Licentious Wantons

These snippets are taken from Coryat’s Crudities, Thomas Coryate’s observations on Europe gathered during a five-month walking tour in 1608, published in 1611.

The woman that professeth this trade is called in the Italian tongue Cortezana, which word is derived from the Italian word cortesia that signifieth courtesie, because these kinde of women are said to receive courtesies of their favourites. As for the number of these Venetian Cortezans it is very great; it is thought there are of them in the whole City and other adjacent places, as Murano, Malomocco, &c. 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 tolleration of such licentious wantons in so glorious, so potent, so renowned a city. For so infinite are the allurements of these amorous Calypsoes, that the fame of them hath drawen many to Venice from some of the remotest parts of Christendome, to contemplate their beauties, and enjoy their pleasing dalliances.

And indeede 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 fit for the entertainement of a great Prince) you seeme to enter into the Paradise of Venus. For their fairest roomes are most glorious and glittering to behold. The walles round about being adorned with most sumptuous tapistry and gilt leather.

As for her selfe shee comes to thee decked like the Queene and Goddesse of love, for her face is adorned with the quintessence of beauty. In her cheekes thou shalt see the Lilly and the Rose strive for the supremacy, and the silver tramels of her haire displayed in that curious manner besides her two frisled peakes standing up like prety Pyramides. Thou maist easily discerne the effects of those famous apothecary drugs heretofore used amongst the Noble Ladies of Rome, a thing so common amongst them, that many of them which have an elegant naturall beauty, doe varnish their faces (the observation whereof made me not a little pitty their vanities) with sordid trumperies. 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 with thee some antidote against those Venereous titillations, shee wil very neare benumme and captivate thy senses.

Thou shalt see her decked with many chaines of gold and orient pearle like a second Cleopatra, divers gold rings beautified with diamonds and other costly stones, jewels in both her eares of great worth. A gowne of damaske (I speake this of the nobler Cortizans) either decked with a deep gold fringe or laced with five or sixe gold laces each two inches broade. Her petticoate of red chamlet edged with rich gold fringe, stockings of carnasion silke, her breath and her whole body, the more to enamour thee, most fragrantly perfumed. Moreover shee will endevour to enchaunt thee partly with her melodious notes that she warbles out upon her lute, which shee fingers with as laudable a stroake as many men that are excellent professors in the noble science of Musicke ; and partly with that heart-tempting harmony of her voice. Also thou wilt finde the Venetian Cortezan (if she be a selected woman indeede) a good Rhetorician, and a most elegant discourser, shee will assay thy constancy with her Rhetoricall tongue.

And to the end shee may minister unto thee the stronger temptations to come to her lure, shee will shew thee her chamber of recreation, where thou shalt see all manner of pleasing objects, as many faire painted coffers wherewith it is garnished round about, a curious milke-white canopy of needle worke, a silke quilt embroidered with gold : and generally all her bedding sweetly perfumed. And amongst other amiable ornaments shee will shew thee the picture of our Lady by her bedde side, with Christ in her armes, placed within a cristall glasse.

Moreover I will tell thee this newes which is most true, that if thou shouldest wantonly converse with her, and not give her that payment which thou hast promised her, but perhaps cunningly escape from her company, shee will either cause thy throate to be cut by her Rurfiano, 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 remaine till thou hast paid her all thou didst promise her.

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