P. 1
Humanist Learning PAul Oskar Kristeller

Humanist Learning PAul Oskar Kristeller

|Views: 14|Likes:

More info:

Published by: Rodrigo Del Rio Joglar on Jan 24, 2014
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less






Humanist Learning in the Italian Renaissance

T h e i n t e l l e c t u a l m o v e m e n t w hich I shall try to describe in this paper has been quite often ignored, minimized, or misunder­ stood in recent historical discussions. Yet the classical humanism o f the Italian Renaissance can be shown to be a very significant phenomenon in the history of W estern civilization. It represents a new and very im portant phase in the transmission, study, and interpretation of the heritage of classical antiquity, which has always played a unique role in W estern cultural history. Under the influence of classical models, Renaissance humanism brought about ft profound transformation of literature, first o f Neo-Latin literature, and second of the various vernacular or national liter­ atures, affecting their content as w ell as their literary form and style. In the area of philosophical thought, which happens to be my special field o f interest, Renaissance humanism was less im portant for the originality of its ideas than for the ferm enting effect it had upon older patterns of thought. It restated many ancient ideas that had not been seriously considered hitherto and brought to the fore a number of favorite and partly novel problems, and, in so doing, altered profoundly the form and style o f philosophical thinking, teaching, and w riting. Finally, although the movement was in its origin literary and schol­ arly, it came to affect, through the fashionable prestige that accompanied the claims as well as the achievements of its repre• R ep rin ted from T h e Centennial Review , Vol. IV , No. s. Spring, 1960, 243266. T h is paper is based on a lecture given at Syracuse U niversity on March 18. 1959.


2 RENAISSANCE THOUGHT It sentatives. T h is view has been challenged by many historians who are partial to one of the other countries. Depending upon one’s views. or only 27 years. all other areas of Renaissance civilization. and there has been a great variety of opinions concerning the significance and char­ acteristics of this historical period. As we may see from Professor Ferguson's and Professor W eisinger’s studies. it seems necessary to clear up some am biguities in the terms which I am going to use. and even its legal and political theory and practice. its relation to the periods pre­ ceding and follow ing it. is not subject to the same kind of am biguity. not counting the view of those scholars who think that the Renaissance did not exist at all.d . and m any characteristic features o f Renaissance civilization ap­ peared in the other European countries much later than in Italy. and define the Renaissance as that his­ torical period of which Renaissance historians are talking. Yet I think it is still safer to avoid even this questionable commitment. whether the reality conformed to this claim or not. and that has been conventionally designated by that name. and rather prefer to define the Renaissance as that historical period which understood itself as a Renaissance or rebirth of letters and o f learning. and they have succeeded in showing that the Renais- . especially in the terms "Renaissance” and "H um anism . attempts to define and to evaluate the m eaning of the period have been so numerous and inconclusive that we m ight be tempted to fall back on the kind of definition that is sometimes offered in other fields as a sign of despair. T h is is at least the sense in which I shall employ the term. its science and theology. whose cen­ tenary we are going to celebrate this year. and as a direct result of Italian influence.” T h e term “ Renaissance” has given rise to an unending debate among the historians of the last hundred years or so. A ccording to Jacob Burckhardt’s famous book. Italy occupied a special position of cultural leadership during the Renaissance period. and to identify the Renaissance w ith the historical period that extends roughly from 1300 to 1600 a . the Renaissance would seem to have lasted as much as four hundred years. yet the role of Italy during the Renaissance period has been the subject o f a heated scholarly controversy which is closely connected w ith the problem of the Renaissance itself. T h e term “ Italy. Before entering further into this subject. and the precise time of its beginning and of its end. I am not seriously satisfied w ith this definition. in Italy as well as elsewhere: its art and music.” I am happy to say.

A lth ough I am quite prepared to grant that m uch. this civ ili­ zation—like that o f the later M iddle Ages—is clearly articulated and com partm entalized in its various cultural and professional . T h e evidence for this statem ent is overw helm ing in the visual arts. although the term was bor­ rowed from ancient authors and was consciously adopted for a program m atic stress on the hum an and educational values of the studies thus designated. the term "hum anism ” is w idely and rather vaguely used to indicate some kind o f emphasis on hum an values. rhetoric. scientific or antiscientific. or to appear as one.” which had been used ever since the late fifteenth century in a specific sense and which origi­ nated probably in the slang o f the Italian university students of that time: a hum anist was a professor or student of the studia hum anitatis. T o put it more broadly. for ex­ ample. all of them to be based on the reading of the classical G reek and L atin authors. T h e term "hum anism .” In present day discussions. I am inclined to endorse the core of Burckhardt’s view. is itself no less subject to am biguities and controversies than the term “ Renaissance. In this sense I suppose every­ body likes to be a humanist. history and m oral philosophy. In speaking of Renaissance hum an­ ism. For although the word "hum anism ” as applied to the Renaissance emphasis on classical scholarship and on classical education originated among Germ an scholars and educators early in the nineteenth century. and it is equ ally striking in Renaissance humanism. of the hum anities—as distinct from a jurist." however. however. even though the civilization of Renais­ sance Italy may show a unity of style in all its aspects. A n d the studia humanitatis.HUMANIST LEARNING 3 sance assumed in each country a peculiar physiognom y that dif­ ferentiates it from the Renaissance in Italy and that reflects the native background and traditions of each country concerned. had stood ever since the early 15th cen­ tury for a w ell defined cycle of teaching subjects listed as gram ­ mar. I am not referring at all to hum anism in the modern sense o f an emphasis on hum an values. and the term ceases to be very distinctive. it developed from the term "hum anist. whether this emphasis is said to be religious or antireligious. poetry. I am restricting the term to a m eaning that seems to be m uch closer to w hat the Renaissance itself understood by a humanist. and to defend the state­ m ent that a num ber of im portant cultural developm ents of the Renaissance originated in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe through Italian influence.

