Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) was a poet, playwright, satirist and letter-writer. He is known as the as the father of modern literary erotica. Among his works were included The Lust Sonnets; The School of Whoredom; Discussions; Marriage Woes; The Courtesan; The Secret Life of Nuns; and The Secret Life of Wives. His writings usually took the form of dialogues, with a satirical edge. He also wrote many non-erotic pieces, especially plays about the poor and the working-class. His work greatly influenced the Elizabethan dramatists.
Aretino was a man who lived by his wits. He depended on his patrons for support and protection, among whom were Pope Clement VII, Pope Julius III, Frederico Gonzaga II and Giovanni de Medici. He was also a blackmailer, who used information he collected by leading others into vice. Called “The Scourge of Princes”, because of his blackmail and his satires, he was very feared in the arts and politics. (And, as a result, despite his patrons, he was almost murdered once and had to flee for his life a few times). He was the friend of Titian, who painted him. A legend exists that he died of laughing too much. His tombstone carried the epitaph “Here Aretino, the Tuscan poet, lies, who all the world abused, except God. Why? He knew him not”. (The epitaph was later removed by the Inquisition).
Aretino ranged widely in erotica. The Lust Sonnets were poems describing lovemaking positions. (They were created to accompany The Sixteen Pleasures, Guliano Romano’s erotic drawings). The School of Whoredom was a conversation between a prostitute and her daughter about the tricks of the trade. Discussions was an account by Roman prostitutes about the immorality of rich men in their city. Marriage Woes told the story of a man who is over-joyed to discover that the woman he was forced to marry is actually another man. (Aretino was bisexual). The Courtesan featured a Cardinal who is taught to lie so he can win himself a mistress. The Secret Life of Nuns and its sequel The Secret Life of Wives recounted the sexual adventures of women in those roles.
I found Aretino’s work wicked and sarcastic. His style was polished but the intent was raw and blatant. With The LustSonnets, however, he created the first modern literary sexual art.