The Book of the Courtier
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Book of the Courtier

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  1,103 ratings  ·  64 reviews
An insider's view of court life and culture during the Renaissance, here is the handiwork of a 16th-century diplomat who was called upon to resolve the differences in a war of etiquette among the Italian nobility. The ultimate resource on aristocratic manners, it remains the most definitive account of life among the Renaissance nobility.
Paperback, 470 pages
Published May 2nd 2003 by Dover Publications (first published 1528)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross KingThe Life of Elizabeth I by Alison WeirThe Prince by Niccolò MachiavelliThe House of Medici by Christopher HibbertThe Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
Best Books on the Renaissance
18th out of 162 books — 55 voters
The Prince by Niccolò MachiavelliThe Birth of Venus by Sarah DunantBrunelleschi's Dome by Ross KingThe House of Medici by Christopher HibbertThe Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
The Renaissance
18th out of 154 books — 63 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,422)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
This is a book for people without the stomach for Machiavelli. It's a nice window into early renaissance court life––it'll give you an idea about some of what Shakespeare's plays include, people like Henry VIII, etc. Is the read as pleasant as a bagful of kittens? No, not really. It's long, often tedious, and for those of you who have absolutely no interest in history, a root canal might be preferable.

But you see, a (a freak)––who has an appreciation for politics and history––wo...more
Several centuries ago, writing was simpler and more direct. Even though the sentences were longer, the word choice and meaning were always precise. This book is a Socratic exploration about greatness, framed as the recollection of a discussion held at court sometime in the early 1400's. Various characters discuss what traits are most important for those who would comprise a prince's court. Included in these virtues are grace, health, knowledge of arms, candor, trust, and beauty. All of these are...more
Joey Warner
Sep 04, 2007 Joey Warner rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Medieval history enthusiasts
The edition I am reading is actually Daniel Javitch's Norton Critical edition (2002). There is a curiously high number of people on this site who claim to have read this work, yet who refrain from writing a review of it. I'll get us started with a few modest comments:

Javitch has been studying the Courtier for decades, and the more he does, the less he see reason to compare it to the "hard-nosed assessment of political realities that Machiavelli provided in the Prince." This is because, although...more
Read up until 50 pages, skimmed up until 88 pages, collected the information I needed for my Italian paper and thought, "No way in hell am I reading the rest of this book."

An important, very educating read about one of the most important periods in the history of the English literature, culture, and development.

This is THE book on how to be courtier, for courtiers of a period in which the idea of the courtier is already past. Or in other words - a How To for aristocrats and courtier-wannabes. If you want to be counted as something, back then, you had to read this book, follow it, live by its code, and appreciate it. Although, this book, was written about a period...more
Sean Muhlstein
Dec 03, 2008 Sean Muhlstein rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoyed THE PRINCE
The Italian answer/precursor to Machiavelli's The Prince. Four nights of dialogue amongst a coterie of early 16th century Italian nobles and courtiers forms the strcuture of this debate over the characteristics and virtues of the "Ideal Courtier."

sprezzatura is the italian word for "ease" or rather, "effortlessness" - the quality required of any would be successful courtier. Dancing, fighting, badinage, sport; these activities must be accomplished with seeming effortlessness, with an internaliz...more
I got the idea to read this after reading Hilary Mantel's two novels featuring Thomas Cromwell -- Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Castiglione is referenced as are Machiavelli and Masiglio of Padua as providing guidance to people at court in how they and their princes should behave. I had read Machiavelli and some sections of The Book of the Courtier, but Mantel's novels got me to revisit it to see how it guided her depiction of Cromwell.

It is a worthwhile book but a bit difficult to access bo...more
Bet Roberts
This book is surprising and entirely charming. Similar to Machiavelli's The Prince, the characters in The Book of the Courtier discuss, in the form of Platonic dialogue, the ideal member of a court. It's intelligent, funny, and even beautiful at times. Certainly an odd book, but I found it compelling and absorbing.

However, it will probably be of little to no interest to anyone not interested in the time period, but if the Italian Renaissance floats your boat (as it does mine, clearly) this is ab...more
Sherwood Smith
This first came out in 1526, and for those of us who can't read it in the original, there are various translations. The style is the old rhetorical conversation, which takes place in an ideal court scene of a small polity in Renaissance Italy.

