Humanism of Renaissance Era Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Introduction

The Western history of humanism traces its origin from the 16th century renaissance period when thinkers suddenly deviated from the Platonic perception of the universe to Aristotelian realism. Focus shifted to the importance of human as the central being in the universe. This paper discusses humanism as conceived in the renaissance era and the influential personalities whose works sustained it.

The Meaning of Humanism

Humanism stems from a philosophic reflection that was majorly practiced by thinkers in the West, though some thinkers also came from the East. The underlying crux of their thought was the essence of the human person in the universe. Consequently, thoughts were advanced on the primary end of human life as working for the happiness of humans on the earth.[1] They propounded the thought of enjoying, developing, and availing to human beings the copious material, spiritual, and cultural goods extracted from the natural world.

The profundity of the implications of this gesture is indescribable yet congenial and common sensical. It is this human-centered theory of life that is referred to as humanism[2]. Humanism as a philosophy therefore, emanates from the enduring need of human beings to make their lives significant, “integrate their personalities around some clear, consistent, and compelling views of existence, and to seek definite and reliable methods in the solution of their problems.[3]

In the previous medieval era before the renaissance period, the thought system revolved around the Church as a custodian of immaterial truths. Platonic philosophy, precisely the concept of world of forms, had dominated the medieval era that subjected the human body, as a shadow of a real body in the world of forms, to little or no attention at all.[4]

However, towards the end of 16th century there was a paradigm shift towards Aristotelianism that advocated the importance of the actual object of reality from which Plato had abstracted his ideas.[5]

Humanism consequently, developed as the central theme of the renaissance period. Scholars shifted their focus to the human person whose needs were to be satisfied instead of spending much time on ideal truths promulgated by the Church. Even though God was retained into the picture, people became inquisitive about their beliefs attempting to replace ridiculous teachings of the Church with more plausible theories such as the Copernicus revolution.

The Influential Humanists

There were many scholars from a plethora of fields who shaped the renaissance era, but this paper will be limited to a few of them. They include Francesco Petrarca, Niccolo Machiavelli, Baldassare, Dante, Boccaccio, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and Cervantes.

Francesco Petrarca has been referred to as the “Father of Humanism” due to the spectacular work he did to the modern Italian language. He was a prolific writer with a bias on poetry using the Latin language to do most of his writings. Petrarca’s poems included Canzoniere and Trionfi, which he wrote in his native Italian language.[6]

Among the scholarly works he wrote in Latin are Secretum, a secretive manuscript fraught with guilt, which is an account of his imaginary talk with St. Augustine of Hippo; Rerum Memorandum Libri, which details cardinal virtues; De Vita Solitaria, an exaltation of solitary life; Itinerarium, among other works. Using the knowledge of Cicero’s letters, he compiled his letters into two copies of books: Epistolae familiars and Seniles[7].

Niccolo Machiavelli is credited for his political masterpiece, The Prince, in which he gave a completely different conception of a government. The book was originally written in Italian, his vernacular, a tradition that characterized writers in the renaissance era. Using the term ‘state’ (status) to ground the jurisdiction of a prince, Machiavelli unknowingly bequeathed the subsequent eras with a term that would be used to refer to political territories[8].

In The Prince, Machiavelli gives different types of princedoms totally unrelated to the Aristotelian models of democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, et cetera. He uses the terms ‘tyrant’ and ‘prince’ interchangeably and describes personalities that he should adopt depending on the state of their subjects. Machiavelli made a greater impact with his book on the political dynamics that would follow his generation.

Baldassare Castiglione also stands out as one of the gifted renaissance writers with his fictional debut, The Book of Courtier, written in his native Italian. In this book, Baldassare organizes a chain of dialogue between the courtiers of the Duke of Urbino, when he was a member of this court[9].

A cool mind, melodious voice exuding elegant and courageous words, is the picturesque created by the author as attributed to the courtier. However, the courtier is expected to have a warrior spirit, have good knowledge of the humanities, classics, and be athletic[10]. This piece of writing has remained the undisputed account of the renaissance court life owing to its usage at the time as a manual of perfect courtier.

Dante Alighieri wrote his poem The Divine Comedy during the medieval era. The work has been praised as a masterpiece of Italian literature earning its position using Tuscan dialect that is the standard Italian. Dante creatively allegorizes the afterlife in a typical medieval world view as conceived by the Church. He divides the poem in three sections, namely: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso[11]. In the poem, Dante describes his journey from hell through purgatory to heaven, which figuratively depicts the soul’s path to God.[12]

Giovanni Boccaccio is another prolific writer whose collection of novels, The Decameron, has made him one of the influential writers in the medieval period. In The Decameron, Boccaccio describes how the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) brought a bevy of seven women and three men together as they flee the villas of Florence which was the epicenter of the plague.

The book details the physical, social, and psychological effects that the plague had on the people of that region. It combines tragedy and love in a more articulate manner with a degree of allegorism. For instance, the seven women are said to represent the four cardinal and the three theological virtues while the three men represent the tripartite division of the soul.[13]

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola is credited for having written a literary masterpiece that extolled the power of human intellect and wittingly expressing the centrality of humans’ relation to the divine. His Oration on the Dignity of Man forcefully and polemically articulates the endeavor to focus all attention on the capabilities of human.

