Book I ~The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione

This is VERY antiquated English. Do your best with it, and try to discover what these fictional noblemen (and noblewoman) believe to be the perfect qualities of the ideal courtier...the noble man of an ideal Italian court! Following these excerpts is a discussion by the same characters on the subject of the ideal lady. What are the similarities between their concepts of the ideal gentleman and the ideal lady? What are the differences? How does Castiglione's view of noble womanhood - as shown through these semifictional character types - represent a change in attitudes toward women in western culture?

You see then of what importance this first imprinting is, and howe he ought to endeavoure himself to get it good in princes, if he entende to be set by, and to purchase him the name of a good Coutyer. But to come to some particularitie, I judge the principall and true profession of a Courtyer ought to be in feates of armes, the which above all I will have hym to practise lively, and to bee knowen among other for his hardinesse, for his acheving of enterprises, and for his fidelitie toward him whom he serveth. And he shall purchase himselfe a name with these good condicions, in doing the dedes in everie time and place: for it is not for him to feint at any time in this behalfe without a wonderous reproche. And even as in women honestye once stained dothe never retourne againe to the former astate: so the fame of a gentleman that carieth weapon, yf it once take a foile in any litle point through dastardlines or any other reproche, doeth evermore continue shameful in the worlde and full of ignoraunce. Therefore the more excellent our Courtyer shalbe in this arte, the more shall he bee worthy praise: albeit I judge not necessarye in hym so perfect a knowledge of thynges and other qualities that is requisite in a capitaine. But because this is overlarge a scope of matters, wee wyll holde oure selves contented (as we have sayde) with the uprightnesse of a well meaning minde, and with an invincible courage, and that he alwaies shew himself such a one: for many times men of courage are sooner knowen in small matters then in greate. Often times in daugers that stande them upon, and where many eyes be, ye shall see some that for all their hearte is dead in their bodie, yet pricked with shame or with the company, go forwarde (as it were) blindfield and do their dutie. And God knoweth bothe in matt ers that little touche them, and also where they suppose that without missynge they may convey themselves from daunger, how they are willing ynough to slepe in a whole skinne. But such as think themselves neither marked, seen, nor knowen, and yet
declare a stout courage, and suffer not the leaste thyng in the worlde to passe that maie burthen them, they have the courage of spirite whiche we seke to have in our Coutyer. Yet will we not have him for al that so lustie to make braverie in woordes, and to bragge that he hath wedded his harneys for his wife, and to threaten with suche grim lookes, as we have seene Berto do oftentimes. For unto suche maie well be saide that a worthie Gentlewoman in a noble assembly spake pleasauntly unto one, that shall be namelesse for this tyme, whome she to shewe hym a good countenance, desired to daunce with her, and he refusing both that, and to heare musick and many other entertainmentes offred him, alwaies affirming suche trifles not to be his profession, at last the Gentlewoman demaunding him, What is then your profession? He aunswered with a frowning looke: To fight.

Then saide the Gentlewoman: Seing you are not nowe at the warre nor in place to fight, I woulde thinke it best for you to bee well besmered and set up in an armorie with other implementes of warre till time wer that you should be occupied, least you waxe more rustier then you are.

Thus with much laughinge of the standers by she left him with a mocke in his foolish presumpcion.
A stout-herted man. He therefore that we seeke for, where the enemies are, shall shewe himselfe moste fierce, bitter, and evermore with the firste. In everie place beside, lowly, sober, and circumspecte, fleeing above all thinge bragginge and unshamefull praising himself, for therewith a man alwaies purchaseth himself the hatred and yll will of the hearers.

And I, aunswered the L. Gaspar, have knowen few men excellent in any thing whatsoever it bee, but they praise them selves. An me thinke it may wel be borne in them: for he that is of skill, whan he seeth that he is not knowen for his woorkes of the ignoraunte, hath a disdeigne that his connynge should lye buried, and needes must he open it one waie, least he should bee defrauded of the estimation that belongeth to it, whiche is the true rewarde of vertuous travailes [works]. Therefore among the auncient writers he that muche excelleth doeth sildome forbeare praisyng hymself. They in deede are not to be borne withall that havyng no skill in theym, wyll prayse themselves: but we wyll not take our Courtyer to be suche a one.

