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From Classical to Contemporary
HUM 2052: Civilization II
Spring 2015
Dr. Perdigao
January 14-16, 2015
Some Contexts
Hundred Years’ War between France and England
The Black Death
Joan of Arc is burned at the stake for heresy after
liberating Orléans from the British
Printing comes to Spain
Columbus discovers America
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa
Michelangelo completes the Sistine Chapel ceiling
Luther’s Ninety-five Theses denounces abuses of the
Roman Catholic Church
Charles I of Spain becomes Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V
Luther is excommunicated
Machiavelli’s The Prince (written in 1513)
Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia (English translation in 1551), is
executed for treason by Henry VIII
Montaigne’s Essays (books 1 and 2)
Montaigne’s Essays (complete publication)
Cervantes’ Don Quixote: part 1 published in 1605;
part 2 in 1615
Shakespeare’s Hamlet
King James’ Bible published
Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy
Milton’s Paradise Lost: published in 1667
Velázquez’s Las Meninas
Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (The Maids in Waiting) (1656)
Shifts in Science, Faith
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543): Theorizes that the earth moves around the sun
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642): Repudiates Copernicus’ theory at 1633 Inquisition
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506): Discovers that the earth is round
Center on religion but turn from Dante’s world order:
As the geometer who tries so hard
to square the circle, but cannot discover,
think as he may, the principle involved,
so did I strive with this new mystery:
I yearned to know how could our image fit
into that circle, how could it conform;
but my own wings could not take me so high—
then a great flash of understanding struck
my mind, and suddenly its wish was granted.
At this point power failed high fantasy
but, like a wheel in perfect balance turning,
I felt my will and my desire impelled
by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.
(Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 1597)
Uncertainty of time; questions of self, world
Renaissance melancholy: sense of void experienced because of a “loss of firm belief in the final
unity and the final intelligibility of the universe” (Puchner 2032)
Defining the Period
• “Thus while on one, and perhaps the better-known, side of the picture, human
intellect in Renaissance literature enthusiastically illuminates the realms of
knowledge and unveils the mysteries of the universe, on the other it is beset by
puzzling doubts and a profound mistrust of its own powers” (Puchner 2033).
• Renaissance:
• Renaissance as cultural movement and a period (Perry 293)
• Time of revolutionary change in Renaissance Europe (Puchner 2024)
• Shift from Middle Ages: commerce and industry expands, capitalism
develops; central government replaces feudalism; rise of Protestantism and
fragmentation of Christendom; shift from theology to science, from revelation
to reason (Perry 293)
• Return to classical Greece and Rome, from 1350-1600 (restricted to Italy until
late fifteenth century, spreading to Germany, France, England, and Spain in
the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries)
Defining the Period
• Renaissance movement in Italy in visual arts, in England, literature,
particularly drama (Puchner 2031)
• Term Renaissance coined by humanist scholars, seeing their moment as
breaking through the darkness of the Middle Ages (Puchner 2030-2031)
• Question if the Renaissance is a continuation of the Middle Ages or a point of
departure and shift toward the modern world (Perry 293-294)
• As age of transition
• “Birth of modernity—in art, in the idea of the individual’s role in history and
nature, and in society, politics, war, and diplomacy” (Perry 311), giving rise to
the “cult of the individual” (Perry 313)
• Struggle, like with the ancients, between tradition and modernization, what to
retain and what to alter—as story of evolving civilizations
• Doubts about the value of human action but, with the printing press,
dissemination of ideas about the ideal prince, courtier, councilor, and humble
subject as well as the ideal court and society (Lawall 1890)
Shifting Centers
• City-states in northern Italy spawned the Renaissance
• Shift in power within city-states no longer dominated by feudal nobility or
landed aristocracy; struggle for power with merchants and artisans (Perry 295)
• Internal conflicts between merchants and nobles and external rivalries among
city-states lead to unstable governments (Perry 295)
• Leads to experimental forms of government during the period (and beginnings
of political philosophy, i.e., Machiavelli, Montaigne)
• Republicanism (1300-1450); Despotism (1450-1550)
• Although Florence retains republican ideas and practice, rise of Medici family
changes its structure; Venice is the only city-state to maintain republicanism
until advent of Napoleon (Perry 297)
Evolving Systems
• Old feudal chivalric code transformed to suit new purposes (Perry 298)
• Urban, commercial oligarchies become the new model but retain some aspects
of the feudal codes
• Shift from birth as basis of merit system to effort, talent, creative genius (Perry
298); honor shifts from warrior code of ancients to include citizen, creative
genius; ideal as meritocracy (Perry 313)
• Nouveaux riches—new form of elitism
• Art—political function: civic pride, patriotism, power (Perry 299);
benefactors, investment; development of portraiture as genre
• Secularism, individualism
Revising Education
• Humanism—return to the classics, study of ancient Greek and Roman
literature, return to study of Greek; key figures Petrarch (1304-1374) and
Boccaccio (1313-1375) as “fathers of humanism” (Perry 301)
• “Humanist educational ideal” included a “radical transformation of the
medieval (Augustinian) view of humanity” (Perry 300) rather than divine will,
return to Greek notion of arêté
• Mastery of nature as desired end—powerful Renaissance image of man as
magus (magician); Scientific Revolution begins with Italian humanists (Perry
• Roles of women altered, questioned during the period
• Civic humanism (to better serve the state) develops, to support republican
values and cause; founding of schools and colleges—humanistic education
• Shifts to “ideal of princely rule,” pursuit of virtue and honor in humanist
education, aimed at princes and courtiers rather than citizens—leads to
“advice books” on best means to that end, not republic but hereditary
monarchy (Perry 302)
Book Learning
• Printing press invented in mid-fifteenth century with Johann Gutenberg’s (c.
1398-1468) movable type in 1445 (Perry 308)
• Book-publishing industry develops, from beginnings with religious texts:
Bibles, sermons, prayer books then shift to secular works (fifteen or twenty
million published by 1500, 150 million more in the next century) (Perry 208)
• Rise in literacy as a result with publishing in vernacular—standardizes written
language and helps to develop national literatures, leads to flourishing of
critical scholarship (Perry 308)
• On other side, censorship emerges; Index of Prohibited Books established in
the mid-sixteenth century (Perry 308)