a llo w in g for all kinds o f personal com binations and m utual influences. and as a train in g for the class o f chancellors and secretaries w ho com posed such letters and docu­ ments for popes. in a different departm ent o f learning. and especially in the French schools. w h ich co n tin u ed to flourish through the Renaissance period. and for this reason the dign ity o f m an was a favorite them e w ith some. there were three m edieval phenom ena w hich con tributed to the rise o f Renaissance hum anism . and city republics. d o cu ­ ments. a lth ou gh by no means w ith all. if for no other reason. T h e se are not to be foun d in the scholastic philosophy or theology o f the 13th century. from w hich it was able to act upon the o th er areas of the in tellectu al life o f the period. It seems im p ortan t to realize that Renaissance h u ­ m anism is bound u p w ith the professional tradition o f one p ar­ ticular sector. em perors. where this study had been com bined w ith the reading o f classical L atin poets and prose writers. and p u b lic orations.4 RENAISSANCE THOUGHT II sectors. when the study and im ita­ tion o f classical L atin authors cam e to be considered as the pre­ requisite for the elegan t com position o f those letters and speeches w hich the professional rhetorician was supposed to w rite. as it were. there is w ithin each cu ltu ral sector a core o f autonom ous tradition and developm ent. T h e re is a touch o f hum anism in the m odern sense also in Renaissance hum anism . Renaissance hum anists. but operated. in Ita ly as elsewhere. O n e was the form al rhetoric or ars dictam inis w hich had flour­ ished in m edieval Italy as a technique o f com posing letters. T h e second m edieval influence on Renaissance hum anism was the study o f L atin gram m ar as it had been cu ltivated in the m edieval schools. bishops. So far as I can see. but w hich underw ent a thorough trans­ form ation through their very com bin ation. Yet we should always keep in m ind that there was for a ll of them only one means through w hich these hu m an values and ideals could be attained: through classical and literary—that is. princes. nam ely the studia hum anitatis. but. T h is professional place o f the studia hum anitatis in R enais­ sance Italy helps us to understand their m edieval antecedents. T h e third m edieval antecedent o f Renaissance hum anism leads us away from the traditions o f the L atin W est to those o f the Byzantine . in so far as the term studia hum anitatis indicates an emphasis on m an and his values. through hum an istic—studies. T h is influence was felt in Italy towards the very end of the thirteenth century. T h is is its center of operation. I do not believe that this rich structure is red u cible to a few p o litica l or econom ic o r religious factors.

II If we want to get an idea of the achievement of Italian humanism. theolo­ gians. and orations required by their posts. Let me begin w ith the contributions of the hu­ manists to classical scholarship. medicine. By the m iddle of the 15th century. For the study of classical G reek literature. or even one volume. a large mass o f material still embodied in manuscripts and early editions that defies any attem pt to describe it. jurists. but it still remains to be studied in some of its aspects. they represent also the class of the professional chancellors and secretaries w ho knew how to compose the docu­ ments. they became the pupils of Byzantine scholarship and traditions. churchmen and businessmen. some of whom took an active part in humanist learning and w riting w ithout ever becom ing professional humanist teachers or chancellors. Whereas a sizable core of classical . A lthough the humanists at the universities had to compete w ith teachers of philosophy. and mathematics. in the 15th and 16th cen­ turies. theology. W hen the Italian humanists towards the very end of the 14th century began to add the study of classical G reek language and literature to that of Latin literature and of formal rhetoric. philosophers. not merely because one paper. was more or less continuously pursued in medieval Constantinople. T h is fact has been long recognized. but also because a large part o f this m aterial has been very imperfectly explored so far. poets. while practically unknown in Western Europe. and even artists. T h e humanists represent the class of professional teachers of the humanistic disciplines. the humanists came to dom inate the secondary schools because they supplied most of the subject matter. we find it associated m ainly w ith two professions. Hence they were able to exercise a formative influence on entire generations of educated people. T hese included princes and statesmen. the influence of humanism penetrated into all areas of Italian civilization. W hen Italian humanism had developed from these con­ tributing factors into its full stature. letters.HUMANIST LEARNING 5 East. and physicians. with the possible exception o f the Greek speaking sections of Southern Italy and Sicily. w ould not be sufficient. jurisprudence. at the universities as w ell as in the second­ ary schools. we must first try to survey its literary and scholarly contributions. and during the 16th century it began to be felt in all other European countries.

