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  • A Dialogue of Dialogues: Tullia d’Aragona and Sperone Speroni
  • Janet L. Smarr

Among the vast number of Renaissance dialogues, those involving women speakers are relatively rare. 1 Love, not surprisingly, is the main topic on which women are presumed to have anything to say. Sperone Speroni’s “Dialogo di Amore,” published in a 1542 volume of his dialogues, included as one of the speakers Tullia, the courtesan-poet known as Tullia d’Aragona. Five years later Tullia published her own dialogue on love, “Dialogo dell’infinità di amore,” in which she is again one of the speakers. 2 Referring several times to Speroni’s text (as well as to other classical and Renaissance treatments of the subject), Tullia constructed a very different role for herself in her own writing. While admiring and respecting Speroni, she seems to have intentionally refashioned her image along more ambitious lines than Speroni had allowed her. A broader feminist argument is also explicitly part of her agenda. 3

In Speroni’s conversation, Tullia’s opening lines—she gets the first word in both dialogues—welcome Niccolo Grazia as the resolver of their difficulties. Grazia immediately comments on the mutual love of the disputants. The problem is indeed a result of their love: Tasso complains that Tullia praises him more than he deserves; he is therefore afraid that she is mistaken about him, or that she loves some idea rather than his real self, and that he will consequently lose her love:

par che ella tuttavia mi colga in iscambio, ed altri ami perfettamente, alla cui idea mi assimiglia.


Tullia similarly complains that Tasso praises her more than she deserves, and that she is afraid he will cease to love her when he realizes the truth, adding [End Page 204] that she would rather be loved “sempre . . . quanto io dovrei, che troppo amata per pochi giorni” (2). Both lovers thus express the fear and jealousy, which they claim is inseparable from love. The other inducement of Tullia’s jealousy is Tasso’s imminent departure to serve the Prince of Salerno.

In sum, Tullia and Bernardo Tasso are presented as a mirror-like pair of lovers, while Signor Grazia comes, perhaps with an appropriate name, as the wise teacher to both of them. Francesco Maria Molza occasionally joins in to help Grazia. Tullia is the main questioner although Tasso also speaks. Cox has pointed out that one of the major roles of women in dialogues by men is to ask questions which wiser men can answer. 4 This is certainly Tullia’s role here.

Grazia, with Molza’s contributions, argues that jealousy is a defect rather than a necessary part of love; that although a man cannot compatibly love two women, he can compatibly love both his woman and his Prince, duty, or honor; and that absence is good for love because it forces the lover to shift from a focus on the senses to a focus on the intellect as he or she thinks about the person that cannot be seen. 5 Thus a clear hierarchy is established between sensual and rational love, although both are affirmed as necessary aspects. This combination of the sensual and the rational in love’s essential nature is pronounced by both Tullia and Tasso a monster, a sort of minotaur or centaur (13, 20). However, they come at this double image from opposite angles.

Tullia protests:

Diteci in prima, come stia inseme ragione e amore; che già so io troppo bene, niuna gioia amorosa non potere esser perfetta, se ciascun senso non si congiunge al suo obietto, e si fa uno con esso lui: . . . Ma che da i sensi alla ragione faccia tragitto l’amore, io non lo provo per me, nè posso credere che sia vero; anzi a me pare, tanto esser maggiore e più fervente lo amore, quanto egli è meno dalla ragion temperato.


When Tasso affirms that he does indeed love both her beauty and her virtues, Tullia reasserts the importance of physical presence:

Ma siate certo, che tutto che’l valor vostro sia in se molto, e degno obbietto d’ogni eccellente intelletto, tuttavia ogni’altra cosa è nulla alla vostra presenza, senza la quale...

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pp. 204-212
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