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HIS109Y1 Study Guide - Erasmus, Niccolò Machiavelli, Petrarch

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Kenneth Bartlett

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Major figures in history in Semester 1
Francisco Petrarch (1304 -1374)
Was a Florentine, and do to his revival of classics made him a seminal figure in the
literary Italian Renaissance.
His primary contribution to the development of the Italian vernacular was made in
his sonnets
He is considered to be one of the greatest European lyric poets
His sonnets were inspired by his love for a married lady name Laura
In these sonnets Petrarch appeared less concerned to sing his ladys praise than to
immortalise his own thoughts, this interest in his own personality reveals a sense of
individuality stronger than in any previous literature
Niccolo Machiavelli
No one gave better expression to the Renaissance preoccupation with political power
than Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Entered the service of the Florentine republic in 1498 four years after the Medici
family had been expelled from the city
Since Italy been invaded in 1494, Machiavelli was active during a period of Italian
tribulation and devastation
In 1512, French defeat and Spanish victory led to the reestablishment of Medici
power in Florence
Staunch republicans, including Machiavelli, were sent into exile
Machiavelli forced into exile now reflected on political power and wrote books
including The Prince (1513) one of the most famous treatises on political power in the
western world
Machiavelli got his ideas on politics from two major sources; his preoccupation with
Italys political problems and his knowledge of ancient Rome.
His major concerns in The Prince were the acquisition and expansion of political
power as the means to restore and maintain order in his time

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Since medieval political theorists believed that a ruler was justified in exercising
political power only if it contributed to the common good of the people he served
The ethical side of The princes was the focus of many late medieval treatises on
Machiavelli stated that a princes attitude toward power must be based on an
understanding of human nature
Machiavelli was among the first to abandon morality as the basis for the analysis of
political activity
Desiderius Erasmus
Born in Holland (1466-1536)
Most influential of all the Christian humanists was Deisderius Erasmus
Formulated and popularized the reform program of Christian Humanism
The Handbook of the Christian knight printed in 1503, reflected his conception of
religion the philosophy of Christ by which he meant that Christianity should be
guiding philosophy for the direction of daily life rather than the system of dogmatic
beliefs and practices that the medieval church seemed to stress. (emphasized inner
piety and de-emphasized the external forms of religion such as; sacraments,
pilgrimages fasts, veneration of saints, and relics)
Erasmus edited the Greek text of the New Testament from the earliest available
manuscripts and publish it, along with a new Latin translation, in 1516
To Erasmus the reform of the church meant spreading an understanding of the
philosophy of Jesus, providing enlightened education in the sources of early
Christianity and making common sense criticisms of the abuses in the church
In Erasmus The Praise of Folly written in 1511 Erasmus engaged in humorous yet
effective criticism of the most corrupt practices of his own society especially within
the ranks of the clergy
However Erasmus’s program did not achieve the reform of the church

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His moderation and his emphasis on education were quickly overwhelmed by the
passions of the reformation
But contemporaries proclaim that Erasmus laid the egg that Luther hatched
However Erasmus had no intentions on destroying the unity of the medieval
Christian church rather, his whole program was based on reform within the church,
and disapproved Luthers Protestant reforms responsibility
Thomas More
Son of a London Lawyer, Thomas More (1478-1535) received the benefits of a good
Proficient in both Latin and Greek
Well acquainted with other English Humanists and became an intimate friend of
He made translation from Greek authors and wrote both prose and poetry in Latin
Was a devout man and contemporaries praised his household as a shining model of a
Christian family
Mores most famous work and most controversial of his age was; Utopia, written in
This literary work is an account of the idealistic life and institutions of the
community of Utopia
Reflects Mores own concerns with the economic, social, and political problems of his
He presented a new social system in which cooperation and reason replaced power
and fame as the proper motivating agents for human society
Utopian society was based on communal ownership rather than private property; all
persons worked nine hours a day, regardless of occupation, and were rewarded
according to their needs.
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