It's a how-to for courtiers. Of course, it's not meant for just anybody. First of all, it's aimed at men, and second, Castiglione warns sternly, "I deem it necessary for him to be of noble birth."

This is a book of manners, and as such, gained wide popularit...more
Castiglione writes about the characteristics that make a perfect courtier (man of court who serves royalty)in the Renaissance era. He does this in the form of a fictional conversation between members of court that lasts 4 evenings, hence the 4 sections. Its a bit dry, but I think history buffs would enjoy it, as it serves as a window into court life by revealing the ideals and views of the nobility at the time.

The first section was a bit boring, a summary being that the courtier should be good a...more
You could take a courtier and place him in Washington, DC or any other seat of power and he would not only fit in, but dominate.
Osric Lecourtier
As an aspiring courtier myself, I found this guide gave me valuable lessons on my deportment. I hope to use all I have learned in it if (or when) I am chosen to work in the Danish court of King Claudius and Queen Gertrude of Denmark.
Considering this was one of the classics I had to trudge through for a class, it was tolerable. I fail to see why anyone would suffer through it of their own accord, but as far as Renaissance books go, at least I could finish it. It’s an instruction manual for a courtier that is mostly drivel – “be honest unless you must lie, talk about yourself but don’t be self-centered, etc.” There is an entire 100 pages on women, all of which is devoted to their chastity. I don’t think I’ve read so much abou...more
Au début du 16ème siècle, dans une cour italienne, une compagnies de nobles et de dames devisent pour tenter de définir ce que doit être un parfait courtisan. Pour peu que l'on fasse abstraction de la mauvaise réputation attachée à ce nom (surtout au féminin), on découvre un idéal qui prend ses racines dans l'antiquité, chez Platon, Aristote, Quintilien pour édifier des âmes fortes et délicates ayant l'épée dans une main et la plume dans l'autre. Toutes les perfections dont ils se parent n'ayant...more
Nick Bond
While courtesy literature is far from being the rage in the 21st century, it turns out that the 16th century equivalent to the Idiot's Guide to Etiquette was among the most popular books of its time. Called The Book of the Courtier, by Baldesar Castiglione, it merged practical philosophy (a la Cicero of Ancient Greece) with contemporary Renaissance culture in an effort to describe what might be considered the perfect denizen of a prince's court. The book is most notable for its detailed descript...more
Michael Tabb
Momentous, surprisingly transgressive and illustrative of an era, the Book of the Courtier is admittedly a slog, but one that captures the self-stylization of the Renaissance, sprezzatura and all, in a way that might only be equalled by Sidney's hilariously over-the-top poetry.
James Violand
If you want to learn a personal view of life during the Italian Renaissance, this book is for you. A primer for sycophants, Castiglione offers a guide to the intelligent, though for the most part unemployable, person with little talent.
David Laplante
It is important that you present yourself in the best light at all times. Confident and eloquent. Even in writing, your presentation is everything. Knowledge is the base for the best writers and speakers.
(too old to rate) Ever wonder what Renaissance dudes thought a dude should be like? Worry no more, because Baldesar Castiglione is here to teach you via Platonic dialogue. This certainly isn't a page-turner, and is frequently quite dull, but as a historical document it's fascinating, if only for the ridiculous amount of expectations that get placed on the ideal courtier's shoulders. This is one of those "does what it says on the tin" books, which doesn't make it a must-read classic, but is still...more
An old Italian book about how to be the perfect court gentleman isn't exactly easy reading, but it has its charms. This is written as a symposium or dialogue between friends that last across a series of evenings, debating what makes a man or woman perfect. Interesting especially for its portrayal of the war between the sexes (the exchanges between the bitter misogynists of the group and the women are amusing, and the misogynists by no means get the best of the women) and the image of a courtly c...more
As good, if not indeed better than, Machiavelli's famed The Prince and with more beautiful writing, at that. This book teaches the virtues of gentlemen of the court via fictional (though very realistic, it appears) dialog sketches between leading statesmen. The language is lively, astute, and though obviously dressed up in the poetics of the time, gives a good window to the intimate lives of the highest levels of society. If you're interested in the spider's web of intrigue that truly was the It...more
Jun 24, 2013 Marianne added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs
Shelves: gone, philo
A guide to the ideal in noble manner, approached as a series of discussions among the elite. An interesting and, in modern comparison, a dry treatment, though I found this translation to be very accessible.

