Galateo

Galateo has never been out of print, at least in Italy, since it was written in the 1550s. Its author, Giovanni Della Casa, was born near Florence in 1503.

He became Papal Nuncio to the republic of Venice and ultimately Secretary of State in the Vatican under Pope Paul IV. He did not receive a cardinal’s hat because of internal politics and maybe  because of his poetry and political writing. While the latter is serious some of the former has a salacious tone. A bishop who had fallen foul of Della Casa denounced him for writing obscene verse. None of this output in Latin and Italian attracts much attention today, except for Galateo. It takes its name from Galeazzo Florimonte, Bishop of Aquino. Bishops in those days were not necessarily models of intellectual and moral probity but he was an exception. It was at his suggestion that Della Casa wrote his evergreen book. It is a guide to manners, etiquette and gracious living, its advice as sound today as 450 years ago.

The first English translation was published in 1578 and there have been others. The one I am reading was published in 1958 and is by  RS Pine-Coffin. It is much the best I am told and I saw it when I stayed with his nephew on Tuesday night. You don’t need to read it but you should scan the Contents and pretend you have.

The subject matter has been of enduring fascination to English readers over the centuries. Shakespeare must have had Milan Fashion Week in mind.

Reports of fashions in proud Italy,

Whose manners still our tardy apish nation

Limps after in base imitation.

Richard II, Act II, Scene 1.

 

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