Aretino, Pietro (Writer)


(1492-1556) poet, playwright

Known for his scathing satire, Italian author Pietro Aretino was one of the most notorious writers of his time. His daring ridicule of powerful figures earned him fame throughout Europe.

Born in Arezzo on April 20, Aretino rejected the family name of his father (“Aretino” means “from Arezzo”) and moved first to Perugia and then to Rome in 1517, where he became an enthusiastic participant in, and critic of, aristocratic society. He was shrewd and ruthless, often resorting to blackmail and claims of public influence with popes and nobles. Indeed, he would gain during his lifetime the favor of Pope Leo X and the patronage of Giulio de’ Medici, who became Pope Clement VII. Aretino drew most of his wealth from gifts from nobles, and many of his works are, at their core, satirical weapons Aretino used in his political maneuvers.

Six volumes of Aretino’s letters express a great deal of his satire and cynicism concerning the powerful. Rome and its citizens were frequent targets of his wit, as expressed in his works Ragiona-menti and I diloghi. His 1524 collection of sonnets, Sonetti lussuriosi (Lewd sonnets), precipitated his exile (perhaps the source of his animosity) from Rome.

Aretino wrote a number of comedies that are less malicious and add portraits of the lower class. His first and perhaps best-known comedy, Corti-giana (The Courtesan, 1525), explores the lives of the lower class in papal Rome. Using the plot line of a practical joke played by the duke of Mantua, Il Marescalo (1526-27) presents a comedic reprimand of courtly life and is known for its frank exploration of sexuality. Aretino also wrote the tragedy Orazia (The horatii, 1546), a verse play based on Livy’s account of Horatii and Curiatii. It provides a fine example of Aretino’s versatility as a dramatist and poet.

Reacting to Pietro bembo’s carefully refined writings, Aretino wrote eloquent prose, verse, and letters, using common, everyday speech and focusing on a greater variety of subjects. He is remembered for leading the way to a more provocative style of writing in 16th-century Italy.

English Versions of Works by Pietro Aretino

Aretino’s Dialogues. Translated by Raymond Rosenthal and edited by Margaret Rosenthal. New York: Marsilio, 1999.

The Marescalco. Translated and edited by Leonard G. Sbrocchi and J. Douglas Campbell. New York: Ital-ica, 2003.

Works about Pietro Aretino

Cleugh, James. The Divine Aretino. New York: Stein and Day, 1966.

Waddington, Raymond B. Aretino’s Satyr: Sexuality, Satire, and Self-Projection in Sixteenth-Century Literature and Art. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

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