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Rocco, Antonio (1586-1653)  
 
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Italian rhetorician and philosopher Antonio Rocco is author of an early classic of literature, L'Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the Schoolboy), which was written in 1630 and published anonymously in 1652. The work became famous as an example of pornography and of "" literature, but it contains serious scholarship, and may well have been intended to be at once a genuine (though outrageous) defense of pederasty, a Carnivalesque satire, and a work of pornography.

Antonio Rocco was born in Scurzola (Abruzzi, Italy) in 1586. After studying theology and philosophy in Rome, Perugia, and Padua, he settled in Venice. He became a friar and taught philosophy at San Giorgio Maggiore monastery.

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As an Aristotelian, he attacked Galileo's mathematical "Platonism" in 1633--and received a rude reply from Galileo. In 1634, as a member of the Accademia degli Incogniti (Academy of the Unknowns), Rocco gave a lecture on love in all of its manifestations--from love between parents and their children, to physical love and love of one's country and God--and brought them all under one formula, "Love is a pure interest": basically each person loves only himself. It appears to be in connection with Rocco's membership in the Accademia degli Incogniti that he wrote his carnivalesque L'Alcibiade fanciullo a scola.

In 1636 the city of Venice named Rocco its official teacher of rhetoric and moral philosophy. He died in Venice in 1653.

Rocco is now best known as the author of L'Alcibiade fanciullo a scola. It was, however, for many years thought to be the work of Pietro Aretino and, later, of Ferrante Pallavicino. It was only in 1888 that its true authorship was established.

L'Alcibiade fanciullo a scola became widely known through a new edition in 1862 and a French translation in 1866. The pioneering homosexual theorist and emancipationist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs knew the book in the French translation. He noted in 1868 that it was a "curious book that in addition to deterring frivolities contains much important scientific information." Sir Richard Burton also quoted widely from the French translation in his famous "Terminal Essay" to his own translation of Thousand Nights and a Night (1888).

The novel is set in Athens and takes the form of a dialogue between the teacher Philotimos ("loving honors") and the boy Alcibiades, presumably the child who would become the historical general and friend of Socrates. It begins with a glowing description of the boy's physical charms, from head to foot, with broad hints of hidden delights, which his teacher finds irresistible.

While ostensibly set in ancient Greece, the dialogue that follows also includes Roman mythology, and the moral arguments almost all relate to Christian teaching. Philotimos makes it clear from the beginning that his goal is penetration. How he proceeds to attain that goal is the subject of the book, for the boy places obstacles in his path. Not that the boy is entirely reluctant, but he has doubts and questions that he wants answered first.

The various objections are answered in different ways. Alcibiades says, "First, this is a vice abominated by nature; they say it is against nature." That this act was "against nature" had already been discussed over a century earlier, but Rocco gives the charge an original solution with a clever linguistic twist, as Philotimos replies: "First, that this is a vice against nature is a ridiculous allusion spread by the statesmen. Since in women the flower [i.e., anus] is placed against, i.e., on the opposite side, to the fig [i.e., vagina], which is called nature, they say the use of it is opposed to nature."

One argument that particularly impressed nineteenth-century readers was Philotimos's answer to Alcibiades' question, "Without using either women or boys, do you not have a means of extinguishing the flames of love with your own hands--without expense, without trouble, without submitting to anyone?"

In a long speech in response, Philotimos compares masturbation unfavorably with the contact of a beloved person. He concludes, "Satisfaction with the loved one present so sweetens the spirit that without fatigue or becoming limp it refreshes and contents us, repaying us for the movement and arousal. That other, however, deprived of the most beautiful and genuine object, leaves us tired and exhausted. We should not exchange boys for it. As I have said, when used in moderation they bring us cheerfulness and health. Hence one of our most famous physicians has written: Usus et amplexus pueri bene temperatus, salutaris medicina [The enjoyment and embrace of a boy, when enjoyed in moderation, is a health-giving medicine]."

Ulrichs, Burton, and others took this report of "one of our most famous physicians" at face value, but this canard is a sheer invention of Antonio Rocco, as Wolfram Setz has pointed out, and may provide a clue to the author's satiric or parodic intent.

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