Cultural Evolution of Spanish Beauty

Many people, especially anthropologists, want to know if the characteristics of beauty are cross-culturally universal or they are culturally specific to certain nations.  The attributes of special scholarly interest are people’s physicality, including various features of their faces and bodies. Anthropologists examine the shape and complexion of bodies, the physiognomy, and the expressiveness of faces.

Both biological and cultural evolution play vital roles in the formation of physicality, appearance, and beauty in a specific culture. Let us consider the case of Spanish nationality, which developed based on the considerable mixing of many cultural and physical types of people who came to Spain in various periods of history.

A Cultural Mix Favored Spanish Beauty

Spain has an unusually happy mixture of nationalities of various origins. As Henry Finck noted, the goddess of beauty blended the national colors that comprise the Spanish type of physical appearance. It was a vital factor contributing to Spanish beauty.

As an English historian, Edward Freeman (1823–1892), noted in the late 19th century, when Spain was added to the Roman dominion,

“the only one of the great countries of Europe where the mass of the people were not of the Aryan stock. The greater part of the land was still held by the Iberians, as a small part is even now by their descendants the Basques. But in the central part of the peninsula Celtic tribes had pressed in, and … there were some Phœnician colonies in the south, and some Greek colonies on the east coast. In the time between the first and second Punic Wars, Hamilcar, Hasdrubal, and Hannibal had won all Spain as far as the Ebro for Carthage.”

(As cited in Henry Finck, 1887/2019, p. 516).

Adding blood from ancient civilizations like Rome and Greece to the original Spanish stock have been obviously advantageous.

The Goths, Vandals, Suevi, and Moors were among the other nations that successively conquered Spain. Large numbers of Jews and Gypsies also immigrated to Spain. In the 19th century, there were still about 50,000 Gypsies.

Most of these cultures had some beneficial physical traits that evolutionary sexual selection picked up on and passed on. The mixing of races, on the other hand, neutralized and eliminated some of the evolutionary disadvantages in physical characteristics.

And it’s important to remember that this mixing of nations happened very long ago. So it’s no longer a physical mix of different physical types but rather a true “chemical” or physiological fusion. Dissonances and oddities are less likely to occur in Spain as a result of this long story of Spanish cultural evolution. That is a different evolutionary stage than in countries where the mixing of cultures happened more recently.

How Did Different Cultures Shape Spanish Beauty?

Romans, Greeks, Moors, Vandals, Goths, Suevi, Jews, and Gypsies have all contributed to the formation of the Spanish physical type of beauty.

The Goths contributed their robust vigor and masculinity. Gypsies added their intense qualities as brunettes. Arabs contributed their oval faces, dark skin tones, and straight lines separating the nose and forehead. Besides, the Arab impact was evident in small mouths, white teeth, glossy, dark hair, delicate extremities, and gracefully arched feet. And most importantly, their black eyes and long black eyelashes also added to the Spanish physical type of beauty.

So, this evolutionary mixing of various physical types can explain why modern Spaniards are so beautiful.

The Chivalrous Poetry of German Minstrels

The cultural concept of chivalry describes the social norms that medieval knights were expected to uphold in their interactions with women. These ideals of chivalry and standards of chivalrous conduct gave rise to a new romantic culture. Historians frequently refer to courtly love as the cradle of romantic ideals (Karandashev, 2017).

During that time, chivalric ideals and courtly love became popular in many European countries, including Spain, France, and Germany.

All over Europe, the fascinating chivalry tales of the Middle Ages popularized courtly love. Stories like Don Quixote’s from Spain and Ulrich von Lichtenstein’s from Germany were among them. These tales depicted noble chivalry and the beauty of courtly love. Other examples of poetry, songs, and folklore of medieval European societies also made important contributions to the history of romantic ideas of love. Some of these were the poems about knights by the German minnesinger and the Provencal troubadours. These examples demonstrate how the history and psychology of love in these countries were similar in some ways while being different in others. Here, I take a quick look at what Henry Finck (1887/2019) says about the chivalrous poetry of German minnesingers.

Who Were the German Minstrels

The German wandering minstrels, like their French counterparts, the troubadours, belonged primarily to the aristocracy. They gave their addresses primarily to married women. In both cases, of the German minstrels and French troubadours, the rigid chaperonage of the young was a reason. Since men were not allowed to make love properly, they did it improperly. However, the Minnesingers, at least in verse, were less amorous than the Troubadours. However, the minnesingers, at least in verse, were less amorous than the troubadours.

What German Minstrel Songs Were About

As American music historian Louis Elson (1900/2015) commented in his History of German Song:

“The Troubadour praised the eyes, the hair, the lips, the form of his chosen one; the Minnesinger praised the sweetness, the grace, the modesty, the tenderness of the entire sex. The one was concrete, the other abstract.”

However, abstractness is not a desirable quality in poetry, the essence of which is concrete imagery. As a result, with a few exceptions, the German Minnesingers are not poets on par with their French counterparts. Friedrich Schiller, a German poet of the 18th century, was very critical of these early writers. Schiller once remarked to a friend,

“If the sparrows on the roof ever undertake to write, or to issue an almanac of love and friendship,” he once remarked to a friend, “I would wager ten to one it would be just like these songs of love.”

