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Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 54, 2001

Assumed Simplicity and the Critique of Nobility: Or,
How Castiglione Read Cicero


In book 1 of Castiglinoe's Il libro del cortegiano Lodovico da Canossa's sprezzatura -- embodied in his pretended inability to teach us how to be perfect courtiers -- is usually seen as consonant with the treatise's aristocratic bias, especially among its Anglophone readers. In this essay, I argue that study of Cicero's use of dissimulatio -- or "assumed simplicity" -- in De oratore helps us to understand the importance of indirection as a critical tool. I apply this insight to Canossa's apparently conservative treatment of nobility, and show how his sprezzatura demystifies (rather than mystifies) the source of noble self-expression. Canossa's sprezzatura reveals how imitatio can replace heredity as a means to elite status.

Castiglione's claim to have followed Cicero's De oratore and Orator in the writing of Il libro del cortegiano is well known, but not always taken seriously. Critics have either found his claim unconvincing, or simply chosen to concentrate rather on his debts to the fathers of philosophy, Plato and Aristotle. [1] This is partly because recent scholarship has focused almost exclusively on Cicero's contribution to Quattrocento humanism, a movement which Il cortegiano, with its strident emphasis on court behavior, is seen to betray. [2] Castiglione's proclaimed imitation of De oratore appears superficial because he fails to address the novel conception of Ciceronian rhetoric which, for many critics, underpins the whole project of humanism itself: the synthesis of wisdom and eloquence.

Yet we need to allow for the possibility that Castiglione may have been a very good reader of De oratore, a possibility which is obscured by this influential definition of humanism. De oratore is as interested in conversation as it is rhetoric. Indeed, as Cicero seems especially keen to impress on us, it is written as a conversation (see 2.6). Attention to the form of this text, and to the relationship between rhetoric and conversation that it prompts us to explore, will produce some rather surprising contributions to the debate about Il cortegiano, not least the argument that the practise of sprezzatura challenges, rather than produces, the aristocratic disdain often regarded as Castiglione's lasting legacy.


The term sprezzatura, coined by Castiglione (and meaning something like "setting no price on" or "disdaining"), has passed into critical currency -- all the more reason, I suggest, for scrutinising its use. [3] In a familiar passage from book 1, Canossa is explaining the mysterious source of courtly gracefulness, the quality which makes the courtier seem a natural nobleman. As he explains, this grace derives either from heaven or from a universal rule ("una regula universalissima") which he identifies as sprezzatura. To obtain gracefulness, he adds, the courtier must use a carelessness or "Reckelesness" [4] to conceal his art ("usar in ogni cosa una certa sprezzatura, che nasconda l'arte") so that everything he does appears to be unpremeditated. As Daniel Javitch comments, "Canossa proposes that sprezzatura is at once artifice made to seem natural and a seemingly effortless resolution of the difficult." This is an ironic dissembling since the courtier's "deceptive actions always possess an implication of thei r opposite" (1978, 56).

The term sprezzatura may be introduced in book 1 but we have tended to turn to book 2 for examples. Federico Fregoso also advises the courtier to use sprezzatura, albeit in certain contexts. Thus, a courtier in a masque should use his skill to set off his disguise, but to combine this with a certain "Reckelesness" [5] to appear graceful ("una certa sprezzatura circa quello che non importa, il che accresce molto la grazia") (155). Other examples are given: the young man disguised as an old man in a masquerade, or the courtier disguised as a shepherd, should display some token of their real status so as to delight the audience with the cunning of the deception. Similarly, the courtier who performs musically should seem to scorn his skill and disguise his study and practice to set off his excellence.

Unsurprisingly, such self-deprecation tends to be regarded as elitist. Sprezzatura, writes Eduardo Saccone, is also the "test the courtier must pass in order to be admitted to this [courtly] club, to obtain the recognition of his peers" (60). Thus, in book 2, a distinction is drawn between the courtly audience who delight in the skill that creates the courtier's shepherdly persona and the other onlookers who are merely taken in by the disguise. Meanwhile in book 1, Canossa's unwillingness to theorise the practise of courtliness allows him to deter those foolish upstarts (sciocchi) who think they can purchase for themselves the name of a good courtier (35/35). [6] It underscores the apparent aim of the Urbino entertainments to grace the members of the old aristocracy, and to "disgrace" [7] or suppress (reprimere) those hopefuls jockeying for a higher position on the social ladder. Indeed, Canossa goes on to advise that the ideal courtier should be nobly born since nature bestows on each thing a secret seed whi ch gives it a certain force and property and makes it like itself. And he cites the example of Ippolito d'Este cardinal of Ferrara, whose fortunate birth endowed his person, his appearance, his speech and his gestures with gracefulness (38/41/39). [8]

This perceived elitism of sprezzatura, Saccone suggests, is intergral to its classical source: Socratic eironeia or understatement, as discussed by Aristotle in book 2 of Nichomachean Ethics. Aristotle's attitude to this gesture is ambivalent. On the one hand, he identifies eironeia as blameworthy because of its insincerity. Indeed, along with alazon (boastfulness or exaggeration), it flanks the virtuous mean of aletheia (truthfulness). Yet, Aristotle also allows that "if a frank and truthful man were obliged to deviate from the truth, he should have recourse to understatement in preference to exaggeration," because the former "seems to have more grace" and an "elegant effect." With this weak rejection of eironeia, Saccone suggests, Aristotle betrays "an attitude to class values that we must call aristocratic," and a rationale for Castiglione's attachment to sprezzatura. Understatement gives the courtier credit in the eyes of a popular audience (57-59). Canossa explains sprezzatura by recalling the example of two famous orators:

And I remember having read of some excellent orators... who endeavoured to make everyone believe that they were ignorant of letters, and, dissembling their knowledge, gave the impression that their speeches were made very simply, as if they had been prompted by nature and truth rather than study or artifice. (64/53) [9]

So persuasive and widely accepted are these accounts of the role of sprezzatura in courtly display that there seems little point in challenging them, particularly since Javitch and Saccone offer such brilliant analyses of Fregoso's take on this dissembling figure in book 2. But each speaker in Il cortegiano offers us something different to think about, and consequently we need to be prepared to accommodate conflicting views. The gesture of sprezzatura or courtly "disdain" is inherently ambiguous. It can mean an aristocratic arrogance (as Saccone detects), but, conversely, it can also imply a modest or humble demeanour.

I suggest that Canossa and Fregoso offer conflicting perspectives on sprezzatura and different examples. Canossa's allusion to those two famous orators, for example, helps us to understand an alternative source for sprezzazura and a rather different reading of the elitism of book 1, one which is more inclusive and critical of the kind of "mysterious" courtliness of Fregoso. This different conception is exemplified in the sprezzatura that characterises his conversational style, rather than being carried over to the discussion in book 2. The two orators alluded to by Canossa are Crassus and Antonius, the main speakers of Cicero's De oratore and, in different ways, both practitioners of the Socratic understatement which Saccone saw as a source for sprezzatura. Cicero, however, views this form of irony much more positively than Aristotle. Antonius practises sprezzatura when he claims only to be able to teach us about his "own practice" (consuetudine) in rhetoric, not "an art which [he] never learned" (1.208). Onl y, in this text it is identified as a form of Socratic irony, dissimulatio or, as it is translated in the Loeb edition, "assumed simplicity" (2.270) and "pretended ignorance" (2.350). [10] In De oratore it is no elitist gesture: Antonius's refusal to teach draws our attention quietly to the importance of practise to the excellent orator in two senses. The first sense is straightforward enough: the orator must practise his skills repeatedly so that they become second nature to him. However, the second sense is more oblique: for Antonius teaches us that such "practise" can also take the form of familiar and witty conversation (sermo), just as Cicero employs for De oratore itself.


