Preferred Citation: Scaglione, Aldo. Knights at Court: Courtliness, Chivalry, and Courtesy from Ottonian Germany to the Italian Renaissance. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.




Chapter Seven—
The Origins

Italians at German Courts

I have posited a connection between the military and sociopolitical ethos of the nobility and the education of high civil servants, and I have assumed that this process started with the development of curiality at the German imperial court. Evidence of early Italian connections with Germany at this level is abundant, if scattered.

The history of education in Italy between Charlemagne and A.D. 1000 hinges on the cathedral schools, in addition to the monasteries, the rare private schools, and such notarial chanceries as that of the notarii sacri palatii of the royal palace at Pavia, already active under the Longobard kings.[1] An important episode is the presence at the royal court of Pavia of a school of grammar under a deacon named Felix at the time of the Longobard King Cunipert (671–700). Much beloved and honored by the king, Felix left a progeny of teachers: his nephew Flavianus trained Paulus Diaconus (who recorded this information). Cunipert was the first orthodox Catholic king in Italy, his predecessors having favored paganism, Arianism (like the Ostrogoths before them), or the Three Chapters' schismatic observance; as such he started endowing churches and monasteries, thus establishing the kind of regular intercourse between courts and abbeys that would characterize the curial tradition of later times.[2] Liutprand (712–744) enriched his court by setting up, alongside the court school, a royal chapel with its own clergy of the palace, while members of the royal family were being appointed as


bishops of Pavia and Milan. The prestige of his thus refurbished court attracted illustrious Italian and foreign intellectuals and grandees like Pippin, who was sent over by his father Charles Martel in 735 to be educated there. Charlemagne hastened to invite Paulus Diaconus (d. 799) to the Frankish court of Aachen, where the Longobard scholar and courtier spent five years (782–786). While there Paulus inaugurated the genre of episcopal biographies with his Gesta episcoporum Mettensium, on the pattern of the Liber pontificalis.[3]

The Carolingian revival of grammatical instruction continued to have an impact in the ninth and tenth centuries. In the tenth century “the guiding model for education remained, as in the previous century, the learned bishop.”[4] When the German emperors began shaping policies for episcopal training and behavior, there may have been German influences on Italian bishops, too. By the year 1000, however, the lay notaries, versed in the law and later on in the dictamen version of rhetoric, were clearly replacing clerics in both communal and episcopal chanceries (Witt 1988: 38). Between 1000 and 1400 the Italian communes employed lay litterati whose training, the notarial art, combined the study of law with the study of rhetoric in the form of ars dictandi, although after 1350 the two branches started to separate and the studium iuris became divorced from the studia litterarum or humanitatis.[5]

Maria Picchio Simonelli has recently suggested that the impressive Latin poem Waltharius Manufortis once attributed to Ekkehart of St. Gall (d. 973) might have originated, instead, around Berengarius I Marquis of Friuli (874), king of Italy since 888 and emperor after 915, holding court mainly at Verona.[6] Classical influences are at work in this poem in Virgilian hexameters about heroic/romantic adventures involving the Aquitanian Walther and his bride Hiltgunt, who escape from captivity among the Huns and survive a series of frightening encounters with the Burgundians Gunther and Hagen, who covet their treasure.

In the cosmopolitan high society of the Middle Ages it is no wonder that at the distant courts of northern Germany one could also find Italians. Italian scholars and clerics who acquired curial ideals in German imperial and episcopal courts included such prominent courtier prelates as Liutprand of Pavia, Gunzo (of Novara ?), Leo of Vercelli, Anselm of Besate, Benzo of Alba, Siccardo of Cremona, Acerbo Morena, and, as far down as the fifteenth century, Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini. The cathedral school of Würzburg (962), one of the earliest to be vitalized by the Ottonian educational policies, flourished under an Italian master


teacher, Stephen of Novara (Stephanus Grammaticus), called there by Otto I (962–973) and the local bishop, Poppo.[7] Liutprand, born in Pavia of noble Longobard ancestry, first served at the courts of the Italic kings Hugh of Provence and Berengarius, until he was made bishop of Cremona by Otto I in 961, as a reward for his support and services since 956. He traveled widely, twice as ambassador to Constantinople (949–951 and 968), and in Germany he learned enough German to act as interpreter between Otto and Pope John XII (963) in Rome. He praised his high protector in the polemically lively Liber de rebus gestis Othonis imperatoris.[8] The mysterious and cantankerous grammarian Gunzo, perhaps a deacon from Novara, turned up at the Saxon court, too. Leo of Vercelli, a cultured diplomat and man of law with ties to the school of Pavia, became bishop of Vercelli in 998 after having been archdeacon of Otto III's sacred palace (iudex sacri palatii ). His influence was felt in the organization of the chancery after the significant unification of the chanceries of Germany and Italy decreed in 998 under the aegis of the archilogotheta Eribertus, archbishop of Cologne.[9] Gerbert of Aurillac (d. 1003), the famous teacher and bishop of Reims and then tutor to Otto III, is connected with the history of Italian education as he later influenced it when he became Pope Sylvester II: his mark was to be felt long thereafter in France insofar as the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance” at Chartres still kept a fresh memory of the work done there by Gerbert's pupil, Bishop Fulbert.

At the court of Henry III (1039–1056), alongside such luminaries as Wipo, Anno (later bishop of Cologne), and Adalbert, bishop of Bremen, there was also the Italian (?) Anselm of Besate known as the Peripatetic, educated at the cathedral school of Milan, and the author of the manneristic Rhetorimachia (ca. 1050). Henry III's court also enjoyed the services of Bishop Benzo of Alba, perhaps the most interesting Italian figure at the north German courts thanks to his numerous writings addressed ad Heinricum IV imperatorem, purportedly for the emperor's instruction and originally composed in the third quarter of the eleventh century but recompiled between 1086–1090.[10] Benzo was an eager participant in the struggle over investiture, and his polemic writings were aimed at lending support to the cause of Henry IV against Pope Gregory VII, royal chaplains having much at stake in defending imperial prerogatives in the naming and controlling of bishops and high ecclesiastics. Without meaning censure, Benzo could objectively portray the royal chaplains “as drawing long sighs after the benefice of an episcopal ring,” “regales capellani longa suspiria trahentes pro anuli beneficio”


(Monumenta Germaniae Historica SS 11: 599, v. 44). For him the court was an impressive assemblage of noble characters who could have graced the ancient senate with their political and rhetorical Ciceronian skills: “Multi quidem nobiles et sapientes viri morantur in curia domini mei, qui Ciceronicis amministrationibus valuissent sedare commotiones imperii” (ibid. 614, vv. 11 ff.). Indeed, he did not hesitate to model the king's council on the Roman Senate: the court itself he called senatus and the courtiers, senatores, whom he addressed as patres conscripti (MGH SS 11: 622, v. 47; 631, v. 7; 671, v. 48). In his verses he vividly reflected a humanistic spirit by reviving classical imagery in order to invest the new imperial court with the glories of ancient Rome:

Transcendens Fabios et Cicerones,
Cunctos Fabricios atque Catones,
Das populis iura cum Salomone.

As Jaeger puts it (123), “over Henry [IV]'s shoulders Benzo casts the mantle of the divine emperor, the successor of Julius Caesar and other noble Romans.”

It seems appropriate to presume that at least some of these prelates contributed to the diffusion of ideas of courtliness around Italian episcopal courts and cathedral schools. We can add that Benzo, for one, addressed many of his humanistically-slanted remarks to Italian bishops. He praised the bishop of Turin for “finding his place in the annals of illustrious men by following Cicero and Sallust”: “Imitaris Ciceronem, sequeris Salustium, / In katalogo virorum es scriptus illustrium” (MGH SS 4.4: 639, vv. 21 f.). He urged Archbishop Theobald of Milan to come to the aid of the emperor, citing the previous cases of barones episcopi under Otto III, including Leo of Vercelli (ibid. 4.1: 634–636). To persuade imperial appointees to perform according to their lord's expectations, he tried to stir up the noblest instincts in them by composing a praise of man (ibid. 4.12: 654, vv. 33–36) which Jaeger (124–125) finds worthy of a Renaissance humanist. Elsewhere (ibid. 7.3: 673, vv. 20 f.) he produced an interesting allegory of Virtue that Dante could have accepted as a good definition of inner nobility: “Virtue is dignity of mind and nobility of soul, that makes man an object of wonder and, even more, deifies him”:

Virtus est mentis dignitas et animi nobilitas,
Quae homines mirificat, insuper et deificat.

In Benzo's allegorical “Palace of Virtue,” the sun in the firmament of worldly life is amicitia: “Huius virtutis gratia sol est in mundi patria”


(ibid. 674, v. 13). Elsewhere he had postulated a bond of love between king and courtiers, in terms that Castiglione might have found fitting for his ideal court (ibid.: 600, vv. 31 f.).

Benzo cultivated another motif with a humanistic ring to it: the lessons of history. He admonished Henry IV to study the records of his predecessors in order to imitate their imperial customs: “legat quantulumcunque de historiis patrum praecedentum, ut inde sibi assumat bonae imitationis emolumentum. Legere enim aliorum annales plurimum valet ad instruendos ritus imperiales” (ibid.: 600, vv. 35 f.). Machiavelli and Guillaume Budé would have agreed, too.

We encounter in Italian biographies the same personal dispositions and educational features we have seen prescribed for the curial cleric or courtly diplomat as well as the chivalrous ruler. Gaufred of Malaterra, a monk of Norman descent who shortly after 1099 was commissioned by Robert of Sicily to write a history of the conquest of Sicily by his brother Robert Guiscard (d. 1085), described the Norman warrior race in terms that incorporated courtly qualities: “Their princes spare no expense in cultivating fame and good report. This people knows the art of flattery, practicing the study of eloquence to such a degree that even their young boys appear rhetors . . . . They delight in rich clothing, horses, and other instruments of warfare.”[11] The apotheosis of the heroes of Norman Italy involves a different slant from that of the partisans of the Germanic empire. For the Normans of Italy and particularly Robert Guiscard shared a grand scheme of Christian knighthood which included the Spanish reconquista and came under the aegis of the papacy (of which the Normans were avowed vassals), in direct opposition to German imperial policies. Among the later Normans of Italy, Roger II of Altavilla, king of Sicily (1130–1154), was probably the most learned ruler of his time. He called to his court outstanding intellectuals, including Arab poets and scientists who translated a large number of there-tofore unavailable Greek masterworks, like Plato's Meno and Phedo. Yet, in contrast with such centers as Oxford, Reims, and other northern cathedral schools, the lack of regular schools limited the impact of this splendid court to isolated sectors of specialists.[12]

Writing shortly after his subject's death, one of his three biographers reported that Bernard of Parma, who died as bishop of that city in 1133 and had been a friend of the powerful Countess Mathilde of Canossa, grew up with a good education in letters and was “handsome, strong of character, generous in giving, skilled in arms, pleasantly eloquent, devoted to his mother, eager to win honor,  . . . and gracious and dear to


all those who knew him.”[13] In a long poem completed in 1115 Donizo, a Benedictine monk in St. Apollonius of Canossa, praised the Countess Mathilde for her generosity toward minstrels and for gracing with a rich library a court that was a paragon of courteous living.[14]

Siccardo da Cremona applauded Frederick Barbarossa as “illiteratus, sed morali experientia doctus,” stressing the difference between literary instruction (which Barbarossa allegedly lacked) and moral education (which he possessed in a high degree), the latter being sufficient to educate the good courtier even in the absence of the former (Jaeger: 216 f.).

Another Italian, Acerbo Morena, drew a comprehensive series of portraits of Barbarossa's court around 1164 (Jaeger 171–173). The dominant personal characteristics of both the emperor and his entourage, including the empress Beatrix, are physical and psychological rather than moral, starting with physical beauty. Barbarossa himself was “so cheerful that he always seemed ready to break into laughter,” “hilari vultu, ut semper ridere velle putaretur.” All personages at court displayed an eminently cheerful disposition (hilaritas, iocunditas, laetitia ), a curial and courtly quality that was obviously of great value in social intercourse and was regularly found among the chivalrous knights and rulers of twelfth-century romances, even though it clashed with the ascetic ideals sternly advocated by Peter Damian and Bernard of Clairvaux; for the latter the pursuit of laetitia was an aspect of pride, and laughter a sign of downright stupidity (see my chap. 2 at passage with note 38).

The choice of language in the Middle Ages for literary purposes depended as much on the genre as on the writer's native language.[15] Like several of his Italian contemporaries who used Occitan for the lyric, French for didactic verse, and Franco-Venetian for chivalric romance and epic, so did a courtier from Cividale del Friuli, Tommasino dei Cerchiari (ca. 1185—before 1238) use German for an interesting poem on court manners, Der Wälsche Gast (1215–1216), dedicated “to the stout knights, good ladies, and wise clerks.” Tommasino became part of medieval German literature under the Germanized name of Thomasin von Zerclaere (or Zirclaere, Circlaere, Cerclaere). He had been a priest at the court of Wolfger von Ellebrechtskirchen in Aquileia, where Wolfger, formerly a German bishop, was serving as patriarch. It was at that court that Tommasino learned the principles of French chivalry. The title of his poem meant “the Italian guest among Germans.”[16] The northeastern region of Italy was particularly imbued with both German


cultural elements and feudal traditions,[17] but it is notable that an early poem on manners and courtliness composed in Italy would use the German language as a natural medium not only for the audience it addressed but also for the subject matter.

Together with such ideally related works as Vincent of Beauvais's De eruditione filiorum nobilium and Gerald of Wales's De principis instructione, this fourteen-thousand-line didactic poem marks the birth of a new genre of princely education at a time when the teaching of courtly virtues had shifted away from the cathedral schools to the secular and ecclesiastical courts. Tommasino meant to convey to his aristocratic courtly audience the educational message of civic humanism that was first formulated in the Ottonian bishops' biographies and then passed on to the cathedral schools of the eleventh and early twelfth century. It was now ready to become the staple of treatises of princely or courtly education as well as treatises of manners. The first of the poem's ten books contains advice to young men and women, including instruction on table manners; courtly epic poetry is declared to be an educational genre. The moral doctrine is laid out in the following books and focuses on staete, constancy of mind, condemning the evils of its opposite, unstaete. Mâze (conceived as moderation), milte (generosity), and reht (respect for law) are the principal attendant qualities. Once again, as in the pedagogy inculcated by the masters of the cathedral schools leading to Fulbert of Chartres, William of Conches, Bernard Silvestris, and John of Salisbury, teaching remained inherently conservative, since the cult of the great teacher and the imitation of his exemplary life was an essential part of the educational process, which transcended the search for truth per se. For Tommasino change is a form of corruption, and a good society is stable in its aristocratic order. Most noteworthy is that in stressing the courtly content of the romances he recognizes for that genre the right to allegorical exegesis, normally reserved for biblical literature: romances “contain representations of courtliness [zuht ] and of truth: in them truth is clothed in lies” (for higher purposes).[18]

Troubadours, Dictatores, and Political Theorists in Italy

Even while they also participated in the life of the communes, the ubiquitous minstrels, those vagrant professionals of oral literature who freely roamed all parts of medieval Europe from the Iberian peninsula to Russia, made their presence felt at Italian courts.[19] It is interesting


that among his samples of letters for all occasions, Buoncompagno da Signa (d. ca. 1240) included a set of letters from around 1200 recommending jongleurs and minstrels (both male and female) who could perform at court as well as at dubbings and nuptials (militia atque nuptiis ).[20] That authoritative master of ars dictaminis taught mostly at the flourishing school of Bologna but was also active throughout Italy and claimed to have been in Constantinople. Francis of Assisi dignified that class of homeless artists by calling himself and his followers joculatores Domini, “minstrels of God.” For a festivity in 1324 the Malatesta lord of Rimini was said to have gathered at his court no fewer than fifteen hundred minstrels.[21]

The first surviving Italian poem in the Occitan vernacular is probably the sirventes by Peire de la Caravana (or Cavarana, Cà Varana near Verona ?) exhorting the Lombard communes to put up a common front against the Germans. It has been dated 1157 or 1194.[22] The tenso between the Marquis Alberto Malaspina and Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (after 1195) is the first example of an Italian lord writing in Provençal: the marquis adopted the troubadour's conventions and dealt with him on a level of social parity even to the extent of exchanging burning insults.[23] In those years Raimbaut was once again a guest of the powerful Marquis Boniface I of Monferrat, nephew of Emperor Conrad III (he had first been the guest of Boniface around 1180). The two remained together and participated in military undertakings in Piedmont and then Sicily, where Boniface dubbed Raimbaut a knight in 1194. They then departed for the fourth Crusade, Boniface I having been elected general of the army. After the conquest of Constantinople they both disappeared in 1207 in a battle against the Bulgars. Raimbaut wrote of assisting Boniface in his joven fagz, youthful knightly deeds in defense of young ladies in distress. Together they rescued Saldina del Mar from a Malaspina and returned her to her lover; then they freed Giacomina di Ventimiglia, daughter of the Count Guido Guerra of Dantesque memory, from the tyrannical tutelage of her uncle Otto, restored her to her patrimony, and handed her over to a suitable husband.[24]

Rambertino Buvalelli was a typical Italian troubadour insofar as he combined the culture of the courts with that of the bourgeois communes, having served as podestà between 1201–1221 in Brescia, Milan, Padua, Mantua, Modena, Genoa, and Verona. An adventurous Italian troubadour, the Mantuan Sordello (1200–1269 ?), gave a com-


prehensive definition of the courtly man in his famous ensenhamen d'onor, “Aissi co'l tesaurs”:

Amesuratz e ver disenz,
francs e de bels acuillimenz,
be respondenz en totz mos ditz,
netz en mos faitz granz e petitz,
ben acuillenz e gen onranz,
umils e ben aparianz,
de bon aire, gent ensengnatz.

(Moderate and sincere, affable and hospitable, elegantly articulate in all my words, neat in all my deeds big and small, ready with my hospitality and with doing honor, humble and sociable, of good appearance and well educated—vv. 187–193.)

In this poem gent ensengnatz refers to the bos noirimenz, “good education,” that makes an educated and well-mannered knight (gent noirit and be acostumat ) preferable to one well endowed by nature (ben aibit ). Whether or not this was a self-serving definition privileging the jongleur over the born nobleman, as Köhler chooses to interpret it,[25] it neatly synthesizes much that the curial tradition had been teaching.

Partisans of the imperial party could prosper even in the shadow of the papal throne and at the height of the investiture struggle during the Gregorian reform. In his Orthodoxa defensio imperialis of around 1112, Gregorius of Catina, a monk at Farfa, recognized the emperor alone as logical leader of armed defensores for all just causes, with the right to head not only the empire but the Church itself and the Crusade.

Despite its being addressed to a foreign monarch, Italians could find the influential De regimine principum of Egidio Colonna (Giles of Rome, ca. 1280) consonant with their needs too, since, for example, on Aristotle's authority it grounded all principles of civilized organization in the towns—thus misinterpreting, but not by much, the Greek notion of polis, explicitly rendered in Tuscan with “ville e città.”[26] In this tract of Guelf orientation that praised monarchic rule above republican order, Giles says that cities and realms are healthy when they abound in people of median state (“mezzane persone,” “abbondanza di gente di mezzo,” which we could interpret as pointing to the middle class of burghers). The statement made particular sense in highly urbanized Italy.[27]

When Fra Salimbene Adami da Parma (1221–1287 or shortly thereafter) praised Frederick II for his “cunning” (calliditas ) in “dissimulat-


ing,” so as not to hear offensive personal remarks and thus spare incautious court jesters, he did so by referring to biblical proverbs of wisdom rather than to the literature on curiality.[28] Yet it is precisely this Franciscan chronicler who has given Georges Duby an opportunity to obtain clear testimony of the force of courtly cultural models.[29] A study of Salimbene's vocabulary by one of Duby's students shows how this third-generation follower of St. Francis evaluated and praised human character only in courtly and chivalric terms, ignoring any virtues that would smack of Franciscan spirituality. All the laymen he approved of were “handsome and noble,” all the men of the Church, “saintly and learned.” The former he praised for being “docti ad proelium,” well versed, that is, in the arts of the knight; also courtly, liberal, adept at writing good songs, and rich (no apparent appreciation for poverty, chosen or not). This terminology with which we are by now familiar reflects the relative unavailability of cultural and ethical models other than those of the knight and the cleric, which, together with the model of the king/prince, were the only ones admired by the masses. Duby goes on (307) to speculate—and this corresponds to the assumptions of our study—that the point of origin of such collective models could only be the princely courts, where the two coexistent and competing groups of clerics and knights exerted their influence on each other and on the remainder of society. We could add that the court games which so often included debates on whether a lady should prefer a cleric or a knight are proof that the competition between the two orders was not just a literary matter or a joke for Andreas Capellanus to make, but part of the serious question of relative preeminence. Since they were of clerical origin, such literary debates naturally tended to give the advantage to the cleric.[30]

A systematic and authoritative treatment of chivalry within the established orders of Christian society appears in the De insigniis et armis by the prominent jurist and theorist of canon law, Bartolus of Sassoferrato (1314–1357), who distinguished among “theological nobility” due to God's grace, “natural nobility” due to birth, and “civil nobility” issuing from the will of the sovereign, hence formally recognized by law. Natural and civil nobility were thus to be understood as necessitating a degree of wealth, since generosity (Fr. largesse, free spending to reward one's dependents), a concomitant of nobility, is impossible without something to give. Aristotle had rightly postulated the need for wealth for the free members of human society, and Bartolus also agreed with Aristotle's distinction between men who are naturally free—hence born


with the capacity to rule—and those who are only apt to serve. Indeed, the French term franchise meant the moral attitude of the naturally free, who consequently bear themselves as free persons.[31] Bartolus' thoughts on nobility, framed within a commentary on Justinian's Code and using the ancient juridical notion of dignitas as implying the modern concept of nobility, remained a major source for four centuries.[32]

First Poetic Schools and Early Prose Narrative

When, in 1220, the twenty-five-year-old Frederick of Swabia, the future “stupor mundi,” entered Italy to claim his imperial crown, the troubadour Aimeric de Peguilhan (1190–1221) saluted him as the one who would bring back the knightly ideal: “I thought that Valor and Liberality were dead . . .. Never did a man see a physician of such youth, / so handsome, so good, so generous, and so knowledgeable, / so courageous, / so firm, so conquering, / so apt in speaking and understanding. / . . . See how much valor in a mere boy!”[33]

Giacomo da Lentini, the most important poet at Frederick II's court, where the Italian poetic tradition started, was a notary, as was the court's most significant prose-writer, the protonotario, “first notary” or chancellor, Pier della Vigna. Imitating the Provençal lyric and the Bolognese notarial dictamen as well as the Roman stilus rhetoricus of the chancery of Honorius III, these courtiers carried on the civilizing trend that had imposed the patterns of cortesia on the urbanized knighthood. A striking novelty of this school is the practical deletion of the political context: love reigns supreme at a court where the centralizing will of the sovereign obviates the charged dialectical play of interests and special pleadings that characterized the careers of free agents at the feudal courts. From the status of a symbolic and allusive cover, courtly love could now turn to purely psychological and spiritual considerations. Frederick II's poets were no longer spokesmen of warrior knights but high bureaucrats who had to eschew all references to social, political, or economic claims.[34]

As we have seen (chap. 5), courtoisie could perform a metaphysical function analogous to the theological one of divine grace; the opposition courtoisie/vilenie, originally meaning aristocracy versus both bourgeois and peasant estates, came to imply secular transcendence of social limitations whereby the poor or landless knights, even when nonnoble by feudal standards, could be redeemed and ennobled by courtesy


alone, the domna replacing God. This meaning of “true nobility” could find its place in the Provençal partimens or in the thoroughly secular neo-Platonic mysticism of the Perceval figure.

Moving along such lines, in the subsequent doctrine of the Dolce Stil Nuovo the argument for spiritual refinement played a key role, stressing personal inner nobility versus social privilege. Dante's Convivio would soon lend powerful support to this thesis. True nobility was, for these poets, gentleness of heart, and the “gentleman” was inescapably marked by the capacity for love. The motif of the noble heart as source of true nobility reminds us of Gottfried's edele herzen: it implied a happy yet tragic conspiracy, like that of Tristan and Isolt, individuals isolated by their virtuous superiority to the intrigue, dishonesty, baseness, raw ambition, and material impulses of the crowd at court. Cavalcanti was known, even as late as Boccaccio's Decameron, for his aristocratic will to stay aloof from the materialistic crowd of his fellow Florentine merchants, and Dante's own scorn for the bourgeois ideals of his fellow citizens was tied to his despair about the future of Florentine policies. All this notwithstanding, we must bear in mind that the Stil Nuovo is essentially a bourgeois movement, numbering among its leaders lawyers (like its “founder” Guinizelli and Dante's admired friend, Cino da Pistoia) and high merchants (Cavalcanti issued from a merchant Guelf family). It was not without social reason that it flourished in areas with strong popular bases, namely Bologna and Tuscany. The unashamed espousal of the vernacular, as most consciously with Dante, was an explicit act of faith in the popolo. In his Convivio Dante meant to share science with the common man, a goal that required the vernacular.

Popular sentiments were vocal all around on the political and cultural levels. The chroniclers of the bourgeois commune, typically Dante's contemporaries Dino Compagni and Giovanni Villani, could not hide their sympathy for the comune del popolo. Their keen analyses of events displayed the mentality and sense of values that characterize bourgeois rather than aristocratic societies, namely: a taste for parliamentary and free representative electoral procedures; respect for the rule of law; and concern for the cost of government—all matters of little concern to high noblemen and their acolytes. They criticized the very things that marked aristocratic life styles and their imitators among the high merchants, namely conspicuous consumption, sumptuous dress, and aggressively heroic individual postures.[35] These same chroniclers and their communal predecessors held the view that noblemen tended to be bellicose, unruly, hard-headed, and arrogant in their unbounded ambitions—Starcateruses in potentia. The nobles could only survive by


banding together and forming collective consorterie around their own families and their allies. Deep down, their morals were those of the Nibelungs. Yet the environment of the city also acted on them as a civilizing force, though their resistance compelled the burghers to do their best to either tame them completely or oust them beyond city walls.

Cavalcanti reminded his audience of the Christian virtue of humility as a requirement for courtliness and courtesy when he attributed umiltà to his lady (“donna d'umiltà”) in “Chi è questa,” a sonnet that, for a textual competition with Guinizelli's “Io voglio del ver la mia donna laudare,” is textured in a sort of “parodia-analogia sacrale” of biblical terminology, as G. Contini put it.[36] It was an idiosyncratic example of the blending of secular and religious mysticism that characterized late courtly lyric from Provence on. Courtly love had been the romantic side of that broad sense of love, compassion, human sympathy (reverentia ), and ultimately “humanity” that made up courtliness as a whole. Gottfried, we remember, had closely bound together nobility and morality: “[moral teaching] is given to all noble hearts as a nursemaid,” “[moraliteit] sist edelen herzen allen / zeiner ammen gegeben” (8014 f.). Around the same time that Cavalcanti wrote the Novellino (end of the thirteenth century), the prolific Florentine translator and moralist Bono Giamboni defined moral virtues as “courteous habits and beautiful, pleasing manners.”[37]

The other genre that concerns us, the primer of conduct or treatise on social manners and mores, which may be ideally related to the early episcopal biographies, started in Italy with the Florentine Brunetto Latini and the Milanese Bonvesin da la Riva, popolani both (aside from the case just mentioned of Thomasin von Zerclaere, who wrote in German for a noble audience). This genre, too, like the lyric, developed by bending for a burgherly society standards that originally derived from the chivalric society and that had to be tamed and adapted—often by sheer transposition without transformation. Brunetto (1220 or after-1294) is the more striking case: a citizen of the most mercantile-minded commune, he adopted all the paraphernalia of chivalric education for the edification of his burgher citizens and city leaders. In the 1260s, Brunetto's portrait of a knight whose bearing befits his status as he rides through the city, comprised the advice to proceed with restraint—the traditional mesure —and an easy yet distinctive and dignified self-assurance:

Consiglioti che vade
molto cortesemente:
.   .   .   .   .     .   .


ch'andar così 'n disfreno
par gran salvatichezza.
.   .   .   .   .     .      .     .   .
Guarda che non ti move
com'on che sia di villa;
ma va sicuramente.

(Go  . . . in a stately manner [cortesemente ], . . . for to ride without restraint betrays great boorishness . . .. Guard against moving like a man from the country; but go self-assuredly.) (Tesoretto vv. 1806–1817)[38]

Latini's Tesoretto describes a court inhabited by canonical chivalric figures allegorically representing, at first, the four cardinal virtues (the foundation of civic education in Cicero's De officiis ). Among these he assimilates the traditional “temperance” to the more chivalric term of “mesure ” (“Qui sta la Temperanza, / cui la gente talora / suol chiamare Misura”—vv. 1284–1286). Fortezza is defined as “Valenza-di-coraggio” (v. 1298). Virtue, the “Empress” of the court, is said to be “capo e salute / di tutta costumanza / e de la buona usanza / e d'i' bei reggimenti / a che vivon le genti” (vv 1239–1244)—in other words, all the qualities of good social conduct. Then follow the more specific chivalric virtues of Cortesia, Larghezza (Liberality), Leanza (Loyalty), and Prodezza (Prov. proece ] (vv. 1343–2054). Brunetto advises his reader (vv. 1350–1356) that more virtues related to these are treated on a loftier level in his Trésor. Cortesia declares Larghezza to be “il capo e la grandezza / di tutto mio mistero” (vv. 1587 f.). We are reminded that in speaking we need “provedimento [care, circumspection], . . . lingua adorna, . . . detto soave,” avoidance of “gravezza” [something like Castiglione's affettazione ], since it ingenerates “noia,” and finally, once again, “misura” (vv. 1559–1622).). As the poem proceeds, we meet Fino Amore with Ovidio intervening in the discussion.

