BALD ASS ARE CASTIGLIONES THE BOOK OF THE COURTIER
EXPLICATION OF THE TEXT
Valeska Dorothee Nygren
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
2000 by Yaleska Dorothee Nygren
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Humanities
Valeska Dorothee Nygren
has been approved
Nygren, Valeska Dorothee
Baldassare Castigliones The Book of The Courtier An Expliction of The Text
Thesis directed by Professor Frederick S. Allen
The origins of our understanding of individualism, our individual rights,
and our rights of freedom and of expression are rooted in the movements and
developments of the Renaissance. This time of discoveries, inventions, and change
in abundance provided the basis for a new perception of man. Man did no longer see
himself exclusively as a part of the religious universe. Due to the immense and
surprising achievements of the time, he emerged into the sphere of individual self.
His belief in his own abilities and the idea of perfecting them to the best of his
knowledge took hold of a whole epoch. And the Renaissance set the foundation for
the movement that is called Humanism.
One of Humanisms most enchanting, comprehensive, and enduring
expressions can be found in Baldassar Castigliones famous work The Book of The
Courtier. In the form of dialogues theoretical and practical aspects of the education
of a perfect courtier are discussed among well-educated members of the Italian
Renaissance society over the course of four successive evenings. The shaping of this
perfect courtier is in fact the forming of the Humanists human ideal and provided
the basis for a liberal education founded in a moral and humanist philosophy. Thus
The Book of The Courtier is a tract on education.
Following biographical notes on the author, this thesis transposes the
Renaissance text into a modem form. In a subsequent explication of the text, key
aspects of the Humanist ideal are represented as they appear in the book. This
representation will be presented on the background of some of many of the changes
and currents of the Renaissance epoch.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis.
rederick S. Allen
My heartfelt thanks go to the Staff of the Graduate School and the Humanities
Faculty for their support and understanding and to my advisor Professor Frederick S.
Allen for his ceaseless patience with me during these past three years.
1. INTRODUCTION...................................... 1
2. BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES................................ 5
3. THE TEXT......................................... 10
Summary of The Text............................ 10
Explication of The Text........................ 43
4. SURVEY OF THE LITERATURE......................... 60
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY.............................. 73
"...truth is the foundation for words..."
Upanishad MNU 63.2
As we have moved forward into the 21st century, our world has become
increasingly volatile and unpredictable. Following the end of the Cold War, we are
still faced with critical conflicts in many places of the world. Alliances and
formations, new and old, have been changing rapidly. Given beliefs and ideologies
no longer seem to provide sufficient answers to existing problems. However, the
economic changes may be even more defining for our future than the political ones.
At a time of megamergers, globalization, and genetic engineering, we are passing
from an industrial society to a knowledge society that is characterized by instant
communication at all times. The task of staying on top of the world's hectic pace
appears almost impossible to perform. Continual innovations have affected all areas
of our lives and consequently our outlooks and attitudes. Our perception and
understanding of public life has been altered. In our personal and individual lives we
are confronted with a myriad of requirements for adaptation.
Many of the skills present today will soon be replaced by technological
advancements. A major shift of the work force into the service industry will require
adjustments of extraordinary proportions. Flexibility is the key to the necessary
adaptations. Acquisition of new knowledge in the form of qualifications is required
to stay viable in the changing marketplace. In order to obtain these qualifications our
existing educational concepts will have to adapt as well. While specialization in
many fields has been the prerequisite for a successful life in a defined industrialized
society, this most likely will present a serious drawback with regard to the future
challenges that a global knowledge society will present. To prepare for greater
flexibility of the individual with regards to new environments in different fields, a
comprehensive and broad education offers a necessary foundation. In America, a
much broader educational curriculum had been in effect before the requirements of
the industrial society geared educational concepts towards specialization. This
extensive general curriculum has its origins in Europe. Its basis was a Humanist
ideal; this ideal claimed that the individual could and should freely express himself
and develop his talents and abilities to the best of his capacities leading to
independence and freedom.
Humanism, and its parallel Individualism, are movements that originated in
the Renaissance. No other epoch parallels today's significance of the relationship of
the individual to the variety of changes and innovations in such an extraordinary
manner. Between the 13th and 16th century, geographical and astronomical
discoveries and scientific inventions created an accelerated momentum in the
expansion of knowledge. This newly acquired knowledge triggered off an explosion
of human opportunities. Moreover, with the discoveries of "new worlds", on earth
and in the universe, human perceptions and understandings of life and mankind was
altered. The implementation of the compass and the invention of the printing press
enabled man to pursue these new frontiers in ways and forms previously
One of the fundamental issues addressed at the time was the question
surrounding the development of the individual in the secular world. It also included
the integration of new knowledge into already existing, social, and political patterns.
Theoretical answers were often sought by those closely connected to or involved
with these discoveries and inventions. The elite of the time, the nobility and
scholars, developed new philosophical concepts. In order to approach the
complexity of this topic, it was necessary to define a new understanding of the
individual. This new understanding lead to the movement of Humanism.
One of the most outstanding literary examples of Humanist education and
Renaissance civilization is Baldassare Castigliones The Book of The Courtier.1 In
an exceptional manner this work reflects the major thoughts of Italian Humanism.
Imitation was an accepted literary form of the time and Castiglione employed this
method throughout his text. For example, his presentations on virtues and friendship
and forms of government are based on rediscovered thoughts of Plato in his Republic
and his Laws and Aristotles thoughts in his Ethics and his Politics. These thoughts
became the essence of shaping the perfect courtier. With this courtier a cultural ideal
was created which has influenced life and education in Europe to this day. Then as
is now, this cultural ideal portrays a man of many talents and skills prepared to deal
with the multifacetness of his life.
Following some biographical notes, this thesis will transpose the text of the
book into a modem and more accessible form. In a subsequent explication, the text
will be interpreted on the basis of various currents and aspects of the Renaissance
that lead to the movements of Humanism and Individualism. By representing some
aspects of the complex social, political, cultural, and economic developments during
this period, it will be argued that the Humanist proposition of a liberal education
presents the most viable possibility to prepare for a fast changing world.
Baldassare Castiglione, writer, diplomat, and condottiere (mercenary general)
was bom in 1478 and grew up on his fathers estate at Casatico in northern Italy.
The family was old and distinguished with members living in Mantua and Milan.
Castiglione grew up in noble surroundings and the Gonzaga princes of Mantua were
among his friends. He spent the first fifteen years of his life at home where his
mother educated him and then was sent to Milan 1494 in order to complete his
studies. Here he was introduced to classical and vernacular literature, various other
liberal arts, and archeology. During this time, at the court of Lodovico Sforza, he
also participated in fencing, jousting, and wrestling.
During his youth Castiglione experienced the effects of the transition from
medieval institutions, medieval forms of thinking, and feudalism to the new
individualistic methods of capitalism. This transformation had been caused by the
increasing wealth, which made the luxury and the brilliance of the Italian
Renaissance possible. The revival of commerce had gradually built up city life with
a vibrant and independent middle class and had introduced the money economy. As
wealth continued to increase and the volume of business to expand, the structure of
the social system had not been able to contain the changes. The subsequent political
turmoil resulted into Italy turning into a land of cities that were practically
independent and dominated the country districts about them. These cities had
become centers of the political, social, and economic life for the whole country.
Originally republics, they were soon governed by wealthy families in a more or less
despotic manner. In order to maintain their power these families demonstrated
gratitude towards their citizens by employing mercenary armies. Moreover, an
elaborate diplomatic net developed in which a courtier played a decisive role either
at his court or by representing the interests of his prince abroad.
When his father died in 1499, Castiglione returned to the estate in order to
enter the service of the Marquis of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga. It was his first
employment as a soldier and it is known that the two men did not have a good
relationship. Soon Baldassare Castiglione was looking for options to leave the
Marquis and asked to be sent on missions. In 1503 the Marquis permitted him to
spend time in Rome where he met Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino.
Castiglione was impressed by the Dukes refinement, and when he learned that two
of his friends where in the Dukes service, he asked the Marquis to be transferred to
this smaller court. This request impaired the relationship between the Marquis and
Castiglione forever and it needed family intervention to smooth over the rapture.
However, with taking up his position as a diplomat at the Court of Urbino in 1504,
Castigliones began the most treasured part of his life. In this highly cultured
surrounding he met eminent men and women of his time, who had served their states
and the church in important political or diplomatic positions. Some of these men and
women became close friends that he stayed in touch with for the rest of his life. In
1505 Duke Guidobaldo sent Castiglione to Rome on matters pertaining to the Duchy
of Urbino and from there he was sent on one of his most extraordinary missions. He
went to England in order to receive the Order of the Garter from King Henry VII in
Duke Guidobaldos stead. Having been ailing for a long time Duke Guidobaldo died
very young in 1508, and was much bemoumed by his people. This short time spent
in the service of Duke Guidobaldo was of extraordinary importance to Castiglione.
Impressed by the cultured, civilized, and highly educated court the Duke was
maintaining, Castiglione modeled his perfect courtier after his highly respected
employer. Kind, gentle, and highly cultured Duke Guidobaldo was regarded as an
embodiment of a man of his time, and a Humanist.
The Duke had chosen Francesco Maria della Rovere, one of his nephews, to
become his successor. Baldassare Castiglione remained in his service and stayed at
Urbino until 1516. A first draft of The Book of The Courtier was put together during
the years 1508-1516. He almost finished it during the years 1516 to 1518, while he
was living at his estate with his wife Ippolita and his mother. The manuscript was
shown to many of his friends, some of them participants in the dialogues.
When Francesco Gonzaga, the Marquis of Mantua, died in 1519, Castiglione
was again employed on diplomatic missions. The new Marquis, Federico, sent him
as the Mantuan ambassador to Rome. However, his second year there was marked
by sadness. First Castiglione lost his close friend the painter Raphael and then, in
August, his wife Ippolita died at childbirth, leaving him with three children. In
contrast his professional life enjoyed success. In Rome, Pope Clement VII was so
impressed by his abilities and by his personality that he asked him to enter the papal
service. First assigned to the Holy Sea, he was sent to Spain as a papal envoy in
1524. When Castigliones introduced himself to Charles V his admiration for the
Emperor was immediate and it is known that the Emperor thought highly of
Castiglione. In 1526, while in Spain, he received news of the death of Elisabetta
Gonzaga, wife to Duke Guidobaldo, and cherished friend. The news brought back
the memories of this treasured part of his life and he began to prepare for the
completion of The Book of The Courtier. In 1527, a manuscript was finally
presented to the famous Aldine Press in Venice and in April 1528 The Book of The
Courtier was published for the first time. At the time, the immediate success of his
book contributed to the definition of three main components of Renaissance life,
namely the ideals of chivalry, classical virtues, and contemporary humanist
Baldassare Castiglione was hardly able to experience the long lasting
acceptance of his work because he only lived for another year. It was said that the
sacking of Rome in 1527 by Spanish troops and the political situation that he found
himself in pertaining to diplomatic and political embarrassment broke his spirit.
When Emperor Charles V heard about Castigliones death, his well known comment
was Yo vos digo que es muerto uno de los mejores Caballeros del mundo -1 tell
you one of the finest gentleman is dead.
Summary of The Text
In the books introduction Baldassare Castiglione introduces himself by
describing his relationship with the Court of Urbino and various members of the
Court. He praises their education and countenance and mentions their social status
and connections. This is an illustration of Italian Renaissance society.
Commiserating the fact that too many of his friends have died too young, he
describes the loss of Elisabetta Gonzaga, the Duchess of Urbino, with candor and
emotion. Closer to her than to anyone else at the Court, he singles out her virtues
and deplores his inability to put them into words.
