Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (Google eBook)

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Oxford University Press, Oct 31, 1996 - History - 384 pages
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The men of Renaissance Florence were so renowned for sodomy that "Florenzer" in German meant "sodomite." Indeed, in the late fifteenth century, as many as one in two Florentine men had come to the attention of the authorities for sodomy by the time they were thirty. In the seventy years from 1432 to 1502, some 17,000 men--in a city of only 40,000--were investigated for sodomy; 3,000 were convicted and thousands more confessed to gain amnesty. Michael Rocke vividly depicts this vibrant sexual culture in a world where these same-sex acts were not the deviant transgressions of a small minority, but an integral part of a normal masculine identity. In 1432 The Office of the Night was created specifically to police sodomy in Florence. Seventy years of denunciations, interrogations, and sentencings left an extraordinarily detailed record, which Rocke uses to its fullest in this richly documented portrait. He describes a wide range of sexual experiences between males, ranging from boys such as fourteen-year-old Morello di Taddeo, who prostituted himself to fifty-seven men, to the notorious Jacopo di Andrea, a young bachelor implicated with forty adolescents over a seventeen-year period and convicted thirteen times; same-sex "marriages" like that of Michele di Bruno and Carlo di Berardo, who were involved for several years and swore a binding oath to each other over an altar; and Bernardo Lorini, a former Night Officer himself with a wife and seven children, accused of sodomy at the age of sixty-five. (Mortified, he sent his son Taddeo to confess for him and plead for a discreet resolution of his case.) Indeed, nearly all Florentine males probably had some kind of same-sex experience as a part of their "normal" sexual life. Rocke uncovers a culture in which sexual roles were strictly defined by age, with boys under eighteen the "passive" participants in sodomy, youths in their twenties and older men the "active" participants, and most men at the age of thirty marrying women, their days of sexual frivolity with boys largely over. Such same sex activities were a normal phase in the transition to adulthood, and only a few pursued them much further. Rather than precluding heterosexual experiences, they were considered an extension of youthful and masculine lust and desire. As Niccolo Machiavelli quipped about a handsome man, "When young he lured husbands away from their wives, and now he lures wives away from their husbands." Florentines generally accepted sodomy as a common misdemeanor, to be punished with a fine, rather than as a deadly sin and a transgression against nature. There was no word, in the otherwise rich Florentine sexual lexicon, for "homosexual," nor was there a distinctive and well-developed homosexual "subculture." Rather, sexual acts between men and boys were an integral feature of the dominant culture. Rocke roots this sexual activity in the broader context of Renaissance Florence, with its social networks of families, juvenile gangs, neighbors, patronage, workshops, and confraternities, and its busy political life from the early years of the Republic through the period of Lorenzo de' Medici, Savonarola, and the beginning of Medici princely rule. His richly detailed book paints a fascinating picture of a vibrant time and place and calls into question our modern conceptions of gender and sexual identity.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - AlexTheHunn - LibraryThing

Rocke presents a detailed study of male culture and same-sex relationships in Renaissance Florence. This book, more than any other single work changed my views on the nature and origin of homosexuality -- although such was not Rocke's purpose. Read full review

Forbidden friendships: homosexuality and male culture in Renaissance Florence

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

From the fiery sermons of Bernadino of Siena, Savanarola, as well as from general gossip, modern students of 15th-century Italy have long suspected that Florence witnessed a great amount of sodomy ... Read full review


Making Problems Preoccupations and Controversy over Sodomy in the Early Fifteenth Century
Traditional Controls
Agitation for Reform 14001432
Bernardino of Siena
The Officers of the Night
The Institution
Politics and Sodomy in the 1430s
The Turning Point in the Late 1450s
Social Composition
Great Love and Good Brotherhood Sodomy and Male Sociability
The Character of Sodomitical Relations
Family Complicity
Friends Networks Sodalities
Politics and Sodomy in the Late Fifteenth Century The Medici Savonarola and the Abolition of the Night Officers
The Lorenzan Age

The Magistrates at Work
Community Controls
He Keeps Him Like a Woman Age and Gender in the Social Organization of Sodomy
Sexual Roles and Behavior
Boys and Men
Becoming a Man
Social Profiles
Young and Old
Bachelors and Husbands
Provenance and Residence
The Coming Scourge
Sodomy in Savonarolan Florence
The Suppression of the Office of the Night
Change and Continuity in the Policing of Sodomy in the Sixteenth Century
Penalties Levied
Statistical Tables

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Page 4 - In this small city of around only 40,000 inhabitants, every year during roughly the last four decades of the fifteenth century an average of some 400 people were implicated and 55 to 60 condemned for homosexual relations. Throughout the entire period corresponding to the duration of the Office of the Night, it can be estimated that as many as 17,000 individuals or more were incriminated at least once for sodomy, with close to 3,000...
Page 375 - Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence.

References to this book

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About the author (1996)

Michael Rocke is the Nicky Mariano Librarian of the Biblioteca Berenson at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, in Florence.

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