Then the Count: Yf you have well understoode (quoth he) I blamed the praysinge of a mans selfe impudently and withoute respecte. And surelye (as you saye) a man ought not to conceyve an yll oppinion of a skifull man that praiseth hymselfe dyscretely, but rather take it for a more certaine witnes, then yf it came out of an other mans mouth. I agree well that he, whiche in praising himselfe falleth not into errour, nor purchaseth himself lothsomenes or hatred of the hearers, is moste discrete: and beside the praises whiche he giveth himselfe, deserveth the same of other men also, because it is a very hard matter.


Therfore it is better to passe that over with silence that cannot be rehersed without sorow, and leaving this purpose into the which I am entred against my will, retourne againe unto oure Courtier, whom in letters I will have to bee more then indyfferentlye well seene, at the leaste in those studyes,
The Courtier ought to be learned....
In humanity.
In the Latin and Greeke tung.
In poetes.
In oratours.
In Historiographers.
In writinge ryme and prose.
The study which they call Humanitie, and to have not only the understandinge of the Latin tunge, but also of the Greeke, because of the many and sundrye thinges that with greate excellencye are written in it. Let him much exercise hym selfe in poets, and no lesse in Oratours and Historiographers, and also in writinge bothe rime and prose, and especiallye in this our vulgar tunge. For beside the contentation that he shall receive thereby himselfe, he shall by this meanes never want pleasaunt interteinments with women which ordinarylye love such matters. And if by reason either of his other busines beside, or of his slender studie, he shall not attaine unto that perfection that hys writinges may be worthye much commendation, let him be circumspect in keeping them close, least he make other men to laugh at him. Onely he may show them to a frend whom he may trust, for at the leastwise he shall receive so much profite, that by that exercise he shall be able to geve his judgement upon other mennes doinges. For it happeneth verye sildome, that a man not exercised in writinge, how learned so ever he be, can at any tyme know perfectly the labour and toile of writers, or tast of the sweetenes that often times are found in them of olde tyme. And besyde that, those studyes shall make him copyous, and (as Aristippus aunswered that Tiran) bould to speake uppon a good grounde wyth everye manne. Notwithstanding I wyll have oure Courtier to keepe faste in his minde one lesson, and that is this, to be alwaies wary both in this and in every other point, and rather fearfull then bould, and beware that he perswade not him self falsely to knowe the thing he knoweth not indede.

Because we are of nature al the sort of us much more gredy of praise then is requisite, and better to our eares love the melody of wordes sounding to our praise, then any other song or soune that is most sweete. And therfore manye tymes, lyke the voices of Meremaydens, they are the cause of drownyng him that doeth not well stoppe his eares at such deceitfull harmonie. This daunger being perceived, there hath bene among the auncient wise men that hath written bookes, howe a manne should know a true friend from a flatterer. But what availeth it? If there be many of them (or rather infinit) that manifestly perceive there are flatterers, and yet love hym that flattereth them, and hate him that telleth them the trothe, and often times (standinge in opinion that he that praiseth them is to scace in his woordes) they themselves helpe him forward, and utter such matters of themselves, that the most impudent flatterer of all is ashamed of.

Let us leave these blinde busardes in their owne erroure, and make oure Courtyer of so good a judgement, that he will not be geven to understand blacke for white, nor presume more of him selfe then what he knoweth very manifestlye to be true, and especially in those thinges, which (yf he beare well in minde) the L. Cesar rehearsed in his divise of pastimes, that we have manye tymes used for an instrument to make many become foolysh. But rather, that he may be assured not to fall into anye errour, where he knoweth those prayses that are geven him to be true: let hym not so openly consent to them, nor confirme them so without resistance, but rather with modesty (in a maner) denye them cleane, shewyng alwayes and countynge in effect, armes to be his principall profession, and al the other good qualities for an ornament thereof, and pryncypallye amonge souldiers, least he be like unto them that in learnyng will seeme men of warr, and among men of warr, learned. In this wise for the reasons we have said he shal avoyde curyousnesse, and the meane thinges which he taketh in hand, shal appeare very great.

