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Humanist Learning in the Italian Renaissance

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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.

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

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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. A lth ough I am quite prepared to grant that m uch, I am inclined to endorse the core of Burckhardts view, 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. T h e evidence for this statem ent is overw helm ing in the visual arts, and it is equ ally striking in Renaissance humanism. T h e term "hum anism ," however, is itself no less subject to am biguities and controversies than the term Renaissance. In present day discussions, the term "hum anism is w idely and rather vaguely used to indicate some kind o f emphasis on hum an values, whether this emphasis is said to be religious or antireligious, scientific or antiscientific. In this sense I suppose every body likes to be a humanist, or to appear as one, and the term ceases to be very distinctive. In speaking of Renaissance hum an ism, however, I am not referring at all to hum anism in the modern sense o f an emphasis on hum an values; 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. 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, it developed from the term "hum anist, 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, of the hum anitiesas distinct from a jurist, for ex ample. A n d the studia humanitatis, 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, had stood ever since the early 15th cen tury for a w ell defined cycle of teaching subjects listed as gram mar, rhetoric, poetry, history and m oral philosophy, all of them to be based on the reading of the classical G reek and L atin authors. T o put it more broadly, even though the civilization of Renais sance Italy may show a unity of style in all its aspects, this civ ili zationlike that o f the later M iddle Agesis clearly articulated and com partm entalized in its various cultural and professional

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sectors. 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, but, a llo w in g for all kinds o f personal com binations and m utual influences, there is w ithin each cu ltu ral sector a core o f autonom ous tradition and developm ent. 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, nam ely the studia hum anitatis. T h is is its center of operation, from w hich it was able to act upon the o th er areas of the in tellectu al life o f the period. T h e re is a touch o f hum anism in the m odern sense also in Renaissance hum anism , in so far as the term studia hum anitatis indicates an emphasis on m an and his values, and for this reason the dign ity o f m an was a favorite them e w ith some, a lth ou gh by no means w ith all, Renaissance hum anists. 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 literarythat is, through hum an isticstudies. 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 se are not to be foun d in the scholastic philosophy or theology o f the 13th century, w h ich co n tin u ed to flourish through the Renaissance period, in Ita ly as elsewhere, but operated, as it were, in a different departm ent o f learning. So far as I can see, there were three m edieval phenom ena w hich con tributed to the rise o f Renaissance hum anism , but w hich underw ent a thorough trans form ation through their very com bin ation, if for no other reason. 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, d o cu ments, and p u b lic orations, 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, em perors, bishops, princes, and city republics. 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, and especially in the French schools, where this study had been com bined w ith the reading o f classical L atin poets and prose writers. T h is influence was felt in Italy towards the very end of the thirteenth century, 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. 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

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

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L atin literature had been know n to the M iddle Ages, 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. T o em phasize the im portance o f this con tribution, it is enough to refer to the m anuscript discoveries o f Poggio Bracciolini, and to m ention some o f the m ore im portant authors or texts thus rediscovered for the reading p ublic: Lucretius, T acitu s, and some o f the orations and dialogues o f Cicero. 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. T h e num ber of hum anist copies of these L atin classical texts is very large indeed, 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. N o t only were there num erous 15th-century copies of classical L atin authors; the average library in the Renaissance contained m ore classical L atin texts, in p ro portion to religious or m edieval or even contem porary literature, than it had in previous centuries. T h is w ide diffusion of classical texts reached new proportions after the in troduction of prin tin g, w hen we find a very large num ber and p roportion o f editions o f the classics, due to the efforts o f hum anist editors anti sometimes of hum anist printers. T h e w ork done by the hum anists on these texts was not lim ited to m echanical copying. T h e y developed a keen sense o f the cor rectness of classical L atin gram m ar and style. 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, they elim i nated errors found in the m anuscripts. Furtherm ore, the hum an ists were engaged in un derstanding and e xp lain in g the difficult passages of the classical authors. T h e y produced a large literature o f com m entaries that grew o u t o f their class lectures, and in doin g so, they not only con tin ued the w ork of the m edieval gram m arians, but also expanded and im proved it very greatly. In all this, the hum anists were the direct forerunners o f m odern clas sical scholarship. In their d ouble concern w ith studying and im i tatin g classical L atin literature, and in direct connection w ith their activity as teachers, the hum anists were careful students of the classical L atin language and vocabulary, o f its orthography, gram m ar, metrics, and prosody, 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, they investigated ancient

