CLIO TALKS BACK: Advice to market women – Italy c.1320

Clio recently stumbled across an interesting document from early fourteenth-century Italy which provides advice for market women and other women in business. In translation, here is what it says:

“If you’d be a market-woman
Don’t put green leaves on musty fruit,
Nor place the best fruit in front,
Nor grease figs to make them ripen,
Nor keep them in water to fool people.
Don’t buy bread, bran, or wine,
Nor salt, nor oil, nor salted meat
From menservants who’ve pilfered it …
If you’re a poultry or cheese-seller
Don’t wash the eggs or cheese
So they look fresher to customers.”

“If you want to be a saleswoman
Tell the truth to all
Make your claims true,
And don’t be deceiving women
Who don’t know what jewels are worth,
Don’t talk about others’ business with them …
If you’re an innkeeper, a waitress or barmaid,
Sell your goods and not your person,
If you’re at all attractive
Don’t make this part of the merchandise.”

Clio finds this fascinating – obviously the impulse to present merchandise under false pretenses, or to cheat customers has been around for centuries and, of course, dishonesty has never been restricted to one sex. This advice, coming from a male author, clearly intends to promote honesty in business transactions but also, in the case of some of the women to whom it is addressed, to separate the seller who works for gain in public space from concerns about potential personal immorality.

Do you readers know of other examples of published advice directed at businesswomen in other cultures, especially from earlier centuries? If so, please comment on this blog and share what you’ve found.

Source: Francesco da Barberino, Francesco da Barberino. Reggimento e costumi di donna [c. 1320], ed. G. E. Sansone (Rome, 1995); as translated in Mary Rogers & Paola Tinagli, Women in Italy, 1350-1650. Ideals and Realities: A Sourcebook (Manchester University Press, 2005), p. 259.