As a historical reference both in manner at the time and in discourse, it's very intruiging. If I had more scholarly interest, I would finish reading it. However, having read about half of it, the reading is slow going, and I've gleaned about as much as I want. I feel that rating it by it's in...more
Of historical interest in that it provides some insight into the social mores and outlook of the Italian aristocracy in the late renaissance. However, it is also quite dull; the toffs being less amusing and witty than they thought.

The book owes a lot to the Decameron in terms of its structure, with a group of aristocrats discussing what it meant to be the perfect courtier through anecdotes and cod philosophy. For real literary entertainment from the Italian renaissance you should turn to Boccacc...more
Castiglione is the Anti-Machiavelli. Too many modern politicians have spent their time reading the latter, when reading the former could save our little planet a world of problems they've created, again, from reading too much Niccolo.
Where Machiavelli recommends war, Castiglione prefers diplomacy. Where Machiavelli
recommends ruthlessness, Castiglione prefers tact. A healthy respect for women shines forth, and the book on a whole is a good picture of Rennaisance attitudes.
This is one of those books that's full of important information, but not exactly an easy read. Lots of useful background information in here, but I'll be surprised if I make my way back to it in a hurry.
Heidi Nemo
Vital to understanding the premodern mindset and concept of self as it changed into the modern. This work straddles that gap, and you can watch the wheels of individuation turn.

Also a great way to observe the structure of early modern rhetoric: the dialogic structure pushes the reader towards the author's conclusions, ever so politely.

Best anatomy text on the ideals of early modern courtly behavior(if not their reality) out there, too.
I'm not sure why I bought or began reading the book, but I really liked it. Even if it's tedious and stupid sometimes, it was nice to get a feel for what intelligent conversation was like before petty empiricism made interesting psychological insights boring. A lot of the discussion and debate is timeless and enlightening, including the section where they discuss the sun going around the earth. It'd make a great bathroom book.
Nov 06, 2008 Alex rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who think they're too honest
"Do you not see that what you are calling nonchalance in messer Roberto is really affection, because we clearly see him making every effort to show that he takes no thought of what he is about, which means taking too much thought; and because it exceeds certain limits of moderation, such nonchalance is affected, is unbecoming, and results in the opposite of the desired effect, which is to conceal the art." p33
This was a pretty fascinating insight to the ideal Renaissance couple. Even if it was a bit of a self-help read, it was amusing to understand what life at court was like and what they found of great importance. What is even better about it is seeing the transition to today's culture. There are still lessons we can draw from these earlier examples on how to carry ourselves.
Its a weird but ingenious set-up which made it much more enjoyable.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 80 81 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Autobiography Of Benvenuto Cellini
  • The Heptameron
  • Orlando Furioso
  • The Treasure of the City of Ladies
  • On Painting
  • Jerusalem Delivered
  • Chronicles
  • The Old Arcadia
  • Mandragola
  • The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
  • New Science
  • The Complete Poems
  • Canzoniere
  • The City of the Sun
  • Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style
  • Praise of Folly
  • The Poems of St. John of the Cross
  • Vita Nuova
Count Baldassare (of) Castiglione was an Italian courtier, diplomat, soldier and a prominent Renaissance author.
More about Baldassare Castiglione...
How to Achieve True Greatness Il cortegiano LL Libro del Cortegiano Il cortegiano, or the courtier: written by Conte Baldassar Castiglione. And a new version of the same into English. Together with several of his celebrated pieces, as well Latin as Italian The Book of the Courtier from the Italian of Count Baldassare Castiglione

Share This Book

“Outward beauty is a true sign of inner goodness. This loveliness, indeed, is impressed upon the body in varying degrees as a token by which the soul can be recognized for what it is, just as with trees the beauty of the blossom testifies to the goodness of the fruit.” 10 likes
“Practise in everything a certain nonchalance that shall conceal design and show that what is done and said is done without effort and almost without thought.” 7 likes
More quotes…