Feb 26, 2014

Male Nudity in Italian Class

The only good thing about Lone Star College in Houston, Texas, where I taught after getting my M.A. in 1984, was the free tuition for faculty.  There wasn't a lot at that I wanted to take, but the did offer Italian.

It didn't start out well:
Roger e un ragazzo americano. Maria e una ragazza italiana. Roger e Maria sono amici. . .

Roger is an American boy visiting Italy. He goes to a cafĂ© and tries to pick up a local girl. In the first lesson we learned “What is your name?”, "Your country is beautiful," and "How old are you."

Roger learns the time so he won’t be late for the cinema, learns the names of food so he can order in the restaurant, gets an overview of national history as they tour the museums.  In Chapter 10, we learn the Italian word for "kiss" (bacio).

Why do even language-learning dialogues have to be about a boy and a girl?  No men in Italy?

I never thought of Italy as a "good place."  The only fiction about Italian boys in love was The Little World of Don Camillo, and movies set in Italy seemed to involve mostly horny heterosexuals: Roman Holiday (1953), La Dolce Vita (1960),  Island of Love (1963), Avanti (1972).  Pasolini was entirely heterosexist. I had never seen Ernesto (1979).

I knew about Thomas Mann's gay obsession in Death in Venice, and about Wilhelm Van Gloeden's homoerotic photographs of Sicilian youth, but they were German.

But one weekend I drove two hours into Houston, to the Wilde-and-Stein Bookstore, and bought Ganymede in the Renaissance, about how Renaissance artists used the myth of Ganymede, a mortal boy swept up by Zeus to become his catamite.

And I discovered a whole gay world in Renaissance Italy, artists, writers, statesmen.

1. Leonardo Da Vinci. He got a girlfriend on Rocky and Bullwinkle.

2. Michelangelo.  As portrayed by Charleton Heston in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), he got a girlfriend.

3. Donatello, who sculpted the famously effeminate David, a counterpart to Michelangelo's more macho version.

4. Benvenuto Cellini.  His Autobiography was on the list of recommended readings in my class in Renaissance History in college.  But not a word in class.

5. Caravaggio, played by Dexter Fletcher and Nigel Terry in the 1986 movie.

6. Aretino, who wrote Il Marescalco, about a gay man forced to marry a woman, but she turns out to be a man.

7. Ariosto.  I bought his Orlando Furioso in a Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition, but had no idea.

8. Matteo Bandello, who wrote 12 Novelle, one about a gay man.

9. Dante.  Ok, he was probably heterosexual, and from the Middle Ages, but he wrote the beefcake and bonding classic, The Inferno.

10. The painter Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, nicknamed "Il Sodoma"

11. Giovanni, the foreign exchange student I had a crush on at Rocky High.  I spent the whole year imagining a tearful and sexy reuninon.

Forget the Romantic poets -- when I went back to graduate school for my doctorate, I would major in the Renaissance!