Humanist Writings and English Values
In addition to mentioning humanism in many of her chapters in Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry, author Isabel Rivers also dedicates an entire chapter to the subject. Rivers explains that “A humanist was a classical scholar with two complementary aims: to recover the moral values of classical life, and to imitate the language and style of the classics as a means to that end” (125). Thus, humanist writers imitate and translate the works of classical writers in order to recapture classical morals and to motivate individuals to virtuous action. Sixteenth and seventeenth century English humanist writings reflect the values and morals of English culture at that time.
One important goal of humanist writers was to recover the works of classical writers. After recovering the works of classical writers, humanists imitated and translated these works into the current vernacular in their nation. Through their recovery of these classical works, humanists aimed to create a synthesis of cultural, intellectual, and religious traditions. Some of the different traditions that exist in humanist works include for example those of Christianity, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman beliefs. Early English writer, John Milton, included references to various different cultures and beliefs in “Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, to the Parliament of England.”
Early on, Milton makes references to the story of Adam and Eve, a biblical story of Life in both Judaism and Christianity. Milton states, “Foolish tongues! when God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions” (1816). This marks the beginning of Milton’s explanation of sin. He argues that God could not remove sin from man because virtue would also be removed. Because God empowered each and every human being with the power to choose, He also empowered humans with the capability to either be virtuous or immoral. If God did not give man freedom to choose, man would be as a puppet. Thus, virtue and sin are inherent human characteristics because they are the result of man’s freedom to decide.
In “Areopagitica,” Milton also makes references to Egyptian traditions and beliefs. The specific story that Milton chooses to use is that of Isis’ desperate search for the mangled body of Osiris. He compares this story to that of the search for the truth in England. He explains, concerning the scattered pieces of truth, “We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master’s second coming” (1819). Thus, according to Milton, when the Bible is made readily available to the citizens in England, the people will discover truth. Milton argues that, in enriching all men in the nation with knowledge, it will become a nation of prophets. On the...