The second part of the introduction is devoted to Castiglione's choice of
language. He points to the facts that language is alive and that its words change with
the times. Beginning with a reference to Giovanni Boccaccio's (1313 1375)
writings, he argues against historic allegiance and local patriotism with reference to
the use of language. All over Italy, he suggests, one should look for men, who are
talented, wise and eloquent and who are concerned with important political subjects
as well as literature, warfare, and business affairs.2 Words heard in these circles are
current and are graceful, euphonious, and generally accepted as valid and
expressive, even if they are not Tuscan and may have originated outside Italy.3
Finally, he speaks out against silly and presumptuous attempts to coin new phrases
and hold on to old ones that are obsolete.4
In a third and last part, Castiglione turns to the complexity of his own topic.
And he justifies his ambition, when he refers to the Renaissance ideas of a perfect
republic, a perfect king, and a perfect orator, thus defending the wish to write about a
perfect courtier. Aware of his linguistic shortcomings, he reasons that he will
nevertheless strive for perfection in his description of a perfect courtier. Knowing
that criticism will be ample and inevitable, he confines himself to the judgment of a
few respected critics. In the last chapter of his introduction, he elaborates on his
choice of language and beliefs. If what he writes is genuine and holds valid, the
response by the public will be general acceptance and his book will survive. Closing
the circle of language and truth he states that time, the father of truth will
pronounce a verdict.5
Castiglione begins the first book of his work by pointing to two aspects that
bring about human activity. It is affection ... and the anxiety to please, which
usually act as a sharp spur to all kinds of activity6 Based on such a motivation, he
elaborates on the complexity of the topic that he has been asked to investigate.
Castiglione is in particular concerned about the variety of customs and courts all over
Italy. This variety, he argues, makes it so much more difficult to find one overall
ideal. Believing that usage, much more than reason, is the key to introducing new
things and eliminating old ones, he questions the viability of his endeavor.
Following the introduction of the interlocutors, Castiglione presents the
location, where dialogues on four consecutive evenings will represent the
characteristics of a perfect courtier:
At the slopes of the Apennines, almost in the center of Italy towards the
Adriatic, is situated, as everyone knows, the little city of Urbino. Although it
is surrounded by hills which are perhaps not as agreeable as those found in
many other places, none the less it has been favoured by Nature with a very
rich and fertile countryside, so that as well as a salubrious atmosphere it
enjoys an abundance of all the necessities of life.7
The palaces fame was established by his owner, the great soldier, humanist, and one
of the most important representatives of the Renaissance:
Duke Federico built on the rugged site of Urbino a palace which many
believe to be the most beautiful in Italy; and he furnished it so well that it
seemed more like a city than a mere palace. For he adorned it not only with
the usual objects, such as silver vases, wall-hangings of the richest cloth of
gold, silk, and other similar material, but also with countless antique statues
of marble and bronze, with rare pictures, and with every kind of musical
instrument;... Then, at great cost, he collected a large number of the finest
and rarest books, in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, all of which he adorned with
gold and silver, believing that they were the crowning glory of his great
The lives of Duke Federico and his son Guidobaldo, current governor of Urbino, are
described. Both mens undertakings are characterized by their perseverance and
persistence but their lives had taken almost opposite courses. Then, Castiglione
presents a typical example of Renaissance thought on the volatility of fate on the
one hand, Federico is the successful, astute military leader and cultural mentor of
Urbino, and on the other hand, Guidobaldos is a man whose life is characterized by
illness at a young age. It is destined by misfortune since Fortuna envious of his
great qualities set herself with all her might to frustrate what had begun so nobly... so
that he rarely succeeded in what he undertook9 Such a dichotomy in one family is
regarded as a sign that lifes course and its turns are beyond human grasp. Thus the
quality of person therefore manifests itself in dealing with fate's unpredictabilities.
Castiglione continues to describe the atmosphere at the Court of Urbino.
So all day and every day at the Court of Urbino was spent on honorable and
pleasing activities both of the body and the mind. But since the Duke always
retired to his bedroom soon after super, because of his infirmity, as a rule at
that hour everyone went to join the Duchess, Elizabetta Gonzaga, with whom
was always to be found signora Emilia Pia, a lady gifted with such a lively
wit and judgment, as you know, that she seemed to be in command of all and
to endow everyone else with her own discernment and goodness. In then-
company polite conversations and innocent pleasantries were heard, and
everyones face was full of laughter and gaiety that the house could truly be
called the very inn of happiness.10
The atmosphere among the guests is one of harmony and heartfelt love. They all
enjoy each others company freely and innocently. Though Castiglione does not
stress the fact, the respect for the Duchess leads to the most careful behavior by all
guests. He lists those staying at the Court in the year of 1506 and concludes his
presentation by stating that these men and women are the finest talents found
anywhere in Italy.
Following this description of the atmosphere and customs at Urbino, the
reader is introduced to the first evenings dialogue. Pope Julius II and his Court
have just left the Palace and as usual, after supper, everyone gathers in the rooms of
the Duchess. The group is arranged, men sitting next to women, with men
outnumbering women. Signora Emilia Pia has been asked to begin the games. Upon
her command everyone has to think of a game the group has not played before.
Many games are suggested until a discussion on the characteristics of a perfect
courtier is proposed, which is then accepted by the Duchess as the game for the
The first to speak on the topic is Count Ludovico da Canossa. A friend and
relative of Castiglione, bom into a Veronese family, who is a highly cultured
diplomat and a friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam and of Raphael. He begins his
representation by pointing to the apparent oddity that man can hold opposing
thoughts on one issue at the same time; therefore it is difficult to develop just one
perfect courtier. In his description he wishes the perfect courtier to be of noble birth,
as it inspires and incites to high performance as much as fear of dishonour or hope
of praise... and it seems reprehensible not to attain at least the standards set them by
their ancestors.11 The Count admits though that through the favour of the stars of
Nature some common people are bom with all the gifts and talents imaginable.12
He then concludes and integrates the aspects of both, noble birth and nature, by
wishing the perfect courtier to be of noble birth and nature adding talent, beauty of
countenance, and grace to all his actions.
Gaspare Pallavicino, a descendant of the Marchesi of Cortemaggiore, who is
twenty-one, and the youngest in attendance, refuses to accept Ludovico's thoughts.
He points out that vices and virtues can be found in all men regardless of their birth.
To him it is the unpredictable Goddess Fortune that decides so much of men's
making and mens fate. He also observes that Nature does not make the distinction
of birth. Gaspare concludes that, if Count Ludovico is right, for anyone bom of low
birth all his good qualities are spoilt and the person will never reach the height of
perfection, ...these being talent, good looks and disposition and the grace which
makes a person always pleasing at first sight.13 The Count responds to Gaspare's
argument by agreeing with his observations of the virtues in men, but, giving
examples, concludes with regard to the importance of the first impression that noble
birth does have the immediate impression on all concerned.14
In more detail, Count Ludovico continues that the first and true profession of
a courtier is that of arms of warfare. He stresses that the perfect courtier needs to
pursue this profession vigorously and that his attitude should be enterprising, bold,
and loyal to whomever he serves.15 Here, without the right conduct the perfect
courtier can ruin his reputation beyond repair. A military training educates his
approach and endurance and it also prepares him to deal successfully with difficult
situations of all kind. The courtier should be ready to display his vigor in front of the
enemy at any time, but presents himself with kindness, modesty and reticence at
Now the conversation moves to the aspect of self-presentation and self-praise
and its limitation by discretion. Count Ludovico observes that self-praise and self-
presentation with a purpose in mind and not for their own sake are well accepted.
Then the focus shifts from approach and attitude to the appearance of the courtier. In
contrast to the fashion of the time, Count Ludovico wants the courtier to be "manly
and graceful... and neither too small nor too big.16 Since the courtier is well
acquainted with sport and recreational activities, he must, naturally, be well built and
able to demonstrate suppleness and lightness used in pursuing these physical
For good measure and balance, Ludovico also sees the courtier enjoying less
strenuous past times like dancing and jesting though they need always be performed
with certain grace and fine judgement.17 Grace is a key to the suggested behavior
and attitude and the underlying approach to all his actions. The next portion of
conversation revolves around this essential element of a courtier's education -what is
grace and how can it be obtained? Count Ludovico responds:
However, although it is most proverbial that grace cannot be learned ... I
say if anyone is to acquire grace as a sportsman or athlete ... he should start
young and learn the principals from the best teachers. ... And when he feels
he has made some progress it is very profitable for him to observe different
kinds of courtiers and, ruled by the good judgment that must always be his
guide, take various qualities now from one man and now from another. ... I
have discovered a universal rule which seems to apply more than any other in
all human actions or words: namely to steer away from affectation at all
costs, as if they were a rough and dangerous reef, and (to use perhaps a novel
word for it) to practice in all things a certain nonchalance which conceals all
artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and
With respect to those who observe graceful behavior, Count Lodovico points
out that a graceful act needs to appear effortless. The significance of the written
word over the spoken one is established, and contemporary examples are given as to
clarity, lucidity and precision. However, purity should be the guiding factor with
reference to language. Virgil and Cicero are cited as authors worth emulating. Once
more the question is raised as to how to achieve these ideals. Imitating these writers,
a well accepted in classical literature is suggested. Then citing more classical
examples of outstanding writers, musicians and painters, the variety of styles are
illustrated. It is demonstrated that there are various ways of how perfection can be
obtained. As the conversation reaches a technical level, Signora Emilia suddenly
intervenes. She asks for a return to the subject of the courtier and suggests
postponing the discussion on the aspects of language, rhythm, and style. Obligingly,
Count Ludovico recaptures the guests interests reminding them that the highest
degree of grace is conferred by simplicity and nonchalance, in praise of which, and
in condemnation of affection, much more could be said.19 His thoughts are
illustrated by presenting the idea of the graceful beauty in women, thus making it
clear how incompatible affectation and natural beauty are. Then body and soul are
compared in their importance. Quite naturally the conversation turns to virtue, as it
is the beauty of the soul. Prudence, goodness, fortitude, and temperance of the soul
are named as all worth striving for.20
In the following section, the topic of liberal arts and the importance of
knowledge of good literature as a necessity to human dignity and life are broached.
What spurs bold deeds is the desire for glory and true glory is entrusted to the
sacred treasury of letters.21 Alexander the Great and Achilles are mentioned as
outstanding military commanders, and examples of the significance are given that
these men attributed to literature. And in consistence with the aforementioned,
Count Ludovico adds that the courtier should be an above-average scholar in the
humanities. Not only does knowledge itself create personal satisfaction but also
entertaining qualities connected to these studies for the benefit of the courtiers
Then Ludovicos representation turns to a substantial element of a courtiers
possible misconception. Consciously, the courtier needs to guard himself against
assuming to know what he does not know. He also needs to guard himself against
the seduction of flattery and its effects. Instead the courtier should continually
remind himself and others, that arms are his profession and that a knowledge of
liberal arts are his attributes. Opposing opinions are voiced by the group when the
Count compares the significance of arms to that of letters. In the guests minds the
profession of arms is to the body what letters are to the soul. His response is that the
profession of arms involves both body and soul. Therefore, in a contest, the man
who applies arms will win over the one who fights with words.
The Count continues with his original presentation in more detail and adds
that the courtier should also be a musician. His courtier must be able to read music
and play several instruments. Music is most relaxing for body, soul, and spirit, and
has an entertaining quality regardless of rank and position.22 The example of
Alexander the Great's susceptibility to music was chosen to demonstrate the power
music could have even over great men. Upon this statement many differing opinions
are exchanged; the guests clearly disagree regarding the importance of music. But
they believe that music needs to be part of a courtiers education.