Brunetto's Rettorica dealt more specifically with the art of government, in accordance with a false etymology that related rhetoric to regere, the art of the city's rettori.[39] It is not clear whether his major work, the French Trésor, was earlier or later than the Tesoretto, but both stemmed from his period of exile in France (1260–1266). The Trésor was based on the Nicomachean Ethics, Guillaume Perrault's Summa aurea de virtutibus (vulgarized in Cavalca's Pungilingua ), the Moralium dogma philosophorum attributed to Guillaume de Conches and well known in Germany, and, for the last book on rhetoric and politics, Cicero's De inventione and some unidentified Italian political tracts reflecting communal democratic ideas.[40]


Bonvesin (ca. 1250–1315) was a successful and apparently prosperous “magister” or, as in his epitaph, “doctor in gramatica,” owner of property including his private school. He implemented his role of educator of the Milanese high burghers by composing in the regional dialect a treatise in alexandrines, De quinquaginta curialitatibus ad mensam (before 1285 ?), where the curialitates of the Latin title correspond to the fifty rules of “cortesie da desco” indicated in the second line, namely “rules on civilized table manners.” It was an early and rather lively example of the genre that would culminate in Della Casa's Galateo and that was preceded by the Liber Faceti, which in turn was meant as a supplement to the popular medieval schoolbook Liber Catonis. Bonvesin's fifty rules of “cortesie” include the general principle that moderation or measure is necessary in everything (“mesura e modho,” v. 179, analogous to the Tuscan expression “modo e misura”).[41]

The qualities of noble bearing that were traditionally attached to the civilized nobility were denied to the vilan upstart who has “climbed from lowliness to great prosperity” and political status: he is, in the words of Brunetto's and Bonvesin's contemporary, the Anonimo Genovese writing in the 1290s, devoid of “measure, grace, and kindness” —the virtues demanded of noble courtiers from Otto I to Castiglione.[42] The vigorous versifier known simply as Anonimo Genovese offers an interesting mixture of aristocratic prejudice, mercantile experience (probably from his belonging to a prominent shipping family), and devout religious asceticism and moralism. A semantic shift from the courtly connotations of “convenience” to that of “responsibility and accountability” appears in his use of the term honesty: “for only honest works and virtues / are merchandise of quality.”[43] The mercantile lexicon was still in its infancy, but the bourgeois ethic was clearly operative as a matter of survival.

In the nomenclature that resurfaced in Italy, after Occitan and French precedents that included Andreas Capellanus's identification of the noble and loving soul in his canonical De amore, “gentleness” (gentilezza ), “nobility” (nobiltà ), and “courtesy” (cortesia ) could be used as synonyms, but certain distinctions must be kept in mind. The ideology and the accompanying terminology were pervasive in Italian literary texts from the very beginning, and gentilezza was synonymous with civility even without losing its connotation of class nobility. But the lively debates on nobility, from Guinizelli,[44] Dante, and on to such exemplary humanistic texts as the tracts by Buonaccorso da Montemagno,[45] Giannozzo Manetti, and Pico della Mirandola, reflect a different social


situation from that of France, Germany, or England. Since in Italy the burghers' communes were the social and political centers, the aristocracy never attained the relatively homogeneous strength it enjoyed in those other regions. In Florence, in particular, the nobility was uneasily tolerated and constrained by the power of the burghers' guilds, which it had to join. That freedom from involvement in any form of manual labor which usually distinguished the nobleman was replaced by mercantile activities that Florentine noblemen came to share with the entrepreneurial class. Thus the theoretical debates on nobility that thrived in Guelf urban environments and around the universities retained a more abstract character and were aimed at a philosophically persuasive definition of the subject, based on spiritual and intellectual excellence rather than inherited feudal privileges and outward signs of distinction (Dante's antica ricchezza e belli costumi, Convivio 4). The theme of courtesy, on the contrary, retained its practical basis of ethical, behavioral casuistry, what the Germans referred to as schöne sîte or zuht, and was particularly popular in areas of seigniorial rule, like the hinterland of Venice (the area of the Franco-Venetian cantari ) and Ferrara.[46]

At the time of Dante, cortesia began to be felt as a sublime moral attitude within a religious context in the Franciscan circles. Compare the Fioretti:

questo gentile uomo sarebbe buono per la nostra compagnia; il quale è così  . . . amorevole e cortese al prossimo e ai poveri . . .. La cortesia è una delle proprietà di Dio, il quale dà il sole suo e la sua piova a' giusti e agli ingiusti, per cortesia, ed è la cortesia sirocchia della carità, la quale spegne l'odio e conserva l'amore.[47]

Remarkably, here courtesy is assimilated to charity and attributed to God himself. The most inspired collection of popular tales, known as the Novellino but entitled Libra di novelle o di bel parlar gentile in the Panciatichiano manuscript (ca. 1290), used the word as denoting effective speech—a sense it still carried markedly in Boccaccio.

Confirming the fact that from its earliest documents Italian prose narrative reflected courtly ideals, in the Novellino story after story mirrors a nostalgic longing for the gentle manners of a courtly society that the Florence of wealthy and self-conscious burghers could only dream about. The story of Prester John introduces Emperor Frederick II, a favorite character, as a paragon of courtly manners and speech, who answers the question of what is most precious in the whole world by saying: “The best thing in this world is measure” (misura ).[48] It had been


a virtue of great prize all along. The story of Tristan and Isolde in the Novellino (no. 65 in Contini's edition) includes an exemplary illustration of courtly cunning in the deception of King Mark by the two lovers. It is the incident of King Mark watching their assignation from a pine tree and Isolde dispelling his suspicions through a clever trick.

Another text from the end of the Duecento that was close to the Novellino, I conti di antichi cavalieri, possibly of multiple French origin, contains, among others, charming stories about Saladino, starting with the first of the collection.[49] There the Saladin is portrayed thus: “El Saladino fo sì valoroso (= prode ), largo (liberal), cortese signore e d'anemo gentile (courtois )” that he was reputed perfect. The troubadour Bertran de Born visited him and discovered his secret: every day he sought advice on what to do and say from the best experts (conoscenti )—in other words, he used his courtiers to the best advantage (548). The woman whom Bertran advises Saladino to love with high love, so that he will be inspired to even nobler deeds, imposes the condition that he depart from her town (just besieged in order to reach her), taking only her heart with him and leaving his heart with her (once again the motif of the severed heart). Conto 19 about Brunor and Galetto (Gallehault) moves on an equally high level of chivalry. A king owes his honor to good deeds, not to his possessions and power: a knightly king prefers to give away his kingdom (as Lancelot and Tristan did) in order to dedicate himself to chivalrous pursuits.[50]Onore comes from valore, and valore from vertù. So Arthur is defined as “king only in his virtuous deeds of love, chivalry, courtesy, loyalty, and liberality.”[51]

Francesco da Barberino (1264–1348) is remarkable for his knowledge of Provençal poets, of whom he mentions no fewer than twentyone (all from the twelfth and early thirteenth century) in his didactic prosimetric poem Reggimento e costumi di donna (before 1309–1318/ 1320), as against the merely six quoted by Dante and the fifteen by Petrarca.[52] His didactic-allegorical poem Documenti d'Amore (before 1309–1314) treats the theory of love in awkward but learned terms.[53] Scholarly familiarity with Provencal literature remained more operative in Italy than elsewhere, and in the Cinquecento, especially through Bembo, it would contribute to the establishment of Petrarca as the model of poetic practice. It was part of the continuity of a rich tradition of moral and behavioral sublimation that permeated the lyrical, ethical, and practical codes even in social environments largely dominated by the middle class.

After the Sicilian School, the high lyric thrived outside the courts,


but there was also a “court poetry” by professional courtiers—who, it must be said, did not show a high level of poetic inspiration. These Trecento poets are sometimes referred to as curiali, curtensi, or cortigiani.[54] Such were the Sienese Bindo di Cione del Frate, the Ferrarese Antonio de' Beccari (1315-ca. 1370), the Paduan Francesco di Vannozzo di Bencivenne, Braccio Bracci from Arezzo (second half of fourteenth century), and the Sienese Simone Serdini, called II Saviozzo.[55] They gravitated around the Milanese Visconti court, the principal court of northern Italy, and moved about a lot, mirroring their wandering nature through the chameleonlike opportunism of their shirting political stances, though other themes were more common to their verse, from the amorous to the burlesque. Vannozzo's work is the richest document of courtly literature extant from northern Italy. While Vannozzo showed some satirical verve in condemning current corruption and loss of courtly virtue,[56] Braccio Bracci did not hesitate to flatter his lord Bernabò Visconti with a fictional letter of praise from the Sultan of Babylon.

The intensive use of the paradigm of servizio d'amore will disappear in the Quattrocento.[57]Cortesia became a commonplace term, with an ever more vague meaning, still carrying along villania as its antonym. Yet the term was ready to enter the semantic field of etiquette, since as early as the second half of the fourteenth century it could be employed in the external sense of behavioral patterns that come immediately under the senses, as in the proverb “cortesia di bocca assai vale e poco costa” cited in Paolo da Certaldo's Libra di buoni costumi (79).[58] A Tuscan merchant who may have held office in the Florentine commune, Paolo (fl. ca. 1360) had offered this interesting definition: “cortesia non è altro se non misura, e misura dura: e non è altro misura se non avere ordine ne' fatti tuoi”; “measure endures, and courtesy is nothing but measure, to wit, orderliness in your business.” Hence we may interpret the implicit values of parsimoniousness and accountability.[59] His text is a witness to the popularity of several current manuals on conduct upon which he drew, specifically Le cinque chiavi della sapienza (a compilation of didactic sentences by various authors), L'Albertano (a summary of Albertano da Brescia's Latin works), Le quattro virtù morali (attributed to Seneca), Il libro di costumanza (a vulgarization of the Vulgarium dogma ), and La pìstola di Santo Bernardo della masserizia e reggimento della famiglia. The courtois morality of the communal bourgeois is contrasted by Paolo with “beastly,” irrational, and potentially criminal behavior of the peasant (still the uncourteous villano,


rustico, or pagano ), whom the landowner must handle with shrewdness and circumspection.[60] The aristocratic quality of loyalty to one's liege has been turned into a bourgeois virtue: the peasant's good service toward the landlord.[61]

In more general terms, we have seen the beginning of an Italian development that responded to transalpine cultural suggestions under the peculiar conditions of a lively burgherly society. The combination of social structures and cultural thrusts, namely, feudalism and curiality/ courtliness, that elsewhere generated the chivalrous ideals, was also a fact in Italian regions, but with a necessary adaptation to the vital conditions of mercantile forces either resisting or dominating. Chivalry thrived in Italy, too, but took peculiar forms of defense of spiritual values that were not bound to aristocratic milieus. The feudal nobility did retain a pervasive force in Italy, but was tempered, checked, and transformed by the assertive presence of the high merchants even while the new ideals were tinged by themes and motifs that originally issued from the same circles of clerical educators around episcopal and secular courts that also operated north of the Alps.


Chapter Eight—
Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio

Dante (1265–1321)

That Dante, descended from a family of poor nobles, would be sensitive to questions of nobility and chivalry is not surprising. His ancestry took him back to the “martyred” crusader Cacciaguida, whom the Emperor Conrad III had “girded with his knighthood” for “good deeds” performed in a Crusade in 1147: “Poi seguitai lo ‘mperador Currado, / ed el mi cinse della sua milizia, / tanto per bene ovrar li venni a grado” (Paradiso 15: 139 f.). Dante can hide chivalric ideals in short episodes and rather marginal figures: when Trajan agrees to delay his battle march in order to render justice to a poor widow insistently presenting her grievance to him, he behaves in the chivalrous manner expected of a prince or knight of the twelfth century, rather than of an ancient ruler (Purgatorio 10: 73–78). For that act of humility and justice, Dante reports, the pagan Trajan was saved. This image of defenders of widows, orphans, and the weak, we have seen (chap. 3), was frequently propagandized under the “royal ethic” that became part of the knightly ethic.

Dante's ethic incorporated much of the chivalric ideal but excluded from it feudal militarism, which concurred neither with his being the citizen of a merchant commune nor with his personal espousal of the royal ethic's antifeudal policies. His striking emphasis on “sweetness,” including the denomination of his “school” as the Sweet New Style, is a semiotic index of his departure from the rough, warlike edges of mili-


tant chivalry and the heroic mode. In this sense he was carrying further than ever the process that brought the late troubadours to question and occasionally condemn the heroic elements in the knights' behavior, the ardimen as a necessary ingredient of proeza.[1] Yet his animosity toward the Capetians, whom he indicts as usurpers in the process of unifying France, reflects not only his “Ghibelline” support of the emperor against the pope and his ally the king of France, but also Dante's feudal sympathies for the French barons resisting national policies.

In the Fiore attributed to Dante and derived from the Roman de la rose, the allegorical character of Cortesia looms large and Larghezza operates as Cortesia's close ally. Cortesia is the mother of Bellaccoglienza, who plants the Fiore in the Garden of Piacere. She is charged with keeping the Vecchia at bay and is the first to enter the castle of Gelosia after killing Malabocca, whereupon she and Larghezza can free Bellaccoglienza and plead with her on behalf of Amante.

Dante's harmonization of vita activa and vita contemplativa carried to sublime fruition the intellectual and moral desiderata of twelfthcentury Chartres.[2] It is also rewarding to contrast Dante's idiosyncratic conservatism with the anticourt sentiments of reactionary clerical spheres (see my chap. 2). Dante praised the simple, austere customs of virtuous ancestors (Cacciaguida) and accordingly criticized women's sumptuous dresses and lustful ways (see Forese's indictment of shameful feminine fashions, Pg 23: 98–111, and Cacciaguida's invective against contemporary mores, Pr 15: 97–135). These were topoi of court criticism, yet Dante also nostalgically praised the courtliness of old. His laudatio temporis acti, linked to the identification of courtliness and courtesy with virtue, contrasts with his condemnation of courtly love as sinful and immoral (Francesca). Dante resolved the conflict by embracing courtesy without the “adulterous” kind of love it had postulated (Francesca), and grafting his own theologized, Beatrice-centered love on the courtliness of old-fashioned knighthood (Borsiere, Cacciaguida).[3]

There is a striking closeness between the troubadours' invectives (especially in such conscious moralists as Marcabru, Guiraut de Bornelh, and Peire Cardenal) and Dante's moralism—all pivoted on the ethical, social, and theological notions of cortesia, avarice, and envy.[4] But Dante regarded wealth as inherently corrupting, a scourge of good mores, whereas the troubadours, much as they could occasionally echo the monastic, anticourtly, reformist critique of ecclesiastical greed and conspicuous consumption, criticized wealth only when it was not shared with them. They inveighed against the wicked rich, the rics malvatz,


mostly to enrich their own pots by persuading them to reward the knight/poets as they thought they deserved.

As a citizen of a nonfeudal society, Dante, like the Stilnovisti before him, had to abandon the Provençal themes whose precise meanings were part of the feudal order. Both in his behavior and in his ethic he remained a son of the commune and never adopted the canonical ways of courtiers, even when exile forced him from court to court. Surely his oeuvre reflects none of the attitudes of typical courtiers. To begin with, largueza and liberalidat could no longer play a key role as synonymous with courtesy and nobility, since only the emperor could still make the sort of gifts the knights expected, and obviously not within the confines of free communes. In Convivio 2.10.7–8 Dante specifically objected to the identification of cortesia with larghezza, and this emargination of larghezza implied criticism of the Occitanic insistence on it. The help Dante received from the lords was no longer the remuneration for courtly service but simply a humiliating bread that tasted bitterly salty (“Tu proverai sì come sa di sale / lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle / lo scendere e ‘l salir per l’akrui scale,” Pr 17: 58–60). For him avareza no longer referred to the relationship between a courtier knight and his lord; he bent that moral concept completely into an argument about the state of the world and particularly the Church. The lover's guerdon no longer counted for much after Dante discovered that he could be satisfied with a greeting alone or even the mere chance of praising his lady. Beatrice was no court domna ! And of course the lauzengiers and the hated guardians were all gone, replaced by evil, degenerate parvenus and wealthy rascals. The troubadours' satirical spirit could be turned to loftier, less self-centered, more universal causes. All this even while the violent, “vulgar” style of, say, a Marcabru could be put to good use: for example, when Dante called the Church the king's “harlot” and represented the harlot and the giant in a lewd mutual relationship. Similarly in Purgatorio 32: 149 f.: “una puttana sciolta / m'apparve con le ciglia intorno pronte,” kissing the giant (Philip of France); and the “puttaneggiar” referring to the Church of Rome in Inferno 19: 108 may remind us of Marcabru's “per que domneys ar puteia,” “courting has now become harlotry.”[5]Mezura becomes the Aristotelian middle point between two vices, as with the avaricious and the prodigals, the only case of Dante's using the paradigm of two extremes as vices. We have seen how the notion of prodigality as a dangerous excess had appeared only late among the troubadours. In Italy it made sense to regard the rational use of property as a virtue and prodigality as folly: Dante's Sienese spoiled brats who, having joined the club of the brigata spendereccia,


squander their fathers' hard-won patrimonies, are figures of excess and ridicule.

In the De vulgari eloquentia Dante gives an interesting definition of curialitas to explain his use of the epithet curiale as one of the four prerequisites for the vulgare illustre or standard Italian language—another being aulicum, which also points to a place with noble tenants, since it literally refers to the royal hall or court. His language, he says, is rightly to be called “curial” because, even though Italians do not de facto have a royal court at which to gather and use their most excellent national language, as Germans have, they have the equivalent of it insofar as they use such a language, regardless of place, whenever they speak by the light of reason. For “curiality” is nothing but a well-balanced, self-imposed regularity in whatever we perform.[6] In light of the German background of the ideology of curiality, it is noteworthy that Dante singled out the Germans as the people who, alone, had the right kind of physical curia. Since the librata regula of VE 1.18.4 entails “inner orderliness” and “measure,” critics have commented on Dante's focusing on “rationality” as an index of curiality and on the possible connection of his curialitas with the rhetorical dictamen curiale and curialitas loquendi of John of Garlandia and Boncompagno da Signa.[7]

Aulicum and curiale could be interchangeable in the language of Dante's time. While aulicum unequivocally referred to the royal hall, the synonym curial could also refer to the royal chancery as well as all lesser tribunals and courts of law or to the papal chancery specifically.[8]De vulgari eloquentia 1.12 connected the birth of Italian high lyric to Frederick II's and Manfred's southern court. The ideology of courtesy also shows its impact where, rather than amor or charitas, Dante chooses venus to denominate the theme of love as one of the three that fit the illustrious vernacular (salus, venus, and virtus; “salvation, love, and virtue”—VE 2.2.8).

Dante's oeuvre, including the Divina commedia, abounds in references to cavalieri and cavalleria: one of the most intriguing is the charming allusion of De vulgari eloquentia 2.13.12 to the youthful excitement of the knight who feels entitled to special privileges on the day of his ceremonial dubbing.[9] Through this analogy Dante hopes to be forgiven for his own excess in challenging his formidable predecessor Arnaut Daniel while trying to outdo him by writing a double sestina, “Amor, tu vedi ben che questa donna,” which required the unprecedented technical feat of a heavily repetitive rhyme scheme, “nimia eiusdem rithimi repercussio.” The famous reference to the Arthurian legends (“Arturi regis ambages pulcerrime,” VE 1.10.2) needs no elabo-


ration here: it is one clear testimony of Dante's appreciation of the style of the romances. As already suggested in chapter 5, the term ambages must refer to the prose Lancelot' s interlacing technique, which Dante found most beautiful. Of all Arthurian literature, that was undoubtedly the text that Dante knew best: beside the passage just mentioned from De vulgari eloquentia, he alludes to it three times in the Commedia (If 5: 127–138; If 32; 61 f.; Pr 16: 13–15) and once in the Convivio (4.28). The case of Paradiso 16 is particularly suggestive. Beatrice turns her smile on Dante when he begins to address his ancestor Cacciaguida with the honorific voi, and Dante compares this smile to the cough with which the Dame de Malehaut had accompanied Lancelot's avowal of his love to Gueniévre. Some critics have seen both smile and cough as signs of encouragement,[10] but it is more plausible that both were an ironic warning of trespassing. Lancelot was fatally violating his duty of loyalty to his king, and Dante was uneasy about his vainglorious complacency in his illustrious descent.

An important philosophical influence on Dante may have been Fra Remigio de' Girolami, a Dominican lector at Santa Maria Novella (d. 1319). In his Via Paradisi Remigio quoted the apocryphal Invectiva contra Sallustium, attributed to Cicero, where Cicero purportedly held that it was better to shine through our own deeds than through our ancestors' fame and that anyone could attain true nobility by following virtue. This coincided with both Brunetto Latini's (Trésor ) and Dante's definition of nobility (Convivio ).[11] Dante was following an Italian poetic tradition dating to the earliest Stil Nuovo texts. Compare Convivio 4.19–21 at 20: “Therefore, let not any scion of the Uberti of Florence or of the Visconti of Milan say: ‘Since I have such ancestry, I am noble,’ for the divine seed does not fall upon a race, that is, a stock, but on the individuals . . . . Lineage does not make the individual noble; it is the individual who ennobles the stock.”[12] Similarly, in the Commedia he inquired why noble scions often degenerated (“com'esser puó, di dolce seme, amaro,” Pr 8: 93). Here the ruling King of Naples Robert of Anjou, brother of Charles Martel, is taken to task for the ignoble vice of stinginess, despite his descent from a generous father: “La sua natura, che di larga parca / discese” (Pr 8: 82 f.).

It would be wrong, however, to infer that Dante rejected noble birth. Not only did he confess to taking pride in his noble ancestry when meeting Cacciaguida in Paradise (“nel cielo io me ne gloriai,” Pr 16: 6), he also admitted in the Convivio, even while he was arguing for the nobility of spirit, that inheritance plays its role, since God implants the


seed of true happiness (“seme di felicitade”) only in those who are naturally well formed: in those, that is, who have “l'anima ben posta, cioè lo cui corpo è d'ogni parte disposto perfettamente” (Cv 4.20.9)—a question of genes, we might say.[13] And in Monarchia 2.3.4–7 he accepted Aristotle's definition of nobility as necessitating wealth, usually inherited: “est enim nobilitas virtus et divitie antique iuxta Phylosophum in Politicis, ” despite Juvenal's Stoic identification of nobility with virtue alone (“nobilitas animi sola est atque unica virtus”). There are two valid kinds of nobility, Dante concluded, the inner one (propria ) and the inherited one (maiorum ), as in Aeneas's exemplary case.

In defining nobility, Dante related it to cowardice (viltade ) as its opposite. Convivio 2.7.3–4 gives reason as the noble part of the accomplished human being—when, to borrow Aristotle's term, man has achieved his entelechy. This notion is confirmed in 3.7.6 within a neoPlatonic context of grades of nobility, and then again in 4.7.11–12, while 4.10.10 states that riches cannot grant nobility because they are essentially ignoble (vili ). Finally, 4.16.4–8 defines nobility as perfection of form or nature, be it in a human being or in a stone or animal. Noble is equal to non-vile (4.16.6). This perspective throws light on the striking episode of the Ante-Inferno (remember “colui / che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto,” If 3: 60).[14] Indeed, the Ante-Inferno is the place of the vili or, better still, pusillanimi —the coward or small-souled ones, as against the great-souled ones or magnanimous that Dante, among others, identified as chivalrous or noble. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica 2.2, Qu. 44 a.4) had distinguished timor or fear, cowardice, as the opposite of fortitudo, the cardinal virtue that was the main ingredient of true nobility.

The now familiar distrust of the villano as the antithesis of the man of nobility comes to the fore in Convivio 4.14.3 as part of the argument about nobility. The aristocratic scorn for the merchant's wealth pierces the discussion of true knowledge (scienza ): the perfection granted by scienza cannot be diminished by desire for more, which is the curse of riches, as merchants know, who tremble like leaves when they have to go through the hazards of travelling while carrying goods (Cv 4.13.11).

Convivio 2.10.7 f. states that “courtesy and honesty are but one thing: this term derived from the courts, meaning ‘courtly habit,’ because virtues and beautiful manners used to be practiced at court, just as they have now been forsaken for their opposites.”[15] This Dantesque conception of curiality and courtesy has recently been connected with Aristotelian megalopsychia, magnanimity or heroic virtue, which can


also be seen as underlying the chivalric sense of aventure that is marked by hardement and proesce in the French romances.[16] At 4.26 we read that the chivalric and courtly virtues of temperanza, fortezza o vero magnanimitate, amore, cortesia, and lealtade must guide our youth. Here again, Dante employs the analogy of the horseman, buono cavaliere, cavalcatore, who uses both the spur (sprone = fortezza ) and the rein (freno = temperanza ).

We realize the full impact and precise meaning of Dante's moral terminology if we keep in mind its classical context. His “la fretta / che l'onestate ad ogn'atto dismaga” (Pg 3: 11), for example, obviously does not refer to inner moral uprighteousness, which could not be affected by hasty motion, but to the decorous outer behavior that becomes a sage. In other words, his onestà is Cicero's honestas, the standard of the public man. Similarly, Beatrice's onestà, which strikes every passer-by when she walks down the street (sonnet “Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare”), is an outer disposition which is a sign of inner qualities.[17] True enough, Cicero had been mediated by closer authorities within the circles affected by the ideals of curialitas, including Hugh of St. Victor, who spoke of moralis composicio having an inner aspect (the cultivation of virtue) as well as an outer one that faithfully mirrored the former: this outer manifestation of virtue consisted of a dignified bearing at all times.[18] Cicero's decor, Hugh's decens disposicio, and Dante's onestà are all akin. In the Commedia, too, onesto means “dignified” rather than “morally good.” Compare Sordello's shadow sitting lion-like, “nel mover degli occhi onesta e tarda” (Pg 6: 63), and the similar “l'accoglienze oneste e liete” (Pg 7: 1): all semantically contiguous to onorato, onorare, or onorevole (cf. If 4, nine times in the episode of the pagan sages).[19]

Both in the Convivio and the Commedia, Dante's definition and arrangement of moral qualities is known to depend on Aristotle. As noted with regard to the Ciceronian moral scheme, however, the use of the Aristotelian scheme must be set against the background of the chivalric ethical nomenclature in order to see the differences in definition, emphasis, and application that the classical framework underwent in the Middle Ages. When in Convivio 4.17.4–7 Dante recalls the virtues according to the Nicomachean Ethics, his verbal texture entails subtle distortions, which give his listing a “chivalric” sound. He enumerates the virtues as eleven (Aristotle did not have a number, and his complex listing involved several subdivisions), namely: fortezza (defined as the middle between foolhardiness and timidity), temperanza (measure in


the use of food), liberalitade (measure in the use of material goods), magnificenza (advantageous use of wealth), magnanimitade (rational thirst for fame), amativa d'onore (measured ambition), mansuetudine (moderation of anger), affabilitade (sociability), veritade (avoidance of boasting), eutrapelia (wit), and giustizia. Prudence, the missing cardinal virtue, is kept outside this group of “moral” virtues as one of the “intellectual” virtues, as Aristotle indeed had it, and as a necessary general guide of the former (Cv 4.17.8). Dante dropped “shame” or “fear of dishonor,” given by Aristotle as a quasi-virtue (and different from the Ciceronian notion of reverentia that we find in medieval curiality and, for example, in Castiglione's vergogna, implying considerateness). The prominence given to liberality, as middle ground between avarice and prodigality, is clearly in tune with a genuinely chivalric discourse. The long Aristotelian section on liberality and magnificence (Nicomachean Ethics 4.1–2 1119b-1123a) could sound to a medieval ear like an appropriate exhortation to chivalrous behavior. While the systematic appeal to the happy medium is thoroughly Aristotelian, affability (affabilitade ), a traditional curial and courtly quality, replaces Aristotle's friendship (Lat. amicitia ), leaning on Thomas Aquinas's commentary (in Ethicam Nicomacheam 2, lect. 9, n. 354, referring to Aristotle's NE 2.6.1108 26–28). Amistade does find its place in Convivio 3.3.11, where reference is made to Nicomachean Ethics 8.4, but a typical coupling with “honesty” is suggested by the intervening scholastic commentaries: Dante's “la vera e perfetta amistade de l'onesto tratta” recalls Aquinas's “amicitia propter honestum” (in Ethicam Nic. 8 lect. 3 n. 1563) and Albertus Magnus's “honestum” (Ethica 8.1.3—see, also, Cv 3.9.14 and 4.21.1). Dante's definitions of fortitude and temperance (the curial/courtly bravery or prowess and measure) also leaned on Aquinas.[20] Generally speaking, Dante's naming of the basic virtues (for example in Cv 4.17) was fairly standard by his time, and remained so throughout the Renaissance: it is strikingly close, for example, to Tasso's dialogue on the court (1585).[21]

In the Commedia Ciacco charges the Florentines with harboring pride, envy, and avarizia—three traditional vices according to the courtly code: “superbia, invidia e avarizia sono / le tre faville ch'anno i cuori accesi” (If 6: 74 f.). The stern judgment is repeated by Brunetto Latini: “gent'è avara, invidiosa e superba” (If 15: 68). In a few scattered lines Dante makes much of the loss of cortesia in Italy, while, he says, it graced the good society of old. In mid-thirteenth-century Florence it went together with virtue and valor in such leaders as Guido Guerra,


Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, and Jacopo Rusticucci. Guido Guerra, Dante says, “fece col senno assai e con la spada,” “achieved much with his wisdom and with his sword” (If 16: 39), which is the classical and medieval topos of joining the two heroic virtues of sapientia and fortitudo. These three honorable Florentine statesmen are in the circle of the violent against nature, where Brunetto also dwells. Jacopo asks Dante if cortesia e valor still dwell in Florence as they used to in their time, since they hear a recent arrival, Guglielmo Borsiere, insistently mourn the departure of those two virtues (“assai ne cruccia con le sue parole,” If 16: 67–72). Dante answers that, indeed, they have forsaken a city that is now ravaged by the opposite vices of pride and excess, “orgoglio e dismisura,” sadly brought along by the “gente nuova e i sbiti guadagni,” the quickly enriched upstarts who have come in from the countryside (If 16: 73–75). Let us note that the derogatory reference to the parvenus as nouveaux riches reflects the nobility's century-old effort to close ranks and harden class barriers in order to preserve inherited privileges threatened by the mercantile classes. Similarly, the critique of fancy dresses and conspicuous consumption without misura, as in Cacciaguida's discourse (Pr 15: 97–129), implies the nobility's defense of its traditional privilege of distinctive dress, not to be outdone and nullified by the nouveaux riches' right to display their wealth, which the sumptuary laws futilely attempted to stem.[22]

In Purgatorio 14: 109–111, Guido del Duca nostalgically reminisces on the beautiful customs of arduous tests and pleasing deeds once inspired by love and courtesy in the Romagna:

  le donne e' cavalier, li affanni e li agi
che ne 'nvogliava amore e cortesia
là dove i cuor son fatti sì malvagi.

