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Courtesans of the Renaissance

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Courtesans of the Renaissance Today, prostitution is thought of as anyone who sells their body for money. In fact, no specific distinction is put on class level of the prostitute or how much money they earn, they are still considered just a prostitute. However, this was not true of the 16th century. During this time, prostitution was a legal business, and at the top of the class list were the courtesans. The courtesans used their outstanding wit and intelligence, along with their bodies to earn their own living. They were visited by the men of the upper class, including royalty. Because of this the courtesans had to project an image of sophistication and nobility. They had to hold their own with their royal clients and were often admired and considered equals by these men. Unlike the imprisoned and sheltered noble women of the Renaissance (the clients wives and daughters), who were either in an arranged marriage or locked up in a convent, the courtesans were independent and free to do as they wished. Precursors to the modern women, the courtesans of 16th century were intelligent and well read, they earned their living by their beauty and wit, and were prostitutes by choice. To completely understand the life of the courtesans, one must realize why these women choose the life. In the Renaissance at this time, women had very few choices. The only good choices for girls were to become married (arranged in most cases) or enter into a convent, but later in the century, even these choices were not always available. Many Italian women were placed in “moral” positions that compromised their personal freedom and individual beliefs. In fact, the prospects of marriage for women of the upper classes were at times not so good. Primarily because it became very expensive to pay for dowries, so many families among these classes tried to limit marriages to only one or two in each generation. This did not leave the eldest daughters many options. Many of them were forced into convents. This led to increased pressure on the convents and the cost of placing daughters in them grew so high that many families could just not afford it. Woman's power and standing in the family depended on the possession of a dowry and refusal of the option of marriage left these women without financial means. These "excess" daughters had only two choices: life alone or life as a prostitute (Cox 532-534). However, many other young women were introduced to the profession of prostitution at an early age by their mothers or grandmothers, the courtesans who were no longer young and beautiful and were unable to support their daughters any more. Some daughters even had their fees paid directly to their mothers. This practice of selling off daughters to prostitution slowed down after 1570, though, due to a law passed in the Council of Ten in 1563. The ruling attempted to prevent mothers from prostituting their young daughters for the purpose of receiving economic support. The senate legislated to punish any person involved in violating the chastity of an unwed girl, or anyone who received favors from young women, especially if minors. Rather than punish the young girl, whom the senate regarded as the innocent victim, the ruling prescribes that the offenders, usually mothers, who prostitute their our daughters be severely punished. The punishment was public humiliation and then banishment from the city and surrounding area for 2 years (Rosenthal "Honest"). The lifestyle of a courtesan was one of public image. A courtesan offered herself not only as a prostitute, but as a skillful and intelligent friend. The courtesans not only charged a fee but a fee was required just for conversation. Because of this, the royal clients demanded a degree of intelligence from the courtesans. This is evident from the caliber of the men who visited them. Among the ranks of the clients were Lorenzo dei Medici, Montaigne, artist Raphael, Titian, many of the famed Venier family, cardinals, dukes, and even King Henri III of France. Even when relations with clients, as the ones listed above, were broken off, their favorable opinion was still desired. Playing music, singing, composing poetry and presenting a sophisticated figure were the courtesan's marketable skills. The most successful ones were learned in the humanities and a few even became published authors and poets. Also, Verbal expertise was essential to their social advancement. The most successful ones were learned in the humanities and a few even became published authors and poets. The honest courtesan offered social and intellectual refinement in return for a companionship. Unlike the typical noble woman, the courtesans were mainly free to do or speak as they wished. "Venetian ladies never appeared in the street…Generally speaking, none but the courtesans showed themselves in public, real ladies being visible only at their windows or on the balconies of their palace…” (Boehn 176). In general, women of nobility possessed very little power. They were victims of an "oligarchy dominated by men, and the laws passed by men reveal not only a class bias but a special arrogance toward women" (Rosenthal "Honest"). However, the courtesans were able to gain entry into the main circles of life. Many spent their days reading surrounded by the most influential men of society. They were also allowed more education than the typical noble woman. Most of the women in the upper classes