Now the Count draws everyones attention to the art of painting as a
necessary skill of the courtier. He points out that in ancient Greece painting was
taught in schools and at the time it was regarded as one of the foremost of the liberal
arts. Then the art of painting and the art of sculpture are compared. In conclusion,
painting is favored over sculpture because this nobler art, with its use of color and
shade, is able to depict life and more of its varieties.23 Once more an example
involving Alexander the Great is referred to when beauty and affection and its
connection to painting are explored. It is a story about Alexander the Great giving
away his mistress in appreciation of his very profound pleasure he draws from this
work of art to the painter who painted her.
The conversation is then interrupted by the arrival of the Prefect, who had
accompanied the Pope on part of his journey. The Prefect, who is very interested in
the conversations topic, accepts the invitation to join the group the following
evening. The remaining time of this first dialogue is spent with dance and music
until the Duchess rises to retire and everyone leaves.
The second book represents the second evening. The conversation begins
with a discussion on how the courtier is to employ his abilities. Various aspects of
social life and a courtiers professional life are looked at under the heading of a
required gentlemanly behavior. Federico Fregoso, a distinguished courtier and
diplomat, takes up the task he had assumed the evening before and opens the
. the courtier should know how to order his whole life and exploit his good
qualities generally, no matter with whom he associate, without exciting
envy.... Thus in everything he does our courtier must be cautious, and he
must always act and speak with prudence; and he should not only strive to
perfect his various attributes and qualities, but also make sure that the tenor
of his life is such that it corresponds with those qualities, is always and
everywhere consistent in itself, and is perfectly of a piece with all his fine
attributes. In consequence, in everything he does, he should ... be inspired
by and express all the virtues, and sometimes set one in contrast or opposition
to another in order to draw more attention to it. ... And first and most
important, he should above all avoid affectation. Next let him consider well
whatever he does or says, the place where he does it, in whose presence, its
timing, why he is doing it, his own age, his profession, the end he is aiming
at, and the means that are suitable; and so, bearing all these points in mind,
let him prepare himself discreetly for all he wishes to do or say.24
Federico feels that the courtier should be conscious of the circumstances in all his
dealing. He continues with another aspect of long lasting consequences:
All the same, it should be understood from the rule I gave that when the
courtier finds himself involved in a skirmish or pitched battle, or something
of that nature, he should arrange to withdraw discreetly from the main body
and accomplish the bold and notable exploits he has to perform in as small a
company as possible and in view of all the noblest and most eminent men of
the army, and above all, in the presence, or if possible under the very eyes, of
the prince he is serving.25
When it comes to battle though, the courtiers only motive is honor pure and
simple, and he is urged not to lower his standards 26
In civil or recreational situations, the courtier should make sure that he is
presenting his competence in an elegant and attractive manner, and with grace.
Conversing with those who watch him, he will speak one way with men and another
way with women.27 And Federico emphasizes that the courtier needs to perform
well in public. Regardless of all the regional differences, the courtier should be
reserved about his hobbies and should not present himself in any recreational
pastime that is not suitable. In all this he has to display the same kind of discretion
with reference to his rank. Discretion is another guiding principle, as ... In any
case, everything should be tempered by discretion.28
Moreover, the courtier has to be a good judge of himself and act his own age.
This is illustrated by saying that old men are usually wiser, more prudent and more
continent on the one hand, and more loquacious, meaner, more difficult and more
timid on the other. Young men are spirited, generous, frank, and quick to quarrel,
volatile, loving and hating at the same time. They are wrapped in their own
pleasures, and do not like to accept advice. It is therefore the task of each man to
balance the imbalances the virtues and vices of his age, so that he is able to meet the
standards of a courtiers performance.
The conversation then moves on to a central aspect of the courtiers dealing
with the Prince. Here, the courtier should always aim at creating an agreeable
atmosphere. He should avoid arrogance at all cost and should not communicate bad
news. Also his mannerism and speech should not be offensive; instead he should
strive to please. The speaker mentions in particular an absolute respect for the
Princes privacy, the courtier should not go into the private rooms of his Prince
unless he has been invited to do so. With reference to favors offered to the courtier,
he should enjoy them, but not make himself dependable on them. And he should
accept them with modesty. In these situations the courtier should always be more
humble than his position requires.
But above all else he should always hold to what is good; he should be
neither envious nor slanderous, and he should never seek to gain grace or
favour through wicked methods or by dishonest means.29
In this context, the question of obedience is brought up. The response is clear and
accepted by all. There is no doubt that the courtier should not support anything that
could be shameful or dishonoring to his Prince. In concluding this part of the
conversation, the issue of appearance is broached again. Once more, and based on an
attitude of restraint, the courtier should adapt himself to the majority and apply
modesty and discretion over an eye-catching presentation.
The next characteristic is the ability to choose intimate friends. It is said, that
the courtier needs to take great care in forming his friendships, as two close friends
are assumed to be of the same character. Very few people are able to be good
friends, and there are even fewer who value friendship for what it is. Good behavior
among friends is then outlined, and again it is emphasized that a good first
impression is of extraordinary importance. And as a general rule, if the courtier is
able to observe a golden mean the way of wisdom and reasonableness between two
extremes he will have a strong and reliable tool against envy.
The direction of the conversation is now shifted towards humor and wit, as
essential tools for a courtier. First the forms of humor which are inappropriate for
any kind of civil conversation are mentioned as the following: absurdities,
unpleasant sarcasm, and cruel puns. Then various examples and practical jokes are
given of how fun can be made of another persons shortcomings. The examples
given are entertaining and challenge the quick-wittedness of the interlocutors. This
long exchange of thoughts about jokes and humor reflects its importance in human
conversation and the chapter concludes with the remark that jokes should never go so
far as to impugn a womans honor.
Using love and its excuses as an entry, the conversation begins to revolve
around women.30 In an attacking manner, Ottaviano Fregoso, an outstanding
politician and sometime ambassador to France for the Duchy of Urbino, takes the
lead. He describes women as most imperfect creatures and incapable of any virtuous
act and of little or no dignity in comparison to men. Wise men, he says, have no
respect for women. Objections are immediate. Then the group of men scorning
women manifests itself. They are quick at perceiving womens weaknesses and
allocate to them an unimportant position in life. Following these negative
characterizations, the Duchess asks for a defender to save the honor of the ladies.
The Magnifico Giuliano, youngest child of Lorenzo di Medici, who has said little so
far interjects and states that, to his knowledge, there are few great men who have not
loved and paid tribute to the women whose virtue and whose dignity he does not
consider in the slightest to be inferior to those of men.31 The evening ends with the
understanding that the topic can only be discussed fairly, if a counterpart to the
courtier a court-lady is developed. This task is assigned to The Magnifico
Giuliano for the next evening before the group retires for the night.
The third part of The Book of The Courtier is devoted to women. Taking up
last nights topic, the group is ready and waiting to hear about the ideal court-lady.
Before the conversation begins it is generally established that the court-lady would
never be able to rival the courtier. Quite different from the other two evenings, not
surprisingly though, the atmosphere seems to be slightly agitated. When the
question of the place of women is raised it is observed that the court-lady, in so far
as her frailty allows, should follow all the other ways that have been so fully
discussed in regard to the courtier.32 This idea is vehemently contradicted as
a woman in no ways resemble a man as regards her ways, manners, words, gestures,
and bearing 33 And the Magnifico Giuliano continues:
If this precept be added to the rules that these gentlemen have taught the
courtier, then I think that she ought to be able to make use of many of them
and adorn herself with the finest accomplishments .... For I consider that
many virtues of the mind are as necessary to a woman as to a man; as it is to
be of good family; to shun affection: to be naturally graceful; to be well
mannered, clever and prudent; to be neither proud, envious or evil-tongued,
nor vain, contentious or clumsy; to know how to gain and keep the favor of
her mistress and of everyone else; to perform well and gracefully the sport
suited for women. It also seems that good looks are more important to her
than to the courtier, for much is lacking to a woman who lacks beauty. She
must also be more circumspect and at greater pains to avoid giving an excuse
for someone to speak ill of her; she should not only be beyond reproach but
also beyond even suspicion, for a woman lacks a mans resources when it
comes to defending herself.34
Thus they conclude that the lady of the court should be prudent,
magnanimous, and chaste. She should also be goodhearted, discrete, and able to
take good care of the house and her children, and be a good mother. With a pleasing
affability, she should know how to entertain graciously and make charming and
honest conversation. When making conversation she should be able to observe the
rank or position of the person she is talking to. And her approach should be modest
The Magnifico Guiliano elaborates:
Nor in her desire to be thought chaste and virtuous, should she appear
withdrawn or run off if she dislikes the company she finds herself in or
regards a conversation as improper. For it might easily be thought that she
might be pretending she was straitlaced simply to hide something she feared
others could find out about her; and in any case, unsociable manners are
always deplorable pretended to be straitlaced, only in order to hide something
she does not want others to find out about her. Nor again in order to prove
herself free and easy, should she talk immodestly or practice a certain
unrestrained and excessive familiarity or that kind of behavior that leads
people to suppose of what is perhaps untrue35
Once more it is emphasized that her speech should reflect that she is aware of the
rank and position of the person she is talking to. Knowledgeable in many subjects,
she should be able to choose suitable topics for the kind of person she is talking.
Careful not to say something that might be offensive, she should neither introduce
serious subjects into a lighthearted conversation, nor humorous remarks into
discussion on serious matters. Like the courtier, she should not pretend to know
what she does not know. When winning credit for what she does she should do it in
a quiet way, and always avoid affectation. When taking part in recreational
activities she should do so with grace. In her conversation she should be fluent,
extremely reserved, decent, and charming, this way she will always display good
manners. And with this attitude, she will be loved and respected by everyone. With
all these attributes she might even be able to stand comparison with the courtier with
regard to his qualities of mind and body.36
Next the question is raised as to what kind of recreational activities the ideal
court-lady should engage in. Opinions among the guests with vary on this subject.
There is consensus, however, that the court-lady should be knowledgeable about
literature and painting, and she should also know how to play games as this would
add a discreet modesty and the ability to give a good impression of herself. The
dispute and it is just that about the value of women continues. Women are
imperfect creatures they are bom contrary to natures wishes are the thoughts
of one camp.37 Not surprisingly, these thoughts face vigorous opposition.
Numerous historical examples of womens excellence are introduced in defense of
the womens case. Still, the topic is concluded with the idea that mans natural
qualities make him more perfect than women.38
The conversation moves on to the relationship between men and women.
Womens ongoing fate is deplored. The fact that they have to live a disadvantaged
life shut away from public activities is brought up. The exchange of ideas begins by
underlining the ability of women. More historical examples of women of
outstanding behavior, loyalty, courage, love for their husbands are cited. This idea is
opposed by some stating that women are inferior to men when it comes to merit.39
Once more examples are presented in rebuttal, that women are valued as highly as
their male counterparts. Certain queens of the time are referred to and examples of
their brilliance and character are quoted. Again it is pointed out that many women
have been the cause of great benefit to their men.40 The controversy about womens
value continues. It ranges from her only task being to bear children to being
essential to the well being of everyone. The end the conversation returns to depicting
outstanding women, whose adherence to virtue commands the respect of many.