The complaint was, after all, commonplace in Italy: compare Folgòre da San Gimignano: “Cortesia, cortesia, cortesia chiamo, / e da nessuna parte mi risponde.”[23] Once again, in Purgatorio 16: 115–117 Marco Lombardo regrets the disappearance of that “valore e cortesia” that could still be found in northern Italy before Frederick II's defeat:

  In sul paese ch'Adice e Po riga
solea valore e cortesia trovarsi,
prima che Federigo avesse briga.

Dante's sense of chivalric virtues was central to his conception of the moral roots of the present world's political, social, and economic imbalance.[24] The binomium of valore e cortesia in Inferno 16: 67 and


Purgatorio 16: 116, echoing the proz et curteis of the French epic ever since the Chanson de Roland, is opposed by Dante to orgoglio e dismisura (If 16: 74, besides viltà and villania elsewhere). The roster of the basic virtues which Dante sadly missed can be summarized as: cortesia, valore, misura, prodezza, nobiltà, senno, gentilezza, leggiadria, and belli costumi (remember MHG schöne sîte )—all of them typical of the medieval knightly code. To these we must add the Aristotelian magnanimity we also found mentioned in the Convivio Dante's Farinata had been a great-hearted leader of his party (magnanimo, If 10: 73).

Given Dante's closeness to the Provençal poets and the presence of some of them in his works, we must pay attention to his treatment of four leading figures, namely Guiraut de Bornelh, Arnaut Daniel, Bertran de Born, and Sordello (we can forego Folquet of Marseille from Pr 9).[25] It is fitting that in De vulgari eloquentia 2.2 he would praise Guiraut de Bornelh (fl. 1165, d. after 1211) as the poet of moral rectitude (directio voluntatis, rectitudo, P. dreitura ) by quoting from his canso “Per solatz revelhar, / que s'es trop endormitz,” a complaint about the disappearance of courtly virtues (solatz is usually translated there as “courtly pleasures”) from a corrupt world now given to base material pleasures. A similar mood rings through Dante's own complaints concerning the disappearance of courtly values from present-day northern Italy (Marco Lombardo in Pg ), even though Guiraut was speaking of southwest France a hundred years earlier. In that same passage of De vulgari eloquentia, calling himself “the friend of Cino da Pistoia,” Dante placed himself alongside Guiraut as a kindred poet of the theme of rectitudo: he exemplified by quoting his own canzone 106, “Doglia mi reca ne lo core ardire,” a poem of th time of exile, in which the poet indicted men and women for having abandoned virtue (“Omo da sé vertú fatto ha lontana; / omo no, mala bestia ch'om simiglia”).

In both De vulgari eloquentia and the Commedia (Pg 26: 115–148) Dante shows his great appreciation for Arnaut Daniel (fl. 1180–1210) as chief master of the trobar clus. In De vulgari eloquentia 2.2.9 he had placed him below Guiraut de Bornelh, but in Purgatorio 26: 117 f., Guido Guinizelli declares him the “miglior fabbro del parlar materno,” who “versi d'amore e prose di romanzi / soverchiò tutti.” Historically, Marcabru and Raimbaut d'Aurenga were the original and more influential practitioners of the “closed” style, but Dante could no longer understand the cultural implications of that rather mysterious phenomenon, best illustrated by the tenso “Ara.m platz, Giraut de Borneill” between Raimbaut and Guiraut de Bornelh (see chap. 4 above). Just as Raimbaut's position was to be echoed later by Petrarca's equally


elitist belief that serious literature was unsuitable for large and uninitiated audiences, so was Guiraut's position in that polemical exchange similar to Dante's with regard to the merits of the vernacular for high literary and cultural purposes. Guiraut had defended the trobar leu or plan (“plain” like the “comic,” “low,” or “humble” style of the DC ) as the most apt to reach a universal audience. Likewise Dante protested that his vernacular poetry (like his preceding vernacular prose of the Cv ) aimed to reach, in a fitting style, the largest public. Nonetheless, Dante was attracted to Arnaut's difficult style as part of his lifelong experimental interest in testing all styles and pressing them into service in order to express deeply hidden allegories.

Equally significant is the episode of Bertran de Born (If 28: 113–142) as a clear sign of Dante's attitude toward courtliness. Bertran (b. ca. 1140 ?, d. ca. 1200) had been the most outstanding spokesman of the ideal of the knight-warrior, while Dante had made the momentous shift from the combination of war and love to an exclusive espousal of love/charity. He had definitively rejected feudal bellicosity in favor of that “peace”—the necessary condition and very goal of the Empire—that could jeopardize the knights' livelihood. An antimilitarist by choice, Dante never boasted of his military experiences, citing them either in humorous contexts or as matter-of-fact incidents; still more important, he declined to do what the feudal code regarded as a family duty, to wit, to avenge his relative Geri del Bello. Paramount in Dante's mind was the logical necessity of espousing the cause of the emperors, which had been the cause of peace ever since the Ottos identified their interests with the meekness of good curial administrators. Thus Dante had to condemn Bertran's role as a sower of discord between Henry II's son Richard Lion-Heart and his eldest son, el rei jove (il re giovane of If 28: 135). That role had made sense in the environment of the class of landless knights of which Bertran was a spirited leader and most eloquent poet, but what was logical and positive among the courtly poets had become criminal from Dante's vantage point.[26]

Indeed, Dante's unqualified espousal of the cause of peace amounted to a reversal of the feudal ethic of chivalry, which he had to transcend in order to lay a new foundation for his doctrine of the imperial order. Seen from this angle, the contrast betweeen his treatment of Bertran and that of Sordello (Pg 6) is paradigmatic. Dante does not hesitate to distort the image of Sordello, certainly no partisan of peacefulness, who differed from Bertran only in that the latter unashamedly advocated violence for the sake of the resulting loot. Sordello's planh/sirventes for


the death of Blacatz, a fitting echo of Bertran's planh for the death of el rei jove and an anticipation of Dante's gloomy picture of the unworthy rulers of his own day, sarcastically rebuked the ruling princes of Europe for their sloth and cowardice in the face of loss of their inherited lands. This motif of chivalrous condemnation of contemporary moral decay runs from Dante through Petrarca and even, for different yet convergent reasons, to Machiavelli. Sordello appears in a memorably dignified courtly posture in Purgatorio 6 and 7, where he has a surprise encounter with the fellow poet and fellow Mantuan, Virgil, as a paragon of brotherliness among neighbors. This leads to Dante's invective against Italy, a land divided into warring factions and regions.[27]

Cacciaguida's laudatio of the sober and happy old days (Pr 15: 97–135) fills in the picture anticipated by the eloquent hints we picked up in Guglielmo Borsiere's, Guido del Duca's, and Marco Lombardo's episodes. Searching for the sources of Dante's representation of Florence's past, Charles T. Davis (1984) has continued Arnold Busson's, Raffaello Morghen's, and others' studies on the Cronica attributed to Ricordano Malispini. This research has shown the continuity among chroniclers and poets on the matter, but, against Morghen, Davis agrees with Paul Scheffer-Boichorst's (1870) and Giovanni Aquilecchia's (1955) argument that the Malispini Chronicle, instead of a late thirteenth-century source of Dante and Villani, is a much later compilation from Villani's text, done after 1350.[28] Consequently, Davis claims that Dante's views on the progressive corruption of Florentine mores did not echo the chroniclers but were his own. It was the chroniclers who somewhat clumsily and contradictorily repeated his views, regretting Florence's civil strife and political excesses but without seeing its economic prosperity as a sign of impending doom. Dante's condemnation of Florentine greed, on the other hand, was an integral part of his philosophy of history and political order, whereby human happiness could be based only on harmonious acceptance of the monarchic regime by all elements of the empire. This original assessment was strongly colored by the particular context of courtois ideology within which Dante's thinking still moved. Curiously enough, the “burgher” Villani seemed to borrow from Dante a view of Fiesolan wickedness as an element of dissent and disorder within Florence, as part of the Fiesolani's “racial” constitution, whereas Dante, the “aristocrat,” vigorously insisted that nobility is not based on “blood” and is not inherited, but consists of our virtuous deeds alone.

The nostalgic critique of contemporary moral decay and the conse-


quent invidious comparison with the good old virtues was commonplace between 1250 and 1350, in Tuscan writing and elsewhere, and although Dante did not invent it, he powerfully contributed to it. Compare Matteo Frescobaldi's (d. 1348) canzone “Cara Fiorenza mia” (“Dear Florence mine”): “As long as you were still adorned, O Florence, / by good and ancient citizens and dear, / people far and near / admired the Lion and its sons. [The lion was another symbol of Florence.] / Touted even among Muslims, whore you are now the world round.”[29]

It may seem surprising that Dante, without textually coupling the terms, would associate cortesia and sobriety of customs in the golden age of Florence (Cacciaguida's time, ca. 1150), followed closely by the similar picture given by Giovanni Villani (but with chronological displacement of the buon tempo antico to ca. 1250). Textually, Dante and Villani are close, and both are very close to Ricordano Malispini, but with the difference that Ricordano (like his supposed immediate continuator, his nephew Giacotto, covering the years 1282–1286) eschews the moral judgment that disapproves the present and praises the past (Davis 1984, chap. 4). Dante's judgments reflect an aristocratic, antibourgeois vantage point where, typically, wealth, hence luxury, are associated not with civilized refinement, as in the tradition of curialitas, but with decadence, as, traditionally, among knightly and monastic circles.

If the anticourtly tradition is the distant background of Dante's sense of values, he also lent the most powerful poetic voice to the court critics' ultimate cause, that is, Church reform, even while he sublimated courtly love into a theological idea that could only be his. Dante was on the side of court critics insofar as he was on the side of Church reformers with some of the same arguments: those which aimed at both the lifestyle of the curiales and the state of the Church; both curiales and Church prelates were guilty of excessive worldliness. To illustrate this, Dante hit upon the allegory of Lady Poverty as Francis's means to attain virtue by chasingavaritia, the she-wolf of the Commedia. For Dante the welfare of mankind depended on whether the Church and its prelates could accept Caesar's authority and divest themselves of all worldly possessions.[30]

Dante felt that the emperor should have complete jurisdiction over all temporal possessions; the Church, none. The mendicant orders, spearheads of Church reform, had preached and practiced apostolic poverty: like Christ before him, Dante's Francis had “married” Lady Poverty, and Bonaventura spoke of Dominic as being of the same ilk in


this as Francis. Yet Dante went further than Francis and Dominic by advocating total poverty not only for the mendicant friars but for the whole Church and clergy. In this Franciscan state of affairs there would be little room indeed for any trappings of curialitas.

Immediate sources of Dante's moral views were Bonaventura's Legenda maior and the radical literature of the Franciscan Spirituals, especially Pietro di Giovanni Olivi and Ubertino da Casale, who in the stirring prophecies of their mystical tracts had advocated the reform of the order and of the Church through the literal adoption of Francis's injunction of total poverty. Dante's political system was, however, his own, since neither the Spirituals nor the Joachites, who in part also inspired both the Spirituals and Dante, had room for any imperial role in their vision of Church reform. Dante was truly a Ghibelline at least in his expectation of a new Augustus who would restore universal authority for the empire and force the clergy to give up their economic privileges. Only this would cleanse the world of the curse of universal cupidity, since even the Mendicants, as both Aquinas and Bonaventura bitterly pointed out in Paradiso 11 and 12, had gone astray and could not be expected to reform themselves. Frederick II's manifesto to the princes of Europe (1245),Illos felices, professing as his life-long purpose the restoration of the clergy to its pristine evangelical state of poverty, sounded ominously like Dante's warnings to the high clergy. Salimbene Adami da Parma had attributed to Frederick the wish that “the pope and the cardinals should be paupers and go on foot” (Davis 54 f.).

Dante's political views are a landmark in the evolution of ideas and feelings concerning the role of government and public officials, in a sense that is an integral part of our discourse about the ethical framework of the man of court. I can best summarize a complex history of interpretation with some well-phrased definitions by Lauro Martines (1979), which are based on the research of A. Passerin d'Entrèves, C. T. Davis, J. R. Hale, Nicolai Rubinstein, J. K. Hyde, and others.[31] Martines goes over the literature on the role of public officials, especially the podestà, according to Brunetto Latini's Trésor and Tesoretto. He then discusses the role of St. Augustine's De civitate Dei on one side and Aristotle's Politics and Cicero's rhetorical treatises on the opposite side in the shaping of these ideas, but with a strong emphasis on the determining value of communal experiences. He goes on as follows:

To see the birth of the state in a divine judgment, or to root it in the nature of man himself without any pejorative suppositions regarding his fallen condition: these were the rival views, even if they were not seen in this guise, and Aristotle best represented the latter. In the first view, the state is a re-


pressive force, as much a punishment as a remedy for sin, and certainly a monstrosity unless circumscribed by a Christian framework; in the second, the state is a positive institution, which not only regulates and protects men but also perfects their companionship and makes possible their most worthy enterprises. In the former view, public service can have nothing good about it unless it is related, in some manner, to the Christian vision of loss and redemption; in the latter, public service is a manifest good in itself, requiring no mystical act of enablement or ennoblement.

Dante, for one, parted ways with St. Augustine in that he firmly conceived of the state and the empire as the foundation of virtuous action and indeed of the temporal happiness of civilized man—beatitudo huius vitae as distinct from but collateral to beatitudo vitae aeternae (Monarchia). At the same time, he clearly reflected the environment of a communal society by referring to citizenship in a city as the conditio sine qua non for civilized living when, for example, Charles Martel asked him whether there can be civilization outside the city (Pr 8).

It may seem remarkable that the change [from the Augustinian to the secular view] took so long in coming, but this is to underestimate the force of the Christian lexicon. The transition from one view to the other was not in the first instance a process of abstract cerebration, as historians of ideas like to imagine, but one of action and feeling, experience and attitude. [It] involved a community process and a fund of expressive attitudes from which any gifted individual might fitfully draw new insights.

Such a man was . . . . Remigio de' Girolami . . . . Yet his idea of the common public good was not necessarily pinned to Aristotle; it had welled up from local feeling and was lodged in the statutes of the communes, the speeches of the podestas, and the musings of poets.

The episode of Pier della Vigna plays an important role in Dante's representation of the order of divine justice.[32] I wish to call attention to the relevance, for the correct understanding of that episode, of the role of Envy, scourge of the courts—a key concept in the structure and message of the Commedia, together with its symmetric parallel, Avarice, scourge of the Church. We have already noted that envy as the demon of court life was a standard topos in medieval narrative and didactic writing. John of Salisbury had warned: “Ubique autem qui illustrioribus clarescunt meritis acrius invidiae toxicato dente roduntur” (Policraticus 7: 24; Webb ed.: 2: 215). In Walter Map's De nugis curialium (James ed.: 1: 12, 16 f.) the “unknown youth” who finds favor at the King of Portugal's court is ultimately brought down by the courtiers' envy. In the Nibelungenlied Siegfried arouses the envy of King Gunther's courtiers, who will successfully plan his undoing. Gottfried's Tristan is per-


secuted by the envious courtiers, and their envy will bring about both his and Queen Isolt's death. One can appropriately add the biblical precedents of Joseph at the Pharaoh's court and Daniel at the courts of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius (Jaeger 236 f.). We also recall how, after a lively and contrasted career as a courtier, Peter of Blois had spoken of envy and avarice as the scourges of courts, and of himself as envy's victim. Dante's figure of the unhappy courtier/chancellor had a tragic predecessor of sorts in another exemplary victim of envy, the powerful Bishop Adalbert of Bremen. There is a remarkable parallelism between these two careers. Both men were beset by unforgivable faults of character and behavior, yet both were exemplarily driven by unwavering loyalty to their king as the pivot of their private and public careers.[33] Dante seems to blame Piero, implicitly yet forcefully, for lacking the courage of the good courtier to resist courtly vices, including jealousy and hateful envy: a modern reader of medieval romances is reminded here of Gottfried's Tristan, when, after a moment of despair, he heeded King Mark's advice (vv. 8353–8366).

Dante's Ulysses also comes into this discourse as an example of successful courtier-counselor, whom Dante, however, condemned for his desmesure in worldly curiosity and in counseling cunning.[34] Jaeger (95–100) has located a text that he considers unique, the Ars versificatoria by Matthew of Vendôme, where a portrait of Ulysses appears as third, after two others of a pope and of a ruler named Caesar, and in a capacity that Jaeger, without any reference to Dante, thinks could have been labelled curialis or consiliarius. Two manuscripts titled “Causa Aiacis et Ulixis I–II” (edited by P. G. Schmidt, 1964) present a debate between the two heroes that, Jaeger believes, can be attributed to Matthew himself or one of his students, and where Ulysses successfully argues for the superiority of the courtier (himself) over the knight (Ajax). This appears to be the only medieval case of identification of Ulysses as a pedagogic model for the courtier cleric (Jaeger 99). Cicero, De officiis 1.113, had contrasted the characters of Ulysses and Ajax by pointing to the former's endurance of insult for the sake of his long-range plans, and to the latter's impatience of any contradiction.[35]

As a dissimulating, fraudulent counselor, Ulysses is in the company of his modern counterpart, Guido da Montefeltro, who represents Dante's rejection of cunning or duplicity (“lunga promessa con l'attender corto,” Guido's counsel to Pope Boniface—If 27: 110) as a necessary quality of both the military leader and the politician, the knight and the courtier.[36] For Dante the statesman must be a lion, not a fox


(“l'opere mie / non furon leonine ma di volpe,” says Guido, If 27: 74 f.). We can anticipate here the shift in emphasis and function between Dante's view and Castiglione's appreciation of non-knightly mansuetudo in the courtier (Cortegiano 2.7), even though Castiglione recommended it as a way to avoid the ostentation of military arts. Mansuetudo, we shall recall, was a traditional requirement in the court chaplain, a non-military man. Incidentally, Castiglione sided with the moderns in the running arguments concerning the comparative virtues of ancients versus moderns, and accordingly rebuked the laudatores temporis acti who kept complaining about the disappearance of the good old courtly virtues (2.1–3).

The ongoing controversies concerning the deep meanings of Dante's characters and their structural role within his orthodox Weltanschauung could receive better light through a greater awareness of the poem's inner tensions and multiple orientations. Perhaps it is time to outgrow the recently triumphant emphasis on a supposedly absolutely consistent, rigorously unitary theologism on the poet's part. Some non-American critics, in particular, have been voicing uneasiness with such approaches. Robin Kirkpatrick (1987), for example, criticizes the excessive emphasis on the philosophical character of the poem and favors greater attention to language and structural tension,[37] and Peter Dronke (1986) as well as Jeremy Tambling (1988) react against what they consider reductively allegorical readings.[38] The main thrust of American Dante critics has been to privilege the theological at the expense of other cultural factors and of the inner tensions of expression and style. The factors I have been stressing should contribute to a better balance among the rich elements that Dante inherited. For he was not only a reader of theological manuals: his political and moral views, which were just as central to him, were derived from traditions that exalted the worldly duties, the ones that St. Augustine had purposely downplayed but which the needs of society and of government had forced upon many a Christian conscience. Semiotically, the Dante critics who have overemphasized theologizing allegorism are naive readers because they assume their deep reading will discover the only true meaning of the text. Their interpretation is methodologically contradictory because, while they speak of irony and ambiguity, they aim to discover a true meaning that is a priori neither ironic nor ambiguous at all, namely, that Dante's intentio auctoris is really to deliver nothing but a perfectly consistent and conformist theological message.


Petrarca (1304–1374)

The “prince of humanists,” Francesco Petrarca, was not only, as a lyrical poet, the most illustrious heir of the Provençal troubadours, he was also a product of the curial tradition. After all, much as he came to loath it in his mature years, the highly corrupt yet equally sophisticated curial court of Avignon was Petrarca's nurturing ground, with close personal association with some of its leading figures. At the same time he also embodied in a unique and eloquent form the medieval anticourt tradition in seeking refuge from the cares of the court and the world in Vaucluse, his villa outside Milan, and Arquà, as well as in the therapeutic value he derived from his writing. We might think especially of his meditations on solitude (De ocio religiosorum De ocio religiosorum and De vita solitaria De vita solitaria ). Petrarca's method of working was also shaped by certain important modifications that his Italian predecessors introduced into the methods of literary production. The consequences were far-reaching, with a decisive impact on the literature of the courts.

Life at court was especially conducive to oral literature. We have seen how, like new incarnations of Socrates, the early bishops and the educators at imperial and episcopal chapels and cathedral schools often did not care to put their teaching down in writing, since their efficacy rested on their live voice. One of the greatest medieval poets, Wolfram von Eschenbach, stated outright that he was not one who could write. Literary life at court had been based on live performance, and verse compositions were usually delivered with musical accompaniment. Yet, even at a time when oral transmission in all genres (including those of science and philosophy) was still the general rule, remaining so until close to the end of the fifteenth century, writing started to play a more decisive role in Italy. This means that recitation at court went hand in hand with the use of the manuscript, which circulated and propagated motifs and forms beyond the courts to the more literate among the burghers.[39] The change was soon to affect the whole Italian cultural scene, preparing the ground for making written literature the core of humanistic education.

Typically, Dante invented the difficult form of the terzina also to make sure that the scribes would be restrained from their customary rewriting of texts—a natural and perfectly legitimate aspect of the transmission of a live culture that was normally tied to a verbal, hence


constantly moving and evolving delivery. In a terzina it was not possible to introduce any substantive verbal changes without rewriting a whole canto—at least if any rhyme was affected. Any accidental dropping or interpolation of lines would have been immediately apparent by disturbing the tight movement of the rhyme structure.

The new habit of paying scrupulous attention to the precise wording of a poet's written text—a habit that was to lead to the great achievements of humanistic philology—was started by Petrarca above all others. He did so by leaving to his disciples a painstakingly accurate record of his work, page by page, word by word, variant by variant, many of the variants often marked by glosses and specific annotations as to the exact time and circumstances they were entered into a draft. He was making sure, for the first time in medieval Europe, that his writings would be regarded as ne varietur editions. His rather novel desires were heeded by the succeeding generations, and autographs of his final drafts (including the Canzoniere ) were religiously preserved, together with many a preliminary draft. This was unprecedented at a time when no autograph was ever destined to survive. Zumthor (1987: 165) notes that “we possess no autograph manuscript of poetry before the end of the fourteenth century: this means that, up to that date, of all our texts, without exception, what we perceive in our reading is the stage of reproduction, not of production.” Zumthor ignores Petrarca's case, indeed a hard one to overlook, and when he mentions Boccaccio (166) as the first to show “un véritable souci d'authenticité auctoriale,” he thinks only of his autograph corrections to the scribal copy of the Decameron (for Boccaccio, too, we have many autographs, including the Teseida complete with his glosses).

This degree of attention to form and style, composition and structure, was formerly limited to Latin writing, and only occasionally practiced. Petrarca and his Italian predecessors methodically extended it to the vernacular, starting perhaps with Provençal. It is remarkable that this phenomenon occurred in a country relatively poor in both Latin and vernacular poetry compared with Germany, France, or England before, say, 1230. At the same time, in their respect for the letter of the literary text the Italians were guided by the invigorating example of the ancients.[40]

Italian was to become the language of diplomacy, hence an international medium of communication, replacing Latin in this function. Knights as well as clerics had been cosmopolitan classes in the Middle Ages, but only the clerics possessed an international language, kept rela-


tively invariant and universal by its being constrained within fixed grammatical structures that were dead for the man of the street. The knights, instead, had at their disposal only regional, unstable dialects for both their everyday life and their cultural expression. Even Occitan literature, so successful internationally, had barely faced the problem of standardization, overcoming the motley situation of sharply variant dialects simply by relying on the early models from the Limousin. The Italians were the first to confront the problem squarely and to become seriously preoccupied with a “national” standard: even before Dante intervened with his De vulgari eloquentia and the doctrine of the vulgare illustre, the Sicilians had already profited from the cosmopolitan ambiance of Frederick II's court to begin a process of linguistic homogenization.

The change toward standardized wordings, carefully handed over in a strictly written record, also affected the use of ideas and forms associated with chivalric ideology, including the literature of courtesy, courtly love, and formation of the courtier, until Castiglione crystallized it in an exquisitely structured formal discourse. Petrarca's personal contribution amounted to a consolidation of much of the heritage of courtesy in a fairly fixed form within vernacular poetry, replete with standardized imagery and figures of speech: “Petrarchism” became both a lyrical mode and a behavioral ideal.

In dealing with troubadours and Minnesingers I have noted the apparent contradiction of constantly protesting total devotion while threatening a change of heart if reward was not forthcoming; I concluded that this was part and parcel of that “game of love” that was conventionally and artificially verbal and yet, at the same time, an earnest strategy for survival. In a way, we can say, Petrarca conclusively sealed that contradiction for subsequent imitators by framing his whole Canzoniere —the most consistent and prolonged expression of total dedication to an evanescent and elusive, even physically absent, ideal woman—inside the recantation of his passion as “a youthful error” in the first poem and the transcendent hymn to the Virgin in the closing poem, number 366. Beyond the Provençal heritage, this inner ambiguity was perfectly consonant with the personality of that supreme lyricist, who embedded in his lifetime's work a “discovery” of the inner tensions of the self and the contradictory nature of the psyche.[41] What had been a witty and elegant game of survival (in the knight courtier's career) became a symbolic expression of man's ambiguous, dialectic predicament.


Despite its incompatibility with Christian love, courtly love had imposed itself on court life because of its social function. But when the amatory lyric outgrew its social boundaries, as was the case, for instance, with the early Bolognese and Tuscan poets who had no contact with any court of the Provençal or French type, the conflict stood out clearly enough to demand a solution. The Stil Nuovo doctrine of the donna angelicata came to the poets' rescue and, just as Dante had profited from that new departure for his sublime ends, so did Petrarca proceed within the new intellectual framework that had transcended the Provençal context. In other words: despite the fact that the sociological settings had become incompatible in the transition from the feudal courtly environments to the republics and signories of fourteenth-century Italy, the Stil Nuovo managed to codify the ideology of the former to the taste and understanding of the latter in a language that eventually became Petrarchan. A similar situation characterized Catholic Spain in that and the following century, where the adulterous definition of courtly love was commonly deemphasized: the lover, aristocrat or no, could look to a love within marriage, or the writer could attack the implications of a sinful passion, as did the author of the Celestina (1499).[42] The case of Castilian and Portuguese amorous poetry is interesting for the use of Petrarchism in establishing a firm context of psychological analysis of a moral predicament, in a tense polarization between a rational sublimation of love and the condemnation of an alienating passion, futile at best, destructive at worst. In that poetry a universal ethos filled the forms inherited from a court setting that could no longer be operative, since it no longer existed.

Petrarchism grew steadily in Quattrocento Italy, and it was in courtly environments that it produced potentially aberrant forms. The outstanding example is Serafino Aquilano (d. 1500), a page at the Neapolitan court in his youth and then an acclaimed court entertainer at Urbino and northern Italian courts. In line with the progressive Christianization and Platonization of erotic poetry after Petrarca, the virtues of the lovers came to sound more and more like the standard Christian virtues. Onestade, temperanza, vergogna, continenza, and such, dominated both in stanzas of European love poetry like the Cantos de amor of the fifteenth-century Catalan poet Augias March and in pages of philosophical speculation on love like Mario Equicola's successful Libro de natura de amore (1509).