received some education, however, only to prepare to raise her children. In 1587 only 4 percent of the women in Venice attended formal schools, compared to the 26 percent of male children in that same year (Rosenthal "Honest"). The courtesans, therefore, had to be increasingly more educated in order to succeed. While they did not receive any formal education, they taught themselves. They educated themselves in poetry, many writing and publishing their own work, politics, and debate. The courtesan education was in part to defend themselves against the common assaults that were directed at them throughout their career. Much of this education was gained through their day-to-day conversations with the great minds of the Renaissance, their clients. The courtesans were very like the noblewomen in their dress. Their costumes mimicked the splendor of the attire the noblewomen would wear, although the courtesans were able to model their glorious outfits in the streets and salons of cities, unlike their clients, wives and daughters, who were only able to flaunt their clothes on their walks to church. Often, women of the upper class were confused with them and many foreigners who visited cities confused courtesans with nobles. Cesare Vecellio's, an Italian painter of the Renaissance, noted costume book of the period warned unsuspecting visitors to Venice of this and to the fact that they very much resembled married women in their dress. Vecellio warns the men that many times, foreigners think that they are in the company of a "highborn lady" when they are really with a courtesan and, having slept with her, go about bragging about it, ruining the respectability of the true Venetian noblewomen (Rosenthal "Honest"). Because of this, many laws came into effect. These laws forbid them to wear gold, silver, silk, necklaces, pearls, or rings anywhere on their body (Masson 152). Unfortunately, these laws were rarely followed. Their outfits were extremely extravagant. They were made of brocade and silk and were often lined with gold or silver cloth. They wore incredible high-soled shoes, chopines, which not only allowed them to tower over any outsiders that came to visit the city, but also created the need for more fabric in their dress, thus making it even more costly. Many of them received expensive gifts of clothing and jewels from their many admirers. Their extensive spending on lavish dress was considered necessary, for it not only brought them visual attention to individual identity, but also demonstrated their immense possession of wealth (Griffin 98-101). It was still money, along with intellect, that distinguished a courtesan from a common whore. Although becoming a courtesan meant gaining the only real freedom a woman could have in Italy, it could also mean putting their life in danger. They faced attack by lovers, theft, disease (STD’s), the common man, and public humiliation. Courtesans especially ran the risk of being raped if they angered the wrong individual, a man particularly. As a form of revenge, an angry client would kidnap a courtesan and subject her to a rape, where she sometimes would be gang raped by a number of men. The victim of this became on object of ridicule as a result and her clients and fees sometimes ceased (Masson 25). Rejected lovers were also capable of slashing women's faces for revenge, which would ruin their beauty and their livelihood (Ruggiero "Passions"). In periods of grave social and economic danger, such as when the plague reoccurred, the courtesans were conveniently available as symbols of disorder and vileness, thus, increasing violence against them. While many people objected to prostitution, it was also considered necessary. It allowed young men through non marital sex to provided a safe place for them to experiment, thus saving many young women from being raped, which was a common occurrence at this time (Ruggiero "Eros"). Courtesans also created another source of revenue for the cities and were taxed heavily. When Pope Pius V took over in 1566, he attempted to rid Rome of all of the its prostitutes and passed a decree that stated that within six days, all prostitutes must leave Rome and in twelve days they must be outside the Papal States. This created quite an uproar in the city. Many courtesans lived largely on credit and the merchants and shopkeepers were faced with heavy losses if all the courtesans were driven out of the city at such a short notice. Moreover, the city fathers calculated that if all courtesans and their dependents were driven out of Rome, it would entail an exodus of almost a third of the population. This caused the farmers to grow alarmed because they collected the customs charges and if that many people left the city, it would produce a notable drop in revenue from the customs (Masson 141-143). Just this one example shows how the courtesans were a crucial part of the economy of the Italy cities. In Venice, they also bolstered the republic's presentation of Venice as a city of social freedom and tolerance. The highly visible female icon of the courtesan announced to Venetian citizens and foreign travelers Venice's unparalleled social and political freedoms (Rosenthal "Honest"). One of the most famous courtesans of the 16th century was Veronica Franco. Veronica descended not from the lower classes, but from the cittadino class in Venice (Rosenthal "Terze Rime"). Her family was, however, neither rich nor powerful. Since they were economically vulnerable, Franco became a courtesan out of necessity, following in her mother's footsteps. She had