How to act like a nobleman in 16th century Florence
In the 16th century, Italian writer and diplomat Giovanni Della Casa wrote a manuscript on proper social conduct, ostensibly for the benefit of his nephew, who had not yet come of age. A new translation of the manuscript, called "Galateo: Or, the Rules of Polite Behavior," was published last month by the University of Chicago Press. Della Casa's advice is consistently delightful and pointed. Some of his guidance is specific to the social environment of a Florentine nobleman, like this admonition against excessive bowing, especially when time is tight:
although it is every person’s duty to honor judges and men of higher rank, when time does not permit, this regard to punctilio is tedious and must be either avoided or curtailed.
Most of his advice, however, is timeless, like this reminder that, really, no one cares what you dreamt about last night:
one should not annoy others with such stuff as dreams, especially since most dreams are by and large idiotic.As you might expect, Della Casa comes across as a sensitive observer of social life, and some of his quibbles veer closer to pet peeves than universal rules of decorum. Consider, for example, the types of facial expressions that got under his skin:
There are some who have the habit of now and then puckering up their lips or screwing up their eyes, or of puffing up their cheeks and blowing out their breath, or of making such similar shifty grimaces. It is best to desist from these habits completely.
He also reminds his nephew that, when returning from going to the bathroom, he should be completely composed, so as to give no indication of the job he's just completed. This seems like good advice whether you're exiting a 16th century privy or a stall at a highway rest stop.
Similarly, it is improper for a polite gentleman to arrange himself to relieve his physical needs in sight of others. Nor, when finished, should he return to their presence still adjusting himself in his clothing.
Social life today is probably too diverse to allow for the kind of exact pronouncements Dellla Casa makes. Still, one wishes he were around to remark on humble bragging.
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