent. But it never showed up at my neighborhood theater on the north side of Chicago, and I had to wait until many years later to see it on television.

Movie posters like this really stirred up excitement, unlike the bland ones of today!

Movie posters like this really stirred up excitement, unlike the bland ones of today!

As I look at the screenplay credits, I realize that it was written by Daniel Mainwaring, who authored both the original novel and the script of one of the great films noir, 1947’s Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer. But I digress…

Atlantis wasn’t a great movie, but it had its thrilling moments, and I also learned years later that the legend of Atlantis was possibly based on a real place called Thera, a volcanic island near Crete. Here is a map showing the relation of Thera, now called Santorini, to Crete, as well as the geological structure of the underlying area.

Plato mentioned the story of Atlantis in his Dialogues, and may have been influenced by stories about Thera.

Plato mentioned the story of Atlantis in his Dialogues, and may have been influenced by stories about Thera.

The Cretan, or Minoan civilization (named after its legendary King Minos), of which Thera was a part, was a highly developed culture way back in the Bronze Age over four thousand years ago. They probably didn’t have giant ray guns as in the Atlantis movie fantasy, but apparently they had good things like advanced plumbing and burgeoning metal industries that gave them a flourishing import business which also brought the Minoans into contact with other great cultures of the era, such as the Egyptians. When the volcano on Thera exploded around 1450 B.C., the Minoan civilization began its decline after a good fifteen hundred years of prosperity. Soon they would be ruled by the warlike mainland Greeks, who had not yet warmed up into the cradle of democracy they would become.

From being a great seagoing power...

From being a great seagoing power...

...the Minoan civlization was eventually laid low by a volcano. This was a 1950 eruption on Thera, now called Santorini.

...the Minoan civilization was eventually laid low by a volcano. This was a 1950 eruption on Thera, now called Santorini.

But in their heyday the Minoans were artisans, merchants, sailors, builders of great palaces such as that of Knossos, and they were also apparently a pleasure-loving people who loved to dance, playfully leap over bulls by grasping onto their horns (!), and were able to live with each other side-by-side in communities with different chieftains, but in relative peace. Most intriguing of all…the Minoans, especially the women, were visionary fashion plates!

Here is an artist's rendition of a Minoan palace scene...

Here is an artist's rendition of a Minoan palace scene...

Yes, that’s right—no bodices. Unmarried females went bare-breasted, and their waists were cinched and their hips emphasized by bell-like skirts that almost resembled the bustles of the women’s fashions of the late 1800s, early 1900s. The Minoan civilization first came to light in the early twentieth century thanks to archaeological discoveries, and one of the artifacts found so reminded people of contemporary French women that she was nicknamed “La Parisiana.”

"La Parisiana" from 4,000 years ago; hmm, she does have that "Belle Epoque" look about her...

"La Parisiana" from 4,000 years ago; hmm, she does have that "Belle Epoque" look about her...

I found the image of the palace on the site of an artist named Thomas Baker who specializes in making exquisite paintings in the old master styles, and utilizing authentic archaeological details when applicable to the subject matter. Here is his image of the Minoan princess Ariadne, waiting at the entrance to the labyrinth under the palace of Knossos. She will give her Greek lover Theseus a sword to battle the deadly Minotaur within, a monster to which Greek youths have been regularly sacrificed; and she will also give him a skein of yarn to unravel as he penetrates the maze, and which will help him find his way out…

The skulls represent the earlier victims of the Minotaur within the maze, a monster who is half-bull, half-man...

The skulls represent the earlier victims of the Minotaur within the maze, a monster who is half-bull, half-man...

According to Baker’s research, the depiction of the Minoan palace scene is extremely accurate (he didn’t paint it himself, but found it in a book about ancient history), right down to the board game called “zatrikio” that the two beauties are playing on the floor.

It makes sense that in a culture where nubile and fertile young women walked around topless, that the major ruling deity was female…an earth mother, sometimes called Britomartis, an all-encompassing Goddess of the land and the sea and the stars, patroness of war and peace, protector of virgins and new births. She could bring earthquakes, but she could also bring the flowers to bloom. In fact, she had a young god of flora who accompanied her on her rounds through the world. And, also known as “a tamer of beasts”–perhaps having as her “significant other” the omnipresent bull spirit known as “Earthshaker,” symbol of the masculine–she was also visualized as a “snake goddess,” even though snakes apparently were not plentiful in the region and that aspect of her cult was probably imported from elsewhere.