Castiglione's claim in Il cortegiano to have imitated Cicero's De oratore is hardly ever taken seriously. This is partly because De oratore is considered as a key text of Quattrocento humanism, a movement which it is often assumed was superseded by the development of a court culture in Cinquecento Italy. Indeed, for Victoria Kahn, Castiglione's naming of De oratore as a source serves only "to emphasize the distance between Cicero's prudential conception of judgment" and his own "aesthetic judgment of sprezzatura" (184). Kahn's emphasis on the courtier's interest in aesthetics provides us with a clue to this established view. For De oratore is often seen to inform the status of humanism as a culture "centered on rhetoric and eloquence," [11] and of the humanist "hero": an eloquent but practical man who can "combine wide learning, extensive experience, and ... good character -- with persuasive capacity." [12] In contrast, Castiglione's courtier is identified as an impractical and pleasing artist.

Cicero's perceived contribution to humanism is his insight that wisdom (prudential sapienta) and eloquence (eloquentia) are intimately connected. Proving this relationship appears to be the sole aim of De oratore. In the preface to book 1, for example, Cicero explains that the dialogue represents a dispute between himself and his brother Quintus: Cicero believes that "eloquence is dependent upon the trained skill of highly educated men," while Quintus considers in contrast that it depends only "on a sort of natural talent and on practice [exercitationis]" (1.5). We also soon learn that these conflicting perspectives are shared between the dialogue's two disputants: Crassus argues for the synthesis of eloquence and wisdom (1 .63), while Antonius insists that the orator is just "a man who can use language agreeable to the ear, and arguments suited to convince, in law-court disputes and in debates of public business" (1.213). For Antonius, the orator should reserve "his philosophical books ... for a restful hol iday" (1.224), and, when his turn to speak comes, he explains that he can discuss only his own "practice" (consuetudine) not an "art" which he "never learned" (1.208). Yet, as Cicero tells us in book 2, his aim is to show that the skill of Crassus and Antonius "could never have been realised without a knowledge of every matter that went to produce that wisdom and that power of oratory which were manifest in those two" (2.6).

For many readers of De oratore Crassus seems to represent Cicero's views while Antonius is relegated to the role of a straw-man, a means to facilitate dialogue and to make the dry discussion of rhetoric more interesting. Such a reading, though, depends on a particular approach to Antonius's infamous change of position. Early in book 2 Antonius admits to Crassus that "yesterday it was my design, if I should have succeeded in refuting your arguments, to steal these pupils from you; but, to-day ... I think it my duty not so much to fight with you as to enunciate my own personal views" (2.40). Most commentators suppose that a compromise is reached, [13] one which confirms Cicero's view that eloquence depends on the "skill of highly educated men," and reveals the inadequacy of Quintus's position.

There is good reason for this. At the end of the first day, Crassus accuses Antonius of having turned the orator into a "mechanic" or operarius, but, he adds, "I rather suspect that you are really of a different opinion, and are gratifying that singular liking of yours for contradiction." Significantly, Crassus pauses over this. He notes that this exercise is the special preserve of the orator, "though nowadays it is in regular use among philosophers, and chiefly those who make a practice of arguing at extreme length either for or against [in utramque partem] any proposition whatever laid before them," (1.263). It is difficult to ignore the importance that Antonius's recantation has played in defining the philosophical method of the humanists as argument in utramque partem.

Renaissance scholars will be familiar with Paul Oskar Kristeller's account of the rise of humanism. The humanists, he argues, were "professional rhetoricians," the "heirs and successors to the medieval tradition" of the dictatores, but they were also commited to the "studia humanitatis," to the study of "a clearly defined cycle of scholarly disciplines, namely grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, and moral philosophy." [14] Cicero's own reference to studia humanitatis can be found in his defence of poetry, Pro Archia. However, the text which features most frequently in subsequent discussions is De oratore, mainly because we find in it a considered attempt to explain how disciplines like rhetoric and philosophy, long considered antithethical, can accommodate each other.

One of the ways in which Cicero attempts to bring rhetoric and philosophy together is by noting their formal similarities, as when Crassus observes that Antonius's disingenuous style of argument has always been the preserve of the orator, but recognises that "nowadays it is in regular use among philosophers, and chiefly those who make a practice of arguing at extreme length either for or against any proposition whatever laid before them" (1.263). But it is also with this solution that the problem begins. For it is not clear what argument "for or against" means in the context of De oratore which pretends to be a conversation, not the kind of rigorous debate we might expect in the Roman forum.

De oratore is famously modelled on a Platonic dialogue, Phaedrus: the disputants sit on benches under a plane-tree in Crassus's garden which recalls the similar location of Plato's text. Only, their recreation is made more comfortable still by the use of cushions, a detail which Cicero is careful to record (1.28-29). The casualness of this context seems to invite some rather lesiurely and unrigorous discussion. In contrast to Cicero's earlier treatise, De inventione, which describes the types of rhetoric and their parts straightforwardly, the discussion in De oratore sometimes seems meandering and unfocused, especially over the crucial question of whether oratory is an art which needs to be studied, or a native talent that does not: [15] it is hard not to stumble over the articulation of these relationships in De orazore, and it has left more than one critic complaining that the treatise, as charming as it is, "covers up some imprecision and is "entirely too much like a real conversation"? [16]

Still, it is possible to see Antonius's method of arguing "for and against" as a version of the dialectical argument which was preferred by some Roman philosophers, as Jerrold Seigel argues in a careful reading of De oratore and one of its humanist imitations, Dialogi ad Petrum Histrum by the Florentine scholar Leonardo Bruni. I will briefly summarise Seigel's discussion here because his account of the Dialogi provides some insight into how the humanists were seen to understand the importance of argument "for and against." More interestingly, it offers an example of an imitation of De oratore against which we can measure the carefulness (or otherwise) of Castiglione's own attempt in Il cortegiano.

In book 3 of De oratore, where Cicero summarises the content of several prominent philosophical schools, the difficulties integral to the attempt to accommodate rhetoric and philosophy become all too apparent. Stoicism, in which Cicero admits to having some interest, is rejected on the grounds that it is dismissive of the opinions of ordinary men, the fount of wisdom from which the populist orator draws. However, as Seigel observes, Cicero was attracted to one school of philosophy in particular which offers the orator a way of thinking that enables him to call upon commonplaces drawn from a range of philosophical traditions, including Stoicism: that is, Academic scepticism. The "Academic sceptic," Seigel explains, "denying that any philosophical opinion could be accepted as true, trained his mind and supported his principles by arguing both for and against any philosophical point of view." Meanwhile, the orator described in De oratore, "inspired by the traditional ideal of the combination of rhetoric and phi losophy, also moved freely among the various philosophical schools, demonstrating his ability to speak persuasively on either side of any question" (1966, 31-34). For Seigel, the accommodation of rhetoric to philosophy is partly formal. Academic Scepticism and oratory share a methodology argument in utramque partem.

