HIS109Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Platonism In The Renaissance, Lorenzo Valla, Leonardo Bruni

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9 Feb 2013

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Week 4 History Readings 9/30/2012 7:20:00 AM
Renaissance ideals and Realities c.1350-1550
Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) who discovered Cicero’s letters
long after they were written
o Petrarca believed the time b/w the ancients and middle ages
separated him from communion with the classics
Tried to bridge this gab
o Italian poet, Latin stylist & advocate for resurrection of past
o Values him & his contemporaries began to adopt gave rise to
intellectual & artistic movement
Movement critical of present & admiring of the past
RENAISSANCE, “rebirth”
Sig. changes in education & outlook that
transformed the culture of Italy (& rest of
o Changes were fueled by warfare,
political comp., & commercial
expansion of this area
New approaches to edu.,
scholarship, civic engagement,
history, lit. and art
Medieval and Renaissance?
Word “Renaissance” is taken literally = cultural accomplishments of
antiquity had ceased to be appreciated & imitated & therefore,
needed to be “reborn”
No single set of ideals for Renaissance as they kept reshaping
based on political, economic and social relations
o Renaissance didn’t reject Christianity of the Middle Ages
Renaissance Classism
o Medieval scholars knew many Roman authors but discovery
or “new” works expanded the classical canon for them
Recovered Greek lit. that no one could read
o Renaissance thinkers not only knew may more classical texts
but used them in diff ways too
Medieval intellects used ancient sources to confirm their
own assumptions, whereas, new reading methods of
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Renaissance increased awareness of gap b/w present
and past
o Structural similarities b/w ancient Greek poleis & city-states
of Italy encouraged political theorists to use ancient forms of
govt as models
o Renaissance culture was overtly materialistic & more
o Weakness of Church = growth of secular power & worldly look
Renaissance Humanism
o Humanism aimed to replace the scholastic emphasis on logic
& metaphysics w/study of language, lit., history & ethics
o Preference of Latin or Greek < Vernacular
Insisting on ancient standards of grammar, syntax &
diction, they turned Latin into fossilized language that
creased to have any direct relevance to daily life
Triumph of vernaculars & death of Latin
o Condemned present works & read ancient works
o Believed their own educational program, which placed Lain
language & lit. at the core and encouraged Greek studies, was
the best
Education of women was little concern to them
This lost connection w/increasing autocratic rulers
Renaissance of Italy
Renaissance develop. in Italy b/c after Black Death, northern Italy
became most urbanized region in Europe
o Italian aristocrats were more involved in urban pubic affairs
o A lot more commercialized
o Medici family = originally physicians & apothecaries but made
fortune in banking & commerce = merge into aristocracy
Tied to new humanist education as there was demand for skills of
reading/accounting = necessary to become success. Merchants
o = demand for educators & best-educated urban elites
Political situation of the time led to birth of Renaissance in Italy
o Unlike rest of Europe, Italy had no unifying political instit.
Looked at classical past for time of glory (Rome)
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Intent on appropriating their classical heritage b/c they
were seeking to establish independ. cultural identity to
help them oppose France
Roman literature, art, architecture
Renaissance couldn’t have occurred w/o structure of Italian wealth
gained through increasing commercial ventures
o Meant men were likely to stay home then seek jobs abroad
Literary and Intellectual Activity
Petrarca is considered founder of Renaissance movement
o Believed scholastic theology taught in universities was
misguided as it concentrated on abstract speculation rather
than achievement of virtue & ethical conduct
o Classical tests were best models = had ethical wisdom
o He was prolific vernacular poet
o His ideal for human conduct was a solitary life of
contemplation and asceticism
Goal of education for other thinkers/scholars was civic
o Humanists like Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444) agreed with
Petrarca on importance of classical lit. but also taught that
man’s nature equipped him for action, usefulness to his
family/society & serving the state
Thought ambition and quest for glory were noble
Refused to condemn accumulation of material posses.
Humanist ideals were expressed in Alberti’s treatise “On the Family”
The Emerge of Textual Scholarship
o Humanists went far beyond Petrarca in knowledge of classical
lit./philosophy, making journeys far to bring back classical
works, which they translated and sold
New texts spurred a new interest in textual criticism
Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) was pioneer in this but
he had no allegiance to humanists
Wanted to show that study of lang. could
discredit old assumptions about these texts’
meanings & unmask texts are forgeries
Renaissance Neoplatonism
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