Subsequently the question of chastity of the sexes is brought up. The
discussion is lively and controversial. Contentment through the fulfillment of sensual
needs is weighed against the advantages of a designed moral and virtuous life. Then
the pursuit of love is discussed, since without women we [men] can get no pleasure
or satisfaction out of life, which but for them would lack charm and be more uncouth
and savage than that of wild beasts.41 The conversation about love is continued,
and the importance of love is underlined once more with examples from ancient and
contemporary history, for example, it is stated that love is the reason why Troy held
out against the Greeks for ten years.42 After more examples of womens love, the
exchange of ideas moves on to love and marriage.
Fundamental difficulties of married life are mentioned and the turmoil and
sorrows connected to them. The question is whether these sorrows are enough
reason for extramarital love? Most guests reject the idea strongly and not much is
said in favor of such a solution. More is said on the various ways and attitudes of
how love is expressed. Good conduct for both men and women is suggested and
modesty and softspokeness should characterize their demeanor. The advice is that
the court-lady should not fall for deceitful advances. A man on the other hand
should try to win a court-ladys love by serving and pleasing her, so that she finds
him agreeable. When the courtier wishes to declare his love he should do so by his
actions rather than by his speech, above all, the courtier should be discreet, because a
love that is spoken about in public may well lead to embarrassment.43 Lastly, the
Magnifico Guiliano speaks about how to maintain a court-ladys love. It is done in
the same way the courtier has gained it. He will continue to please her and he will
try not to offend her. The evenings conversation comes to a close and the topic for
the next night is introduced, the idea of a perfect courtier.
The fourth book elaborates on the courtiers tasks and puts him into a
professional context. The head of this evenings conversation, Ottaviano Fregoso, is
from a well-known Italian family and is politically one of their most outstanding
members with an ambassadorial appointment to King of France by Duke Francesco.
He states that it is the objective of the courtier to win for himself the mind and the
favor of the prince he serves, that he can and always will tell him the truth about all
he needs to know, without fear or risk of displeasing him.44 Consequently, if the
courtier observes the prince attempting to undertake something that is unworthy of
him, he should be in a position to oppose him. He should be able to employ the
favor he was able to win through his good qualities and try to persuade him to
return to the path of virtue45 The courtiers tasks, therefore, are not limited to
musical entertainment, festivities, games or other pleasing accomplishments. His
core task is to assist the prince in being virtuous, to practice virtues, and prevent him
from employing evil means for evil ends.
Signor Ottaviano continues to unfold his ideas. In order to achieve good
deeds the guests have to consider that the merits of good deeds consist of two
principal things. First to choose a truly virtuous end for the princes intentions, and
second how to find convenient and suitable means to achieve this end.46 Since what
a prince lacks is what he needs most of all. It is someone who would tell him the
truth and remind them of what is right. With regard to the company the prince
should seek, the distinction between friend and flatterer is made. The danger of
unrealistic perceptions for the prince is pointed out.. .for an ignorant mind deceives
itself and lies to itself.47
The result of this is that apart from never hearing the truth of anything,
princes become drunk with the power they wield, and abandoned to pleasure-
seeking and amusements they become so corrupted in mind that (seeing
themselves always obeyed and almost adored, with so much reverence and
praise and never a hint of censure or contradiction) they pass from ignorance
to extreme conceit. In consequence they never accept anyone elses advice or
opinion; and believing that it is very easy to know how to rule and that
successful government requires no art or training other than brute force, they
devote all their mind and attention to maintaining the power they have and
believe that true happiness consists in being able to do what one wants.48
There are those princes who begin to disregard reason and justice because
they think these two elements would act like constraints to their desires. They think
if they obeyed the laws, they would become servants to their own actions reason
and justice would rob them of the enjoyment of their ruling. Such an attitude leads
to a lack of inner and outer balance. And the downfall of these rulers is caused by
the weight of their own imbalance. One error leads to numerous others, and due to
ignorance they believe that their power is based on their wisdom. No harm is done if
a prince does not know how to play an instrument or how to perform a certain sport.
But immense harm and misery is brought about when a prince does not know how to
govern people. This will lead to many evils, so much death, destruction, burning
and ruination.49 Again historical examples are given to underline the importance of
good princely conduct.
The conversation now turns to a question of what should a courtier do, if he
discovers that he is serving an evil prince. It is decided that in such a situation the
courtier should obtain the goodwill of his prince by means of his noble qualities. He
will succeed in this purpose without great effort and will then be able to disclose the
true facts of any subject. Gradually he will instill the virtues into the princes mind
and teach him continence, fortitude, justice and temperance.50 Slowly the courtier
will achieve a change of the princes mind. This time of learning should be
lightened with simple pleasures. Once more the urgency of such an undertaking is
emphasized by stating that nothing is so advantageous to mankind as a good prince,
and nothing so harmful as an evil one.51
Now the conversation reaches a fundamental level as the place of virtues and
vices in a human beings personality are defined. Moral virtues do not entirely
derive from nature, as nothing can ever grow accustomed to what is naturally its
opposite. Thus, if virtues were natural to human beings, mankind would never get
accustomed to vice. It has also been observed that virtues can be learned and so can
vice. As with any other skill, it is necessary to have a teacher who can assist and
guide in practicing to purify and enlighten the soul of his student. Consequently
virtue could be defined as prudence and knowledge of how to choose what is good.
Vice on the other hand could be defined as a certain imprudence or ignorance that
leads to false judgement. Thus man does not necessarily choose evil deliberately but
is deceived by evil because to him it appears in a certain resemblance of good.52
And Signor Ottaviano continues that if a human being possesses only a
certain vague knowledge of what is evil, then reason could be overcome by
emotions. Though, if a person has true knowledge, there is no doubt that this person
would not make a mistake. Reason is overcome by desire, because of an existing
ignorance. True knowledge cannot to be defeated by emotions, as emotions
originate rather in the body than in the soul. And if emotions are governed well, that
is to say, when they are controlled by reason, these emotions become virtuous. If
they are not governed by reason they become vicious. Reason has such power that it
always absorbs the senses.
It is necessary to distinguish between virtues. Self-discipline in love for
example, is not a perfect virtue, as it is influenced by emotions. Temperance on the
other hand makes way for an absolute rule of reason. Temperance does not violently
move the soul but gently changes it by persuading it to choose an honest approach.
It creates a calmness and tranquility in a person that allows for an even and well-
tempered attitude. The soul seems to be informed about all aspects with a certain
harmony and leads to an unshakable tranquility, which is ready to respond to and by
guided by reason. Therefore temperance is a wholly perfect virtue. And it is
especially appropriate for men who rule, since it is the basis for many other virtues.53
It is further explained that when emotions are moderated by temperance, they are
conducive to virtue. If emotions were eliminated, they would weaken reasons
impact to the extent that it becomes ineffective. Temperance is, therefore, the basis
for many virtues. It turns man toward harmony. Reason then makes him receptive
for fortitude and immense human suffering.
This is also true for the virtue of justice. Justice is closely connected to
modesty and goodness and is the queen of all virtues, because it guides one toward
what should be done and helps to avoid what is wrong. As it is an integral part of
other virtues, it is wholly perfect and when applied will bring magnanimity,
liberality, and a desire for honor, gentleness, charm and affability.54 If the prince
employs all those virtues, the courtier will have reached his aim and created the
manner and method of good government. This last thought concludes the
presentation on virtues and vices, princely behavior and the courtiers involvement in
the princes preparation for successful rule.
Following these thoughts on the methods of rule, the conversation then turns
to the question of the best form of government. The rule of one good prince is
advocated, since this kind of government is in accord with nature; it is also more in
accord with God, who individually governs the universe. Then a republic is
compared to a monarchy with additional examples from nature. The idea of a
monarchy is confronted by the fact that God endowed human beings with the
supreme gift of freedom, therefore it would be wrong if one mans freedom should
be greater than that of others. And nature does provide examples of animals that
alternate their behavior, giving authority at some point to one and later to another.
Thus, they resemble a republic more than a monarchy, and it is an example of
freedom when those who sometimes govern at times obey as well. Therefore, it is
argued that a republic is a more natural form of government than a monarchy.
Then three options are presented on which form of ruling is the best:
Monarchy, a rule by the good, and government by the citizens. The group concludes
that a monarchy is the best form of government. As true freedom does not
necessarily mean that the people live they way they wish, it means much more that
they live under good laws. And it is neither any less natural, useful, or necessary to
rule than it is necessary to obey. It is felt that some beings are bom and designed by
nature to obey, whereas others are chosen to rule.
And there are two ways of exercising rule. One way is arbitrary and violent,
as masters treat their slaves or the soul rules over the body. The other way is a
milder and gentler form, when good princes would rule their citizens through laws,
or when reason determines human desires. Both forms are useful, because the body
is made to obey the soul and human desires should obey reason. Therefore a
constitutional monarchy, in which the people are allowed to take part in a local
government, is advocated, because men can be judicious and intelligent and are able
to administer their own affairs. And God has entrusted men to the protection of their
rulers. Rulers, on the other hand, have to execute diligent care and extend an
account of their ruling to God, just as a good steward would do to his master. One
proof of a good ruler is that his people are good, since the people model themselves
on the way their prince lives and acts. Through the way he governs, he acts as a
model and guides them in their behavior.
Then another aspect of government is addressed, namely the difference
between times of war and times of peace. During war practical virtues should be
exercised by the people. During times of peace moral values move into the
foreground. In times of war the virtue of fortitude is very useful, as it frees the soul
of emotions and diminishes not merely fear but also the awareness of danger. At all
times, men should possess the virtues that are conducive to moral excellence, such as
justice, chastity and temperance. However, moral virtues are far more important in
times of peace, when people are enjoying leisure and prosperity, as they may become
unjust, intemperate, and easily corrupted by pleasures. In such situations men are in
great need of virtues, understanding that a life of ease could allow bad ways and
And again Signor Ottaviano speaks and suggests a combination of the three
forms of government mentioned earlier.
And in this way the prince as the head, and the nobles and people as the
members, would form a single united body, the government of which would
depend chiefly on the prince, yet would also include the others. And then
this state would have the constitution of all three good forms of government,
namely monarchy, rule by the best and rule by the people. ... if he [the
prince] combines true religion and reverence for God with human prudence,
he will also enjoy good fortune and protection of God, always disposed to
increase his prosperity in times of peace and war.55
Subsequently the style of government is discussed. Signor Ottaviano states that the
prince should love his country and his people and this should manifest itself in his
rule. If he rules too tolerantly his people will disrespect him since they will no
longer respect the laws. Also the prince should love those close to him according to
their rank and their position. Justice and liberty should be his guiding principles and
he should practice strict equality. When bestowing honors and dignities, the prince
needs to value the differences in merits. The rewards he bestows should be greater
than the merits that are recognized by him. With such an approach, the prince will
not only be loved but also adored by his people. It is also extraordinarily important
that he is successful in creating the confidence in his people, and that he will follow
and apply the laws. This way he will gradually temper his citizens so that the good
would not seek more than they needed and the bad could not do so.56 To maintain
such a political atmosphere the prince needs to create and establish a golden mean -
the way of wisdom and reasonableness between two extremes of life for all its
However, there are citizens, who are aiming for change. They often do so in
hope for some gain or in hope for honor, while others do it for fear of loss or shame.
