THE BAWDY RENAISSANCE, NO COPIES IN THE US

Commento di Ser Agresto da Ficaruolo.

[Rome?, Antonio Blado?,] 1538.

£5,250

FIRST EDITION? 8vo. ff. 56. Italic letter, little Roman. Small, amusing woodcut of female genitalia as Medusa. Light age yellowing, t-p and a few ll. slightly thumbed, the odd faint small water mark, mostly marginal, a couple of tiny wax stains to fol. 53. A very good, well-margined copy in C18 Italian red goatskin, marbled pastedowns, bordered with gilt single rule and gilt leafy curls and circles with rosettes, gilt Greek key design to inner edges, gilt pointillé to outer corners of fore-edge. Spine in seven compartments with gilt fleurons, minor loss at head, a couple of tiny holes at foot, joints a bit worn.

Very good copy of this scarce first edition (?) of a successful and hilarious work which epitomises the bawdy intellectualism of the Italian Renaissance. Annibale Caro (1507-66) studied ‘humanae litterae’ and philosophy in Florence, spent some time in Venice where he met the controversial author Pietro Aretino, and later moved to Rome where he joined the Accademia dei Vignaioli. Best known for his translation of the ‘Aeneid’, Caro also published some bawdy poems which turned Aretino’s strongly graphic sexual language into a humanist intellectual game in the style of the Roman author Bernia. The ‘Commento’ is a scholarly disquisition by Ser Agresto (Caro’s persona) on the ‘Ficheide’ or ‘Ficaide’, an unpublished fictional poem by Padre Siceo (the author Francesco Maria Molza). Its theme is the half- literal/half-metaphorical concept of ‘fico’ (fig tree or fruit, and here male genitalia) and ‘fica’—a feminine form which troubled, according to Agresto, even great philologists like Valla—normally unrelated to fruit and signifying ‘female genitalia’ in its most vulgar sense.

Whilst rejecting the ‘Petrarchistic’ and ‘Boccacistic’ language in favour of plain Tuscan, within a world in which laureate poets are crowned with fig leaves, the work explores through philology, etymology, rhetoric and literature the ‘hermaphrodite’ dimension of ‘fico’/‘fica’. This is identified as a quasi-Aristotelian principle of generation and the essence of Nature and all sublunary matter which philosophers had long researched. It is a tour-de- force of doubles entendres (bordering on tongue-in- cheek Malapropisms) whereby nouns, adjectives and verbs continuously flesh out the concepts of penetrating, coming, spreading, fondling, sucking and licking. As explained in a ‘revised’ Virgilian passage, Carthage was destroyed by Aeneas’s ‘fico’ and Dido’s ‘fica’; similarly, Homer’s war of Troy—the Italian ‘troia’ meaning ‘prostitute’—was started by Helen’s ‘fica’. The commentator also reports dialogues with Lombard workers who answer that the sweetest thing is certainly the ‘figa’—a regional variation still used as a common, not necessarily too vulgar exclamation in Milanese dialect. Eventually, after hearing a Florentine gentleman wishing for a ‘fica’ so big he might enter it in his mantel, hood and all, Agresto yearns for a political utopia in which the ‘great minds leading our Republics’ may learn, like this gentleman, to maintain their civilisation and master its greatness.

This 1538 octavo edition, which ends with ‘Nasea’, another work by Ser Agresto focusing on the noses of the great, bears no information on the printer or place of publication. As suggested by the initial printer’s dedication, it was probably published, like another 1538 octavo edition, by Antonio Blado (Barbagrigia) in Rome, but no priority has been established. The ‘Commento’ was printed four times; later it became part of a collection of bawdy works including Aretino’s ‘Ragionamenti’, also published in London in 1584.

Rare. No copies recorded in the US.

USTC 819039; Brunet I, 1589: ‘ouvrage fort licencieux’; Graesse I, 43 ; Gay I, 635. Not in BM STC It, Gamba or Bernoni.

L2839