Finally Bembo managed to canonize Petrarca along classicizing lines. Thanks mostly to Bembo's authoritative endorsement in his 1525 Prose della volgar lingua,[43] Petrarca's model of frustrated love as the noblest


form of love, his latter-day interpretation of courtly love taken out of its social context, became archetypal for much of the subsequent European lyric. His success must not make us oblivious to the availability of other options both at his time and before, as if it had been a foregone conclusion. For not only could a frankly uncourtly view of love be presented (or perhaps advocated) even in such an extended treatment as the Roman de la rose, but a chivalric dressing could be used for transparent uncourtois allegories disguising daydreams about subduing a woman with knightly force instead of worshipping her lofty resistance. Typically, at least as early as 1214 a festival at Treviso included a victorious siege by young males of a Castle of Love held by fair maidens.[44]

Petrarca brought to its most consummate level the habit of composing “logically” rather than by succession of lyrical moods—a habit which has been observed in the passage from the earlier Provençal, French, and German lyric to the more mature Italian lyrical modes, especially with the Stil Nuovo. But above all Petrarca should also enter our discourse for his more technical contribution of turning some typical chivalric and courtois clichés into a method of lyrical expression—what became the main ingredients of European Petrarchism in the lyric, including the conventionalized uses that can be termed “manneristic.”[45] I am referring, first, to his adoption of courtois motifs in the form of stylistic antitheses and oxymora as well as the symmetries of his “correlaciones plurimembres,” to use Dámaso Alonso's terms. An impressive example of the compositional structures that Petrarca canonized is Giacomo da Lentini's (fl. 1233–1240) “Lo basilisco a lo speco lucente.” There, the first known Sicilian poet exploited the form of the sonnet, which he invented, for the most architectonic compositional format it could encompass. He did so by using not only a correlative pattern (in the quatrains) but also a recapitulation of its members (in the tercets), all of it in the midst of continuous antitheses.[46] Antithesis abounds in Giacomo as well as its most concentrated form, the oxymoron: see, for example, the sonnet “Chi non avesse mai veduto foco,” ending with a most effective pre-Petrarchan antithetical treatment of his relationship to Love and the beloved: “Certo l'Amore fa gran vilania, / che non distingue te che vai gabando; / a me, che servo, non dà isbaldimento,” “Surely Love does wrong: / he does not subdue you, who only mock, / he has no reward for me, who truly serve,” reminiscent of the close of more than one of Petrarca's most memorable sonnets.[47] Likewise in Rinaldo d'Aquino's canzone “Amorosa donna fina”: “d'uno foco che non pare / che 'n la neve fa 'llumare, / ed incende tra lo ghiaccio,” “with a fire that does not show, / that shows its light in the


snow, / and flares up inside the ice”; and in Guido delle Colonne's (b. ca. 1210) “che fa lo foco nascere di neve,” “which makes fire arise out of the snow” (canzone “Anchor che l'aigua per lo foco lassi”).[48] These are paradoxical antitheses in the form of adynata of a kin with Petrarca's “icy fire.”[49]

We have noticed that such figures were also common in the earlier French, Provençal, and German poets. One more striking, final example is the famous passage in Gottfried's Tristan (vv. 60–64) where the poet espouses the true love of his tragic couple, and where we find even the equivalent of Petrarca's neologism dolceamara, “bittersweet”:

ir süeze sur, ir liebez leit,
ir herzeliep, ir senede not,
ir liebez leben, ir leiden tot,
ir lieben tot, ir leidez leben:
dem lebene si min leben ergeben.

(Their sweet bitterness, their loving sorrow,
their hearts' love, their yearning misery,
their loving life, their wretched death,
their loving death, their wretched life:
let my life be devoted to that life.)
(W. T. H. Jackson's trans., 1971: 54)

And again

daz honegende gellet,
daz süezende siuret,
daz touwende viuret,
daz senftende smerzet.

(love's gall, with honey fraught,
  bitterness, sweet though tart,
  pain, soothing though it smart,
fire, quenching though it burn.)
(vv. 11,884–11,887 Ranke ed.,
  11,888–11,891 Zeydel 1948 trans.)

Indeed, Gottfried favored antitheses and oxymora throughout, climaxing in the definitional one he adapted from Thomas: “Isot ma drue, Isot mamie, / en vus ma mort, en vus ma vie!” (19,409 f., in French in his text).[50] He had called Isolt Tristan's “living death,” “sin lebender tot” (14,468).


I have picked up (in chap. 4) a few precedents for the conceit of the heart or soul detached from the lover, which Petrarca transmitted to his Quattrocento imitators and beyond. In sonnet 16, “Io mi rivolgo indietro a ciascun passo,” he is away from his beloved and wonders how it can be that his limbs are detached from the spirit that sustains them: “come posson queste membra / da lo spirito lor viver lontane?” Besides Provençal, French, and German antecedents, he had Italian ones as well. Listen to Rinaldo d'Aquino (“Amorosa donna fina”): “che vita po l'omo avere, / se lo cor non è con lui? / Lo meo cor non è co' mico, / ched eo tutto lo v'ho dato.” (How can one live without a heart? Mine is not with me, since I have given it entirely to you.) Of course, the roles could also be reversed, and Guido delle Colonne, in the canzone already quoted, could say that “he thought the soul happily dwelling inside his body was really his lady's own”: “Lo spirito ch'i' aggio, und'eo mi sporto, / credo lo vostro sia, / che nel meo petto stia / e abiti con meco in gran diporto.”[51] Traditional motifs that embody the notions of sweet enslavement and liberation through poetic singing come down from the troubadours all the way to the most recent models, like Guittone d'Arezzo (ca. 1253–1294): “come l'augel doici canti consono, / ch'è preso in gabbia e sosten moiti guai,” “I sing sweet songs like the bird who is kept in a cage and suffers much woe”(sonnet “Dolcezza alcuna,” ending with the antithesis “credendomi appressare, io m'allontano,” “in the illusion of coming closer I drift further away”). Or take the motif of the pilgrim who looks for the sacred relics as the poet looks for the likes of his beloved (see Petrarca's “Movesi il vecchierel”), as in Lapo Gianni's (ca. 1250–1328 or later) sonnet “Sì come i Magi a guida della stella”: “Sì come i Magi a guida della Stella / girono inver' le parti d'Orïente / per adorar lo Segnor ch'era nato, / così mi guidò Amore a veder quella.” (Just as the Magi, guided by the star, / turned toward the East /in order to worship the newly born Lord, / so Love guided me to behold that woman.)[52]

As Dante had done, so did Petrarca often couple cortesia with onestade. See, for example, Canzoniere 338: 1–5: “Lasciato ài, Morte,  . . . cortesia in bando et onestade in fondo,” and again in 351: 5 f.: “Gentil parlar, in cui chiaro refulse / con somma cortesia somma onestate.” Similarly, the frequent occurrence of convenevole and decoro as attributes of true beauty in Renaissance critical theory reminds us of Cicero's key concept of decorum, with the applications we have noted.[53]

I shall conclude by summarizing the main threads of my argument on Petrarca's specific role. Seigniorial courts had been a fitting environ-


ment for oral culture both in the curial setting of clerical teaching for ecclesiastical and administrative instruction and in the social relationships that fostered troubadour poetry as live singing of the lady's praises. In Italy the new political setting of the Frederician court of Palermo as well as the new social and professional setting of notarial circles that produced the Stil Nuovo brought about a decided privileging of the written text, fixed and transmitted by copying and reading rather than reciting and singing. Petrarca inherited the curial and courtly traditions in this new “grammatological” form, and radically crystallized it by making the Petrarchan lover part of a written elitist culture with canonized, universalized motifs of high love—a trademark of the new educated man of the world.

Boccaccio (1313–1375)

Boccaccio's allegiance to the social and political ways of republican and bourgeois Florence was always ambiguous. Even while breathing the air of Florentine mercantilism and occasionally serving the Florentine republic, he never outgrew his early experiences at the Neapolitan court; for the remainder of his life he went on hoping to become once again a courtier, preferably again at Naples under the aegis of Niccolò Acciaiuoli, or else at such minor courts as that of Francesco Ordelaffi at Forlì. His hopes were all in vain, but not for want of trying.[54] It was the courtly environment of Naples that prompted him to fashion for himself a background of nobility by pretending to be the illegitimate issue of an affair between a Tuscan banking agent and a Parisian lady of royal blood, and then to create the elaborate, prolonged fiction of his romantic involvement with Maria d'Aquino, the king of Naples's illegitimate daughter who allegedly married a count of the Aquinas house. Boccaccio reflected his intoxication with the charms of the Neapolitan court in what is perhaps his first work, the Caccia di Diana (1333 ?, 1339 at the latest), a celebration of Venus in a courtly atmosphere where sixty ladies behave like noble courtiers, obliviously hunting and jousting away in the name of love.

Boccaccio's life is shot through with medieval readings, and the romances left their mark on his fervid imagination. In the Filocolo (1336 ?)—a massive, meandering novel in which all the characters are noble—the lengthy digression of the Questions of Love (book 4, chaps. 17–72) clearly echoes French court habits (at least from literature). The love story of the Filostrato (1335 ?, 1339 ?) is grounded in courtly love: Troiolo's total devotion owes much to that tradition, rather than to an


anachronistically romantic exaltation in an overpowering passion. The Teseida (1339–1341) is an original mixture of classical epic and medieval romance, with heavy emphasis on disguising ancient warriors as chivalrous knights. Arcita and Palemone, the two rivals for the love of Emilia, conduct their wooing in knightly style by testing their prowess in an elaborate, bloody tournament. While they wait for the decisive test, they entertain lavishly to display their virtue and wealth. Before the battle Theseus formally dubs them both. Finally, on his deathbed the victorious Arcita magnanimously yields Emilia to his rival. The Amorosa visione (1342) lists Arthurian knights and ladies in the triumph of Fame (Canto 11), Lancelot and Tristan in the Triumph of Love (Canto 29). In the Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta (1343–1344) Fiammetta compares herself to Isolde (chap. 8). Instead of prayer books, the Corbaccio's (1355 ?) lusty widow reads Lancelot's story and is sexually aroused by it. The De casibus virorum illustrium (1355–1362) asserts that the story of King Arthur, apparently drawn from Geoffrey of Monmouth, deserves mention because of its popularity, but is of doubtful historicity: it can serve as an example of the fragile nature of immodest conquest.

As to the Decameron (1349–1353 ?), the men of business who studied the pages of that “epic of the Florentine merchant” with their daring forays into unknown and dangerous lands and their often triumphant, sometimes puzzling displays of ingegno, would have delighted in the description of their fate and praise of their achievements that Hugh of St. Victor had given more than two centuries earlier (see my chap. 5). It took all this time for a fully conscious representation of mercantile psyche and ethos, first by the pen of Boccaccio, then by the equally able one of Chaucer.[55] Likewise we can see registered in the Decameron the fully autonomous presence, also, perhaps, for the first time, of women as real characters with their own personalities, needs, desires, and points of view. Whereas women had been rather regularly represented before as no more than other selves of the masculine observer or mere allegorical symbols, such characters as madonna Beritola (2.6), Alatiel (2.7), Zinevra (2.9), Bartolomea (2.10), Monna Filippa (6.7), and a score of others, not to speak of Fiammetta in the Elegia, cannot be dismissed as such—even if their artistic representation is loaded with irony and symbolism. It was no mean achievement.

Much speculation has verged on the exact meaning of the Decameron' s subtitle “libro soprannominato il Galeotto,” a reference to Sir Galehault of the Lancelot Vulgate cycle also alluded to by Dante in Inferno 5. The “stories of adventure” of the Second Day are patterned


after the sense of adventure that informed the French romans d'aventure, but with the decisive difference that Boccaccio's stories fit perfectly the experiential mercantile world: the medieval merchant was no less adventurous than the knight errant, and perhaps more successful in taking his chances.

Courtly love was thought to have transcendent redeeming qualities;the lady could perform miracles, substituting for God's Grace. Boccaccio presents this medieval idea in a classical garb in the striking story of Cimone, the boorish character who is turned into a paragon of utter refinement by the sight of Iphigenia's naked beauty (Decameron 5.1). In the Caccia di Diana Boccaccio first used this chivalric motif of “the civilizing influence of sexual love” that would emerge again in the Filocolo, in the Commedia delle Ninfe Fiorentine (1341–1342), and in the story of Cimone.[56] In this favorite allegory the uncouth young man owes his “education” to beauty and love, thus emerging from a rustic state of nature to one of social refinement. The theme turned to a Dantesque philosophical discourse in the Amorosa Visione (1343). The Filocolo, the Ninfale fiesolano, and several stories of the Decameron dwell on a love that irresistibly draws two young people together despite legal, social, or economic barriers.[57] It is as though Boccaccio, born to a more open society, were struggling against the feudal social fetters that had shaped an illustrious literary tradition.

We find exemplary cases of cortesia in the Decameron stories of Federigo degli Alberighi (5.9), Bergamino (1.7), Guglieimo Borsiere (1.8), Neerbale (3.10), Ghino di Tacco (10.2), Natan and Mitridanes (10.3), Gentile de' Carisendi (10.4), messer Ansaldo and madonna Dianora (10.5), Tito and Gisippo (10.8), and the Saladin and messer Torello (10.9). In the stories of Natan, Gentile, Ansaldo, and Tito the lordly virtue of liberalità acquires the higher connotation of moral generosity even to the level of true magnanimity. In the story of Ansaldo, in particular, madonna Dianora has imprudently tried to get rid of an unwanted lover, Ansaldo, by promising to yield to him if he can pass the impossible test of producing a flowering garden in January, which Ansaldo unexpectedly achieves with the help of a necromancer. When, after consulting with her husband Gilberto, Dianora comes to Ansaldo ready to fulfill his wish, he sends her back, untouched, to her husband. But note the subtly ironic touch of social realism in the differentiation between the two men. Ansaldo is un nobile e gran barone, a noble knight who sets out to outdo in liberality and cortesia his rival Gilberto, who, being only un gran ricco uomo, a very rich commoner, is both


motivated by a sense of fair play and concerned about the necromancer's power of revenge. All the stories of this last day of the Decameron stage splendid displays of courtly generosity, in richly variant forms.

Even there, however, Boccaccio looks at the most conspicuous tests of aristocratic patterns of behavior through the eyes of a burgher's son. In the story of Griselda (10.10) the Marquis of Saluzzo is determined to marry a humble woman to make sure he has a perfectly obedient wife. Griselda patiently endures a series of cruel tests. In the last, the marquis pretends he has taken a noble-born new wife and asks Griselda what she thinks of her. Griselda praises the new wife but advises the marquis not to test her in the same way, for the daughter of a count could not have the strength of a humbly-born woman. So Griselda becomes the noble heroine of the Aristotelian fortitude that Cicero had defined as “the virtue of one who can advisedly accept and endure all tests and hardships, and that is made of a great heart, loyalty, patience, and perseverance.”[58] In Boccaccio's own words of comment, it is a peasant woman who gives a lesson in humanity and reason to an absurdly proud and cruel great lord. Although critics have been reluctant to identify sources for this stunning novella, Chrétien's Enide also comes naturally to mind as the exemplary victim of a knight's somewhat high-handed will to test wifely obedience and submission (though noble, she had also been forced by poverty to dress in tattered rags when first seen by Erec).

My main point here is that the Decameron shows side by side, in a state of inner tension, the two contradictory ethics of the knightly class and the merchant class. Aside from its more abstract, or spiritualized, version that we have witnessed in the story of Dianora and other stories of the Tenth Day, the key virtue of “liberality” is still extolled in its more pecuniary connotations of feudal memory in the stories of the rich and generous abbots of Cluny (1.7, 10.2). In this traditional knightly form it is also the virtue that has reduced Federigo degli Alberighi to poverty (5.9). When, however, Federigo's courtly behavior won him the love of the wealthy madonna Giovanna and they finally married, Boccaccio tells us that, having attained his goal, Federigo changed his ways and started behaving more wisely, no longer as a knight but as a merchant, hence a prudent and efficient manager of his patrimony, “miglior massaio fatto.” He thus exemplified that mercantile ethic that would make Leon Battista Alberti speak of “questa santa masserizia” in Della famiglia (1441), his treatise in dialogue form on family economy. Massaro was a common Italian term for financial responsibility and accountability: in fourteenth-century Mantua, for example, the commune's chief


fiscal officer was called massaro. In a feudal society, if the sources of income turned out to be inadequate to run the noble house as was fitting and “honorable,” the nobleman hoped to make up his deficits with new grants from the sovereign, military conquests, or downright plunder. But as a spendthrift nobleman converted to the virtues of good patrimonial management, Federigo degli Alberighi shows the juxtaposition of the two codes in the Florentine society of merchants who lived side by side with the decayed nobility. In that society, no grant could be expected from monarchic or feudal sources.

Boccaccio was familiar with both the mentality of the merchants, among whom he had been nurtured, and that of the nobility, whom he had observed at the court of Naples. He was among the first to present a critical view of the chivalric ethos from an economic vantage point. It is not surprising that economic concerns were also conspicuously present in the literature of chivalry, fraught as it was with sharp allusions to wealth and the ways to attain it. Wealth was to be gained not by work but by benefices, grants, or conquests, and then spent freely. Unlike the bourgeois ethos, the chivalric ethos ignored any principle of saving, investment, and capital accumulation. From any list of a nobleman's honorable ways of acquiring riches, thrift was always notably absent. Indeed, the nobleman was marked by conspicuous “liberality,” since the noble way of both living and dying was expensive. It is symptomatic that heraldic treatises gave much space to descriptions of lavish funerals with thousands of Masses to follow for the benefit of the departed noble soul. In a way, rich merchants ended up imitating the nobles more after death than in life, since they could make peace with God and their consciences by bequeathing their wealth, or large portions of it, as the nobles were wont to do, to good causes like churches and charities.

I noted above (chap. 2) Cicero's coupling of decorum and honestum, the outwardly honorable and inner virtue. By extension, in the high ranks of the nobility, from the Middle Ages all the way to the French Revolution, and especially in the French ancien régime, what was “honest,” meaning “honorable,” was also fitting and becoming—not only in moral terms but in the derivative area of economic ethic, too. The lord or master spent, on principle, according to his rank, social status, and hierarchic obligations, not according to his income—of which he had no idea, since it was the responsibility of his intendant, and it was beneath his dignity and status to concern himself with such non-aristocratic matters. Hence it might well be “honest” for him to overspend and, as a “liberal” lord, behave in what the bourgeois code of financial responsibility would regard as outright dishonesty.[59]


Likewise, in a feudal environment it was not dishonorable, indeed it was a way to avoid embarrassment and dishonor, for a member of the warrior class—or a high ecclesiastic to the extent that he too had adopted the warrior's ways—to circumvent the pressures of creditors through the use of physical force or by simply ignoring their claims. A massive experiment in this method of resolving budgetary impasses resulted in the widespread bankruptcies of the large financial concerns in the 1340s, with ensuing depression, famine, and plague. The Decameron's first story cleverly illustrates the point: the banker Musciatto Franzesi had to hire a disreputable character like ser Ciappelletto in order to collect what could still be salvaged from the defaulting noble debtors of Burgundy. The story must have rung a familiar bell with Boccaccio's merchant readers, who, amused though they might be, could not laugh too loud.

Despite the triumph of the burgher class in the city states of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, the aristocratic mentality and ethos continued to affect the behavior of ruling classes through the eighteenth century. Even Diderot's enlightened Encyclopédie clearly showed how the aesthetic sense, which controlled expenditures on private buildings, remained relative to social rank or posture. Architectural style was strictly subjected to the criterion of fitting the building to its social, hence cultural function.[60] Elias (The Court Society 67) recalls the story of the Duke of Richelieu who intended to give his son a lesson in lordly prodigality rather than bourgeois frugality. He gave him a full purse for a day on the town, and when the boy returned with a portion unspent, the duke disdainfully tossed it out of the window. Such attitudes were typical of noblemen everywhere: in 1590 the Florentine Orazio della Rena observed that in refeudalized Ferrara all gentlemen “live off their rents and have no respect for those who do not spend to the limit; they regard commerce and trade, even wholesale, as shameful and unworthy of a gentleman; they consider themselves much superior to the gentlemen of mercantile cities [read: Florence or even Venice], they gladly spend all their income and more, so that they are always in debt up to their ears.”[61] The frugality that was preached to commoners and burghers contrasted with the conspicuous consumption and outright prodigality that were deemed a necessary sign of noble behavior.


Chapter Nine—
Renaissance Transformations:

The Paideia of Humanism

One of our underlying themes is the continuity between medieval chivalry and Renaissance civic service within both republican communes and seigniorial courts. We shall find a first example in a widely circulating French text by Jean Miélot, derived from a free interpretation in Latin by Giovanni Aurispa (ca. 1376–1459) of an ancient story recorded in the Latin Livy and the Greek Lucian. This text superimposed the chivalrous mold over classical heroes in an underworld debate among Hannibal, Alexander, and Scipio Africanus, who argued before Minos about which of them had most excelled “by his knightly deeds.” It is a striking case of our themes coming together despite their being identifiable with apparently incompatible mentalities. It is also an eloquent example of the way stories and texts can be bent to timely use in different cultural climates. Contrary to Lucian's text, where Alexander and Hannibal won first and second places for military glory, in Aurispa's and Miélot's renderings Minos ruled in favor of Scipio because his achievements were inspired not by a search for personal honor and glory but by the will to maintain the dignity of the Roman name. In other words, at the same time that Miélot presented Scipio as a chivalrous hero, his preface stressed the point, also made by Aurispa, that Scipio acted out of duty to the fatherland.[1] While tracing this intriguing text incorrectly, M. Keen (235) finds “a back-handed dig here at the


quest for vainglory, which had inspired Hannibal and Alexander and had been their ultimate undoing, and which the critics constantly identified as one of the besetting sins of knighthood. The general moral is clear, and its emphasis is on the value of public service, whose aim is to uphold not the fame of an individual, but the honor and fortune of a people.” In sum, we could hardly find a better example of civic humanism at work within the legacy of chivalric ideology.[2]

Aurispa brought Lucian's dialogues and many other Greek manuscripts to Italy from Constantinople. In his free rendering of the competition between the three generals before Minos (1425–1427) he gave the story a completely new twist by introducing into it the humanistic principle that true virtue consists of service to the public good (mostly indicated with the term patria, rendered in Miélot's version as chose publique ). Miélot's version, executed for Philip the Good in 1449–1450, was usually transmitted under the title “Débat entre trois chevalereux princes,” which carried a strong Burgundian flavor. The often accompanying translation of Buonaccorso's text was entitled, in turn, Controversie de noblesse. (The French version of Llull's Ordre de chevalerie also accompanied those two texts in B.R. MS. 10493–10497 of Brussels.)

What deserves all our attention is that the virtues of Aurispa's and Miélot's Scipio are not theological but cardinal (mainly prudence and fortitude), hence secular, and we have noted that this shift already characterized the medieval tradition of curiality on the supporting ground of its Ciceronian component (see my chap. 2). Aurispa identified this ethical strain with humanitas, rendered by Miélot with vertus— chivalric virtues which thus became equivalent to the humanistic ideal of service to the fatherland (la chose publique ).[3]

We could trace our steps even further back and find continuity and implicit alliance between curialitas and humanism, starting with Petrarca and his immediate predecessors. Petrarca's idea of education and Vittorino da Feltre's pedagogical practice were closer to the image of the early medieval teacher of curiality and courtliness than to that of the scholastic dialectician.[4] For, even more than the ascetic monastic circles, the courtly ethic's sternest enemies were the thirteenth- and fourteenthcentury dialecticians who remained the target of most humanists' arrows down to the beginning of the sixteenth century. Those dialecticians had replaced a concern for humaneness and affability with an unswerving quest for pure truth. The Battle of the Seven Arts had


started in mid-twelfth century France on the level of psychological and ethical habits affecting personal careers as much as on that of methods of teaching, learning, and thinking.

I have noted the contrast between the cult of personal greatness, establishing patterns of imitation on the ground of the teacher's charisma, and a desire to prove one's point in purely scientific terms.[5] Stephen of Novara, the Italian master called to Würzburg by Otto the Great, saw his authority challenged when his brilliant pupil, Wolfgang of Regensburg, promised a commentary on Martianus Capella that would outdo his teacher's critical powers. Such a breach of etiquette was to be repeated in other clamorous incidents, as when, in 1028, the Lombard grammarian Benedict of Chiusa appeared in Limoges and without any regard for his hosts' sensitivities proceeded to dispute their belief that their patron St. Martial had been an apostle. Then again, and most sensationally, in mid-twelfth century Abelard criticized the expertise of his teachers, Anselm of Laon and William of Champeaux, after having brashly offended the monks of St. Denis by challenging the true identity of their patron saint. This was not the way the pupils of curialitas were supposed to behave toward their teachers, who were unprepared for the philosophical principle “amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas.” The avenues to worldly success were, instead, respect, obedience, deference, and diplomatic tactfulness. Abelard, for one, paid dearly for his love of truth above human respect. He never would have risen into a bishopric or a high court. His letter to his son Astrolabe concerning his idea of a correct relationship between teacher and pupil tells much about the new mentality.[6]

No matter how boldly innovative, the early humanistic schools of Vittorino da Feltre at Mantua and Guarino Veronese at Ferrara were still the kind of court schools that trained young knights and sons of princes. They contributed to bringing the ideals of courtly education to fruition. Despite Petrarca's and, among genuine educators of the youth, Vittorino's religious motivations, the new culture was, like that of the medieval knight, generally world-oriented. It sought to refine mind and manners for the secular ends of achieving honor at court and wealth in society, skill in chancery administration, and eloquence in public oratory, including the notarial art. It managed to endow the mind with high humane values even while it fitted its possessors with the credentials for the ruling élite in the city power structure. For such training, ethics was the central and almost exclusive branch of philosophy, and literature the foundation of value and effective communication. Many hu-


manists were at the same time men of action and men of learning, active and occasionally leading citizens of city states, like their proclaimed models from ancient Athens and Rome. True enough, while the chivalric knight had represented the sublimated ideal of medieval clerics and noblemen, the new burgher tried to see himself as a reincarnation of the ancient hero. Yet the goal was similar: to become a civic-minded leader. Pietro Paolo Vergerio's De ingenuis moribus (ca. 1402) addressed this type of humanist as a whole man, scholar and citizen when, citing Aristotle, it warned that “the man who surrenders himself completely to the charm of letters or speculative thought may become self-centered and useless as a citizen or prince.”

Humanistic education ideally aimed at a coupling of eloquence with civic and moral virtues. The actual school practice emphasized the grammatical, rhetorical, and philological aspects of reading the auctores; the extant manuals and commentaries do not generally reflect an equal concern with the formation of moral and social character.[7] In a way, the curial, courtly, and chivalric literature we have been considering embodied such concern more concretely than the statements and exercises of humanistic persuasion. It can be assumed that, as in the best tradition of the medieval royal chapels and cathedral schools, much of the practical impact on students was taking place in the form of the teacher's direct influence by charisma and communication.

At the same time the more worldly side of both medieval and Renaissance educational training, to wit, the rhetorical curriculum (including the ars dictandi ), was directed at what looked like useful preparation for the art of the practicing lawyer. “The critical figures in the origins of humanism,” Lauro Martines reminds us, “were lawyers and notaries, the most literate members of lay society and among its most active in public affairs.” Just as Brunetto Latini had been a notary in Florence, “nearly the whole school of Paduan pre-humanists hailed from the administrative-legal profession,” and the two early leading figures, Lovato Lovati (ca. 1237–1309) and Albertino Mussato (1261–1329), were notaries as well as politicians.[8] The value of rhetoric was stressed not only in special treatises on the art, but also in humanistic political tracts, like the Re repubblica by T. L. Frulovisi (ca. 1400–1480), who held eloquence basic for all members of the city government, including the prince. In his De institutione reipublicae the Sienese Francesco Patrizi da Cherso (1413–1494) reiterated this notion, stressing the government agent's need to persuade others to action. The study of history, especially ancient heroic history, was similarly urged as magistra vitae,


a guide to action as an essential part of humanistic education, as in Leonardo Bruni's De studiis et litteris (ca. 1405). Ancient historians were valued as a repository of eloquence as well as practical wisdom.

Toward the middle of the sixteenth century Peter Ramus produced a large number of school manuals, particularly successful in France, England, and Germany, that contributed to a more practical orientation of educational methods in the sense of pursuing socially attractive positions rather than simply scholarly and intellectual sophistication. But medieval and early humanistic education had been typically concerned with what was regarded as “formation of the mind” rather than with the imparting of directly useful skills: the Trivium Arts were eminently formal rather than professional. This included, to a large extent, rhetorical training, whose relevance to the purpose of forming the lawyer and public man was limited to the development of the “power of persuasion.”

Civic humanism had a counterpart in what one historian has labeled as “courtly humanism” and another one as “subdital humanism,” with reference to the use of the renovated classical ethos to support, praise, and illustrate the new seigniorial rulers.[9] Indeed, humanists could be courtiers, too, and their fashionable panegyrical displays distilled a heady brew of old and new ideals that applied some of the features of the medieval knight and courtier to the new uses of the modern warrior statesman. A most successful funeral oration by the Venetian patrician Leonardo Giustinian for the Venetian leader and general Carlo Zeno (1418, at least sixty-four manuscript copies and six printed editions are extant) praised Zeno as a model captain, even more excellent than the Athenian Themistocles, for having been victorious not by force of arms but through the humanistic virtues of authority, humanity, clemency, affability, civility, and eloquence (auctoritas, humanitas, clementia, affabilitas, comitas, eloquentia ). The Ciceronian matrix, put to a new use, had helped to transform the image of the chivalric leader and refined courtier into that of the modern condottiero in the garb of a humanistic orator.[10] But the widespread enthusiasm for learning that characterized the Renaissance also provided new channels to the aristocrats who had lost the opportunity to achieve power by force of the sword. They became refined courtiers.[11]

If the humanists' public was basically the new oligarchic bourgeoisie in the republican cities and the new aristocracy in the princely signories, it is interesting to see the old topoi of liberality and avarice turned to new purposes and adapted to new social uses.[12] Informed by a taste for


democratic values, Poggio Bracciolini's De avaritia (1428) and De infelicitate principum (1440) both indicted the powerful for their greed and praised them for their patronization of public causes, artists, and humanists.[13] In the dialogue De avaritia Poggio attributed to his character, Antonio Loschi, the bourgeois thesis that avarice could be a source of temperance and happiness in the wise use of fortune. It was a sign of mercantile appreciation for industriousness and thrift—the economic sides of fortitude and prudence.

Humanistic treatises on the nobility and dignity of man invariably emphasized virtue against birth as the true root of nobility, as eloquently argued in Lapo da Castiglionchio il Vecchio's (d. 1390) famous letter to his son Bernardo (1377–1378),[14] Coluccio Salutati's (1331–1406) Tractatus de nobilitate legum et medicinae of 1399/1340, and then, most unequivocally, Buonaccorso da Montemagno il Giovane's (d. 1429) influential tract De nobilitate (1429). This philosophical idea, based on ancient, mostly Stoic speculation, had received the powerful support of Dante's Convivio, which reflected a point of view developed by the new poetic schools for reasons that had to do with the use of courtly love in an alien social setting. When they had to cope with current realities, both Lapo, a jurist of the old landed nobility, and Coluccio, known for his shifting sense of political values, recognized nobility by descent or by holding public office—as did Bartolo da Sassoferrato, translated by Lapo in the first part of his letter.