Here M. Peter Bembo answered: I know not (Count Lewis) howe you will have this Courtier, being learned and of so many other vertuous qualities, to count every thing for an ornament of armes, and not armes and the reste for an ornamente of letters. The whyche wythout other addicyon are in dignitie so muche above armes, as the minde is above the bodye: because the practising of them belongeth properly to the mind even as the practising of armes dooeth to the body.

The Count answered then: Nay the practisinge of armes beelongeth aswel to the mind as to the body. But I wold not have you (M. Peter) a judge in this cause, for you would be to partial to one of the partes. And forsomuch as this disputacion hath already bene tossed a long time my moste wise men, we neede not to renew it, but I count it resolved upon armes side, and wil have our Courtier (since I have the facioning of him at mi wil) think thus also. And if you be of a contrary opinion, tary till you heare a disputacion, where it may be as well lawfull for him that taketh part with armes, to use his armes, as thei that defend letters use in the defence the very same letters.

Oh (quoth M. Peter) you rebuked the Frenchmen before for setting litle by letters, and declared what a great light of glory they shew unto men and how they make them immortal: and now it seemeth you are in an other opinion. Do you not remember that:

The great Macedo, when he proched neer
Fiers Achils famous Toumb, thus said and sight:
O happy Prince that found a Tromp so cleer,
And happy he that prayed so worthy a wight.

And if Alexander envied Achilles not for his deedes but for his fortune that gave him so great luck to have his actes renowmed by Homer, a man may gather he estemed more the letters of Homer then the armes of Achilles. What other judge then or what other sentence looke you for, as touching the dignity of armes and letters, then that which was geven by one of the greatest capitaines that ever were?

The Count answered: I blame the Frenchmen because they think letters hurt the profession of armes: and I hould opinion that it is not so necessary for any man to be learned, as it is for a man of war.
The Courtyer a manne of warre and learned.

And these two pointes linked together and aided the one by the other (which is most fit) wil I have to bee in the Courtier. Neyther doe I thinke my self for this to be in an other opinion, but (as I have said) I will not dispute: whiche of them is most worthy praise, it sufficeth that learned men take not in hande at anye time to praise any but great men, and glorious actes, which of themselves deserve prayse by their proper essentiall vertues from whence they arrise.

Beside that, they are a most noble Theme for writers, which is a great ornament, and partly the cause of the continuance of writinges, that paraventure should not be so much read and set by, if there wanted in them noble matter, but counted vaine and of smal reputation. And if Alexander envied Achilles bicause he was praised of him that did it, yet doth it not consequently folowe that he esteamed letters more then armes. Wherin if he had knowen himself so farr wide from Achilles, as in writing he thought al they would be from Homer that should go about to write of him, I am sure he would muche sooner have desired wel doing in himself then wel speaking in an other. Therfore think I that this was a close praise of himself, and a wishing for that he thought he had not, namelye the high excellency of a writer, and not for that he thought with himself he had already obtayned, that is to say, the prowess of armes, wherin he counted not Achilles any whit his superiour, wherefore he called him happye, as it were signifying, where his fame in foretime was not so renowmed in the worlde, as was the fame that by so divyne a Poeme was cleere and excellent, it proceaded not for that his prowes and desertes were not such and worthy so much praise: but it arose of fortune that had before hand prepared for Achilles that miracle of nature for a glorious renowme and trompet of his actes. And peradventure again he minded therby to stirr up some noble wit to wryte of himself, declaring how acceptable it should be to him, forsomuch as he loved and reverenced the holye monumentes of letters: about the which we have now spoken sufficient.

Nay more then sufficient, aunswered the L. Lodovicus Pius. For I beleve there is never a vessell in the world possible to be founde so bigge that shalbe able to receive al the thinges that you wil have in this Courtyer.

Then the Count: Abide yet a while (quoth he) for there be manye other thinges to be had in him yet...

