The School of Whoredom
by Pietro Aretino
(Translated by Rose Maria Falvo, Alessandro Gallenzi and Rebecca Skipwith)
Hesperus Press Ltd., 2003
[ #31 — No hablo: A book originally written in another language (either a translation or in the original if you’d like!)]
The School for Whores, by Pietro Aretino, is not long, but boy was it funny. Aretino was a satirist of 16th century Italy and this piece, which is part of a longer one, is about an aging prostitute named Nanna who imparts all the wisdom she’s collected over the years to her daughter Pippa, who is about to enter the same profession. The story, which spans an afternoon and night, is told entirely in back-and-forth dialogue between the two, almost like an unstaged play. Like The Worm Ourobouros, which I reviewed in 2018, it’s one of those books you can open at any point and find some literary candy to savor. So, I’ll open a page at random, to Nanna giving some advice on how to conduct oneself at dinner.
|… when the salad arrives, don’t rush at it like a cow at hay, but take teeny-weeny mouthfuls, and put them in your mouth without greasing so much as a finger — don’t lower your head, gobbling up the food straight off your plate, as I have seen some oafs do. Keep majestically erect, extending your hand graciously, and when you ask for a drink, do it with a nod of your head. If the decanters are on the table, help your self and don’t fill the glass to the brim — slightly over halfway will do.|
As this is a story about courtesans, sex comes into the mix as well. Not pornographic, but it is bawdy and bedroom antics are alluded to without coyness. Everyone, customers, fellow prostitutes, and moralizers on them both are skewered in good satirical fun. It reminded me, in fact, of Moliere’s School for Wives for its takes on male delusion and hypocrisy, except the hypocritical ones were being gossiped about and not proclaiming their views on stage.
With all its twists and turns of language, and allusions to the people and social graces of another time, the work demanded my full attention to read, and I had to pace myself in spite of the breeziness of the dialogue. Kudos to the translators (there were three) for bringing the piece to life in modern English. I was well entertained by their efforts.
(I found this book where I find so many others, at my local Little Free Library.)