As an ode to Valentine’s Day, the True editors dug through countless scrolls and pamphlets and vellum to consult some of history’s wisest scholars and most successful lovers on the ancient art of seduction.
“Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes?” asks the French philosopher Roland Barthes, referring to a flash of skin. “It is this flash itself which seduces.” The master of signs points out that nudity itself is less erotic than the covering of nudity. The promise of it – hinting at the unknown.
It is not only advice for the physical realm — try not to reveal too much in conversation right away. Show some of yourself but cultivate mystery also. Step into the light and then back into shadow. You’ll invite wonder and speculation, and give the other person a space to think about you, dream about you, and create you in their mind.
Behind the modern caricature of Casanova was a charismatic man named Giacomo. During the 18th century, he won women’s (and men’s) hearts wherever he went. His secret? Develop a sense of motion within any situation. He would create parlor games involving the passing of oysters mouth to mouth. He studied ballet so he could dazzle a room. Dressed in lace and velvet, redolent of exotic perfumes, Casanova was a moving spectacle; he was invariably pulling little gifts and treasures out of his pockets to give to whomever he was courting at the time. Being with Casanova was to be involved in a special occasion no matter where you where. He said it best: “Be the flame, not the moth.”
Peter III just wasn’t enough for her, so Catherine the Great took on an extraordinary number of lovers. They were heavily vetted for attractiveness, intelligence, and according to legend, she even had prospective lovers take a practice run with a confidant before entering the royal chamber. But once you were in, you were in. A liaison with Catherine meant you would be taken care of for the rest of your days. Land, seats of power, whatever you desired. One lucky lover was bestowed with no less than 1,000 serfs.
While the royal treatment may be a bit over the top, a spirit of generosity will take you closer to anyone’s heart. Pick up the tab, do a favor, make an invitation, share a secret — if you open yourself up, you’ll surely be paid back in what James Salter once called “the one true coin.”
Take care of yourself.
Don’t get so caught up in the mental gymnastics of courtship that you forget the basics. Ovid, for example, advises that a lover only go in for the kill when his “toga [is] without a stain” and his “teeth without tartar.”
Chew some gum, zip your fly, comb your hair. Don’t “let your foot swim about while walking in a loose shoe.”
The Roman poet would know something about it, having authored three books on The Art of Love. Attention to detail is key, he says. Without proper grooming, success if far from assured. Especially important: “Let no hairs stand out in the cavities from the nostril.”
Appeal to the mind.
Lou Andreas-Salomé, a Russian intellectual, would leave men lovestruck within a single conversation—or even based upon reputation. For Friedrich Nietzsche, the brooding philosophical powerhouse, it was really that fast. Apparently, she inspired the whole of Thus Spake Zarathustra. His first words to her? “From what star have we fallen together here?” While she was certainly beautiful, it was her brilliance that drew men to her — she counted Rilke and Freud amongst her other admirers.
She challenged whomever she met, eschewed traditional labels, and was thrilled to debate anything under the sun. The smartest men of a generation couldn’t get enough of her. Consider leading with intellect—wit, curiosity, and thoughtfulness are all underrated tools. Make sure you put yours on display.