“What a dearth of concepts in these songs! A garden, a tree, a hedge, a forest, and a sweetheart are just a few of the things that can be found in a sparrow’s head. Then there are fragrant flowers, mellow fruits, twigs on which a bird sits in the sunshine and sings, and spring comes and winter goes, and nothing remains but ennui.”

This criticism of Schiller, however, was too broad. There were notable exceptions to these sparrow-poets. One of them was Johannes Hadlaub, a Minnesinger of the 14th century. As Wilhelm Scherer, a German historian of literature, described him in his History of German Literature,

“He introduces human figures into his descriptions of scenery, and shows us, for example, in the summer, a group of beautiful ladies walking in an orchard, and blushing with womanly modesty when gazed at by young men.”

Then, Wilhelm Scherer compared the challenges of love to those of hardworking men such as charcoal-burners and carters.

“Hadlaub tells us more of his personal experiences than any other Minnesinger. Even as a child, we learn, he had loved a little girl, who, however, would have nothing to say to him, but continually flouted him, to his great distress. Once she bit his hand, but her bite, he says, was so tender, womanly, and gentle, that he was sorry the feeling of it passed away so soon. Another time, being urged to give him a keepsake, she threw her needle-case at him, and he seized it with sweet eagerness, but it was taken from him and returned to her, and she was made to give it him in a friendly manner. In later years his pains still remained unrewarded; when his lady perceived him, she would get up and go away. Once, he tells us, he saw her fondling and kissing a child, and when she had gone he drew the child towards him and embraced it as she had embraced it, and kissed it in the place where she had kissed it.”

How Minstrel Songs Changed Over Time

The differences between the earlier and later Minnesongs indicate a gradual change in the social and amorous position of women. As Professor Scherer observes in the early poems, “The social supremacy of the noble woman is not yet recognized, and the man woos with proud self-respect.”…

Another rejects a woman who desired his love… A fourth brags about his victories. He claims that “Women are as easily tamed as falcons.” In another song, a woman describes how she tamed a falcon, but he flew away and now wears different chains. …

“In the later Minnesongs it is the women who are proud, and the men who must languish.”

The German folk songs that came after the periods of Minnesotan music show an even more striking change.

“The women of these popular love-songs are not mostly married women; they are, as a rule, young maidens” [at last, pure Romantic Love!] “who are not only praised but also turned to ridicule and blamed. The woes of love do not here arise from the capricious coyness of the fair one, but are called forth by parting, jealousy, or faithlessness. Feeling is stronger than in the Minnesong, and seeks accordingly for stronger modes of expression.”

As Henry Finck (1887/2019) commented in his book, the first appearance of true romantic love in these folk songs was no mere coincidence. Some gifted people from the lower classes composed those folk songs. Among them, chaperonage, as the archenemy of love, was less strict than in the upper classes.

The Gallantry of Chivalry in the Art of Love

The term “chivalry” refers to the rules of behavior that knights in medieval Europe were supposed to follow in their interpersonal relationships. The chivalry of the medieval times brought the gallantry of courtly love as a great romantic invention in the art of love.

Medieval literature popularized chivalric ideals as cultural and moral virtues. Medieval nobles and knights in France, Spain, and Germany quickly adopted chivalrous rules for relationships, such as courtly love (Karandashev, 2017).

Henry Finck wrote that the chivalry of medieval times brought great cultural innovations in the notion of love. The gallantry of chivalry and the art of love were among those (Finck, 1887/2019).

Who Was a Knight-errant?

A common character in medieval chivalric romance literature is the knight-errant. The word “errant” indicates how a knight-errant might travel the countryside in search of adventures. He demonstrated his chivalric virtues in knightly duels or through other pursuits of courtly love.

When Did the Gallantry of Chivalry Become the Art of Love?

The way a knight-errant acted in relationships could be summed up with the phrase “gallantry gone mad.” One could see some hints of gallantry in the writings of the ancient Roman poet Ovid. However, this overtone of love could be heard clearly and loudly only in the age of medieval chivalry. The gallant behavior was “contagious” like fashion. The novel idea of gallant behavior toward women became very popular among these knights. They carried it to the most ridiculous extremes.

Women were unaccustomed to such devotion. Therefore, they developed extravagant coyness in equal measure to that of the men. They put this gallantry through the craziest, cruelest tests possible.

The knights of medieval times were sent to battle, to the crusades, and into the dens of wild animals to test their devotion. Few knights of that time were as manly as the one in the ballad of Friedrich Schiller, a German playwright and poet of the 18th century. Schiller’s literary knight, after retrieving his lady’s glove from the lion’s den, threw it in her face instead of accepting her willing favors. Wolfram von Eschenbach, a German knight and poet of medieval German literature, bitterly accuses this art of love of causing the deaths of many noble knights in reference to these coy and cruel tests of gallantry.

The Romantic Value of the Knights’ Trials and Procrastinations

One can see some absurdities in the medieval traditions of chivalry and gallantry. Nevertheless, the knights’ trials and procrastinations had a positive value. Those acts delaying love satisfaction gave the feelings of love a supersensual and imaginative basis. When the troubadour love-poetry became popular in Austria, Gotthold Bötticher said of “Parzival,” a medieval romance by the knight-poet Wolfram von Eschenbach:

“it was especially the idea of Minnedienst (love-service) that was seized upon with avidity: the knight wooes and labours for a woman’s love, but she holds back and grants no favours until after a long trial-service. The final object of this service, the possession of the beloved, is regarded as quite subordinate to the pangs and pleasures of wooing and waiting.”