It is this method, he suggests, which is being imitated by Leonardo Bruni in his two dialogues concerned with the relationship between antiquity and modernity, Dialogi ad Petrum Histrum. One of the perplexing features of this text is that its junior interlocutor, Niccolo Niccoli, attacks the Florentine poets Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio in the first dialogue, only to recant at the beginning of the second, eventually endorsing the praise meted out to them by his antogonist, Coluccio Salutati. For Seigel, these two dialogues constitute a unified whole, and the change of heart articulated in the second dialogue is after the fashion of Antonius's recantation in De oratore. This discovery is used by him to support the argument, originally forwarded by Kristeller, that humanism is primarily a rhetorical movement which valued the ethical and practical efficacy of disputation. Niccoli's rejection of the Trecento poets in the first dialogue allows him to demonstrate the very skill which Salutati believes the young Florentines fail to practise, disputation. Meanwhile, his praise of them in book 2 suggests a recovered confidence in the possibility of reviving the classical rhetorical tradition, and of continuing the new learning which Petrarch is seen to have developed in an age of rarified scholasticism. This is a confidence which is discreetly reflected in the disputational structure of the Dialogi. [17]

Seigel's respected contribution to a difficult and longstanding debate about Florentine humanism can help us to understand how it is that Castiglione's own claim to imitate De oratore in Il cortegiano has come to be found superficial and misleading, as Javitch argues so persuasively in Poetry and Courtliness. Javitch's reading of Castiglione is informed by the understanding that humanism was a rhetorical movement, a movement which was allied to a republican idealism in the Quattrocento. In particular, Javitch accepts the fundamental role played by Cicero's De oratore in shaping these aspirations (1978, 23).

Seigel's comparison of the Quattrocento Dialogi with De oratore proves the importance of the dyad eloquence and wisdom for Leonardo Bruni. In contrast, Javitch's comparison of the Cinquecento II cortegiano with De oratore only establishes the extent to which Castiglione departs from Cicero's ideal, divorcing eloquence from wisdom or a politically active life. To drive home this point, Javitch records the differences between De oratore and Il cortegiano as a list of oppositions: while the orator "fights" in the forum, the courtier plays parlor-games at court; while the orator seeks to please an audience in order to persuade them to moral action, the courtier aims merely to please and gain favour; while the orator is populist, the courtier is elitist, and while the orator tries to communicate lucidly, the courtier entertains his audience with dissimulative display. [18] Javitch recognises that De oratore is a meandering and contradictory dialogue. But its style still differs considerably from the playfulness o f Il cortegiano. Though Antonius is revealed to have misled us in book 1, his recantation is integral to Cicero's philosophical method. He "denies in the first book the necessity of wide-ranging culture" only to change his mind in the second book, but, as Javitch insists, he emphasises the fact that "some consensus is reached." The "orator's necessary training in the liberal arts is an unchallenged requisite," and Antonius recants "partly for the sake of argument." [19] The same tactics in the hands of Castiglione's courtier are merely decorative and pleasing.

However, this popular and influential reading ignores a second aspect to Cicero's conception of humanitas and a second possible reading of Antonius's recantation. Cicero saw humanitas as a "plurality of studia humanitas" or "studies of humanity," but he also viewed it as a synonym of lepos: wit and charm. [20] The discussion of the philosophical character of eloquence, for instance, is placed in book 3, which also deals with ornament and delivery. Meanwhile, the humanitas of Crassus is represented partly by his engaging conversation (sermo), and his desire to please his guests. It is also represented by Antonius's presumed recantation, when he promises to give his "personal views" (2.40).

Of course, Antonius's promise to share his "personal views" is no simple volte face. Despite making this promise Antonius continues in book 2 with his original deception. Not only is his initial insistence that he is "not going to speak of an art which [he] never learned, but of [his] own practice" (1.208) shown to be misleading (it becomes obvious that he is a careful student), but he continues to downplay the extent of his effort. When he is asked by Catulus whether his knowledge of commonplaces proceeds from "some likeness to that godlike genius," Aristotle, or from the fact that he has "perused and learned those very maxims," Antonius temporarily drops his mask. He explains that he understands well that "a speaker would be more pleasing and acceptable to a nation like ours if he were to show, first, as little trace as possible of any artifice, and, secondly none whatever of things Greek" (2.152-53). A few lines later Antonius repeats this advice in relation to the study of philosophy: "I do not disapprov e of such pursuits, if kept within limits, though I hold that a reputation for such pursuits, or any suggestion of artifice, is likely to prejudice an orator with the judiciary: for it weakens at once the credibility of the orator and the cogency of his oratory" (2.156). Finally, he will be exposed as a dissembler by his antagonist: "I am delighted," Crassus declares, "to see you at last known as a master of the theory [of rhetoric], finally unmasked and stripped of the veil of your pretended ignorance [dissimulatio]") (2.350).

Antonius's promise to share his "personal views" is no straightforward recantation; rather, it is an example of a "jest" included in Julius's list of witticisms under the name of dissimulatio (pretending not to understand what you understand perfectly). Dissimulatio includes jokes which depend on a cultivated naivete (as "when Pontidius, being asked his opinion of the man who is taken in adultery, replied: 'He is a slowcoach'"; 2.275), and an extended, feigned ignorance like that of Socrates ("Socrates far passed all others for accomplished wit in this strain of irony or assumed simplicity [dissimulantia]") (2.270). This is no ordinary dissembling. Dissimulatio is integral to the exercise of that kind of oratory described as conciliatory and mild (lenis), which seeks to win the goodwill of an audience, [21] but it is also a condition for sociable conversation, as the example of Socrates -- the "genial conversationalist" who "in every conversation, pretend[s] to need information and profess[es] admiration for the wisdom of his companion" -- proves. [22] Antonius's refusal to teach is dialectical in a double sense: it helps us to understand something we already know as a matter of commonsense, that the orator needs to "practise" a skill until it becomes "natural" or habitual, but also to understand something that is commonsense, although less obviously so, that "practise" might take the form of a leisurely conversation (sermo).

Antonius's refusal to inform us explicitly about oratory draws our attention to the obvious importance of "practising" skills if they are to become natural. Often, it is when Antonius tries to conceal the source of his eloquence that he is being most helpful, as when he compares his study of Greek history to walking in the sunshine:

it is nor because I am on the look-out for aids to oratory, but just for pleasure, that I make a habit, when I have time, of reading the works of these authors and a few more. To what purpose then? Well, I will own to some benefit: just as, when walking in the sunshine, though perhaps taking the stroll for a different reason, the natural result is that I get sunburnt, even so, after perusing those books at Misenum ..., I find that under their influence my discourse takes on what I may call a new complexion ... (2.59-60).

His sun simile serves a double function. On the one hand, it draws attention away from the fact that he has "perused" Greek treatises closely. On the other hand, it conveys the extent to which he has practised, and so absorbed, or made natural to him, the precepts and skills he has learned. He discreetly indicates that the source of his excellence is study and the cultivation of facilitas, misleading us only in so far as he tactically omits the distinction between acting naturally and acting habitually

However, the kind of practise Antonius has in mind can include "conversation," an exercise implied discreetly in the form of De oratore. Significantly, De oratore is neither a technical treatise, nor a classical oration. Rather, it is a "conversation" (sermo) in which the visitors to Crassus's Tusculan villa indulge partly to take their minds off a political crisis at the Senate in Rome. In one sense, the choice of form is obvious. De oratore makes much more agreeable reading than the more technically descriptive De inventione. But Cicero's reasons for choosing to write a dialogue are more complex than this. For a relaxed conversation also suits the "teaching" of a subject which, as it turns out, is neither a technical art nor something we know simply by instinct (although the capacity for speech or oratio is something we are born with, and it distinguishes us from animals). Early in book 1, Crassus explains that one reason why perfect orators are so scarce to come by is that their art requires so many diffe rent kinds of knowledge. This suggests that the ambitious orator faces the insurmountable task of studying any number of disciplines, as well as practising techniques in oral delivery and deportment. However, when he proceeds to develop this point, Crassus modifies his argument slightly: the "subjects of the other arts are derived as a rule from hidden and remote sources, while the whole art of oratory lies open to the view, and is concerned in some measure with the common practice [uso], custom [mores], and speech [sermo] of mankind" (1.12). The rules of rhetoric are self-evident, immanent in the "changeable matter" of everyday speech. The aim of the conversational De oratore is to make this obvious to us.

