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7 - Soldiers and Gentlemen: The Rise of the Duel in Renaissance Italy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

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Summary

It is generally agreed that the modern code of honor, which adopted the rituals of the duel for its enforcement, evolved in Italy during the Renaissance and from there gradually spread to the rest of Europe. With the rise of the duel itself, Italy also saw a veritable explosion of books and pamphlets which purported to justify, explicate, and teach the proper defense of one's honor. Thus lawyers and literati created and articulated an ethical code that refined and sharpened sensibilities to insult while dictating proper behavior among “gentlemen,” a handily ambiguous category that suited the social flux of the period. Print capitalism found this scienza cavalleresca or “science of chivalry’ to be a tasty topic, and during the sixteenth century Italian presses would crank out forty-six new dueling manuals released in 110 different editions. This massive edifice of paper was reinforced by steel as Italians refined the rapier out of the broadsword and developed scientific fencing techniques to go with it. Such innovations spread quickly to the rest of the continent through teachers such as Sanseverino, Lovino, Pompeo, Bonetti, and Fabrizio, as well as instruction manuals by Marozzo, Agrippa, Saviolo, and Capo Ferro. In short, Italy became famous as “dueling central’ in theory, practice, and propaganda for more than a hundred years. Even in the early seventeenth century, John Selden still felt comfortable using the Italian term Duello to adorn his English treatise (1610) on the topic.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2007

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