John Wilmot, by Peter Lely, 1677

Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery is a highly sexual Restoration closet drama, published in 1689. The work has been attributed to John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, though its authorship is disputed. Determining the date of composition and attribution are complicated owing mostly to misattribution of evidence for and against Rochester’s authorship in Restoration and later texts.

The play consists of five acts in rhyming couplets. There are two prologues, two epilogues and a short final speech. The play begins with Bolloximion, King of Sodom, authorising same-sex sodomy as an acceptable sexual practice within the realm. General Buggeranthus reports that this policy is welcomed by the soldiers, who spend less on prostitutes as a consequence, but has deleterious effects on the women of the kingdom, who have to resort to dildoes and dogs. Prince Pricket and Princess Swivia commit incest with one another. With the court and country reduced to erotic madness, the court physician counsels ‘Fuck women, and let Bugg’ry be no more’. The king himself, however is unconvinced, while the queen dies of venereal disease. Amid the appearance of demons, fire, and brimstone, Bolloximion declares his intention to retire to a cavern and die in the act of sodomising his favourite, Pockenello.

The cast, worthy of any list of possible baby names for erotically-minded parents, is as follows:
     Bolloximion, King of Sodom
     Cuntigratia, his Queen
     Pricket, a young Prince
     Swivia, a young Princess
     Buggeranthus, General of the Army
     Pockenello, Prince and favourite of the King
     Borastus, Buggermaster-General
     Pene and Tooly, Pimps of Honour
     Officina, Maid of Honour
     Fuckadilla, Maid of Honour
     Cunticulla, Maid of Honour
     Clitoris, Maid of Honour
     Flux, Physician to the King
     Virtuoso, Dildo and Merkin-Maker for the Court

As far as is known, the play has only been performed twice, in 1986 at the Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, and in 2011 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by the Movement Theatre Company. The text can be found online here.

Queen Cuntigratia (coloured version)

There appears never to have been a German translation of Sodom, so Klinger may have known it more by reputation than by detailed knowledge. Nonetheless, his cleverly-designed and deceptively simple illustrations, using the same techniques of repetitive pattern and light and dark that made his reputation in advertising, are clearly at work here.

The privately-published edition of the Klinger-illustrated Sodom was produced in an edition of 350 signed and numbered copies, ‘for subscribers only’.

We are very grateful to Hans-Jürgen Döpp for these images; Hans-Jürgen, the compiler of many books on erotic art, curates the Venusberg online gallery and bookshop which you can find here.