It is the example of Antonius, I suggest, that Castiglione imitates in book 1 of Il cortegiano. Dissimulatio occurs on two occasions in this book: in the nobility debate (65/51) and in the discussion about imitation (75/61). On both occasions Canossa claims to be too inexpert to teach us good practise. In the first instance, Canossa's inexpertise leads him to modify his original claim that the courtier should be nobly born. The second will lead him confusingly to argue that eloquence depends on native talent alone, and then partly accommodates Fregoso's contrasting claim that it depends entirely on imitation (89/69). These are symptoms of Castiglione's imitation of De oratore. To understand their cause, however, I shall need to break the narrative flow of book 1, and jump forward to Canossa's closing discussion of il questione della lingua which abounds with allusions to De oratore. [23]


The questione della lingua is focused on a particular question: should the courtier imitate the literary greats, borrowing from them words already endowed with authority, or should he follow the promptings of his own talents, and employ the language of his contemporaries? [24] Notably, it covers ground already familiar to us from the earlier discussion of nobility: can courtly gracefulness be learned, or is it a property natural to the nobly born? For this reason, it contributes to our understanding of the relationship between art and nature so central to the nobility debate, and it also further aims to inculcate in us a practice of reading which is itself ennobling.

Throughout the discussion, Canossa is committed to the idea that all we need is talent and a willingness to adopt the contemporary linguistic idiom, but he needs to defend his position against an interlocutor, Fregoso, who champions the need for imitation. Castiglione seems to set up an argument in utramque partem which enables us to see both sides of the debate, and to choose the more persuasive one. However, the dialogue does not quite work like that. When Fregoso objects that Canossa's advice encourages the courtier to reproduce the solecisms of ignorant speakers, our speaker produces this confusing explanation: "Good usage in speech is born with men who have native wit, and, with teaching and experience, acquire good judgement, and in accordance with it, agree upon apt words whose quality they know from a certain natural judgement rather than from art or any rule" (87/68). [25]

This sentence seems to epitomise Canossa's disdainful refusal to teach us; it looks like a deliberate obfuscation. However, he is in fact following the example set by the dissimulating Antonius, and is showing, not telling us, the artificial causes of "natural" rhetorical skill (78-80/63-64). The questione della lingua is difficult to follow not just because it is meandering, contradictory and ambiguous, but because it offers a partial account of De oratore while relying on our knowledge of that text. [26]

For example, Canossa invokes Cicero to support his thesis that native wit (ingegno) and natural judgement (giudicio naturale) alone produce eloquence (91/70). In particular, he recalls the observation of Cicero's Antonius that many orators become excellent without needing to imitate a model: "Parmi ancor ricordare che Cicerone in uno loco introduca Marc'Antonio dir a Sulpizio, che molti sono i quali non imitano alcuno, e nientedimeno pervengono al summo grado della eccellenzia" (94/71). He is referring here to Antonius's explanation that we see there are "many who copy no man, but gain their objects by natural aptitude, without resembling any model" (2.98) and he is also invoking his reputation as a self-made orator, a speaker "so completely furnished with the bounty of nature, as to seem of more than human birth, and to have been shaped by some divinity" (1.115).

From this excerpt it would seem that Canossa is interested only in Antonius's reputation as a gifted, self-made orator, and has forgotten the strategy of dissimulatio which he employed in De oratore to expose his naturalness" as a studied gesture. This is odd because he has already called our attention to Antonius's use of dissimulatio in the earlier debate on nobility (64/53). (On that occasion he explicitly recalls Antonius's advice to show in rhetorical display "as little trace as possible of any artifice" (2.152-53).) I suggest, though, that Canossa does not need to invoke this aspect of Antonius's style since he is showing us how it works. For example, his praise of natural aptitude, like that of Antonius in De oratore, is tactical: just like his role-model, he is describing naturalness as an effect the courtier should strive to attain, not the cause of his delightful expression.

If we return to Canossa's problematic judgement, we should be able to see more clearly how that paradoxical sentence tells us all we need to know about the natural art of the courtier. Just as in De oratore, I suggest, so in book 1 of Il cortegiano good judgement is acquired as a habit and in this sense it is indeed natural, or rather immediately available, to its practitioner. Canossa's emphasis on the need to follow instinct and "usage" (linguistic custom) temporarily conceals the quality of the relationship between these two distinct entities -- that instinct can be shaped by usage or practise -- so that we can better comprehend their combined effect.

Canossa's use of the term "consuetudine" is doubly meaningful. When he claims that earlier writers learned by practice (consuetudine) he is acknowledging not only their desire to be true to idiomatic speech (practice), but also their educational process which involves assimilation (practise). Indeed, Canossa follows his advice on the good use of speech by explaining that the courtier should follow contemporary practice (consuetudine) rather than a particular literary model, and he cites the example of the ancients who themselves learned -- as the English translator Thomas Hoby aptly offers -- "by use and custome" ("imparato dalla consuetudine") (90/69). Although Canossa does not allude here to Cicero, we can almost hear Crassus emphasising the importance both of idiomatic practice and of rhetorical practise, or, for that matter, Antonius reminding us, by refusing to teach us, of the importance of practise (consuetudo), rather than the study of rules (1.152; 1.208). I suggest that we now apply these insights t o Canossa's earlier discussion of native nobility and to his famous introduction of the trope which characterises courtly display: sprezzatura.


Canossa's odd style of argument, which enables his critique of "naturalness" in his discussion of eloquence, is a core aspect of the rhetorical structure of book 1 and is integral to our experience of reading it. Whether we initially recognise it or not, the same style of argument informs Canossa's earlier inquiry into primogeniture, prompting us to "intuit" that nobility is a practised virtue, even though it may be originally a divine gift.

Indeed, once we attend to Canossa's conversational style, his defence of the importance of noble lineage does not look quite the same. For instance, Canossa is interrupted in mid-flow by the sceptical Gaspare Pallavicino who notes that nature does not share his subtle distinctions. Noble birth is not so important to the courtier, he argues, since men of low degree are often seen to possess the same gifts of nature. [27] Pallavicino understands the notion of the "secret" seed (occulto seme) of virtue in its Ciceronian, republican context, and thus exposes its aristocratic appropriation by Canossa (42-43/40). [28] Unexpectedly, Canossa modifies his initial position: he now admits that noble birth is important to the courtier for social rather than natural reasons, and he allows that men of low birth may possess the same virtues as their aristocratic counterparts, although he concludes that noble birth is still important since it is highly esteemed in the popular imagination (43-44/40-41). [29] He reveals that our "habit" of thinking about nobility is changeable.