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

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change in the reading m aterial o f the average scholar, and its effects were bound to be felt in literature as w ell as in philosophy, theology, and the sciences. I ll Let us pass from the scholarly w ork o f the Italian hum anists to their o rigin al literary productions, 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. 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 , so that they were able to im itate classical L atin models in the same linguistic m edium . H ow ever, m any hum anists also w rote part of their works in the Italian vernacular, 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. A very large portion of the literary production o f the h u m an ists consists in their letters. T h e com position o f state letters was, o f course, a part of their professional activity. As chancellors and secretaries, they were the p aid ghost writers of princes and city governm ents, and the state letters, m anifestoes, and other p o litical docum ents then as now served to express and to spread the interests, ideology, and propaganda of each governm ent, and sometimes to accom pany the w ar o f the swords w ith a w ar of the pens. C on sequently, the state letters of the hum anists are valuable docum ents for the p o litica l thought o f the period, 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, 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. 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. T h e p rivate letter was not m erely a vehicle o f personal com m unication ; it was intended from the begin n in g as a literary com position to be copied and read. T h e hum anist letter-writers consciously im itated the classical exam p le o f C icero or Seneca, 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 oreover, 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. F inally, the

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letter was a favored substitute for a short treatise of scholarly or literary or philosophical content, favored because the hum an ists liked to speak of their experiences and opinions in a personal and subjective fashion, in the first person. In other words, the letter, being more personal than the treatise, performed the functions o f the essay, and actually was its literary forerunner. A nother very large literary genre which was cultivated by the humanists and closely related to their professional activity was the speech or oration. 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. Consequently, there is a real flood of humanist speeches, and although many of these ephemerous products must have perished w ith the occasion that gave rise to them, a surprisingly large num ber of such speeches has come down to us. 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. T h e humanists evidently were commissioned to write the speeches demanded by the occasion. 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. T h ere were w edding speeches, apparently a literary develop ment from the form ula of contract demanded by Lom bard law. A num ber of speeches grew out of the ceremonies of schools and universities: commencement speeches in praise of studies or of particular disciplines; opening speeches at the beginning of a course of lectures, or of a public dispute (Picos famous oration belongs to this latter type); speeches given by both professors and students after an exam ination, and on many other academic occa sions. A nother large body of speeches was connected w ith the po litical life o f the time, 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, and especially to a newly elected pope; speeches of welcome for a distinguished foreign visitor; and speeches addressed to newly elected bishops or governors or magistrates, w ith the appropriate replies. M uch rarer, though not entirely lacking, 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, or forensic speeches given at a p ublic trial or law

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

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had access to the archives and original docum ents illustratin g the subject m atter o f their history, 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. 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; in the sixteenth, we m ight single out hum anists such as Sigonius, 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. A n o th er branch o f historical literatu re that was very m uch cultivated by the hum anists was biography. T h e re was the model o f Plutarch and o f other ancient writers, but there obviously was a great contem porary dem and for biographies, not m erely o f princes or saints, but also o f statesmen and distinguished citizens, o f poets and artists, o f scholars and businessmen. Like the portrait p ain tin g of the tim e, the biograp hical literature reflects the so-called in dividualism o f the period, that is, the im portance attached to personal experiences, opinions, and achievem ents, and the eagerness to see them p erpetuated in a distinguished w ork o f art or of literature. 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 w hich we can m ention m erely in passing, al though they constitute a fairly large and fam ous part o f their production. O ne task of the orator was trad ition ally defined as that o f p raisin g and blam ing, and this task was taken rather literally in the Renaissance. T h e re were many p olitical invec tives w ritten in the nam e o f a governm ent against its enemies, and num erous personal invectives com posed by hum anists against their rivals. 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, but w hich show the hum anists love o f gossip. T h is is another aspect o f Renaissance "in d ivid u alism , and though the love o f gossip is not pecu liar to that period alone, the in clination to in corporate it in published and even in high brow literature definitely is. A t the other end stands the litera ture of praise, the num erous eulogies of princes and of cities, sometimes most useful for biograp hical o r descriptive details, as w ell as the eulogies o f various arts and sciences, usually com p arin g them favo rably w ith some o f their rival disciplines. A lso the descriptions o f festivals were q uite in vogue, and we have charm ing descriptions o f tournam ents or o f snow ball fights in

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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 . 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, the N ovella, sometimes translating such stories from Italian in to L atin and sometimes com posing o rigin al stories in L atin , some o f w hich attained a trem endous p o pu larity. F inally, 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. T h e hum anists thought o f themselves as orators and poets, and the crow n in g o f poets was a favorite hum anist cerem ony and honor. T h e ir notion of poetry was far rem oved from the m odern rom an tic n otion of the creative poet. F or them, poetry was largely the a b ility to w rite verse, especially L atin verse. T h is was som ething that could be taught and learned, at least to some extent. 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, in L atin as w ell as in the vern acular, and they tolerated as poetry a good deal that by m ore severe m odern standards is rather m ediocre. M ore over, the study and in terp retation o f ancient poets was con sidered as a part of the business o f poetry, since the com posing o f verse depended on a know ledge and im itation of the classical poets. 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. In this vast body o f m aterial, dram atic pieces con stitute a relatively small part, but this sm all gro u p o f m aterial does have its historical im portance. Some o f the hum anist plays were w idely know n, and in the fifteenth century, classical and h u m anist L atin plays were repeatedly perform ed in schools and courts. 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. A lso the eclogue o r pastoral poem had a num ber o f cultivators, after the m odel o f V ergil and other ancients, and when this type o f poetry was transferred to the vern acular and given a m ore dram atic turn, the groun d was laid for the trem endous vogue o f pastoral poetry w hich lasted dow n to the eighteenth century. H um anist poetry in cludes specim ens o f the satire and o f the ode, 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. M uch larger is the volum e of epical poetry. It includes verse translations o f H om er and other G reek poets, and even o f D ante's D ivin e Com edy. T h e bulk

