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Introduction: Queer Italia: Same-Sex Desire in Italian Literature and Film

  • Gary P. Cestaro
Chapter
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)

Abstract

On July 8, 2000, some 200,000 lesbians and gay men marched on the Italian capital in celebration of World Pride 2000. Although a number of successful and well-attended national pride marches have taken place since, World Pride in Rome continues to be seen as a historically significant event by Italian gays and lesbians, an important turning point in the history of the Italian gay rights movement that for the first time garnered serious national—indeed international—attention. The Rome parade marked the culmination of a week’s worth of events in support of gay rights and culture that one reporter defined as “a victorious coming-out parade for Italy’s gay community.”1 The note of triumph reflects the event’s success despite months of polemics in the Italian press over the appropriateness of such a demonstration in Rome during the Jubilee year and the Vatican’s vigorous attempts to have it cancelled. In the end, the participants—a few even clad in togas and laurel wreaths—marched peacefully to the Coliseum and then back to the Circus Maximus for a rally. At once legitimate historical reminder and pure camp, this victory of Italian gays amidst the iconic monuments of their classical past, in the face of stern disapproval from mother Church, neatly introduces themes that inform the essays in this volume. World Pride 2000 and the controversy surrounding it reflect the difficult positioning of Italian culture and Italian literature between the classical and the Catholic, between ancient organizations of human sexual activity that left some space for same-sex desire and Christian efforts to redefine and delimit.2

