Lesser-Known Aspects of the Renaissance:
Lecture 1a. Introduction
Provisional Posting October 29, 2010. Given as part of Senior University
Georgetown's Fall 2010 program.
These webpages will be finished and posted (I hope) during November. Check back after a while!
(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
5. The Early Witch-Hunts
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.