three brothers and gained most of her education indirectly through them and benefited from their private tutors and public schooling. She was married early to Paolo Paniza, a doctor, but this marriage did not last very long. She advanced very quickly through the ranks of the courtesans, mostly through her friendship with the celebrated patron of letters, Domenico Venier, and soon became the most famous of all the courtesans (Lawner 87). She was championed as the most beautiful, cultivated, and honored courtesan in Venice. When King Henry III was celebrated in 1574, she was the one he chose to visit and she made such an impression that he took away with him two of her sonnets and an enameled portrait of her. She made a success of her profession and then invented herself as a literary figure as well. Between 1570 and 1580, she wrote poetry, public letters, and took on editorial projects and was a success, helped once again by her close friend Domenico Venier, whose literary salon she frequented. Her most famous works, the Terze rime, a collection her poetry, and the Lettere familiari a diversi, her familiar letters, were published in 1575. Read together, they give the reader in inside look into the life of a courtesan, specifically, Veronica's life (Stortoni 12). She also compiled a commemorative edition of poems for Estore Martinengo, the slain brother of one of her lovers. Along with nine of her own sonnets, she completed the edition in 1575 with seventeen sonnets by members of Domenico Venier's literary salon. This prosperity could not last forever, though. In 1580, Franco was accused of witchcraft by the male tutor of her children, Riedolfo Vannitelli. This marked the end of her glorious reign, though, and by 1588 she was poverty-stricken. She had given birth to six children of her own and also had the added responsibility of her brother's children after his death. This, along with the plague and the thefts of precious items from her dowry left her impoverished and she died in 1591 at the early age of forty-five (Rosenthal "Honest"). Veronica's memory lives on, as she was not only the most famous of all the Venetian courtesans, she was also the modern ideal of an independent woman. She managed her own estate, earned her own capital, and, as her letters and poems reveal, had an independence of spirit that bowed before no man. As every age has to come to an end, so too did the golden age of the courtesans. Many Popes had promised reforms, but none had followed through on their word until 1566 with the accession of Pope Pius V. As stated above, he issued a decree ordering all prostitutes to leave Rome and all the Papal States. He would later agree to allow the prostitutes to remain, on the condition that they all lived in a quarter reserved for them (Masson 142-143). This marked the beginning of the end. Thanks to the Counter Reformation and the changed temper of the times, courtesans were no longer accepted by society; far less did they play any part in the intellectual life of the city. Only in the liberal city of Venice during the Renaissance did the courtesans flourish. However, by 1591 the Renaissance world that had given birth to the courtesans was dying, and the new one had no place for them. After Veronica Franco's death, courtesans continued to exist in Venice, but in reality, like those in Rome, they were mere prostitutes. Thus ended the age of the courtesan; muse, poet, and Venus of Renaissance Italy. Forerunners of the modern-day independent women, the courtesans of the Renaissance were equals to the upper-class males of society. Well-read, beautiful, and learned in the areas of poetry, politics, and debate, the courtesans were very desired by men and admired and envied by women. While most of them did not actively choose the life of a prostitute, having various boundaries set, they nonetheless decided to utilize the career and enjoy the freedom and liberty denied to the rest of the women of that time.

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...English Contents ABOUT THIS BOOK ................................5 THE WORDS.............................................7 WORD ANALYSIS ...............................103 IDIOM AND USAGE ............................117 About This Book English offers perhaps the richest vocabulary of all languages, in part because its words are culled from so many languages. It is a shame that we do not tap this rich source more often in our daily conversation to express ourselves more clearly and precisely. There are of course thesauruses but they mainly list common words. Other vocabulary books list difficult, esoteric words that we quickly forget or feel self-conscious using. However, there is a bounty of choice words between the common and the esoteric that often seem be just on the tip of our tongue. Vocabulary 4000 brings these words to the fore. Whenever possible, one-word definitions are used. Although this makes a definition less precise, it also makes it easier to remember. Many common words appear in the list of words, but with their less common meanings. For example, the common meaning of champion is “winner.” A less common meaning for champion is to support or fight for someone else. (Think of the phrase “to champion a cause.”) This is the meaning that would be used in the list. As you read through the list of words, mark any that you do not know with a check mark. Then when you read through the list again, mark any that you do not remember with two checks. Continue in......

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