The University of Mississippi

Music 502: Baroque Music

Thomas Coryat on Venetian Orphans (1608)

As for the number of these Venetian courtesans it is very great. For it is thought there are of them in the whole city and other adjacent places, as Murano, Malamocco, etc. at the least twenty thousand, whereof many are esteemed so loose that they are said to open their quivers to every arrow, a most ungodly thing without doubt that there should be tolleration of such licentious wantons in so glorious, so potent, so renowned a city .... First, they think that the chastity of their wives would be the sooner assaulted, and so consequently they should be capricornified, (which of all the indignities in the world the Venetian cannot patiently endure) were it not for these places of evacuation. But I marvel how that should be true though these courtesans were utterly rooted out of the city. For the gentlemen do even coop up their wives always within the walls of their houses for fear of these inconveniences, much as if there were no courtesans at all in the city. So that you shall very seldom see a Venetian gentleman's wife but either at the solemnization of a great marriage or at the Christening of a Jew, or late in the evening rowing in a gondola. The second cause is for that the revenues which they pay unto the Senate for their toleration do maintain a dozen of their galleys....

So infinite are the allurements of these amorous Calypsoes, that the fame of them hath drawn many to Venice from some of the remotest parts of Christendom to contemplate their beauties and enjoy their pleasing dalliances. And indeed such is the variety of the delicious objects they minister to their lovers, that they want nothing tending to delight. For when you come into one of their palaces (as indeed some few of the principallest of them live in very magnificent and portly buildings for the entertainment of a great prince) you seem to enter into the Paradise of Venus. For their fairest rooms are most glorious and glittering to behold. The walls round about being adorned with most sumptous tapistry and gilt leather. Besides you may see the picture of the noble courtesan most exquisitely drawn. As for herself, she comes to thee decked like the queen and goddess of love .... And amongst other amiable ornaments she will show thee one thing only in her chamber tending to mortification, a matter strange amongst so many irritamenta malorum, even the picture of our Lady by her bed side, with Christ in her arms, placed within a cristal glass....

If any of [the courtesans] happen to have any children (as indeed they have but a few, for according to the old proverb the best carpenters make the fewest chips) they are brought up either at their own charge or in a certain house of the city appointed for no other use but only for the bringing up of the courtesan's bastards, which I saw eastward above St. Mark's street near to the seaside. In the south wall of which building that looketh towards the sea, I observed a certain iron gate inserted into a hollow piece of the wall, betwixt which grate and a plain stone beneath it there is a convenient little space to put in an infant. Hither doth the mother or somebody for her bring the child shortly after it is born into the world; and if the body of it be no greater but that it may conveniently without any hurt to the infant be conveighed in at the aforesaid space, they put it in there without speaking at all to anybody who is in the house to take charge thereof. From thenceforth the mother is absolutely discharged of her child. but if the child be grown to that bigness that they cannot conveigh it through that space, it is carried back again to the mother, who taketh charge of it herself, and bringeth it up as well as she can. Those that are brought up in this aforesaid house, are removed therehence when they come to years of discretion, and many of the females if they be fair do imitate their mothers in their gainful faculty and get their living by prostituting their bodies to their favourites.

Thomas Coryat. Coryat's Crudities hastily gobbled up in five months travells in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia commonly called the Grisons country, Helvetia alias Switzerland, & some parts of high Germany, and the Netherlands; newly digested in the hungry aire of Odcombe in the county of Somerset, & now dispersed to the nourishment of the travelling members of this kingdom (1611).

[ Warren Steel | Music Department | UM Home ]