6 RENAISSANCE THOUGHT II L atin literature had been know n to the M iddle Ages. than it had in previous centuries. and this in itself shows how the rise o f classical studies d u rin g the Renaissance p eriod helped to spread such texts. T h is w ide diffusion of classical texts reached new proportions after the in troduction of prin tin g. they not only con tin ued the w ork of the m edieval gram ­ m arians. N o t only were there num erous 15th-century copies of classical L atin authors. as w ell as o f its style and literary genres. In order to understand the content o f ancient literature and to ap p ly it for their ow n purposes. N o less im portant were the con tributions o f the hum anists to the study anti diffusion of those L atin authors and w ritings that had been available d u r­ ing the m edieval centuries. Furtherm ore. and in doin g so. they investigated ancient . gram m ar. T h e w ork done by the hum anists on these texts was not lim ited to m echanical copying. due to the efforts o f hum anist editors anti sometimes of hum anist printers. T h e y produced a large literature o f com m entaries that grew o u t o f their class lectures. the hum an ­ ists were engaged in un derstanding and e xp lain in g the difficult passages of the classical authors. and to m ention some o f the m ore im portant authors or texts thus rediscovered for the reading p ublic: Lucretius. they elim i­ nated errors found in the m anuscripts. In their d ouble concern w ith studying and im i­ tatin g classical L atin literature. the hum anists were careful students of the classical L atin language and vocabulary. the Italian hum anists extended the know ledge o f this literature alm ost to its present lim its by discovering m anuscripts o f a num ber of authors and works that had been alm ost forgotten d u rin g the preceding period. and in direct connection w ith their activity as teachers. T h e y also developed a successful m ethod of textual criticism : by com paring the texts o f several old m anuscripts and by em ending the texts. and some o f the orations and dialogues o f Cicero. w hen we find a very large num ber and p roportion o f editions o f the classics. T h e num ber of hum anist copies of these L atin classical texts is very large indeed. the average library in the Renaissance contained m ore classical L atin texts. T o em phasize the im portance o f this con tribution. metrics. In all this. T acitu s. but also expanded and im proved it very greatly. o f its orthography. in p ro ­ portion to religious or m edieval or even contem porary literature. it is enough to refer to the m anuscript discoveries o f Poggio Bracciolini. and prosody. T h e y developed a keen sense o f the cor­ rectness of classical L atin gram m ar and style. the hum anists were the direct forerunners o f m odern clas­ sical scholarship.

including Hom er and the tragedians. As a result of the translating activity of the Renaissance humanists. editing. T h e field o f G reek scholarship required a still greater effort. many more were now made accessible: not only A ristotle and Proclus and a little Plato. since it had no antecedents to speak of in the Latin West. and archaeology. at the very time the Byzantine Em pire was being threatened and finally destroyed by the T u rkish conquest. and all G reek patristic writers. and studying the grammar. they gradu­ ally translated into L atin the entire body of classical G reek litera­ ture. but it failed to include any poetry. A nd in their effort to take into account all evidence for the study of ancient civilization. but all G reek writers on medicine. printing. cameos and statues. or oratory. T h e task becomes even more impressive when we realize that Greek was understood or mastered by only a few scholars. ancient customs and institutions. they began to develop such auxiliary disci­ plines as epigraphy. but all of Plato and Plotinus and Epicurus and Epictetus and Sextus Empiricus. Here the Italian humanists share w ith their Byzantine teachers and contemporaries the m erit of having brought to Western libraries the large body of G reek manuscripts in which the texts of ancient G reek literature were preserved. all the historians. style. T h e y also did something that is not sufficiently well known or appreciated in its great historical importance. and since even during the Renaissance period the num ber of good G reek scholars was considerably smaller than that of Latin scholars.HUMANIST LEARNING 7 history and mythology. Even in the areas where G reek texts had been available in the M iddle Ages. T h e extent of G reek literature available in Latin to medieval W estern readers was much more lim ited. including Isocrates and Demosthenes. and astronomy. including Herodotus and T h u cy d ­ ides. Renaissance scholars did for classical G reek writers what they had done for the Rom an writers: copying. not only some. historiography. a large body of ancient G reek writings became available in the W est for the first time: all the poets. and expounding them. T h is was a thorough . theological. mathematics. L atin remained the language commonly read and w ritten by scholars all over W est­ ern Europe. they paid attention to inscriptions and coins. that is. whereas. By 1600 the hum anist translators had given Western readers the entire range of ancient G reek literature. numismatics. and all the orators. It comprised a certain num ber o f philosophical. and subject matter of those authors. throughout the Renaissance period. and scientific writings.