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o f the com positions m ay be characterized as historical, m ytho logical, and didactic, and this corresponded to the available classical models. T h e re are long poems on ancient history, such as P etrarchs Africa, on contem porary wars, in praise o f princes and cities, and in praise of C o lu m b u s discoveries. V arious an cient m yths w ere m ade the subject o f lon g epical poems, and some hum anists even dared to w rite a supplem ent to V e rg ils A en eid. A n effort was also m ade to ap p ly the form of classical epics to C h ristian subjects, 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. F inally, there are didactic poems on a variety of subjects such as astron om y o r astrology, on poetics and n atural history, on the silk worm, and on the gam e o f chess, to cite only a few o f the better know n exam ples. 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. T h e elegy is the longer o f the two and is m ore serious in content; most frequen tly, it describes the p o ets love for a b eau tifu l girl in a variety o f its phases and episodes. T h e re are a num ber of scattered elegies w hich were quite p opu lar, 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, Propertius, or T ib u l lus. Some elegies belo n g to the very best specimens o f hum anist poetry, and fam ous poets such as Pon tan o or Polizian o excelled especially in this genre. M uch m ore num erous and com m on than the elegy is the re lated form o f the epigram . It was the favorite form o f hum anist poetry, b ein g shorter and less serious than the elegy, and allow in g a m uch greater variety of content and tone. A large num ber of hum anist writers have left us collections o f epigrams. Some of them are sk illfu l in their form al elegance and in the variety of the subjects treated. T h e y in clude a good num ber o f frivolous and indecent pieces, for w hich the G reek A nthology and M artial offered am ple precedents. A side from that, 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, biographical, 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. T h e re was a mass p roduction o f occasional epigram s, and especially of epitaphs, w hich is likew ise uneven in its literary m erit, but agau.

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usually o f historical interest. T h e re were also poetical contests on specific occasions such as tournam ents, and especially on the death o f a fam ous or o f a beau tifu l youn g person, and the fifteenth century saw the rise o f the poetical m iscellany, a collection o f verses by different poets on the w edding or death o f a p articular person, a type that was to con tin ue for centuries in various countries. A fte r their appearance in P etrarchs time, epigram s in praise o f the works o f a friend con tin ued to be p opu lar; these laudatory verses were added as a kind o f preface to the frien d s m anuscripts or editions. 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, 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, in style and form as w ell as in subject m atter, 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. 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 , 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, but this view does not correspond to the historical facts as they are now know n to us. IV I now come to the last branch o f hum anist literature, which to the student o f p hilosophy and of in tellectual history is by far the most im portant, and w hich to be sure has m uch intrinsic significance, 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. M oral philosophy was clearly a part o f the province o f the hum anists; Petrarch liked to be called a m oral philosopher, and m any hum anist scholars taught the subject in various schools and universities. A ctu ally , 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, the taste, and sometimes the wisdom o f the time. 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. Y et I cann ot agree w ith some o f my fellow students o f the history

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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. 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, 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. In each instance, we must carefu lly consider the p articu lar purpose for w hich a given work was w ritten, the num erous citations taken from classical authors (citations that very often are not even exp licitly identified), and, finally, the concern for form al literary elegance and the conscious avoidance o f technical language, an avoidance that reflected the authors' im itatio n of C icero. In m any instances, alth ou gh not in all, 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. Y et despite all this, the hum anists clearly show a m arked interest in some special problem s, and most o f them show a preference for one rather than another o f the pos sible views on that problem . 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, and they w ould m ore frequen tly side w ith A risto tles 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. T h e y w ould discuss p articular vir tues, or the pow er o f fortune, usually insisting that hum an reason can overcom e fortune, at least w ith in certain limits. T h e y w rote a good deal on education , and defended the reading o f the classics on both m oral and in tellectual grounds. A favorite subject was n obility, and as its chief cause they w ould favor merit m ore often than birth. T h e y w ould variously discuss the merits o f the active and con tem p lative life, the m arried and the single life. T h e y w ou ld discuss the duties o f a p articu lar profes sion, in clu d in g that o f the m onk or cleric. T h e y w ou ld w rite about the fam ily and the state, a d ap tin g ancient precepts from various sources to the pecu liar circum stances o f their ow n time and country. T h e y w ou ld discuss the relative m erits o f a rep ublic and a m onarchy, and m any o f them w ould praise the virtues of rep ublican governm ent, especially if they happened to w rite in Florence o r V enice. T h e y w ou ld discuss the m erits o f law and m edicine, o f literature and o f m ilitary service, of ancient and m odern times. M uch of this is interesting, if not profoun d, and

