Readings — From the September 2016 issue

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From The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, a fourteenth-century encyclopedia by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri, an Egyptian scholar. The book was published this month by Penguin Classics. Translated from the Arabic by Elias Muhanna.

Take equal parts of carrot seed, arugula seed, autumn crocus, and cottonseed kernels, and knead them together in elecampane water or arugula water. A suppository can be made out of that, and it will raise a mighty erection.

Take one dirham’s worth of the scorched skin of a jackal, the scorched hooves of a goat, the scorched hoof of a donkey, scorched thorn apple, a scorched sea crab, scorched polypody, and Persian thyme, and grind them all to a fine powder. Knead it in ben-tree oil and let it refine. Then the woman may administer it as a suppository with the weight of two carob grains. This will tighten the vagina so that the woman becomes like a virgin.

Take some elephant urine and give it to the woman to drink without her knowing what it is. Then have sexual intercourse with her. With God’s permission, she will become pregnant.

Take the head of a black crow and scoop out its brain. In place of the brain, put some dirt taken from the spot where the woman whom you seek sits, and also a little detritus from the bath, along with seven grains of barley. Bury the crow’s head in the ground, in a moist place. Once the barley grows to the height of four fingers, take some of it and rub it on your hand, wipe it on your face and forearms, and then approach the woman without speaking to her. She will chase after you and will not be able to live without you.

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