the . A very large portion of the literary production o f the h u m an ­ ists consists in their letters. and they w rote and collected and p ublished their letters w ith the purpose o f havin g them serve as m odels for their pupils and successors. m any hum anists also w rote part of their works in the Italian vernacular. C on sequently. theology. they were the p aid ghost writers of princes and city governm ents. so that they were able to im itate classical L atin models in the same linguistic m edium . and the sciences. F inally. a part of their professional activity. and sometimes to accom pany the w ar o f the swords w ith a w ar of the pens. p ro ­ vided that we take in to account the p articu lar circum stances under w hich these docum ents w ere w ritten. T h e p rivate letters o f the hum anists con ­ stitu te an even larger body o f m aterial that has not yet been sufficiently exp lored. o f course. and do not take every statem ent at its face value as the expression o f the personal con­ victions o f the w riter. the letter served some o f the functions o f the new spaper at a tim e when there was no press and w hen com m unications were slow and uncertain. m anifestoes. As chancellors and secretaries. H ow ever. T h e p rivate letter was not m erely a vehicle o f personal com m unication . and other p o litical docum ents then as now served to express and to spread the interests. I should like to exp lain at this poin t that most o f the original w ritin g of the hum anists was done in L atin . and propaganda of each governm ent. and the state letters. T h e hum anist letter-writers consciously im itated the classical exam p le o f C icero or Seneca. the state letters of the hum anists are valuable docum ents for the p o litica l thought o f the period. and even those writers w ho used only the vern acular and could not be classified as hum anist scholars were in m any ways influenced by the hum anist scholarship and w ritin g o f their time. M oreover. w hich were thorou ghly in flu­ enced by their scholarship and by their endeavor to im itate the models o f the classics in all types o f w riting. ideology. and its effects were bound to be felt in literature as w ell as in philosophy. it was intended from the begin n in g as a literary com position to be copied and read. T h e com position o f state letters was. I ll Let us pass from the scholarly w ork o f the Italian hum anists to their o rigin al literary productions.8 RENAISSANCE THOUGHT II change in the reading m aterial o f the average scholar.

or of a public dispute (Pico’s famous oration belongs to this latter type). performed the functions o f the essay. and on many other academic occa­ sions. A nother very large literary genre which was cultivated by the humanists and closely related to their professional activity was the speech or oration. or forensic speeches given at a p ublic trial or law ­ . though not entirely lacking. M any of them were obviously composed with care and w ith the intention and am bition to serve as models for pupils and followers. or at least w ith its ceremonial side: there were speeches made by ambassadors to the princes or governments to which they had been sent.HUMANIST LEARNING 9 letter was a favored substitute for a short treatise of scholarly or literary or philosophical content. a surprisingly large num ber of such speeches has come down to us. are the speeches of the types to which belong the most famous masterpieces o f ancient oratory: political speeches held during the deliberations of a council or public assembly. It is true that the humanists in their speeches as in other compositions liked to im itate classical models. Yet we should add that Renaissance Italy inherited from medieval Italy a variety o f occasions for speechm aking that were not at all com parable w ith the examples o f ancient oratory but were rooted instead in medieval customs and institutions. and speeches addressed to newly elected bishops or governors or magistrates. and especially to a newly elected pope. T h e humanists evidently were commissioned to write the speeches demanded by the occasion. opening speeches at the beginning of a course of lectures. In other words. in the first person. being more personal than the treatise. A num ber of speeches grew out of the ceremonies of schools and universities: commencement speeches in praise of studies or of particular disciplines. speeches of welcome for a distinguished foreign visitor. speeches given by both professors and students after an exam ination. there is a real flood of humanist speeches. T h ere were w edding speeches. favored because the hum an­ ists liked to speak of their experiences and opinions in a personal and subjective fashion. apparently a literary develop­ ment from the form ula of contract demanded by Lom bard law. and actually was its literary forerunner. w ith the appropriate replies. Consequently. A nother large body of speeches was connected w ith the po­ litical life o f the time. and although many of these ephemerous products must have perished w ith the occasion that gave rise to them. M uch rarer. the letter. T h ere were many funeral speeches which usually tell us more about the life and per­ son of the deceased than any funeral sermon I have heard in my life.

o f the Elukes o f M ilan . and that they consequently con­ centrated their efforts on ancient history. the hum anists usually did not place m uch credence in m iracles and avoided theological speculations. the historical works of the hum anists were connected w ith their professional activity. T h e type o f the paid court or city historiographer whom we encoun ter occasionally also in m edieval Italy becomes a com m on type d u rin g the Italian Renaissance. they usually concentrated on the M iddle Ages and their own times rather than on classical an tiqu ity. Italian hum anists began to be em ployed as official historiographers by the K ings of H ungary. O ne m ight expect that this was largely due to their scholarly interest. or o f the G onzaga fam ily.IO RENAISSANCE THOUCHT II suit before a law court. som ething w hich I understand is not entirely absent from the national histories of m odern times. and. as w ell as by the G erm an emperors. they often . there is an elem ent o f eulogy and of regional o r dynastic bias. for obvious reasons. the hum anist speech was seldom connected w ith occasions o f p olitical or legal im portance but was more often com posed for decorative purposes. as w ell as interesting for their ideas and historical inform ation. and by the second h a lf of the fifteenth century. T h e hum anist works on history have a num ber o f peculiarities. and France. It was clearly considered a kin d o f p u b lic entertainm ent. T h u s we find hum anist histories o f F lorence and o f V enice. In most in ­ stances. O n the other hand. England. this is true on ly for a sm all part o f their historical production. I m ust confess that I have read m any o f them w ith pleasure and found them to be w ell w ritten. A n o th er large body o f the w ritings o f the hum anists consists o f their historiography. In other words. H ow ever. Con sequently. M oreover. Since they were usually com m is­ sioned by the very state or city whose history was to be w ritten. M any hum anist speeches were evidently m uch adm ired by their contem poraries. and they tend to account for historical events on a strictly ration al basis. T h e y are often w ritten in a highly rhetorical L atin . and they show the influence of classical historiography in the use o f fictitious speeches. in so far as the chancellor or secretary o f a prince or o f a city was expected to serve also as their historian. and though it is custom ary am ong his­ torians to dismiss them as em pty oratory. most o f the historical works o f the hum anists are histories of cities or countries or ru lin g fam ilies. both good and bad. of the Popes. and it com ­ peted on m any occasions w ith a m usical or dram atic perform ­ ance. Poland. Spain.

