If you ever wondered what 16th century Italians thought of sex, anal sex, and homosexuality, you can get at least partial satisfaction with the publication of _La Cazzaria: The Book of the Prick_ (Routledge), written in 1525 by Antonio Vignali, edited and translated by Ian Frederick Moulton. It is the first time you will be able to find the book in English. Moulton has heard claims that the book was published under the titles _The Love Academy_ and _Dialogue on Diddling_ (the latter credited to "Sir Hotspur Dunderpate"), but he has found no copies, and says that the mere titles indicate the translations were faulty. Here is his explanation of the title, an interesting view of the translator's problems, and although the book is full of earthy language, this is as raw as it will get in this review: "The dialogue's title is deliberately rude and provocative: it comes from the Italian word _cazzo_, a slang term for 'penis.'" He goes on: "The closest English rendering is probably 'cockery' - but that is too close to 'cookery' to be useful in translation."
Moulton's introduction and notes are an enormous help, as _La Cazzaria_ is a peculiar production. As in the fashion of so many academic writings of the time, from Galileo to Aretino, it is in the form of a dialogue. The elder participant, the instructor, and probably the alter ego of the author, is Arsiccio, who takes the youth Sodo under instruction, as Arsiccio has been embarrassed by a public display of Sodo's lack of sexual knowledge. The problem is that Sodo is not going to gain a great deal of factual knowledge from the words here. Vignali presents a mock-scholarly book, whose humorous lessons will remind many of Erasmus's words in praise of folly. (The other writer who comes to mind is Rabelais, although this flamboyant book has him beat for consistent crudity and fascination for sexual themes.) The dialogue has marginal headings, like any good scholastic work, to introduce major questions, only here they are ribald; among the less profane are, "Why It Is Dishonorable to Attack from Behind," "Why Women Are Disproportioned and Fat Below the Waist," and "Why Women Take Little Steps." Arsiccio is, to put it mildly, a misogynist. He also doesn't think much of the church, or the practice of confession.
Vignali was obviously a highly educated man; his references to classical texts are frequent, even if sometimes they are jovial or deliberately fraudulent. The latter half of the dialogue is devoted to a classical (if facetious) form of argument in which the body is seen as the analogue to a political state. We speak of the "body politic" and the "head of state" because these analogies have been present for a couple of thousand years, but it is significant that in Vignali's parable, there is no head; the body parts involved are, as may be guessed, significantly lower. The meaning of the political allegory in reference to Siena in the 1520's is explained by Moulton in his introduction, but can be enjoyed for its pure silliness and ribald fun. _La Cazzaria_ is a unique text, full of oddities and erudition, and we are lucky to have it available after all these centuries.