Importantly, this is not the first time that the defence of aristocratic natural right is qualified. Even before Pallavicino's interruption Canossa had already hinted at an alternative means to courtly gracefulness. He does not just defer to the common practice of favouring those of noble birth, he also emphasises the active process of acquiring nobility through practise. He may insist that noble birth prompts virtue, yet, he acknowledges simultaneously that even the nobly born need to make a habit of courtly skills. He also adds that even if the courtier is not perfect by nature, he can improve himself with study and effort (39-41/38-39). [30]

In drawing attention to these modulations I do not mean to suggest that the argument of book 1 is simply contradictory, or that an initial defence of primogeniture is replaced with a tenet often seen as intrinsic to "humanist" education: that a good student depends on a combination of native wit (ingenium), practise (exercitatio) and study (ars). [31] Rather, it is the nature of Castiglione's indirection, and its contribution to our experience of reading book 1 which interests me. For Canossa clings to the idea that some courtiers are graceful by nature, despite acknowledging that gracefulness can be achieved with study (studio) and effort (fatica), as one of his listeners reminds us. This participant requests that Canossa clarify exactly how it is to be achieved (60/51). [32] Curiously, Canossa responds by refusing to teach us (insegnare) how to become graceful, telling us he is obliged only to show (dimostrare) us the ideal (61/51). He also reminds us of the proverb that grace cannot be learned, before pro ceeding to explain that a courtly aspirant can acquire gracefulness by imitating the example of excellent men, so long as he has the ability to do so (61/52). [33] As Canossa explains, the court aspirant should steal (rubare) gracefulness from men who seem to possess it in whole r part (63/53). [34] Canossa's choice of the verb "to steal" suggests that gracefulness is a quality that is redistributable, not just a birthright, and that it can be acquired surreptitiously.

Canossa's attempt to resolve some of the difficulties his discussion of courtly gracefulness prompts is to introduce a new concept, sprezzatura. Thus, he follows his account of imitative theft by recognising that gracefulness derives either from heaven or from a universal rule ("una regula universalissima") which he identifies as sprezzatura. To obtain gracefulness, explains, the courtier must use a carelessness or "Reckelessness" to conceal his art ("usar in ogni cosa una certa sprezzatura, che nasconda l'atte"), and a few lines later he recalls the example of Crassus and Antonius, and especially the advice of Antonius to show in rhetorical display "as little trace as possible of any artifice" (2.152-53):

And I remember having read of some excellent orators... who endeavoured to make everyone believe that they were ignorant of letters, and, dissembling their knowledge, gave the impression that their speeches were made very simply, as if they had been prompted by nature and truth rather than study or artifice. (64/53) [35]

Canossa's invocation of courtly sprezzatura is commonplace to us now, perhaps too commonplace, for it is easy to ignore the context in which this strategy is unveiled, that is, a debate concerning nobility and the lineal source of courtly gracefulness.

Reading this passage in context enables us to see, first, that sprezzatura is not dissimulative in any simple sense, and, secondly, that its deployment by Canossa impinges on his discussion of native nobility. To understand sprezzatura we need to remember that Cicero's Antonius, whose example Canossa here follows, chose to hide his art partly by making it natural or habitual to him. Canossa incorporates Antonius's discreet advice on assimilation not only in his discussion of literary imitation later in book 1 (as we have just seen), but also in his description here of the acquisition of courtly gracefulness. Although his suggestion that the courtier should "steal" his gracefulness from others implies that its acquisition can be underhand, it also emphasises the naturalness of the process of assimilation.

Thus, the courtly aspirant is encouraged not simply to "steal," that is, to plagiarise or imitate slavishly his model, but to assimilate thoroughly his virtues: like a good pupil he should strive to be like his teacher, and even transform himself into him (62/52). [36] Importantly, Canossa's theft image draws attention to the possibility that the effect of gracefulness can be acquired and redistributed, rather than explaining the process of imitation perse. Indeed, he combines the negative theft image with the familiar motif of family likeness (here, likeness between pupil and teacher), and the apian simile drawn from Seneca's Epistolae morales 84, which were used to indicate the imitative processes of gathering and transformation, and to describe the production of a "mature individuality," not the disguise of a debt. [37] The courtier who is not nobly born, or who does not inherit entirely his noble father's virtue can nevertheless make the most of whatever aptitude he has and acquire a 'natural' courtlines s, a quality which I suggest is also available to the astute reader of Il cortegiano.


Recent scholarship has understood the immense popularity of Il cortegiano in the newly centralised European courts as dependent on its status as a manual of court behaviour. Peter Burke observes how, in the course of its printing history, editors developed a paratext to facilitate the easy retrieval of information, [38] aids which are reproduced in the 1561 English translation. Thomas Hoby's edition, for instance, includes marginal glosses for use as an index and an appended summary of the chief qualities desirable in the male courtier (one of the first requirements of which is that the English courtier should "be well borne and of a good stocke"). [39] Thus, the print history of Il cortegiano seems to indicate its transformation into exactly the kind of prescriptive text Castiglione resisted writing.

Traditionally, of course, it has not been the appearance of later editions of Il cortegiano which prompts us to read it as a prescriptive text so much as its belonging to a genre -- the "courtesy book" -- which usually does give rules about manners. Social historians interested in the increasing preoccupation with manners and social skills from the early sixteenth century have identified Erasmus's De civilitate morum puerilium, translated by Robert Whytynton as A Lytell Booke of Good Maners for Chyldren in 1532, as a turning point in the formalisation of social relations. [40] The overwhelming concern of medieval courtesy books, as commentators have noted, is with table manners in the hierarchised noble household and the provision of hospitality. Such an emphasis continues in some courtesy books published in the sixteenth century, for example, Hugh Rhodes's The Boke of Nurture for Men, Servauntes and Chyldren, with Stans Puer ad Mensam (1577). However, new emphases appear with Erasmus's influential text which gives instruction on manners organised into categories: bodily control, facial expression, cleanliness, as well as social decorum for specific occasions. Anna Bryson supposes that Erasmus's treatise was probably used in noble households in much the same way as The Babees Book (1475), although it is different: "its form and approach suggest the environment of the school," indicating the extent to which "new codifications of elementary good manners naturally went hand in hand with the increasing prestige and extensive adoption of school education in the upper ranks of English society." [41]

De civilitate serves as a "school rule-book," as a vehicle for the teaching of Latin, but it also offers advice on social discipline and decorous deportment. A slightly later prescriptive courtesy book in this tradition, albeit aimed at an adult audience and probably read alongside Il cortegiano, was Giovanni Della Casa's Il Galateo, ovvero de' costumi (1558), translated in 1576. Galateo is more sophisticated than De civilitate, yet it also offers prosaic advice on bodily regulation. Della Casa may want to "codify rules of social conduct on the basis of a theoretical understanding of their character, and so to persuade rather than simply to inform," as Bryson notes. [42] However, this treatise is not written as a dialogue and its early pages give us precise formulations about a range of bodily functions: sneezing, yawning, nose-blowing, eating, urinating and defecating. It is an "unmannerly parte," Della Casa explains on one occasion, "for a man to lay his nose uppon the cup where another must drinke, or upo n the meate another must eate, to the end to smell unto it," because "it may chance there might fall some droppe from his nose, that would make a man loath to it" (9).

