The Book of the Courtier

by Baldassare Castiglione

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Book of the Courtier is a sixteenth-century courtesy book written by Baldassare Castiglione between 1513 and 1524. Essentially, this book tells a gentleman how to act. It is a mix of the chivalrous ideals of the medieval knight and the educational program of the humanists. The book is set in the salon of Duchess Elisabetta Gonzaga, the wife of Guidobaldo da Montefeltro. There, the dialogues of four successive evenings take place. Lady Emilia Pia is the moderator of the discussions. During a parlor game between Elisabetta's courtiers, the topic of discussion is decided. It is "to form in words a perfect courtier." The group of about twenty people sit in a circle and listen to a few main speakers talk, but they can interrupt to question and challenge the speakers' viewpoints.

The first two books discuss the accomplishments of the ideal courtly gentleman and the circumstances in which he exhibits them. In book three, the formation of an ideal courtly woman is talked about. Finally, Pietro Bembo, a Venetian patrician, humanist, and historian, gives a lengthy discussion on Platonic love. The book finishes on a cheerful tone with laughter and teasing.

Castiglione's book was considered a masterpiece in its time and quickly spread all over Europe. It influenced hundreds of other courtesy books.

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