Gotthold Bötticher

Certainly, the notions and rituals of love have evolved to a significant novelty. And fashion greatly aided the innovation. The sentiment was that “whoever is not in the service of love is unworthy to be a courtier.” Thus, the boors — unrefined and ill-mannered people who would prefer to continue treating women as servants — had to put on the yoke of gallantry in order to be “fashionable.”

Love in the Aryan Caste Culture

In scholarly literature, the term “Aryan culture” has frequently referred to the “Indo-European” cultures of the past associated with ancient Indo-Iranian languages. These prehistoric cultures existed many centuries ago. The Indo-Aryan migration occurred approximately between 2000 and 1500 BCE. The early Aryans were nomad warriors who colonized northern India around 1500 BCE. These ancient people with fair skin settled in Iran and northern India in those times. Initially, the Aryans were hunter-gatherers. As they migrated to India, they learned agriculture and constructed settlements and cities, thereby initiating the Aryan civilization. Literature, religion, and social structure have had a significant impact on Indian culture.

Through the centuries, the Aryan cultures have experienced a very long history of cultural evolution. This evolution has been reflected in social and personal relationships between people. At various epochs of Aryan culture in India, gender relations and the position of women differed greatly, and the attitudes towards love varied substantially.

The Transition of Aryan Culture to Brahminism

The Aryan culture during the period of Indo-Aryan migration in the 2000s–1500s BCE was very conducive to free interpersonal relationships and love in the modern sense. Prior to the introduction of Brahminism, women were held in high regard, granted various privileges, and permitted to engage in free social relations with men. For many Aryans, monogamy was the accepted form of marriage.

However, during the Late Vedic Period (c. 1100-500 BCE), Brahmanism developed as a belief system, asserting that Brahman is the supreme being. Since then, Brahmanism has continued to have a significant impact on Hinduism. The various tenets of Brahmanism influenced the development of Hinduism in India. Brahmanism encouraged inequality and supported the brutalization of the lower classes. They emphasized the elite position of Brahmins. They introduced and maintained the caste system in Indian society.

The Aryan Caste Culture

In Ancient India, the caste system was a very important aspect of the Aryan culture of that period. According to Brahmanism, it was believed that people were born into their caste for the rest of their lives. Their caste determined the work they did, the man or woman they could marry, and the people they could eat with.

 The importance of cleanliness and purity was also emphasized. Those deemed the most impure due to their work as butchers, gravediggers, and trash collectors lived outside the caste structure. They were dubbed “untouchables” because even their presence jeopardized the ritual purity of others. They had no rights and were unable to advance or marry outside of their caste.

According to Schweiger Lerchenfeld (1846–1910), the Austrian scholar familiar with world history, instead of the monogamy of previous centuries, the Brahmins introduced polygamy. They set an example when a person sometimes married an entire family, “old and young, daughters, aunts, sisters, and cousins.” One Brahmin was known to have had 120 wives. In such cultural conditions, a man or a woman subordinated family feelings to caste considerations.

The Strange Cultural Beliefs of Brahmanism on Conjugal Love

The Brahmins also introduced the custom of “Suttee”, the burning alive of widows on the funeral pyre of the deceased husband. It was performed through a sophisticated interpretation of ancient laws. This practice was sometimes viewed as the apogee of conjugal love. However, actually it was merely what modern psychology calls an “epidemic delusion.” This cultural belief represented the poor women who were willing to sacrifice themselves and die in this manner particularly meritorious and voluptuous. On the other hand, those who refused to be immolated were treated as social outcasts. They were not permitted to marry again or adorn themselves in any way.

The Poor Status of Women in the Laws of Manu

The way the laws of Manu, or the Manusmṛiti, also known as the Mānava-Dharmaśāstra describe the roles of women in society demonstrates how badly they were thought of in Indian society of that cultural period. Here are some of the sayings that this book presents:

“A woman is the cause of dishonor, the cause of hatred, and the cause of a boring life. Because of this, women should be avoided. “

“A girl, a young woman, or a wife must never do anything on her own, not even in her own home.”

“A woman should serve her husband her whole life and stay true to him even after she dies. Even if he lies to her, loves someone else, or has no good qualities, a good wife should still respect him as if he were a god, and she shouldn’t do anything to make him unhappy, either in life or after she dies. “

According to the text, the women’s lives got so bad that Indian mothers “often drowned their female children in the sacred streams of India” to protect them from what life had in store for them.

(cited by H. Finck, 1887/2019, p. 77).

As Charles LeTourneau, the 19th century sociologist and ethnographer of Indian culture, commented,

“Hindu laws and manners have been based on the sacred precepts right up to the present day.”

It wasn’t proper for a woman to be able to read or dance. The Bayadere, an Indian courtesan, was to fulfill these futile social duties.

(cited by H. Finck, 1887/2019, p. 77).

Did Love Exist in Ancient Aryan Culture?

The cultural connotations of the word “Aryan” can be different.

Many of us might recall the popular modern name “Aryan.”

Some may think of the word in association with the notion of white racial superiority, which is incorrect.

However, few people are aware that Aryan culture was among the ancient cultures of the past centuries. The references to the cultures associated with Indo-European languages are the most frequent and adequate in this context. Here we talk about true ancient Aryan culture.

