"When we too are
armed and trained, we can convince men that we have hands, feet, and a heart
like yours; and although we may be delicate and soft, some men who are delicate
are also strong; and others, coarse and harsh, are cowards. Women have
not yet realized this, for if they should decide to do so, they would be able
to fight you until death; and to prove that I speak the truth, amongst so many
women, I will be the first to act, setting an example for them to follow."
Venice in the
sixteenth century was a marvelous place for courtesans, rivaling Ancient
Athens. These Renaissance hetaira mixed with men of all sorts,
from rich merchants to literary artist. They were often well educated,
and capable of an intellectual, as well as sexual relationship, with their
clients. A woman who succeeded in winning patrons who desired her company
more than her body was called an "honest courtesan." Of course, only a
select few achieved that status.
One of these
was Veronica Franco. She was trained for the job by her mother, who had
in her youth been a courtesan. Veronica was an intelligent woman, and quickly
became a fixture in the literary salons of Venice. Backed by her patrons,
she published her poetry and letters. She was expert at a form of poetic
dueling whereby she provided the female "half " of a dialogue, to which
a male poet would reply (traditionally, male poets wrote both
voices). She used these poems to create a more positive image of
courtesans in the public eye.
Life was not
all smooth for courtesans. Although they were adored by wealthy patrons,
the common people saw them as symbols of vice. They were often blamed
for the moral degeneration of the city. Veronica was forced into
exile once during a plague. When she returned in 1577, she faced the Inquisition
-- and charges of witchcraft. She defended herself in court using the same
kind of poetic appeals she had once written playfully, but now in deadly
earnest. She won her freedom, but lost all her material goods. Eventually,
her major patron died and left her with no support. She probably
died in poverty.
ill treated by her fellow Venetians, but Hollywood has attempted to make
up for it. You can rent a movie based on her life: Dangerous Beauty.
They changed the ending a bit to make her victory more upbeat. The other
ladies are understandably jealous, and seek agents.
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