Lesser-Known Aspects of the Renaissance:
Lecture 1a. Introduction
AdamBlatner, M.D.

Provisional Posting October 29, 2010. Given as part of Senior University Georgetown's Fall 2010 program.

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(This is the first part of the first lecture---an introductory overview. See also the second part--lecture 1b:. The Early History of Printing        2. Neoplatonism, Humanism, Other New Philosophical Trends   3. Syphilis: The Great Pox as an Acute Epidemic   4: Early Renaissance Medicine              5. The Early Witch-Hunts             6  Summary        

The word, "renaissance" means "re-birth," ( -naissance related to nativity, nascent, born, emerging), and refers to the period after the late "dark" ages in which people in Western Europe re-discovered the cultural richness of the ancient Greek and Roman civilization, which had been eclipsed by barbarian invasions and the domination of a monastic clergy. This re-birth happened because enough wealthy people, upper-middle-class merchants and aristocrats had enough stability to move outward into not only art and many secular enjoyments---"vanities,"---but also for some a love of learning, an enjoyment of the process of re-discovery of ancient manuscripts and the opening to what seemed like hidden knowledge. Indeed, some of it was hidden because the Bible was hardly known to the laity---it was a sacred scripture that required the interpretation of the priests and recognized theologians. Doctrine was important as a political force for unity: We all believe in these things and not in those other things. (This situation in religion was soon to change radically, and will be mentioned further on.)  So the pre-Christian writings held an edge of the forbidden. Yet some authorities acknowledged that the ancients had access to fundamental truths, and this needed explaining. More about this later.

A related theme is that of what has been called "humanism," which is a term that is meant to contrast with "scholasticism" and the preoccupation of literature at that time with rather dry forms of theology. Humanism invited people to consider not the other-worldy, but the this-worldly, the predicament of humanity in its many expressions.

Yet this was a very complex era, and it would take many full-semester classes to begin to cover its many facets. I've chosen to focus on some aspects that are often overlooked or treated only superficially in general histories of the world or Europe or even this period. The Renaissance covers the era between around the early 1400s (that is, the 15th century) to the mid-late 17th century, and even that might be divided into early and late, and I'll be focusing mainly on the early Renaissance, around 1450 through 1570. I'll be discussing in the following lectures the following topics.


Of course, there could be stories for each of the following breatkthroughs, but I haven’t read up enough about the details.