Book III ~ The Ideal Lady

The verye same rules that are given for the Courtier, serve also for the woman, I am of a contrarye opinion. For albeit some qualities are commune and necessarye aswell for the woman as the man, yet are there some other more meeter for the woman then for the man, and some again meete for the man, that she ought in no wise to meddle withall. The verie same I saye of the exercises of the bodye. But principally in her facions, maners, woordes, gestures and conversation (me thinke) the woman ought to be muche unlike the man. For right as it is seemlye for him to showe a certain manlinesse full and steadye, so doeth it well in a woman to have a tendernes, soft and milde, with a kinde of womanlie sweetnes in everye gesture of herres, that in goyng, standinge and speakinge what ever she lusteth, may alwayes make her appeere a woman without anye likenes of man. Adding therfore this principle to the rules that these Lordes have taught the Courtier, I thinke well, she maye serve her tourne with manye of them, and be endowed with verye good qualities, as the L. Gaspar saith. For many vertues of the minde I recken be as necessary for a woman, as for a man. Likewise noblenesse of birth, avoidinge Affectation or curiositie, to have a good grace of nature in all her doinges, to be of good condcyons, wyttye, foreseeyng, not haughtie, not envious, not yll tunged, not light, not contentious, not untowardlye, to have the knowleage to wynn and kepe the good wyll of her Ladye and of all others, to do well and with a good grace the exercises comely for women. Me thinke well beawty is more necessarie in her then in the Courtier, for (to saye the truth) there is a great lacke in the woman that wanteth beawtie. She ought also to be more circumspect and to take better heed that she give no occasion to be yll reported of, and so to behave her selfe, that she be not onlye not spotted wyth anye fault, but not so much as with suspicion. Bicause a woman hath not so many wayes to defende her selfe from sclaunderous reportes, as hath a man. But for somuch as Count Lewis hath verye particularly expressed the principall profession of the Courtier, and willeth it to be in Marsiall feates, me thinke also beehouffull to uttre (according to my judgement) what the Gentilwomans of the Palace ought to be: in which point whan I have throughlye satisfied, I shall thinke my self rid of the greatest part of my dutye. Leaving therfore a part of the vertues of the minde that ought to be commune to her with the Courtier, as wisdome, noblenes of courage, staidenesse, and manie mo, and likewise the condicions that are meete for all women, as to be good and discrete, to have the understanding to order her husbandes goodes and her house and children whan she is maried, and all those partes that beelonge to a good huswief: I say that for her that liveth in Court, me thinke there beelongeth unto her above all other thinges, a certein sweetnesse in language that may delite, wherby she may gentlie entertein all kinde of men with talke woorth the hearynge and honest, and applyed to the time and place, and to the degree of the person she communed withall: accompaniyng with sober and quiet maners and with the honestye that must alwayes be a stay to all her deedes, a readie livelines of wit, wherby she may declare herselfe far wide from all dulnesse: but with such a kinde of goodnes, that she may be esteamed no lesse chaste, wise and courteise, then pleasant, feat conceited and sobre: and therefore must she kepe a certein meane very hard, and (in a maner) dirived of contrarie matters, and come just to certein limites, but not passe them. This woman ought not therfore (to make herself good and honest) be so skemish and make wise to abhorr both the companye and the talke (though somwhat of the wantonest) if she be present, to gete her thens by and by, for a man may lightlye gesse that she feined to be so coye to hide that in herselfe, whiche she doubted others might come to the knowleage of: and such nice facions are alwaies hateful. Neither ought she again (to showe herself free and pleasant) speake wordes of dishonesty, nor use a certein familiaritye withoute measure and bridle, and facions to make men beleave that of her, that perhappes is not: but beeinge present at suche kinde of talke, she ought to geve the hearinge with a litle blushing and shamefastnes. Likewise to eschew one vice that I have seen reigne in many: namely, to speake and willingly to give ear to such as report ill of other women: for suche as in hearinge the dishonest beehaviours of other women disclosed, are offended at the matter, and make wise not to credit and (in maner) to thinke it a wonder that a woman should lead an unclean lief, they make proof that sins this fault seemeth unto them so foule a matter, they commit it not. But those that go alwaies harking out the loves of others and disclose them so point by point, and with such joye, it seemeth that they envy the matter, and that their desire is to have all men know it, that the like may not be imputed to them for a trespace, and so they tourne it to certein laughters with a kind of gesture, wherby they make men to suspect at the verie same instant that they take great contentacion at it. And of this arriseth, that men although to their seeming they give diligent ear to it, for the most part conceive an ill opinion of them and have them in verye small reputation, and (to their weeninge) with these beehaviours are enticed to attempt them farther. And many times afterward they renn so farr at rovers, that it purchaseth them worthely an yll name, and in conclusion are so litle regarded, that men passe not for their companie, but rather abhorr them. And contrariwise, there is no man so shameles and high minded, but beareth a great reverence towarde them that be counted good and honest, bicause that gravitie tempered with knowleage and goodnes, is (as it were) a shield against the wanton pride and beastlines of saucy merchauntes. Wherfore it is seen that one woord, a laughter or a gesture of good will (how litle soever it be) of an honest woman, is more set by of every man, then al the toyes and wanton gestures of them that so lavishly show small shamefastnesse. And where they leade not in deede an uncleane lief, yet wyth those wanton countenaunces, babblinge, scornfulnesse, and suche scoffynge condicions they make men to thinke they do. And forsomuch as wordes that are not grounded upon some pithie foundacion, are vaine and childishe, the Gentilwoman of the Palaice, beeside her discreation to understand the condicion of him she talketh withall, to entertein him honestlye, must needes have a sight in manie thinges, and a judgemente in her communication to pike out such as be to pourpose for the condicion of him she talketh withall, and be heedefull that she speake not otherwhile where she wold not, woordes that may offende him. Let her beeware of praysing her selfe undiscreatly, or beeinge to tedious that she make him not weerie. Let her not go mingle with pleasant and laughing talke, matters of gravitie: nor yet with grave, Jestes and feat conceites. Let her not foolishlye take upon her to know that she knoweth not, but soberly seeke to be estemed for that she knoweth, avoiding (as is saide) maner shall she be indowed with good condicions, and the exercises of the body comlie for a woman shall she do with an exceading good grace, and her talke shall be plentuous and ful of wisdome, honesty, and pleasantnesse: and so shall she be not only beloved but reverenced of all men, and perhappes woorthie to be compared to this great Courtier, aswel for the qualities of the minde as of the bodye.