Keywords

Queer Representation Early Modern Period Italian Culture Italian Text Important Turning Point 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    The June 2002 Pride celebration in Padua included a small but vociferous group of opposition protesters crosstown at the Church of St. Anthony, famed pilgrimage destination. Thus the classical/Catholic binary continues to thrive. For a deeply personal perspective on the thorny issue of homosexuality and the Church, see Marco Politi, La confessione: Un prete gay racconta la sua storia, preface by Luigi Bettazzi (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 2000).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See, however, the essay by Francesco Gnerre, L’eroe negato: omosessualità e letteratura nel Novecento italiano. Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 2000 [1981]. Franco-Italica 6 (1994) is dedicated to homosexuality in modern French and Italian literature.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Alan K. Smith, “Fraudomy: Reading Sexuality and Politics in Burchiello” in: Queering the Renaissance, ed. Jonathan Goldberg (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1994), pp. 84–106.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    See, for instance, Homosexualities and French Literature: Cultural Contexts/ Critical Texts, eds. George Stambolian and Elaine Marks (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1979) or, more recently, Lawrence R. Schehr, Alcibiades at the Door: Gay Discourses in French Literature (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995); and on Spanish and Portuguese literature, Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, eds. Josiah Blackmore and Gregory S. Hutcheson (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1999); my thanks to the editors of Queer Iberia for the title of the present volume.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    In art history, see in particular James M. Saslow, Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986). Saslow has also produced an edition and translation of Michelangelo’s poems that corrects earlier, bowdlerized editions that had effaced same-sex desire: The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    One thinks most readily of the work of the Italian historian Eva Cantarella, Secondo natura: la bisessualità nel mondo antico (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1988); Bisexuality in the Ancient World, trans. Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992); andGoogle Scholar
  7. Craig A. Williams, Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See Aeneid V.294–361 and particularly IX.176–449; and John F. Makowski, “Nisus and Euryalus: A Platonic Relationship,” The Classical Journal 85, 1 (October/November 1989), pp. 1–15.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    For queer perspectives on Aquinas and sodomy, see Boswell, pp. 318–32; see also Mark D. Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 136–58.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Umberto Eco, Il nome della rosa (Milan: Bompiani, 1980); The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983).Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    “Italian Literature” (pp. 391–97) in: The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage: A Reader’s Companion to the Writers and their Works from Antiquity to the Present, ed. Claude J. Summers (New York: H. Holt, 1995). On Eco’s novel, see also Teresa de Lauretis, “Gaudy Rose: Eco and Narcissism” in: Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (London: Macmillan, 1987), pp. 51–69.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    On Bernardino and sodomy, see the recent study by Franco Mormando, The Preacher’s Demons: Bernardino of Siena and the Social Underworld of Early Renaissance Italy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). One invaluable source on homosexuality in Italian history and literature is Giovanni Dall’Orto’s website La gaya scienza (http://digilander.libero.it/giovannidallorto), which includes dozens of relatively brief but informative biographies of many of the figures mentioned in this volume, including Savonarola, from a gay perspective. Many of these biographies reprise articles that Dall’Orto wrote for journals such as Babilonia and Sodoma.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    Michael J. Rocke, Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Although not as focused on same-sex activity as Rocke, Guido Ruggiero has investigated the legislation of sexuality during a similar period in Venice: The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); on sodomy, see in particular pp. 109–45. Judith Brown’s Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986) provides insight into the almost completely uninscribed story of female homosexuality in the early period.Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    For Poliziano’s several homoerotic Greek epigrams, see Angelo Poliziano, “Epigrammi greci [1471–1494],” ed. Enzo Savino, Poesia 7,74 (1994), pp. 4–20 and Giovanni Dall’Orto at La gaya scienza, where you can also find Tasso’s love sonnet to a young man (as published in Luigi Roncoroni, Genio e pazzia in Torquato Tasso [Turin: Bocca, 1896], p. 155) as well as details of Tasso’s apparent obsession with the young Luca Scalabrino. On the homoerotics of humanism and Poliziano,Google Scholar
  17. see Alan Stewart, Close Readers: Humanism and Sodomy in Early Modern England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 3–37. Other Renaissance writers who produced homoerotic lyric include: Pacifico Massimo d’Ascoli (ca. 1400–1500), Niccolò Lelio (“Cosmico,” ca. 1420–1500), Giulio Pomponio Leto (1428–1498), Filippo Buonaccorsi (1437–1496), Girolamo Balbi (ca. 1450–1535), Benedetto Varchi (1503–1565), and Francesco Beccuti (“il Coppetta,” 1509–1553). For selections in English from many of the above-mentioned, see The Columbia Anthology, pp. 131–50.Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    Giovanni Dall’Orto, “Socratic Love as a Disguise for Same-Sex Love in the Italian Renaissance,” Journal of Homosexuality 16,1/2 (1989), pp. 33–65. Of course, a rich burlesque and satirical literature throughout the Renaissance included intricate (and sometimes obscene) depictions of sodomy and same-sex desire in texts such as Stefano Finiguerri (called “il Za”), “La buca di Montemorello” and “Il gagno” (1407–1412); Antonio Beccadelli (called “il Panormita,” 1394–1471), Hermaphroditus (1425);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Antonio Vignali, La cazzarìa (ca. 1525). Many of the satirical verses of Antonio Francesco Grazzini (called “il Lasca,” 1503–1584) profess love of young men, as well as at least an occasional poem by Pietro Aretino (1492–1556), particularly in the bawdy Sonetti lussuriosi. For scurrilous charges of sodomy against Aretino, see the verses of his disaffected former pupil Niccolò Franco (1515–1570) in the Priapea (particularly VII, “Buggera il papa, e tutti i suoi prelati”; “The pope’s a bugger and so are all his prelates”); for a selection, see Poesia italiana: il Cinquecento, ed. Giulio Ferroni (Milan: Garzanti, 1978), pp. 382–89. For Finiguerri and his milieu,Google Scholar
  20. see D. Guerri, La corrente popolare nel Rinascimento (Florence: Sansoni, 1931) andGoogle Scholar
  21. Antonio Lanza, Polemiche e berte letterarie nella Firenze del primo Quattrocento (Rome: Bulzoni, 1972), particularly pp. 103–70. There are several modern editions of Beccadelli’s text, including a recent bilingual Latin/English edition: Hermaphroditus, ed. and trans. Eugene O’Connor (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2001). For Vignali, seeGoogle Scholar
  22. Antonio Vignali, La cazzaria, ed. Pasquale Stoppelli (Rome: Edizioni dell’elefante, 1984); The Book of the Prick, ed. and trans. Ian Frederick Moulton (New York: Routledge, 2003).Google Scholar
  23. 27.
    Antonio Rocco, L’Alcibiade fanciullo a scola, ed. Laura Coci (Rome: Salerno, 1988). For selections in English, see The Columbia Anthology, pp. 151–56. Italians seem to have enjoyed something of a national reputation for sodomy throughout Renaissance Europe and into the seventeenth century. Rocke, p. 3, reports that Florenzer was a synonym for sodomite in fourteenth-century German. In the seventeenth century, see the amusing anecdotes related by Tallement des Réaux (1619–1692), Historiettes, ed. Antoine Adam (Dijon: Gallimard, 1961), volume II, pp. 739–41, “Contes d’Italiens Sodomites” (“Tales About Italian Sodomites”).Google Scholar
  24. 28.
    On the history of female homoeroticism in the ancient world and early Church, see the important book by Bernadette J. Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Karma Lochrie has done important work on female same-sex desire in medieval literature and the methodological difficulties posed by such research. Lochrie is particularly interested in the (homo)eroticism inherent in the writings oflate medieval female mystics. On Italian texts see, for instance, her discussion of Catherine of Siena (pp. 188–89) in: Constructing Medieval Sexuality, eds. Karma Lochrie, Peggy McCracken, James A. Schultz (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 29.
    Giovanni Faustini’s libretto for the opera La Callisto by Francesco Cavalli (1602–1676) also plays with the lesbian intimations of the Greek myth; see Giovanni dall’Orto, “Orsa cerca orsa,” Babilonia 137 (October 1995), pp. 68–70.Google Scholar
  26. 30.
    For Sinistrari, see the discussion in Lilian Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (New York: William Morrow, 1981), pp. 35–37.Google Scholar
  27. 38.
    For a primer on Italian feminist thought in English, see Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, Liberazione della donna: Feminism in Italy (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University, 1986) and Italian Feminist Thought: A Reader, ed. Paola Bono and Sandra Kemp (Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991); see pp. 162–80 on lesbian feminism. On the Italian theorists of sexual difference that emerged in the 1980s, particularly in connection with thinkers from the Diotima research group such as Luisa Muraro and Adriana Cavarero, see the publication of the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective, Sexual Difference (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990), with its valuable introduction by Teresa de Lauretis. On the history of the lesbian and gay rights movement in Italy,Google Scholar
  28. see Gianni Rossi Barilli, Il movimento gay in Italia (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1999).Google Scholar
  29. 39.
    Mario Mieli, Elementi di critica omosessuale (Turin: Einaudi, 1977)Google Scholar
  30. and Mario Mieli, Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique, trans. David Fernbach (London: Gay Men’s Press, 1980). Feltrinelli is currently reissuing all of Mieli’s works, including an edition of the Elementi with accompanying critical essays: Elementi di critica omosessuale, ed. Gianni Rossi Barilli and Paola Mieli (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2002); see the essay by Pustianaz in this volume, note seven. The University of Michigan Press is considering an English version of this new edition.Google Scholar

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© Gary P. Cestaro 2004

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  • Gary P. Cestaro

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