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Keeping a sound mind

A book by a 15th-century merchant talks about corporate themes and profiles that are still relevant today

A merchant should be “homo di ben conposta mente, integro et saldo, extimando in grande dignità la sua parola et in suma integrità la sua promessa (…)” (an individual of sound mind, upright and steadfast, who keeps their words in great esteem and their promises with integrity”. Guidance that was written in 1458 and that is manifestly still relevant today – very modern notions indeed. A “merchant”, that is, a business person, an “upright and steadfast” entrepreneur, 500 years ago as today. Such clear and transparent advice was imparted by Benedetto Cotrugli in his Libro dell’arte di mercatura (Book on the art of trading), newly rediscovered and reissued by the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

Some consider Cotrugli the founder of business economic disciplines: a merchant and humanist of the Renaissance period, his work made an impression but he was then forgotten for centuries. Yet, this book represents, and with reason, one of the key contributions to the understanding of the origins of management and of modern business practices; a text that, by the by, also anticipates by over 500 years many of the principles underlying so-called corporate humanism and social responsibility.

Today, the narration of “the art of trading” is reissued in its original version (in the ancient Italian language) accompanied by a version in contemporary Italian. Prefaced by two essays that explain its content, importance and meaning, Cotrugli’s book begins by illustrating the origins and features of “trading” (that is, how this economic activity was carried out 500 years ago), then moves on to religion and how it relies to moral trading, and finally to the “civic life” that a merchant must lead in order to attain the “economic virtues” that make a merchant truly good and honest.

Cotrugli’s chapters are rather dense, packed with economic but also political concepts, moral rectitude, rules on how to live in society and care for others (what today we would call corporate social responsibility). As such, throughout the text, important terms that are also relevant to good modern enterprises recur, such as prudence, integrity, diligence, constancy, authority, temperance, and many more.

Reading Cotrugli is not always easy but it should definitively be attempted, with some commitment and attention, especially (and above all) nowadays, during this complex and difficult historical period that not only affects businesses – and in order to remember the author’s advice: keep a sound mind.

Il libro dell’arte di mercatura (Book on the art of trading)

Benedetto Cotrugli

Edited by AA.VV., Guerini NEXT, 2022

A book by a 15th-century merchant talks about corporate themes and profiles that are still relevant today

A merchant should be “homo di ben conposta mente, integro et saldo, extimando in grande dignità la sua parola et in suma integrità la sua promessa (…)” (an individual of sound mind, upright and steadfast, who keeps their words in great esteem and their promises with integrity”. Guidance that was written in 1458 and that is manifestly still relevant today – very modern notions indeed. A “merchant”, that is, a business person, an “upright and steadfast” entrepreneur, 500 years ago as today. Such clear and transparent advice was imparted by Benedetto Cotrugli in his Libro dell’arte di mercatura (Book on the art of trading), newly rediscovered and reissued by the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

Some consider Cotrugli the founder of business economic disciplines: a merchant and humanist of the Renaissance period, his work made an impression but he was then forgotten for centuries. Yet, this book represents, and with reason, one of the key contributions to the understanding of the origins of management and of modern business practices; a text that, by the by, also anticipates by over 500 years many of the principles underlying so-called corporate humanism and social responsibility.

Today, the narration of “the art of trading” is reissued in its original version (in the ancient Italian language) accompanied by a version in contemporary Italian. Prefaced by two essays that explain its content, importance and meaning, Cotrugli’s book begins by illustrating the origins and features of “trading” (that is, how this economic activity was carried out 500 years ago), then moves on to religion and how it relies to moral trading, and finally to the “civic life” that a merchant must lead in order to attain the “economic virtues” that make a merchant truly good and honest.

Cotrugli’s chapters are rather dense, packed with economic but also political concepts, moral rectitude, rules on how to live in society and care for others (what today we would call corporate social responsibility). As such, throughout the text, important terms that are also relevant to good modern enterprises recur, such as prudence, integrity, diligence, constancy, authority, temperance, and many more.

Reading Cotrugli is not always easy but it should definitively be attempted, with some commitment and attention, especially (and above all) nowadays, during this complex and difficult historical period that not only affects businesses – and in order to remember the author’s advice: keep a sound mind.

Il libro dell’arte di mercatura (Book on the art of trading)

Benedetto Cotrugli

Edited by AA.VV., Guerini NEXT, 2022