Inventing the Good Life: How Italy Shaped Early Modern Moral Culture

An Exploration of the Ethica Section in Wolfenbüttel

eds. Matthias Roick, Franziska Meier, Enrica Zanin, and Claudia Rossignoli

Conference proceedings (forecoming),
Romanische Studien: Beihefte (München: Akademische Verlagsgemeinschaft, 2019)

Conference announcement

The conference is organized by Matthias Roick (Göttingen/Wolfenbüttel), together with Franziska Meier (Göttingen), Enrica Zanin (Strasbourg), and Claudia Rossignoli (St. Andrews)

Italy had an immense influence on the social and cultural life of early modern Europe. There is little acknowledgement, however, of the strong moral imprint of this influence. Quips on superficiality, frivolity and moral corruption of the ‘South’, common both to the early modern period and to contemporary discourse, have overshadowed the impact the evolving “forms of life” (Quondam) on the Italian peninsula had on early modernity. From the thirteenth century onward, new social classes in the burgeoning cities and towns in Italy developed new social and cultural values. A new “urban life-style” (Ruggiero) redefined the notions of what it means to live a good life, with an emphasis on the right use of wealth, refined manners and grace, and on the importance of learning. Based on ancient ethical models, the concept of virtue became a mainstay of early modern culture and the most important ingredient for the good life, both in terms of rational self-control and creative power. Not confined to the urban centres of Northern and Central Italy, the new ideas on the good life had a huge impact on the aristocratic and courtly societies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and spread throughout Europe.

The conference will look at the influence of Italian models on early modern moral culture through a special lens: the Ethica section in Wolfenbüttel.

Part of the book collection of Duke August the Younger (1579-1666), preserved at today’s Herzog August Bibliothek, the Ethica section offers us a ‘window’ onto the varied landscape of early modern ethics and the wealth of literature on ethics. Not only does it contain philosophical treatises and disputations, but also novels, novellas, theatrical texts, collections of proverbs, emblem books, and conduct books.The section allows us to chart the trajectories of European literature towards the middle of the seventeenth century and to measure the influence Italian literature had on it. In fact, many of the works in the section are written in or translated from the Italian language, stem from Italian authors, or were printed in Italy, bearing witness to the significance of Italy as a force of cultural and moral innovation.
The conference would like to discuss the section’s wealth of literature on ethics and its Italian influence along three lines of argument.





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