Apparently the snakes that were in the region were generally of the harmless variety...

Apparently the snakes that were in the region were generally of the harmless variety...

Even a goddess knows she must keep up her figure training! Talk about a tight-laced waist!

Even a goddess knows she must keep up her figure training! Talk about a tight-laced waist!

It has been said that the goddess was worshipped in many places, from caverns to mountaintops to small dark rooms to the courts of palaces. Needing an escape from 2009, I am right there now, happily lost in the crowd of Minoan men and women, bare-chested but attired appropriately in my fancy headdress and “phallustache,” a kind of loincloth.

Me and my "phallustache." Cute name for a loincloth, right?

Me and my "phallustache." Cute name for a loincloth, right?

I don’t know about grabbing the horns of any bulls and jumping over them, but I like to dance, and hmm, there’s a nice cutie with a pair of fetching C-cups coming my way…glammed up just like a snake goddess, too!

And how do you like this? She tells me her name is Barbie!

I wonder if they have this Barbie on display at the anniversary exhibit at Bloomingdale's in New York City?

I wonder if they have this Barbie on display at the 50th anniversary exhibit of the dolls at Bloomingdale's in New York City?

————

I found the image of Barbie at a website for a history course about Aegean art and archaeology that has some interesting links for more information.

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Jelena Jensen’s jugs make our eyeballs jiggle!

Besides writing my Horny Time Traveler column for GALLERY magazine, another freelance assignment is doing product, book, and video reviews for another long established title, SWANK. My first Swank Stuff column premieres in the April 2009 issue…

Covergirl Jelena Jensen is one of the Internet's top naturally busty models!

Covergirl Jelena Jensen is one of the Internet's top naturally busty models!

I’ve been working in the adult magazine business since the mid-1970s, so I’ve pretty much seen every variation of pose and model, but without getting all gushy I have to say that this new issue of SWANK has some memorable shots that even got a jaded pornmeister like myself sitting up straight—so to speak. The mark of a good strokebook is its selection and arrangement of interesting pictures that linger in the memory, and from its pictorial of Jelena and her major mammaries to a spectacular six pages of a cutie named Tiziana pouring a glass of milk on herself, this issue is a keeper.

Besides my column, which reviews stuff like an excellent photo book about Steve McQueen and a new collection of classic French erotic postcards, this issue of SWANK has another installment of “Those Were the Lays,” porn actor/historian/activist/raconteur William Margold’s continuing memoir of life in the Golden Age of Smut, as well as columns by XXX superstars Ron Jeremy and blonde phenomenon Mary Carey. There’s also a sensuous short story called “My Big, Fat Greek Stud,” about a girl’s memorable vacation to an Aegean isle. The tale is illustrated by well-chosen explicit photos of cute brunettes being well-serviced by presumably Hellenic heartthrobs (although all we see of the lucky gents are the parts that throb)…

One item I reviewed in Swank Stuff that is of particular interest for all you Horny Time Travelers out there is American Nudes, Volume 1, a new DVD compilation from Cult Epics of classic 8mm films from the 1940s. One of the shorts is called “Asiatic Secrets,” and following are two screen captures from it, made by me exclusively for this blog:

This is from a film shot in the 1940s...

This is from a film shot in the 1940s...

See my column in the April 2009 SWANK for more details about this disc. I feel that a reviewer is a kind of explorer, and it’s my job to get out there and let you know about the interesting stuff you might otherwise miss in the avalanche of your daily distractions. Hell, that’s one purpose of this blog, too!

I'm still recovering from watching this vibrant vixen work her wiles in "Asiatic Secrets!"

I'm still recovering from watching this vibrant vixen work her wiles in "Asiatic Secrets"!

Of course, SWANK is for adults only 18 years and older. So…if you’re of age…check it out!

A massage parlor full of librarians??

One of the advantages of being middle-aged is that some of the horny time-traveling I do can involve things I actually experienced

Last night around midnight, just on a whim, I started looking around on the Web for images of massage parlor signs from 1970s New York. What I found were only signs that were made as props for a Kirsten Dunst/Ryan Gosling movie about the sleazy Times Square of that era—signs which replicated the look but were not the real thing. This photo is from a New York Times article by Jennifer 8. Lee about that movie, All Good Things, which was shooting in NYC in the summer of 2008. Click on the link to read it, and scroll down on the comments too, especially the hilarious one about the guy who walked into a porn shop in 1961 and was hailed by the clerk as “Joe Pork Avenue.”