and we have charm ing descriptions o f tournam ents or o f snow ball fights in . and achievem ents. not m erely o f princes or saints. but there obviously was a great contem porary dem and for biographies. and num erous personal invectives com posed by hum anists against their rivals. T h e re are other types o f hum anist prose com position w hich we m ight connect w ith their a ctivity as orators rather than as historians. and the eagerness to see them p erpetuated in a distinguished w ork o f art or of literature. O ne task of the orator was trad ition ally defined as that o f p raisin g and blam ing. V a lla ’s treatise on the D onation o f C onstantine is a fam ous exam p le o f historical criticism in the fifteenth century. the biograp hical literature reflects the so-called in dividualism o f the period. the im portance attached to personal experiences.H U M ANIST LEARNING had access to the archives and original docum ents illustratin g the subject m atter o f their history. but also o f statesmen and distinguished citizens. o f poets and artists. and this task was taken rather literally in the Renaissance. al­ though they constitute a fairly large and fam ous part o f their production. Like the portrait p ain tin g of the tim e. T h e y are fu ll o f nasty remarks w hich were p robably not taken as seriously by contem porary readers as they are some­ times by m odern scholars. opinions. as w ell as the eulogies o f various arts and sciences. we m ight single out hum anists such as Sigonius. T h e re was the model o f Plutarch and o f other ancient writers. T h e re were many p olitical invec­ tives w ritten in the nam e o f a governm ent against its enemies. usually com ­ p arin g them favo rably w ith some o f their rival disciplines. and em ployed m ore exactin g standards o f docum entation and historical criticism than had been the custom d u rin g the precedin g centuries. but w hich show the hum anists’ love o f gossip. A lso the descriptions o f festivals were q uite in vogue. A t the other end stands the litera­ ture of praise. T h is is another aspect o f Renaissance "in d ivid u alism . the num erous eulogies of princes and of cities. A n o th er branch o f historical literatu re that was very m uch cultivated by the hum anists was biography. and w hich we can m ention m erely in passing. the in clination to in corporate it in published and even in high ­ brow literature definitely is. that is. w ho must be considered in their erudition and critical acum en as the direct forerunners of the great historians o f the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. sometimes most useful for biograp hical o r descriptive details.” and though the love o f gossip is not pecu liar to that period alone. in the sixteenth. o f scholars and businessmen.

and when this type o f poetry was transferred to the vern acular and given a m ore dram atic turn. hum anist prose also assumed a ligh ter and m ore hum orous garb in the collections o f anecdotes and o f facetious stories that have come dow n to us from the Renaissance period. M ore­ over. H um anist prose literature also rivaled the vern acular by borrow in g from it the n arrative form o f the short story. in L atin as w ell as in the vern acular. after the m odel o f V ergil and other ancients. and in the fifteenth century. T h is was som ething that could be taught and learned. M uch larger is the volum e of epical poetry. T h e hum anists thought o f themselves as orators and poets. some o f w hich attained a trem endous p o pu larity. T h e bulk . T h e y also were convinced that any literary form o r sub­ ject could be treated in verse as w ell as in prose. and the crow n in g o f poets was a favorite hum anist cerem ony and honor. Some o f the hum anist plays were w idely know n. but this sm all gro u p o f m aterial does have its historical im portance. especially L atin verse. dram atic pieces con­ stitute a relatively small part. since the com posing o f verse depended on a know ledge and im itation of the classical poets. F or them. F inally. classical and h u ­ m anist L atin plays were repeatedly perform ed in schools and courts. T h e ir notion of poetry was far rem oved from the m odern rom an tic n otion of the creative poet. H um anist poetry in ­ cludes specim ens o f the satire and o f the ode. sometimes translating such stories from Italian in to L atin and sometimes com posing o rigin al stories in L atin . the N ovella. poetry was largely the a b ility to w rite verse. A ll this may exp lain w hy a very large p rop ortion indeed o f hum anist literature belongs to the category of poetry broadly understood. It includes verse translations o f H om er and other G reek poets.12 RENAISSANCE THOUGHT II L atin prose w hich seem to com pete m ore o r less purposely w ith sim ilar descriptions w ritten in verse o r in Italian . In this vast body o f m aterial. the study and in terp retation o f ancient poets was con­ sidered as a part of the business o f poetry. alth ou gh the latter tended to be rare on account o f its m etrical difficulties w hich but a few consum m ate writers could master. and even o f D ante's D ivin e Com edy. and they tolerated as poetry a good deal that by m ore severe m odern standards is rather m ediocre. at least to some extent. the groun d was laid for the trem endous vogue o f pastoral poetry w hich lasted dow n to the eighteenth century. A lso the eclogue o r pastoral poem had a num ber o f cultivators. T h is was u n doubted ly one o f the factors leadin g to the rise o f dram atic literature in the sixteenth century.