What Is Aryan Culture?

“Aryan” is the name originally given to a people who spoke an archaic Indo-European language.

The linguistic origin of the word was in the Sanskrit term “arya” (meaning “noble” or “distinguished”). The word had a social rather than an ethnic meaning. The term “Aryan” was used interchangeably with “Indo-European” and frequently in the meaning of referring to the Indo-Iranian languages.

The Aryan people presumably settled in ancient Iran and the northern Indian subcontinent during prehistoric times. Around 1500 BCE, roughly 500 years after the collapse of the Indus River Valley civilization, Aryan nomad warriors began colonizing northern India. The likely fair-skinned Aryans were the invaders and conquerors of ancient India from the northern territories.

Originally, the Aryans were hunters and herders. When they migrated to the Indian subcontinent, they learned agriculture and began constructing settlements and cities, marking the beginning of Aryan civilization in India. Their literature, religion, and social organization subsequently shaped the development of Indian culture.

What Was the Meaning of Love in Aryan Culture? 

Modern love has bloomed most beautifully among the Aryan or “Indo-Germanic” races in European and American cultures. Therefore, it is intriguing to learn about its prevalence among the Asiatic peoples. They appear to be the closest modern representatives of our distant Aryan ancestors.

Somewhere between 1200 and 1500 years ago, there was a time in Indian history when culture entertained the idea of romantic love.

The Seven Hundred Maxims of Hala is a collection of poetic utterances written by various authors. The texts date back to no further than the 3rd century of our era. It included as many as 16 authors of the female persuasion. They are written in Prakrit, which is a language that is closely related to Sanscrit, and the structure of the words suggests that they were meant to be sung.

This evidence is contained in the Seven Hundred Maxims of Hâla, a collection of poetic utterances dating back not further than the third century of our era and comprising productions by various authors, including as many as sixteen of the female persuasion. They are written in Prâkrit, a sister-language of Sanscrit. Their form indicates that they were intended to be sung. A German indologist, Albrecht Weber (1825–1901), who studied the history of India, commented on this collection in the Deutsche Rundschau, a literary and political periodical of the 19th century:

 “At the very beginning of our acquaintance with Sanscrit literature, towards the end of the last century, it was noticed, and was claimed forthwith as an eloquent proof of antique relationship, that Indian poetry, especially of the amatory kind, is in character remarkably allied to our own modern poetry. The sentimental qualities of modern verse, in one word, were traced in Indian poetry in a much higher degree than they had been found in Greek and Roman literature; and this discovery awakened at once, notably in Germany, a sympathetic interest in a country whose poets spoke a language so well known to our hearts, as though they had been born among ourselves.”

(cited by Henry Finck (1887/2019, p. 74).

What Was Surprising About Ancient Hebrew Love?

Love has been an enduring Hebrew idea since Biblical times. What about romantic love? What do the Old and New Testaments tell us about it?

A Hebrew word for “love” is אהבה (ahavah, pronounced ah-ha-VAH), while a Biblical Hebrew word for “to love” is אהב (ahav, pronounced ah-HAV, with the final bet pronounced as a “v”). It should be noted that “ahavah” and “ahav” denote a broad range of love meanings. A book by Henry Finck (1887/2019), first published more than a century ago, shed some light on this question. Let’s look into it.

Why Did the Bible Not Mention Romantic Love? When you look at a Concordance of the Old and New Testaments, it is surprising to see that there is not a single mention of romantic love in the whole Bible. If ancient Hebrews felt this way, as their descendants do today, it’s clear that it couldn’t have been left out of the Book of Books, which talks so eloquently and poetically about everything else that’s important to people. Conjugal love, which seems to come before romantic love in every country, is often mentioned and encouraged, as are other family ties. However, the word “love” is always used in the rest of the passages to mean religious reverence or respect for a neighbor or an enemy.

The Ancient Hebrews Respected Women. Even more surprising is that there is no mention of romantic love when you consider that ancient Hebrews respected women more than any other ancient or modern Oriental nation. So, Cyclopedia of Biblical and Other Literature by M’Clintock and Strong told us that,

“the seclusion of the harem and the habits consequent upon it were utterly unknown in early times, and the condition of the Oriental woman, as pictured to us in the Bible, contrasts most favourably with that of her modern representative. There is abundant evidence that women, whether married or unmarried, went about with their faces unveiled. An unmarried woman might meet and converse with men, even strangers, in a public place; she might be found alone in the country without any reflection on her character; or she might appear in a court of justice.” The wife “entertained guests at her own desire in the absence of her husband, and sometimes even in defiance of his wishes.”

cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 70.

Since the Hebrew woman was not “the husband’s slave but his companion,” how do we explain the absence of love?

Ancient Hebrew Polygamy

The fact that polygamy was common, which is contrary to the growth of love, sheds some light on the situation. Even though not everyone did it, the Mosaic law did allow polygamy, except for priests.

“The secondary wife was regarded by the Hebrews as a wife, and her rights were secured by law.”

Abraham and Jacob both had more than one wife because their wives asked them to,

“under the idea that children born to a slave were in the eye of the law the children of the mistress.”

Finck, 1887/2019, p. 70.

