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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Ray Smith Symposium explores homosexuality, male culture in Renaissance Italy Oct. 20-21

Harvard's Michael Rocke presents lecture, seminar

Oct. 14, 2011, by Rob Enslin

Michael Rocke
Michael Rocke
The Ray Smith Symposium in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences continues its yearlong examination of “Sex and Power from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment” with a mini residency by Italian Renaissance scholar Michael Rocke.

Rocke—the Nicky Mariano Librarian and director of the Berenson Library at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, Italy—will present a keynote lecture titled “Sodo and His Friends: ‘L’amore masculino’ and Male Friendship in Early Modern Italy” on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. in the Kilian Room (500) in the Hall of Languages. The following day, he will participate in a Ray Smith-HC Mini-Seminar from 9:30-11:30 a.m. (with breakfast served at 9 a.m.) in the SU Humanities Center Seminar Room (304) of the Tolley Humanities Building. Both events are free and open to the public; however, the seminar requires registration.

For more information about the keynote lecture, contact Cassidy Perrault in the college’s Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Programs at (315)443-1414. For more information about the HC Mini-Seminars, contact Karen Ortega in The SU Humanities Center at (315) 443-5708.

This year’s Ray Smith Symposium is organized and presented by the Renaissance and Medieval Studies Working Group, composed of interdisciplinary scholars from across campus. Dympna Callaghan, the college’s newly appointed William Safire Professor of Modern Letters, has taken a leadership role in the planning.

“Rocke’s lecture will explore some of the ways in which friendship, love and sex among males overlapped and interacted within the intensely homosocial environment of early modern Italy,” says Callaghan. “In this milieu, relations of male friendship and love were idealized, and were considered a basic element of social cohesion. Same-sex eroticism, however, was officially reviled as sodomy, and was outlawed as a threat to the survival of human society.”

Callaghan goes on to say that despite these apparently irreconcilable perspectives, boundaries between friendship and desire were not easily distinguished or delineated. “As a result, a variety of male relationships flourished,” she adds.

A social historian of early modern Italy, Rocke studies gender and sexuality, with emphasis on homosexuality and male sociability. He is the author of “Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in Renaissance Florence” (Oxford University Press, 1996), and is co-editor of “The Italian Renaissance in the Twentieth Century: Acts of an International Conference Florence, Villa I Tatti, June 9-11, 1999” (L.S. Olschki, 2002) and “Power, Gender, and Ritual in Europe and the Americas: Essays in Memory of Richard C. Trexler” (Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2008). During the ‘90s, Rocke taught at several institutional programs in Florence, including SU’s.

“Sex and Power” is enabled by a bequest from the estate of Ray W. Smith ’21. Additional support for this year’s programming comes from the Office of the Chancellor; the departments of art and music histories; English; history; languages, literatures and linguistics; women’s and gender studies; the LGBT Studies Program; and the SU Humanities Center, which sponsors the mini seminars.

The next visiting scholar is James M. Saslow, professor of Renaissance art and theater at the CUNY Graduate Center, Nov. 10-11.

This winter, “Sex and Power” partners with Syracuse University Library for an exhibition titled “The Power and the Piety: The World of Medieval and Renaissance Europe.” The exhibition showcases a variety of rare books and manuscripts, including illuminated prayer books decorated in gold leaf, a page from the Gutenberg Bible and an antiphonal Elephant Folio, from the Special Collections Research Center. For more information, contact Sean Quimby, librarian and director of the SCRC, at (315)443-9759.

The Ray Smith Symposium is named for the Auburn, N.Y., native who, after graduating from SU in 1921, was a highly respected teacher and administrator.