In The Book of the Courtier (1528), Baldesar Castiglione, a diplomat and Papal Nuncio to Rome, sets out to define the essential virtues for those at Court. In a lively series of imaginary conversations between the real-life courtiers to the Duke of Urbino, his speakers discuss qualities of noble behaviour - chiefly discretion, decorum, nonchalance and gracefulness - as well as wider questions such as the duties of a good government and the true nature of love. Castiglione's narrative power and psychological perception make this guide both an entertaining comedy of manners and a revealing window onto the ideals and preoccupations of the Italian Renaissance at the moment of its greatest splendour.
Castiglione was born in 1478 and a member of an ancient aristocratic family. A courtier throughout his life, his writings were always a secondary affair. George Bull was an author and journlaist who translated six books for the Penguin Classics, including The Prince by Machiavelli. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was made a Knight Commander in 1999.