So, if a woman asks her own husband to get another wife, there must be no jealousy or monopoly in such a relationship. These two parts of romantic love carry over into married love without weakening.

The Liberty of Ancient Hebrew Women

As I noted above, Hebrew women had a lot of freedom to move around alone in towns and in the countryside. However, this probably just means that they could care for sheep and get water at the well.

“From all education in general, as well as from social intercourse with men, woman was excluded; her destination being simply to increase the number of children, and take care of household matters. She lived a quiet life, merely for her husband, who, indeed, treated her with respect and consideration, but without feeling any special tenderness toward her.”

Finck, 1887/2019, p. 70.

Why Did Romantic Love Not Exist in Biblical Times?

This quotation above suggests the main reason for the non-existence of love in Biblical times. The young had no gatherings, no opportunities for courtship, an essential condition of love that requires time and space to develop. But even if they did, the young women and men could not benefit much from them. Both the daughter’s and the son’s choices were neutralized by parental command.

“Fathers from the beginning considered it both their duty and prerogative to find or select wives for their sons (Gen. xxiv. 3; xxxviii. 6). In the absence of the father, the selection devolved upon the mother (Gen. xxi. 21). Even in cases where the wishes of the son were consulted, the proposals were made by the father (Gen. xxxiv. 4, 8); and the violation of this parental prerogative on the part of the son was ‘a grief of mind’ to the father (Gen. xxvi. 35). The proposals were generally made by the parents of the young man, except when there was a difference of rank, in which case the negotiations proceeded from the father of the maiden (Exod. ii. 21), and when accepted by the parents on both sides, sometimes also consulting the opinion of the adult brothers of the maiden (Gen. xxiv. 51; xxxiv. 11), the matter was considered as settled, without requiring the consent of the bride

M‘Clintock and Strong, cited in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 70.

The Cultural History of Erotic Love

The term “erotic” is derived from the Greek word eros (érōs). The ancient Greek word “eros” was first used to describe a desire for beauty and an appreciation of art (Lomas, 2018).

“Erotic love” refers to the perception of a lover’s beloved as a beautiful object worthy of aesthetic admiration. “Erotic love is about aesthetic pleasure, while sexual love is about sensual (sexual) pleasure.” (Karandashev, 2022a). Both are surely interconnected. In sexually stimulating situations, erotic can readily shift to sensual and sexual sensations. These sensations naturally overlap because human emotions are complex.

The cultural concepts of erotic art and literature have been portrayed in painting, sculpture, music, lyrics, dances, theater, and fashion. These artistic mediums convey the aesthetic values of bodily form and motion, facial structure and expression, and musical melody and rhythm.

Throughout the history of art, different cultures have presented erotic art and erotic love in various ways.

Many examples of erotic and pornographic art have been seen throughout history in various cultures, including classical ancient Greece (5th–4th centuries BC), ancient Rome (1st century B.C.–mid-3rd century A.D.), the Chinese Ming dynasty (14th–17th centuries), the Japanese Edo period of Tokugawa (17th–19th centuries), Korean 20th-century culture, early modern Italy, India, and modern Japan (see for review, e.g., Feldman & Gordon, 2006).

Erotic Love in Ancient Greece and Rome

The sexual cultures of pre-Christian Greece and Rome were open. They were artistically and literarily well-developed. Erotic art and sexual pleasure were highly regarded by them.

The Romans were more sexually liberal than people in subsequent Western cultures. The erotic art was proudly displayed in homes and public spaces, displaying wealth and luxury. Artists sold their erotic works to a variety of consumers, including the wealthy and the poor. (Clarke, 1998; Hubbard, ed., 2013; Nussbaum & Sihvola, eds., 2019; Skinner, 2013; Vout, 2013). The depictions of sex, sensuality, and erotica in ancient Greek and Roman art were very explicit. Beautiful bodies, phallic symbols, amorous poses, and sexual situations of their gods were depicted in sculptures and paintings. Scenes of seduction adorned the drinking cups, oil lamps, and walls. Roman painters represented a variety of human sexual interactions between men and women, women and men, threesomes, and foursomes, demonstrating how the ancient concepts of erotic love, sensual love, and sexual love differed from modern cultural models (e.g., Clarke, 1998; Vout, 2013).

Courtesans and their Erotic Love

In many cultures, erotic love was displayed by courtesans, such as hetaeras, tawaifs, and ji-s, who performed their “love” with artistic charm, elegant conversation, and sexual favors to excite the erotic love of men. The art of the courtesans showed erotic love in beautiful ways.

That erotic love was not the same as the sexual love that prostitutes provided to men (or women) to satisfy their lust. That erotic love was not the same as romantic love because it was not sincere and not personal. The courtesans’ behaviors and expressions were just role-played love. It was perfectly displayed, but it was not personal. Throughout history and across many societies, courtesans performed erotic love for money or other material benefits. Many case studies of courtesans’ art of love depicted in historical research have presented examples of erotic art and erotic love (Feldman & Gordon, 2006).

Courtesans’ Love in China and Japan of the Past

For instance, during the late Ming period of the 16th–17th centuries in China, women in these roles actively participated in elite culture. The literary and artistic works of courtesans significantly influenced new standards of beauty, gender roles, and cultural aspirations (Berg, 2009). Another instance is Japanese culture of the past. During the Edo period of Tokugawa in the 17th–19th centuries, Japanese art extensively made the special erotic art of “shunga”—the “laughing pictures” intended to entertain people with amusing pleasure. The shunga literature and art of those times were esthetically erotic rather than pornographic. Nonetheless, in contemporary Japan, shunga is widely considered taboo (Ishigami & Buckland, 2013).