T h e re was a mass p roduction o f occasional epigram s. V arious an­ cient m yths w ere m ade the subject o f lon g epical poems. and this corresponded to the available classical models. It was the favorite form o f hum anist poetry. T h e y in clude a good num ber o f frivolous and indecent pieces. there are didactic poems on a variety of subjects such as astron­ om y o r astrology. to cite only a few o f the better know n exam ples. A n effort was also m ade to ap p ly the form of classical epics to C h ristian subjects. Propertius. Some of them are sk illfu l in their form al elegance and in the variety of the subjects treated. and fam ous poets such as Pon tan o or Polizian o excelled especially in this genre. and some hum anists even dared to w rite a supplem ent to V e rg il’s A en eid. but agau. on poetics and n atural history.H U M A NIST LEARNING «3 o f the com positions m ay be characterized as historical. F inally. biographical. A side from that. on the silk worm. or T ib u l­ lus. M uch m ore num erous and com m on than the elegy is the re­ lated form o f the epigram . and especially of epitaphs. and didactic. b u t m any o f the greater and sm aller hum anist poets tried to establish their fame by entire cycles o f elegies collected in books. after the m odel o f O vid. and allow in g a m uch greater variety of content and tone. w hich is likew ise uneven in its literary m erit. and on the gam e o f chess. and in praise of C o lu m b u s’ discoveries. T h e re are long poems on ancient history. b ein g shorter and less serious than the elegy. and there are a num ber o f famous poems dealin g w ith the life o f Ch rist or o f the saints. or literary allusions that are often a w elcom e addition to the scanty docum entary evidence w hich we m igh t otherw ise possess. in praise o f princes and cities. T h e re are a num ber of scattered elegies w hich were quite p opu lar. m ytho­ logical. for w hich the G reek A nthology and M artial offered am ple precedents. . such as P etrarch’s Africa. on contem porary wars. most frequen tly. it describes the p o et’s love for a b eau tifu l girl in a variety o f its phases and episodes. the chief attraction o f even the m ore modest collections is historical: m any o f them are addressed to persons and contain historical. A large num ber of hum anist writers have left us collections o f epigrams. Some elegies belo n g to the very best specimens o f hum anist poetry. T h e elegy is the longer o f the two and is m ore serious in content. Y et by far the largest part o f hum anist poetry takes the form o f elegies and epigram s. two types o f poetry w hich are closely related to each other through their m etrical form and w hich are com paratively easy to handle.

the taste. which to the student o f p hilosophy and of in tellectual history is by far the most im portant. Y et I cann ot agree w ith some o f my fellow students o f the history . and w hich to be sure has m uch intrinsic significance. and the fifteenth century saw the rise o f the poetical m iscellany. M oral philosophy was clearly a part o f the province o f the hum anists. but this view does not correspond to the historical facts as they are now know n to us. and especially on the death o f a fam ous or o f a beau tifu l youn g person. I hope this very short survey w ill give at least a glim pse of the am azing b u lk and variety o f hum anist L atin poetry. in style and form as w ell as in subject m atter. and m any hum anist scholars taught the subject in various schools and universities. Petrarch liked to be called a m oral philosopher. A fte r their appearance in P etrarch’s time. and w ill thus m ake it clear that this production was bound to have its repercussions also in the vern acular literatures o f the same period. T h e re were also poetical contests on specific occasions such as tournam ents. b u t w hich represents only a com paratively small sector o f hum anist w ritings: the dialogues and treatises dealin g w ith m oral and other p hilosophical subjects. a type that was to con tin ue for centuries in various countries. epigram s in praise o f the works o f a friend con tin ued to be p opu lar. a collection o f verses by different poets on the w edding or death o f a p articular person. especially since m any o f the leadin g vern acular poets both in Italy and elsewhere had enjoyed a hum anist train in g and sometimes even wrote and com posed in both L atin and their n ative vernacular. IV I now come to the last branch o f hum anist literature. and sometimes the wisdom o f the time. and it has com bined w ith the ignorance o f L atin in causing m uch contem pt for and neglect o f hum anist Latin literature. T h e view that L atin and vern acular literature represented in the Renaissance two hostile and m u tu ally exclusive camps has been m uch cherished by m any literary historians since the times of Rom anticism .'4 RENAISSANCE THOUGHT II usually o f historical interest. A ctu ally . T h e y also help us to know the opin ion s o f p articu lar hum anists on p articu lar questions. these laudatory verses were added as a kind o f preface to the frien d ’s m anuscripts or editions. the m oral treatises o f the hum anists are a very im p or­ tant source if we w ant to understand the interests.

