chapter  10
Erotica
Pages 27

A genre of explicit sexual representation, the forerunner of pornography, coalesced during the Renaissance. “Pornography” itself derives from an ancient Greek word literally meaning “painters of whores” that had come to include writing by at least the second century, as in Athenaeus.2 However, this term is now fraught with meanings that render it too anachronistic for early modern application. Yet “eroticism” and “erotic writing” are too diffuse, too modal, to register formalized sexual specificity. I will use “erotica” for this purpose, and “homoerotica” for its male and female same-sex variant.3 Though a recent term, “erotica” at least remains relatively neutral in its connotations while suggesting materials categorized according to a deliberate, distinctive, and constitutive focus on sexual or sexually charged activity. On account of official constraints on printing increasingly enforced from the early sixteenth century onward, much erotica (as opposed to relatively diffuse eroticism) would have circulated only in manuscript, among likeminded coteries. Unfortunately, little such early modern homoerotica currently seems to have survived the purges of centuries, and so this chapter and its readings revolve around printed texts and the implications of censorship. Just as the visual arts and literature in general were produced primarily by and for males, homoerotica addressing sexual relations between females seems to have been relatively rare from the fifteenth well into the seventeenth centuries, and tended to serve male heteroerotic appetites anyway. Although no such manuscripts by women are presently known, it is not unlikely that some, at least on a small scale within notes or letters, were likely created.