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A SIXTEENTH-CENTURY MANIFESTO FOR SOCIAL MOBILITY OR THE BODY POLITIC METAPHOR IN MUTATION

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During the fifteenth century the organic body politic metaphor was gradually associated or superseded by a physiological paradigm built on the ancient humoral theory. The new body politic, based on humours rather than on organs, eventually became a dynamic and fluid entity. Authors such as Nicole Oresme or Jean Gerson alleged that the etiology of humoral imbalance had its origins in growing social inequalities; Claude de Seyssel subsequently urged that the cure to restore the humoral balance should focus on creating new hope and bridges for the gifted. Seyssel was able to draw up his pioneering manifesto for social mobility thanks to the new physiological image of the civic body. The present study argues that such a physiological conception transformed anxiety about motion and disarray into a belief that social fluidity was indispensable to the well-being and health of the whole body, but the idea that (social) order and movements are not conflicting, was soon eradicated by new perspectives on nobility constructed on race and blood.
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Keywords: Christine de Pizan; Claude de Seyssel; Jean Gerson; Jean Juvénal des Ursins; John of Salisbury; Niccoli Machiavelli; Nicole Oresme; Philippe de Mézieres; body politic; humours; meritocracy; organic metaphor; physiological metaphor; regimen; social mobility

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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