T h e y w ou ld discuss the duties o f a p articu lar profes­ sion. an avoidance that reflected the authors' im itatio n of C icero. we can find different or even opposite opinions on the same m atter expressed by other hum anists or even by the same hum anist in another part o f his w ork. we must carefu lly consider the p articu lar purpose for w hich a given work was w ritten. In each instance. the hum anists are m ore interested in airin g and discussing several possible opinions on a given issue than in taking a firm stand on one side or the other. T h e hum anists w rote a num ber of treatises on happiness or the suprem e good. the standard topic o f ancient m oral philosophy. T h e y w rote a good deal on education . in clu d in g that o f the m onk or cleric. the hum anists clearly show a m arked interest in some special problem s. or the pow er o f fortune. T h e y w ould variously discuss the merits o f the active and con tem p lative life. T h e y w ou ld discuss the m erits o f law and m edicine. and . and they w ould m ore frequen tly side w ith A risto tle’s m oderate view than w ith the extrem e posi­ tions o f the Stoics or Epicureans. alth ou gh the latter also had their distinguished adherents. especially if they happened to w rite in Florence o r V enice.H U M A NIST LEARNING «5 o f p hilosophy w ho try to reconstruct from the hum anist treatises a body o f un iform p hilosop hical op in ion that w ould be com m on to all hum anists and in this w ay to distinguish them from the philosophers o f other times. T h e y w ou ld discuss the relative m erits o f a rep ublic and a m onarchy. In m any instances. and as its chief cause they w ould favor merit m ore often than birth. M uch of this is interesting. the m arried and the single life. alth ou gh not in all. and defended the reading o f the classics on both m oral and in tellectual grounds. T h e y w ou ld w rite about the fam ily and the state. Y et despite all this. and m any o f them w ould praise the virtues of rep ublican governm ent. if not profoun d. I cann ot help feelin g that for every o p in io n that we find expressed by a hum anist in one o f his w ritings. and. T h e y w ould discuss p articular vir­ tues. of ancient and m odern times. a d ap tin g ancient precepts from various sources to the pecu liar circum stances o f their ow n time and country. and most o f them show a preference for one rather than another o f the pos­ sible views on that problem . at least w ith in certain limits. A favorite subject was n obility. the num erous citations taken from classical authors (citations that very often are not even exp licitly identified). usually insisting that hum an reason can overcom e fortune. o f literature and o f m ilitary service. finally. the concern for form al literary elegance and the conscious avoidance o f technical language.

and w ould not have been possible w ith ou t the w ork and the attitudes o f the humanists. o f the arts and sciences. It lies in the elegant and non-technical discussion of concrete hum an problem s w hich were o f general interest to the educated readers o f the tim e but w hich w ere neglected by the technical philosophers.i6 RENAISSANCE THOUGHT II a good deal m ore could be learned by studyin g the un explored and un p ublished part o f this literature. perhaps erroneous. that is. It lies in the con viction. and in the em phasis on man and his dign ity w hich was im p licit in the slogan o f the studia hum anitatis. T h e ir co n trib u tio n is m uch m ore in tan gible and indirect. in the thorough p ropagation o f classical learn in g through the schools. Stoicism . M ost Italian hum anists were not theologians (and some o f them m ay have been in different Christians. o f the h u m an ­ ists. if not all. to restate even A ristotelianism on the basis o f G reek rather than A rab ic or m edieval sources. can be p roven to have been pagans). E pi­ cureanism . b u t it still underlies o u r custom ary division o f the periods o f history. that through this study and im itation o f the classics they had b rou ght about a renaissance. of learn in g and literature. I am not prepared to consider this as a part o f hum anism since this in vo lved many traditions and problem s o f a different origin. I should still m aintain that the co n tributio n o f the Ita lian hum anists does not lie in any p articu lar opinions w hich all o f them w ou ld have defended. Y et some o f them preceded Erasmus and the Reform ers in a p p ly in g the tools o f classical scholarship . It lies. a rebirth. Y et at the present state o f m y know ledge. alth ou gh very few. but it surely was influenced by hum anism . It lies in the education al program w hich they set forth and carried through. A ll this was to characterize the p hilosop h­ ical thought o f the R enaissance period. W h a t I said abou t the im pact o f Italian hum anism upon p h ilosop h y m ay be said w ith the app rop riate m odifications for a ll other branches o f Renaissance civilization . this m ade it possible for them to restate the ancient doctrines o f Platonism . that led m an kin d back to the heights o f classical a n tiq u ity after a lon g period o f decay. in the vast am ount o f fresh ancient source m aterial sup plied to the students o f philosophy. above a ll. if any. or in any p articu larly strong argum ents they m ight have offered for such opinions. and Scepticism . and physicists. and finally to attem pt new p h ilosophical solutions in dep en dent o f any p ar­ ticular ancient sources. the scholastic logicians. and w hich was defended exp licitly by m any. T h is historical view has been m uch opposed by m odern students o f the M id d le Ages.

