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  • Title: Coryat's Crudities (Modern)
  • Editors: Sarah Milligan, Jessica Slights

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    Author: Robert Cleaver
    Editors: Sarah Milligan, Jessica Slights
    Peer Reviewed

    Coryat's Crudities (Modern)

    0.1From Thomas Coryate, Coryat's Crudities (1611)

    [Thomas Coryate (1577-1617) was an English travel writer best known for publishing accounts of his expeditions to Europe and Asia. Coryat's Crudities recounts his five-month tour of numerous European towns and cities, and includes vivid descriptions of landscape, local history, and notable residents. Metaphorizing his travelogue as a series of crudities—that is, raw or refined foods—the title page of Coryate's lengthy volume presents his experiences as "newly digested . . . and now dispersed to the nourishment of the traveling members of this kingdom." Coryate's canny assessment of the appetites of the English reading public are evident in the following excerpts from his account of Venice, which include detailed descriptions of the city's architecture, the fashions favored by its female residents, and the habits of its notorious courtesans. This near-contemporary picture of the city and its inhabitants is perhaps of most interest to readers of Othello for its characterisation of Venetian women as either wives kept "always within the walls" by jealous husbands, or as "famoused" prostitutes.]

    1Such is the rareness of the situation of Venice that it doth even amaze and drive into admiration all strangers that upon their first arrival behold the same. For it is built altogether upon the water in the innermost gulf of the Adriatic Sea, which is commonly called Golfo di Venezia, and is distant from the main sea about the space of three miles. From the which it is divided by a certain great bank called lido maggiore, which is at the least fifty miles in length. This bank is so necessary a defense for the city that it serveth instead of a strong wall to repulse and reverberate the violence of the furious waves of the sea. For were not this bank interposed like a bulwark betwixt the city and the sea, the waves would utterly overwhelm and deface the city in a moment. The form of this foresaid bank is very strange to behold. For nature herself, the most cunning mistress and architect of all things, hath framed it crooked in the form of a bow, and by the art of man there are five ostia, which is mouths or gaps, made therein, whereof each maketh a haven and yieldeth passage to the ships to sail forth and back to Venice.

    . . .

    The city is divided in the midst by a goodly fair channel, which they call Canal il grande. The same is crooked, and made in the form of a Roman S. It is in length a thousand and three hundred paces, and in breadth at the least forty, in some places more. The six parts of the city whereof Venice consisteth are situate on both sides of this Canal il grande. . . . Also, both sides of this channel are adorned with many sumptuous and magnificent palaces that stand very near to the water, and make a very glorious and beautiful show. For many of them are of a great height three or four stories high, most being built with brick, and some few with fair freestone. Besides, they are adorned with a great multitude of stately pillars made partly of white stone and partly of Istrian marble.

    . . .

    Most women when they walk abroad, especially to church, are veiled with long veils, whereof some do reach almost to the ground behind. These veils are either black, or white, or yellowish. The black, either wives or widows do wear; the white, maids, and so the yellowish also, but they wear more white than yellowish. It is the custom of these maids when they walk in the streets to cover their faces with their veils, verecundiae causa, the stuff being so thin and slight that they may easily look through it. For it is made of a pretty slender silk, and very finely curled, so that because she thus hoodwinketh herself you can very seldom see her face at full when she walketh abroad, though perhaps you earnestly desire it, but only a little glimpse thereof. Now whereas as I said before that only maids do wear white veils and none else, I mean these white silk curled veils, which, as they told me, none do wear but maids. But other white veils wives do much wear, such as are made of Holland, whereof the greatest part is handsomely edged with great and fair bonelace.

    Almost all the wives, widows, and maids do walk abroad with their breasts all naked, and many of them have their backs also naked even almost to the middle, which some do cover with a slight linen—as cobweb lawn or such other thin stuff—a fashion methinks very uncivil and unseemly, especially if the beholder might plainly see them. For I believe unto many that have prurientem libidinem, they would minister a great incentive and fomentation of luxurious desires. Howbeit, it is much used both in Venice and Padua, for very few of them do wear bands but only gentlewomen, and those do wear little lawn or cambric ruffs.

