Honour and the culture of male Venetian nobles, c. 1500-1650.
Walker, Jonathan Martin
University of Cambridge
Faculty of History
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Walker, J. M. (1998). Honour and the culture of male Venetian nobles, c. 1500-1650. (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11604
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vVhy Venice? Venice was a republic in an age of monarchies, a stable political administration in an age of rebellions, a state of rigidly maintained social hierarchies in an age of social change, a political system which lionised liberty but had the most exclusive ruling elite in Western Europe. Its aristocracy was defined by political privilege and responsibility at a time when elite groups elsewhere were confused by the distance between the new priorities of the robe and the old ones of the sword. Yet at every level Venice had profound connections with the mainstream of European intellectual culture. Venice was used as both shining example and cautionary reminder by the age's most il1fluential political thinkers. By providing us with a model where the basic conditions of political and social life were the same as those in the rest of Western Europe but there were also preci~ely-identifiable differences, Venice serves as a testcase for assumptions about European culture and a partial exception that may help illuminate generalisations established elsewhere. Why honour? For some historians the study of mentality involves eliminating all that was unique and individual. However, any attempt to consider how ideas on honour affected behaviour, rather than simply how they affected other ideas, necessarily involves consideration of individual behaviour and of the fate of named individuals. The relatively small community of Venetian nobles, all clearly identified by name in ci vie birth records, are an ideal group for a prosopographical investigation. Honour leads us inexorably to indi vidual ac tion because ultimately it was the responsibility of individuals. It was a dynamic and unstable thing; its history cannot be a 'serial' analysis of repetitive events because it required the continual re-creation of meaning; the primary conc ern was not with facts but attributions. Honour was the value attached to a person by the community in which he or she lived. This community could be defined by geographical proxim_ity (as with the villages studied by anthropologists) or a shared legal status (as with Venetian nobles). Honour converted the respect shown by others into self-respect. Honourable men and women knew that others would 'confirm that [good] opinion they have of themselves'. Thus honour mediated between the individual and the collective: it was created by the interplay between them. To pay honour was to recognise a person's virt11 or status, to show a good opinion of rhem by an �exterior act of reverence'. Honour was an �external good'. Insofar as a man was worthy of it he could be considered ' honourable'. It was O\ved to individuals rather than possessed by them. It only existed when acknowledged socially. A man could not honour himself. Indeed treat ises discussed it as a quality of the man who paid honour (the honorante) as much as the man to whom it was paid (the honoraro). We might think of honour as a man's 'c redit ' , defined in sixteenth-century dictionaries as an aspect of reputation. This allows us to see how it could be something both owed to him and possessed by him (if only in potenti al). and how it could be a property of both the honorollfe and the honoroto simultaneously. Tn the early modern period men and women analysed honour as an abstract co ncept but behci.ved as if it was a commodity of immense material and sentimental value. It could be zained or lost, increased or forfeited . It concerned men and women, individuals and fa~1ilies in different ways. Thus a discussion of honour involves consideration of how nobles related to other individuals, to their families and to the state. Honour is referred to in every kind of written source from the early modern period because eve1y contact with another human being carried implications for it. In the context of early modern society this universality allows the historian to carry out one of his or her most important tasks: to connect thought and emotion with action, individuals with groups and different levels of culture with each other.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.11604
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