The Study of Honor in the Renaissance Period

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The study of honor in Renaissance cities presents an intriguing paradox. On the one hand, honor seemed ‘more dear than life itself’, and provided one of the essential values that shaped the daily lives of urban elites and ordinary city folk. For wealthy merchants and aspiring artisans, honor established a code of accepted conduct against which an individual’s actions were measured by his or her peers, subordinates and social superiors. Possessing honor helped to locate a person in the social hierarchy and endowed one with a sense of personal worth. The culture of honor, which originated with the medieval aristocracy, directed the everyday activities of urban-dwellers of virtually all social groups from at least the fourteenth century on. Honor – whether of one’s self, family, or neighborhood – hinged on a publicly bestowed evaluation over which individuals had only limited control. To regain lost honor required not only the exertion of personal agency but also the intervention and re-evaluation of others in the community. Within the fray of everyday life one’s personal or family honor was subject to repeated attacks and might be won, lost, or exchanged with remarkable speed. Hence honor, despite its immense and pervasive value, was paradoxically neither a static nor an absolute possession. Rather, for renaissance people it functioned as an important yet intangible resource that figured in social transactions between people who might have competing property claims, divergent political or marital aspirations, patronage ties, class differences, or simply grudges against each other. Although honor acted as a primary driving force in urban culture, its precise expressions and meanings varied according to social group, local political structure, and era. While duty and revenge stood at the heart of an enduring code of honor, the actual behaviors that expressed these values depended on particular historical circumstances for their strategies and success. *where did...
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