Whan the L. Julian had hitherto spoken, he helde his peace, and settled himselfe as thoughe he had made an ende of his talke.

Then said the L. Gaspar: No doubt (my L. Julian) but you have decked gaily out this Gentilwoman, and made her of an excellent condicion: yet me seemeth that you have gone generallye inough to woorke, and neamed in her certein thinges so great, that I thinke in my minde you are ashamed to expound them, and have rather wished them in her, after the maner of them that somtime wishe for thinges unpossible and above nature, then taught them. Therfore woulde I that you declared unto us a little better, what exercises of the bodye are meete for a Gentilwoman of the Palaice, and in what sorte she ought to entertein, and what those many thinges be whiche you saye she ought to have a sight in: and whether wisedome, noblenesse of courage, staidnesse and those manye other vertues that you have spoken of, your meaninge is should helpe her about the overseeinge onlie of her house, children and houshoulde (the which neverthelesse you will not have her principall profession) or els to entertein, and to do these exercises of the body with a good grace: and in good felowship take heede ye put not these seelie vertues to so vyle an occupation that they may be ashamed of it.

The L. Julian laughed and said: You can not chouse (my L. Gaspar) but still you must uttre youre yll stomake againste women. But certes me thought I had spoken sufficient, and especiallyie beefore such audience, that I beleave none here, but understandeth concernynge the exercises of the body, that it is not comlye for a woman to practise feates of armes, ridinge, playinge at tenise, wrastlinge, and manye other thynges that beelonge to men.

Then said Unico Aretino: Emonge them of olde time the maner was that women wrastled naked with men, but we have lost this good custome together with manye mo.

The L. Cesar Gonzaga replied to this: And in my time I have seene woman playe at tenise, practise feates of armes, ride, hunt, and do (in a maner) all the exercises beeside, that a gentilman can do.

