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Recent scholarship has given much attention to the passions, or the emotions. In fields such as the history of emotions, cognitive psychology, and philosophy, considerations of the understanding and role of the passions in different societies have been at the forefront. The study of the emotions has been particularly strong within medieval and early modern studies; yet there is much that remains to be considered, especially in terms of the ways the study of literature may illuminate broader cultural outlooks and the construction of specific emotions in past societies. This lecture will examine the way Italian humanist culture understood and applied a particular emotion – compassion. It will do so by closely analyzing the reception of one ancient story – Valerius Maximus’s tale of Seleucus, Antiochus, and Stratonice – in the writings of four humanists: Boccaccio, Petrarch, Bruni, and Manetti. The various versions of the tale, this lecture will show, revolve largely around compassion and bring to light the debates that dominated the humanist community regarding the nature of this emotion, its ethical and political value, and those to whom it should be most directed.