This movie prop accurately recaptures those old signs...

This movie prop accurately recaptures those old signs...

Anyway, it was hard to believe, but after an hour of frustrated searching I couldn’t find examples of the authentic artifacts, those poorly rendered but strangely memorable signs and awnings that ineptly attempted to depict the temptresses who awaited you inside…

But I did find something else that was good: an old handbill advertising a massage parlor called The Library…a place I visited as a horny twenty-five year old fairly new to Gotham.

This was when New York side streets were full of easily accessible, luscious detours. All you did was walk upstairs...

This was when New York side streets were full of easily accessible, luscious detours. All you did was walk upstairs...

The main, magisterial branch of the New York Public Library was only a block away, and perhaps they were counting on tourists to get confused and wander into “The Library” instead! Well, I wasn’t confused, I knew where the books were and where the broads were, and being habitually low on cash in those days, a sawbuck for a rubdown with no tip necessary sounded good…

It was a rainy day and I was glad to close up my umbrella and seek sensual shelter…

What I mainly remember is that the girl who gave me my massage (I think it was about fifteen minutes long) was from Argentina, and she was tall, slender, and extremely beautiful, so much so that she seemed to clash with the low-rent, though friendly, surroundings. She sure did not look like the hussy in the handbill—though I would have been happy with said hussy! My masseuse was easy-going and had a warm smile, as well as long dark brown hair that came down to the middle of her back. I put my umbrella down and, after fulfilling her request for me to get “completely comfortable” (massage parlor lingo for getting naked), I stretched out on the table…

She wore a one-piece leotard sort of thing, but I don’t remember if she took it all the way off for the massage…

I vaguely recall being able to see out on 43rd Street from the cubicle, but I’m not sure that’s accurate, because those cubicles were usually private places. Maybe my recollection of the rainy day has created a false memory of what the room was like…

But that the girl was sexy and gorgeous was true, because after the rubdown was over, I was so amazed that I had actually paid only ten dollars to spend some time with her that I left “The Library” on a cloud, walking many blocks before I realized that I had forgotten to take my damn umbrella with me! It was one of those long pointy ones, and I had leaned it up against a corner of the room.

Still, I didn’t go back for it…

I think I felt guilty (!) that I had gotten so much pleasure for a mere ten bucks, that I left my umbrella behind as a tip! (Don’t worry, I’ve become more generous in recent years.)

I returned to The Library a couple of weeks later, but alas, it had vanished—gone out of business. I had to settle for the New York Public Library from then on…where, alas, the librarians never wear feather boas! Unless I’ve been going to the wrong branches…

————

I found the handbill from The Library at a blog called Copyranter. As the guys handing out those handbills on street corners used to say, “Check it out, buddy, check it out! Free peek! Free peek!”

Pubic hair, handy in a recession?

As a Horny Time Traveler of long standing, over the decades I have accumulated a number of esoteric books about women through the ages. I confess that I usually just dip into these volumes for strange bits of information, rather than reading them in a thorough or systematic way—much like you’d move from eating Hershey’s Kisses to Reese’s Pieces simply on a whim to snack. For me, curious bits of knowledge are kind of like intellectual bon-bons.

I also like pictures of naked women reading books or periodicals…

Hours of naked reading are good opportunities to stretch long legs!

The other day I came upon my copy of History’s Mistress, by Paula Weideger. It’s actually a selection of entries taken from a huge 1885 German book called Das Weib (Woman), which was an anthropological and enthnographic study of females throughout the world. The original author was a gynecologist, tireless researcher, and man-about-town named Hermann Heinrich Ploss (1819-1885). His book was later updated by one of his colleagues, Dr. Maximilian Bartels; it was finally published in English in 1935, with even more emendations by the 1935 translator, Eric John Dingwall. Then in 1985, the feminist scholar Weideger made a selection of the materials and reinterpreted their meanings through a women’s liberationist looking glass. She seemed amused by the boyish enthusiasm of the original researchers, and likened them to adolescent lads in grade school fascinated by dog-eared copies of National Geographic full of images of bare-breasted native girls. Well, whether the scholars of Das Weib were adolescent-minded or not, those still-eminent male researchers were able to marshal a tremendous amount of interesting material between two covers.

