Progressive work with Veronica Franco and Josquin des Prez…

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Franco was the only daughter among the family’s three sons. Her intellectual life began with sharing her brothers’ education by private tutors. She became involved in the 1570s with Domenico Venier’s renowned literary salon in Venice. Venier served as a literary adviser not only to male writers but also to many women poets of the Veneto region. Franco was a frequent visitor to Ca’ Venier, his private palace. There she exchanged her capitoli in terza rima with male poets, and received sonnet commissions for anthologies she assembled to commemorate men of the Venetian elite, such as the military hero, Estore Martinengo. In 1575 she published a volume of her own poetry, the Terze rime. There are 25 poems, but only 17 are by Franco. The others are by Marco Venier or an unidentified male author. Her poems represent and transform her life as a courtesan. As an honored courtesan she lived quite splendidly; she played music (the lute and the spinet), was well versed in the literature of ancient Greece and Rome as well as of the present, and mingled with thinkers, artists, politicians and poets. The poems advertise these accomplishments and raise her above less educated women selling sex. Her engagement with male patrons is dramatized in her capitoli as she always addresses her poems to a specific man from whom she requests a response. Franco is also openly erotic, even sexually explicit From her first poem, she celebrates her sexual expertise as a courtesan and promises to satisfy her interlocutor’s desires. Her frankness of speech and the specific situations she dramatizes also challenge the idealizing clich├ęs of Petrarchan love poetry. In her poems and letters, she undermines the traditional portrayal of the female beloved as a silent, distant, cruel and unattainable woman. She insists on engagement and dialogue, and capitoli 13 and 16 are combative and polemical. In capitolo 16, she writes a fierce and persuasive response to three obscene poems written against her in Venetian dialect by Marco Venier’s cousin, Maffio Venier. She defends herself against Maffio’s attempts to humiliate her in public. She also defends all women who are verbally or physically abused by male attackers. In capitoli 3, 17 and 20 she echoes the rhetoric, themes, figures of speech, and simple maid characters of the Latin elegists, Catullus, Propertius, and Ovid. In these capitoli, she speaks, however, in the woman’s voice about the destructive powers of longing, desire and jealousy and the frustration of self-enforced exile. Owing to their epistolary format, these poems most closely resemble Ovid’s Heroides and Epistulae ex Ponto.