Il cortegiano's association with such texts has tended to encourage us to read it as a straightforward conduct manual. Treatises like Galateo and Il cortegiano are all too often indiscriminately treated together. Careful consideration of their form and content makes it difficult to compare Della Casa's homely advice with Castiglione's more esoteric interest in bodily aesthetics. Il cortegiano is not prescriptive; it does not yield up its meaning to a selective reader. Rather, it requires patient attention and the acquisition of a textual practice. Its juxtaposition with Galateo should underscore such differences, not conceal them.

Increased interest in Renaissance rhetorical culture has tended to contribute to our perception of its practitioners as incremental readers. Mary Thomas Crane has explored the exercises of inventio and dispositio, what she calls "gathering and framing," as the basis for "a theory and practice of reading, writing, education and social mobility" which provides an alternative to the "individualistic" and "aristocratic paradigm" we usually associate with the English Renaissance. Crane imagines a readership eager to collect "fragments of authoritative texts," stored in commonplace books, which could be turned into "cultural capital" -- on Pierre Bourdieu's influential formulation -- and used to enable "upward mobility in the newly bureaucratized state." [43] With such emphases, though, it is easy to forget that some Elizabethan scholars were ambivalent about the use of such a piecemeal approach. Hence the remarks of Roger Ascham in The Schoolmaster.

Indeed, books of commonplaces be very necessary to induce a man into an orderly general knowledge, how to refer orderly all that he readeth ad certa rerum capita and not wander in study. And to that end did Petrus Lombardus the Master of Sentences and Philip Melancthon in our days write two notable books of commonplaces.

But to dwell in epitomes and books of commonplaces, and not to bind himself daily by orderly study to read with all diligence principally the best doctors, and so to learn to make true differences betwixt the authority of the one and the counsel of the other, maketh so many seeming and sunburnt ministers as we have. (107)

Ascham's borrowing of Antonius's suntan image is not accidental. The Schoolmaster is concerned with the teaching of good Latin and the method it recommends -- double translation -- is drawn from De oratore. The term "double translation" invokes a process of translation from a Latin text (preferably one of Cicero's) to English, and then back again to Latin. However, it also invokes the kind of friendly relationship between a master and his pupil demonstrated in this text between Ascham and John Whitney. It replaces the dull learning by rote insisted on by the harsh, unloving schoolmaster of the Tudor classroom, and its result is an accomplished, familiar Latin style. [44] The need to read Cicero carefully is advised by another schoolmaster, Nicholas Grimald, in his English translation of De officiis. In the dedication to his second edition (1556) Grimald confesses that "This is the fift time, I have read over the author and so oft as I reade him, so oft somewhat I finde, that I marked not before: and that hath neede to be deeply pondered: and so that I fancied, at the first he was easie: but now, methinks, he requires a very heedfull and musing reader." Later, in a preface to the reader, Grimald will advise that we "will reade it, and reade it, and reade it again," at least five times. [45]

It not too far-fetched to suppose that the same care was applied to the reading of Il cortegiano, especially given its association with Cicero. For Bartholomew Clerke, the text's Latin translator, Castiglione was a good reader of Cicero. In a prefatory letter, Clerke justifies his translation with an allusion to Canossa's own invocation of Petrarch and Boccaccio. He imaginatively suggests that if Cicero were now living, and began translating Castiglione's book, he would choose not to follow a single model, but rather to add new words, phrases and import which, though they might seem native to him, had in fact been carefully culled from his translation of a variety of skilled orators. [46]

Surprisingly, the unusual circumstances of the translation of Il cortegiano are rarely taken into consideration. The text was translated by Thomas Hoby (1530-1566), an Elizabethan diplomatist who (possibly in a more sober mood) also translated The Gratulation ofM Bucer ... into the churche of Englande for the restitucion of Christes religion (1549). Stranger still is the praise heaped on this translation by Hoby's friends and Protestant allies, his Cambridge tutor John Cheke and the Italophobic Roger Ascham. Hoby's translation was reprinted in 1577, 1588, and 1603, but it was still not as popular as Bartholomew Clerke's Latin version (1571), which saw six editions by 1612. Thus, Gabriel Harvey, a proud owner of the English and Italian versions of Il cortegiano, strongly recommends the young Arthur Capel to become "conversant and occupied" with Clerke's Latin translation, along with the Mirror for Magistrates, Roger Ascham's The Schoolmaster and "any pes of Osorius, Sturmius, or Ramus." He praises these books "especially" since he believes they offer gentlemen "most use and practis, either for writing or speaking, eloquently or wittely, now or hereafter" (167-68).

Both Hoby's and Clerke's translations attempt to capture the idiomatic style of Il cortegiano, and accept the importance attached by Castiglione to the adoption of "everyday" speech. Indeed, the 1561 edition is prefaced by a letter from John Cheke, dated July 16, 1557, in which he suggests that Hoby could have chosen plainer English phrases. Meanwhile, Hoby's 1588 edition includes parallel texts in Italian and French, suggesting an interest in Il cortegiano as a general linguistic aid. That is, the basis of Il cortegiano's popularity seems to rest in part on its provision of practise in idiomatic and conversational Italian, Latin, English, and French, not just its teaching of the arts of dissembling required at the autocratic European courts.

Moreover, at least one of its translators seems to have recognised the potential of Castiglione's text for creating a more flexible sense of "nobility". Not only is Hoby sensitive to Castiglione's playful use of the term "consuetudine" in book 1 (for which he offers the double translation "use and custome"), but he also alerts us in his preface to Canossa's emphasis on nobility as a practised virtue. In his prefatory letter, he adopts a similarly circuitous style of argument to that of book 1, modifying his own apparently conservative conception of nobility. In his salute to "The LORD HENRY HASTINGES, sonne and heire apparent to the noble Erle of Huntyngton" (3), for example, Hoby appears to anticipate Canossa's own respect for the laws of primogeniture. He explains his choice of a patron on the grounds that "none, but a noble yonge Gentleman, and trayned up all his life time in Court, and of worthie qualities, is meete to receive and enterteine so worthy a Courtier," and he reminds us also that it was Hastings's "noble Auncestours" who played host to Castiglione on his visit to England in 1506.

Initially, such language might recall the typical pose adopted by writers in dedications to aristocratic superiors, on whom they could hardly impose themselves as teachers. [47] But, like Canossa in the text itself, Hoby does not simply reinforce expected aristocratic values. He may compliment Hastings when he claims his translation will "confirme with reason the Courtly facions, comely exercises, and noble vertues, that unawares have from time to time crept into you," but he does not go so far as to suggest that they are native to him. Thus, he continues this sentence by noting that his "noble vertues" have "with practise and learning taken custome in you" (4). Hoby invokes the "noble Auncestorus" of Hastings, only to indicate that his "noble vertues" have been acquired with "practice," and that they are the product of familiarisation (they have "crept" in to him).

Such a reading is important because Hoby's translation is not intended to confirm the natural status of the old nobility, or to insist on the exclusion of certain kinds of individual, but to make Castiglione's treatise "commune to a greate meany," and, more specifically, to bring about the ennoblement of his "inferiour" countrymen (4-5). [48] As he optimistically explains, "we [may] perchaunce in time become as famous in Englande, as the learned men of other nations have ben and presently are" (7). Hoby may well have have been had in mind the advice given in Grimald's preface to his English translation of De officiis: his phrasing recalls Griomald's claim to serve the "unlatined" by making a book "used but of fewe, to wax common to a great meany" so that Englishmen may compete with other nations in "civilitie and humanitie." [49] In this respect, IL cortegiano joins those courtesy books available to Elizabethan readers interested in forging a new definition of nobility freed from the constraints of lineage. [50] It also reminds us more generally of the importance of form to dialogic texts, and offers us a fresh perspective on those Elizabethan courtly texts whose unwillingness to divulge the source of graceful self-expression has seemed so disdainfully "aristocratic," as well as on those courtly poets (noble and non-noble) on whom the irony of Antonius was not lost.


