Men like to plant flags and then argue about who planted what flag first. Marking their territory, or as I like to call it, a tinkle tournament. The thing is, so many things we “discover” were always there, and not ours to pee on.
In 16th century Italy, there was one such squabble between two scientists, Mateo Colombo and Gabrielle Falloppio, both anatomists racing to map the human body and how each of its constituent parts work. They were both obsessed with the nether regions of women. Certainly you’ve heard of the Il Dottore Falloppio’s “tubes”. Several of their “discoveries” overlap, but for our purposes we’re going to hone in on just one. The clitoris.
Both men have marked this territory as theirs for the medical history books. Colombo’s De Re Anatomica was published in 1559. Falloppio’s Observationes Anatomicae in 1561. But there are Fallopian notes detailing the clitoris that date back to 1550.
The two doctors had very different techniques, however. Falloppio used the standard practice of anatomizing dead bodies, even though Pope Boniface VIII had issued a bull banning such things. I mean, why should The Church make scientific research any easier? The order was largely ignored by doctors, and rarely enforced with any consequence. Colombo, however, preferred practicing on the living.
This wasn’t without its problems.
First, the university expressly forbade the entrance of women. Second, men were lacking in the clitoral area. Fortunately for Falloppio, the university also housed the morgue and, once a week, a cart of fresh bodies was brought to campus. Fortunately for Colombo, he figured out a way to hide live prostitutes among the dead and sneak them into his laboratory.
Notes from his experiments recount the affection these women had for him, if he does say so himself. He had found a way to pleasure them that was uncommon among their usual clients.
In Federico Andahazi’s historical novel The Anatomist, he puts it this way: “The hands of Mateo Colombo had learned to touch a woman’s body, much as the hands of a musician learn to touch an instrument. He had crossed the vague boundary that separates science from art and had taught his hands to tough the most sublime, the most elevated and most difficult of instruments. His art was the ephemeral art of giving pleasure, a discipline that, like conversation, leaves neither trace nor record.” That’s something ol’ Falloppio could never have figured out from a cadaver.
Sometimes, the prostitutes returned the favor. One story, recounted by Andahazi, tells of the university priest happening upon Colombo being pleasured by one of the women who had just arrived on the cadaver cart. Seeing the priest’s terror-stricken look of bewilderment, he cried “Miracolo! Miracolo!” in an attempt to convince the man of cloth that he had brought the woman back from the dead.
So, while Colombo was probably not the first to discover what he named the Amor Veneris, vel Dulcedo Appelletur (The Love and Sweetness of Venus)—let’s be clear, women discovered it centuries before—he is one of the first to propose its role in female sexual pleasure.
So, maybe when we celebrate Columbus Day, we should go Team Mateo rather than the Team Christopher route.
ITALIAN CORPSE REVIVER
Raise your hand if you knew this was where I was headed. Corpse Reviver variations have been around since at least the 1860’s. The general idea is that they are some sort of hangover cure, meant to be drunk the day after a binge, in order to restore the dead to life. Recipes vary greatly from wine, Maraschino and bitters, to brandy, fernet and crème de menthe. One 1903 recipe is a fanciful, layered pousse-café. In a tiki version, the famous Trader Vic used Swedish Punsch, which I have never had.
There are even a dozen or more Italian Corpse Revivers, but for my money, and no small amount of delightful giggling, I’m going with Martha Stewart’s. Mainly because she uses Strega, a very witchy Italian herbal liqueur, but also because it’s freaking Martha Stewart. Strega (Italian for “witch”) packs a punch at 80 proof, so be sure not to have too many of these babies, or, as the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) says, you may “unrevive the corpse again”.