Library

22 May 2017

Insults in early modern Italy' - History Seminar in the Library 2017

Emma Swiney, Honours student, reports on this year's History Seminar in the Library.  

Watch the video of the full lecture below and view Jonathan's slides here.


Dr Jonathan Davies and guests view a Rare book display
 at 2017 Arts/Library History Lecture 

Among some beautiful examples of Early Modern pieces from the Matheson Library Rare Books collection, visiting historian Dr Jonathan Davies from Warwick University presented some of his research into the history of "Insults in Early Modern Italy".

In studying the history of insults in Early Modern Italy, one must contextualise these insults within the violence of the time. It is from this approach that Davies introduced us to Delle Considerationi e Dubitationi Sopra la materia delle mentite, e offese di parole ('Reflections and Doubts on the subject of Falsehoods and Verbal Insults') by Bolognese professor Camillo Baldi.

Davies has been working with this text, often overlooked by other scholars as a reprint of one of Baldi’s other works, as an alternative to the Judicial records that have most often been used to examine the history of insults. From this perspective Davies challenges the traditional conception of Early Modern insults as static and based around shared taboos, and instead posits that, based on research by Trevor Dean, the most powerful insults are, in fact, culturally specific.

Dr Jonathan Davies (R) Warwick University, with
 Peter Howard, Deputy Dean of Arts, Monash
Focussing on Early Modern Italy, these insults are directly related to a culture of honour, which is reflected in the levels of violence and violent crimes in Italy, more so than anywhere else in Europe during the same period. Davies uses evidence quoting homicide rates up to triple that of other contemporary European societies and, more recently, on research into the prevalence of factionalism and feuding in the Italian states. This type of violence shocked contemporaries, as reported by Sir Robert Dallington who travelled the Italian Peninsular in 1596-7. Dallington reported two ways that quarrels were often settled, being through Duals or Vendettas, the latter of which he says caused twenty-one deaths between Pisa, Siena, and Venice only during the time he was travelling in those cities. These two types of quarrels are intrinsically tied to the culture of honour throughout Italy at the time.

Nowhere else was this factionalist violence more pronounced than in Bologna, the city from which Baldi, the author of Davies’ focus text, was writing. Davies suggests that this was caused by the emasculation of the Bolognese aristocracy, upon the defeat of the city by Pope Julius II. The estimated homicide rate of the area quadrupled during this time, and it is in this context that Baldi wrote his Considerationi e Dubitationi. This work, wherein Baldi identifies situations that might arise, and theorizes the most appropriate outcome, was dedicated to the Bolognese Elite, indicating that the situation in Bologna was something that Baldi felt the need to comment on.




As Davies listed the focus of each of the numerous chapters in Baldi’s books, he asked that the audience consider which subjects Baldi highlighted or repeated most, and if there were any patterns they might notice. Additionally, the audience were asked to keep in mind how recent methodologies, such as Gender or Class, might be used to analyse the works. Certainly, notions of hierarchies (such as what do do when insult is handed down by a prince) and gendered concepts (seen in the many chapters on lovers and affairs) were clearly present throughout these texts.

Baldi’s Considerationi e Dubitationi reveals to us a wide range of insults which may have arisen in Early Modern Italy, and also examines the relationships between the quarrelling parties and how this may have affected the given situation. To conclude his presentation, Davies contended that, when looking at insults in this period, we need to examine texts such as Baldi’s alongside the often-used judicial texts, to get a richer view of the relationships between quarrelling parties.


The author:
Emma Swiney (@emma_swiney) is currently completing her Honours degree in History. Her research focuses on the formation of Identity in late-15th Century Florence, and how politically active men related themselves to their city through an understanding of Florentine traditions and history. She also commits some of her time to mentoring undergraduate students, especially in helping them to formulate questions for independent research. In the coming years she hopes to continue her studies in Renaissance history within the supportive framework of the Monash History Department.






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