In this writing, Pico combined Aristotelianism, Platonism, Hermeticism, and Neoplatonism, thus, giving it a humanistic outlook. Human vocation is portrayed as a mystical vocation realizable in three stages: moral transformation; intellectual research, and identity with the absolute reality.[14]

Miguel de Cervantes was a Spanish writer of the renaissance era popular known by his novel, Don Quixote, which is the most influential literary work of the Spanish Golden Age. The novel is divided in two parts where the first part narrates stories revolving around two main characters.

The best known of such stories is El Curioso Impertinente where Anselmo is preoccupied by the temptation of testing his wife’s faithfulness and trapping her with his friend Lothario[15]. However, the scenario turned out to be disastrous to all the players. In the second part of the novel, Cervantes does acknowledge his critics concerning the digressions he made in the first part.

Conclusion

Humanism that characterized the renaissance period focused on the human capacity for greater intellectual growth that makes his relationship with God central. Consequently, the needs of man become so special and needed to be satisfied. During this period literature emerged as a medium of expressing the human social activities. Many writers with powerful creativity authored literary works that have remained the trademark of this period such as Pico’s Oration and Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Bibliography

Alighieri, Dante & Appelbaum, Stanley. The divine comedy: selected cantos. Chicago, IL: Courier Dover Publications, 2000.

Bloom, Harold. Miguel de Cervantes. Boston, MA: Infobase Publishing, 2005.

Bori, P. Cesare. The Italian Renaissance. An Unfinished Dawn ?Pico Della Mirandola. Web.

Byfield, Ted. God in Man, A.D. 1300 to 1500: But Amid Its Splendors, Night Falls on Medieval Christianity. New York, NY: Christian History Project, 2010.

Canning, Ferdinand & Schiller, Scott. Studies in Humanism. Detroit, Michigan: Elibron.com, 1998.

Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of the Courtier. Florida, USA: Courier Dover Publications, 2003.

Davies, Tony. Humanism. New York, NY: Routledge, 1997, p. 128; and Reese, W. Curtis. The meaning of humanism. London, UK: Prometheus Books, 1973.

Frost, Martin. The Book of the Courtier: Renaissance Man: Polymath. Web.

Garber, Daniel & Ayer, Michael. The Cambridge history of seventeenth-century philosophy: Volume 1, Volume 2. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Heidegger, M. The meaning of “Humanism”. New York, NY: Hulton Press, 1949.

Hetherington, c. Stephen. Reality? Knowledge? Philosophy!: an introduction to metaphysics and epistemology. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2003.

Kleinhenz, Christopher & Barker, W. John. Medieval Italy: an encyclopedia, Volume 2. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001.

Lamont, Corlis. The Philosophy of Humanism. New York, NY: Humanist Press. Web.

Mary, Julia & Ady, Cartwright. New York, NY: John Murray, 1908.

Miller, David & Coleman, Janet. The Blackwell encyclopedia of political thought. New York, Wiley-Blackwell, 1991.

Paetow, J. Louis. A guide to the study of medieval history for students, teachers, and libraries. California, USA: University of California, 1917.

Tyre, Michelin. Italy, Volume 1992. New York, NY: Michelin Apa Publications, 2007.

Viroli, Maurizio. Machiavelli. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Zimmerman, Dean. Oxford studies in metaphysics, Volume 2. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Footnotes

  1. Canning, Ferdinand & Schiller, Scott. Studies in Humanism. Detroit, Michigan: Elibron.com, 1998; and Heidegger, M. The meaning of “Humanism”. New York, NY: Hulton Press, 1949.
  2. Davies, Tony. Humanism. New York, NY: Routledge, 1997, p. 128; and Reese, W. Curtis. The meaning of humanism. London, UK: Prometheus Books, 1973.
  3. Lamont, Corlis. The Philosophy of Humanism. New York, NY: Humanist Press.
  4. Hetherington, c. Stephen. Reality? Knowledge? Philosophy!: an introduction to metaphysics and epistemology. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2003.
  5. Zimmerman, Dean. Oxford studies in metaphysics, Volume 2. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006; and Garber, Daniel & Ayer, Michael. The Cambridge history of seventeenth-century philosophy: Volume 1, Volume 2. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  6. Kleinhenz, Christopher & Barker, W. John. Medieval Italy: an encyclopedia, Volume 2. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001.
  7. Paetow, J. Louis. A guide to the study of medieval history for students, teachers, and libraries. California, USA: University of California, 1917.
  8. Miller, David & Coleman, Janet. The Blackwell encyclopedia of political thought. New York, Wiley-Blackwell, 1991; and Viroli, Maurizio. Machiavelli. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  9. Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of the Courtier. Florida, USA: Courier Dover Publications, 2003; and Mary, Julia & Ady, Cartwright. New York, NY: John Murray, 1908.
  10. Frost, Martin. The Book of the Courtier: Renaissance Man: Polymath.
  11. Tyre, Michelin. Italy, Volume 1992. New York, NY: Michelin Apa Publications, 2007.
  12. Alighieri, Dante & Appelbaum, Stanley. The divine comedy: selected cantos. Chicago, IL: Courier Dover Publications, 2000.
  13. Byfield, Ted. God in Man, A.D. 1300 to 1500: But Amid Its Splendors, Night Falls on Medieval Christianity. New York, NY: Christian History Project, 2010.
  14. Bori, P. Cesare. The Italian Renaissance. An Unfinished Dawn ?Pico Della Mirandola.
  15. Bloom, Harold. Miguel de Cervantes. Boston, MA: Infobase Publishing, 2005.
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