Published online by Cambridge University Press: 31 July 2009
Many people living in the early seventeenth century complained bitterly about the unprecedented harshness of their world. In 1623 an Italian preacher, Secondo Lancellotti, set out to refute these pessimists in a book entitled L'hoggidì, overo il mondo non peggiore ne più calamitoso del passato [Nowadays, or how the world is not worse or more calamitous than it used to be]. First he identified forty-nine Inganni (‘fallacies’) held by the Hoggidiani (‘people nowadays’, with the sense of ‘whiners’). Then he laboriously gave examples in each of the forty-nine categories (the Disinganni) to prove the Hoggidiani wrong. Thus ‘women nowadays are not more vain than those in the past’; ‘princes nowadays are not more avarious or indifferent towards their subjects than they used to be’; and ‘human life nowadays is not shorter, so that men do not live for less time now than they have done for thousands of years’. Lancellotti devoted eight of his last chapters, covering almost 200 pages, to natural phenomena: he reviewed recent accounts of severe earthquakes, floods, cold weather, famines and plague epidemics ‘nowadays’ and pointed out that similar events in the past had been far worse. According to Lancellotti, life had never been so good; but proving his case took over 700 pages!
Although L'hoggidì proved a publishing success – Philip IV owned a copy and a sequel soon appeared – evidence multiplied to support most of the ‘fallacies’ that Lancellotti denounced.