Cortigiana Onesta

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Veronica left the gondola to seek the shadows of the building's doorway. She had paid the gondolier not to light lamps or sing, which was illegal and increased the chance of a collision, but stealth was a necessity. Her family's ranking was not high enough to allow her to marry the Mayor of Venice's son, who was the only man she would ever love. When he had told her as much, it broke both her heart and spirit. She gave up her tomboy ways, and followed her mother's instructions to become one of the most sought after cortigiana onestas of the late sixteenth century. The translation of the Italian term cortigiana onest is honest courtesan.

The other term for ladies of the night was corigiana dilume, which are lower classed women who are more like the prostitutes of today. Although part of the companionship an corigiana onesta involved sexual favors, their education, training and influence went far beyond that. They had to be well versed in politics, philosophy and all the arts. It was only the corigiana onesta's that were allowed into the libraries and places of higher education, not the wives and daughters. The late sixteenth century was before the great expeditions and Venice controlled all trade on the Mediterranean Sea, but none of this mattered to Veronica Franco.

All that mattered to her was Marco. It was 1565 and Veronica was twenty years old. When the reality sunk in that she could never marry Marco, she trained as a courtesan. This was her first year to be listed in Il Catalogo di tutte le principale et più honorate cortigiane di Venezia, which gave the names, addresses and fees of the honest courtesans. It listed her mother as the person to whom any fees should be paid. Veronica had learned the ways to excite and please men, but it was Marco that she wanted to give herself to. She felt like the sound of her beating heart would surely give her away, as the light from a window lit her path to the shadows. The stillness of the water and the fullness of the moon gave the water highways of Venice a milky surface to reflect the light on. Veronica reflected on the foolishness of her actions.

Veronica Franco would go on to publish two very successful volumes of poetry. One of which contained two sonnets to King Henri III of France. It was said that her skills in the bedroom with him is what led him to lend ships to Venice to fight Spain. She started an orphanage and charity for the children of the cortigiane onestas, with limited success. During the plague of Venice, she would be tried for witchcraft as part of the Spanish Inquisition, but beat the charges to become a free woman again. As the last of her benefactors died, she would live out the rest of her life in poverty. But tonight she was only a young woman standing in the shadows, longing for the oblivion of her lover's arms.



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