Erotic literature: the most famous books in history

Tuesday, 08 February 2022

For many people, erotic literature was born with the novels that make up the saga started by 50 Shades of Grey , the famous work of the British writer EL James. All those people are wrong. Literature with erotic content is almost as old as the world and if it has not had more presence throughout the centuries it has been due to the effect that a devastating word has had on it: censorship.

Eroticism, always linked to our culture, has served as a theme and inspiration for artistic creation. If we take a look at the past, we will see many sculptures, paintings and, of course, many erotic books .

One of the oldest examples that we can find of this type of literature is found in Ancient Egypt. It was there that the so-called Turin erotic papyrus was written. Why from Turin? Because it is in the Egyptian Museum of this Italian city where this document is exhibited and preserved. The Turin papyrus is not part of a historical corpus of erotic novels (no story is told in it) but we cannot ignore it in this brief history since it shows us, as if it were a treatise, a wide range of sexual positions.

erotic tales

Origins of erotic literature

Many experts in this type of literature maintain that its origin must be sought in Ancient Greece. It was there, around 400 BC, that Aristophanes, one of the most famous playwrights, wrote Lysistrata .

Lysistrata is considered the first work in which eroticism and, with it, sex, directly influence the development of the plot. What is this one about? How Athenian women, led by Lysistrata, decide to go on a "sex strike" and deprive their husbands of their routine ration of sex. What do they want with it? Accelerating the end of a war that had already lasted too long and was causing great pain to the population.

Along with Aristophenes, the satirical poet Sotades is another of the authors whose name should not be forgotten when we talk about authors of erotic books in Greece. Sótades' obscene verses were very famous in his time and even cost him jail.

Among all that was written by Sótades, The Dialogues of the Courtesans should be highlighted. This book came to be considered pure pornography in its day. In this erotic reading , the term lesbianism appeared for the first time. Sótades already introduced it in him to refer to female homosexuality.

The Romans, culturally so similar to the Greeks, also left several titles for the history of erotic literature. Authors such as Catullus, Martial, Plautus or Juvenal left for tomorrow some other noteworthy fragment or work. To them we can add the so-called Priapeans, some intensely erotic (not to say obscene) poems dedicated to the god Priapus.

The Golden Ass , by Apuleius; The Art of Loving , by Ovid and The Satyricon, by Petronius; These are three works that could be considered typical of erotic literature.

It is not possible to speak of this genre in Antiquity without referring to the Eastern countries and, also, to those that were part of Islam. In China, for example, we can find educational manuals on sexual practice. In India, on the other hand, the Kama Sutra stands out above all. This erotic book is famous all over the world. There are many people who think that it is a manual of erotic positions, but it is much more: it is a complete compendium specialized in the love arts that brings together a good handful of techniques and advice.

On the other hand, in the countries that were part of the Muslim culture we find three capital titles: the Ananga Ranga , The Perfumed Garden and The Thousand and One Nights .

Origin erotic literature

Erotic novels of the Middle Ages and Modern

We have previously mentioned the importance of censorship in the evolution of this type of literature. There is a historical moment in which the influence of this factor becomes capital: the Middle Ages. During the time it lasted, the Church made sex a sin and condemned eroticism to the catacombs.

Eroticism was barely visible in the works of what has been called "courtly love" and was reflected in a very timid way in works such as those of Chrétien de Troyes or Dante 's Divine Comedy .

It would be the Renaissance that brought a revival of erotic literature. For this, Bocaccio had to arrive and write his Decameron . The irreverence of some of the erotic tales written in it caused this work to be banned in many countries. Some centuries later, already in the 20th century, in countries like England or the United States, their destruction was ordered.

If there is a country that, in the Modern Age, became a producer and consumer of erotic literature, that country is France. Authors such as Margarita de Navarra, Antoine de la Sale, Rabelais, or Pierre de Ronsard, for example, gave special impetus to this type of literature.

It was also given to him by Pierre de Brantôme. This author speaks in his works of cunnilingus, lesbian practices and certain forms of sadomasochism. Many authors have seen in the work of this writer the one who was to be the author of some of the most famous erotic novels in all of history: the Marquis de Sade.

The always scandalous and always libertine and irreverent Marquis de Sade must be assigned the authorship of masterpieces of erotic literature such as 120 days of Sodom or Justine .

England, not to be outdone by France, also incubated its own authors of works of this type. John Cleland, with his novel Fanny Hill , would be one of his immortal contributions. Not surprisingly, the aforementioned work is one of the most famous erotic novels in history.

The weight of the hypocritical English Victorian morality meant that many works had to circulate clandestinely from hand to hand. To protect themselves, many authors renounced the right to sign their works and they circulated anonymously. Of all the names of the authors of those little works, James Berttram and George Cannon have come down to us.

erotic novel

Erotic books in the 19th and 20th centuries

The XIX century is the quintessential century of romanticism. Among the great literary production published throughout the world (and especially on the European continent) romantic erotic books could not be missing. As we said at the beginning of the article, EL James has not invented this type of narrative.

Among the books published in the 19th century, it is worth mentioning La Venus de las pieles . Its author, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, is at the origin of the term "masochism". BDSM , as in the works of Sade , is present throughout the novel. So is bondage , bondage, submission, and even spanking. This novel, however, never ceases to be a romantic story because it is also the story of a passionate love.

Already well into the 20th century, we can find various masterpieces of erotic literature of all time. Among them we can highlight the following:

  • Lady Chatterley's Lover , by DHLawrence.
  • The Story of the Eye , by Georges Bataille .
  • Story of O , by Pauline Réage.
  • Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn , by Henry Miller .
  • Delta of Venus and Diary s, by Anaïs Nin.

In recent years, the publication of the epistolary work The Passion of Mademoiselle S , by an unknown author, is also noteworthy.

To speak of erotic literature in the 21st century is to speak of an effervescent genre. There are many authors who have launched to write novels on this subject. Melissa Paranello, for example, with her work The Hundred Blows is one of them. Valérie Tasso, with her Diary of a Nymphomaniac , another.

The lover of erotic narrative, thus, is in good luck. The material you have at your disposal is a lot. You can even get it online. Just click on PDF erotic books in the search engine to access many of them. Those we have named here are, without a doubt, among the essentials of the genre.

erotic books