Sometimes though the desire to create a political stir-up is rooted in injuries and
insults these activists have suffered, and these injuries and insults could have been
caused by the greed, the cruelty, or by the lust of those who govern them. At other
times the activists motivations are caused by contempt based on neglect, cowardice,
or the worthlessness of princes. Good princes will be trying to win the love and
allegiance of their people by favoring and rewarding the good. Although, under
certain circumstances it is necessary to use severe prudence in order to avoid evil and
sedition gaining power. Then it is easier to take proactive steps and prevent these
forces from growing. Since once they have established themselves, it requires much
more force and forces to eliminate them. The group concludes that if a prince is able
to do these things, then his citizens will be able to enjoy spiritual and physical
wellbeing. His people are of value to the prince and will bring about the prosperity
so much sought after. The prince will be able to steer them towards happiness and
he will enjoy the reputation of being a great lord, but only if this greatness is
accompanied by gentleness and humanity. His greatness should be underlined by his
generosity and his splendor and the way in which he discreetly favors his own
citizens as well as strangers. Great leaders of antiquity are cited, among them first
and foremost Alexander the Great. And there is agreement among the guests that
many excellent princes hold noteworthy courts.
Now the conversation reaches a more pragmatic tone. It is pointed out that
all the actions connected to generosity and splendor are not always what they seem
to be, because as they saying goes, not everyone who builds is an architect and not
everyone who gives is generous. Like with all other things in life, one must know
oneself and govern oneself with prudence. In other words, it is necessary to apply a
golden mean the way of wisdom and reasonableness between two extremes. It is
important to know where this point is, and in order to establish this knowledge
information is required. Lack of knowledge or ignorance will lead to mistakes in
many different ways. A prince has to guard and maintain his credence and
discerning judgment. This portion of the conversation closes with the group citing
examples of some of the greatest princes alive and their deeds.
Including the courtier into the discussion again, the significance of the
difference in age between a courtier and a prince is taken up as a topic. And the
participants agree that in view of the many other aspects of the relationship between
a courtier and a prince the age difference is of lesser importance. They deplore that
there are many princes who could be good rulers if their minds had been correctly
cultivated. Given such circumstances, the courtier finds that their behavior is so
contrary to good conduct that they can never be influenced to follow the right path.
Plato and Aristotle are cited as teachers who should serve the courtier as examples of
how he could best motivate a prince to proper conduct.
Lastly, and as if in preparation for a grand closure, the conversation returns
to the courtier and his desire and his ability for love. At the outset it is mentioned
that once more the courtier has to employ here, as well as in his all his other dealing,
the necessary prudence and wisdom, knowing that everything that is suitable for a
young man is not suitable for an older courtier. And given he is in love, it would be
the kind of love that would not present any blame. Instead, it would be the kind of
love that would earn him great praise and complete happiness. Though this kind of
love is free of all the turmoil love can entail. And for that it is a love that rarely
happens to younger men.
Castiglione has given his close friend Pietro Bembo the task of rendering this
representation of the perfect love:
Love is simply a certain longing to possess beauty; and since this longing
can only be for things that are known already, knowledge must always of
necessity precede desire, which by its nature wishes for what is good, but of
itself is blind and so cannot perceive what is good.57
And he then renders the philosophical basis that is so characteristic for the perception
of man in the Renaissance,
So nature has ruled that every appetitive faculty, or desire, be accompanied
by a cognitive faculty or power of understanding. Now in the human soul
there are three faculties by which we understand or perceive things: namely
the senses, rational thought and intellect. Thus the senses desire things
through sensual appetite or the kind of appetite we share with the animals;
reason desires things through rational choice, which is strictly speaking,
proper to man; and intellect, which links man to the angels, desires things
through pure will. It follows that the sensual appetite desires only those
things that are perceptible by the senses, whereas mans will finds its
satisfaction in the contemplation of spiritual things that can be apprehended
by intellect. And then man, who is rational by his very nature and is placed
between the two extremes of brute matter and pure spirit, can choose to
follow the senses or to aspire to the intellect, and so can direct his appetites or
desires now in the one direction, now in the other. In either of these two
ways, therefore, he can long for beauty, which is the quality possessed by all
natural or artificial things that are composed in the good proportion and due
measure that befit their nature.58
The beauty Pietro Bembo is speaking of is the kind of beauty that is seen in a human
body and particularly in the face. It is the beauty that prompts this ardent desire that
is called love:
.. and we shall argue that this beauty is an influx of the divine goodness
which, like the light of the sun, is shed over all created things but especially
displays itself in all its beauty when it discovers and informs a countenance
which is well proportioned and composed of a certain joyous harmony of
various colours enhanced by light and shadow and by symmetry and clear
definition. This goodness adorns and illumines with wonderful splendor and
grace the object in which it shines, like a sunbeam striking a lovely vase of
polished gold set with precious gems. And thus it attracts to itself the gaze of
others, and entering through their eyes it impresses itself upon the human
soul, which it stirs and delights with its charm, inflaming it with passion and
Then the mind is overcome by desire for this beauty. It perceives beauty as
something good and will allow the bodys senses to follow it. Pietro Bembo is quick
to warn that this way the greatest mistakes can be made, since the mind assumes that
the body is the object that contains the beauty. Therefore in order to possess this
beauty, it aims at achieving a relationship with the body that is as close as possible.
But this wish is not based on true knowledge. In fact, it is a rational choice caused
by misjudgment of the desire of the senses and consequently is deceiving. If these
false desires are satisfied, the lover will either begin to hate what he loves, because
he recognizes his bad judgment, or he will continue with the same desire since he has
not found what he had been looking for.60 When the lover thought he was
experiencing pleasure, it resulted in neither a restful nor a satisfied condition, and
enticed by a similar situation, the same desires will arise. And again with his
assumed satisfaction, the wish for more is continues.
This lack of true knowledge leaves the person in a depressed state and causes
great anguish and distress. It is then apparent that the senses can bring about a
discontent state of the spirit. Young lovers are at times totally absorbed by sensual
love and in such a phase are unable to listen to any guidance of reason. Pietro argues
that men who are more mature and experienced will be able to follow the guidance
of reason. When they are inspired by beauty, their desires are guided by rational
choice and they are not being deceived. In this manner they are able to obtain the
beauty they love. This kind of love entails only positive aspects, since the true love
of beauty can only be divine. All involved will benefit from such a state, because,
here, reason balances the incompleteness of the senses.61
Having completed his description of true love, Pietro Bembo has to respond
to those guests, who argue that beauty is not always good. So often in history,
womens beauty has caused the world endless sorrow, enmity, destruction, death,
and war. Once more Troy is mentioned as an outstanding example. The discussion
became lively and the opinions go back and forth until Pietro Bembo takes the lead
again by stating that beauty is a sacred thing.62 Beauty springs from God it is
like a circle with its nucleus containing goodness. There is nothing more beautiful in
all creation than a human being. Physical beauty is merely a reflection of the beauty
of the soul. A man should therefore enjoy the radiance, grace, loving ardor, and the
smiles of the woman he loves. And when approaching her with a virtuous manner, he
will be able to enjoy the virtues he instilled in her. It will be an expression of beauty
in beauty. Some people think that this is the purpose of love. The desires of such
men and women will be pure and harmonious and they will be perfectly happy.63
But a lover whose love is only directed toward physical beauty will not
achieve the harmony and purity he so much desires. Since, the moment his beauty
leaves his sight, his soul is tormented by her absence. And due to a need of the soul
to break the barriers of adhering to one beauty, it will attempt to see the beauty in all
the varieties nature offers. Thus step by step, the soul distances itself from its earthly
ties and senses itself to be a step closer to God. The soul begins to understand what
sacred love is and will then begin to cherish the union of beauty, goodness and the
divine. In this sacred love man gives perfect to the imperfect, likeness to the unlike,
friendship to the hostile, fruit to the earth, and tranquility to the sea. As it renders its
soul to God, sacred love has reached its completion.
As Pietro Bembo finishes, there is silence. The deep sincerity of his
representation is sensed by all. The stillness is broken when Signora Emilia
reverently, but lightheartedly asks him to go on and the conversation continues.
Some doubt whether they would ever be able to reach this goal of love. To ease the
doubts of those, who fear their shortcomings, famous examples are cited of those,
who had been inspired by divine love and that the human soul is able to reach such
Thus ends the fourth of the dialogues and the entire book ends with a
discussion on love. Then the guests retire to a beautiful dawn and morning sky.
Explication of The Text
When Europe recovered from the Black Death in the 15th century and the
extensive famine that reduced its population by a third, a new sense of worldliness
had emerged. A collective sense of being at the mercy of a destructive, unbiased,
and unethical power had developed that found its reflections in the visual arts, in
literature, and in music. This new consciousness of death was richer, more complex,
and mature. It represented inevitable human finality inescapably and without any
moral reason. Parallel to the new senses of mortality new ideas of life after death
developed. These thoughts moved away from their Christian roots into a secular
sphere resulting in a myth of fame that Jacob Burckhardt presents as one of the key
aspects in his The Civilization of The Renaissance.64 The joys of paradise were
transformed into a manifestation of triumph. It was a triumph of a soul that had
fought and won. The awareness of mortality lead to a greater appreciation of the
worldly existence. It was a general and collective consciousness that was not
altogether Christian and that would remain separate from the existing Christian
patterns of belief a concept different from the religious dogma. Man was no longer
merely a Christian, he could become a human being in his own right.
The Crusades and the Islamic civilization of Spain and Southern Italy had
already re-introduced classical scientific and philosophical texts to European
societies, particularly those of Aristotle. The works had such an impact on Europe
that the first university founded in Europe offered classes presenting the newly
acquired knowledge. The word humanista that comes to later signify the most
characteristic cultural movement of the Italian Renaissance, first appears in 16th
century Italian slang and was used to describe a student who pursued the studies of
liberal arts.65 The studia humanista included the study of grammar and rhetoric as
well as literature, poetry, history, and the skill of clear and convincing
communication. With an emphasis on secular rather than transcendental values, the
study of these subjects constituted a decisive break with the traditional teachings up
to this point.
Whereas the first phase of Italian Renaissance was chiefly concerned with
Latin literature, the second phase was dominated by classical Greek texts. Some
Byzantine scholars, who had fled Constantinople, had brought Platos texts and neo-
Platonic commentaries with them to Italy. In their search for a new philosophy,
Italian Humanists turned to these classical writers and tried to grasp the original
character of their works with the help of philology. The movement began with
Petrarca in the 14* century in Italy and spread slowly to other European countries in
the 15th and 16th century. One focus of this movement was the belief in the perfection
of the human being through education.
With the early forming of city-states originally based on republican
constitutions with a bourgois ruling class, sociability and a readiness for
entertainment was promoted which required rules of conduct either as a guideline to
adapt to society or in order to avoid attracting attention through inappropriate
behavior. Thus in Italy books were written about education and conduct from the
beginning of the 14th century. By the end of the 15th century, and due to Italys
culture as an accepted ideal, the topic of conduct enjoyed great popularity all over
Europe. In the 16th century, Italy was still regarded as the leading cultural society, at
least with regards to fine arts, literature, and society, which explains why these books
of conduct were translated for the European nations. They often were printed in two
languages, the original and the translation next to one another, providing language
instruction of the highly respected Italian language.66
Next to the tradition of the books of conduct, a related topic became very
popular. It distinguished itself from the previous one through its literary aspirations
and through the setting of the ideal of perfection that corresponded to the perspective
of the time. Numerous tracts claimed literary excellence when presenting valid
norms for the perfect representative of the society. Castiglione shared this ideal
when he wrote formar con parole un perfetto Cortegiano, explicando tutte le
condizione e particular qualita che si richieggono a chi merita questo nome (to form
with words a perfect courtier with all the conditions and special qualities one has to
request of the one who deserves this name) But Castigliones book went far
beyond these tracts. It developed a social ideal, in fact an ideal of the human being.
