Her nose is always dripping, she smells like grease and lard, she is more twisted than a snail

Her nose is always dripping, she smells like grease and lard, she is more twisted than a snail

The Ugly Woman flax: she always holds so much in her mouth, that her palate becomes slimy; in her lip there is always some piece of the threads that she bites. She smells just like leather when it is tanned, or like a dead dog, or like the nest of a vulture: her smell is enough to grease the field (now, think, what a comfort!) and she has escaped from the grave; she always has asthma and a cough and she Italiensk kvinner i USA endears me with it. If she grabs the flask, she drinks all of it like a sponge, she even wants me to kiss her. I reproach her: ‘Come on, go away!’ and yet she acts crazy around me. She cannot hold her soul by the teeth, since she only has one for medication; her eyes give out no light, and are full of tartar. Divine spirit drips down to her chest; her throat is so withered and dry, that it looks like a woodcock’s beak. There are as many wrinkles in her cheeks, as there are stars in the sky; her withered and empty breasts look like worn out fabric. In her pants there is no hair, her belly can be made into an ps more than mules when she circles around me.)

The act of contemplating the poet with pleasure, summed up in the verb ‘vagheggiare,’ in Delcorno Branca’s words ‘verbo per eccellenza del galateo amoroso’ (196) (verbs by definition of the love/courtly etiquette), is in itself an oxymoron

Delcorno Branca traces precisely the Latin and vernacular antecedents at play in this ballad (191–2), but finds the true model in Poliziano’s negative descriptio mulieris in the ode ‘In Anum.’ The language in the ballad is rich in borrowings from medieval realistic poetry. The old woman is ‘vizza’ like the ‘vecchiuzza’ of Niccola Muscia, and her ‘puzzo’ recalls Rustico’s ‘buggeressa’; the dripping nose and the eyes ‘tutti orlati di tonnina’ are a reminiscence of Beroe, whereas the adjective ‘scrignuta’ immediately calls to mind the ‘scrignutuzza’ of Guido Cavalcanti, a poet particularly revered by Poliziano. The ballad centres on the transgressive attitude of the old hag who courts the poet. An ugly, old, and disgusting woman who is associated with such an activity can only call up abhorrence, rejection (‘Io la sgrido: ‘Oltre va’ giaci!’), and laughter in the male subject. Her advances are not limited to the ‘vagheggiare’or ‘vezzeggiare’ but go so far as to request the poet’s kisses (‘e vuole anche ch’i’ la baci’). Yet the independence and self-assertiveness displayed by this female figure are disturbing to the male poet. The narrator’s response to the old hag’s advances is one of total rejection, and yet the detailed and meticulous

As Lois Banner points out, it was not an unknown practice for aging women to hire young men for sexual purposes, when they could no longer attract men on their own (172)

description of her private parts (‘poppe vizze e vote,’ ‘nelle brache non ha pelo, / della peccia fa grembiale’) would indicate first-hand experience rather than vivid imagination.65 Although the text does not openly call this old woman a prostitute, her explicit requests, along with some other transgressive behaviour, point in that direction. Excessive drinking, for example (‘s’a un tratto el fiasco impugna, / tutto ‘l suga come spugna’), was typical of prostitutes. As Lyndal Roper has shown in her historical study, prostitutes regularly frequented taverns and were devoted to excessive drinking.66 The activity of spinning, in proverbial tradition a typical occupation of retired prostitutes, reinforces the identification of this old woman as a prostitute.67 The ‘vecchia’ is not called witch in the poem, but her acts of spinning and drinking implicitly link her with the witch as she appeared in the Latin tradition. In Ovid’s Amores, for example, the old prostitute Dipsas not only drinks to excess but also knows all the arts of witchcraft.68 This ballad is a variation on the traditional descriptive vituperation against the disgusting old hag; as in Cammelli’s sonnet, the poet/narrator is conversing with an imaginary audience invited to participate in her mocking.69 Poliziano again assumes the persona of the persecuted male in the Latin ode 9 ‘In Anum,’ a text particularly indebted to Horace’s epode 12. Contrary to the ballad, here the emphasis is on the old woman’s excessive lust and on ‘l’aspetto ributtante e libidinoso della vecchia’ (‘the revolting and lustful aspect of the old woman’) (Delcorno Branca, 194). ‘In Anum’ fits more comfortably in the genre of the vituperatio vetulae, since from the opening line the poet invokes the power of the verses to help him elude the obscene old woman. Here disgust and the minute description of physical ugliness are closely linked to classical models and medieval Latin rhetoric (e.g., Beroe): Huc huc, jambi! Arripite mi jam mordicus Anum hanc furenti percitam libidine, Tentiginosam, catulientem, spurcidam, Gravedinosam, vietam, olentem, rancidam. (Opera Omnia, 271) (Here, here iambs, get off my teeth the furious old woman, excited, lustful, in heat disgusting, flaccid, malodorous.)