Sunday, 11 October 2009

Seminar Lecture on the Italian Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance, which spanned from the 13th century to about 1600, marked a shift in ideas that saw Italy change from a largely medieval, to an Early Modern Europe. Though this Renaissance and its effects were largely confined to only the elite, the ideas and values it represented can still be put into use today.

The period of time after the Renaissance, named `Early Modern Europe`, was defined by the failing authority of the church in the face of scientific advances.

This is exemplified in the Copernican theory. Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to 1543, claimed that the Earth was in fact, not the centre of the universe. This scientific theory went against Christian theology that everything orbited our Earth as a symbol of man’s cosmic importance. At the time, ecclesiastical rule rejected Copernicus’ theory for the writings of the Bible. It wasn’t until years later that Kepler reinstated the theory with cold, unarguable fact that it was accepted. Showing how our ideas and beliefs had shifted in favour of scientific discovery.

This was largely very positive progress for a number of reasons. There are no punishments for not accepting it’s beliefs (as in the Church’s idea of Heaven and Hell), it exists on it’s appeal to reason and common sense, rather than the Church’s theories based upon no substantial evidence, and lastly it does not force itself upon the people, with an attempt to cover every aspect of their lives such as their morality, or their hopes, past present and future. It simply lays out facts, giving people the opportunity, and the free thought to make their own judgements, and choose for themselves.

This idea of free thought, and the belief of a persons individual rights was a main component and result of the Italian Renaissance. The shift from medieval Europe to early modern celebrated an individuals right to have opinions and free thought, something unheard of before the Renaissance, as Russell states at the beginning of A History of Western Philosophy, Chapter 2 “very few Italians of the fifteenth century would have dared to hold an opinion”. Although Italy during this period in time was still largely under the rule of the church and ecclesiastical authority, many citizens among the elite gained the opportunity to think and write freely about the rule of the popes and the system they were in.

At the time of the Italian Renaissance, the reigning popes were essentially, tyrants. They were considered to be vain and without an ounce of religion in them. They frequently gave way to pomp and grandeur (not unlike our popes today).

Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch philosopher who spent time away in Italy during the period of the Renaissance. His book “The Praise of Folly” contains his strong views on the Italian popes, in that they were “brainsick fools” who were “fond admirers of their own happiness”. He goes on to write that “their only weapons ought to be those of the Spirit” rather than the material goods that they were well known to surround themselves with. An Italian historian also wrote a passage along the same lines, claiming that “no man is more disgusted than I am…all of them are most unbecoming in those who declare themselves to be men in special relations with God.”

This freedom to write, have and pen your ideas down to paper, even with a fear of retribution, reflects modern journalism, with it’s pitfalls but with the freedom to express your opinions, outrage against the Government in power or commentary upon the human life and the society which you live in (for example Erasmus’ `The Praise of Folly`).

The Renaissance liberated the educated from the strict and unrelenting laws of medieval culture. Scholars became aware that there were a variety of opinions to be had on many subjects and individual genius was able to flourish.

This onslaught of free thinking was brought about by choice. There were now choices to be made between the church, with it’s ancient beliefs, and new science, with brand new facts and theories. If an individual’s choice was to follow science, they were then granted the opportunity to voice their thoughts about it. Did they agree with that specific theory? Was there anything else that was still left unanswered? The world became suddenly new. People were looking towards the future, rather than the antiquated world of the ancients. New animals and lands were rapidly being discovered. Real life became a lot more interesting than that which they read about in their classical literature. Folk tales were being discarded in favour for this new way of living and thinking. No longer were people dictated to, they could themselves make a discovery and then become the ones to dictate. The world was all of a sudden ripe with possibility.

Men who became a product of the Renaissance, men such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are renowned today for their incredible artwork and talent. Men such as these were, during the Renaissance, against the traditional ideas of antiquity. They were new, and no doubt crowd pleasers to those who were amongst the masses. They were a symbol of changing ways. Nowadays, artists such as these are classics, and a symbol of high culture. This is a reflection upon our present ideas and arguments of mass culture versus high culture. How ideas are constantly changing with time.

The Italian Renaissance, although stressed by Bertrand Russell that it was of little philosophical importance, nonetheless brought about the idea of progress.

Pre Renaissance, the world was burgeoning with potential. Theorists and philosophers, all had ideas but as of yet they had no substantial evidence to back it up. Original thoughts were slowly being formed but there was nowhere to speak it, or even write it down for fear of retribution and for going against strict and traditional beliefs. Copernicus with his theory was ultimately shot down, yet it was still there in the back of people’s minds. It was almost like the world was teetering on a breakthrough. Once Kepler provided the evidence needed for Copernicus’ theory to prove the Bible wrong, it raised questions, providing the seeds for individual thought. Soon after, the world became almost obsessed with practicalities. The realisation that time was best spent on advancing the way we live, rather than focusing on theories of the past. The practicalities of integrating science into warfare, the practicalities of understanding blood circulation and bacteria, the microscope, the thermometer and the improvement of clocks. All are progressions that have helped us even today and all are ideas that we are essentially still progressing.


1 comment:

  1. Good notes - but you don't have to blog all your notes if you don't want too. A few paras will be optimum. You don't need to write an essay every week, but you can of course if you want to. Little and often - that's the way!