The position of the courtier was dominated by the political situation of the
city-states. The single aim of these states in the northern part of Italy was their
desire to defend themselves against claims of usurpation by neighboring states. Thus
a very complicated and intricate diplomatic system developed, drawing many famous
humanists into its service.67 Moreover, the cities provided the notorious condottieri
(mercenary-generals) with their mercenaries to represent their military interests.
And many of these military leaders used their powerful positions to abolish the
republican constitutions and obtain the rule of the state they used to serve. Famous
examples are the Visconti and the Sforza in Milan, the Este in Ferrara and the
Montrefeltro in Urbino.
The palaces of these city-states often became courts that competed with one
another, particularly with regard to their cultural ambitions. The new rulers of these
city-states attempted to formulate aristocratic lifestyles and in many cases they
joined with the enthusiasm for the new Humanist ideals of education. In accordance
with the currents of the time, they were interested in securing fame and glory for
their courts and themselves. These rulers aimed at drawing architects, artists and
poets to their courts continually competing with others. Thus a new form of society
established itself at these courtly centers, a society with new boundaries, a society for
which education, art, beauty, and social activities were decisive social values. The
splendor of these courts often depended on the personality of the ruler and to the
same extent on his wife, who was the Lady of the Court responsible for social
activities and entertainment.
Castiglione wanted The Book of The Courtier to be regarded as a
documentary. He claimed that the conversation presented in his book took place at
Urbino in March of 1507. All events mentioned were historically verified, and many
participants in the conversations were well known personalities of their time.
Contrary to Castigliones statements that he was still in England, it is highly likely
that he was actually a participant in these dialogues. But stating that he only
compiled the conversations on the basis of a friends extensive notes offered him the
opportunity to combine fact and fiction.68 His very personal and elaborate
introductions at the beginning of each of the four books create a sense of the authors
Following the examples of classical authors, Castiglione chose the well
accepted classic literary form of imitation for the representation of his ideas. Well
acquainted with Greek and Roman literature, he knew Platos Dialogues and
Ciceros De oratore. and his dialogues are in fact based on the literary format of
these two authors.
In the first book of The Book of The Courtier physical and mental
characteristics of the perfect courtier are introduced by Ludovico da Canossa. Just as
the human eye would take in a first impression, the description moves from
appearance to the movement and gestures of the perfect courtier. Physical training
and noble bodily exercise are discussed in detail, as, by this time, it had become an
essential part of good education; it was taught systematically, not only aiming at
physical strength and skill, but also at graceful movements. In fact Duke Federico
directed evening games at Urbino for the young people in his care.69 The topics
chosen by Castiglione in the book were being discussed intensively by society at the
time. Questions on language and speech were first examined on the background of
philological and rhetoric texts that were studied in the early Renaissance. These
studies gained significance by influencing all other academic disciplines.70
Subsequently the issue of a unifying written language emerged.71 The fact that
Horace and Vergil are referred to as examples for style, and Cicero and the recently
rediscovered works of Quintilianus for rhetoric, is an excellent reflection of a
Humanist educational approach. Equally, the question of whether training in the
military profession should rank above the education of literature, music, painting, or
sculpture, was widely discussed. Highly revered in antiquity, these forms of art
manifested one core objective of Humanism, which was to achieve the best possible
manifestation of an individual through education.
Extraordinary samples of works of visual art are available today, but the
significance of music and its developments are less accessible. An outstanding
example of Renaissance music is Palestrinas body of work. Musical currents of the
time lead to a specialization of the orchestra and a search for new instruments and
modes of sound. Closely connected to these developments was the establishment of
a class of virtuosi, who focused on particular instruments or a branch of music. Next
to the professional musicians, players were often amateurs, sometimes whole
orchestras of them were affiliated with the centers of learning. In good society
singing accompanied by a violin was as customary as the forming of quartettes of
string instruments. Solo singing was encouraged for a single voice is heard,
enjoyed, and judges much better 72 The aim was to enhance the song by the
impression made on sight. At a time when opera did not exist, music dilettantism
was a common feature among the middle and upper classes and social entertainment
almost always included music and singing.
Castiglione refers to Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military leaders
and a highly respected figure at his time, for his love of music and his appreciation of
painting. Moreover, many parallels exist with regard to political, economic, and
cultural developments during Alexanders reign and the developments during the
Renaissance. An expansion of the worlds known boundaries, the integration of
peoples and cultures, the creation of a unifying language, and the extension of human
intellectual horizons are key aspects of both epochs.
The second book could be interpreted as the authors thoughts about the
personal skills of a perfect courtier. The demeanor of the individuals and all higher
forms of social intercourse had become qualities pursued by the humanist society
with a deliberate purpose and artistic end. Therefore it is no coincidence that the
topics of appearance and clothes are discussed in the book. During the Renaissance
great detail was applied to fashion and its rapid changes as they served and still serve
as an important form of expression of the individual. Renaissance women spent an
extraordinary amount of time on improving their looks; for example, much trouble
was undertaken to modify the shade of the skin and the growth of the hair and
dresses were colorful and loaded with ornament trying to create a sense of
Next to the refinement of the appearance, the refinement of manners was
much sought after by this society. One of the consequences of this trend was the
book II Galateo by Giovanni della Casa. It was a manual for politeness and
promoted cleanliness in the strictest sense as well as the dropping of all the practices
and habits that were considered unbecoming. In fact, the book was a guide to good
manners, tact, and delicacy. The topics in II Galateo and The Book of The Courtier
overlap with reference to aspects of education and conduct that are implemented and
the value of the books as a manual for courtly and later gentlemanly behavior
The requirement for an understanding and appreciation of the differences in
people as portrayed in his second book and the modest and reserved behavior
requested are once more a reflection of the new Humanist understanding of human
interaction. The demand for a fundamental acceptance of the human being is based
on the Humanist ideal that mankind is to create a harmonious society in which all
human beings are accepted as brethren.74 Ever recurring human situations of
difference in age, service, arrogance, and obedience would require the courtier to
display his skills in a graceful manner and with an effortless attitude, called
sprezzatura. Honesty and honor are his motivations and at all times he should
display good judgment: the guide of a reasonable being to determine good conduct.
When keeping company his attitude should be governed by a quiet dignity that
should also show in his dress.
All these positive qualities that are characterized by the right mean require a
high degree of self-control and self-discipline, a sense of governing oneself, and a
constant alertness in judgment, in order to always decide on the correct personal
conduct. Control of impulsive behavior is certainly an expression of wanting to have
an effect on others, but it also serves to improve social intercourse. One of the most
agreeable forms of human interaction is an exchange of wit and humor Therefore,
this second book represents at great length the various forms of humor, wit, puns,
and practical jokes. The conversation touches on humor among friends, men and
women, the limitations of good taste, respect, and sentiments are mapped out, always
with the idea in mind that laughter and humor ease social interaction.
The main moral qualities the perfect courtier should have are Platos four
cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance, all of which are
reflected in Aristotles Ethics. In the hierarchical structure, justice as the queen of all
virtues is followed by temperance because it is the source of the golden mean for so
many good qualities. With temperance man then reaches the true fortitude of the
soul. The highest virtues are led by prudence. All the good qualities required for
the perfect courtier like courage, reliability, justice, magnanimity, gentleness,
modesty, and consideration play a decisive role as they are connected to the virtues
of the golden mean and to prudence. The ideal of wisdom is replaced by prudence
that is defined as good judgment and the ability to choose the good and the right.
Prudence manifests itself in carefulness particularly in relationship to the prince, but
also in practical terms. All the qualities mentioned are connected to the idea of
humanity. They promote an individualized harmonious life.
The third book, the book about women, represents the court-lady, the
counterpart to the courtier. The position of women in the Italian Renaissance is the
position of women of the educated upper classes. Men and women received the same
education and students of both sexes attended the same classes. Women spoke and
wrote Latin and took and interest in Italian poetry, sometimes being writers
themselves. With this education, the individuality of women was developed with
their own personalities emerging and obtaining their own celebrity and glory. And
Burckhardt claims that there was no question of womens rights and emancipation
since the educated women, no less than the man, strove naturally after a
characteristic and complete individuality75 Men and women presented the same
intellectual and emotional accomplishments. As women did not occupy public
positions, their task was to inspire distinguished men. A social consciousness of
energy, of beauty, and a social state of danger and opportunity lead to bestowing
women with the utmost distinction of having the courage and the mind of men. And
these courageous women were highly revered in Italian Renaissance society.
Therefore Castigliones conversations focus on the court-ladys abilities. The
necessity for beauty and the difference in physical strength are mentioned and the
court-ladys participation in all areas of fine arts is advised, as man and women
possess the same qualities and differ in their accidents and not their essence.77 A
woman should be held in higher esteem than a man since she is the one who is able
to love more deeply thus contributing to the sense of completion for a man and
women. Despite the remarks on womens sense for intrigue, curiosity, and gossip,
the underlying respect for women is always present in the text. Castiglione gave
much thought and space to the Renaissance tradition that marriages were arranged
without the womans consent. This issue so closely connected to the central position
of the woman, as the person who is capable of great love, leads Castiglione to
discuss the right of women to separate from the men they do not love. This demand
is almost revolutionary and based on the focus of Humanism that aspires an
improvement of secular life for everyone. It certainly underlines the description of
equalities between men and women and is an expression of his great respect for
womens dignity and for their abilities. The examples from antiquity and this epoch
underline the womans superiority with reference to love. The image that develops
is a combination of the wooed woman and the revived classic ideal of the virago.
The woman is not merely a social being, but much more a society defining and
In the fourth book, the conversation returns to topics of the previous parts
though on a different level. The fourth book differs substantially from the first three.
It has been assumed that the first three books were completed at the beginning of the
16th century, while the fourth one was prepared around 1525 79 Whereas the first
three evenings are devoted to the characteristics of the courtiers life the fourth book
puts the representation into a philosophical context culminating in the representation
on love as the highest state of harmony and completion. It is said that Pietro
Bembos first speech reflects Aristotelian thoughts while the second one echoes
Platonic ideas and reference has been made to Platos Symposium.80 A perfect life
must be both active and contemplative. The Humanist aspiration for harmony is
reflected in Castigliones approach to combine Aristotelian ideas with those of Plato.
First, though, the perfect courtiers tasks of adviser to the Prince are
described. With a critical approach toward the rulers of his time, Castiglione
develops the necessary requirements for the courtiers guidance based on the cardinal
virtues and the role of reason. Discussing the best forms of government, this
conversation is political and philosophical at the same time and demonstrates the
beginnings of our understanding of democracy. With an intelligent, coherent, and
competent human being at its core, Castigliones utopia exhibits the features of a
democratic republic. With the class structure dissolving and an equalization of
classes taking place based on personal merit, the discussion on the appropriate form
of government reached a new momentum in Renaissance literature. However,
human capacities by themselves would not achieve a successful rule. It requires the
leaders belief, trust, and reverence toward God combined with human prudence that
would reach this goal. It is a first reference to the importance of religion in this
otherwise secular text. It is an interpretation of a belief that reflects the integration
of Humanist individualism into an individualized belief apart from the Christian
Having laid out the courtiers task in detail the conversation returns to the
courtiers love. This time the description of love reaches a synthesis of love and
beauty. Pietro Bembos description of the stages towards sacred love takes the
previously laid out and defined values and develops them step by step from an active
form of love into a contemplative one. When the soul reaches the level of sacred
love, complete harmony of body and soul, of active and contemplative, of secular
and religious has been achieved. What Castiglione represented as the ultimate goal
of the individual being is at the same time the fulfillment of the Humanist ideal of
creating a synthesis of harmony.
