Forbidden Friendships – Michael Rocke


After having an insight into the documented prevalence of homosexuality in Renaissance Florence through my reading of the activities of the Office of the Night (Ufficiali di notte) my research revealed Michael Rocke’s 1996 book Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence.

The author acknowledges that this book began as a Ph.D dissertation and that at the time the research project was “considered somewhat unorthodox and professionally risky”.

What I was attracted to with this book was that it was presented as an analysis of the laws and judicial determinations of the Office of the Night and other bodies in relation to prosecutions for ‘sodomy’ in Renaissance Florence during the years 1432-1502, and as a lawyer I found this to be legally very interesting. However, what the book proved to be was not a substantive legal analysis but a sociological study of the culture in which tolerance and acceptance of ‘homosexuality’ in Renaissance Florence. The author suggest that one of the aims of the book “…is to study the evolution, substance, and contexts of government policy towards sodomy from the early fourteenth to the mid-sixteenth century and, where feasible or most useful, to analyze how the courts operated and how legal prescriptions were enforced.”  In my opinion, the former part of this aim has been achieved while the latter provides a basic insight, provided by someone not examining the material through trained legal ‘eyes’, and therefore lacks legal substance.

I admit that I did find the book difficult reading and put it down several times, only to return determined to finish the read. There are a number of aberrations in the ebook version – typeface changes, disjointed and irregular footnote numbering etc- which is disconcerting and the ebook version could do with a tidy up in this respect.

I have read a couple of other reviews on this book and I agree that this book does provide a seemingly sound cultural perspective ( I do not have any expertise in this area)  on what the public policy towards sodomy was in Florence in this period and therefore operates to add to the scholarship and research on this topic, which was popular in the late 1990’s. Accordingly I would recommend this book to any student of socio-cultural history on sexuality, as it does provide an intriguing and useful insight into understanding the complex nature of ‘sodomy’ and homosexuality in the Renaissance.

There are a number of references in the book which I am keen to follow up and I will do so in the coming weeks/months as a part of my ongoing research into Renaissance Italy.

Michael Rocke has wrritten a book which may be defined by the period in which it was written, but it nevertheless is an important contribution to scholarly analysis and I recommend it to those who are researching or have an interest in this area.


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