On p. 65 of History’s Mistress, we learn a curious fact about the women of the Bismarck Archipelago…an area described in Wikipedia as “a group of islands off the northeastern coast of New Guinea in the western Pacific Ocean and part of Papua New Guinea.”

It seems that according to a researcher named Bassler addressing the Anthropological Society of Berlin, the native women of this area sported very noticeable and thick pubic hair, dyed red, and that…”the women wiped their hands on their pubic hair when they were soiled or damp, as we are accustomed to use towels.”

You'll never think milady's bush is superfluous again!

You'll never think milady's bush is superfluous again!

I bet the devil put them up to it…

A rare medieval image displaying feminine pubic hair. Look closely and you'll see the tendrils on the mound!

An image from 1540 displaying feminine pubic hair, something rarely seen in the art of that time. Look closely and you'll see the tendrils on the mound!

Uh-oh, bad boy…I hope I’m not putting ideas into anybody’s head by unearthing this concept. Let’s pray that in these recessionary times, with much pinching of pennies, this practice is not revived!

But have you checked out the cost of paper towels lately?

————

I got the lovely image of a reading girl from Read, Write, Now, another WordPress blog. Check out this link for another nice image of a gal in the buff improving her mind!

Farewell to Gilda and Her Crowning Glory…

Gilda and Her Crowning Glory, a burlesque dancer who started in show business as a child actress in Hollywood for the “Our Gang” comedies in the early 1930s, passed away on February 6th. Although I’ve seen a lot of strippers in old videos, as I am a retro burlesque fan (I like Neo Burlesque too), I don’t recall seeing Gilda do her act. Still, I’ve been familiar with her photos for years.

Her real name was Shirley Jean Rickert.

Her real name was Shirley Jean Rickert.

I probably saw her in the “Our Gang” shorts back in the 1950s when they were popular on tv, but once again, I have no specific memories. Somebody on the Web described her look as something like that of a “flapper,” and her bobbed hair does recall Louise Brooks.

I don’t know who the “Thomas” or “Don” are in the autographs on these Our Gang publicity photos. I found them around the Web…

There were a lot of entries about her on the Internet and in blogs yesterday. One interesting site had this publicity image from a burlesque film she made; I have to check if it’s out there somewhere on video.

I imagine a world where women dress like this all the time...

I imagine a world where women dress like this all the time...

After her stints in the “Our Gang” and the Mickey Rooney “Mickey McGuire” comedies, her film career became a series of bit parts and uncredited dancing numbers in the 30s and 40s. Wisely sensing another outlet for her talents, she became a burlesque performer. Ironically, as reported in the L.A. Times obit, in cities like Detroit in the 50s she would be on tv as “Shirley Jean” introducing to kids the revivals of the “Our Gang” shorts, and at night peeling for adults in nightclubs as “Gilda.” People now look back on the 50s as uptight, but it’s our era that’s really judgmental, because I can’t imagine any television station in 2009 hiring a known stripper to introduce films to children. With all our supposed lack of inhibitions, our society is more condemning and Puritanical than ever. One proof of this is how few of her obits showed her as Gilda, opting instead for pictures of her in Our Gang.

After retiring from stripping in 1959 at age 33, Gilda went back to being Shirley full-time and had different jobs such as bartender, secretary, sales director for a regional theater, and saleswoman for industrial hardware. From what I’ve read, she had a good attitude about life and took her career changes in stride. Although I am not a graphologist, I sense that her unpretentious, straightforward signature on those autographed photos shows a friendly, down-to-earth personality who was appreciative of her fans.

Let’s close with one last shot of Shirley as Gilda, which I found on a great site called Burlesque Babes. I also discovered that Shirley Jean also had her own site. Well, it looks like I gotta track down The ABCs of Love! I wanna see her show.

A rare publicity shot for a stripper—usually, they're much less clothed!

A rare type of publicity shot for a stripper—usually, they're much less clothed. But I like it a lot!

Did Lotta Crabtree make Abe Lincoln smile?