Students from all E uro­ pean countries attended the Italian universities. W estern. b u t its influence grad u ally spread from this center and affected all other areas. and the methods o f textual and historical criticism were consciously and consci­ entiously used for them. m ythology. astronom y. were exposed to the m ethods and sources o f Italian hum anism . T h e hum anist insistence on ancient prim ary sources and their distrust and critiq u e o f scholastic d ia ­ lectic were to have their repercussions in theology no less than in philosophy. and it was only at that tim e that the results o f the Greeks were fu lly absorbed so that the road was cleared for en­ tirely new discoveries. In architecture and the decorative arts. Y et. w hile the revived interest in classical history. or Eastern libraries. and even some of the B ible. Even in music. T h e re were m any new editions and translations of the C h urch Fathers. but its traces can be found all over E urope. historical. M oreover. alth ou gh the M iddle Ages pos­ sessed a significant selection o f G reek w ritings on m athem atics. at least after the m iddle o f the fifteenth century. b u t m any scientists o f the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had enjoyed a hum anist education. dow n to the 19th. the merits and achievem ents o f the later M id d le Ages have been rightly em ph a­ sized by recent historians.H U M ANIST LEARNINC •7 to C h ristian texts and in p reparin g the way for a kin d o f sacred p hilology. and went home w ith m any new ideas and tastes as w ell as w ith m any books w hich they had copied or acquired and w hich are still to be foun d in N orthern. and m edicine. M ost o f the hum anists were not professional scientists. w here no ancient specimens had been preserved. In the history o f the sciences. In jurisprudence. it was hum anist scholar­ ship that led to a histot ical understanding o f the sources o f R om an law d u rin g the sixteenth century. the prevalent classicism o f the age led to a revival o f ancient forms and styles. its influence was not lim ited to Italy alone. T h e se same texts were coDied and read and later p rin ted outside o f Italy. just as the hum anist transla­ tions o f ancient p hilosophical. some o f them . the hum anist translators added im p or­ tant texts in these fields as w ell as in geography. for better or worse. and rhetorical literature refreshed the discussion of p olitical theory. and allegory enriched the subject m atter o f p ain tin g and of sculpture for m any centuries to come. the study and even the m isinterpretation o f classical theory had an im portant eflect on its developm ent d u rin g the later 16th century. In o th er words. Italian hum anism was essen­ tially at hom e in one p articu lar com partm ent o f Renaissance civilization .

and those of the Renaissance thinkers influenced by humanism. for exam ple. Even where the humanists did not form u­ late any new ideas in philosophy or the sciences. humanism was not superseded by the Protestant and C atholic Reform ation. but while they surely owed a great deal to their native traditions as well as to their own personal talent. were equal or superior to their Italian contemporaries and were often unw illing to acknowledge their debt to their Italian predecessors. they went as ambassadors of Italian governments. as many historians claim. In the sixteenth century. T h e exchange of books and of per­ sons then as now was an im portant factor in cultural com m uni­ cation. Some of the works of the humanists may be of questionable value. or of slight im portance from the modern point o f view. but a literary and scholarly tradition that survived in both C atholic and Protestant countries. or as chancellors or professors in the service o f foreign governments.i8 RENAISSANCE THOUGHT II more widely than at home. humanism became less dependent on Italy and put down native roots in the other countries. developments which had in part been prepared by humanism itself. First. if not through their teaching. I hope this very brief survey of a vast area o f Renaissance learning and literature may give at least a general idea of the contributions and historical significance of Italian humanism. Italian humanism had much to offer that was unknown and neglected in the other countries. for it was not a theology. as a result of Renais­ sance humanism. In the 16th century. or as political and later religious exiles. in philosophy. Yet the works of the humanists. Scholars like Eras­ mus and More. as. anti at that time. But I should like to stress two points. were still widely read down to the eighteenth and early nineteeth century. Many Italian humanists had occasion to go abroad and to spread their interests through their personal and professional associations. between Aquinas and Descartes. and that their work. In philosophy and the sciences. humanism was definitely superseded during the 17th century by the new developments which started with G alileo and Descartes. the intellectual clim ate had com pletely changed between 1300 and 1600. . they made them possible by clearing the ground of some medieval traditions and by m aking available a variety of ancient sources. w ould not have been possible w ithout that of their Italian predecessors. Vives and Bude. yet from our perspective we cannot possibly deny that they were continuing and developing the traditions of Italian humanism. novel and original as it may be.

and it still survives in the term h u m an ­ ities as we use it. ju st as m edieval and Renaissance learn in g in logic. w hich denotes a residual o f the studia humanitatis. o f religion . L et us hope that the hum anities as we know them m ay survive and fu lfill again a sim ilar productive fun ction . it is Renaissance hum anism that is the ancestor o f o u r p h ilo lo gical. and w hich is in turn capable o f exertin g a deep and fru itfu l in ­ fluence on all other areas o f hum an activity. and m edicine anticipates early and recent m odern science. and literary scholarship. at least. m athe­ matics. o f science. o f science. . that is. secular learn ­ ing w hich p artially.H U M ANIST LEARNING '9 and thus continued to nourish m any secondary currents o f thought and literature d u rin g that period. we see in the Renaissance a vast body o f the hum anities. as it were. eith er now or in a n ot too distant future. T h e second and chief lesson w hich I should like to draw from the place o f hum anism in Renaissance civilizatio n is this: in o u r tim e. B y contrast. physics. threatened by the bleak prospect o f a w orld that consists o n ly o f practical life. is in depen dent of practical life. the hum anities are on the defensive everyw here. historical. o f religion . T h e ideal of hum anist education dom inated the secondary schools o f the W est at least to the begin n in g of this century. and w hich occupies a large and im portant place in the attention and in itia tive o f the time. and o f the arts. and o f an art deprived o f in tellectual content. and we are. M oreover.

You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->