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Recent studies claim that as many as one in five CEOs may be psychopaths. In the early days of capitalism, an anonymous novel painted a portrait of the merchant Fortunatus as clever, cutthroat, anxious, and greedy. His (mis-)adventures became one of the most translated and adapted stories in early modern Europe.
What is the relationship between wealth and personality? How do economic forces, such as rising inequality, change this relationship? Published anonymously in Augsburg––home of the fantastically rich Fugger dynasty––in 1509, the novel Fortunatus warns that the blessing of wealth brings the curse of melancholy. The fact that the hero of this tale bears all the negative traits that medieval traditions associated with the melancholic type––greed, deviousness, egotism, solitariness, and perhaps even criminal sociopathy––only enhanced the fascination of this bestseller, which became one of the most translated and adapted stories around Europe over the next three centuries. Fortunatus serves as a case study in tracing the transformations of cultural knowledge of both socio-economic types at key moments in the development of a modern political economy in Western Europe, including Elizabethan England, the classical age of French absolutism, the Enlightenment, and German Romanticism.
Timothy Attanucci studied German and Comparative Literature at Harvard and Princeton (Ph.D.), as well as in Tübingen, Paris, and Berlin (HU). Since 2014 he has been Assistant Professor of Modern German Literature at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. His research interests include the history and poetics of knowledge; melancholy; literature, environment, and economics; and Hans Blumenberg.