It’s certain that she did. And who was she? The most successful and famous actress in America from the 1860s until 1892, when she retired at the age of 45 to paint, read, tour Europe and museums, help animals (she was sometimes seen putting hats on horses), give to charity, and smoke her trademark thin black cigars (not considered a ladylike habit back then). She also liked to wear men’s clothes onstage, and sometimes off-stage as well.

But before we get to Lotta, let’s talk a little about Lincoln and actors…

The other night on PBS there was a show entitled “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln” which portrayed both Lincoln and his murderer, the actor John Wilkes Booth. But this otherwise well-produced documentary was lacking in one respect: it never touched on the terrible irony that Lincoln, who was shot by an actor, had a real admiration and fondness for thespians and entertained many of them at the White House. He and Mrs. Lincoln, who was a huge theater fan too, regularly attended shows when they settled into the White House.

One of the commentators on the PBS program argued that John Wilkes Booth was both a successful actor and not a madman, but the final impression was that his stage career had basically tanked with the start of the Civil War because he was too warped by anti-Northern rage to pursue it, and that whatever sanity he might have had earlier in life was lost in his derangement of hatred for Lincoln. So he had been successful once, and he had been sane, but he sounded neither by the end of the war, and he was certainly a world-class loser by the time of the assassination.

If actors are required to have an understanding of human nature in order to properly practice their craft, then by his deed of murder Booth showed himself seriously lacking in this regard. He thought he was going to be acclaimed as a hero for killing Lincoln, as if he were enacting in real life the part of a modern-day Brutus ridding his country of a dictator; but in fact most people turned on Booth in revulsion and horror. In the end, you might say his final self-scripted “role” got the worst possible reviews and showed his “talent” in all its true miniscule dimensions.

But let us go back now to the earlier days of the war, when Lincoln’s famously melancholy nature might have sought respite in the performances of the “Nation’s Darling” of the time, “Miss Lotta, the San Francisco Favorite.”

In her famous role as "Little Nell"...

In her famous role as "Little Nell"...

Born in 1847 in New York City, Lotta and her mother went out west when Lotta’s father tried his hand at the California Gold Rush. Mr. and Mrs. Crabtree ended up running boarding houses, but one of their neighbors was Lola Montez, famous actress, entertainer, and lover of remarkable men, who had been the toast of Europe but was now living a more quiet life in Grass Valley, California.

This image captures the romantic myth of Lola Montez, enchantress...

This image captures the romantic myth of Lola Montez, enchantress...

A photo of Lola in 1853, around the time she met Lotta.

A photo of Lola in 1853, around the time she met Lotta.

Lola liked little red-haired Lotta and taught her how to dance and sing and ride horseback, and soon Lotta was entertaining the miners at gold rush camps, places with names like Rough and Ready. When the miners threw coins and gold nuggets through the smoke-filled air in appreciation of Lotta’s numbers, Mrs. Crabtree scooped them up.

At the dawn of her career...

At the dawn of her career...

As the years went by, those nuggets and shekels began to amass into a fortune as Lotta became the Shirley Temple of the 1850s. Even when she got older, she was petite and could play younger, and she became famous for such roles in plays like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Pet of the Petticoats. But often plays were just skimpy frameworks for her music, comedy, and dancing.

The New York Times raved about her: “The face of a beautiful doll and the ways of a playful kitten, no one could wriggle more suggestively than Lotta.” Critics had praised her as everything from mischievous to rattle-brained, teasing to rollicking, unpredictable to devilish.

Lotta was most beloved for her vivacious personality, dancing talent, humor, songs and sauciness instead of for being a dramatic actress. Famous for her double entendres, her ankles, her ability to play multiple comic roles in a single show, and songs like “The Captain with His Whiskers Gave a Sly Wink at Me,” Lotta sounds like a combination of the young Debbie Reynolds (or Mitzi Gaynor, who played Lotta in a rather fictionalized 1951 biopic called
Golden Girl), Mae West, and Carol Burnett.

A 1950s book about Lotta aimed at school-age kids...

Many of her songs and dances during her child star days were Irish in origin, since many of the miners were Irish. She danced the jig and dressed in a green coat, knee breeches, and a tall green hat. Her mentor Lola Montez, despite her name and reputation as a “Spanish” dancer, was actually Irish, and had taught these skills to Lotta.

