2THE GREAT HUMANISTStime, but also to offer the reader individual portraits of the key human-ists involved which can be read as free-standing chapters, or used forreference. After a deﬁnition of humanism, this introduction will givea brief summary of the rise of humanism in Europe and survey someof the important scholarship written about it, before providing a brief justiﬁcation of those humanists included, and those omitted, and anoutline of the book.
What is Humanism?
Any attempt to give a working deﬁnition of humanism is always a pre-carious venture, but it must be done. In fact, the term ‘humanism’ is nota term from the Renaissance at all, but was developed in the nineteenthcentury from the Latin
, as used by Cicero (106–43 B.C.)in classical times and those
, of the ﬁfteenth century, whostudied and taught the
(liberal arts) in universities.As James Hankins has observed, it was Georg Voigt who ﬁrst used theword ‘humanism’ to refer to the Renaissance study of classical textsand languages. In the same century, a philosophical sense of humanismwas developed in the work of Ludwig Fauerbach (1804–1872), leadingeventually to the common understanding of the term ‘humanism’ inmodern society as a secular philosophy of humankind. However, anynotion of Renaissance humanism as a ‘philosophy of man’ was largelydiscredited by Paul Kristeller (1905–99), who cogently argued thatRenaissance humanism is best seen as a ‘movement, rooted in the medi-eval rhetorical tradition, to revive the language and literature of classi-cal antiquity. Humanists were not philosophers, but men and women of letters’.
As for the origins of humanism, we have to look to the
in Italy, as it was here that humanism emerged throughthe thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the works of Italian schol-ars such as the Paduan Lovato dei Lovati (
. 1240–1309), Geremia daMontagnone (1255–1321), Rolando da Piazzola (d. 1325) and AlbertinoMussato (1261–1329).
Most of the early humanists were lawyersand, of the Paduans, Mussato became the most widely renowned. Thehumanist Paduans were basically secular and civic in their outlook, notleast Mussato, whose writings demonstrated no special religious inter-est until he converted to Christianity late in life (1328–9).
The term ‘humanist’ (in the Latin
) was used in the ﬁfteenth century. However, as Lewis Spitz pointsout, the term did not travel outside of Italy until the early sixteenthcentury, appearing in Germany (in the Latin text of the
The term made its way also to France