    5There is one thing used of the Venetian women and some others dwelling in the cities and towns subject to the Signory of Venice that is not observed, I think, amongst any other women in Christendom, which is so common in Venice that no women whatsoever goeth without it, either in her house or abroad—a thing made of wood and covered with leather of sundry colors, some with white, some red, some yellow. It is called a "chapiney," which they wear under their shoes. Many of them are curiously painted, some also I have seen fairly gilt—so uncomely a thing, in my opinion, that it is pity this foolish custom is not clean banished and exterminated out of the city. There are many of these chapineys of a great height, even half a yard high, which maketh many of the women that are very short seem much taller than the tallest women we have in England. Also, I have heard that this is observed amongst them, that by how much the nobler a woman is, by so much the higher are her chapineys. All their gentlewomen, and most of their wives and widows that are of any wealth, are assisted and supported either by men or women when they walk abroad, to the end they may not fall. They are borne up most commonly by the left arm, otherwise they might quickly take a fall. For I saw a women fall a very dangerous fall, as she was going down the stairs of one of the little stony bridges with her high chapineys along by herself; but I did nothing pity her, because she wore such frivolous and, as I may truly term them, ridiculous instruments, which were the occasion of her fall. For both I myself, and many other strangers, as I have observed in Venice, have often laughed at them for their vain chapineys.

    All the women of Venice every Saturday in the afternoon do use to anoint their hair with oil, or some other drugs, to the end to make it look fair, that is whitish, for that color is most affected of the Venetian dames and lasses. And in this manner they do it: first, they put on a reeden hat without any crown at all but brims of exceeding breadth and largeness; then, they sit in some sun-shining place in a chamber or some other secret room, where, having a looking-glass before them, they sophisticate and dye their hair with the foresaid drugs, and after cast it back round upon the brims of the hat till it be thoroughly dried with the heat of the sun; and, last of all, they curl it up in curious locks with a frizzling or crisping pin of iron, which we call in Latin Calamistrum, the top of which on both sides above their forehead is acuminated in two peaks. That this is true, I know by mine own experience, for it was my chance one day when I was in Venice to stand by an Englishman's wife, who was a Venetian woman born, while she was thus trimming of her hair, a favor not afforded to every stranger.

    But since I have taken occasion to mention some notable particulars of their women, I will insist farther upon that matter and make relation of their courtesans also, as being a thing incident and very proper to this discourse, especially because the name of a courtesan of Venice is famoused over all Christendom. And I have here inserted a picture of one of their nobler courtesans, according to her Venetian habits, with my own near unto her, made in that form as we saluted each other. Surely by so much the more willing I am to treat something of them because I perceive it is so rare a matter to find a description of the Venetian courtesans in any author, that all writers that I could ever see which have described the city have altogether excluded them out of their writings. Therefore seeing the history of these famous gallants is omitted by all others that have written just commentaries of the Venetian state, as I know it is not impertinent to this present discourse to write of them, so I hope it will not be ungrateful to the reader to read that of these notable persons which no author whatsoever doth impart unto him but myself, only I fear lest I shall expose myself to the severe censure and scandalous imputations of many carping critics who I think will tax me for luxury and wantonness to insert so lascivious a matter into this treatise of Venice. Wherefore at the end of this discourse of the courtesans, I will add some apology for myself, which I hope will in some sort satisfy them if they are not too captious.

    The woman that professeth this trade is called in the Italian tongue Cortezana, which word is derived from the Italian word cortesia that signify courtesy, because these kind of women are said to receive courtesies of their favorites. Which word hath some kind of affinity with the Greek word έταίρα, which signifieth properly a sociable woman, and is by Demosthenes, Athenaeus, and divers other prose writers often taken for a woman of a dissolute conversation.

    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, Malomocco, 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 a toleration of such licentious wantons in so glorious, so potent, so renowned a city. For methinks that the Venetians should be daily afraid lest their winking at such uncleanness should be an occasion to draw down upon them God's curses and vengeance from heaven, and to consume their city with fire and brimstone as in times past he did Sodom and Gomorrah. But they, not fearing any such thing, do grant large dispensation and indulgence unto them, and that for these two causes.