Although a very attractive young woman who inspired admiration and zeal in the randy young fellows of her time—sometimes they unhitched the horses and dragged her in her carriage to the theater themselves!—Lotta was not afraid to appear in zany comical guises:

Her career rose to its first peak during the Civil War, and as she traveled across the country, it was inevitable that President Lincoln would see her. In a 1911 New York Times article about show folks still alive who had met and knew Lincoln, Lotta is described in this way:

“Miss Crabtree—she never married, despite the fact that she might have had the pick among a host of eligibles for the choosing—is still a vivacious and very attractive woman in her sixty-fourth year, mistress of a large fortune of her own upbuilding, and yet in possession of much of the personal magnetism which made her so irresistible in her younger days. Her memory is a precious storehouse, filled with the record of her social and dramatic triumphs, and there is nothing in it more sacred to her than her recollections of many pleasant hours spent in companionship with the Lincolns at the White House.”

Lotta’s mother, Mary Ann, was an astute manager of her daughter’s career, and she saw to it that Lotta’s money was well-invested in such things as real estate, bonds, and race horses. By 1875 Lotta traveled with her own stage company, rare in those days when lead actors hired locally-based supporting casts when they arrived in a town. Also in 1875 she built a famous fountain in San Francisco that later became a meeting place for survivors of the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. The fountain still stands at Market and Kearney Streets.

Lotta was very close to her mother, and attributed much of her success in life to Mary Ann. When her mother died in 1905, she would never again live in the beautiful New Jersey cottage they’d shared. Since Lotta never married, some folks said her mother had somehow interfered in her romantic life, putting career above all else, but still there was enough speculation about her admirers to fill a 1883 feature in the New York Times entitled “The Loves of Lotta.”

After Mary Ann’s death, Lotta bought a hotel in Boston and lived there for many years, but ultimately died in New York in 1924 at the age of 76. She had a personal fortune of two million dollars, and left an estate worth four million, which was distributed to help everybody from poverty-stricken actors, disabled World War One veterans, discharged convicts, animals, and farmers. In fact, over the decades since her death her legacy has enabled many farmers to get interest-free loans to start up their own farms. “It is my belief,” she said in her will, “that the best method to reduce the cost and expense of living and to provide a generally more prosperous and larger employment for the people lies in the intelligent and active promotion of agriculture.”

Warm-hearted, funny, charitable, compassionate, beloved—Lotta Crabtree sounds a lot like Abe Lincoln. One hopes they occasionally bump into each other in heaven.

The eternity of maternity…

The genial archivists over at Vintage Scans posted a 1955 advertising image from Esquire magazine that is sexier than fifty Sports Illustrated swimwear issues…I must borrow it and rhapsodize about it here…

And they say the 1950s were "repressed"...

And they say the 1950s were "repressed"..

I’m trying to imagine the meeting of the presumably British advertising men who came up with this one. “Let’s give her Betty Grable’s legs, seamed stockings, a see-through skirt, and the handsomest bobby in town to see her across the street.” But what is also striking to me is how nice this gorgeous woman looks, like the essence of Audrey Hepburn.

The cynic in me feels that a severe Oedipus complex would seem a foregone conclusion if you were raised by a mother like this…but my inner optimist can also imagine a charmed life in the golden glow of a dazzling maternal aura never diminished in its lingering warmth, providing sustenance long into the future.

A kind mother is a gift divine.

The exquisite Sistine Madonna, by Raphael.

The king who might have been a cuckold!

Candaules was the King of Lydia from 735-718 BC. How he surrendered his throne is a matter of dispute.

Some say he lost it in a battle with Gyges, a Cimmerian warlord, and committed suicide. But the story told by the historian Herodotus, which may be true, or a legend, or even cribbed from a lost piece of Greek dramatic literature, is far more interesting. Herodotus said that Candaules shamed his wife Nyssia by revealing her nakedness to one of his officers, also known as Gyges…

Candaules told Gyges to peek at Nyssia while she disrobed for bed...

Candaules told Gyges to peek at Nyssia while she disrobed for bed...

According to Herodotus, Candaules was very fond of Gyges, a member of his bodyguard. He discussed the business of state with him, and also boasted about how beautiful Nyssia was. He wanted to prove this point conclusively, and insisted that Gyges take a peek at her as she prepared to get into bed with Candaules. “Don’t worry, she’ll never see you. Just watch her put her clothes on the chair, and then slip away.”

