The History of Seduction – Part I

| June 20, 2013 | 0 Comments

by Miranda Likeman

Seduction is a specialised form of psychological and sexual persuasion that has been used by women throughout history to obtain power, money and fame. La Donna Moderna takes a brief look at the history of seduction.


Helen of Troy - an 1898 painting by Evelyn de Morgan

From Helen of Troy to Marilyn Monroe, Mata Hari to Mae West, and Cleopatra to Dita Von Teese; there have always been self-possessed sirens that have mastered the art of seduction. But contrary to popular belief, physical beauty was only one of the lures they used to their gain. By relying on their gifts of wit, brains, empathy and self-sufficiency, showing only glimpses of flesh, perfecting their makeup and adorning themselves with sumptuous fashions they would tease a man’s imagination and stimulate his desire for something greater than sex: the chance to possess a fantasy figure.

According to author Robert Greene, the ability to seduce was born out of the need for feminine power.  “Thousands of years ago power was mostly gained through physical violence and maintained with brute strength. No one suffered under this scheme of things more than women,” he says in The Art of Seduction (Profile). The only weapon women had at their disposal was man’s insatiable desire for sex.

These women made seduction the ultimate form of power and persuasion, he says. “They learned to work on the mind first, stimulating fantasies, keeping a man wanting more, creating patterns of hope and despair,” he says.

“Once they had their victims’ interest, they would lure the men away from the masculine world of war and politics and get them to spend time in a world of luxury, spectacle and pleasure,” he says. “The men would grow hooked on these sensual pleasures and fall in love. But just when the men wanted more, they found their pleasures withdrawn. They would be forced into pursuit, trying anything to win back the favours they once had tasted and becoming the slave of a woman.”

La belle Otero

La Belle Otero (1868-1965) spanish courtesan and dancer [Image]

“The key to the seductress’s sexual success is her skill at creating what philosopher Jane Billinghurst calls an ‘expectation of delight’, and the man will willingly part with money and power,” agrees Caroline Cox, Professor of Cultural History at the University of the Arts in London.  “As the notorious courtesan of the 1890’s, La Belle Otero was reputed to have said; ‘A man becomes yours, not the moment you spread your legs but the moment you twist his wrist’.”

In every era there have been women skilled at this game of love – one of the first was a Roman courtesan of the 16th century whose lair was not one of a mere mistress. “This woman was accomplished, well versed in the arts, politics and science as much as the game of love, and objects displayed hinted at the owner’s education and accomplishments,” says Cox.

In the 18th century it was the boudoir of the kept woman where a seductress showed why she was worth the money invested by her protector. Her conversation was sparkling and her manner alluring, witty and cultured. This particular method of seduction was brought to high repute by the Geisha – professional hostesses who entertained guests through performance of their skills in ancient dance, singing, playing instruments, flower arranging, wearing kimono, conducting tea ceremonies, calligraphy, conversation, alcohol serving manners and more. A successful geisha had to demonstrate beauty, grace, artistic talent, charm, impeccable etiquette and refinement. While it was appropriate for geisha to have a patron (Danna), with whom she was involved emotionally, economically and sexually, they were considered foremost as skilled professional entertainers, not prostitutes or mistresses. Sex was not expected in exchange for the Danna’s financial support.


Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha [Image]

Today we have reached the ultimate point in the evolution of seduction, says Greene. “Now more than ever, all areas of social life require the ability to persuade people in a way that does not offend or impose itself,” he says. “We are saturated in the seductive – but the essence is constant: use pleasure as bait, playing on people’s emotions, stirring desire and confusion to induce psychological surrender.”

The tools of seduction may not have changed much over the decades or even centuries, agrees Cox, but a woman no longer reliant on men for social advancement – twenty first century femme fatales luxuriate in lingerie, play with the rules of fashion and retain control over their sexual lives. But they could learn much from their predecessors about the different tools for seduction.

[to be continued....]

Stay tuned same time next week to find out what these Tools of Seduction are.

Miranda Likeman has been every kind of journalist you could name. At present she writes mostly about fashion and beauty, subjects on which she has much experience, but not in a stuffy inaccessible way. She loves a bargain and making the affordable look expensive.

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Category: Commentary, Inspiring Women

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