Often times, during my perambulations about campus, I am accosted and questioned about various topics ranging from neuroscience to Neo-Platonism. I have never begrudged a fellow academe his curiosity, and so I am not surprised that I have accrued a modest reputation for my cross-disciplinary erudition and literary acumen. And so, for this most sensual issue of the Nassau Weekly, I was obviously chosen by the editors to write a brief history of masturbation. I cannot say that I have ever engaged in the practice myself, as a weakened liver has forbade me from participating in all sports, cooperative or otherwise. I have read my fair share of histories, however, from Josephus to Ptolemy, and I have more than a trifling acquaintance with the back-story of this our most Godless habit. And so, without further preface, a brief history of self-love:
As with any ancient practice, it is nigh impossible to state the origin of masturbation with any certainty. That being said, masturbatory scholars (hereafter referred to by their professional title: philosophers) tend to divide themselves into two camps, each claiming a different historical origin as unquestionably accurate. By far the most widely-held view is what we insiders commonly call the “Pharaoh’s Phunny Phallus” theorem. The reader will have to forgive the scholarly community its penchant for punnery.
This theory claims that Pharaoh Aminhotep III was the first human (the debate as to whether Pharaohs are human or divine I will address in a forthcoming article) to ever achieve orgasm through the use of his own hand. An ancient mural depicting the Pharaoh clutching his genitals, unearthed in Cairo in the mid-19th century, was for years interpreted as an instructional tablet illustrating proper table manners, the phallus understood as a saltshaker. This misunderstanding was corrected when a young Egyptian boy, looking at the mural in a museum, said (and I translate from the original Egyptian): “That’s a funny penis.” Archaeologists and Egyptologists were quickly summoned, and a month-long summit concluded in the official statement, pronounced on October 13th, 1867: “After much frank analysis and open debate, we the members of the 112th archaeological summit have found that the saltshaker is, in point of fact, a phallus.” There is some debate amongst followers of the PPP theory even to this day, however, as there is no definitive information as to whether the Pharaoh stroked himself of his own accord, or whether he had a team of slaves moving his hand up and down for him. Slaves were, we must remember, in great abundance in ancient Egypt.
The second, more recently developed theory is the one to which I ascribe. In our third oldest surviving copy of the Babylonian Talmud, there is a portion of Gemarah that is quite striking. The Babylonian Talmud dates back to the 6th century, and the Mishnah contained within could date back to the very beginnings of the Diaspora. In one section of Gemarah, two Rabbis (whose names have long been lost to the sands of time) engage in debate over the rights of men to divorce infertile women. One rabbi (and I translate from the original Hebrew) writes: “In concerning the afflicted woman’s rights, there is no doubt that a diminished status of humanity should be afforded her.” The other rabbi retorts: “You masturbate profusely.” To which the first rabbi responds, in a Talmudic quote that has been the subject of much attention in Yeshivas since time immemorial: “All Jews masturbate all the time. Always.” This clear statement represents to me the oldest verifiable evidence of masturbation performed frequently within a particular historical community. I thusly attribute the birth of self-strokery to the Jews of old.
In subsequent installations of this series of articles, I will discuss the major historical ejaculations from the grandiose “Great Spurting of Genghis Kahn” to the subtle “Stroke of Napoleon Across the Collective Russian Ego;” we will see how a shift in hand-style sparked a debate which would eventually lead to the Protestant Reformation; the impact of quantum mechanics on the morality of masturbation will be fully analyzed, and later in the year I will engage in a discussion of that most perplexing work of the late 18th century, Kant’s Critique of Practical Emission. I hope to settle, once and for all, the parameters of influence that this grotesquely beautiful act has exerted upon the development of human civilization.