In Venice, in 1505, a man named Pietro Bembo published a collection of prose and poetry on the (supposed) importance of neo-platonic love, called Gli Asolani. From what I’ve been told, this collection placed a great emphasis on the grand splendour of spiritual love and devotion, to the detriment of human love and lust. Hardly a unique idea, and – as I’m sure we can all agree – a far too prevalent one. But something about the time and place of Gli Asolani struck me as significant. First of all, Bembo was an important figure for another reason: he gathered and published a collection of sonnets called Rime Sparse, which were written by an Italian poet named Francesco Petrarcha. Petrarcha didn’t think much of his sonnets – which is, perhaps, why he titled them Rime Sparse, which translates as ‘Scattered Rhymes’ – but he liked them enough to renumber and reorder them just before he died, leaving a neat little collection for Bembo. Despite Petrarcha’s own disdain for Rime Sparse, Bembo believed it was worthy of publication, and the impact the Petrarchan Sonnet form went on to have on poetry and, indeed, literature was huge. Therefore Bembo has reason to be remembered.
What is particularly striking about the time at which Gli Asolani was published is that Venice in 1505 was truly at the heart of the Renaissance, and the Renaissance was really the point at which our modern world and our modern way of thinking began. Before that, in the Middle Ages, we still had feudalism and chivalry: but with this rebirth came a kind of enlightenment and a desire for invention. So it is understandable that anything that was born or heralded during the Renaissance period was likely to have a long-lasting impact on the world that came after it.
With all of this in mind, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to suggest that perhaps Gli Asolani may in some small way be responsibile for the way sex is blushed and smirked over in the modern world. It at least bears thinking about; and maybe some further investigation might be worthwhile.
This article is meandering a little as the topic of rebirth does not offer particular evidence to any argument I might want to make. However, it not only seems extremely poignant at this time of year, but also lends itself beautifully to a handful of things I’ve been meaning to mention. Furthermore, I am between two pieces of coursework this week so, for myself, a chance to let the reins loosen on form and structure is a welcome breath of fresh air. But don’t be alarmed! I will still tie this article up at the end by referring you back to Bembo. Never you fear.
Over the past two weeks I’ve read many articles about turning over new leaves and making resolutions; about reflecting on what has gone before and planning what is yet to come. Funnily enough I’ve probably read more articles pointing out that the author is “not the kind of person who makes resolutions”. But one thing seems clear: for the vast majority of us, whether we like it or not, the sense of rebirth, as 2013 begins, is in the air, and we are aware of it. As for myself, I actually love making resolutions, but have found that making them purely because it’s the beginning of the year is a surefire way to meet with failure. So I make resolutions as and when they feel necessary. For example, in May 2012 I decided to stop lying and began to make a concerted effort to always be open and honest, even if that meant being honest about the fact that I have some secrets I am not willing to tell. All in all, I succeeded, and will continue to endeavour to be honest because, on the most basic level, it makes life simpler.
To anyone who has known me for a year or more – me, Harper, that is; or Lady Grinning Soul, as I was formerly known, – it will come as no surprise that I thrive on the concept of rebirth. The very fact that I changed my name, and my website is proof enough. Making such a huge transition comes at a cost, but one I was willing to pay for the excitement of renewal. Add to that the fact that I more recently deleted all my short erotic fiction from this website and heavily edited the non-fiction content, and I’m sure you can see a pattern emerging. There is something extremely addictive about wiping the slate clean and starting again. Speaking of which, I will give a moment’s nod to the fact that I am now ‘out’ as a sex writer and I’m hoping the effects of outing myself will provide some interesting topics later in the year. As yet I am still waiting for the fallout or, in fact, any reaction whatsoever from my family and school friends. Watch this space.
(Another point worth making, and worth researching: with the new year and (if you make them) new resolutions, come new projects. A handful of people have begun or renewed 365 projects – myself included – and others have taken on the more dramatic Day Zero challenge, so the new year also offers the opportunity for new inspiration and new projects to follow.)
But back to my starting point. The Renaissance was actually about the rebirth of antiquity; it was to do with retelling and recreating the stories of Ancient Gods, and great heroes. The idea that the common man is worth artistic attention is, in fact, a fairly recent one which, despite having some exposure in theatre beforehand, wasn’t really considered worthwhile until the birth of the novel in the eighteenth century. However, I think it would be fair to say that, despite its long-standing prevalance, our reverence of antiqutiy has not, actually, lasted until today. It has fallen a little short because of world-changing events like the second world war. Furthermore, if we look at rebirth on a smaller scale, and I’m talking, again, about those new year’s resolutions, they don’t seem to last either.
So – and here’s where I wrap it all up, ever so neatly and eloquently – perhaps Bembo isn’t really to blame for our outdated attitudes to sex, after all.