(1.) Or at least, while Castiglione's debt to specific passages in Cicero's De oratore, say, to the discussion of jokes in book 2, has been widely recognised, his imitation of the pedagogic method and aim of De oratore has not. See esp. Javitch, 1978, 24 and 37-38; and Kahn, 184. Greene, 1982, notes that Il cortegiano represents "an admirable heuristic imitation of Cicero" (176), but also perceives crucial differences (the courtier is "less grave and less responsible than the Roman orator" [322 n. 8]). On Castiglione's Platonism see Garin, 1965 and Trafton, and on his debts to Aristotle see Woodhouse. In contrast, see Cian who reads Il cortegiano as a biographical work. An important exception here is Cox, to whose exploration of the Ciceronian dialogue and its sixteenth-century Italian counterpart (including Il cortegiano) I am greatly indebted. Cox describes Il cortegiano as "a genuinely dialogical use of the dialogue" which is influenced by De oratore (59). However, Cox emphasizes the interactive quality of the dialogue, and contradictions across books, whereas I focus specifically on the way in which Canossa modifies his own argument in book 1.

(2.) See esp. Marsh; also Gray, and Kristeller, 1955. For very different assessments of Cicero's importance to Italian humanism see also Baron, and Seigel. For Gain, Martines, and Skinner Il cortegiano departs dramatically from the political commitments of Quattrocento humanism.

(3.) See Burke, 31. Sprezzatureds dissimulative character is often brought out in its translation. For Saccone, sprezzatura is a "trick, or at any rare always a detachment, a discrepancy between being and seeming" (59), and he translates it as an oxymoron, "an art without art, a negligent diligence, an inattentive attention" (57). Whigham, 1984, adds to Saccone's list "Hoby's 'recklessness' and the modern 'nonchalance,'" and notes that "[all] these translations stress the concealment of effort" (93-94). For Ferroni sprezzatura involves a form of trickery ("un metodo di aggiramento"; 140). It is not difficult to see how sprezzatura -- related to the verb sprezzare, "to disdain" -- has come to be seen as an elitist gesture. On Ganossa's refusal to teach us how to be graceful courtiers as exclusionary, see Whigham, 1983, who argues that Il cortegiano aims "to reach an endangered aristocracy how to reascribe to themselves the self-evident ascriptive status their forebears had enjoyed" (624); and Whigham, 1984, ch ap. 1. See also Kahn.

(4.) Hoby's translation, 53.

(5.) Ibid., 113.

(6.) Unless otherwise noted, all translations and paraphrases of Castiglione's Il cortegiano are my own. When a paraphrase appears in the text, it will be followed by two numbers, as above: 35/35. The first reference is to Cian's 1947 Italian edition of the text, and the second is to Thomas Hoby's 1561 English translation, The Book of the Courtier, edited by Virgiania Cox and reprinted in 1994. When necessary, the full Italian text of a paraphrase is given from the Cian edition in a note.

(7.) Hoby's apt translation, 35.

(8.) ... nato nobile, e di generosa familiglia. . .. Perb intervien quasi sempre, che e nelle arme e nelle altre virtuose operazioni gli omini piu segnalati sono nobili ... la natura in ogni cosa ha insito quello occulto seme, che porge una certa forza e proprieta del suo principio a tutto quello che da esso deriva, ed a se lo fa simile... il quale tanto di felicita ha portato dal nascere suo, che la persona, lo aspetto le parole, e tutti i sui movimenti sono talmente di questa grazia composti ed accomodati."

(9.) "E ricordomi io gia aver letto, esser stati alcuni antichi oratori eccellentissimi...sforzavansi di far credere ad ognuno, sd non aver notizia alcuna di lettere; e, dissimulando il sapere, mostravan le loro orazioni esser fatte simplicissimamente, e piuttosto secondo che loro porgea la natura e la verita, che lo studio e l'arte."

(10.) Woodhouse, 77, and Cox, 1994, 380 n. 41, note that Castiglione is probably influenced by Antonius's advice on hiding academic study in De oratore (as I will argue, an instance of dissimulatio); however, they do not offer an extended analysis. A more familiar source for sprezzatura is neglegentia diligens which, as Burke notes "both Cicero and Ovid advocated in their different ways" (31); see esp. Cicero, Orator, 78. Cox supports this source; see Castiglione, 1994, 380 n. 40. In contrast, Saccone discusses its relation to venustas (55), and he also suggests that the ultimate source is Aristotle's eironeia or "understatement," discussed in book 2 of the Nichomachean Ethics (57), while Woodhouse suggests that its origins probably lie in the Greek conception of po prepon ("that which is seemly"), or decorum (77). In contrast, Cian describes it as a skilled tempering ("un sapiente conremperamento") of aptitude, natural inspiration and art; see Castiglione, 1947, 63 n. 18.

(11.) See Seigel, 1966, 10; also Gray, and Kristeller, 1955. For humanism as a vita activa politica see Baron, 1967, and Garin, 1965. For Baron, the political isolation of Florence in the early 1400s made possible a new appreciation of Cicero's republican commitments; see esp. Baron, 1989, chap. 5. (Seigel argues against Baron that humanism is informed by an appreciation of Cicero's rhetorical and educational program.) For discussion of the compatibility of Baron's "civic humanism" and Seigel's and Kristeller's emphasis on rhetoric, see Pocock.

(12.) Gray, 498 and 504. See also Marsh on the humanist notion of the educative role of disputation and its source in Cicero's De oratore, esp. 12-13.

(13.) On Antonius's recantation as a compromise see Kennedy, 207, and Vickers, 31-33. Clarke characterizes it as a "lame device" (52).

(14.) Kristeller, 1956-1996, 560.

(15.) For example, Crassus and Antonius seem to agree that oratorical excellence depends on talent (ingenium) and practise (exercitatio), and to disagree only over "the scope of the general education needed by the orator." Yet, we need also to note that their discussion of the relationship between talent and practise is often confusing. Sometimes it seems that eloquence depends only on native ability, at other times it appears to be helped by -- or is even entirely dependent on -- practise. Thus, Crassus observes that "natural talent [ingenium] is the chief contributor to the virtue of oratory," and insists that certain "powers," such as in invention (excogitatio), cannot be acquired by art since "they are all gifts of nature," though he also allows that sometimes "art" can "give polish" and "that such as are not of the best can nevertheless be, in some measure, quickened and amended" (1.151). Later on, Crassus explains how skill in the discovery of arguments is to be acquired mainly with frequent exercise, since commonplaces only "appear and rush forward" with an apparent "natural acuteness" once they have been studied and practised (1.151-25). In addition, Crassus describes a regime of training for all orators which includes the study of notable poets and historians, common-law and statutes, as well as exercise in disputation. He then promptly exempts some exceptional individuals like Antonius who possess "a marvellous and almost unrivalled godlike power of genius [ingenium]" (1.172). Antonius, in turn, insists throughout book 1 that he is just such a self-made orator, but "admits" early in book 2 that this is a false claim (2.40).

