De la Noblesse by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) is the earliest work pertaining to courtesy and nobility in the Old Library’s collection.
It first appeared as Il forno overo della nobilita in 1580, competing with the texts of a prolific group of Italian writers concerned with comportment and manners.
Tasso was already a celebrated poet with strong links to the Ferrara court and he is best-known as the author of Jerusalem Delivered, published when he was thirty-one. His reputation remained strong into the early nineteenth century, helped to some extent by Goethe’s celebration in the eponymous 1780 play and Byron’s tribute The Lament of Tasso in 1817.
Like many others in the courtesy genre, the book employs the popular device of a dialogue, this one between Alcandre and Clidamant, who discuss the merits of the court and the qualities of the nobility. Throughout the work Tasso’s protagonists debate the great eternal issues including questions on the nature of love, beauty and what constitutes the true state of nobility. This work alludes to nobility as a virtue, indeed that noble behaviour constitutes a beauty of sorts.
It would appear that his confinement during the writing of the work may have had something to do with its increasingly philosophical approach; indeed he offers his views as a philosophe as well as a courtisan.