Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence

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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 ...
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2006 Hard cover New in New dust jacket. Sewn binding. Paper over boards. 384 p. Studies in the History of Sexuality.

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Overview


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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"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

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: 9780195069754
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/31/1996
  • Series: Studies in the History of Sexuality Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Michael Rocke is an independent scholar who teaches Italian history at Syracuse University in Florence, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1992, and at other American universities 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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