In Poggio's De nobilitate (1440) the interlocutor Niccolò Niccoli defined nobility as personal virtue, identical to a wise use of assets instead of the simple possession of them, and found only the exercise of virtue a convincing trademark of nobility. His opponent Lorenzo de' Medici objected that a virtue without social purpose is useless and sterile.[15] By vividly examining the behavior of noblemen in different Italian and foreign regions, the dialogue elicited the resentful reaction of some Venetian erudites. Poggio gave more currency to the established distinction that wealth entitles us only to be called “rich,” not “noble.” Replying to Poggio in 1449, Leonardo Chiensi founded nobility in sapientia and virtute.[16] Platina also rejected the equation of nobility and riches (De vera nobilitate, 1471–1478; 1540 ed., p. 43). In book 2 of L. B. Alberti's Dell famiglia we read a hymn to mercatura within a eulogy of wealth as reward not for love or force, but industriousness: noble and great achievements are grounded in strenuous and risky work carried out with liberality and magnificence. Writing in the shadow of a princely court, Guarino Veronese's son Battista Guarino (De ordine do-


cendi et studendi, 1457) declared that only those who could write elegant Latin verse were well educated. This was obviously beyond the reach of the average burgher, busy with other things, but close enough to the training of such refined courtiers as Castiglione, a Latin poet of note.

The best-known texts of this humanistic genre, namely Giannozzo Manetti's (1396–1459) De dignitate et excellentia hominis (1452) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's (1463–1494) Oratio de hominis dignitate (1486), were more concerned with the philosophical underpinnings of the humanistic view of man's inner dignity than with the specific social context I am pursuing here. Similarly, Cristoforo Landino's De vera nobilitate (after 1481) repeated what had become standard humanistic motifs, without Manetti's freshness and Pico's philosophical sweep. At the end of the century, in an Epistola de nobilitate, Antonio De Ferrariis, known as Il Galateo (1444–1516), once again submitted an equation of nobility with rationality: “nobiles sunt  . . . qui vere philosophantur” (Colucci edition, pp. 140–411). This general theme had been carried on eloquently by P. P. Vergerio, Bartolomeo Fazio, Giannozzo Manetti, Flavio Biondo, Giovanni (Gioviano) Pontano, and the great Pico. The De principe liber (1468) of Pontano (1426–1503), a humanist statesman particularly well versed in court life, was a manual of advice to a young prince. Others of his numerous moral tracts dealt with specific qualities of the public man.[17] His De sermone raised the quality of facetudo, the facetia of medieval memory, to the status of a trademark of the good speaker, namely the one who pleases and avoids offense by clothing his moral judgments in a humorous garb: this distinguishes the man of court from the rustic.[18] In a different vein, Sannazzaro's Arcadia (1480–1496, published 1501, 1504), a successful work fraught with enormous potential for later imitation in many literatures, introduced shepherds and shepherdesses as a counterpart to the Neapolitan court. This model remained the groundwork for generations of pastoral novels, including Honoré d'Urfé's Astrée (1607–1628).

Even on the level of pure poetry, texts that we admire as distillations of the humanistic revival of ancient forms and themes might also, at the same time, respond to solicitations from chivalric customs of medieval origin. Poliziano's poetic masterpiece, the Stanze per la giostra del Magnifico Giuliano, was occasioned by the 1475 tournament in which the burghers' scion Giuliano de' Medici joined in a noble knightly sport to celebrate a diplomatic achievement by his illustrious brother Lorenzo.[19]


Papal Curia and Courtier Clerics

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini's (1405–1464) De curialium miseriis did not proscribe courtly service for the man of piety, but warned him of the extraordinary difficulties of remaining pure among the soiled: “si potest ignem ingredi et non uri, non illum curiam sequi prohibeo; nam meritum tanto grandius assequetur, quanto periculosius militavit.”[20] This warning found an echo in Castiglione's dialectical notion that true virtue needs testing and stands out clearly only in the midst of vice. Piccolomini had profited from a long, intense experience of court life in Italy and central Europe. As to the term he used in this letter, it is worth noting that the vernacular curiali for “courtiers” was also current in Quattrocento Italy.[21] In tune with the negatively polemical radicalism of the traditional subgenre, however, the pamphlet turned the ambiance of the court into a den of vices that stifled all moral and psychological freedoms, even denying the virtues of eloquence and learning that the idealistic tradition had regularly posited: “in princely courts it is a fault to know letters and dishonorable to be called eloquent,” since “no good art and no love of virtue rule there, but only avarice, lust, cruelty, debauchery, envy, and ambition.”[22]

The field is still wide open for research and, rather than in the Roman social world, I suspect we shall have to search for evidence of the continuity of curialitas in the antipapal documents of conciliary debates. Yet the genre of episcopal biographies, once thriving in medieval Germany, continued its productive life in the Renaissance, including such outstanding papal biographies as that of Nicolas V by Giannozzo Manetti (1459), Julius II and Leo X by Raffaele Maffei, Paul II (1474) by Gaspare da Verona (1400–1474), and those of several popes by Jacopo Zeno (1418–1481) and Platina (Bartolomeo Sacchi, 1421–1487).[23] The great Lorenzo Valla expounded his views on the role and nature of the Curia in his inaugural lecture at the University of Rome, the Oratio in principio sui studii (1455), where he proposed the Curia as the logical center of the renaissance of the Latin language and culture. Even earlier, in 1438 the Florentine humanist Lapo da Castiglionchio il Giovane (1405–1438) had written a short Dialogus super excellentia et dignitate Curiae Romanae where, in a somewhat ambiguous context, the Curia was discussed as a locus for humanistic undertakings.[24]

Given the ecclesiastical connections of the ideological framework we have been pursuing, it is pertinent to recall the relative frequency of


personal association with the Church. With Piccolomini we are in the presence of a future pope. Many important historical characters in Castiglione's Book of the Courtier held (in 1507) or were about to hold important ecclesiastical positions. Bembo was ready to embark on a successful and fruitful ecclesiastical career which saw him secretary to Leo X and then, after 1539, cardinal. Federico Fregoso became bishop of Salerno and almost a cardinal, Bibbiena a cardinal, and Ludovico di Canossa bishop of Tricarico (1511) and then Bayeux. Michael de Silva, Castiglione's Portuguese dedicatee, was then bishop of Viseu and in 1541 a cardinal. Castiglione himself died as bishop of Avila, having been a cleric since 1521 and a candidate for a cardinal's hat since 1527, before publishing his book in 1528.

Dionisotti has estimated that in the first half of the sixteenth century about half of the high literati in Italy moved within the Church as priests, monks, bishops, cardinals, or holders of important ecclesiastical benefices. Even such an apparently unlikely candidate as Ariosto was not only, for a time, secretary to Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, he was himself a cleric and, for a while, hopeful of a bishopric from Leo X.

Rome was teeming with intellectual clerics who gravitated about the cardinals' familiae and the papal Curia,[25] but in secular republics, too, clerical positions were sought for social and political advancement by all sorts of intellectuals. In late Quattrocento Florence, among the leading humanists Angelo Poliziano held minor orders, Marsilio Ficino was a priest, and Pico della Mirandola an apostolic protonotary with minor orders. A prominent humanist who combined high-level philological activity with a full politico-curial career was Niccolò Perotti (1429–1480), archbishop of Siponto and governor of Viterbo, Spoleto, and Perugia.[26]

Against this background, the connection between Castiglione's oeuvre and a contemporary treatise by a leading humanist, Paolo Cortesi's (1465/1471–1510) De cardinalatu, is worth exploring, dealing as it does with the figure of the cardinal as an ideal courtier.[27] Dedicated to Julius II and published posthumously in 1510, it derived from the author's 1504 Sententiarum libri, in turn part of a projected but never accomplished treatise about the prince (De principe ). Castiglione's dialogues are placed in 1507 but were ready in 1516 (first redaction), hence chronologically and ideally close to Cortesi's work as well as to the famous Commentarii urbani of Raffaele Volaterrano, a friend of Cortesi who had grown up in the same circle of the Roman Curia. The main point is that, to put it as does Dionisotti (68), “the cardinal is for


Cortesi more or less what the courtier is for Castiglione: an ideal figure of a man who stands close to the center of a real social sphere, the center, that is, of the ecclesiastical, curial society of the early Cinquecento.” In Italy cardinals were, like Castiglione's courtiers and like chaplains and bishops around German imperial courts, at the point closest to the center of power. Cesare Borgia, for a striking example, had turned himself from a cardinal into a prince.

In the Renaissance, the Roman environment provided little incentive to keep alive the basically Ghibelline tradition of medieval curialitas; moreover, the humanistic climate made it more expedient to lean on the paradoxically less dangerous patterns and motifs of ancient Roman glory. Humanism rings in Cortesi's manner of referring to his cardinal as cardinal/senator, even though he conducted himself more as a cardinal/prince. Furthermore, it was more prudent to deal with style of life and speech than with moral substance and deep-seated merit. Images of once admired courtier bishops could not be safely invoked in an age of rampant absenteeism from pastoral duties. A couple of glaring examples will suffice. Although bishop of two English sees, the active humanist Cardinal Adriano Castellesi never visited England; while bishop of Aquino and Cavaillon, and despite the urgings of his close friend Jacopo Sadoleto, Mario Maffei, another humanist among high prelates, lived in Rome, Florence, and his hometown of Volterra.

Cortesi's encyclopedic work is also somewhat analogous to Castiglione's in the arrangement of subject matter. Book 1, entitled “liber ethicus et contemplativus,” deals with personal character and moral qualifications, education, and cultural aptitudes; the second, the “liber economicus,” deals with the management of the cardinal's princely court; and the third, “liber politicus,” with the cardinal's function as an advisor to the pope, supreme prince of the church, and as a subordinate ruler at his nominal service. The elaborate listing of the virtues required of the cardinal is a conflation of Christian, classical, and courtly prerequisites, including prudentia, memoria, providentia, intelligentia, ratiocinatio, docilitas, experientia, circumspectio, cautio, consilium, and judicium.

In book 2 Cortesi prescribes in detail a magnificent life style for princes of the Church, precisely defining a standard in line with what had been the prerequisites of the high aristocracy and would become the mark of high social status under Louis XIV. The household of the cardinal, Cortesi says, must be ample and imposing, requiring support to the tune of 12,000 aurei or ducats per year on the average. For com-


parison, let us note Cortesi's specification that major officials should earn about fifty gold florins or ducats per year.[28] The College of Cardinals was expected to supply such funds and, should the College run short, the pope was to help. According to the census of 1526/1527 each court or familia of the twenty-one contemporary cardinals averaged 134 servants, administrators, and protégés (the papal familia then numbered seven hundred). Other incomes derived from other benefices, including bishoprics.

This and other tracts on Church government show a distinct similarity to secular political treatises. Del governo della corte d'un signore in Roma by the Florentine humanist Francesco Priscianese (1495–1549) described in detail the management of a Roman princely court of the secular kind with duties and functions corresponding to Cortesi's description of a cardinal's familia.[29] Cortesi himself held a court of sorts in his own house, in what is usually referred to as the Roman Academy (variously conducted by Pomponio Leto, Cortesi himself, Angelo Colocci, and Johannes Goritz, with rather dramatic vicissitudes).[30] Vincenzo Colli, known as il Calmeta (d. 1508), the famous proponent of the lingua cortegiana referred to by Castiglione, was a prominent member of Cortesi's Academy and left a valuable account of it in his biography of the poet Serafino Aquilano.[31] Calmeta makes intriguing comments on the courtly behavior of Cortesi's house circle, ascribing Ciceronian influences to a humanistic discussion centered on decorous public behavior as well as on the principle of decorum in literature and poetry, especially in vernacular works. As to Serafino's career, Calmeta places the court and its patronage system at the centre of that poet's work, despite the lack of appreciation on the part of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, Serafino's lord.[32] It is an important sign of the realization that courtly environments had become vital for poetic and literary creativity.

Later in the Cinquecento, the literature on the formation, duties, and social status of the bishop gradually started to reflect the shift toward less worldliness and a greater sense of clerical responsibility which was dictated by the Counter-Reformation. Early treatises go from the important De officio viri boni ac probi episcopi (1516) by Gaspare Contarini (1484–1542) to Pier Francesco Zini's (ca. 1520–ca. 1575) Boni pastoris exemplum ac specimen singulare (1555).[33] These Venetian citizens forcefully advocated a type of high ecclesiastic who, consonant with the clergy's way of life in the Venetian republic, purposely eschewed the imitation of princely display of wealth and mundanity that characterized the Roman Curia. Contarini specifically excludes magni-


ficentia as a necessary or desirable attribute of a bishop's life (1571 ed., p. 407).[34] For one thing, the princely courts held by cardinals and bishops, as splendidly illustrated by Cortesi, were made anachronistic, at least on principle, by the Council of Trent's injunction to the high clerics to reside in the places of pastoral assignment. De facto, bishops and high prelates were affected much more by the new sense of austerity than were the cardinals, who continued to live and rule like ostentatious princes holding court. The new priests, foremost among them the Jesuits, were less like courtiers than were their predecessors. Yet the pendulum swung back when, in the course of the Italian wars, the secular courts lost much of their importance and autonomy, while the diplomats who felt superior to the princes started to gravitate toward the only effective court in Italy, the Roman Curia, thus consummating a process of “desecularization” that would have important and lasting consequences for Italian society. As we have seen, this was typically the destiny of several of the Cortegiano' s interlocutors.

Castiglione's Courtier

The reader looks to the Cortegiano (1508–1528) for signs of changing times, new standards, and renewed social attitudes. Burckhardt made us see the Renaissance as a cultural revolution, the civilizing effect of literature and the humanities bringing about social refinement and a new spiritual sophistication. The courtier was the new model for the future honnête homme and gentleman, replacing the feudal hero whose power and authority were more apt to be based on the accidents of birth and social position.[35] The Italian courts became the centers of a new “civilization of good manners” (N. Elias), whether this meant the foundation of a new secular leadership or, rather, as Francesco De Sanctis held, the sterile and artificial separation of a new élite from those popular layers of society that in the Middle Ages had been the source of productivity and cultural vitality.[36]

Castiglione's question, “what is a courtier?” was, after all, similar to the one affecting the ruling classes from the twelfth century on, namely: “what is a nobleman?” The similarity rested in the nobleman's inherent right to be close to the centers of power and to be at court, just as nobility could be granted as a reward for successful service at court. Castiglione did refer to “noble knights” (nobili cavalieri ) as his specific audience.[37] Urbino was the right setting for a marriage of humanism and chivalry: Federigo da Montefeltro (1422–1482), a paragon of hu-


manistic patronage on the largest scale, also sympathized with his northern contemporary the Duke of Burgundy in his appreciation of old chivalry, and had his court painter, the incomparable Piero della Francesca, portray him in full knight's armor at the feet of the Virgin and Child (the portrait, of around 1475, is now in the Brera Gallery). After all, that founder of public museums and public libraries, who had hundreds of scribes copying away precious ancient and medieval manuscripts at his court, endowed his library and museum with money he had amassed from serving as a condottiero, like his illustrious ancestors.

The thread that ties together the three main subjects of our inquiry—courtliness, chivalry, and courtesy—should by now be clear: just as knighthood and courtliness were intimately interrelated in the Middle Ages, so was the Renaissance courtier the direct descendant of the medieval knight. With regard to courtesy, our third ingredient, while discussing Wolfgang Mohr's (1961) description of the twelfth-century courtois lover/courtier as “servant of love,” Minnes Dienstmann, E. Köhler (Mancini ed., p. 276) offered a sociological transcription of it which, mutatis mutandis, could still apply to Castiglione's courtier over three hundred years later:

To be recognized as a powerful lord's Dienstmann already meant much for the knight: having once obtained this goal he must persevere in his service with loyalty, constance, and without hesitation. He must know how to be patient and to endure disillusionment. A great psychic, ethical, and spiritual effort was necessary to advance in the service of the lord. His effort aimed at the ultimate goal of becoming integrated into the rank of lords, but the aspirant took great care not to make his wishes too obvious.

We could say that the Renaissance cortegiano's submissiveness placed him even closer to the curialis than to the knight, and even the “aestheticizing” of manners and conduct that makes cortegiania, in Burckhardtian terms, a work of art, had clear medieval precedents.[38] Furthermore, both curialis and chivalrous knight possessed a high degree of polite refinement (including affability in elegant conversation, musical training, respect for women, humility toward superiors, and dedication to helping the needy and the weak) which distinguished them from the heroic knight of the epic, and which continued to engage the theorist down to the Cortegiano. There may be some irony in the fact that a text which to a De Sanctis or a Burckhardt was a paragon of Renaissance secularism would in fact turn out to be so closely tied to longstanding ecclesiastical perspectives. Classical qualities that Castiglione


derived directly from Cicero and Horace were also reflected in the medieval portrait of the curialis, that is, a combination of decus, honestas, and mediocritas: we find in Castiglione “certa onesta mediocrità” (1.41) and “certa mediocrità difficile e quasi composta di cose contrarie” (3.5).[39] The criterion of decorum would extend to what became known in the seventeenth century as un homme comme il faut, a term still current today. Conforming with the social standards of one's status, no matter how modish and irrational they might be, was a sign of respect for other members of the social group, a sign of deference and vergogna. One would avoid censure and ridicule by adopting set ways of dressing, gesturing, moving, and speaking.[40]

Some strikingly specific instructions remind us of the ethos of the knight errant. Federico Fregoso, in open disregard for contemporary reality, warns the courtier who is engaged in a military action to keep to himself, go to battle in the smallest company possible, and not mingle with the crowd of common soldiers (2.8)—in other words, to behave on the battlefield like a knight of King Arthur or a paladin of Boiardo or Ariosto, rather than in ways that were more likely to save his skin and render him useful.[41] This and other passages point to the concern with personal honor which, we shall see, would soon be defined as the mainspring of chivalric behavior, even above loyalty to prince and country: granted that arms hold first place in the hierarchy of courtly values, Federico Fregoso specifies that the courtier's motivation on the battlefield is principally his own honor: “dee esser solamente l'onore” (2.8).

While dealing with the imposing educational baggage the courtier has to carry, the dialogue enters some differences of opinion on primacy of arms or letters, although all interlocutors agree that the knowledge of letters is relevant. Curiously enough Ludovico di Canossa takes the French to task for “recognizing only nobility of arms with no esteem for anything else, so that they not only do not appreciate letters, but abhor them, holding all lettered men as most base, so that among them it is a great insult to call anyone a cleric.[42] Count Ludovico, who against Pietro Bembo was a firm partisan of the primacy of arms over letters (he had trenchantly decided that “questa disputazione  . . . io la tengo per diffinita in favore dell'arme” 1.45), nevertheless blames the French for their uncivilized attitude and holds firmly that being lettered befits no one better than a man of arms (“tengo che a niun più si convenga l'essere litterato che ad un om di guerra” 1.46). We have seen how important early chroniclers and clerical advisors considered a liberal education to be for princes as well as for knights at court. It will


suffice to recall Lambert of Ardres on Baldwin II of Guines and Philip of Harvengt's letters to Philip of Flanders and Henry the Liberal (chap. 3 above). It was also important in the romances: just let us think of Gottfried's delineation of Tristan's character and role. The old theme of the primacy of arms or letters spilled over into dozens of treatises of all kinds, and included the clerical argument on whether a cleric could be a better lover than a knight.[43]

Despite these medieval antecedents to the requirement of literacy in the clerics and courtiers, Castiglione's emphatic statement is clearly a reflection of Renaissance humanism: his courtier needs “more than an average degree of erudition  . . . at least in these studies that we call humanities,” meaning “familiarity with the poets, the orators, and the historians,” music and the arts, Latin, Greek, and the vernacular, too. All this because “letters are the true and principal ornament of the soul,” and not only for courtiers.[44]

If Castiglione's pages appear to reverberate with echoes of medieval portraits of courtiers, an earlier humanistic text will also ring a bell for its remarkable specificity, while it helps us to tie the literature of courtliness to that of chivalrous love: it is L. B. Alberti's Ecatonfilea (1428), with its portrait of the ideal lover:

neither poor, uncleanly, dishonorable, nor cowardly  . . . which will require prudence, modesty, patience, and virtue  . . . ; studious of the good arts and letters . . .. Deft, physically strong, courageous, both bold and meek at the right time, poised, quiet, modest, given to wit and playfulness when and where it was fitting, he was eloquent, learned and liberal, loving, compassionate and respectful, cunning, practical-minded, and more loyal than anyone, excellent in courteousness, adept with the sword, horse riding, archery, and whatever similar sport, and expert in music, sculpture, and any other most noble and useful art, and second to no one in all such worthy activities.[45]

In his Ragionamento d'amore of 1545, Francesco Sansovino repeated these epithets of astuto and pratico in another lover's portrait: “of medium height, well to do, noble both by inner worth and by birth, versed in letters and music,  . . . prudent, attractive, courageous, practicalminded and cunning, well-received and of loving disposition, affable, pleasing and sweet.”[46] We can readily note the persistence of so many specific terms.

On the verbal level we must not be deceived by the partial absence of the traditional moral terminology, replaced by Castiglione's personal nomenclature. It is significant that the term “courtier” was rendered as


curialis and aulicus (“man of the palace”) in Bartholomew Clerke's Latin translation of the Cortegiano under the title De curiali sive aulico (London, 1571, 1577, 1585, 1593, 1603). The Latin terminology was both more precisely connotative and more enduring. If it is true that the crucial term cortesia is missing, it should be evident that Castiglione's three key terms sprezzatura, grazia, and affettazione are recognizable reinterpretations of measure (G. mâze ), good bearing (like G. zuht ), and the opposite of reticence as part of mansuetudo —this last quality encompassing the “naturalness” that is part of the game of noble deportment, associated with the kind of dissimulation that we found, for example, in Gottfried's young Tristan. Ever since Quintilian and through the medieval period, urbanitas included elegant and witty speech, hence also facetia —and here we immediately think of the famous section of Cortegiano 2.42–83 on witty speech. Nor should we forget the presence of clowns or minstrels at Castiglione's court: besides being the traditional carriers of literature (mainly oral), they contributed that ingredient of courtly gaiety that we have seen among curial qualities as facetia and among courtly/ courtois ones as joi and solaz. The extensive treatment of wit and humor in speech (including facezie ) is part of this.

Though a neologism, sprezzatura is obviously close to the modest pose shrewdly displayed by the young Tristan at King Mark's court, when he coyly underplayed his extraordinary talents. Castiglione explains it further with the synonymous sprezzata disinvoltura, a nonchalantly poised self-assurance designed to impress the observer with the feeling that “the man masters his art so thoroughly that he can obviously make no mistake in it,” like the dancer who talks and laughs while he performs, seeming to pay no attention to his complicated movements (1.27). It is all part of the standards of external conduct, the mores (MHG síte ). The seeming disregard for behavioral technicalities, whereby we look like noble gentlemen rather than manual craftsmen or professionals, is not only an elegant attitude but the result of the fact that the courtier's instruction in the arts is, precisely, not professional, as Castiglione emphasizes early on.

Sprezzatura recalls the Nicomachean Ethics' rather ambiguous treatment of “irony” as the counterpart of boastfulness, somehow corresponding to Castiglione's opposition of sprezzatura/affettazione. For some critics the dissimulation that is inherent to both irony and sprezzatura is “a trick,  . . . a discrepancy between being and seeming”; it seems to reveal “an attitude to class values that we must call aristocratic”: in Aristotle “the magnanimous man will have recourse to irony


in his dealings with the generality of men, the masses.” It also involves a complex, difficult, and risky balancing act: if we are caught dissimulating, our game will be over—like courtiers, diplomats, or orators in front of a jury.[47]

There are closer antecedents for this notion of an art that looks like nature. In his treatise on the managing of the household (De iciarchia ), L. B. Alberti advised his readers to handle important things

with much modesty joined with gracefulness and a certain gentlemanly air, so as to delight the observer. Such matters [requiring maximum concentration] are horseback riding, dancing, walking in public, and so on. Above all we must moderate our gestures and our bearing, the movements of all our person with the greatest care and with such thoroughly controlled art, that nothing will seem to be done with calculated artifice; whoever sees you must feel that this excellence is an inborn, natural gift.[48]

Similarly Castiglione:

Having long considered whence this grace may come, I find a most universal rule, to wit,  . . . to eschew affectation as much as possible; and, to coin what may be a new term, to make use in everything of a certain sprezzatura that conceals art and makes whatever we do and say seem effortless and almost unconscious. I feel that grace derives above all from this: and this is because we all know the difficulty of things that are rare and well done, so that we tend to marvel at witnessing ease in such matters. Therefore we can say that true art is that which does not appear to be art; nor must we put our effort in anything more than in hiding it . . .. I remember having once read of excellent orators of antiquity, who  . . . pretended not to have any knowledge of letters; and while dissimulating their knowledge.[49]

This gift of concealed art, echoing Ovid's Metamorphoses, remained a trait of noble behavior until at the court of Louis XIV Boileau defined it as the peak of art, calling it art caché (translation of Longinus's Ch. 22). We know that the same milieu had become accustomed to the identification of reason and nature or naturalness. The, shall we say, deceiving function of such fashioning of character through the appropriate use of misura and mediocrità lies in being not “like the others” but better than they, but without offending them and, we could add, without causing reactive “envy”: “he must strive to surpass all others in everything at least a little, so that he will be known as the best.”[50]

Alberti's antecedent to the supreme requirement of dignity, poise, and ease that Castiglione summarizes in sprezzatura can also be recognized in what has been called the “poetics of ease” (poetica della facilità ) with reference to the controversy over comparing Raphael's Olym-


pian style to the “difficulty” of Michelangelo's art. Alberti's De pictura (1435) had enjoined that the motions of the figures be “moderate and sweet, so that they will rather inspire grace to the onlooker than wonderment out of difficulty,” and that virgins, young men, or adults should all be represented as moving with strong but sweet gracefulness (“una certa dolcezza”).[51] The term and the concept were destined to enduring success. Merely six years after the appearance of the Cortegiano, Agostino Nifo da Sessa (ca. 1470—ca. 1540), the Aristotelian philosopher at Padua who was also known for his un-Platonic view that love is driven by sensitive appetite (De pulchro et Amore, 1531), published a treatise on courtliness (De re aulica, 1534, translated into Italian by Francesco Baldelli in 1560) where he advised spontaneity and naturalness but gave examples that sounded quite artful, so that, we can interpolate, he was teaching a Castiglionesque art that tried to look like nature.[52]

In sum, the ideal portrait encompasses the principal requirements of: nobility; military art (but only the basic principles, not the “mechanical” technical skills, and including the knightly art of horseback riding); knowledge of humanistic disciplines, including dance and music; and, as for mores, the sprezzata gracefulness of a second nature, in addition to that discretion that avoids or blunts envy and that sense of measure which avoids passing the mark. Since the Renaissance interpreted the traditional virtue of sapientia as essentially knowledge of literature, within the courtly frame of reference the traditional heroic symbiosis of fortitudo and sapientia became a binomium of arms and letters. (Of all Europe, Siglo de Oro Spain witnessed the most intensive and productive coupling of armas y letras.[53] )

The theme of knight versus cleric, miles an doctor, a matter of practical as well as theoretical choice, was destined to remain alive, as witnessed, for example, in Girolamo Muzio's Il gentiluomo (1564) and Annibale Romei's Della nobiltà (1586). But Castiglione no longer separates the two poles: he smoothly merges them into his ideal courtier, a refined military man, statesman, and, if called for, a man of the Church too, the way the medieval bishop had to be statesman and armed ruler in one. Duke Ercole of Ferrara had to implore his son, Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, not to doff his spectacular suit of white armor in order to go off to war against Louis XII of France on the side of Ludovico il Moro.

His sources, Castiglione avers in the prefatory letter to Miguel de Silva, are Plato, Xenophon, and Cicero (meaning Cicero's De oratore for the idealized image of the orator, but also perhaps the De officiis for


the moral portrait of the public man). To these models we must add Plutarch and Aristotle,[54] as evidenced by his numerous derivations from their texts. But we must not overlook relevant medieval ingredients, like the pre-humanistic medieval image of the pupil imitating the teacher: see Castiglione's statement that “whoever would be a good pupil must not only do things well, but must always make every effort to resemble and, if that is possible, to transform himself into his master.”[55]

The courtier's functional requirements include the traditional cardinal virtues. Although princes often “abhor reason and justice” (“alcuni hanno in odio la ragione e la giustizia” 4.7), it is the courtier's role to make them practice them in spite of themselves, together with fortitude, prudence (prudenza and discrezione ), and temperance (defined as harmony through reason).[56] In performing this difficult task, grazia must temper the severity of the philosopher and moralist, who would otherwise anger an impatient prince. The courtier thus becomes a subtle and dissimulating diplomat, indeed, the foundation of modern diplomacy.

Feeling that the closest specimens of the perfect courtier are his contemporaries, Castiglione protests against the nostalgic laudatores temporis acti who, as Dante and the court critics had traditionally done, use the courtly models to criticize contemporary moral decadence. The image of Castiglione as a nostalgic dreamer after good things irreparably lost is a rather Romantic way of reading him. Pride in the ripeness of the present is Castiglione's primary mover. Nevertheless, the courtier lives in a state of tension in the book as well as in the real life of those years of supreme uncertainty: while trying to save his neck, he must also strive to serve his prince in such a way as to achieve the good of the state and of his subjects. The virtù di cortegiania was conceived by Castiglione as a means to a moral political end.