Unfortunately, Nyssia did see Gyges, out of the corner of her eye—but she said nothing, and simply got into bed with Candaules for the night.

A medieval plate illustrates the story. Can you imagine eating bread and cheese off this?

A Renaissance Italian plate illustrates the story. Can you imagine eating bread and cheese off this?

It was a different matter the next morning, though. Nyssia sent for Gyges—a normal occurrence as he was a member of the palace staff—and told him she knew he had seen her. “And here is your choice,” she said. “Either kill Candaules, take his throne, and me as your queen; or die for your impudence in spying on me.”

“But the king insisted!” said Gyges. “I could not refuse.”

“Such mindless obedience is not to be trusted. You know the customs of our people; how a woman, any woman, is shamed merely by seeing her husband naked! How much greater a shame is it for a woman to be seen naked, and how even greater is the dishonor inflicted on me, your queen, by looking upon what is not yours! But it can be yours if you kill the royal fool who has disgraced me, and himself.”

After more fruitless debate, Gyges realized he had no choice. Nyssia could summon her minions, and he would perish. He did not want to kill Candaules, but he also did not want to die. He agreed to assassinate his king. Nyssia gave him a knife, and hid him in the same spot where he had previously peeped at her. Presumably, the same nightly routine ensued, although Herodotus does not say if Gyges got to see Nyssia naked this time as well. She disrobed and got into bed. When Candaules was asleep, she beckoned to Gyges, and he thrust the knife into Candaules.

Thus ended the Heraclid dynasty of Candaules, and began the Mermnadae line of Gyges. A more interesting story than just another bloody battle, hmm?

Here is a meatier Nyssia, courtesy of Victorian artist William Etty.

Here is a meatier Nyssia, courtesy of Victorian artist William Etty; her cellulite is his era's symbolism for the pampered, high-born life.

“Candaulism” is an obscure term for the desire to show off one’s partner to a third party. It is related to “cuckoldism,” which of course is the desire to actually see one’s partner having sex with a third party. Although the stakes are rarely as high as a kingdom, it can be a very risky fantasy to fulfill. The woman might like the other guy better, and leave…

There are various explanations about why a man would want to see his woman displayed to another man. Some say it’s a manifestation of latent homosexuality, in that the first man is using the woman as a “proxy” for himself–that he actually wishes he were the woman being displayed, to arouse the desire of the second man. The repressed homosexual angle could be manifested in another way, too–as a substitute for having sex with the second man, the erotic focus is put on a woman that the men “share” at least in the visual sense.

But here’s a third angle to consider, a heterosexual one. Men admire women in the various expressions of their beauty, so why not simply wish to share a splendid natural phenomenon with another man? It could almost be a brotherly sort of thing. “Isn’t Nyssia gorgeous?” Candaules might have said to Gyges the next day, if things hadn’t turned out the way they did. “Didn’t you like the shape of her breasts? Her bottom? Didn’t it warm your heart that such beauty exists in the world?”

To carry the idea further: a man can admire watching his woman play tennis, or work in her garden, or do her professional job. Why is curiosity about watching her as a spectator in the act of sex so bizarre then? It is only our societal inhibitions which judge it so. Indeed, we know how in our digital age, with easy recording available, that there has been an explosion of men recording their women in the act of sex…so perhaps if Candaules were around today, and in tune with modern kinkiness, he might have the desire to focus a digicam on the exquisite sight of his Nyssia mounting another man…or a woman…or a she-male. (Just thinking out loud here.)

On the other hand, getting back to the main story, Candaules could have been just showing off at Gyges’ expense, or trying to offset his otherwise chummy relationship with the officer by giving him a reminder of just who was king, and who got to sleep with that lovely queen. Or maybe Candaules had had a spat with Nyssia, and was sadistically trying to shame her for his own secret satisfaction–which unfortunately for him turned out to be not so secret.

In the first painting, by the French artist Jean-Leon Gerome, as well as in the second painting by Etty, Candaules looks young but slightly effeminate in his gestures and positioning. In the Etty, he looks strong and buff like the gladiator movie actor of the 1960s, Steve Reeves, but arranged in the traditional position of a female odalisque out of a 19th century academic harem painting! Meanwhile, Gyges looks like one of the hairier characters in a Flash Gordon serial of the 1930s, I can’t remember which. Was it Thun? Or a Viking.

