As we examine the record of the Renaissance, we seem to see something more than mere individualism: we see a quite conscious rejection of authority in all its forms, a rejection which reached its apogee in the Condottiere. (29) How consciously and deliberately they rejected the laws of God and man is epitomized by Werner von Urslingen, who inscribed on his hauberk the words: “The enemy of God, of pity and of mercy.” Only a man determined to revenge himself on the world for some frightful victimization could seriously adopt such a device. It seems fair to conclude that, perhaps in childhood, many were being thus wounded.
While men of this sort unhesitatingly broke every rule of sex conduct, a tradition of ruthless seduction was gradually established to be followed by young nobles generally. In a characteristic incident, Molmenti tells how a number of them broke into a nunnery to rape some of the nuns. To achieve a seduction without incurring the penalty — death at the hands of the husband — became a social ambition, and to achieve it every trick or deceit, however ridiculous, was justifiable. Correspondingly, the husband was entitled to go to any lengths to secure a revenge which should be both humiliating and lethal.
In circumstances such as these, where any man might put a slight upon another just for the satisfaction of boasting about it, it became necessary for every man to resent any slight immediately, for fear of being marked down as a coward who could be insulted, and even killed, without fear of retaliation. Thus emerged the wholly Renaissance conceptions of “honestà” and “terribilità” the sense of honour which no one must infringe, and the ruthless violence which will deter all from attempting any slight. (A similar code appears to exist among the major gangsters and mobsters of the United States today.) Hence, if a man’s wife were seduced, though sympathy would generally be with the seducer, the husband’s revenge was regarded as natural and justifiable.
These are the circumstances which give rise to the duel, the most direct way of proving one’s readiness to resent injury, and in a world of hired bravi probably the safest.