While discussing Petrarca's position within the modes of literary transmission, I stressed the relative novelty of the early Italian poets' concern for a standardized language, pointing out the ideal connection between such concerns and the nature of life at court. Castiglione's position on the Questione della Lingua was in harmony with his perception of the nature and role of the courtier class, which was to be the most unified and responsible segment of Italian society. The active debate on the national language, destined to have a prolonged impact in many countries,[57] started precisely at Italian courts (Rome, Urbino, Mantua, and Milan).[58] It was not only natural and fitting, but supremely logical that in that setting the question of a standard means of


communication would be seen from a vantage point of administration and official acts rather than literature and high culture, especially since courts were interregional and courtiers, moving about a lot, had to communicate in some lingua franca.

A common language was of paramount importance among people who daily could witness the tragic consequences of the lack of any other strong national bond. Calmeta, cited by Castiglione, and a denizen of all the courts just mentioned, was probably the originator of the theory of a lingua cortegiana, with a book called Della volgar poesia (ca. 1503, dedicated to the Duchess of Urbino) that is now lost.[59] Mario Equicola (1470–1525), another courtier and secretary to the Marquises of Mantua, proposed the usage of the Roman Curia, rejecting current spoken Tuscan as plebeian.[60] So did Gian Giorgio Trissino (II Castellano, 1529), the major theorist of the “courtly language,” while one more proponent of this thesis, Piero Valeriano, found current Tuscan wanting on account of excessive regionalism. Clearly, Castiglione had company, but Bembo's doctrine of Trecento Florentine prevailed, thanks to the prestige of the Three Crowns. Bembo had plenty of allies in all camps in his distaste for anything that smacked of popular parlance, which contributed to downgrading Dante and elevating Petrarca and the expurgated Boccaccio to the status of canonical models. The aesthetic criterion played a dominant role in rejecting from the literary lexicon any part of the language that was not “fitting and decorous”—another echo of established courtly behavioral patterns. Beyond language itself, the new classicism canonized decorum above all.

The issue of a common language was a central one in the life of the courts and it remained so in other countries, too. The emergence of French as the “universal language” of the civilized world from the end of the seventeenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century and beyond was a court phenomenon. Intellectuals, scientists, and diplomats read and wrote French (as well as Latin) all over Europe, but it was only the court societies, from Lisbon to St. Petersburg, that made wide and regular use of spoken French.

The special use of language at court was affected by the style, terminology, and moods of Petrarchist/Platonic love as a way of feeling, speaking, behaving, and living. On its highest level, that philosophy of love had become a form of mystical rapture, and indeed the Cortegiano ended in an emotional climax with Bembo's speech on Platonic love. It was a religion for an age of religious skepticism. The fact that Petrarca


fitted into this need for a Platonic idealism was another reason that Laura became the universal model of the beloved. No room was left for Dante's Beatrice, who was not only sublime and divine but lead directly to God Himself. Platonic and courtly love found a major authority in the learned courtier-philosopher Mario Equicola thanks to his successful treatise Libro de natura de amore, published in the vernacular in 1525 and 1526 (Venice) as a translation of the Latin original of 1495. Equicola perceptively discriminated between the ancient way of loving and writing about love and the Provençal way of, as he put it, “concealing through courteous dissimulation any lustfulness in their affections.”[61] Platonic love was the inspiration of another authoritative Ficinian philosopher of those years, Leone Ebreo (Dialoghi d'amore, Rome 1535).

Should we still wonder how Bembo's lengthy digression on Platonic love squares with the main theme of the Cortegiano, another answer might be that it fits as a conclusive moment of mystical exaltation filling the role of joi in fin'amor, with which it has in common the striking feature of unsatisfied longing for a superhuman reward: courtly love itself functioned as an ideal form of training for service to the lord or prince. Bembo's speech is thus at the intersection of courtliness and courtesy, while courtly love was chivalry's poetic expression. Auerbach (Mimesis 122) recalled Castiglione for his fusion of Platonism with the courtly ideal but concluded that this Platonism was little more than “a superficial varnish,” whereas the true role of courtly culture, “with the characteristic establishment of an illusory world of class (or half class, half personal) tests and ordeals,” remained “a highly autonomous and essentially a medieval phenomenon.” The preceding has shown somewhat closer connections between Renaissance developments and an operative medieval heritage. It bears recalling that Ficino had adapted medieval techniques, including the special intellectual devices that, as we have seen, Petrarca inherited from the troubadours. Furthermore, his sophisticated and somewhat sophistical mysticism of love was the instrument whereby he created at the Medici court his own inner court or “academy” of intellectuals who expressely bound themselves to one another by this Platonic love. P. O. Kristeller has reminded us that Ficino is the only thinker of modern times who tried to found a philosophical school on both an intellectual and a moral bond between teacher and pupils—this bond being his successful brand of “Platonic love.”[62]

Ferroni and Quondam, among others, have stressed (perhaps over-


stressed) the “laceration” and the forced “suture” that occurs between book 4 and the other three books of the Cortegiano.[ 63] Other critics have speculated that Castiglione, having described a self-sufficient court that seemed elegantly aimless and useless (to the “subjects”), decided that his courtiers needed a redeeming social and political function, so he put their rare qualities and talents to the good use of impressing the prince and making him receptive to good advice.[64] But rather than being a possible afterthought, perhaps this “suture” reflects a real duality in western civilization. The gentleman—useless, as we shall see, for a Machiavelli—remained for a long time an object of attention, admiration, and emulation, a center of real power, hence a being with a social function, even when economically unproductive. This bipolarity lived on in literature as it lived on in society. The foregoing exposition should have made clear that this tension between “service” and personal dignity, being a lord's liegeman and at the same time one's own master, is not a unique problem for Castiglione, but the common predicament of the medieval and Renaissance knight and courtier.

We might also wonder whether this suture or inner tension was not analogous to the tensions we found in the medieval epics and in the chivalric romances, especially between, on the one hand, the image of an Arthurian court that was divorced from social and moral reality, and, on the other, the poets' (Chrétien, Hartmann, Gottfried, or Wolfram) need to find a useful moral purpose for wandering knights. Far from being conclusive and satisfied codifications of a self-sufficient imaginary world, those poems were live attempts to frame and resolve open socioethical problems through the fiction of beautiful tales. None of those authors, from Chrétien to Castiglione, felt they were closing a discourse by providing definitive answers. Hartmann, for one, was not even sure he wanted to go on lending allegiance to his chosen genre, as his about-face, later to be once again reversed, showed in the writing of Gregorius.

What some observers of Castiglione's Courtier have perceived as a contradiction between the real forces of court life and the need for moral satisfaction is in fact a noble effort to reconcile reality with moral imperatives. In Gottfried's Tristan and Wolfram's Parzival we noted a tense confluence of sublime aspirations to moral aesthetic perfection and a realistic perception of civilizing forces at work. Tristan was at the same time, in an uncanny combination, a hero of purity and an artist of survival. Somewhat similarly, the myth of Prometheus and Mercury in


Il Cortegiano 4.11 contains in a nutshell Castiglione's concepts of “viver moralmente,” “sapienza civile,” “virtù civile,” and “vergogna”: Jove symbolizes an aboriginal ruler, and Mercury an educator through eloquence and learning, this process involving progress from (individual) art to (collective) civilization.[65] Like Tristan, the courtier too has to face the divergence between full and free development of personal qualities and service to society.

In a passage that reminds us of King Mark's advice to Tristan in Gottfried's Tristan (8353–8366), Castiglione presents a dialectical view of the role of courtly vices in setting off courtly virtues:

Evil being the contrary of the good and vice versa, it is almost necessary that by the law of opposition and compensation the one sustain and strengthen the other, so that if one decreases or increases, the other must increase or decrease, since every term is not without its opposite. Who does not know that there would be no justice in the world if there were no wrongs? No magnanimity, if none were pusillanimous?  . . . No truth if there were no falsehood? Hence Socrates well says, according to Plato, that he marveled that Aesop had not made up a fable in which he imagined that God, realizing the impossibility of combining pleasure and pain, had joined them by their extremities, so that the beginning of one was the end of the other. Indeed, we can see that no pleasure can ever be truly appreciated unless it is preceded by some displeasure . . .. Therefore, virtues having been given to the world through grace and gift of nature, by immediate necessity vices became their companions, according to that law of chained contrasts. So, as soon as either one grows or abates, perforce the other must also grow or abate.[66]

In this remarkable piece of pre-Hegelian dialectic the existence of opposites is explained as a psychological and ontological necessity, an answer to the existential question mark that had troubled every moralist from Job through Augustine and on, about the justness of divine providence and the reason for the existence of evil. Castiglione even adds a theoretical insight that is tantamount to a doctrine of the balance of opposites—a doctrine which would continue to be popular among moralists and produce a lively debate in the late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century theory of bonheur, especially in France.[67]

Another feature the Cortegiano shares with chivalric literature is the element of play in the form of contests and formal games—not only in the first chapters, where various typical forms of entertainment are proposed before selecting the game of portraying the ideal courtier, but in the postulate that court life must be entertaining throughout, even in the conduct of serious business.[68] We have noted how in the romances,


too, all contests, like tourneys and hunting parties, were perceived as exquisite games even when they had a serious and dangerous side, as they often did. The fourteenth-century Sir Gawain had carried this aspect of chivalry to extreme consequences.

Castiglione's reception is a signal case of evolution in the form of productive dislocation or even distortion: a work that was a continuous question mark, a problematic meditation on something dynamic, in fieri, to be discussed dialectically because it was still moving and partly undefined, an act of life and a fervent, partly nostalgic reminiscence, was happily misread into the static canonization of a supposedly perfect state, a universal model. Quondam (19) gives a concentrated description of this reception: the work assumed (my translation) “the proportions of an anthropological manifesto (a true cultural typology, a generative model),  . . . which activated, above all, other grammars  . . . , e.g., that vast body of treatises on dance, games, duel, hunting, horse riding, dressing, eating, being a secretary, etc.”—all literature which was related to the life of the court, explicitly or implicitly.

In conclusion, the specificity of the Cortegiano vis-à-vis the more generic ethics of other treatises on conduct and princely education lies in a combination of military aptitudes, humanistic training (liberal arts), and behavioral patterns—all to be directed to the civic function of influencing the prince by winning his trust and favor. It is this combination of factors that finds its specific antecedents in curiality and courtesy, if we understand the latter as a combination of martial arts and moral purpose with a psychologically strategic method of pleasing refinement. Of course one must take into account the more secular setting of the courtier vis-á-vis the curial cleric (to take the other extreme of the medieval parable). But even here we must bear in mind the closeness of high ecclesiastical spheres to knightly milieus at the chronological beginning of our story—since the bishops were often temporal rulers and warriors as well—and then, at the other end of it, the closeness of Renaissance courtiers to high ecclesiastical milieus, as personally witnessed by the protagonists of the Cortegiano and its Roman counterpart, Cortesi's De cardinalatu.

The Cortegiano was the lofty expression of the humanistic intellectuals' effort to find their place in a changing society at the closest point to the peak of power. The ensuing “curialization” of the courtier was an implicit acknowledgment of defeat, since the ideal of a responsible lay counselor to the prince had hardly been attained. Ironically closing


the circle from its medieval beginnings, the courtier was soon to become either a curialis or a ministerialis as a minister, secretary, or bureaucratic functionary to a prince.

Machiavelli (1469–1527) and the Court as Artifice

We have begun to see better the complexity and ambiguity of social allegiances in Renaissance Italy. I shall now turn to the telling case of Machiavelli in order to show that this so consistently Florentine observer of human behavior is no exception to the fact that even in the most bourgeois environments the aristocratic ideologies that had dominated medieval literature and thought continued to affect perspectives and judgments.

Castiglione's perception of moral values in the world of politics has often been contrasted with Machiavelli's. Patently, Machiavelli's “realism” clashes with his contemporary's idealizing will to form a “perfect courtier” who embodied all that was most admirable and morally respectable in a member of the governing élite. For Machiavelli, we all know, the ordinary moral virtues are more a hindrance than a help to effective political action. Although the well-endowed statesman is conscious of the need to appear virtuous, he is able and ready to depart from moral rules when it is expedient to do so, since he aims not at the good but at the useful. Castiglione was not prepared to see how the good and the useful could be separated. But more relevant for us is how, beyond personal attitudes, both writers mirror the reality of a shattering crisis, involving the agonizing realization that the fragmented individualism of Italian political behavior had been a high price to pay for the splendors of the Renaissance. When foreign armies supported by socially unified national states appeared on the scene, the impossibility of a common policy among the Italian states spelled general ruin. The spectacle of men in unstable governments scrambling for improvised means to save their skins and privileges in the wars of 1494–1559 revealed not only the weaknesses of social and political structures but also the decisive nature of the basic moral imperative: the fateful choice between “good” government in the interest of all subjects and expediency in preserving personal or group privileges.

Both Castiglione and Machiavelli had to face the alternative of justice or power, deep honesty or hypocritical preservation of form, virtue as moral value or “virtue” as, in Machiavelli's peculiar acceptation,


efficient inner energy. Along with the traditional virtues of private morality, the “curial” ethic was now revealing more clearly than ever both its relevance and its profound ambiguity. The questions and the choices were: leading or seeming to lead, governing or oppressing and exploiting.

The “Florentine secretary” was particularly disinclined to appreciate the role of the social layer that made up the courts. As a true citizen of bourgeois and republican Florence, he did not hesitate to define the gentiluomo as one who lives abundantly off revenues without work, “senza fatica”; hence he is inherently outside that true “vivere in civilitá” that Machiavelli identified with the free cities, and is particularly dangerous when he possesses castles and dominates working people who have to obey and serve (Discorsi 1.55).[69] That “vivere senza fatica” that irked Machiavelli as parasitism unwittingly echoes Castiglione's image of the gentleman whose most impressive behavioral feature is grace in concealing his artfulness, so that he seems to do whatever he does without effort and almost without thinking: “senza fatica e quasi senza pensarvi.” Besides being a supreme mark of elegance, that easy manner was also a correlative of “living without effort” on the economic level. The very abstractness and unproductiveness of knightly games in the literature of the romances was a necessary sign of the knights' “nobility”—not quite without effort, to be sure, but without “use.” Even in the epics there were as many tournaments and games as real battles.

To Machiavelli, military exercises were justifiable neither as elegant games nor as a form of superior service to God, but only as necessary means to political ends—a shift that even the Church was compelled to accept. Hence his little regard for the usefulness of the knightly class extended to the military sphere, where he held infantry more valuable than cavalry. Compare, besides his Arte della guerra, Discorsi 2.18, “come si debba stimare più la fanteria che i cavagli,” where he blames the condottieri for a special interest in keeping armies of horsemen and, typically, appeals to the Roman model, where infantry had the major role. He cites the modern example of the battle of July 5, 1422 at Arbedo near Bellinzona, where Carmagnola, acting for Filippo Visconti, managed to prevail against the Swiss infantry only after dismounting all his horsemen.

Just as he distrusted courtiers, noblemen, and knights, Machiavelli appreciated the potential virtues of “the people” (la moltitudine, he says, indiscriminately) in terms as explicit as were ever heard before or


long after. One of his most rewarding essays, Discorsi 1.58, is titled “La moltitudine è più savia e più costante che uno principe.” There he takes a firm stand against public opinion, “contro alla commune opinione,” including, mind you, the hallowed authority of his Livy, by protesting that the people are more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than the prince: “dico che un popolo è più prudente, più stabile, e di migliore giudizio che un principe.” They are also more reliable in their choice of elected public officials, usually worthier men than the choices of absolute rulers: “Vedesi ancora nelle sue elezioni ai magistrati fare di lunga migliore elezione che un principe.” The people will never be persuaded to put in office a corrupt and infamous person, something princes do easily. In sum, popular governments are better than despotic ones: “sono migliori governi quegli de' popoli che quegli de' principi.” If, as was the thesis of Il Principe, princes are better at organizing new states, popular governments are superior at maintaining a state once organized: “se i principi sono superiori a' popoli nello ordinare leggi, formare vite civili, ordinare statuti ed ordini nuovi, i popoli sono tanto superiori nel mantenere le cose ordinate.” The superior wisdom of the popolo is reaffirmed in Discorsi 3.34. We have come a long way from the hateful distrust of the vilain: even if Machiavelli's close paradigm was bourgeois Florence, which did not include peasants as citizens, his universal model was republican Rome, with plebeians a majority among the voting population.

All this notwithstanding, it is particularly interesting in our context, and it may come somewhat as a surprise, that in a literal sense Machiavelli's ethical framework owed more to the courtly tradition than to the classical and Christian canons. Analyzing the virtues that are profitable to the prince in the ethical section of Il Principe (chaps. 15–24), he criticizes above all the notions of liberalità (all of chap. 16), generosità, and lealtà. The choice and sequence of qualities should have a familiar ring to us. When Machiavelli advises the prince to be a “gran simulatore e dissimulatore” (chap. 18), we are reminded once again of the familiar courtly environment, including the literary one of Tristan.

Machiavelli's review of the prince's moral traits begins with this listing (chap. 15):

alcuno è tenuto liberale, alcuno misero  . . . ; alcuno è tenuto donatore, alcuno rapace; alcuno crudele, alcuno pietoso; I'uno fedifrago, I'altro fedele; I'uno effeminate e pusillanime, I'altro feroce et animoso; I'uno umano, I'altro superbo; l'uno lascivo, l'altro casto; l'uno intero, l'altro astuto; l'uno duro, l'altro facile; l'uno grave, l'altro leggieri; l'uno relligioso, l'altro incredulo, e simili.


William of Normandy Knights Harold of England; The Battle of Hastings: details
(sections 21 and 58, last) of the Bayeux tapestry (ca. 1073–1083).
 Courtesy of the Town of Bayeux.



Ruins of Castle Aggstein on the Danube, Austria. A point of encounter for many
Courtesy of Austrian Tourist Office, New York.


Imperial Palace in Goslar, Germany.
 Courtesy of German Information Center, New York.


Castle Gutenfels on the Rhine.
 Courtesy of German Information Center, New York.


Elz Castle, near the Moselle River.
 Courtesy of German Information Center, New York.


Two views of ruins of Les Baux-de-Provence, a leading
Provençal feudal court carved out of the rock in the
 thirteenth century, destroyed by order of Richelieu 
as a focal point of feudal resistance to the centralized
 Courtesy  of French Government Tourist Office, New York.



Giant Roland in front of Bremen City Hall. Erected in 1404 by the burghers in defiance of
the archbishops' authority, using chivalric ideology as a symbol of communal freedom.
Courtsey of German Information Center, New York.


Jan van Eyck (fl. 1422–1441),
The Last Judgment. Tempera and
oil on canvas. The angel-judge
appears in the garb of a knight.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York,
Fletcher Fund, 1933 [33.92b].


Pol de Limbourg, The Fall of the Rebellious Angels
as knights in armor. Les très riches Heures du Duc de
Berry, Musée Condé, Chantilly. Courtesy of Musée
Condé/Art Resource, New York.


Two views of Carcassonne. Outstanding example of medieval military architecture and
planning of a fortified town that coincided with the castle and an extended lordly court.
Courtesy of French Government Tourist Office, New York.



Camera degli Sposi, frescoes by Mantegna, with Ludovico Gonzaga consulting his 
secretary Marsilio Andreasi (1465–1474). Ducal Palace, Mantua.
 Courtesy of Scala/Art Resource, New York.


Knights in the shield of the City of Frankfurt on the Römer, 1404.
 Courtesy of German Information Center, New York.


Corner of Urbino Palace, built under Federico da Montefeltro, ca. 1480? Note blending of
medieval and Renaissance features.
 ANSA  photo from Italian Cultural Institure, New York.


Carlo Crivelli, St. George and the Dragon. A saint i knightly garb,
or a saintly knight: anothr example of the coupling of the religious
and profane.
 Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston, and
 Art Resource, New York.


Castle of Heidelberg. Courtesy of German Information Center, New York.


Jacopo Vignola, Palazzo Farnese (1550–1559), Caprarola (Viterbo).
 Courtesy of ENIT , Italian Government Travel Office, New York.


Palazzo Farnese, Caprarola, Sala dei Fasti. Pius III and
Charles V in battle against the Lutherans.
 Courtesy of ENIT , Italian Government Travel Office, New York.


Palazzo Farnese, Caprarola, Sala dei Fasti. Francis I welcoming in Paris the Emperor Charles
V accompaind by Cardinal Allessandro Farnese (Taddeo Zuccari and helpers, 1562–1565).
Courtesy of ENIT , Italian Government Travel Office, New York.


Lorenzo Bregno, St. George and the Dragon, from the facade of Buora's Dormitory, Isola
di San Giorgio Maggiore (Venice).
 Courtesy of Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice.


Villa Lante, Bagnaia (Viterbo).
 Courtesy of ENIT , Italian Government Travel Office, New York.


The Great Hall of the Hradshin Imperial Castle, Prague, engraving by Aegidus Sadeler,
1607. The court as a center of wide-ranging socail and even commercial activities, including
trading in art works.
 Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick fund,
 1953 [53.601.10(1)].


Is this not a list of chivalrous qualities, positive and negative? It seems clear that Machiavelli did not have in mind some moral treatment of classical or Christian virtues but one of the kind that would be at home ina “mirror of princes” based on the chivalrous ethic.

Let us now take another look, reordering the pairs which Machiavelli inverts five times. He opposes liberality to miserliness, generosity to thievery, pity or mercy to cruelty, loyalty to treachery, manly spiritedness (Fr. franchise ) to duplicity (a courtly though not a courtois virtue), indulgence to hardness, dignity to plainness, and respect for religion to indulgence to hardness, dignity to plainness, and respect for religion to irreverence. The “great soul” that is made to loom large among the valuable strategic qualities (chap. 21) derives from both classical and medieval ethics, as we have observed, and Ferdinand the Catholic is declared to be its most striking example. The reference to greatness of character or soul that was implied in the animoso (contrasted to pusillanime ) is fully developed in chapter 21, where grandezza (grande imprese, rari esempli ) is commended as a way of winning fame (egregius habeatur in the Latin title rubric) and conquering the admiration of subjects and rivals. Once again, Machiavelli had the ancient Romans in mind, but the belligerent policies he regarded as a sign of vitality in the state and an almost biological law of politics had been a trademark of the chivalric ethic. Aristotle's megalopsychia was destined to play a continuous role through the Middle Ages and humanistic education as well, including, in the new context of militant Christianity at the service of the Church, the Jesuit schools. The ideal of magnanimity would remain part and parcel of Jesuit pedagogy, since Ignatius of Loyola (himself a heroic professional soldier before his conversion) characterized the true Christian as a militant soldier of Christ, the new miles Christi.[70] Machiavelli's heroic view of political leadership falls within this continuous tradition.

Indeed, at opposite poles, as it were, both the secular thinking of a Machiavelli and the planning of educational patterns for the Counter-Reformation disclose the presence of the combined ideologies of chivalry and courtliness. As an eloquent example of the latter I shall mention only the case of the most important college for the nobility in Italy, that of Parma. The Duke of Parma, Ranuccio I Farnese, took pains to ensure the functioning of the Ducal College for the Nobility (1601) as a bulwark of his policies of firm orthodoxy within a program of outspoken loyalty to the Roman Church and to Spain. It is interesting that in so doing he spelled out the guiding principles for his college in terms of the ideologies of chivalry and courtliness. Its pupils were to be in-


structed not only in piety and letters—which was also the explicit program of all Jesuit educational institutions—but also “in those other exercises that are proper to the Nobility and necessary to Knights,” namely dance (a healthy sport and a social grace), mathematics (for military engineering), fencing (for the use of arms in the service of God), and horseback riding.[71] The College was soon entrusted to the Jesuits (1604–1770).

The presence of the courtly ethic in Machiavelli's oeuvre extends beyond the Principe. Besides the image of the virtuous prince using the art of “the fox” (like Caesar Borgia in Il Principe, chaps. 7 f.), the theme of astuzia, analogous to the familiar “cunning” of successful courtiers and such devious courtier/lovers as Tristan, conspicuously invests the whole plot and characterization of the Mandragola, a triumph of unscrupulous pursuit of personal ends.[72] In a properly political context, Discorsi 2.13 and 3.40 treat fraude (fraud) as advisable strategy rather than forza (force) in appropriate circumstances, especially at war, when one deals with an enemy (“parlo di quella fraudechesi usa con quel nimico che non si fida di te,” 3.40): again, the fox rather than the lion. Discorsi 3.30 confronts the problem of avoiding envy (invidia ). Three chapters of the Discorsi (1.28–1.30) deal extensively with the question of loyalty and attendant gratitude that recalls the feudal tenets of mutual service and response to favors. In 1.29 the modern example is again Ferdinand of Aragon, who in 1507, suspicious of the acquired reputation and power of his victorious captain, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba (Consalvo di Córdova), confined him to Spain instead of rewarding him for his Neapolitan victories against the French. Machiavelli presents the case in a feudal mode of reasoning, political actors being moved by personal considerations rather than by impersonal ones. The following chapter 30 addresses the question of ingratitude by analyzing what amounts to the change from feudal to absolute government (translated into our code, ingratitudine is lack of proper reward, or withholding of it without good reasons). The prince must prevent a subordinate from gaining glory for himself: he can do so by participating personally in the campaigns. A victorious captain, in turn, must no longer expect grateful reward (as his knightly predecessors did). He must either abandon the army, to avoid suspicion of ambitious aims, or be bold enough to hold onto his conquests for himself. We have gone from feudal decentralization and delegation of power to a radical individualism of private wills and interests, yet the new background is the Roman type of state, with impersonal relationships through law and office, instead of


personal privileges and rights. The chivalric mentality, in other words, still appears in the background of Machiavelli's reasoning on moral issues, but it has been left behind for a new mental environment of calculated realism.

Machiavelli's tenacious republicanism in the face of his deep realization that the days of liberty were numbered stands out even more clearly when we note the readiness of leading citizens to cooperate with the Medici in institutionalizing absolutism. Typically, Ludovico Alamanni authored a cynical discourse of advice to the Medici ruler on how to corrupt republican leaders by turning them into subservient courtiers, so as to cut them off from any community of interests with the governed. It was precisely what Duke Cosimo I formalized by instituting the Order of Santo Stefano (on which more later). After the leaders have been attracted to the new court as servants of the new prince, and thus converted and bound to his destiny, Alamanni suggests that they will not only renounce the ideals of the republic, but will never again aspire to popular favor as champions of the subjects' common interest.[73]

The preceding has shown how, leaning on the virtues of a new courtesy, the ideals of chivalry found a fresh operating ground in both lay and ecclesiastical courts of the Italian Renaissance, while they remained part of the mental processes whereby even a republican-bourgeois observer like Machiavelli could frame his own analysis of the ways to achieve and maintain power.


Chapter Ten—
Renaissance Transformations:

Educators at Court

Partly because of historical conditions, partly by influence of the Cortegiano, treatises on the education of princes were frequently given a courtly setting. Prominent among these treatises in Castiglione's time was Erasmus of Rotterdam's Institutio principis christiani (1515), dedicated to the future Emperor Charles V. The prince, Erasmus says, carries in his person the image of the eternal prince: as the sun is God's image in heaven, so is the prince God's living image on earth, and all the ritual, iconographic, and formal paraphernalia of power are necessary expressions of this exalted status.[1] Thus Erasmus, appearing in the manual as the educator-philosopher, did not hesitate to invest the prince with the high role of a representative of God on earth by using the image-making metaphor of the sun—the traditional metaphor that Dante had recalled in the Monarchia but that Machiavelli had rejected as implying a symbolic/metaphysical superiority of monarchic over republican government. The concept would live on down to Louis XIV, the Sun-King. Curialitas was becoming adoration. Once advisors, collaborators, and administrators, the courtiers began to yield to a new role as ornaments of the god's palace.

Another successful writer, the master of estilo culto Antonio de Guevara (1480–1545), was a high courtier in Charles V's service in Spain. Having been brought up at court as a page under Isabel, he then turned


Franciscan friar, but Charles V recalled him to court as his official preacher and historiographer. He later became bishop. His most famous book is the Libro áureo de Marco Aurelio (The Golden Book of Marcus Aurelius, 1528), revised as Relox de príncipes (Dial of Princes, 1529), a seven-hundred-page manneristic repertory of preaching topoi written in a Euphuistic style avant-la-lettre, as Eduard Norden and then Morris W. Croll characterized it.[2] It was an instant best seller throughout Europe. In Italy both versions, Libro aureo and Relox, received two translations each.[3] In two later works, the Aviso de privados ó despertador de cortesanos (Warning for Favorites and Awakening-Bell for Courtiers, 1539)[4] and the Menosprecio de corte y alabança de aldea (Scorn of the Court and Praise of the Country, Valladolid, 1539), both published ten years after the Relox,[5] Guevara managed to reverse and subvert both classicism and Renaissance humanism in a vigorous revival of medieval anticourt criticism, set in a context that the Counter-Reformation would soon welcome and that was reminiscent of medieval mesure in its focusing on aurea mediocritas or mensura. These revisited anticourt sentiments were now expressed by turning the “mirror of princes” into a theater of the topsy-turvy world. The court implicitly appeared as a mirror of the world of Satan, Prince of Darkness, versus the good prince as Prince of Light (the light of the Sun as in Erasmus). A new asceticism and mysticism were aiding political absolutism. Guevara's Menosprecio, whose main sources were John of Salisbury's Policraticus, A. S. Piccolomini's De curialium miseriis, and Petrarca's De vita solitaria, used the world of the pastoral to praise life in the country as a corrective for the mad and ungodly corruption of the courts, urging courtiers to abandon both court and city for the virtuous countryside. Of course, that countryside was populated not by real peasants but by gentlemen turned shepherds who conducted themselves by none other than that genuine courtly code which the court was taken to task for having betrayed.[6] The shift of locus had not displaced the code. Such pastoral references to court motifs, which fill Renaissance and baroque literature, brought back Virgil's way of donning the Arcadian veil to clothe political allegories and even personal economic allusions (like his complaints to Augustus on his loss of the family farmland).

