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The Book of the Courtier
Sunday, July 7th, 2013
6:49 PM
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I saw a post today by someone wondering about the humility displayed in a particular introduction to a period fencing manual. The were asking if such statements were common to fencing manuals and my response was not just to fencing manuals but to almost every manuscript of the times. Which then got me thinking again about trying to understand the mindset to better help us understand works related to HEMA and how there was one work in particular that was hugely popular throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular, that showed a great deal about the etiquette and ideals of the "Renaissance Man", if you will, but it's a book that I never hear about in HEMA circles.

Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier. It is commonly cited in SCA and academic circles as required reading for those interested in the 16th century at all and the example above of why some of the manuscripts we study are written the way they are and espouse some of the ideals they do can be traced back not just to what they were trying to teach and the concepts of honor, the duel, self defense, martial prowess in battle and so on, but also through the sociological norms and ideals of the times. In that respect I think it's probably of some import to consider the concepts of the Renaissance itself, of the revival of what we now call a classical education. I think the Book of the Courtier, however, is a pretty good book for beginning to grasp some of those underlying social concepts and sociological norms for the time periods we're looking at.

Are there others familiar with the time and this work who might agree, disagree or have other comments?

Lenny Zimmermann

 

"A soldier uses arms merely with skill, whereas a knight uses them with virtuous intention." - Pomponio Torelli, 1596.

Système d'Armes, New Orleans

Sunday, July 7th, 2013
9:48 PM
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Is there a pdf of this floating around?

Sunday, July 7th, 2013
10:09 PM
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I'm not sure if there is a modern pdf translation but you can read the full text of the original Elizabethan English translation online at http://www.luminarium.org/rena.....rtier.html and they have it available there as a PDF as well at https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/dspace/bitstream/1794/671/1/courtier.pdf.

Lenny Zimmermann

 

"A soldier uses arms merely with skill, whereas a knight uses them with virtuous intention." - Pomponio Torelli, 1596.

Système d'Armes, New Orleans

Monday, July 8th, 2013
11:52 AM
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Indded, it was a renaissance bestseller, and the started a trend for similar courtesy manuals. I know that a few modern practitioners in Italy (especially Lupo-Sinclair) and elsewhere talk about "sprezzatura" (a studied nonchalance) in swordsmanship.

I have to admit I take a dissenting view for HEMA circles (although plenty of mainstream academics have said as much), but IMHO the whole ethos espoused by the Courtier is terribly superficial and self-serving. Ultimately it is about social climbing in a highly competitive environment (court), and impressing your peers and especially your prince.

It's certainly useful to understand the mindset, but I'd say more in terms of the importance of maintaining an external image and reputation as much as anything else.

Monday, July 8th, 2013
1:22 PM
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piermarco said
[snip]
It's certainly useful to understand the mindset, but I'd say more in terms of the importance of maintaining an external image and reputation as much as anything else.

While certainly true I would argue that the subtleties of how language is used and individuals present themselves is still fairly relevant to approaching even fencing manuals. For example the common phrasing used in so many manuscripts expressing humility and even unworthiness of a manuscript for the reader is, I think, well illustrated in the Courtier. So while aimed at the nobility I think it still shows a lot about ideals and considerations that could be relevant in all walks of life and of how so many books published then, and especially after the Courtier, would in many ways follow certain patterns of presentation.

As to the usefulness of sprezzatura in fencing... while it may be nice to see, and possibly indicative of a high skill level, I don't know that it is something we should necessarily strive for, per se. I think it is more of something that comes naturally.

(For those who have yet to read the Courtier,  probably the easiest way to describe sprezzatura in a sporting context would be to think of, say, Michael Jordan playing basketball or any high-level athlete making what many of us know can be fairly difficult actions seemingly look easy.)

Lenny Zimmermann

 

"A soldier uses arms merely with skill, whereas a knight uses them with virtuous intention." - Pomponio Torelli, 1596.

Système d'Armes, New Orleans

Sunday, September 8th, 2013
2:25 PM
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Just thought I'd mention an interesting book I'm reading at the moment.

 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Scho.....f+whoredom

 

This is a translation of the 1st third of Pietro Aretino's "Dialogo" from 1536, where the veteran courtesan Nanna lectures her aspiring daughter on the tricks of the trade. It's a short book, bawdy, fun and very readable.

It is widely considered a satire of The Courtier, and the dissimulation and flattery which the courtesy manuals seem to recommend. Nanna explicitly states that "flattery and deceit are the darlings of great men".

Anyway it's an interesting insight into the social mores of the period, and a counterpoint to the Courtier. While the Courtier is focused on the highest echelons, behaviour in a Ducal court, Nanna describes how to handle different clients, and how people differ depending upon their social class, regional or national origin, profession or general character, written from a more cynical and worldly perspective.

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