I think the implication in these canvases is that Candaules was not quite the right type of territorial-minded hetero brute necessary to keep a hot number like Nyssia under his thumb.

In contrast, the plate from the Italian Renaissance (circa 1540-1550, as posted by Marion del Okes on Flickr) shows Gyges as a virile young lover, struck by Cupid’s arrow because he has been stupidly introduced to the naked Nyssia by a much older looking Candaules. It’s more like a ribald story of “a fool and his riches are easily parted”…

Well, if they were to make this anecdote into a movie, whom would you cast? Classic movie buff that I am, I reach into the past for Susan Hayward, who so memorably played another steely-nerved aristocrat, Roman temptress Messalina, in the 1954’s Demetrius and the Gladiators. She was also great–and spied on while disrobing–in 1951’s David and Bathsheba.

These mad Caesars get so tiresome...

"These mad Caesars get so tiresome..."

"A hunk like this makes palace life more interesting!"

"A hunk like this makes palace life more interesting!"

gladiators, sex, lunacy, and Julie Newmar dancing!

The movie that has it all: slavegirls, gladiators, Caligula, Anne Bancroft, lunacy, and Julie Newmar dancing!

Yep, this tough-as-nails redhead from Brooklyn could have done a bang-up job with Nyssia. Paging Miss Hayward in heaven! Call your agent…

It wasn't just that they had faces then; they had great scowls!!

She could also tease the jelly out of modern men in pictures like 1949's House of Strangers. Look for it on DVD!

Busty babes of 1955!

If you want to travel back in time in a horny fashion via the medium of a magazine (and you are 18 years of age or older), check out the March 2009 issue of GALLERY, which features the latest installment of my column, The Horny Time Traveler. It will be hitting the stands momentarily.

You'll see it wrapped in plastic on the stands. That's because it comes with a DVD, too.

You'll see it wrapped in plastic on the stands. That's because it comes with a DVD, too.

In this issue’s installment, we travel back to 1955 via two editions of a classic men’s magazine called NIGHT AND DAY. You’ll see reproductions of pictorials featuring sizzling 50s babes like Abbe Lane, Eve Meyer, and Brigitte Bardot. (Below are not the clippings used in the article, but a few pix I found on the Web to illustrate this blog post.)

Abbe Lane was an international sensation, the very definition of a 50s "thrush," as singers were called then.

Abbe Lane was an international sensation, the very definition of a 50s "thrush," as singers were called then.

The late Eve Meyer got more mileage of four opened buttons than most models today get out of a bikini...

The late Eve Meyer got more mileage of four opened buttons than most models today get out of a bikini...

Here is Miss Bardot at the Cannes film festival...

Here is Miss Bardot at the Cannes film festival...

In this issue’s column, you’ll see the first tv horror hostess Vampira with a shaved head, long before such shearing became fashionable; and you’ll learn why Abbe Lane, the young Jewish girl singer from Brooklyn, New York, who married the older Latin band leader Xavier Cugat, was rated as the “Total Woman” by the NIGHT AND DAY editorial board. You’ll gaze at an image of busty singer/actress Meg Myles, one of NIGHT AND DAY’s most popular covergirls…

Meg gained immortality in the cult classic Satan in High Heels!

Meg gained immortality in the cult classic Satan in High Heels!

…and you’ll learn from the words of a top burlesque agent the qualifications for being a stripteaser in 1955, and how much a newbie peeler could expect to make. And you’ll also read about a “posture teacher” who criticized Marilyn Monroe for slouching and not wearing a girdle!

Vampira was tv's pioneer horror movie hostess!

Vampira was tv's pioneer horror movie hostess!

The column also gives a sampling of ads from 1955 for everything from radio and tv repair schools to lingerie to lonely hearts clubs, as well as a roundup of the general trends in the American world of 1955. And of course this issue of GALLERY has much more—pictorials of pretty gals like their signature “Girls Next Door” (aka GND), as well as interviews with creative folks like Gregory McDonald, the 100,000,000-copy bestselling author of the Fletch and Flynn mystery series, and a profile of the producers of Spike-TV’s outrageous show “MANswers.” Ever wonder what animal has a vagina most like a human female’s? The MANswers team gives you the lowdown in the March 2009 issue of GALLERY, edited with flair by David J. Evans!

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If you want to find out more general info about my column, read the “Who I Am” page. Thanks!