A history of the social implications of the pastoral and Arcadian myth (the topos of the Golden Age) remains to be written.[7] It would demand an assessment of anthropological, religious, and historio-graphic functions, not only by surveying the myth in its literary uses,


but by explaining, for example, why so many authors associated with court life treated the myth in a spirit of wishful, utopian withdrawal from the realities of the court. At times it was used as an act of escape or refusal, at others as a reform from within. Although it was basically outside the medieval pastorela, the myth was ubiquitous even before the birth of the pastoral as a classical genre. Brunetto Latini, for one, had expressed his bourgeois communal background by rejecting the myth's implication that primitive man was virtuous and happy: only rationality, culture, and the city provide human conditions for what is, without them, only a beast.[8] Dante may have been impressed by Latini's argument, which recurred often in the democratic environment of the communes, as it did in Fazio degli Uberti (Dittamondo: 1.12:52–91) and then again in the Florence of Cosimo de' Medici, in the famous “realistic” painting of Piero di Cosimo studied by Panofsky.[9] In that environment the pastoral happiness of a perfect idleness was consciously opposed by a firm notion that social values are the result of human industry, “work,” including the work of agriculture versus the otium of shepherds. For noblemen, instead, including the courtly milieus as well as the high merchants on their way to a seigniorial state, like the Medici, the Golden Age of human happiness coincided with the idyllic life of pastoral otium (e.g., Lorenzo il Magnifico's Selve d'Amore: 2.84-2.112).[10]

An Italian counterpart of Guevara was, in his odd way, Pietro Aretino (1492–1556), an intellectual who created his literary market by selling fame while buying ephemeral influence and earthly success. His Ragionamento delle corti (1538) was a radical anti-Cortegiano where the court was picturesquely styled “a hospital of hope, burial of life,  . . . market of lies,  . . . school of fraud,  . . . paradise of vices and hell of virtues,  . . . more wretched than the most horrid and bestial cave or tomb.”[11] The court he knew best was that of Rome, although he was writing from the safety of Venice.

Saba (or Sabba) da Castiglione's Ricordi (Bologna 1546; expanded edition Venice 1554; published twenty-six times before the end of the century) drew on Guevara, though in a more manageable and orderly mood. A monsignor and knight of Malta, Saba introduced Tridentine dogmas and catechist prescriptions into the education of the prince, with the addition of the prescribed behavioral qualities of “maestà, gravità, modestia, maturità e decoro.”[12] He carried forward Guevara's court criticism by denouncing contemporary courts as dens of vices and degeneracy (37v). In the chapter of his Ricordi that dealt with “La cor-


tegiania dei nostri tempi,” he reversed all the traditional virtues of the courtiers, now all degenerate, into their opposites, since they are all “vili, ignoranti, adulatori, assentatori, parasiti, lenoni, per non dire ruffiani, malcreati, buggiardi.”[13] Yet, once again it is important to be aware of a new twist to this way of handling court criticism. Whereas medieval court critics operated outside the courts and looked to an alternative way of life—the life of the monastic orders and a reformed Church—such critics as Guevara and Saba could not easily get out of their milieu, since the court was their real world. What they proposed was little more than a disguised or reformed court. Saba also recouped Castiglione through the notion of “giusto mezzo” between “affettazione” and “naturalità”—a new dressing for sprezzatura. In Saba's readily apparent, conformist Christianization of the genre the courtier, the prince and the knight (cavaliere ) have become thoroughly clericalized.[14] The key virtues of the gentleman courtier were to be modestia, magnanimità, and umiltà.

Some didactic treatises had begun even earlier to assimilate courtly values to the ideals of the Counter-Reformation. The pious anonymous author of the Novo corteggiano de vita cauta e morale (probably issued in Venice by an unknown publisher in 1530 or 1535) attempted to educate an aristocratic ruling class according to principles of aurea mediocritas that were inspired more by ideals of retreat from the dangers of the world than by a positive appreciation of court life.[15] The author's praise of the agreeable solitude of country living, “amene solitudini,” sounds like the later pastoral appeal to the theme of country versus city/court in Guevara's Menosprecio. Similarly, the Genoese Pellegro Grimaldi Robbio wrote a successful book of Discorsi ne' quali si ragiona di quanto far debbono i gentilhuomini ne' servigi de' lor signori per acquistarsi la gratia loro (1543), where the echoes from Castiglione are as evident as the attempt to clericalize him by shifting the main reference point to the Roman Curia.[16] In these borrowings from Castiglione we note the generalization of both the approach and the subject matter, now covering the broad educated classes of “gentlemen.” In his way, Stefano Guazzo would continue this trend in his La civil conversatione (1574). It is a literature that expresses a malaise growing out of acute disillusionment with life at court.

The growing disenchantment with the moral life of the leading classes, from the high clergy to the new princes and courtiers, brought about a semantic drift. As the terms cortegiano, homme de cour, and courtier gave way to their synonyms galantuomo, honnête homme, and


gentleman, in Italy cortegiano acquired a negative connotation. Castiglione had avoided the feminine of cortegiano, using instead donna di palazzo, because cortegiana already had the negative connotation of English courtesan and French courtisane.[17] The more derogatory views come forth in the literary genres of satire and lirica giocosa à la Berni, where, however, the prevailing cynicism must be partly discounted as a generic prerequisite in this attempt to exploit social observation for purposes of facile comedy. Here as elsewhere the most common reproach was of avariciousness and illiberality; this revived the medieval motif of liberality as a trademark of true courtoisie, which the new bourgeois ethic had not managed to sweep away. Typically, a Matteo Bandello mirrored the new skepticism in a demystifying perception of ladies who no longer rewarded virtue in their admirers, but only wealth.[18]

The Courtesy Book

Self-fashioning after a chivalric image is analogous to the acquisition of manners, insofar as both impose a personality and a behavior from the outside through social pressures and education. These two civilizing forces—that is, chivalry and manners—must be ranged side by side because the chivalrous habit included an imposition of social manners in both feeling and gesture. A subgenre of the treatise of manners is the manual of etiquette, especially table manners, which enjoyed great popularity in the sixteenth century. It grew out of earlier educational treatises that often contained sections on such matters, and it signaled changes in the consciousness of civilized behavior.[19]

Although specific precepts started to be voiced as early as the twelfth century as the expression of collective awareness rather than a result of original speculation, the first broad compilation of such rules was Erasmus's enormously successful De civilitate morum puerilium of 1530. Immediately translated into several languages, it was reprinted in its original form thirty times within the remaining six years of the author's life and 130 times through the eighteenth century. Its seven chapters dealt successively with bodily cleanliness, care of the body, manners at church, at the table, in public gatherings, at games, and in the bedchamber. Its direct impact was felt in the popular Colloquiorum scholasticorum libri quatuor by the Calvinist Mathurin Cordier (1564; 1568).[20] Both Erasmus and Cordier had a close antecedent in Johannes Sulpicius's De moribus in mensa servandis.

The Erasmian title provided the common term for approved behav-


ioral attitudes in many languages, such as French civilité and English civility, later extending into the more general and abstract French and English civilisation, Italian civiltà. Protestant educational manuals, like Cordier's Colloquia, contributed to the wide diffusion of the new terms, which for a time were practically interchangeable with “courtesy,” courtoisie, and Hübescheit. This last term had appeared perhaps for the first time, in the form hüfscheit, in the German title (buoch von der hüfscheit ) that Thomasin von Zerclaere reported in his Wälscher Gast (ca. 1210) for his now lost Italian treatise on the subject. It was akin to German Hofzucht (courtly manners), title of a book attributed to the courtly poet Tannhäuser (ca. 1200–ca. 1270).[21] A similar early treatise was Bonvesin da la Riva's De curialitatibus, where the “curiality” of the Latin title was equivalent to cortesia in the body of the Italian text. German hübsche Leute (the fine people) meant the court nobles, just as Höflichkeit (courtliness) was their ethical code, allied to the etymologically and semantically related Höfischkeit, still current for “courtesy.” Gradually, French civil and civilité, alongside poli, politesse, and the even more popular honnête and honnêteté (which in France also acquired the connotations of Italian cortegiano, like the nominal French gentilhomme and English “gentleman,” more explicitly denoting nobility), displaced courtois and courtoisie. In other words, “civility” replaced courtesy as the name for politeness, as pointedly noted by Dominique Bouhours in 1675.[22] The two terms courtoisie and civilité were still used interchangeably in Jean du Peyrat's translation of Della Casa's Galateo in about 1562, where the term gentilhomme, too, appeared in the very title: Galatée ou la maniere et fasson comme le gentilhomme se doit gouverner en toute compagnie.[23]

Castiglione died a bishop. Giovanni Della Casa (Mugello 1503–Rome 1556), another leading writer of treatises on social manners, was archbishop of Benevento for the last dozen years of his life. He had been first clerk to the Apostolic Chamber since 1538 and then archbishop of Benevento and papal nunzio to Venice in 1544. Made secretary of state to the Vatican in 1555 by Paul IV, he hoped for a cardinal's hat in the last year of his life. His Galateo, published posthumously in 1558, is one of the most important exemplars of the subgenre of etiquette or courtesy books, and is also of particular interest for its references to high clerical spheres. The title came from the Latinized name of Galeazzo Florimonte, bishop of Aquino first and then of Sessa Aurunca, who appears in the story as a paragon of courtliness.

Della Casa was a steady student of Cicero, whose De officiis, that


crucial text for the tradition of curiality, he adapted in part of his De officiis inter tenuiores et potentiores amicos, a treatment of friendship between the powerful and their dependents, hence close to the principal concerns of court life. It was published in a vernacular version as Trattato degli uffici comuni fra gli amici superiori e inferiori by Giovanni Antonio degli Antonj (Milan, 1559).[24] The Aristotelian/Ciceronian/Horatian notion of virtue as medietas or mediocritas, middle point between extremes, which we encountered as a key ingredient of medieval courtesy under the rubrics of Latin moderamen, French mesure, and German mâze, returns as the supreme ideal in the Trattato. One achieves this certo mezzo o certa misura (middle point or measure), which is convenevole, “decorous,” when one manages to please and captivate the powerful. Chapter 7 gives an interesting aperçu on the role of the addressee with clear understanding of the communicative relationship between speaker and audience: “conoscere chi noi siamo e con cui parliamo” is proposed as the key to amicizia or (with a Greek term) filía.

The text of the Galateo, too, shows the proximity of Cicero's De officiis, particularly for the constant presence of the paradigm of measure. See, for example, the eloquent passage in the second part of chapter 13: “even the good, when excessive, displeases . . . . Those who make themselves humble beyond any sense of measure and refuse the honors they deserve, display in this more pride than those who arrogate to themselves what is not due to them.”[25] Chapter 20 derives “good manners” from misura, a happy medium which consists of avoiding both the excess of deferring to our interlocutor (this is giocolare e buffone, demeaning buffoonery and downright flattery) and the opposite excess of being unconcerned with the effect we make on others (this is for the zotico e scostumato e disavvenente ). The string of three insistent terms: bellezza, misura, and convenevolezza (beginning of chap. 26) appears to echo the Ciceronian as well as the courtly appeal to moral beauty, measure, and honesty in the sense of mores that are becoming to our social status and function. Later on (start of chap. 28) we find an echo of Castiglione's emphasis on grazia: “Gracefulness is nothing other than a certain light that shines forth through the fittingness of things that are discreetly and harmoniously composed all together: without this degree of measure even the good is not beautiful, nor is beauty truly pleasing.”[26] Next, manners are compared with food: gracefulness and a sweet lightness of touch are to manners what flavor is to food, which will not be pleasing just by being wholesome and nourishing.


The work characteristically concentrates on manners and mores, as indicated in the very title Galateo ovvero dei costumi, and this narrower focus reminds us of the schoene sîte or zuht of the German traditional nomenclature. Notice the emphasis in chapter 1:

I shall begin with  . . . what is pertinent to the purpose of being well mannered and pleasing: which nevertheless is either a form of virtue or very similar to virtue . . .. Good manners are no less important than greatness of soul and mastery of the self, since they need to be exercised many times in the course of every day,  . . . whereas justice, fortitude, and the other nobler, major virtues are put into practice more seldom.[27]

He repeats later on that he has been treating not virtues and vices intrinsically but “fitting or unbecoming ways of dealing with each other.”[28] Likewise, he had gone over the matter of making dress and speech appropriate to social status and local custom for the sake of not displeasing our audiences unnecessarily in matters of no moral substance. Here again we could think of Cicero's treatment of honestas as the virtue of fitting behavior to occasion and circumstance.

The elegant little treatise insists on a pattern of civic behavior that will ensure respect toward others' interests and rights, sensitivity to others' wishes and well-being, and, in one word, the beauty and sacredness of individual “liberty.” See the prolonged critique of false display of respect, which offends the recipient as insincere and inappropriate if not downright adulatory with ulterior motives. The author designates this insincere adulation with a relative neologism, cerimonie, implicitly attributing it to foreign influences (read: Spanish; it has not taken deep roots in Italy, he says). Such obnoxious “standing on ceremony” hinders that freedom which we all desire more than anything else, and derives from an annoying overemphasis on nobility as mere social status. It is an excess of formality that either covers up for moral vacuity or conceals a base character.[29] Della Casa advises against using social status as a basis for judgment of personal character.

Della Casa's overarching concern is with being “pleasant,” but this pleasantness is not based on conformism and indifference to underlying moral issues: it is a necessary aspect of a way of life that takes into account the need to communicate and interact with others, in full respect for their feelings and interests. In other words, it is the outer veneer of that urbanity that we have seen attributed to the city dweller, the asteîos anér, both in ancient Greece and Rome and in the medieval centers of curiality. This form of urbanity was particularly at home in the Italian communes, as part of a city-bound society: “nella città e tra


gli uomini.”[30] From the very beginning of his dialogue, Della Casa explicitly stresses the distinction between morality and sociality, the heroic ethic of pure virtue, which comes into play only seldom, and the compromise with others that makes the worldly city human and operative. The moraliteit that Tristan was teaching the young Isolt, and that Gottfried of Strassburg extolled as the most profound message of courtly education, was, we can extrapolate, closer to this sociality than to a pure, abstract, and heroic morality. For Della Casa this concrete virtue of “comune conversazione” is part of social intercourse: it is not at home in the solitude of hermitages (“non per le solitudini o ne' romitori”).[31]

The Humanists' Ethical View of Man as Citizen

Della Casa's theme of “conversation” implemented humanism's commitment to civic-minded allegiance to the community, excluding the recluse, the misanthrope, and the hermit. This bias invested much of the philosophical moral literature of the Italian Quattro- and Cinquecento, from Leonardo Bruni to Lorenzo Valla and on to, say, the Sienese Alessandro Piccolomini, a reader in philosophy at the University of Padua. In two versions of a lifetime work running from 1543 to 1582, Piccolomini spoke of the “animale civile e comunicativo” that thrives in the society of the city, whereas the hermit ceases to be truly human. Social living requires manners (costumi ) that are developed by education through literature and poetry, history and eloquence, the natural sciences being only instrumental.[32] Similarly, another Piccolomini, Francesco (1520–1604), stressed the scienza civile over and against the heroic virtue worthy only of heroes.[33] It was all part of that humanistic concern with the viver civile which runs through both Castiglione and Della Casa, continuing some specific themes of the medieval curial tradition and applying them to social conduct in new environments.[34]

Other ethical treatises embodying mature humanistic views were due to Sperone Speroni, Pietro Pomponazzi, Agostino Nifo, Giambattista Gelli, and Paolo Paruta.[35] In his Capricci del bottaio and Circe (1541–1548) the spirited Florentine shoemaker/philosopher/littérateur Gelli (1498–1563) dramatized the motif of man's freedom to choose between rising to the nobility of angels or stooping to the materiality of brutes—a motif that had been made famous by Pico della Mirandola's Oratio de hominis dignitate (1486).[36] Speroni was radical in his defense


of the active life (in the second part of his Dialoghi, Venetia 1552, new ed. Venezia 1596: 180–215). Marc-Antoine Muret's Roman oration De moralis philosophiae laudibus (1563) extolled ethics above the natural sciences and the contemplative life, as the philosophy of the active man in the full blossoming of the civic community. In his Della perfezione della vita politica (1579) Paruta proclaimed that a goal of philosophy was preparation for the active life, incomparably superior to the works of the solitary man who lives only for himself. On a more professional philosophical level, a host of commentaries on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics carried on the message of the superiority of praxis to pure contemplation, as part of civic humanism's stress on the citizen's duty toward the social group: we are human only by being an active part of society. Referring to the works of Bernardo Segni, Agostino Nifo, Crisostomo Javelli Canapicio, Felice Figliucci, A. Scaino, Antonio Brucioli, Pietro Pomponazzi, Simone Porzio, and Torquato Tasso (Dialoghi ), one of the most authoritative students of this literature, Eugenio Garin (1965: 204), found it to be generally lacking in originality and ultimately sterile, even while it perpetuated an important message of Quattrocento humanism. Yet, for all its relative platitude, what interests us in this once successful production is the continuous vitality of specific motifs of chivalric and courtly virtues, which, rather than being overtly brought forth in treatises with a specific chivalric/courtly theme, were generalized, disguised, and eventually assimilated to classical virtues.

Court and World as Actor's Stage

The motif of sociality as the truest form of morality that is shared by much of Cinquecento ethical speculation becomes a true leitmotif in Stefano Guazzo's (Casale Monferrato 1530–1593) La civil conversatione, where it insistently recurs even ad nauseam.[37] This treatise is remarkable for its impact abroad, which in distant England was almost equal to that of Castiglione. It is significant that Guazzo's rather modest book enjoyed greater influence abroad than the more substantial treatises by Speroni, Piccolomini (Alessandro), Pomponazzi, Nifo, Gelli, and Paruta, which it rather unimaginatively summarized. This was because it explicitly put the accent on those criteria of social conduct that observers of Italian life wanted to hear about.

A Piedmontese courtier, ambassador, and writer, Guazzo came from a noble and wealthy family of courtiers to the marquises of Monferrato and the dukes of Mantua. He continued in his forefathers' footsteps


by serving the same lords as secretary and courtier at different times, following Ludovico Gonzaga of Mantua to France for seven years when the latter became duke of Nevers, then serving as ambassador to Charles IX of France and, in 1566, to Pope Pius IV. Enjoying no fewer than thirty-four Italian editions (twenty-five of them between 1574–1603, but none after 1631), his major work was soon translated into French (ten versions), Latin (fourteen versions), Dutch (two versions), Spanish, and German; of the six English versions (last, London, 1788), most influential was the one by George Pettie (1581, first three books), continued by Bartholomew Young for book 4 and published in complete form in 1586.[38]

Guazzo's title made “conversation” a term for social behavior throughout Europe. It echoed Della Casa's “comune conversazione,” but its twofold acceptation of “pleasant, civilized social intercourse” and “using language as a civilized and civilizing means” was already established, as shown in the “cosmological” thesaurus La fabrica del mondo (1546–1548) of Francesco Alunno (1485–1556). The notion of “civil conversation” and the association of the city with courtesy, urbanity, and civility was manifest in Alunno's definition of urbanità: “urbanità, la civilità”; “urbanità: Lat. urbanitas, facetiae, dicteria, ioci, sales, lepores, cavillatio, dicacitas, argutiae, delitiae; è gratiosa conversatione di cittadini.”[39] It was a list of rhetorical figures covering all forms of wit. Alunno defined conversare as “conversare per praticare insieme,”[40] and cortesia as “beneficence, gift, humane and gracious liberality, with a becoming habit of moderation; so denominated from the courts of good princes where such virtues always shine.”[41]

Although conversation for Guazzo meant social intercourse, his dwelling on verbal civility contributed to the spreading of “conversation”'s more modern acceptation.[42] The lexical choice is an important echo of the humanistic emphasis on language as the foundation and carrier of civilization—“language as the basis of social intercourse,” as Burckhardt recalled with reference to the large section dedicated to linguistic matters and the effective use of language in Castiglione's book 2.[43] Humanists conceived of speech as the essence of humanity, and language as action in dialogue, hence truly “the art of conversation.” “He who wishes to engage successfully in civil conversation,” says Guazzo, “must consider that language is the mirror and portrait of his soul; and that, much as we can tell a coin by its sound, so from the sound of our words we see deeply inside a man's character and his behavior.”[44]

After Castiglione, his earnest concern for the moral substance of the


man of court came to take second place to the art of speaking charmingly and effectively in public. The art of the courtier became a sort of court rhetoric and elegant conversation. Guazzo well represented this narrowing of the horizon according to a widespread trend that was perhaps more pronounced in Spain than elsewhere, as clearly shown by Luis Milán's Spanish translation of Il Cortegiano in El libro entitulado el Cortesano (1561), dedicated to Philip II. Milán's hero must speak well but mostly, it seems, about pleasant, witty, and harmless things: he must be a good motejador. Although this emphasis on orality was to be further developed in France, the Spain of Philip II provided a new breeding ground for the medieval virtue of reticence: besides knowing how to speak well, the new hero, el cortesano, that is “el caballero armado virtuoso, la mejor criatura de la tierra,” has to know when it is more appropriate to keep silent: “bien hablar y callar donde es menester.”[45] We sense here a new twist away from Castiglione's individualistic and comparatively independent agent toward a mere servant at court, prudent master of diplomacy and self-effacement. This twist was already apparent in Pellegro Grimaldi, who in his Discorsi (1543) did not want to discuss the virtues of a complete courtier but only the art of survival, to be summed up in the advice “to keep your mouth shut, as the saying goes,” “tenete (come si dice) la bocca chiusa,” after doing all that pleases the prince—and no more.[46] One of the more than one hundred proverbial sentences that stud Guazzo's Civil conversatione has the same ring: “il tacere a tempo è più lodato che il ben parlare,” “keeping mum at the right moment wins more praise than eloquence.” Guazzo also differs from Castiglione by focusing on real conditions and practical applications. Furthermore, he extends the area of Erasmian “civility” and deemphasizes the service to the prince and the imperative of pleasing the prince with a willful search for a broader social grace that will satisfy the inner man, too.

The dialogue sets Annibale Magnocavalli, a doctor, against the author's brother Guglielmo, who, disappointed by the futility of courtly life, is thinking of retirement from the world. Appearing as Guazzo's spokesman, Annibale argues for a good life in service of society but away from politics and the court. One senses here a disenchanted echo of Guazzo's difficult relationship with the rulers of Monferrato and their ruthlessly absolutist disregard for the statutory freedoms of the recent feudal past. His patron Ludovico Gonzaga was distrusted by Duke Guglielmo of Mantua, whose cousin Vespasiano Gonzaga Marquis of Sabbioneta, his longa manus and strongarm man in Casale, at one


point even ordered all followers of Duke Ludovico of Nevers out of town.[47]

Guazzo basically follows Castiglione in the ordering of topics, even down to the digressive theme of love, although in formal presentation he echoes the Cortegiano only in book 4, which enacts an actual conversation in the course of a banquet, whereas the preceding three books are more like a treatise.[48] Nevertheless, he makes a brave attempt at originality in departing from the established generic patterns. The result is an idiosyncratic nomenclature that strikes the reader as plainer and more down-to-earth than Castiglione's, especially since the discussion divides the topic into public and domestic behavior, including relationships between spouses (as in treatises on the management of the household), and presents a set of virtues and vices that does not remind us specifically of the received schemes. Guazzo's love is a civilizing force whereby a man “waxes more wise”; an honest love makes us capable of finer things; it inflames us with virtuous thoughts and even “stirs up to Poetry” (book 2, vol. 1: 238 of Pettie's 1581 translation). Sprezzatura has become negligenza o sprezzamento, based on avoidance of affettazione (p. 161 ed. Venice: Robino, 1575) and on hiding that arte which is the cultural basis of the elect behavior: “faccia il tutto con arte, ma in maniera che l'arte sia nascosta e paia il tutto a caso” (ibid.: p. 20).[49]

The city, larger setting of the court, is regarded as the seat of civilization and virtuous living, “albergo di virtù,” although it can also be “albergo de' vizi” (book 1). Hence the sphere of civility goes beyond the walls of both the court and the city: “Civile conversation is a vertuous kinde of living in the world  . . . [but] to live civilly is not said in respect of the cities, but of the qualities of the mind: so I understand civile conversation not having relation to the citie, but consideration to the manners and conditions which make it civile” (Pettie 1: 56).[50] Thus, beyond the taste for a plainer style, Guazzo's originality vis-à-vis Castiglione lies mainly in this broader scope than that of the man whose whole career is centered on currying favor with superiors and the powerful. Consequently his art of conduct becomes, in the end, potentially incompatible with the dissimulation, the insincerity, the theatrical display, the cultural dilettantism, and the outward ornamentation that life at court seemed to require and that court critics found so objectionable even in Castiglione, regardless of that author's lofty moral concerns.[51] Only transcending the world of the court would satisfy the other protagonist of the dialogue, his brother Guglielmo, at whose instance the dialogue was presumably engaged. His appeal to the broader common


sense and freer manners of the educated gentleman rather than the professional courtier is similar to Della Casa's impatience with insincerity in all forms.

Yet, the centrifugal force of court patterns was such that, while Guazzo was trying to transcend the narrow boundaries of the court, his views of good behavior remained conditioned by the court. Standards of conduct at court were based on a relationship between individual worth and public image. Accordingly, Guazzo's willful advice to be what we want to appear, “tale dee procurar l'uomo d'essere, quale desidera d'apparere,”[52] remained wishful thinking. What the French would later call le qu'en dira-t-on, similar to the punctiliousness of the Spanish pun de onor, is a special dimension of a society that recognizes the importance of our public image: the man of court is all reputation, next to which inner worth is nonexistent or irrelevant. Regretfully, Guazzo had to recognize that “the jugement which wee have to know our selves is not ours, but wee borrow it of others” (Pettie). An attentive critic (Frank Whigham [1983]: 637) has underscored this statement as a sign that reputation had replaced virtue for all practical purposes, and was therefore “radically dependent on the eye and voice of the audience.” Thus, “the ideal courtier is never off-stage” and “public opinion takes precedence over one's own moral perception” (Whigham 634 f.). On this ground Stanley Fish (1988: 260) makes a remark which could be a summary conclusion on the general drift of that courtly ethic we have seen unfolding from the beginning: “so self-consciously rhetorical is courtly life that moral categories themselves are realized as various performative styles.” Fish (261) quotes Heinrich F. Plett's further observation (1983: 613) that “the courtier lives only as a social being and is in private ‘retreat’  . . . a cipher.” The literature of the sophisticated court society of Louis XIV compels us to agree with these characterizations. From his angle, Fish was trying to define Ben Jonson's (1572–1637) poetically productive attempt to protect himself from the cannibalistic nature of the court by reversing roles and offering the truly moral and honest man a way to form an inner society away from the court, within “the tribe of Ben.” This interpretation offers an understanding of Ben Jonson's difficult predicament in reconciling inner honesty with successful adjustment to the ways of the world, especially in the hothouses of princely courts.

Guazzo's attempt to broaden the social scope of good manners was a latter-day index of Renaissance humanism, and was destined to be lost in the reversion to a top-heavy social makeup that came about in


the baroque age. Emanuele Tesauro (1592–1675) typically expressed this need for a select speech that in its witty urbanity (arguto, urbano ) would operate as a status symbol, privileging the élite gathered around the prince by sharply differentiating them from the hoi polloi: “differenzia il parlar degli uomini ingegnosi da quel de' plebei.”[53] The motif of urban versus rustic that we have often encountered is here intensified into an explicit defense of the theatricality of court manners and gestures as a functional semiotic pattern, consciously sought and accepted as part of necessary class distinctions within an aristocratic society.

The Novels of Chivalry, 1300–1600

Though politically and socially diverse, all regions of Italy welcomed the courtly culture issuing from northern and southern France. Monferrato and the Venetia were particularly receptive to Occitan poetry. During and after the Albigensian Crusade (1208–1228) several troubadours were attracted to the court of the powerful Marquis Boniface I of Monferrato, and after his death their frequent reproaches to his unworthy successors were an eloquent example of the troubadours' court function of education and moral judgment. The principal area of diffusion of Occitan literature was the Venetia, particularly near Treviso at the court of Ezzelino da Romano's brother Alberico after 1236, and thanks mainly to Uc de Saint-Circ (Faidit). Between 1220 and 1240 Uc authored many of the vidas and razos of Occitan poets and their poems as well as the Donat Proensal, the first grammar of a European vernacular.

It was in that area of northeastern Italy between Trieste and Padua, including the territory of Ferrara, that a Franco-Venetian literature of chivalry flourished in prose and verse from at least the end of the thirteenth century through the beginning of the fifteenth. Its Mischsprache, a hybrid language that, for all its local elements, was basically French, testifies to the vitality of the subject matter, since it was widely enjoyed by illiterate yet diglossic popular audiences in public squares. In that literature a felicitous juxtaposition of the two matières of France and Brittany found its roots, leading to the famous “fusion” (the term goes back to Pio Rajna) or “contamination” of the two rival and somewhat incompatible matters of Charlemagne and King Arthur which has long been credited to Boiardo and Ariosto.

