Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence / Edition 1

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"This is a superb work of scholarship, impossible to overpraise.... It marks a milestone in the 20-year rise of gay and lesbian studies."—Martin Duberman, The Advocate

The men of Renaissance Florence were so renowned for sodomy that "Florenzer" in German meant "sodomite." 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 1432 The Office of the Night was created specifically to police sodomy in Florence. Indeed, nearly all Florentine males probably had some kind of same-sex experience as a part of their "normal" sexual life.

Seventy years of denunciations, interrogations, and sentencings left an extraordinarily detailed record, which author Michael Rocke has used in his vivid depiction of 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. 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 Renaissance Florence and calls into question our modern conceptions of gender and sexual identity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A fascinating and groundbreaking study of the archives of the Office of the Night....All levels."—Choice

"Rocke presents a careful and nuanced appreciation of language and concepts of gender and sexual roles.... The value of this highly important study rests on the book's lucid prose and its learned contribution to our understanding of human, or at least Western, sexuality."—Library Journal

"This is a superb work of scholarship, impossible to overpraise.... It marks a milestone in the 20-year rise of gay and lesbian studies."—The Advocate

Library Journal
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. Rocke, an independent scholar teaching in Florence, persuasively demonstrates that "homosexual behavior constituted a pervasive and integral part of male sexual experience, of the construction of male sexual identity, and forms of sociability." Using the city's rich judicial records, especially those of the Office of the Night, a magistracy set up to root out sodomy, Rocke shows that between 1432 and 1502 perhaps 17,000 menor one in two in a total population of about 40,000came to the attention of civil authorities for homosexual acts. Rocke presents a careful and nuanced appreciation of language and concepts of gender and sexual roles, but a solid conclusion would have further strengthened his case. The value of this highly important study rests on the book's lucid prose and its learned contribution to our understanding of human, or at least Western, sexuality.Bennett D. Hill, Georgetown Univ., Washington D.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195122923
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Series: Studies in the History of Sexuality Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,271,064
  • Lexile: 1770L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents

Introduction: Florence and Sodomy 3
1 Making Problems: Preoccupations and Controversy over Sodomy in the Early Fifteenth Century 19
Traditional Controls 20
Agitation for Reform, 1400-1432 26
The Attack from the Pulpit: Bernardino of Siena 36
2 The Officers of the Night 45
The Institution 47
Politics and Sodomy in the 1430s 54
The Turning Point in the Late 1450s 60
The Magistrates at Work 66
Community Controls 80
3 "He Keeps Him Like a Woman": Age and Gender in the Social Organization of Sodomy 87
Sexual Roles and Behavior 89
Boys and Men 94
Becoming a Man 101
4 Social Profiles 112
Young and Old 113
Bachelors and Husbands 119
Provenance and Residence 132
Social Composition 134
5 "Great Love and Good Brotherhood": Sodomy and Male Sociability 148
Encounters 151
The Character of Sodomitical Relations 161
Family Complicity 175
Friends, Networks, Sodalities 182
6 Politics and Sodomy in the Late Fifteenth Century: The Medici, Savonarola, and the Abolition of the Night Officers 195
The Lorenzan Age 197
The Coming Scourge 201
The Spirit and the Flesh: Sodomy in Savonarolan Florence 204
The Suppression of the Office of the Night 223
Epilogue: Change and Continuity in the Policing of Sodomy in the Sixteenth Century 227
Appendix A Penalties Levied 237
Appendix B Statistical Tables 243
Notes 253
Bibliography 331
Index 347
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