Since women made up half the population of Renaissance Italy, their stories surely need to be told; but, like women in ancient Athens, Italian women of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were hemmed in by increasingly restricted social roles and limited education. Their lives, at any point on the economic scale, were usually hard, monotonous, and depressing. (And not only to a modern reader: a Sienese chronicle that coincides almost exactly with Lucrezia Borgia’s lifetime shows how frequently girls and women killed themselves in that central Italian city.)

I am reading a book on Pietro Bembo, and since I’m still at the beginning, I spent a good part of today reading many of his letters to one of his two most well known lovers (Maria). Some of the letters are so beautiful, but then the relationship starts to get so embroiled and neurotic that it takes the beauty away, even if the literary style remains the same. If I want to watch crappy relationships, I have modern TV to look at. Tried to find examples of the letters online, so I could include bits here, but I only found one tiny (and not very good) letter to Lucrezia, his second big famous love. I will include at least one letter to Maria later, because I found a detail I really liked.

While I was searching, I came upon the page linked above, which mentions something I think so often, how horrible it must have been for so many women to have lived in the past, and how so much of it just becomes completely invisible since history is usually about the famous, the very wealthy, and the people who were very active somehow, even the ones who had miserable or violent lives. Not that life is not horrible for many women around the world today (and needless to say, for many men as well), but with all the means of registering what goes on in the lives of so many people who also suffer today, I think when generations way in the future look back at our times, they will have a volume of historical information as never before. For the first time in history, a huge volume about lives is being produced. And yet, given that each day can contain such a wealth of human individual experience, what a human being is actually able to write or record is so mininal compared to all that we live, all the profound intensity and the enourmous range of our experiences and emotions.

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