Erotic Love in Cultures Around the World

Many laypeople and academics are interested in sexual and erotic themes. The topics of this kind are related to how people experience and express love.

As I said in another article, love and sex are intimately interconnected and sometimes difficult to distinguish. For their better understanding, several questions should be answered. Among those are: What is sex? What is love? What is sexual love? What is erotic love? I recently explained what erotic love is. Here I talk about erotic love across human cultures.

Erotic Art and Erotic Love

People had sex from the early origins of human evolution. It was natural and biologically embedded in their species. However, erotic love appeared on the scene with the onset of culture.

The cultural ideas of erotic art and literature have been depicted in painting, sculpture, music, songs, dances, theater, and fashion design. These artistic mediums conveyed the aesthetic values of body shape and movement, the structure and expressiveness of the face, and the melody and rhythm of music and singing.

What is “erotic” in erotic love?

In the same way that erotic art does, erotic love characterizes the physical attractiveness of a person and the setting in which they are situated. A person who is feeling erotic love looks at the body with admiration. He or she perceives the beautiful body as “nude” rather than “naked.”

Look at the dictionaries, and you’ll see the meaningful differences between the two. The impression of a beloved’s nude form is about the presence of his or her attractive physique, but the impression of a naked figure is about the absence of clothes. Both can have various connotations hidden beneath the surface.

When you are in a museum of sculpture and painting, you look at the nude figures and admire their beauty. Looking at a nude figure in the museum, you don’t experience sexual arousal every single time, don’t you? It is because you experience erotic love, not a sexual one. You experience erotic feelings, but usually non-sexual ones. Both together are not compatible in that context.

In the same way, when you are alone with your beloved being without clothes in bed, looking at her or him, you see them nude and experience erotic feelings. Yet, you don’t feel sexual arousal every single time you look at them. You feel erotic rather than sexual love.

At another time, however, you can experience both erotic and sexual love for them, perceiving them both naked and nude. One of these experiences can prevail over another or not. 

Two Examples of How Erotic Love Was Represented in European and Eastern Cultures of the Past

In the course of the history of art across different cultures, a wide variety of cultural models of erotic art and erotic love have been portrayed. Both men and women were depicted as the objects of erotic love in ancient Greek and Roman art, as well as in Indian art, yet in different cultural contexts and settings. They can still be seen today in the form of paintings and sculptures in the museums of the world.

European Examples of Erotic Art

The depiction of nude women and men in art during the Renaissance period was fashionable and generally conveyed positive associations. Erotic images of women and men can be found in the works of many poets and painters. In nude figures, artists personified their ideals of beauty, graciousness, soul, and love. During the Renaissance, great artists like Giorgione, Leonardo, Titian, Michelangelo, and Veronese created works that praised erotic beauty.

For instance, the “Venus of Urbino” painting depicted “a humanly beautiful nude woman whose pose is borrowed from the idealized beauty of Gorgione’s “Sleeping Venus.” This love allegory represents a European cultural model of love of that time, depicting the victory of love over temptation and time (Grabski, 1999, p.9).

Eastern Examples of Erotic Art

The Sanskrit aesthetic philosophy and art of Indian culture elevated the feeling of “shringara,” one of the nine rasas. “Shringara” means “erotic love” as an attraction to beauty. This feeling is related to the feeling of “rati,” meaning passionate love and sexual pleasure. Nevertheless, these two feelings are still emotionally different.

The love lyrics in Sanskrit and ancient Indian paintings and sculptures beautifully portrayed the stunning pictures of shringara, an Indian culture of “erotic love.” The concept was described as being evidently different from “kama” as presented in ancient Indian medical literature. The diverse feelings of kama were about desires and sensual pleasures of the body (Orsini 2006, p. 10). The Kamasutra, an old Sanskrit text dated to 400 BCE–200 CE, presented a lot of ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom about sexuality, erotic pleasure, and emotional pleasure. This literary text identified and vividly described four types of sexual experiences. Those distinctively referred to sex, sexual love, erotic love, or associated feelings.

Did Personal Beauty Matter in Sexual Selection among Savages?

Modern theories of sexual selection have stressed the importance of physical beauty for mating preferences in contemporary societies. However, according to early studies, physical appearance is of greater importance for men looking for women than for women looking for men.

It was interpreted from a presumed evolutionary perspective, as some researchers suggested. According to their theory, youth and beauty are the signals of fertility in women—what presumably men want in their female mates to produce more offspring.

For some reason, these researchers did not mention an esthetical pleasure that could drive such sexual selection of men.

These researchers also suggested that, on the other hand, women look for resourceful men for mating preferences. Such a preference presumably has a sexual selection underpinning. The researchers also suggested that for women, the physical appearance of men matters much less. In another post on this blog, I talked about how the importance of physical appearance and good looks varies between men and women.

This set of theoretical assumptions and interpretations leaves room for discussion, which is outside the scope of this article (see Karandashev, 2022a for a detailed look at the question).

