Academic journal article Italica

Friendship, Gender, and Virtue in the Renaissance: The Tragedies of Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio

Academic journal article Italica

Friendship, Gender, and Virtue in the Renaissance: The Tragedies of Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio

Article excerpt

Abstract: The topic of friendship was an extremely popular one in the Renaissance. We find it broached in treatises, dialogues, letters, and other genres. For the most part, it is treated from a very narrow, male-centered perspective. This essay examines its presence in the works of Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio (1504-1573): his novelle, dialogues on civic virtue, and a handful of his tragedies. Although Giraldi seems to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors and contemporaries writing on this subject, a close analysis of his tragedies reveals a much more nuanced understanding, one that not only includes but showcases women's virtue, in this respect far more so than in his characterization of their male counterparts, often shaming the latter with ignominious behavior. While the essay does not purport to be exhaustive, it does put forward sufficient evidence for the development of a genealogy of friendship gendered female, bonding among women, and the championing of female virtue in Italian Renaissance tragedy.

Keywords: Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio, female friendship, gender, virtue, Renaissance tragedy, women.


In his "Terzo dialogo della vita civile" on the topic of friendship, published as part of the second volume of his novella collection, the Ecatommiti, Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio (1504-73) writes: Tamicitia e un amore tra tutti gli altri eccellente, e le cose eccellenti sono poche, e pero fra pochi si ritrova la vera amicitia, non pure ne' nostri tempi, ma negli antichi ancora, perche si vede, che in tutta l'antichita si fa mentione appena di due, o tre paia di veri amici" (2: 1188; emphasis added). (1) Few and far between were the examples of vera amicitia, in antiquity, not to mention in the Renaissance, as Giraldi points out: Orestes and Pylades, Achilles and Patroclus, Aeneas and Achates, Nisus and Euryalus, Damon and Phitias, Tito and Gisippo, Cloridano and Medoro, and the list goes on with illustrious textual examples of male friendship. Giraldi adds an important detail, however, as he borrows from Cicero's, by then almost proverbial, De amicitia, as well as from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, commonplaces of the tradition still applicable to the early modern period: "Percio ritornero a dirvi che l'amicizia e cosi eccellente cosa che ella solo puo essere singolarmente fra due buoni e virtuosi uomini e simigliantissimi nella vita lodevole e ne' buoni costumi" (2: 1191; emphasis added). (2) In sum, friendship can only exist, Giraldi explains, among good and virtuous men who are similar in character and praiseworthy for their lives and customs.

What, then, can be said of female friendship in the early modern period, whether between a man and a woman, or, among women? Given that from antiquity to the early modern period, the "ideal" was a male-centered one, it is perhaps not so surprising that female friendship or female bonding is a subject scarcely broached in the literary or discursive realm, while historically based examples were unlikely to have been diligently recorded.

Only recently, and thanks to the archival discoveries of literary historians Judith Bryce and Carolyn James, do we come across some seemingly rare examples of male-female friendships or "collaborative" exchanges: Ippolita Sforza and Lorenzo de' Medici, Margherita Cantelmo and Agostino Strozzi. (3) However, in its ideal form, "among men," this was a goal hardly ever reached. From Leon Battista Alberti's midfifteenth century treatise on friendship, Book IV of Libri della famiglia, to Moderata Fonte's late-sixteenth century female-centered dialogue, II merito delle donne, men are shown to betray this so-called ideal on account of animosity, personal interest, and "inconstanza," a fickleness which is, of course, deemed problematic and "feminine" (4.383.26-29). (4)

Even so, and despite its apparent "anachronism" (5) with respect to classical ideals, male friendship was a hot topic and one which preoccupied some of the most famous literary figures of the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Dante, Boccaccio, Alberti, Speroni, Ariosto, Tasso, and, of course, Giraldi, whose Dialoghi claim it as the bedrock of "la felicita civile" (Ecatommiti 2: 1183-84 and passim). …

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