2 minute read


Public Expressions Of Honor

The literature on honor and shame is closely connected to the study of public and private realms. Honor was a quality that was expressed in public, and contested there: insults and slights enacted in the public sphere could be construed as attacks on the public persona or reputation of a person, and thus on his honor. Thus, societies where honor was perceived as an important value were marked by violent outbursts particularly between men who protected their social reputation with duels for the elite and more informal fights—usually knife fights—for plebeians. Yet, despite what the early scholars of honor would have one believe, the courts were also a valid venue for the reparation of honor. Members of the elite in particular often used litigation to defend their honor against public insults, as did women, to a surprising degree. Colonial Latin American court records have revealed many cases in which women sought to regain lost honor by having a seducer condemned as a rapist or forced to marry his victim—and sometimes both.

Honor was codified in such written forms as genealogies, titles of nobility, or coats of arms. In the Spanish world, public office, admission to universities, and most good marriages could only be obtained with the presentation of a kind of genealogy called a limpieza de sangre (purity of blood lines). Such a family tree certified that the party in question did not have any ancestors who were illegitimate, heretical, non-Catholic or newly converted, convicts, or who had held base employment. Titles of nobility also provided a strong case for the possession of honor as did coats of arms, which were, in a sense, a physical manifestation of one's honor. Other externals included the type of clothes one wore, the entourage, horses and carriages, and the body's bearing. In the Latin American context, pureza de sangre has been much discussed as an antecedent to later racial hierarchies; the combination of lineage and birth with elements of deportment and social reputation—and codes of honor—in this earlier concept can be seen to have influenced later ideas about race, in which individual behavior and family reputation are similarly emphasized in addition to purely physical attributes.

The public nature of honor was also expressed tangibly, through such bodily attitudes as doffing hats, bowing, curtsying, and lowering the eyes. Conversely, turning one's back or refusing to remove headgear could be construed as an attack on honor. The hierarchies of honor and its distribution were also made material through processions. These often religious, but also political, events placed people in an order that reflected their levels in society and thus represented the rankings of honor both to the general population and also to this smaller group.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHonor - Early Conceptualizations Of Honor, Public Expressions Of Honor, Honor And Gender, Honor And Violence