Pietro Aretino: The Scourge of Princes

Pietro Aretino, by Titian (Frick Collection)

Imagine, if you will, a writer coarse and crass, bitingly satirical, outrageous, and, when the letters weren’t paying the bills, he’d dabble in a little (okay a lot) of blackmail. Even better, imagine if he was the son of an Arezzo shoemaker, but convinced all he was the son of a nobleman… and was so taken with his own awesomeness he gave himself the name, flagello dei principe (“scourge of princes”).

I give to you, Pietro Aretino.

Oh yes indeedy.  His writing was so lewd and crass that in 1558, two years after his death, his books were banned across Catholic Europe, and even when they were unbanned, modern writers struggled to translate them… due to all the blushing

The two poems below are translations from the same section of his Sonetti lussuriosi e dubbi amorosi (Sonnets of Lust).

Samuel Putnam had a stab in 1926—

“Of Fireside Sports”: (That’s what Putnam called his translation…)
And now of feasts and fireside sports we’ll sing,
And I will teach you a new game to play; (Oh Samuel you minx)
But you must come around the other way,
Though not too fast,!—tap gently: that’s the thing… (Samuel I’m blushing… )
And on and on he goes…
Around the fire upon a winter night?
My tale too has a point you cannot miss.  (I dunno, I reckon I completely missed it)

The plucky Lynne Lawner had a much better attempt in 1988

SHE: Stick your finger up my ass, old man,
Thrust cazzo in a little at a time,
Lift up my leg, maneuver well,
Now pound with all inhibitions gone.
I believe this is a tastier feast
Than eating garlic bread before a fire.
If you don’t like the potta, try the back way:
A real man has got to be a buggerer.

It is said that Lawner’s text follows the Italian quite closely, but it still holds back from the original, and she refuses to translate the Italian cazzo, potta, culo, and fottere to the English “cock,” “cunt,” “asshole,” and “fuck.”

I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the next attempted translation.

My references:


Moulton, Ian Frederick. Before Pornography : Erotic Writing in Early Modern England, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2000. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uow/detail.action?docID=271056.