Saturday, October 01, 2005

Thing To Do: Blog, Clean Up, and Read Guido Ruggiero's The Boundaries of Eros!

So… in the interests of mitigating my future tendencies to apologize, i gotta pronounce a disclaimer to the effect that this is not looking like it will be a deep, meaningful, or particularly coherent set of entries. I’m new to blogs, never kept a diary, am unsure of my intentions... basically just getting the “lay of the land”.
But I like the idea of a “brain dump”, of a place where I can do the literate equivalent of doodling. On more than one occasion I’ve regretted forgetting just what that wonderful insight I had the night before was, but these “insights” are rarely worth the time or energy to put into any coherent written form, so I’ve never done anything about it, just remained frustrated.
So, with incoherence as my expectation, perhaps this place will serve alleviate some of this frustration and perhaps even occasionally provide something of interest.

So what am I up to today?
1. Well, I just installed the BlogggerForWord plug-in, so we’ll see how that works.

2. I’ve been reading more of Guido Ruggiero’s The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice, and as someone curious about the subject-matter but with absolutely no background knowledge of the material, I have to say it’s turning out to be a pleasant and interesting read. Not brain-candy, but not brain-torture either.

So far the crimes Ruggiero has been dealing with are Fornication and Adultery, both of which seem more “normal” and less “outrageous" by today’s standards than the legal sex that went on at the time. Marriage in those days (think 14-15th centuries), especially for the city merchants and nobles (the principal characters in Ruggiero’s story, as they’re the ones whose values and lives left the most clear traces in the historical record), tended to be between adult men in their 20s or 30s and girls barely out of puberty. The marriage contract was pretty easy to enter into – it seems that there was no actual “marriage ceremony” or filling out of forms necessary, as the following explanation by one long-dead Gregori Dati from Florence attests:

“I shall record here how I married my second wife, Isabetta, known as Betta [….]On March 21, 1393, I was betrothed to her; on Easter Monday, April 7, I gave her a ring. On June 22, a Sunday, I became her husband in the name of God and good fortune [….] On the 26th of that same June, I received a payment of 800 gold florins from the bank of Giacomo and Company. This was the dowry.” [quoted from Ruggiero p. 26)

In fact, illicit sex – either rape of fornication – was a way of fixing a marriage over the objections of one of the parties or their families. Once a woman was no longer a virgin she lost a lot of her worth in the eyes of the men in her life (suitors, father, brothers, etc.). Ruggiero point out both that families who did not have enough money for their daughters dowry could encourage fornication in the hopes of then being able to force the man to9 marry their daughter regardless. More wretched than this, Ruggiero also notes that rape (which has a chapter devoted to it which I have yet to get to) was often a prelude to marriage, because the “penalty” imposed on rapists by the courts could often be greatly reduced or even completely done away with if the rapist agreed to marry his victim – so if a man wanted to marry a woman and she wasn’t up for it, raping her was a way to not only get his rocks off but also get himself a bride.

Disgusting stuff, but also very interesting to read about.

My main reason for checking out this book, is I read Caliban and the Witch by Sylvia Federici earlier this year (I’m putting together a page about the book on my site here). Federici argues that in the 15th century the rebelliousness of male workers was channeled into sexual violence, women’s bodies providing a pleasant diversion and safety valve to relieve social pressure. Drawing on the work of Jacques Rossiaud (whose book Medieval Prostitiution I have yet to be able to get at the library), Federici describes a literal rape movement, whereby sexual assaults on any poor woman were now tolerated by the authorities, essentially decriminalized. According to Federici, Rossiaud interprets the mass raping of women as a form of class protest; the rapists often believed that their victims – often maids, servants, or washerwomen – had sex with their masters.

This was one of the most intriguing parts of Caliban and the Witch, but like much of that excellent book not enough space or detail was spent discussing it, and neither the internet nor most standard works on medieval women I have checked out discuss this, so considering that Federici describes this as a decriminalization of rape, and as a ruling class strategy, more information about the previous legal situation and supporting evidence that this was a thought-out plan would have been welcome… thus my interest in reading up on sexual violence, ideas of consent, etc. in the Middle Ages!

3. Apart from hopefully getting this uploaded to my blog, and reading some more, I have the usual orders to try and fill this weekend. Plus I have to clean this place up, as I currently have boxes and boxes and piles and piles of paper all scattered hither and thither… not especially conducive to working!

Wish me luck!

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