The Book of The Courtier is not a just a handbook for good conduct but
justifies its long lasting recognition as an example of the creation of a human and
cultural ideal. It is the ideal of a rounded, well educated human being whose qualities
are based on his capabilities, his magnanimity, and his humanity. His self-control,
his good judgment, and his highly developed sense for good measure as the ultimate
sign of dignitatis hominis make him the ideal of mankind and a representative of
Over the centuries the book has maintained its significance. It was extremely
popular right from the opening page. One reason for its popularity was the fact that
it contained something for everyone among the Italian upper classes. Men and
women, soldiers and scholars, the already established and upwardly mobile could all
find arguments to suit them and characters with which to identify.82 Castigliones
thoughts also appealed to readers who were not members of the nobility, for
example, writers and artists, medical doctors and lawyers, as well as members of the
clergy and to learned ladies.
The book was widely received elsewhere in Europe as well. Between 1528
and 1619, that is within a hundred years, following its first publication, about sixty
editions of the text appeared in other languages than Italian.83 It was published for
the first time in French in 1543, in Spanish in 1549, and in English in 1561. There
were two separate translations in German, the first in 1565 and the second in 1593.
In 1576, Castigliones son was warned by the Roman censors of the need to
expurgate the book and a revised version was published in 1584. This version did
not contain any references to fortune, theological metaphers in secular context
were replaced, and any jokes about the priesthood had been removed.84 Authorities
in Parma banned the book in 1580 and from 1573 until 1873 no edition of the
Courtier was published in Spain. From the seventeenth century onwards a decline in
reprinting of the book takes place all over Europe. Instead Machavellis The Prince
was gaining influence during the age of absolutism all over Europe. From 1630
onwards, The Book of the Courtier did not lose all its popularity. It was now used as
a guide to what we call today civility of the upper classes. And its thoughts were
incorporated in works by writers like Locke, Chesterfield, and Samuel Johnson.
During the nineteenth and twentieth century, Castigliones book continued to be a
subject of the literature of the time. Until today the ideal of the gentlemen in Europe
and in America is a reflection of Castigliones perfect courtier.
Why then is Machiavellis The Prince enjoying so much more popularity
then The Book of The Courtier? Frequently The Prince is part of the reading list of
leadership seminars and symposia and of college history and culture courses. This
book which gained its notoriety during the era of absolutism is a well accepted
philosophical tract on power management, or Realpolitik. Hardly ever are
excerpts from Castiogliones book found on such reading lists. An argument for The
Prince is that the book reflects the general pragmatism that rules actions in the
business world. And this argument holds well as long as control can be effectively
exercised and produces the desired results. But at the same time this approach is
confining and does not offer the best use of existing potential.
In the wake of the expected changes, the discussion on new forms of
releasing potential has been focussing on new forms of leadership. Peter Druckers
work is just one of many intensive undertakings to investigate options and to prepare
the business world. In a recent survey Daniel Goldman, cochairman of the
Consortium for Research for Emotional Intelligence at Rutgers University compared
six different forms of leadership. The survey showed that an authoritative style of
leadership brought about the best results. Enthusiasm and clear vision are
characteristic for this style. Good communication and the ability to develop others
enable workers to understand that what they are doing matters. An authoritative
leader aims at maximizing the commitment to the organizations goals and strategy.
Tasks and feedback given revolve around a vision. This form of leadership states the
objective but offers leeway to design means individually and thus impacts on
flexibility, the freedom to innovate, experiment, and take risks. Such a leader is able
to chart new courses and long-term visions.85
Next to the needs of the business world, student leadership education has
been advocated as part of a liberal education with Castigliones ideas in mind.
Liberal education in its traditional form emerged during the 20th century in response
to the so-called progressive movements. Its goal has been a return to Aristotelian
thought, which maintains that there are unchanging verities focussing on an
education of content and aim. These thoughts contrast with the higher education that
puts an emphasis on vocationalism and on anti-intellectualism with an isolated
specialization. The concept of a liberal education concentrates on the cultivation of
the intellect and carries the mind to a higher level. It assists in exercising the
facilities to practice a level of reflection and leisure, as a key element that prepares
for other activities. The revived discussion on liberal education takes these
characteristics into consideration and extrapolates them into social context.86 Liberal
education curricula provide opportunities to develop strategies and a sound basis for
these new forms of leadership, for example through liberal arts activities and
biographical leadership literature87
Liberal education in the Aristotelian sense finds its first modem expression in
the humanist ideal. In this context The Book of The Courtier can be of invaluable
use. The perfect courtier, who was originally created as a social ideal, offers a model
of liberal education. If we are looking at todays requirements of leaders some of
the key aspects are, stewardship, empowerment, self-sufficiency, and adaptation to
change. All these aspects require intellectual exercise of an independent mind.
Knowledge of oneself as well as knowledge of others and much more so of the
human condition is as essential as the ability to take decisions single-handedly. Only
then vision is possible.
SURVEY OF THE LITERATURE
This survey of literature surrounding Baldassare Castigliones The Book of
The Courtier is based on information available from the WorldCat library system. It
lists entered data on Arts and Humanities literature of all major American
university libraries, some American public libraries, and some Canadian and some
overseas university libraries. This system is accessible through university and local
library nets. Since access to European university libraries is limited, this paper will
focus on works of and about Baldassare Castigliones The Book of The Courtier that
are available here in the United States.88 Peter Burkes research results on reprints of
the original text and on secondary literature as published in his impressive
compilation of facts of Castigliones work in his The Fortune of The Courtier make
it clear that this paper presents merely a fraction of the literature available.
The first part of this survey will give an overview of the various editions and
translations of Baldassare Castigliones The Book of The Courtier since its first
publication. The second part will comment on its secondary literature. A third part
will look into essays as contained in compilations on Renaissance literature, at the
same time mapping out the books significance. A fourth and last part will present a
number of theses that were prepared at American universities and that contain The
Book of The Courtier as part of their subject-matter.
Baldassare Castigliones II Corteeiano was first published in April 1528 in
Venice by Aldine Press. In 1532 Maestro Antonio di Viotti published II libro del
cortegiano del conte Baldassare Castiglione: nouamente stampato, et consomma
diligentia corretto in Parman in 1532. In 1533 the Aldine edition was reprinted.
Another edition with nuouamente stampato, et con somma diligentia reuisto, con la
tauola di nuouo aggionta was published by Gabriel Iolito de Ferrarii in Vinitia in
1541. Inl552D. Giglio published the book with novamente stampato, et con
somma diligentia revisto, con la sva tavola di novo aggivnta in Vinegia. In 1576
Baldassare Castigliones son Camillo began to prepare a second edition. As the
book was already on the Index in Spain, numerous changes were made and an
expurgated second edition was published in 1584, following the publication of a
censored edition in Spain. In 1584 the book is re-published in Vinegia. In 1585
Nicolas Bonfons published Le parfait covrtisan in Paris. The book showed the
French and the Italian text in parallel columns. In 1590 The Courtier was put on the
Index by the Catholic Church. Excerpts from one Latin publication dated 1713 can
be found in the WorldCat system. During the early part of the 19th century, the
Inquisitors of Padua had to be consulted when a new edition was published. As late
as 1894 a correct version of the work was published by Professor Vittorio Cian.
In 1903 Sonzogno in Milan reprinted II libro del cortegiano del conte
Baldessar Castiglione. A new edition is published by G. C. Sansoni in 1904 in
Florence and reprinted in 1910. In 1929 Sonzogo in Milan published II libro del
cortegiano again. In 1945 Garzanti in Milan published II cortegiano. In 1964
Unione tipografic-editrice torinese published an edition con una scelta delle opere
minori di Baldesar Castiglione. In 1986 Bulzoni in Rome reprinted a 1528
publication by Aldo Romano & Andrea Asola of Venice. Ala edition was
published by Rizzoli in Milan in 1987. In 1900 Jane E. Ashbees edition of Sir
Hobys 1561 translation was published with the title The courtver, devided into
foure bookes. very necessary and profitable for vonge gentilmen & gentilwomen
abiding in court, palaice or place. The same year Sir Walter A. Raleigh edited Sir
Thomas Hobys 1561 translation for D. Nutt in London. Dutton in New York
published The Book of The Courtier in 1928. Everyman in London published The
Book of The Courtier in 1944, 1948 and in 1974. El cortesano was published by
Editorial Satumino Calleja in Madrid in 1920 and by Espasa-Calpe in Madrid in
1984. El Cortesan. another Spanish translation was published in 1994. Per
vollkommene Hofmann und Hof-Dame was published by the translator with Carl
Schaffem in 1684 at Franckfurt am Mayn and was republished in 1969. Per
Hofmann was republished by Wagenbach in 1999.
The WorldCat system lists 12 books with various copies as secondary
literature of The Book of The Courtier. Ercole Bottaris book Baldassare Castiglione
e il suo libro del cortegiano was published in Pisa in 1874.89 Bottaris publication
like other Italian secondary literature focuses on the cultural but equally on linguistic
aspects of the book. Probably the most outstanding and diligent compilation of
Castigliones life is Julia Mary Cartwright Adys Baldassare Castiglione. The
Perfect Courtier. His Life and Letters 1478-1529. Its first volume appeared in 1908
and does make reference to Vittorio Cians new and complete translation. Adys two
volumes the second one was published in 1927 contain the most complete
sequence of documents of and around Baldassare Castigliones life. The second
volume also gives also background information on the publication of The Book of
The Courtier and its reception in the decades that followed.90 In 1932 Augusto
Vicinelli publishes his Baldassare Castiglione (1478-15291II cortegiano. il letterato e
il politico. It is defined as an Italian treatise with historical notes and an aesthetic
analysis. A 1942 publication of Vittorio Cian Nel Mondo di Baldassare Castiglione.
documenti illustrati. This is not necessarily secondary literature in the strictest sense,
but much more a biographical survey with informative excerpts from the historical
archives in Lombardy. .
Probably the most important German publication is Erich Loos book
Baldassare Castiglione Libro del Cortegiano which appeared in Frankfurt am Main
in 1955. It was described as a study of moral understanding of the Cinquecento
and presents a kulturhistorische analysis. Reinhard Klescewskis book Die
franzosischen Ubersetzuneen des Cortegiano von Baldassare Castiglione was
published in Heidelberg in 1966. It was a revision of his thesis published in 1962
and represents the particular aspect of the French reception and translation of the
On the occasion of Castigliones 500th anniversary a cluster of publications
appeared. A symposium was held in Mantua on various literary and social aspects of
Castigliones writings. Subsequently the library of the Accademia Virgiliana of
Mantua published the papers presented at this symposium in 1980. Another
compilation was put together by Carlo Ossola with the title La corte e il Cortegiano
and was published by Bulzoni in Rome. This book contained presentations from a
seminar organized by the Centro studi Europa. Also in 1980, Erich Loos Literatur
und Formung eines Menschenideals was published. It was originally a lecture given
at the Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz on the occasion of
Castiogliones birthday. The tract is an excellent introduction to major cultural-
historical aspects surrounding The Book of The Courtier.
Sydney Anglo gave his inaugural lecture The Courtiers Art at the University
College of Swansea in January 1983, which was published the same year. In 1987
Carlo Ossolas first edition of his Dal Cortegiano al uomo di mondo was
published by Einaudi in Turin. Its French translation appeared in 1997 as Mirroirs
sans visage: du Courtisan a lhomme de la rue. It is an interesting study of the
courtier as a model of European culture and much more so of its sociological
development. In 1995 Peter Burkes had completed his The Fortune of The Courtier.
making use of all the information and advanced research methods available this book
undoubtedly presents the most comprehensive documentation available to date.