The L. Julian answered: Sins I may facion this woman after my minde, I will not onelye have her not to practise these manlie exercises so sturdie and boisterous, but also even those that are meete for a woman, I will have her to do them with heedfulnesse and with the soft mildenesse that we have said is comelie for her. And therfore in daunsynge I would not see her use to swift and violent trickes, nor yet in singinge or playinge upon instrumentes those harde and often divisions that declare more counninge then sweetenesse. Likewise the instrumentes of musike which she useth (in mine opinion) ought to be fitt for this pourpose. Imagin with your selfe what an unsightly matter it were to see a woman play upon a tambour or drumm, or blowe in a flute or trompet, or anye like instrumente: and this bicause the boisterousnesse of them doeth both cover and take away that sweete mildenes which setteth so furth everie deede that a woman doeth. Therfore whan she commeth to daunse, or to show any kinde of musike, she ought to be brought to it with suffringe her self somewhat to be prayed, and with a certein bashfulnes, that may declare the noble shamefastnes that is contrarye to headinesse. She ought also to frame her garmentes to this entent, and so to appararaile herself that she appeere not fonde and light. But forsomuch as it is lefull and necessary for women to sett more by their beawty then men, and sundrie kindes of beawtie there are, thys woman ought to have a judgement to knowe what maner garmentes set her best out, and be most fitt for the exercises that she entendeth to undertake at that instant, and with them to arraye herselfe. And where she perceyveth in her a sightlye and cheerfull beawtie, she ought to farther it with gestures, wordes and apparaile, that all may betoken mirth. In like case an other that feeleth herself of a milde and grave disposition, she ought also to accompany it with facions of the like sort, to encrease that that is the gift of nature. In like maner where she is somwhat fatter or leaner then reasonable sise, or wanner, or browner, to helpe it with garmentes, but feiningly asmuch as she can possible, and keapinge herself clenlye and handsome, showe alwaies that she bestoweth no pein nor diligence at all about it. And bicause the L. Gaspar doeth also aske what these manye thinges be she ought to have a sight in, and howe to entertein, and whether the vertues ought to be applyed to this enterteinment, I saye that I will have her to understande that these Lordes have wylled the Courtier to knowe: and in those exercises that we have saide are not comelye for her, I will at the least she have that judgement, that men can have of the thinges which they practise not, and this to have knowleage to praise and make of Gentilmen more and lesse accordinge to their desertes. And to make a breef rehersall in fewe woordes of that is alreadye saide, I will that this woman have a sight in letters, in musike, in drawinge or peinctinge, and skilfull in dausninge, and in divising sportes and pastimes, accompaniynge with that discreete sobermode and with the givinge a good opinion of herselfe, the other principles also that have bine taught the Courtier. And thus in conversation, in laughing, in sporting, in jestinge, finally in every thinge she shall be had in very great price, and shall entertein accordingly both with Jestes and feat conceites meete for her, everie person that commeth in her company. And albeit staidnes, noblenes of courage, temperance, strength of the minde, wisdome and the other vertues a man wold thinke beelonged not to entertein, yet will I have her endowed with them all, not somuch to entertein (although notwithstanding they may serve therto also) as to be vertuous: and these vertues to make her suche a one, that she may deserve to be esteamed, and al her doinges framed by them.

I wonder then, quoth the L. Gaspar smilinge, sins you give women both letters, and staidnesse, and noblenesse of courage and temperance, ye will not have them also to beare rule in Cities and to make lawes, and to leade armies, and men to stand spinning in the kitchin.

The L. Julian answered in like maner smiling: Perhappes to, this were not amisse, then he proceaded. Do you not know that Plato (which in deede was not very friendly to women) giveth them the overseeing of Cities, and all other marciall offices he appointeth to men? Thinke you not there were manye to be found that could aswell skill in ruling Cities and armies, as men can? But I have not appointed them these offices, bicause I facion a waiting gentilwoman of the Court, not a queene. I se wel you wold covertly have up again the sclaunderous report that the L. Octavian gave women yesterday: namely, That they be moste unperfect creatures, and not apt to woorke anye vertuous deed, and of verie litle woorthiness and of no value in respet of men. But surely both he and you should be in verie great errour if ye thought so.