    10First, ad vitanda maiormala. For 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, as 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, as many reported unto me in Venice, and so save them a great charge. The consideration of these two things hath moved them to tolerate for the space of these many hundred years these kind of Laides and Thaides who may be as fitly termed the stales of Christendom as those were heretofore of Greece. For so infinite are the allurements of these amorous Calypsos, 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 principalest of them live in very magnificent and portly buildings fit 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 sumptuous tapestry and gilt leather, such as I have spoken of in my treatise of Padua. 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, in so much that thou wilt think she made a late transmigration from Paphos, Cnidos, or Cythera, the ancient habitations of Dame Venus. For her face is adorned with the quintessence of beauty. In her cheeks thou shalt see the lily and the rose strive for the supremacy, and the silver trammels of her hair displayed in that curious manner besides her two frizzled peaks standing up like pretty pyramids that they give thee the true cos amoris. But if thou has an exact judgment, thou mayst easily discern the effects of those famous apothecary drugs heretofore used amongst the noble ladies of Rome, even stibium, cerussa, and purpurissum. For few of the courtesans are so much beholding to nature but that they adulterate their faces and supply her defect with one of these three. A thing so common amongst them that many of them which have an elegant natural beauty do varnish their faces, the observation whereof made me not a little pity their vanities, with these kind of sordid trumperies. Wherein methinks they seem ebur atramento candefacere,according to that excellent proverb of Plautus, that is, to make ivory white with ink.

    Also, the ornaments of her body are so rich that except thou dost even geld thy affections—a thing hardly to be done—or carry the Ulysses herb called moly, which is mentioned by Homer, that is some antidote against venerous titillations, she will very near benumb and captivate thy senses and make reason veil bonnet to affection. For thou shalt see her decked with many chains of gold and orient pearl like a second Cleopatra—but they are very little—divers gold rings beautified with diamonds and other costly stones, jewels in both her ears of great worth. A gown of damask—I speak this of the nobler courtesans—either decked with a deep gold fringe—according as I have expressed it in the picture of the courtesan that I have placed about the beginning of this discourse—or laced with five or six gold laces each two inches broad. Her petticoat of red camlet edged with rich gold fringe, stockings of carnation silk, her breath and her whole body, the more to enamor thee, most fragrantly perfumed. Though these things will at the first sight seem unto thee most delectable allurements, yet if thou shalt rightly weigh them in the scales of a mature judgment, thou wilt say with the wise man, and that very truly, that they are like a golden ring in a swine's snout.

    Moreover, she will endeavor to enchant thee, partly with her melodious notes that she warbles out upon her lute, which she fingers with as laudable a stroke as many men that are excellent professors in the noble science of music, and partly with that heart-tempting harmony of her voice. Also thou wilt find the Venetian courtesan, if she be a selected woman indeed, a good rhetorician and a most elegant discourser, so that if she cannot move thee with all these foresaid delights, she will assay thy constancy with her rhetorical tongue. And to the end she may minister unto thee the stronger temptations to come to her lure, she will show thee her chamber of recreation, where thou shalt see all manner of pleasing objects, as many fair-painted coffers wherewith it is garnished round about, a curious milk-white canopy of needle work, a silk quilt embroidered with gold, and generally all her bedding sweetly perfumed. 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 bedside, with Christ in her arms, placed with a crystal glass. But beware not withstanding all these illecebra et lenocinia amoristhat thou enter not into terms of private conversation with her. For then thou shalt find her such a one as Lipsius truly calls her, calli dam et calidam solis filiam, that is, the crafty and hot daughter of the sun.

    15Moreover, I will tell thee this news which is most true, that if thou shouldst wantonly converse with her and not give her that salarium iniquitatis which thou hast promised her but perhaps cunningly escape from her company, she will either cause thy throat to be cut by her ruffiano if he can after catch thee in the city, or procure thee to be arrested if thou art to be found, and clapped up in the prison, where thou shalt remain till thou hast paid her all thou didst promise her.

    Therefore, for avoiding of these inconveniences, I will give thee the same counsel that Lipsius did to a friend of his that was to travel into Italy: even to furnish thyself with a double armor, the one for thine eyes, the other for thine ears. As for thine eyes, shut them and turn them aside from these venerous Venetian objects. For they are the double windows that convey them to thy heart. Also thou must fortify thine ears against the attractive enchantments of their plausible speeches. Therefore, even as wrestlers were wont heretofore to fence their ears against all exterior annoyances by putting to them certain instruments called ὰμφὼτιδες, so do thou take unto thyself this firm foundation against the amorous wounds of the Venetian courtesans to hear none of their wanton toys; or if thou wilt needs both see and hear them, do thou only cast thy breath upon them in that manner as we do upon steel, which is no sooner on but incontinent it falleth off again. So do thou only breathe a few words upon them and presently be gone from them, for if thou dost linger with them thou wilt find their poison to be more pernicious than that of the scorpion, asp, or cockatrice.