In part three of Jacob Burckhardt s book, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, he writes that the Italian Renaissance was shaped by ..not the revival of antiquity alone, but its union with the spirit of the people The spirit of the Italian people refers to the way Italians as a group, shared the enthusiasm for antiquity. Burckhardt formulates that this enthusiasm was because the Italians viewed antiquity as a symbol of past greatness. The Middle Ages had brought about much war and corruption in both the Church and secular society. Therefore, the Revival of antiquity, developed in part to find a way to improve society.
Italy lay where an ancient society had prospered and triumphed, and thus, Italians looked to Ancient Rome for answers of how to improve their own society. Italy was full of ancient monuments and documents and thus Italians had easy access to the past. The Latin language of Ancient Rome was also easily learned by Italians, which gave them a unified tool to open the past. So, it was the special circumstances of Italy that provided the Italian people with their great enthusiasm to learn and understand the ancients and their way of life.
With their new knowledge of the past, a new dilemma arose. Much of the documents and other writings found did not correspond with the Church s beliefs and practices. As most of Europe adhered to the Church, this was a problem. So, many people set to work, trying to combine the great new knowledge recently found, with the ideas of the Church.
Also as a result of the revival of antiquity, came a new interest in rhetoric, grammar, philology and literary criticism. As more people studied the classics, they came to a better understanding the Latin and Greek language, which produced an array of people writing their own works in Latin and/or Greek. These letters were written following new grammatical and rhetorical rules that were introduced by the newly found classic style of the ancients.
The Italian humanists, who were interested in the study of the liberal arts, played a very important role in the revival of antiquity . It was their thirst for knowledge that led to such extensive searches into the past. It was also the humanists who devoted themselves to the New Learning that these discoveries led to. Schools were opened that focused on this humanistic learning, which led Italy to become both the scholastic and cultural centre of Europe.
Although Italy was undoubtedly the spearhead of this revival of antiquity, and the New Learning that followed, it did catch on throughout Europe. Germany, who had political ties with Italy, caught on rather quickly, and developed their own Renaissance and their own humanists. In Germany, however, humanists were concerned with antiquity for a different reason than their Italian counterparts. Germans were more concerned with finding a way to reform the Church to become more moral and ethical. The German-speaking areas of Europe did not have the same special circumstances that Italy had, and therefore, the Renaissance they experienced focused more on the Church and ecclesiastical studies. This bred much religious discontent and social disorder.
An important contribution of the Renaissance in Germany was the introduction of new grammar schools started by the Brethen of the Common Life. In these schools, young boys were given a chance to learn and participate in the New Learning by studying the Latin classics and grammar.
As mentioned earlier, the humanists played a vital role in the revival of antiquity . Many people participated, but a few stand out above the rest, as their contributions to the knowledge of ancient literature, ideas and history, were great.
One man who stands out is Francesco Petrarca (1304-74), who has been termed by many as the father of humanism. Petrarca found in the Latin classics, valuable lessons about life, literature and scholarship. He also believed the classics offered lessons on morality and virtue that could lead people to be good. Petrarca wrote many influential works about Ancient Rome, in the style that the classics were written in. Africa, is a Latin poem he wrote that celebrated the life of Scipio Africanus, a Roman general. Another is Lives of Illustrious Men, which was a compilation of biographies on famous Romans. Petrarca s devotion to the study of the classics, helped fuel the movement that later incorporated much of Europe.
Coluccio Salutati (1330-1406), was also an important Italian humanist who was a great admirer of Petrarca and his beliefs. Salutati was a very influential man as for thirty years he served as Chancellor of the Florentine Signoria. During this time, he helped make Florence the centre for studying the Classics, and Italy the leader in the development of the liberal arts. His collection of Latin manuscripts was one of the greatest of the time. Salutati was a distinguished Latin stylist and thought very highly of his Roman ancestors. In his letter to Antonio Loschi (1400), he makes several comments about being truly proud to be of Roman stock.
Lorenzo Valla (1407-57), too was a strong contributor to the Italian humanist movement. Valla took a very critical approach to the classics, in order to understand them better. He used this critical approach to examine some Church documents as well, and along with proving some of them falsities, he also was very unimpressed with the style in which they were written. Therefore, with his Elegancies of the Latin Tongue (1444), he attempted to improve the Church s level of Latin translation and style. This eventually became the model for critical method across Italy.
Guarino da Verona (1370-1460) was an Italian humanist who devoted his life to teaching the classics both inside and outside of schools. He would teach to anyone who was willing to listen, in a variety of settings. Verona was concerned with educating the masses in mind, body and character. He eventually established a humanist school in Ferrara, with the help of Niccolo d Este.
Also important is Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), whose political writings are still studied today. Machiavelli strongly believed that history would always repeat itself, and therefore, he proposed that Italy would again become as great as Rome had been once before, if the Italian people followed the ways of the ancients. He held Ancient Rome in the greatest esteem, which is evident in many of his works. In The Prince, Machiavelli uses countless examples of how the ruling and happenings of Ancient Rome could be applied to the ruling of Italy at his present time.
The most influential non-Italian humanist during the Renaissance was Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536). Although he was interested in classic Latin literature and style, Erasmus most important objective was to promote the revival of true Christianity. He was concerned with peace, love, honesty and the right way of living. He wrote a handbook that included what Christian virtues and practices should be. Erasmus search for truth and his eloquent voice, made him the man many followed in their quest to reform the Church.
Revival of antiquity has been used to describe the Renaissance and the humanists of the day. This concept most definitely characterizes much of this period of time, but it is not all encompassing. The fact that the Christian church was such a strong influence at this time, meant that any revival would have definite Christian overtones and would be skewed into the Church s beliefs. Thus, although there was a revival of past thought and practice, the people of the day took from it what they could relate to Christianity and the beliefs of their own time.