Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) was an Renaissance writer, poet, and playwright who was known for his wit, irreverence, and controversial works. He is considered one of the most important literary figures of the Italian Renaissance, and his works had a significant impact on European literature and culture.
Aretino was born in Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy in 1492. He grew up in a relatively poor family and had limited access to education. However, he was a quick learner and taught himself to read and write. At a young age, he moved to Perugia, where he worked as a servant and began to write poetry. In 1517, he moved to Rome, where he became part of the literary circle surrounding the Medici family. It was here that he began to write his most famous works .
While Aretino’s early works were mainly religious and moralistic in themes his later works were in nature bawdy and pornographic, at least by the standards of the 15th century.
His patrons were to include Popes Leo X (Giovanni de’ Medici) and Clement VII, King François I and Emperor Charles V, and much of the nobility of Renaissance Europe, many of whom he blackmailed with threats to publish satires against them.
Aretino was a gay libertine in the larger-than-life mode of Renaissance Italy, so outspoken as to be beyond any counterattacks. Gay themes are scattered throughout his poems in one of which he declares himself to have been a sodomite from birth.
Aretino’s works were not without controversy, and he often found himself in trouble with the authorities. He was arrested several times and was forced to flee from city to city to avoid persecution. However, his popularity continued to grow, and he became known as the “Scourge of Princes” for his biting satire aimed at the powerful and wealthy.
Aretino was also a prolific letter writer and wrote to many of the important figures of his time, including Michelangelo, Titian, and Martin Luther. His letters were often witty and irreverent and showed his deep knowledge of contemporary culture and politics.
In a letter to Giovann de’ Medici written in 1524 Aretino encloses a satirical poem saying that due to a sudden aberration he has fallen in love with a female cook and temporarily switched from boys to girls; but he concludes his letter with a reaffirmation of the sodomites’ credo: “My Illustrious Lord, be absolutely certain that we all return to the ancient great mother, and if I escape with my honour from this madness, will bugger as much as much and as much for me as for my friends.”
Aretino is said to have died in 1556 of a stroke while laughing at a dirty joke. In reality though the exact cause of his death is not known, as there are conflicting accounts of his final moments. Some sources suggest that he died of a stroke or heart attack, while others claim that he was poisoned.