Sprezzatura in Antiquity
Count Ludovico states that the behavior must be learned and perfected by diligent observation. This is based on the Aristotelian doctrine that all excellences are habits which eventually become acquired. "When right action is habitual, it attains the status of nature and becomes grace itself." Castiglione planned to define an area of human conduct that was an Aristotelian middle ground between two extremes, a mean between "supreme grace" and "stupid ineptitude," an area between the divine and carnal. One is too obviously graceful, while the other is a failure. Castiglione tells us that the opposite of sprezzatura is affectation, which consists of overstepping these limits of moderation. Aristotle, in Book 2 of Nichomachean Ethics, gives a name to the virtue of interpersonal relations and the two extremes it can reach: "As regards veracity, the character who aims at the mean may be called 'truthful' and what he aims at 'truthfulness.' Pretending when it goes too far is 'boastfulness'....If it takes the form of understatement, the pretence is called 'irony'...." Castiglione seems to be ignoring truthfulness, and using the lower extreme, irony, to define sprezzatura. When one conveys a meaning that is the opposite of its real, or literal, meaning, the situation is ironic. Sprezzatura has a similar kind of deception. "We know that the essential thing for the practice of irony, as also of sprezzatura, is dissimulation: a trick, or at any rate always a detachment, a discrepancy between being and seeming....the success of irony, as of sprezzatura, obviously depends on its reception."
Castiglione also relied on the Ovidian tradition of cultus behavior. "In Ovid's works of love Castiglione found the lucid perspective, the ideal of art excelling because it hides its existence, the insistence that artfulness can and should extend to all human social activity, and the genial commitment to self-aggrandizement by manipulation of the environment and the self." Ovid provided the inspiration for advocating strategic role playing, for hiding the hard work and convincing the audience that the courtier could do even better if he actually tried. As producer, director and star player of his own drama, Ovid's perfect man showed his strengths and hid his weaknesses.
The relationship of Ovid and Aristotle to social behavior in the High Renaissance is an example of how the High Renaissance reacted to ideas and traditions of antiquity. The Renaissance was a rebirth of classical learning, but because it took place in the Christian age, there couldn't be just a simple renewal of Greek and Roman thought. Classical ideas were adapted to the new beliefs and customs of the sixteenth century. Both Greeks and Christians wanted to perfect the human being; Greeks believed this was achieved through the persistence of the individual, while Christians believed it was part of manıs nature through the act of God's creation. The revived Greek ideas that did not contradict God's truth were added to experience of Renaissance men. "The Renaissance combined the Greek regard for pleasure as good in itself with the Christian acceptance of pleasure as a gift from God." In Christianity, "grace" was a term for Godıs generosity to man, a gift. In Latin (gratia) and Greek (charis), grace has the same root. Its original meaning was a combination of favor, good will, esteem, and love. With the rediscovery of classical learning, grace no longer just applied to theology. The Renaissance constructed a theory of secular grace, an important part of Renaissance aesthetics. Grace became a perfection towards which individuals strove, a goal of goodness. In this light, Castiglione's Book of the Courtier was "an inquiry into the process of attaining true excellence in human society. Pleasure was seen as the guiding principle; grace was viewed as the beginning, the means, and the end of the progress towards Christian excellence; love and joy were seen as its fruition." The purely Christian notion of grace did not include manipulation and superficiality; it emphasized the positive aspects of sprezzatura, the coolness, the simple pleasure.