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The Independent Online
The 16th century was an era of exploration and discovery. Men set out in leaky wooden boats, and traversed mighty oceans in search of terra incognita. One - Cristforo Coln (Columbus) - discovered America. And others, such as his namesake Mateo Coln - a scientist at the University of Padua - paddled about with bodies hot and cold and discovered ... the clitoris.

We owe this rediscovery of the original clitoral pioneer to the Argentinian novelist Frederico Andahazi, whose prize-winning novel El Anatomista reconstructs Coln's voyage into the nether regions. It borrows heavily from Coln's De Re Anatomica ("let's start at the very beginning/a very good place to start ...") and indicates just how the scientist substituted the word "clitoris" for the legend "here be dragons" on the anatomical map of woman.

So there we are. We know who discovered America, Australia, the Antarctic and the clitoris. True, a correspondent to this newspaper, Graeme Fife, revealed on Thursday that the Latin poet Juvenal had already made reference to the clitoris, though for some Roman reason he called it "cock's comb". But Mr Fife will allow that we then had to wait one-and-a-half millennia before the clitoris reappeared. So Juvenal's knowledge is a bit like Eric the Red's Vineland voyage; he went there, but he didn't quite manage to "discover" the thing properly (which may account for the cock's comb).

Well, of course, centuries before Columbus - or even Eric the Red - hundreds of thousands of Amerindians criss-crossed the prairies and pueblos of the "undiscovered" continent. They pitched their tepees on unknown lands, grew crops in virgin soil and drank from uncharted streams. They even had names for all these places (though many of them were too long).

And my guess is that the same is probably true of the clitoris. From what little I know of that fabulous organ, I should imagine that - over the million or so years of human history - a few women may have discovered it for themselves, even if only accidentally. After all, while it is quite feasible that the quinqueremes of Nineveh - unable ever to travel more than a few miles from land - might have missed America, the same geographical improbability hardly applies to the clitoris. I will say no more.

However, that is not what we have come to mean by "discovery". If we look at how the term is used, we see that it applies only under certain very precise circumstances. First, in general white men must do the discovering. There is a little latitude here, as in "the Chinese first used gunpowder", but only because we know perfectly well that they failed to "discover" it properly. If they had, then we would now be negotiating to get the Isle of Wight back from them.

Second, once they have found the thing, the white men must write it all up in scholarly fashion. This Amerindians and women both failed to do. Where are the Bigfoot maps of Montana? And I challenge the politically correct brigade to uncover one major tract written by a woman on the subject of the clitoris before, say, 1850. They just couldn't be fagged.

Finally - to qualify fully - the discovery must be "useful", in the sense that the discoverer must be followed out to the thing discovered, by thousands of their fellow white men searching for riches, freedom and a reputation as a fantastic lay.

All that then remains is the battle over nomenclature. It still rankles that the continent for which Columbus crossed the ocean blue was named after that johnny-come-lately Amerigo Vespucci (though we ought to be thankful that there is no such place as Vespuccia). And it is passing odd, is it not, that the clitoris doesn't bear the name of the man who first discovered it. If it did, then the sexual history of the 20th century might have been very different. And colonic irrigation would certainly have become even more popular with princesses than it is at the moment.