In light of the above, I should probably clarify that I do not mean to imply that the impiccato
means "debt" in the trump sequence.
I think it means "shame", public shame, as possibly the worst fate that could befall a man, while living, in that culture.
For an insightful discussion of what shame could mean to a man of that time in Florence (and broadly applicable of course across Europe and similar cultures where a man's reputation was his most important possession), see chapter one of Nicole Cama's 2009 paper "Defining the 'strano
': Madness in Renaissance Italy"
http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/bitstrea ... Thesis.pdf
Although Cama's thesis is on the social ramifications of madness, she provides a neat summary of the culture of onore
that form its context (pp. 14-18, with ample sources and references for every concept and term she uses):
"In light of Manetti's tale, it is necessary to outline the social and cultural framework that delineated madness as a form of social deviance in Grasso's story of friendship, betrayal and alienation. The elements of the story are comprehensible when placed in a social context that privileged words, actions and behaviour as symbols within an elaborate communication system. This system of verbal and behavioural codes designated 'fama
' ('reputation') as the core component of social relations. The inexorable social structures of 'onore
' and 'vergogna
' ('honour' and 'shame') dictated the complexity behind 'fama
' and social relations. This facilitated the 'face-to-face' nature of society which was characterised by an elaborate system of behavioural codes in which the individual was tested on a daily basis. Although these were elements integral to the proper function of civic life, it is important to note that this was also a society that defined the male role in society as distinctly public in nature and appointed women as the absent players in the community. Women's absence from this public role meant that a man's social status in the community depended on his ability to project a certain level of 'social ambiguity' and decipher the range of gestures, words and behaviour presented to him. Those who did not preserve their honour and maintain the right level of ambiguity within their social relations faced a serious social threat.
This ambiguity was colourfully reflected when, in 1609, the Venetian scholar Paolo Sarpi wrote, "I am constrained to wear a mask, in as much as one can do no less, if he lives in Italy." However, this theme was noted in earlier Italian texts. As early as the mid fourteenth century, Paolo da Certaldo, highlighted the importance of façade, and even went so far as to compare his secrets with his 'liberty' saying that those who revealed their secrets 'were mad'. Da Certaldo also noted the centrality of 'fama
' saying that the respect of fellow citizens was "worth more than great riches."
In a culture that privileged the importance of 'fama' and the intricate workings of surface appearance, 'words, actions and works', 'onore
' and 'vergogna
', were all intimately connected. Hence, social alienation remained an ever-present possibility for those who neglected the importance of façade. This emphasis on façade indicates that an individual's sense of self was "bounded" or restricted by the external pressures that threatened shame on those who acted against the prescribed social codes. An individual's sense of self and identity was like a complex patchwork. It included a multiplicity of overlapping features that demanded loyalty to a range of groups such as patrons, 'parenti, amici e vicini
' ('kin, friends and neighbours'). Consequently, a person's obligations and allegiances meant that their actions, gestures and words often conflicted with their desires and beliefs.
However, as noted previously, this was a community that centered on notions of 'fama
' and 'vergongna
' and so, an individual often faced the challenging task of consolidating their own interests and self-preservation with what external groups and institutions expected of them. Their behaviour was constantly mediated by the awareness that what they did in front of their fellow citizens would be noted, disseminated and never forgotten. Madness, understood as a form of social deviance, thus represented the moments where the social 'mask' failed, where an individual temporarily suspended their vigilant persona and revealed words and behaviour commonly interpreted as 'strano
Analysis of the cultural framework that dictated social interaction alludes to another dominant theme of life in early Renaissance Florence – ‘amicitia
’ (‘collective, corporate or communal friendship’). This was a world where individuals played a precarious balancing act between ‘onore’ and ‘vergogna’ depending on how they managed their social networks because, as Alberti commented, ‘“social exchanges hid many layers of meaning, even during exchanges between friends.”’Da Certaldo provided some illuminating statements concerning the nature of friendship as he maintained that ‘“a man who loses his friends is worse than dead.”’ Such comparisons echo the familiar Italian expression, ‘“It is better to die than to live with shame”’; however, there is another element to these proverbial statements that connects with how social deviance was perceived. Alberti noted that friendships were the most ‘highly prized’ of all relationships, indicating that it was not only an essential part of social survival, but a fundamental ingredient to ‘living well and rightly.’Also writing in the early fifteenth century, Francesco d’Altobianco degli Alberti claimed that ‘“nulla sanza gli amici si può far
”’ (‘“nothing can be done without friends”’).The ability to maintain friendship networks in this context was seen as a virtue, and one that required consistent attention and skilful ambiguity as Da Certaldo once proclaimed: ‘Now, I am not saying that you should be completely distrustful, but rather that there should be a happy medium in all things. If you always keep to this happy medium in every aspect of your life, you shall be praised and considered wise.’Not long after Da Certaldo’s comments, Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli recorded his thoughts in a chronicle, also recognising the critical ability to maintain a vigilant disposition: ‘Once you have won your friends and relatives...you must be sensible enough to keep their friendship, and even to increase it; and this is how to do it. Don’t be ungrateful for favors received....If you see that you can be useful to them or honor them, do so; don’t wait to be asked.’ Social deviance, in light of these characterisations, represented the rifts and cracks in social networks. The process of stigmatisation served as a social demarcation of ‘strange’ behaviour in a way that reinforced the importance of what Alberti termed, ‘“the face value of social exchanges”’. If social relationships were part of a complex tapestry, then Alberti’s metaphor of the ‘filo e tessura’ (‘the thread and fabric’) of friendship is an accurate description of this element as it formed the backbone of life in the Florentine commune.This mentality indicates that those who exhibited ‘strange’ behaviour and neglected to project a certain persona were deviant because they threatened the very existence of the social codes established to mediate behaviour in the first place. They were mad insofar as they did not conform; they threatened social harmony in the community by desecrating the virtues considered central to maintaining the imperative social masquerade. Contemporary comments concerning the complexity of social relations highlight the way that social codes mediating identity and the self were perceived as a sacred order, and an intrinsic part of the community’s cultural make-up that people honoured and occasionally undervalued."
The sentiment "shame is worse than death" is expressed by the phrase "Meglio è morir che viver con vergogna
" - Better to die than to live with shame.