Putting The Emperor Out To Stud

It is a facile assumption that the enormous harems of oriental despotisms were great fun for the rulers and thereby entirely their own idea. When we learn that the Ottoman sultan had to make obeisance to his mother before going into any of his women, however, we may begin to wonder; when we read how the Chinese emperor’s copulatory schedule (two different women per day) was minutely regulated by (female) bureaucrats for the sake of documentation of the imperial offspring, we see that the prime male had no say in the matter whatsoever; and when, finally, we hear how Chinese emperors sometimes grumbled about the onerousness of their sexual duties, we may finally begin to understand that they are not so much doing as being done to – they were stud bulls being put to the cows by the farmer. (We might also add that the kings of the Shilluk were put to death when no longer able to satisfy their wives. Now that’s performance anxiety for you.)

So who exactly is playing farmer here? Answer: the noble lineages that wanted their daughters to be the mother of the emperor’s heir, or at least rise in prestige by bearing him spare sons. And who is the strategic planner of a lineage? The seniormost female, of course. If we Flip the Drawing, therefore, we will cease to see the breeding pattern known to scientists as “resource-defence polygyny” and to laymen as “harem-keeping” in terms of passive females and a single active male. Instead, we will see a top male with control over greater resources than the inferior males and females, all of whom want a piece of his action; and so the females band together into a collective, called a “harem”, to operate their economic asset to their own advantage.

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  1. Written by urban
    on April 18, 2013 at 00:46
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    I’ve often questioned the wisdom of Solomon. Seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines? Poor bastard didn’t have a chance. Just imagine the PMS of one thousand synchronizing menstrual cycles! Imagine the credit card bills! No, one wife seems like plenty to me, if not too many.

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