Here I would rather invite you to look at the anthropological observations of the 19th century that reported how physical beauty mattered for sexual selection among savages who were much closer to our biological evolutionary roots. Let us look into the brief review presented in the book of Henry Finck—one of the old archival treasures of love scholarship of that time (Finck, 1887/2019).

Sensual love was involved in sexual selection and mating of savages

Henry Finck came to the conclusion that “love” was an emotion unknown to savages of the past. And it was frequently cited in the works of 19th-century anthropologists and travelers. He provided a number of observations and remarks on the topic.

In the “courtship” types of “capture-wife,” “purchase,” and “service widely practiced in the savage societies of the past, women and men had limited freedom of selection of their mating partners.

Yet, in many other primitive tribes, men and women had much more freedom of choice. Other anthropologists suggested an alternative view of savage love. They reported that in some tribes, the savages were quite capable of falling in love and forming passionate, tender, and faithful attachments.

Freedom of selection was more common among the lower races. In such instances, girls had a lot of freedom to accept or reject a potential suitor. Henry Finck cited several anthropological observations of this kind. Charles Darwin also noted that women in barbarous tribes had the power to choose, reject, and tempt their lovers. And afterwards, they could change their husbands.

What role did personal beauty play in these mate selections?

Primitive Women of the Past Chose Men with Personal Beauty

The data evidence for this was scant, yet available. As Henry Finck cited,

Azara “describes how carefully a Guana woman bargains for all sorts of privileges before accepting some one or more husbands; and the men in consequence take unusual care of their personal appearance.”

Another example is among the Kaffirs:

“very ugly, though rich men, have been known to fail in getting wives. The girls, before consenting to be betrothed, compel the men to show themselves off first in front and then behind, and ‘exhibit their paces.’”

Darwin, for example, tries to show that men’s custom of having beards is a result of sexual selection by women (Finck, 1887/1902/2019).

It should be noted, however, that women generally chose not the most handsome men, but rather those whose pugnacity, boldness, and virility promised that they would provide the surest protection against enemies. General domestic delights were also taken into account.

Here is one example:

 “before he is allowed to marry, a young Dyack must prove his bravery by bringing back the head of an enemy”

Here is another example:

when the Apaches warriors return unsuccessful, “the women turn away from them with assured indifference and contempt. They are upbraided as cowards, or for want of skill and tact, and are told that such men should not have wives.”

(Finck, 1887/1902/2019, p. 61).

As Henry Finck honestly admitted,

“the greatest amount of health, vigour, and courage generally coincide with the greatest physical beauty; hence the continued preference of the most energetic and lusty men by the superior women who have a choice, has naturally tended to evolve a superior type of manly beauty.”

(Finck, 1887/1902/2019, p. 61).

Primitive Men of the Past Chose Women with Personal Beauty

The cases of men, as sexual selection theory predicts, are much more probable than the cases of women exemplified above. Men frequently chose their wives based on aesthetic beauty standards. As Henry Finck noted, throughout the world’s societies, the chiefs of tribes usually had more than one wife.

For instance, as Mr. Mantell told Darwin, almost every girl in New Zealand at that time who was pretty was tapu to some chief.

According to the evidence of Mr. Hamilton, among the Kaffirs

“the chiefs generally have the pick of the women for many miles round, and are most persevering in establishing or confirming their privilege.”

(Quoted by Finck, 1887/1902/2019, p. 61).

In Some Savage Tribes, Personal Beauty Was Less Important

However, the value of personal beauty varied in primitive societies of the past. In the lower tribes, “communal marriage” and “marriage by capture” prevailed. So, aesthetic preferences and the choice of beauty were much less important.

The importance of physical appearance and personal beauty increased only in less pugnacious tribes, such as the Dyacks and the Samoans. The children in those tribes of the Dyacks “had the freedom implied by regular courtship.”

The children in the tribes of the Samoans “had the degree of independence implied by elopements when they could not obtain parental assent to their marriage” (Spencer, as cited by Finck, 1887/1902/2019, p. 61).

The Unusual Beauty Standards of Savage People

Sexual selection among the lower races, however, was often not good because men and women selecting their mates had bad aesthetic taste. The beauty standards of those savage people were of primitive taste. They selected those not with harmonious proportion and capacity for expression but rather with exaggeration:

“The negro woman has naturally thicker lips, more prominent cheek-bones, and a flatter nose than a white woman; and in selecting a mate, preference is commonly given to the one whose lips are thickest, nose most flattened, and cheek-bones most prominent: thus producing gradually that monster of ugliness—the average negro woman.”

(Finck, 1887/1902/2019, p. 61).

It should be honestly admitted, however, that judging their aesthetic taste and claiming that our contemporary taste of beauty is better is not right and not fair.

Sensuous Beauties of Savages

Thus, we see in this article that the admiration of personal beauty added a certain aesthetic overtone to the amorous feelings of savages. However, it was only the sensuous aspect of personal beauty. This admiration was purely physical. The intellectual and moral facets of beauty were unknown to them.

Many savage men married their chosen girls when they were still mere children. It was before their slightest sparks of mental charm.

Therefore, those savage men did not see the qualities which could illumine “her features and impart to them a superior beauty; and subsequently, when experience had somewhat sharpened her intellectual powers.”

Later in her life, however, “hard labour had already destroyed all traces of her physical beauty, so that the combination of physical and mental charms which alone can inspire the highest form of love was never to be found in primitive woman.” (Finck, 1887/1902/2019, p. 61).

