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More’s Utopia, Erasmian Humanism, And Greek & Roman Beliefs

1889 words - 8 pages

Much can be learned about England in the sixteenth-century from More’s Utopia both from the book itself and as a result of the circumstances of the time that influenced his writing of it. There is a great debate over More’s actual opinions, as More is a character in the book as well. It is not known wether More (the character) was supposed to represent More, himself, or if More’s opinions were more along the lines of Hythloday’s. There is a view that employs the knowledge of the Erasmian humanist movement to interpret Utopia as a work that illustrates the conflict between the Roman ideals of sixteenth-century England and the Greek ideals that were launched off the back of the Italian Renaissance.
The Erasimian Humanist movement (also called the humanist movement of the Northern Renaissance or Christian humanism) can be seen as a continuation of the Italian Renaissance, but with one major difference. Both movements were oriented towards learning, historicism, and the rhetorical arts. They also emphasized an ad fontes (‘back to the source’) philosophy. The main difference, however, was in the perception of science and logic and how it functions in relation to the belief in God. In the Italian Renaissance, many of the humanists, while Catholic and some devout, were able to separate their belief in God from their work. The Erasmian humanists, on the other hand did just the opposite. They actually centered their work around a belief in God and studied and drew conclusions about nature based on this (Parrish 590). From a non-religious perspective, this is similar to dark matter in theoretical physics. Many of the theories are based upon dark matter, yet, it has not been observed, it is only believed to be there and acting on things in a certain way, which is how they formed the idea of dark matter in the first place.
INSERT HUMANISM SUMMARY(Kreis).
England in the sixteenth-century can be seen to be a clash of ideals in various topics as Greek and Roman though opposed each other on many topics. The time in which Utopia was being written (around 1514-1520) was also the time in which the Erasmian circle were promoting Greek culture stronger than ever. During this period, Erasmus used the Greek New Testament in order to correct the Vulgate. The Vulgate was the Latin version of the Bible which was written mainly by St. Jerome in the late 4th century. It was later revised in 1592 and adopted as the official text for the Roman Catholic Church. More, and others in Erasmus’s circle were called upon to defend Erasmus’s correction (Nelson 889).
A letter from More to the University of Oxford in 1518 demonstrates how Greek versus Roman popped up in universities. In this letter, More describe how a group of students formed, called themselves “Trojans” and proceeded to openly oppose and mock the Greek students, who they viewed as heretics, calling the lecturers ‘archdevils’ and the students (rather wittingly) ‘underdevils.’ The Erasmian humanists actually enjoyed...

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