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a good deal m ore could be learned by studyin g the un explored and un p ublished part o f this literature. Y et at the present state o f m y know ledge, 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, or in any p articu larly strong argum ents they m ight have offered for such opinions. T h e ir co n trib u tio n is m uch m ore in tan gible and indirect. It lies in the education al program w hich they set forth and carried through, that is, in the thorough p ropagation o f classical learn in g through the schools, 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, and w hich was defended exp licitly by m any, if not all, o f the h u m an ists. It lies in the con viction, perhaps erroneous, that through this study and im itation o f the classics they had b rou ght about a renaissance, a rebirth, of learn in g and literature, o f the arts and sciences, 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. T h is historical view has been m uch opposed by m odern students o f the M id d le Ages, b u t it still underlies o u r custom ary division o f the periods o f history. 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, the scholastic logicians, and physicists. It lies, above a ll, in the vast am ount o f fresh ancient source m aterial sup plied to the students o f philosophy; this m ade it possible for them to restate the ancient doctrines o f Platonism , Stoicism , E pi cureanism , and Scepticism , to restate even A ristotelianism on the basis o f G reek rather than A rab ic or m edieval sources, and finally to attem pt new p h ilosophical solutions in dep en dent o f any p ar ticular ancient sources. A ll this was to characterize the p hilosop h ical thought o f the R enaissance period. 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, but it surely was influenced by hum anism , and w ould not have been possible w ith ou t the w ork and the attitudes o f the humanists. 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 . M ost Italian hum anists were not theologians (and some o f them m ay have been in different Christians, alth ou gh very few, if any, can be p roven to have been pagans). 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

H U M ANIST LEARNINC

to C h ristian texts and in p reparin g the way for a kin d o f sacred p hilology. T h e re were m any new editions and translations of the C h urch Fathers, and even some of the B ible, and the methods o f textual and historical criticism were consciously and consci entiously used for them. 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. In the history o f the sciences, the merits and achievem ents o f the later M id d le Ages have been rightly em ph a sized by recent historians. Y et, alth ou gh the M iddle Ages pos sessed a significant selection o f G reek w ritings on m athem atics, astronom y, and m edicine, the hum anist translators added im p or tant texts in these fields as w ell as in geography. M ost o f the hum anists were not professional scientists, b u t m any scientists o f the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had enjoyed a hum anist education, 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 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, just as the hum anist transla tions o f ancient p hilosophical, historical, and rhetorical literature refreshed the discussion of p olitical theory. In architecture and the decorative arts, the prevalent classicism o f the age led to a revival o f ancient forms and styles, w hile the revived interest in classical history, m ythology, and allegory enriched the subject m atter o f p ain tin g and of sculpture for m any centuries to come, dow n to the 19th. Even in music, w here no ancient specimens had been preserved, 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 , b u t its influence grad u ally spread from this center and affected all other areas. M oreover, its influence was not lim ited to Italy alone, but its traces can be found all over E urope, for better or worse, at least after the m iddle o f the fifteenth century. Students from all E uro pean countries attended the Italian universities, were exposed to the m ethods and sources o f Italian hum anism , 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, W estern, or Eastern libraries. T h e se same texts were coDied and read and later p rin ted outside o f Italy, some o f them

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

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and thus continued to nourish m any secondary currents o f thought and literature d u rin g that period. 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 it still survives in the term h u m an ities as we use it, w hich denotes a residual o f the studia humanitatis. M oreover, it is Renaissance hum anism that is the ancestor o f o u r p h ilo lo gical, historical, and literary scholarship, ju st as m edieval and Renaissance learn in g in logic, physics, m athe matics, and m edicine anticipates early and recent m odern science. 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, the hum anities are on the defensive everyw here, and we are, as it were, threatened by the bleak prospect o f a w orld that consists o n ly o f practical life, o f science, o f religion , and o f an art deprived o f in tellectual content. B y contrast, we see in the Renaissance a vast body o f the hum anities, that is, secular learn ing w hich p artially, at least, is in depen dent of practical life, o f science, o f religion , and o f the arts, and w hich occupies a large and im portant place in the attention and in itia tive o f the time, 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. 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 , eith er now or in a n ot too distant future.