How to Do it: Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians

Hope to conceive a boy? Tie a tourniquet around your husband's left testicle. Pregnant and fear a weak or malformed baby? Frequent hearty laughter should reduce the risk. And if you're a teenager of good repute, avoid dancing at all costs and stay away from wine, cosmetics, and flashy dress. What may seem quirky to today's readers certainly wasn't to its original audience - Renaissance Italians. They read advice manuals prodigiously, seeking guidance from the latest books by best-selling alchemists and snake-oil peddlers like Mrs. Isabella Cortese and Dr. Leonardo Fioravanti with an avidity not bestowed even on a Dante or a Machiavelli. This work shows 16th-century Italy from an alternative perspective: through manuals which were staples in the households of middlebrow Italians just trying to lead a better life. Rudolph M. Bell uncovers a culture much like our own in which people sought advice for everything from reining in a wayward spouse to running an efficient household. Italians who faced such timeless challenges turned to these books, which were written specifically for families of moderate means, complete with indexes, tables of contents, and marginal summaries making them easy to consult as problems arose.