Did Individual Preferences Play any Role in Primitive Savage Courtships?

Modern courtship and dating allow men and women to choose a mate for marriage and family life. Contemporary people may think marriage has always been this way. It may then be interesting to learn how ancient savages loved, courted, and had sexual relationships.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, cultural anthropology made a lot of progress in the study of sex, marriage, and love in remote tribal tribes (see for review, Karandashev, 2017, 2019). Looking into the old archives of love studies from the 19th century shows a fascinating part of history that can help with love scholarship today.

In the previous articles, I briefly showed what savage love was, what “wife-capture courtship” was, and what other sorts of courtship practices among savages were in the past centuries.

Four types of courtship practices – “capture,” “elopement,” “purchase,” and “service” – were widely used among various savage tribes in the past. It seems the personal preferences of prospective mates, at least of a woman, were not taken into account (Finck, 1887/2019).

Did women have any choice? Did Darwinian sexual selection play any role in those old savage times of human evolution?

How Savage Men and Women of the Past Courted Each Other

Anthropological studies of the 19th century unveiled four varieties of courtship among primitive savages: “Capture,” “Elopement,” “Purchase,” and “Service.” (Finck, 1887/2019).

Primitive people on all five continents used these “Capture-Wife” dating practices for hundreds of years. The community of a tribe owned women like other property. No man could take a woman for marriage because he would violate someone’s rights. Therefore, a man couldn’t privately marry a woman within his tribe.

The only option he had was to steal or buy a bride from another tribe. If he stole a woman from another tribe, she was his property. If the woman did not want to be stolen, the man could force her by knocking on her head and pulling her to his tent in the tribe. In this case, when a man captured a woman from another tribe, as a pride of conquest, he had a right to have her as a wife. Then, he married her (1887/2019, Finck).

“Elopement” appeared later in the social evolution of humans. These kinds of courtship were widespread until recent centuries. It was a practice of stealing a bride by elopement when both a man and a woman wanted to marry each other, but their parents resisted or “presumably” resisted their marriage.

The “Purchase-wife” practices were of two different sorts. In the first case, the girl has no choice but to be sold by her father for a certain number of cows or camels, sometimes to the highest bidder. In the second case, the girl was allowed a certain degree of freedom in her choice. The “Service” form of courtship is practiced when a man rendered to the prospective bride’s parents some services in exchange for getting a wife. The man preferred to purchase her rather than steal her because, in this case, a wife was likely to be valued more than one stolen or bought. Besides, during the period of his service, the betrothed girl looked upon him as a future spouse. That time of service gave some room for the possibility that some feelings would grow between them.

Was Love Involved in Savage Courting?

Thus, one can see that all the courting practices relate to indirect or mediate courtship.

As Henry Finck commented on the “Capture-wife” way of courtship:

“When a girl is captured and knocked on the head she can hardly be said to be courted and consulted as to her wishes; and the man too, in such cases, owing to the dangers of the sport, is apt to pay no great attention to a woman’s looks and accomplishments, but to bag the first one that comes along.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).

Henry Finck also noted the “Purchase” courtship:

“the girl is rarely consulted as to her own preferences, the addresses being paid to the father, who invariably selects the wealthiest of the suitors, and only in rare cases allows the daughter a choice, as among the Kaffirs if the suitors happen to be equally well off.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).

In the case of courtship by “Service” again, the suitor worked not to please the daughter of the parents, but rather to compensate the parents for losing her labor.

The Savage Courtship in the Modern Sense of Sexual Selection In some instances, however, the savage courtships of the past resembled courtships in their modern meaning. These practices were largely among the lower races. The lovers paid their addresses directly to the girl, and she chose or rejected them at will.

Henry Finck quoted the Ploss who observed this custom as prevailing among the Orang-Sakai on the Malayan peninsula:

“On the wedding-day, the bride, in presence of her relatives, and those of her lover, and many other witnesses, is obliged to run into the forest. After a fixed interval the bridegroom follows and seeks to catch her. If he succeeds in capturing the bride she becomes his wife, otherwise he is compelled to renounce her for ever. If therefore a girl dislikes her suitor, she can easily escape from him and hide in the forest until the time allowed for his pursuit has expired.”

(Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).

In support of his theory of “sexual selection,” the British naturalist Charles Darwin observed its existence among the lower races:

“in utterly barbarous tribes the women have more power in choosing, rejecting, and tempting their lovers, or of afterwards changing their husbands, than might have been expected.”

Darwin also cited the following cases:

“Amongst the Abipones, a man on choosing a wife, bargains with the parents about the price. But ‘it frequently happens that the girl rescinds what has been agreed upon between the parents and the bridegroom, obstinately rejecting the very mention of marriage.’ She often runs away, hides herself, and thus eludes the bridegroom. Captain Musters, who lived with the Patagonians, says that their marriages are always settled by inclination; ‘if the parents make a match contrary to the daughter’s will, she refuses, and is never compelled to comply.’ In Tierra del Fuego a young man first obtains the consent of the parents by doing them some service, and then he attempts to carry off the girl; ‘but if she is unwilling, she hides herself in the woods until her admirer is heartily tired of looking for her, and gives up the pursuit; but this seldom happens.”

(quoted in Finck, 1887/2019, p. 60).