(16.) Kennedy, 226. In contrast, Quintilian's monologic discussion is more straightforward; as he argues, "we shall find that the average orator owes most to nature [natura], while the perfect owes more to education [doctrina]" (2.19.2).

(17.) See Seigel, 1966, 14-16;

(18.) Javitch, 1978, chap. 1. Javitch is influenced by Gray and Kristeller on the rhetorical aspirations of the humanists; on the shift from civic to courtly values in the sixteenth-century he is influenced by Eugenio Garin, L'educazione in Europe 1400-1600 (Bari, 1966).

(19.) Ibid., 28.

(20.) I owe this insight to Michael Pincombe who kindly let me read his forthcoming monograph Elizabethan Humanism: Literature and Learning in the Later Sixteenth Century.

(21.) Indeed, Julius's discussion of dissimulatio and other witticisms in book 2 follows on from Antonius's account of the importance of securing the favour of an audience, and his list of the "attributes useful in an advocate" as a "mild tone [lenitas vocis], a countenance expressive of modesty [vultus pudoris significatio], gentle language [verborum comitas], and the faculty of seeming to be dealing reluctantly and under compulsion with something you are really anxious to prove" (2.182).

(22.) De officiis, 1.108.

(23.) It reminds us of Crassus's fear that he will prove an inept teacher because he "entered upon practise [ad agendum]" before he "reached the study of theory" (1.78).

(24.) There are many precedents for this kind of dialogue, one of which, as Greene, 1982, notes, is a series of letters between Pico della Mirandola and Pietro Bembo (a participant in Il cortegiano) in 1512-1513 (172). On the Ciceronian debate see also Greene, 1982, 147-89; and Moss, 51-65.

(25.) "La bona consuetudine adunque del parlare credo io che nasca dagli omini che hanno ingegno, e che con la dottrina ed esperienzia s'hanno guadagnato il bon giudicio, e con quello concorrono e consuentono ad accettar le parole che lor paion bone, le quali so conoscono per un certo giudicio naturale, e non per arte or regula alcuna..." (87).

(26.) I should note that of the two disputants, Canossa is the more Ciceronian, and he alludes frequently to De oratore (even though it is Fregoso who explicitly favours imitation of classical authors). As Canossa observes, classical writers such as Antonius, Crassus, Hortensius, Cicero, and Virgil, did not strictly adhere to their revered models. He also notes that Cicero criticised his predecessors for sounding too ancient, and reminds us (as Cicero does) that an effective speaker depends primarily on knowledge of his subject ("che ancor che avessero riverenzia all'antiquita, non la estimavan pero tanto, che volessero averle quella obbligazion"; 79/63). On these grounds he discourages imitation of Boccaccio and Petrarch, noting that if they were still alive their language would reflect the "modern" idiom. He commends those who know what should be imitated, although he concludes, significantly, that imitation is not absolutely necessary, ("che se 'l Petrarca e 'l Boccaccio fussero vivi a questo tempo, non us ariano molte parole che vedemo ne' loro scritti: pero non mi par bene che noi queue imitiamo. Laudo ben summamente coloro che sanno imitar quello che si dee imitare; nientedimeno non credo io gia che sia impossibile scriver bene ancor senza imitare"; 89/69).

(27.) "non par cosf necessaria questa nobilita ... perche la natura non ha queste cosf sottili distinzioni; anzi, come ho detto, spesso si veggono in persone bassissime altissimi doni di natura."

(28.) Tusculan Disputations, 3.2. Cicero allows that all are endowed with the "seeds of virtue."

(29.) "Non nego, io, ... che, ancora negli omini bassi non possano regnar quelle medesime virtu che nei nobili ... come ancor per la opinione universale, la qual subito accompagna la nobilita."

(30.) "... la nobilita ... accende e sprona alla virtu ... ma se manca loro chi gli curi bene, divengono come selvatchi, ne mai si maturano .... e posson quei che non son da natura cosf perfettamente dotati, con studio e fatica limare e correggere in gran parte i diffetti naturali."

(31.) Shorey explores the Greek sources for this triad. See also Quintilian, 1. pr. 26, and the discussion at 2.19 ff. Cian's interpretation of sprezzatura is in this tradition; see 63 n.18.

(32.) "voi diceste, questo spesse volte esser don della natura e de' cieli, ed ancor quando non e cost perfetto potersi con studio e fatica far molto maggiore... desidero io di saper con qual'arte, con qual disciplina e con qual modo ponno acquistar questa grazia."

(33.) "la grazia non s'impari.... chi ha da esser aggraziato nelli esercizii corporali, presuponendo prima che da natura non sia inabile, dee cominciar per tempo, ed imparar i principii da optimi maestri."

(34.) "cost il nostro Cortegiano avera da rubare questa grazia da que' che a lui parera che la tenghino, e da ciascun quella parte che piu sara laudevole,"

(35.) See n. 9, above.

(36.) "sempre ha da metter ogni dligenzia per assimigliarsi al maestro, e se possibil fusse, transformarsi in lui."

(37.) Greene, 1982, 174; see also Pigman.

(38.) See Burke, chaps. 3 and 4. Cox, in Castiglione, 1994, draws our attention to Lodovico Dolce's edition of 1552 which includes abstracts of each of the four books and "peremptory marginal notes summarising the 'lessons' of each page" (xxix).

(39.) Castiglione, 1994, 367. See Cox's comments, in Castiglione, 1994, on this: "Hoby's appendices make curious reading: cut loose from their context in the dialogue and transformed into a packaged and digestible form, the parts of the courtier add up to strikingly less than their sum. Particularly noteworthy is the way in which the apendices reduce the moral complexities of the dialogue into hard-and-fast maxims" (xxix).

(40.) Bryson, 29-31.

(41.) Ibid., 32.

(42.) Ibid.

(43.) Crane, 4, 6, and 79.

(44.) See esp. Aseham, 79.

(45.) Cicero, 1556, C2v and **7r. The first edition of Grimald's translation appeared in 1553. Later editions were printed in 1558, 1574, 1583, 1596.

(46.) Castiglione, 1571, Av(r): "cum ipse Cicero si nunc viueret, & Castilionis libros transferendos susciperet, nouam verborum sententiarumque vim adhiberet, quod ipse de se ingenue confitetur, cum Demosthenis atque AEschinis orationes conuerteret."

(47.) Alan Stewart, 1997, cites the example of John Haringron's dedication of his translation of Cicero's treatise De amicitia to Katherine Brandon, duchess of Suffolk in 1550: "'This [the dedication] did I not to teache you, but to let you see in learnyng auncient; that you have by nature used: nor to warne you of what of ought you lacked, but to sette forth your perfection" (xxxii).

(48.) A comparison with the preface of Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, to Clerke's Latin translation is useful here. In contrast to Hoby, Oxford carefully reminds us of men excluded from being courtiers on the grounds that they possess some distinguishing flaw or ridiculous character, or rustic and uncivil manners, or deformed appearance: "... nec referam, in us, qui Aulici esse non possunt, quemadmodum aut vitium aliquod insigne, aut ridiculum ingnim, aut mores agrestes & inurbanos, aut speciem deformem, delinearit" (iv).

(49.) Cicero, 1556, C3r.

(50.) Mason, chaps. 1 and 2, explores a wide range of courtesy books and their differing attitudes to nobility. Peltonen, chap. 2, explores some courtesy books (such as Stefano Guazzo's Civile Conversation) in the civic humanist tradition.


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