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The Renaissance And Humanism Essay

1805 words - 7 pages

The Renaissance and Humanism

You may wonder about, "The Renaissance" and its relationship to another term, "humanism" which fits into the same time period. If you check the dictionary, you will find that both terms can be used in a broad sense or more specifically. Humanism refers generally to a "devotion to the humanities: literary culture." (My definitions come from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). According to that definition we should all be humanists.

The other general meaning is the one that disturbs the fundamentalists who attack secular humanism: "a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason."

This definition places human beings at the center of the universe, capable of finding their way by human reason without the help of a supernatural God. It comes under attack from two sides--on one hand by those who defend religious values, on the other by some members of the scientific community who see humans as a kind of accident in a world without purpose.

Humanism can also refer to a specific happening in history: "the revival of classical letters, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns characteristic of the Renaissance." The phrase "characteristic of the Renaissance" shows how ambivalent is the relationship between the two terms, humanism and Renaissance. In other words, which term is the broader, encompassing the other? We associate both with the revival or rebirth of Greco-Roman civilization. Both have been broadened to include more than that. The more specific meaning of the Renaissance refers to the transitional movement in Europe between medieval and modern times beginning in the 14th century in Italy, lasting into the 17th century, and marked by a humanistic revival of classical influence expressed in a flowering of the arts and literature and by the beginnings of modern science. The more general meaning refers to any movement or period of vigorous artistic and intellectual activity.

To further confuse us we could ask ourselves how the Reformation and nationalism fit into the picture. Humanism, the Reformation and nationalism all appear as subheadings in your reading on the sixteenth century, but are not referred to in the introduction to the early seventeenth century (although humanism and nationalism existed at that time as well). I believe it is because the intial impact of humanism, the Reformation and nationalism was felt during the sixteenth century.

In the discussion of humanism on page 396, your text lists the educational goals of scholars who studied and taught the classics. They steeped themselves in Latin grammar and rhetoric; the latter was "a rigorous discipline in all the stylistic devices used by classical authors" (397). In other words, they taught classical literature for...

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