This Franco-Venetian literature, much discussed by Vincenzo Crescini, Adolf Mussafia, Pio Rajna, Giulio Bertoni, and others,[54] reflected


the presence in that region of a strong contingent of aggressive feudal families that controlled the land and dominated the communes. Rolandino of Padua's thirteenth-century chronicle of the March of Treviso maps out the history of the region, including the Venetian hinterland all the way to Verona, as a history of four great families: the Marquises of Este, the Da Romano, the Camposampiero, and the Da Camino.[55] The situation was similar in most of northern Italy including the northwest, in the hands of the Savoy, the Marquises of Monferrato, and those of Saluzzo. Their hold on local communes was much like that of the feudal lords of, say, the duchy of Burgundy, the earldom of Lancaster, and the archbishopric of Cologne.[56]

The successful Entrée d'Espagne of around 1320, the work of a learned and inspired Paduan poet, displayed a mixture of Carolingian warlikeness and Arthurian adventurousness: Roland abandons Charles out of pique and embarks on Oriental wanderings that also entangle him in an erotic situation. Around 1330 the Entrée found its continuation in La prise de Pampelune, dedicated to Nicolò I d'Este (d. 1344) by Nicolò da Verona, a court poet who was probably a doctor of laws at Padua.[57] The text geographically closest to Boiardo and Ariosto was perhaps La Guerra d'Attila, a vast poem of the second half of the fourteenth century. Niccolò da Casola, a Bolognese notary in exile in the Venetia and then Ferrara, composed it by encouragement from his Ferrarese friend Simone Bisone and left it unfinished after more than 37,000 lines in sixteen cantos, with the intended dedication to Count Bonifacio Ariosti, uncle of the Marquis of Ferrara, Aldobrandino d'Este.[58] It shared with both Boiardo and Ariosto not only the clear courtly intent of celebrating the Este family by recalling the brave stand against the Huns of their mythical ancestor, Prince Forest, but also the mixing of knightly valor and romantic love in the story of another legendary ancestor of the Este, the handsome Accarino. Thus was the wedding of the two matières handed over to the later Ferrarese poets.[59]

Both directly and through the intermediary of the Franco-Venetian tradition, the stories of chivalry also filtered into Tuscany by way of the popular jongleurs known as canterini di piazza, or cantimbanchi, the best of whom was Andrea da Barberino (ca. 1370 after 1431). Andrea skillfully used Franco-Venetian as well as Tuscan sources for his several prose romances, including the extremely popular Reali di Francia and Guerino il Meschino. Franco-Venetian and Tuscan traditions came together once again in La Spagna in rima (mid-fifteenth century), where the Tuscan octave was used to clothe the matter of the Entrée d'Espagne


and of the Tuscan Rotta di Roncisvalle in verse. La Spagna also had a shorter Emilian version, surviving in a miniatured codex prepared for Borso d'Este in 1453. Through the Tuscan Orlando and La Spagna in rima the medieval matter transmitted in the Franco-Venetian texts provided a fertile background for the Morgante by Luigi Pulci, a sort of communal court poet who was a member of the salon of Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Lorenzo de' Medici's mother.[60]

Italians performed the remarkable feat of saving lively medieval traditions in both genres of manners and of chivalry when France and Germany tended to abandon them. Except for the prose Lancelot, Chrétien himself and his other French contemporaries and immediate followers ceased to be read after 1400 even in France: they were in any event linguistically unapproachable. After 1500 the glorious stories of medieval knights continued to be of vital importance in European literature thanks, chiefly, to the new Italian versions.

Distortions and original interpretations contained in popular texts became part of the Italian chivalric tradition. The legend of Tristan in particular was reworked into cyclical compilations, foremost among them the Tristano Riccardiano of around 1300, and the still broader summation of Arthurian matter, the Tavola Ritonda, usually dated between 1320 and 1340; both of these were Tuscan. The Tristano shows that the story had taken roots in Italy in a form that was clearly outside the mainstream of courtly love. The adventure between Tristan and the (married) Dama dell'Agua della Spina (chaps. 41–44) is overtly sexual and entails the consummation of avowed desire at the first private encounter. Starting with King Mark, who aggressively rivaled Tristan but hid his jealousy like a courtly dissimulator, the men at court acted enviously and treacherously, Ghedin openly scheming to destroy Tristan. This way of handling Arthurian lore confirms that Petrarca's decisive contribution to the crystallization of courtesy in the love lyric drew directly from the Provençals through the philosophically-bent Stil Nuovo poets, whereas the cantimbanchi who operated in the mixed climate of northern Italian courts and burghers' communes could hardly appreciate the tense purity of erotic sublimation underlying the ideals of chivalry.[61]

L'Entrée d'Espagne, La prise de Pampelune, and La Guerra d'Attila, we have seen, acted as precedents for the “fusion” of genres, but the fusion also had such French precedents as the thirteenth-century Huon de Bordeaux. Pulci's Morgante, too, mixed some characteristics of both genres, though somewhat superficially: his main characters, Orlando and Rinaldo, spent most of their time running after personal adven-


ture, in disregard for Charlemagne's needs. In terms of aesthetic value and impact on future reception, however, Boiardo's and Ariosto's “fusion” was indeed a signal achievement that changed the nature of the genre. H.-R. Jauss (“Theory of Genres”: 82) has neatly commented on the phenomenon in a way that combines his “test of commutation,” designed to discriminate genre from genre, with the relevance of reception or reader-response to determine values and meanings within literary forms.

Despite the gradual assimilation of the heroic epic to the knightly romance in the French tradition, heroes like Roland or Yvain, ladies like Alda or Enide, and lords like Charlemagne or Artus [sic in trans.] were not brought from out of the one genre into the other; a reception through another tradition, the Italian one, was first called for, so that through a fusion of the two French genres into a new one, the so-called romance epic, the originally distinct groups of characters could be transposed into a single structure of action.

The fusion involved more than merging the textual characteristics of two French genres in their mature form; it also brought back some early Celtic elements which had been downgraded or brushed aside altogether. The marvelous of Boiardo and Ariosto gave new life to the giants and fairies of the original Celtic lore, which Chrétien and his followers had replaced with tall knights and sensuous maidens. Together with the fairies, numerous and powerful in intrigue—especially Morgan-le-Fay, (very busy in the background of, say, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight )—Merlin and his acolytes also came back in full glory. They had played a major role in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini, but only the thirteenth-century prose romances found room for them within their cyclic treatment of Arthurian matter.

Despite the bold humor of his narrative, critics have attributed to Boiardo (1441–1494) the only true revival of medieval cortesia in a serious vein.[62] Boiardo did feel that the virtues of true chivalry were still gracing the court of Ferrara:

Se onor di corte e di cavalleria
può dar diletto a l'animo virile,
a voi dilettarà l'istoria mia,
gente legiadra, nobile e gentile
che seguite ardimento e cortesia,
la qual mai non dimora in petto vile.[63]  

Boiardo's revival of chivalry was made possible by the new climate of refeudalization that was part of the successful Este policy, consciously


pursued, according to recent historical investigation, as an instrument of social and political control.[64]

Croce's elegant formula, which defined Boiardo's poetic inspiration as “il gusto dell'energico e del primitivo” (a taste for primitive energy), can be reset within the framework of our inquiry by correlating such instincts to the traditional military qualities (militia —the theme of the Germanic sagas, vigorously espoused by the reactionary clerical circles), now freshly felt as knightly vis vitalis. But Boiardo's characters are more than just warriors: they can be courtly and courteous knights. Beyond the enjoyment of the supremely entertaining spectacle of tall tales, the more serious part of Boiardo's attitude includes a perception of chivalric virtù that is internal, made of inner control of the will, relying on force but with the help of more courtierly astuzia, and resulting from an eager quest for self-discovery. It implies subordination of the individual to the rules of the ideal chivalric code, serving others (lord or lady) rather than individual interest, and it includes pietà prevailing over ira, humane compassion above soldierly anger. At the conclusion of a duel the winner will show respect for the dignity of his worthy rival. Both Christians and pagans can possess this virtù, whose perfect hero is Brandimarte (first a pagan, then a Christian): “un Saracin, che un altro sì perfetto / non ha la terra che è dal mar voltata /  . . . / ma sopra tutto la persona umana / era cortese, il suo leggiadro core / fu sempre acceso da gentile amore.”[65]

One of the most memorable passages of the Orlando Innamorato is the friendly argument between Orlando and Agricane when they are resting for the night before resuming their mortal duel (1.18.41–45). Orlando contrasts Agricane's barbarous version of knighthood as mere rule of force with his own courtly view of it as made of arms and studies—the ancient epic topos of sapientia and fortitudo in a Renaissance setting, but well anticipated by the medieval image of the literate knight at court. In his spirited way of tackling old stories and his own fitting inventions, Boiardo coupled cortesia with allegrezza (e.g., OI 2.1.2), reminding us of the hilaritas the curiales expected in their successful leaders, despite the frowns this caused among ascetic reformers.

Ariosto continued Boiardo's juxtaposition of knightly “manliness” to true courtesy in the form of joining sapientia to fortitudo (see Orlando Furioso 20.1–20.2, extending it to women who have also excelled, some in arms, like Camilla, and some in letters, like Sappho: “Le donne antique hanno mirabil cose / fatto ne l'arme e nelle sacre muse”).[66] A synthesis of the basic themes of the medieval lyric, epic, and romance, added to the ironic echo of Virgil's and Homer's exclusive references to


their hero's deeds, is programmatically achieved by Ariosto from his very first octave, a lucid index of his power of concentration in a deceptively plain-sounding “median” style. “Le donne e i cavalier, I'arme e gli amori, / le cortesie, I'audaci imprese io canto”: the deeds of prowess performed by knights out of courtois love for their ladies will be the subject of his singing, he says—military valor (militia ), that is, aimed at winning a high lady's love.[67] The double chiasmus ties together the traditional ingredients.

Title notwithstanding, from the vantage point of the poem's courtly function, namely of winning the favor of the Este patrons, the main character is Ruggiero:

  Ruggier, come in ciascun suo degno gesto,
d'alto valor, di cortesia solea
dimostrar chiaro segno e manifesto,
e sempre più magnanimo apparea.
(OF 41.4.1–4)

The career of this paragon of chivalry makes a true Bildungsroman, a novel of education of the hero who, like Perceval, gradually finds his way. From its beginning Ruggiero's career is mapped on the pattern of the Perceval story. He starts out bumbling, like Perceval/Parzival, then takes, or tries to take Angelica, just as Parzival had symbolically “raped” Jeschute in Wolfram, and finally goes through the perilous experience of Alcina's Garden of Pleasure.[68] Perceval's mother had kept him in the wilderness in order to avoid his falling victim to the same passion of chivalry that had caused the deaths of both his father and his brothers. Likewise Ruggiero is isolated by his tutor or adoptive father, Atlante, within the impassable walls of a magic castle: this is meant to forestall his destiny, which Atlante knows will lead him to become a Christian in order to marry Bradamante. His life is surrounded by magic, like the mysterious events that studded Perceval's growth into manhood. Ruggiero has to overcome this string of enchantments by going through several wrong moral choices (like his entrapment in Alcina's garden) and recovering from their consequences; he then finds his way painfully by winning many tests of chivalric prowess, and finally attains the necessary degree of wisdom. It is precisely in Alcina's garden that Ruggiero makes a formal profession of courtliness and chivalry (6.80):

  Ruggier rispose: “Non ch'una battaglia,
ma per voi sarò pronto a farne cento:
di mia persona, in tutto quel che vaglia,


fatene voi secondo il vostro intento;
che la cagion ch'io vesto piastra e maglia
non è per guadagnar terre né argento,
ma sol per farne beneficio altrui,
tanto più a belle donne come vui.”[69]

Even Orlando's madness was not entirely a novel idea, since it had precedents in both Yvain/Iwein and Perceval/Parzival. Yvain went mad when his wife abandoned him for an unintentional infraction of the code (forgetting his appointment with her); Parzival when, out of selfpity for having failed to ask the pertinent question of the ailing Anfortas, he renounced his saintly adviser Gurnemantz and even God, thus entering upon his period of Goteshaz, “hatred of God.” Inner moral substance and sense of purpose constitute true humanity, and they are the consequence of suffering and the realization of error, as again in the cases of Ruggiero and Orlando. Rodomonte himself, a new Starcatherus, brutal hero of pure militia, and in feudal terms the very image of the great lord who recognizes no superior and goes it alone, shares with Ruggiero and Orlando the fate of the warrior who will find out that he needs, above all, love, but that love must be won by loving truly, loyally, and through hard tests.

The French and German poets of romances, especially Chrétien, Hartmann, and Gottfried, had often taken a critical view of Arthur's court as guilty of formality of manners and superficiality of ethic. Mutatis mutandis, this theme surfaces again in the Orlando Furioso. One glaring case is Rinaldo's dogged and ill-humored defense of Gabrina in full awareness of her perfidy (apparently a derivation of the complicated episode of the “demoiselle toute chenue” in the prose Lancelot, the obnoxious hag who obliges Lancelot to abandon the rescue of Guenièvre in order to pursue all sorts of unpalatable services to her).[70] The reader is struck by this supremely humorous example of empty formalism in the performance of courtly rules, which result not in justice but only in absurd constraints on behavior. In Boiardo and Ariosto, Doristella, Origille, and Gabrina echo the unworthy ladies Perceval and Gauvain served in Chrétien's poem, where one of them was declared to be worse than Satan (“pire que Sathanas,” Perceval v. 7456). Such episodes also easily remind us of Yvain (and Hartmann's Iwein ): Arthur's court was unable to recognize Yvain in the Knight of the Lion and gave aid to the devious Meleaganz and to Lunete's undeserving older sister, while it denied it to the virtuous Lunete as well as to Gauvain's brother-in-law. In the same story the seneschal Kay was typical as a bad and dishonest


judge of right and wrong, although even the most exemplary knights could act quite irresponsibly.

Ariosto's famous irony has seldom been traced further back than to Boiardo or, perhaps, to Pulci, but recent criticism has stressed (perhaps overstressed and overread) Chrétien's irony and that of succeeding poets of Arthurian romances (signally Hartmann and Gottfried) as part of that critical stance they often seemed to share toward the moral irresponsibility of the Arthurian court. In the prose cycles this irresponsibility became a cause of the court's downfall. We cannot tell whether Ariosto could detect such signs of ironic treatment in his French sources, or rather, if he did, he could attribute it to authorial intentions. Yet it is reasonable to assume that, rather than by his personality alone, his own unmistakable mood was induced at least in part by the very nature of his sources as he read them. The genre was ready for full parodic treatment of the kind we find in Teofilo Folengo's (d. 1544) burlesque Baldus, an inspiration to Rabelais for the way it echoed the popular spirit of reversal of roles and subversion of sociocultural hierarchies (in Bakhtin's sense).

On a more general level bordering on the metaphysical, this way of burlesquing the knight (an inherent aspect of the representation of the hero from the earliest romances) marks an artistic distancing from an idealized self-image which ostensibly does not coincide with a given social reality. The chivalrous and courtly knight is not simply a warrior or an aristocrat: his nobility is more ideal than social.[71] Ariosto was the supreme master of this expression of ironic detachment, but it was characteristic of the genre to encourage the knight to look at himself critically. In a sense, all literature holds up an ideal dream of beauty and perfection at the same time that it contains the artistic consciousness of it as a fictional, though powerfully functional, dream. Lancelot, Gawain, Yvain, and Tristan are monumental embodiments of the divergence between ideal and reality: their sublime troubles are those of the inner incoherence of that very dream.

Ariosto's relationship to his society was one of both acceptance and resistance: he accepted the chivalric interests of the refeudalized Ferrara but he also knew that he had not been born to be a knight. In his humorous reference to Ippolito turning him from a poet into a knight (“di poeta cavallar mi feo,” Satire 6: 238) the choice of the deprecatory form cavallaro, “horseman,” betrays his protest at being forced to forego the sublime pleasures of his poetic vocation for the unwanted burdens of courtierly activities. Laying to rest De Sanctis's and Croce's image of a


poet willfully unconcerned with social realities, recent Ariosto criticism has brought forth the image of a man who brilliantly expressed his complex Weltanschauung by bending the received literary forms to his advantage. His “cosmic harmony” is a controlled form for a bitter view of the human condition.[72]

The reception of Ariosto's masterpiece includes the invidious comparison with Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata and vice versa, in a farflung controversy that unfolded largely at the Este court of Ferrara. One aspect of the classicistic reaction to the Furioso is particularly relevant here. After Giraldi Cinthio's (1504–1573) and Nicolucci Pigna's (1530–1575) defenses of Ariosto's narrative format in 1554, the influence of the growing Aristotelianism persuaded many a critic, from Sperone Speroni (1501–1588) to the young Torquato Tasso (1562 preface to the Rinaldo ), Antonio Minturno (1563), Ludovico Castelvetro, Alessandro Piccolomini, and Filippo Sassetti (1575/1576), to voice a lively string of demurrers against elements of Ariosto's narrative method that contradicted basic Aristotelian norms. The polemic surrounding the Furioso had to do with the classicistic notion of regular genre, namely a literary form based on rational rules authorized and exemplified (possibly, also theorized) by ancient models and authors. This definition of genres and attendant rules was, as modern scholarship has increasingly emphasized, nothing but an invention of the Italian Cinquecento critics. Giraldi Cinthio, for one, first labeled the Furioso as a romanzo cavalleresco, a new, modern type of work with its own privileges.[73] The ensuing classic-minded critics insisted on classifying the romances as a form of epic (as Tasso continued to do until his Discorsi of 1594), hence subject to the typical strictures of that genre, with the resulting exclusion of some of the most salient features of such works as the Furioso —and just about all of the most valid works of imagination, including, first and foremost, the Divina Commedia.

Specifically at issue were, first, the frequent authorial interventions in the form of (ironic) moral judgments on action and characters, especially in the exordia to the cantos; second, the constant interruptions of the action in order to shift from one to another of the plot's numerous threads. Chapter 24 of Aristotle's Poetics was the authority the classicists repeatedly invoked against authorial comments and infractions of narrative continuity, stigmatized as violations of verisimilitude and unity, respectively. In our own time Wayne Booth (The Rhetoric of Fiction, 1961) first pointed out the modern narratological bias against authorial presence, tracing it back to Flaubert and Henry


James, but it must be further historicized as a neoclassic Aristotelian norm, not shared by medieval narrators, who, qua narrators, were surely no less “credible” for breaking that norm.[74] As noted, such medieval epics as the Nibelungenlied also shared the medieval habit of ironic intervention.[75]

Ariosto clearly knew some of his medieval antecedents, at least through the Franco-Venetian versions, but the intentional obliteration of medieval lore that characterized the Renaissance induced the Cinquecento critics to ignore all that matter. Thus, typically, Sperone Speroni (probably shortly after 1560) rejected Giraldi Cinthio's claim that Ariosto's addresses to the reader carried on the oral minstrels' need to address their audiences at the beginning of each new episode in the course of their recitations. For Speroni such exordia were inventions of Boiardo and it was madness, “una pazzia,” to assume that they were a function of the recitation, just as Dante's or Petrarca's addresses to the reader at the beginning of cantos (in the Commedia and the Trionfi ) had nothing to do with such compositions being sung.[76] Being part of the argument against the romanzi, this discourse invested the whole of that glorious episode of medieval literature.

As to the second critique, directed to the structural interruptions, Giraldi and Pigna felt that these much discussed incidents of “interlacing” enhanced the general suspense and held the reader's attention, whereas the more classic-minded critics considered them nothing but violations of the hallowed Aristotelian principle of unity, frustrating to the reader and unredeemable on any ground.[77] Jacques Peletier du Mans (1517–1582), however, sagaciously defended the technique as early as 1555 in his Art poétique, specifically mentioning the French romans and their imitator Ariosto, and adducing the argument that the interruptions both provided a welcome suspense and heightened the readers' interest.[78]

We remember that ironic authorial comments as well as the interlacing technique that is characteristic of Boiardo's narrative and, more spectacularly still, Ariosto's, had a well-tested antecedent in Chrétien, Gottfried, Wolfram, and, especially for the practice of interlacing, the authors of the anonymous prose romances of the Vulgate Lancelot/Grail cycle. Both features also distinguished the romance from the classical epic. Eugène Vinaver has masterfully analyzed the precedents of interlacing, with particular regard to their landmark outcome in Sir Thomas Malory's (d. 1471) Le Morte Darthur.[79] The matter is related to the structural and formal character of the romance which, starting


with Chrétien, involved a basic bipolarity—a much debated subject ever since the pioneering study of Wilhelm Kellermann.[80] Chrétien's romances are built on a dual set of adventures involving two heroes or two couples: Alexandre/Soredamors and Cligès/Fenice in Cligès, Gauvain and Lancelot in Le chevalier de la charrete, Gauvain and Yvain in Yvain, and Gauvain and Perceval in Perceval (in Erec the division consists in the two phases of the hero's career). In some instances the two heroes occupy the two parts of a poem, in others their adventures intertwine. This structural duality further developed into a constitutive multiplicity of juxtaposed and integrated stories of individual knights which extended into their full genealogies—a narrative schema that became characteristic of the thirteenth-century prose cycles. The individual found his place in society by discovering his identity in a series of adventures outside society, specifically, outside Arthur's court. In the early romances the hero could learn to live without, above, or against Arthurian society, but this produced either an uncourtly opposition that the society could not abide (this was Tristan's case) or the discovery of a transcendental, mystical salvation higher than the ways of ordinary society (as in Perceval).

More generally, the Aristotelian critics blamed the romances still available to them, namely the cyclic compilations in prose and then Boiardo's and Ariosto's poems, for lack of unity in the plot and unconcern for the reader's ability to keep track of the plot as a whole.[81] This remained Tasso's main objection in his Discorsi del poema eroico (1594).[82] Nevertheless, in both Innamorato and Furioso the specific feature of interlacing, although carried to extreme consequences, contained a basic finality and order. The heroes find their goal at last by overcoming the dispersive obstacles interposed by moral and military enemies. In so doing they either return to their point of origin, like Orlando and Rinaldo returning to the war after the pursuit of Angelica, or they find their true goal, like Ruggiero and Bradamante achieving their fateful union.

Tasso and the Counter-Reformation

Tasso's (1544–1595) difficult predicament vis-à-vis the chivalric tradition and his personal difficulties in writing his masterpiece, including his obsessive need for the Inquisitors' approval, can be better understood if we take into account the widespread criticism against the genre


he had chosen. The arguments against court and chivalry continued to be voiced in the new climate of the Counter-Reformation with specific reference to the later chivalric literature. One of the most authoritative critiques within ecclesiastical milieus was the Bibliotheca selecta (1593) by the Mantuan Jesuit, polymath, and diplomat Antonio Possevino. In this ponderous, systematic assessment of the vast bibliographic material available to contemporary teachers of every academic subject, Possevino specifically proscribed all chivalric literature, including the Orlando Furioso, for its immoral, heretical influence on the nobility.[83] In addition to the moralism of medieval memory, Possevino reiterated the classicistic recourse to the “Aristotelian” rules of imitation of nature, verisimilitude, and regularity of plot.

Besides their historic derivation from the ancient pastoral, Tasso's Aminta (1573) and Battista Guarini's Pastor Fido (definitive edition 1602), respectively historic models for the pastoral drama and the “tragicomic” genre, are ideally linked to the Provençal pastorela and French medieval pastourelle in the introduction of shepherdesses engaged in a possibly equal relationship with courtier/knights. This kind of pastoral could occasionally be set in a rarefied dream-like climate, the best examples of which are possibly Gavaudan's two pastorelas “Desamparatz, ses companho” and “L'autre dia, per un mati” as well as Walther von der Vogelweide's “Nemt, vrouwe, disen kranz.”[84] Whereas the pastorela usually represented the shepherdess as a plaything to be taken advantage of as a member of the subhuman peasant class, the vilans, Marcabru turned it into a confrontation between the absurd arrogance of the knight and the subtle cleverness of the peasant girl, who sends him packing as out of place and out of turn. Gavaudan (fl. ca. 1195–1220) is remarkable for giving the genre a further twist: the knight finds consolation for the disappointments of the court in a relationship with a shepherdess who becomes his true love. Gavaudan considered himself unusual: “eu no sui pars als autres trobadors,” “I am not like other troubadours.” Indeed, he went both beyond the pastoral genre and beyond courtly love itself. Walther, in his turn, presented the motif of love for a shepherdess as the dream of a pleasant and wholesome sexual adventure—a dream because the reality of a class-conscious society made such a solution preposterous. Somewhat similarly, the dreamlike world of the Aminta, with its escapist thrust away from the strictures of the court, expresses the consciousness that the reality of a necessarily repressive society does not allow us such harmoniously natural behavior—and that we are the worse for it.


The nostalgic dream of a gentle chivalrous existence that still inspired Boiardo returns for a moment in Tasso, who, however, was deeply troubled by the remoteness of chivalrous virtues from the realities of court life. After dreaming about bygone ideals in his youthful Rinaldo, in the great work of his maturity, the Gerusalemme liberata (1581), he represented the knightly type in the romantic isolation of Tancredi, and the courtier type in Gernando. The planned contrast between the gentle Tancredi and the savage Argante is also a contrast between the true chivalrous knight and the barbarous warrior who recognizes no rule but his own strength (militia in its pure state). See how Tancredi addresses his opponent (6.36, 1–4):

Anima vile,
che ancor nelle vittorie infame sei,
qual titolo di laude alto e gentile
da modi attendi sì scortesi e rei?

And Argante dies as a Starcatherus would have wanted to die (19.26, 6–8):

Minacciava, morendo, e non languìa,
superbi, formidabili e feroci
gli ultimi moti fur, l'ultime voci.

The sentimental rejection of the court is best represented by powerful indirection in the episode of Erminia among the shepherds: just as she gives up (temporarily, as Tasso himself was only ever able to do) by withdrawing from the real world of the court, she listens to the disenchanted courtier who has found wisdom and peace in the wilderness, where he now leads the life of a shepherd (Gerusalemme liberata 7.12 f.). The Christian form Tasso newly imposes on the chivalric epic involves once again the fusion of Carolingian and Arthurian in the juxtaposition of centralized authority under loyalty to Godfrey, the leader selected by heaven, and the knights' centrifugal instinct to wander off on their own search for honor and individual happiness (signally, Rinaldo and Tancredi).[85] The order implied in the submission to the collective Christian ideals and goals is threatened by the anarchic thrust of sensuality and passion, love and honor. This is the new aspect of the joining of the epic and the romantic, the new predicament of the “fusion” of genres, which in Ariosto had achieved a sort of happy harmony, but again showed its inherent, almost irreconcilable tension in Tasso, the poet of the manneristic culture of the Counter-Reformation.


Much as he dreamed of achieving a reconciliation of the culture of the knight and the culture of the prince, the feudal dream of independence and the orderly centralization under a benevolent and beneficent monarch, he ultimately failed in his professed purpose since what he did express was, above all, the inescapable disjunction between will and instincts, faith and desire, intellect and heart. The need for authoritarian order that was sanctioned by the Counter-Reformation went together with the developing need for a classicism based on the Aristotelian rules. The Jerusalem Delivered gave poetic voice to both.

Although he never managed to publish them as a whole, Tasso originally conceived his Dialoghi in 1578 as a comprehensive treatment of the vita activa in the form of the basic moral values affecting the life of the man of court—a crucial question for this life-long courtier, son of a diplomat courtier, and recipient of the best schooling a courtier's son could hope for.[86] The first dialogue, Il Forno overo della nobiltà (1580, second version 1585),[87] spoke of the high nobility as made of the illustrissimi (the princes, together with the molto illustri, i.e., their grand feudatories and the noblest knights of court) and the illustri (the higher city magistrates and the high office holders at court).

Tasso's lucubrations on courtly life come forth most significantly in another dialogue, Il Malpiglio overo de la corte (probably 1585), where he also discusses whether Castiglione's portrait of his subject is limited by the historical vicissitudes that affect and change all human affairs. He concludes that Castiglione had provided a Platonic, transcendentally philosophical, and universal image of ideal value for all times and places.[88] When he summarizes his conclusions, Tasso lists the basic virtues with terms that are significantly close to Aristotle's list as Dante had translated it: fortezza, magnanimità, magnificenza, liberalità, cortesia, modestia, verità, affabilità, and piacevolezza.[89] He defines courtliness as exercise of chivalry in order to win the favor of the prince while avoiding the envy of courtiers. These two goals are mutually exclusive, so real skills must be downplayed. Chivalry consists of physical aptitudes for riding and fencing as well as spiritual virtues, good mores and sociable manners. Knowledge of all disciplines and arts elicits esteem, hence favor. Fortitude and liberality must be exercized with extreme prudence and humility in obeying the prince, so as to avoid both envy and the prince's suspicion. Hence modestia is also necessary as a constant concealment of our true excellence: “Dunque appari il cortigiano più tosto d'occultare che di apparere,” “the courtier must sooner learn to conceal than to seem.”[90] This twist in the argument reveals a disen-


chantment from the earlier faith in the potential inherent in the man of court or public figure. The prince was becoming more of a tyrant, and the courtier an opportunistic social ornament. Differently from Castiglione's more sanguine approach, this new portrait, where Dante's and Aristotle's “intellectual” virtue of prudence, a necessary guide to all the “moral” virtues, has become the paramount consideration (“la principal virtù delle corti”), is said to apply to Tasso's time, since dissimulation has become a major virtue: “in questi tempi, in cui l'infinger è una de le maggior virtù.”[91] Not only is the new courtier reduced to the role of humble servant to the prince—serving even by writing court poetry—he has also been denied access to the political realm that was his predecessors' true vital space. In Tasso's pages that refer to the court, there is no suggestion of political involvement.[92]

We are now approaching the end of the Italian segment of our complex subject, and it is time to take stock of some crucial threads in our story. By tracing the progress of literary forms and themes through the social ambience of the Italian courts and their centrifugal impact on the life of the public squares, I have singled out some typical elements that remained constant as part of an underlying ideology and that take us back to the early manifestations of courtly chivalry, even including some original ingredients of the magical setting of wandering knights and their relatives, the charismatic men of court. We have witnessed the continuity of the courtly heritage in such basic literary attitudes as irony and moral distancing. In a similar pattern of continuity, the early anticourt arguments have kept coming back in new settings and with a renewed sense of purpose.



Preferred Citation: Scaglione, Aldo. Knights at Court: Courtliness, Chivalry, and Courtesy from Ottonian Germany to the Italian Renaissance. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.