Compared to Julia Ady, who, with the historical events remaining in the background,
submits the personal development of Castigliones life and work, Burke provide
innumerable socio-historical details and information on the books significance and
influence over the centuries. Both works are exceptional historiographical /
biograpical examples of their time. A book with a philosophical approach towards
Castigliones writings was written by Christine Raffini and published in New York
by Lang in 1998. In her Marsilio Ficino. Petro Bembo. Baldassare Castiglione:
Philosophical, aesthetic, and political approaches in Renaissance Platonism she
examines and compares these three Renaissance writers, their influence on Western
culture, and their influence on one another.
The books that incorporate writings on The Book of The Courtier and that
have been published over the centuries are numerous. Therefore, this presentation
will only list compilations published this century. In 1908 Marian Andrews Courts
& Camps of The Italian Renaissance was published in London. It is a reflection of
the life and times of Baldassare Castiglione with an epitome of The Book of the
Courtier with appreciations and annotations. Kazimierz Chledowskis work on the
Renaissance published in Warsaw in 1911 and translated into German as Die
Menschen der Renaissance in 1912 contains a chapter on Baldassar Castigliones
remarkable, distinctly different, and outstanding life. With the sense of personal
detail customary of the time Chledowski described the influence of The Book of The
Courtier on European culture and language. 1940 Willy Andreas book Geist und
Staat published in its third edition begins with an essay on Baldassare Castiglione
and the Renaissance. In 1941 Victor E. de Rubeis claims that La Cortegiana by
Pietro Aretino is a satirical travesty of II Cortegiano. Leonard Mads wrote The
Armor and The Brocade: A Study of Don Ouixate and the Courtier published in
1968. James Woodrow Hassells philological study Des Periers Indebtedness to
Castiglione was published in Chapel Hill in 1976. The same year Morris Benson es
book Renaissance Archetypes: The Long Shadows was published in London,
comparing works by Shakespeare, Castiglione, Jonson, Milton, Pope and Congreve
with reference to their lasting psychological effects on Western European culture. In
1977 Ralph Roeders work The Man of The Renaissance: Four Lawgivers was
reprinted, depicting the significance of Savonarola, Machiavelli, Castiglione and
Aretineo. This book is an account of Castigliones work woven into the politico-
historical background presenting the interdependence between personal
developments and historical events. Jose Guidis book Images de la femme dans la
litterature italienne de la Renaissance published in 1980 contains an examination of
the womans depiction in The Book of The Courtier.
A number of theses were published at American universities, some of which
are listed here. In 1932 Helen E. Taft published her thesis The influence of The
Courtier on the life and literature of the sixteenth century at the University of
Oklahoma. A literary thesis with the title Ritratti letterari del Cinquecento was
written by Ettore Bonora and published in Milan in 1964. A most interesting thesis
in connection with this thesis is Wayne A. Rebhorns Renaissance Optimism and
The Limits of Freedom: Educational Theory in The Ouatrocento. Erasmus.
Castiglione and Rabelais published in 1968 at Yale University. In 1976 Beth Heath
Knowles wrote her thesis on The Influence of Castigliones The Courtier on John
Lvivs Euphues: The anatomy of wit which was published at Texas Southern
University. In 1982 Patricia Sweetser wrote her Ph. D. thesis entitled Courtier. Poet
and Lover from Petrach to Spenser at the University of Massachusetts. In 1993
Stefania E. Nedderman published her Ph. D. thesis The Eye of The Mind: The
Transforming Will in Castiglione and Cervantes at the University of Oregon.
The survey does not mention the number of copies of the books examined
that are held in various libraries all over the country. Based on these numbers it is
clear that the academic interest in The Book of The Courtier never ceased to exist.
1. Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of The Courtier. Translated by George
Bull. London: Penguin Books, 1976, 31.
2. Ibid., 34.
Summary of The Text
3. Ibid., 34.
4. Ibid., 34.
5. Ibid., 36.
6. Ibid., 39.
7. Ibid., 40.
8. Ibid., 41.
9. Ibid., 41.
10. Ibid., 42.
11. Ibid., 54.
12. Ibid., 54.
13. Ibid., 56.
14. Ibid., 56.
15. Ibid., 57.
16. Ibid., 61.
17. Ibid., 63.
18. Ibid., 66.
19. Ibid., 86.
20. Ibid., 88.
21. Ibid., 89.
22. Ibid., compare 94.
23. Ibid., 99.
24. Ibid., 114f.
25. Ibid., 115.
26. Ibid., 116.
27. Ibid., 116.
28. Ibid., 120.
29. Ibid., 130.
30. Ibid., 189.
31. Ibid., 201.
32. Ibid., 209.
33. Ibid., 211.
34. Ibid., 211.
35. Ibid., 212.
36. Ibid., compare 214.
37. Ibid., 222.
38. Ibid., 222.
39. Ibid., compare 237.
40. Ibid., 240.
41. Ibid., 255.
42. Ibid., 256.
43. Ibid., compare 269.
44. Ibid., 285.
45. Ibid., 285.
46. Ibid., compare 285.
47. Ibid., 286.
48. Ibid., 286.
49. Ibid., 287.
50. Ibid., 288.
51. Ibid., 289.
52. Ibid., 292.
53. Ibid., 295.
54. Ibid., 296.
55. Ibid., 306f.
56. Ibid., 308.
57. Ibid., 325.
58. Ibid., 325.
59. Ibid., 325.
60. Ibid., compare 326.
61. Ibid., compare 327.
62. Ibid., 330.
63. Ibid., compare 335.
Explication of The Text
64. Burckhardt, Jacob The Civilization of The Renaissance. Vol. II,
65. Mann, Nicholas, Cultural Atlas of The Renaissance. New York, Prentice
Hall, 1993, 16.
66. Burke, Peter. The Fortunes of The Courtier. Cambridge, Polity Press, 1995.
67. Mattingly, Garrett. Renaissance Diplomacy. New York, Dover
68. compare introduction to Castiglione, Baldassare.
69. Burckhardt, Jacob. Opcit.. 384.
70. compare Francesco Petrarca, To Tommasio Caloria on the Study of
Elequence, Valla, Lorenzo. Dialecticae Disputationes, and Agricola,
Rudolph. De inventione dialectica in Geschichte der Philosophic und
Darstellung. 100 ff.
71. Loss, Erich. Literatur und Formune eines Menschenideals. 11.
72. Burckhardt, Op.cit.. 388.
73. Ibid., 364.
74. Romano, Ruggiero, 144ff
75. Burckhardt, Jacob Op.cit.. 391.
76. Ibid., 393.
77. Ibid., 394.
78. Castiglione, Baldassare, Op. tit- 218.
79. Loos, Erich, Op. cit.. 15.
80. Raffini, Christine. Marsilio Ficino. Pietro Bembo. Baldassare Castiglione
81. Loos, Erich Op.cit.. 17.
82. Burke, Peter. The Fortunes of The Courtier. Cambridge, Polity Press,
83. Ibid., 55.
84. Ibid., 102.
85. compare various articles in Harvard Business Reviews of 1999.
86. see Daedalus, winter 1999, an issue devoted to liberal education.
87. Karnes, Frances A., Stephens, Kristen R. (1999). Lead the Way to
Leadership Education. The Educational Digest. 62-65.
88. Burke, Peter. Op. cit.
89. Bottari, Ercole. Baldassare Castiglione e il suo libro del cortegiano. Pisa
90. Ady, Julia, Baldassare Castiglione. The Perfect Courtier. His Life and
His Letters. Vol 2, 371fF.
Ady, Julia Mary Cartwright. Baldassare Castiglione. The Perfect Courtier.
His Life and His Letters 1428-1529.London: John Murray, 1908.
A most comprehensive compilation of letters and personal notes of
acquaintances, friends, and members of the family compiled with great
diligence a good reference for sources of the time.
Bottari, Ercole. il suo libro del cortegiano. Pisa 1874.
A thesis focussing on literary influence and significance of Castigliones
work with a detailed examination of the linguistic context.
Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of The Renaissance in Italy. 2 Volumes. New
York: Harper & Row, 1958.
The standard work on the Renaissance first published in English in 1898. It
is regarded by most historical experts of the Renaissance as the fundamental
work of todays understanding of this epoch.
Burke, Peter. The Fortunes of The Courtier. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995.
A most interesting compilation of new and old data on the book and its
history. The author, who is regarded as an expert of the Renaissance by
his colleagues, has been able to make good use of the modem research
methods to put this book together.
Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of The Courtier, trans. Bull, George,
1967. London: Penguin, 1976.
An outstanding example of Renaissance Italian literature, the work is at
the same time a manual for the education of a gentleman. Although not
known by its title and author any longer, the books thoughts have been
incorporated into Western thought and society.
Hale, John. The Civilization of Europe in The Renaissance. New York: Simon and
Hales book is the comprehensive guide and overview of contemporary
understanding of the historical, cultural and sociological developments of the
Renaissance. Interesting details are combined with a deep understanding of
Karnes, Frances A., Stephens, Kristen R. Lead the Way to Leadership
Education. The Educational Digest. Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1999. An
interesting article about the current understanding and perception of the
necessity of leadership instruction among the educational research
community and the teaching material available.
Loos, Erich. Literatur und Formung eines Menschenideals. Wiesbaden, Franz
Steiner GmbH, 1980
A very informative cultural historical Festschrift on the occasion of
Baldassare Castigliones 500th anniversary, presented to the Academy of
Literature and Science in Mainz in 1980, incorporating political, social,
cultural, and philosophical aspect into its survey.
Macchiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. London: Penguin Books, 1981.
It is the standard work of political philosophy, more precisely of Realpolitik.
In the context of this thesis it could be seen as a counterpart to Castigliones
Book. Macchiavellis underlying philosophy is that of force whereas
Castiglione advocates reason as the appropriate mean.
Mann, Nicholas. Cultural Atlas of the Renaissance. New York, Prentice Hall, 1993.
A good general introduction to the Renaissance in Europe with excellent
examples of Renaissance painting, sculpture, and architecture. Good
cartographic material explains the developments in trade and politics.
Mattingly, Garrett. Renaissance Diplomacy. New York, Dover Publications, 1988.
First published in 1954, this book is still a standard work on late medieval
and Renaissance diplomacy, presenting a thorough study of the beginning of
modem Western diplomacy, with a variety of very interesting details.
Otto, Stephan. Geschichte der Philosophie in Text und Darstellung. Renaissance und
Friihe Neuzeit. Bd. 3. Stuttgart, Philip Reclam jun. 1984.
This volume contains the four main philosophical currents that characterize
the Renaissance. The texts presented provide an excellent insight into these
four movements allowing the reader to obtain essential knowledge on the
four key aspects.
Raffini, Christine. Marsilio Ficino. Pietro Bembo. Baldassare Castiglione:
philosophical, aesthetic, ad political approaches in Renaissance Platonism.
New York: P. Lang, 1998.
A short introduction to Renaissance cultural and philosophical fundamentals
by presenting three outstanding men and their essential works. The book
offers a good insight to a few major thoughts reflected against contemporary
Romano, Ruggiero., Tenenti, Alberto. Fischerweltgeschichte Die Grundlegung der
Modemen Welt. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Biicherei GmbH, 1967.
A very good dense publication of the 1970s presenting a detailed cultural
historical overview of the period by two Italian Renaissance experts.
Movements and developments are grounded in the socio-political changes of