The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione

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What role does fortune have in the life of the courtier, according to Baldassare Castiglione in his The Book of the Courtier?

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In The Book of the Courtier Castiglione regularly inveighs against fortune and its power to do us so much irreparable harm. In one particularly bitter passage he laments how fortune uplifts to the skies whom she pleases while at the same time burying in the depths those most worthy of being exalted.

In due course, The Book of the Courtier was placed on the Index, a list of heretical books banned by the Catholic Church, for attributing so much power to what was, in effect, a pagan deity. Indeed, it's notable just how few references there are in the book to the Church. This is entirely in keeping with the humanist spirit of the age, which arose out of the rediscovery of pagan learning.

Although Castiglione assigns to fortune such an important role in the arrangement of human affairs, that does not mean that the ideal prince is entirely helpless in the face of such an overwhelming power. By the cultivation of virtue—ably assisted, of course, by a wise courtier—he can fortify himself to a...

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