1 THE BOOK OF THE COURTIER BY COUNT BALDESAR CASTIGLIONE () TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN BY LEONARD ECKSTEIN OPDYCKE. An insider’s view of court life and culture during the Renaissance, ‘The Book of the Courtier’ is the handiwork of a diplomat who was called upon to resolve the. LibraryThing Review. User Review – asukamaxwell – LibraryThing. This ” entertaining comedy of manners” might read like it’s entirely fiction, but in fact took place.

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The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione

To have complete access to the thousands of philosophy articles on this site, baldassaree. On a chilly evening in early Marchhigh in the Apennine Mountains of northern Italy, a group of cultivated gentlemen and ladies sit around the fire in the audience chamber of the Duchess of Urbino discussing the qualities of the perfect courtier. Such is the setting of one of the most celebrated books of the Italian Renaissance, The Book of the Courtier Il libro del cortegiano by Baldassare Castiglionewhich was an international best-seller for a century after its first publication in The four nights of fictional baldassarre Castiglione recounts display the ceremonial politeness of the Urbino courtiers, their easy familiarity with classical authors, their repeated outbreaks of laughter, hook the apparent frivolity baldsasare some of the topics they discuss; but if the conversation happens to adopt a mildly philosophical tone, as it does when one speaker begins to use Socratic cross-examination with his interlocutor, or when two others start a debate involving Aristotelian concepts of matter and form, then a senior lady of the court typically intervenes, seeking not always successfully to cut the exchange short.

Or at least this is the case for the first three nights. On the fourth night, the Duchess calls upon two of her courtiers to present their views on topics which will lead the discussion in a more philosophical direction.


These two discussions have often been criticised in ways which neutralise their philosophical significance. Although courtler view is less often maintained today, it does show that many readers consider the final night to be thematically discrepant with the rest of the text, thus making it appear to be an appendix to the work rather than an integral conclusion to it.

The Book of the Courtier

It presents three nights of discussion on courtly etiquette, and a fourth night of idealist rhetoric on topics which might make a contribution to superficial courtly conversation, but not to philosophical thought. The answer is not straightforward, firstly because there is a large and usually unappreciated element of allegory in The Book of the Courtier.

For such a judicious reader, the perfect courtier as Ottaviano describes him is more than just a moral guide for his prince: On the surface Castiglione seems to present a virtue ethic, but only in an exhortatory sense that is, he recommends that a prince should have an education in virtuenot in a philosophically developed way. Castiglione then applies this medical ethical system to the ethics of statecraft by analogy.

Concerning statecraft, we see that in the case of a courtier acting to save his state from a corrupt tyrant, if these requirements had been routinely observed in Renaissance Italy, then many of the disasters that followed upon attempts to overthrow or assassinate tyrannical rulers would have been avoided: If such a prince can be successfully removed without causing more harm than good to the state, then it is ethical for the perfect courtier to act toward this end.

Otherwise, the courtier must simply turn his back on the wicked prince and seek a better prince elsewhere whom he can serve.

The Book of the Courtier – Baldassare Castiglione – Google Books

In this Platonic dialogue the principal speakers agree that the true ruler must have a specific form of knowledge baldassaree enables him to judge rightly and command appropriately. A person who holds the office of ruler but lacks this knowledge is a ruler in name only; while a person who has this knowledge, even if he holds no office at all, is nevertheless entitled to rule.


So while Castiglione is every bit as willing as Machiavelli to recommend forceful political action, even to the point of sanctioning the assassination of a ruler in extreme circumstances, he nevertheless does so within an intellectual context which Machiavelli abandons — that of classical political philosophy. Moreover, its political philosophy is of interest for more than historical reasons, for it can be applied by anyone today who works closely with or acts as an advisor to a person with significant decision-making authority, and not just to the Renaissance courtier who undertakes to counsel his prince.

Critics have rightly observed that this speech advocates turning away from worldly concerns and devoting oneself entirely to contemplative meditation. What has rarely been noted, however, is that Bembo describes this ascending path as one that will be followed to the end only by very few.

So although baldqssare is true that a person who has reached the later stages of the ascent could not be an effective political actor, it is also true that only a small number of people will ever reach this level.

For someone at the middle of the ascent, however, courtjer situation described by Bembo is quite different. Here the politically-active courtier achieves enough philosophical detachment to be free from the distractions of passionate love that characterise the initial stages of the ascent without having to abandon the affairs of the world, as those at the final stages must necessarily do.

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Court scene by Andrea Mantegna,