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Secrets of times gone by

The Renaissance (from the French rebirth) was a movement in European history, beginning in Italy during the late Middle Ages (after religious domination and widespread fear of God) characterized by a resurgence of intellectual curiosity and a flourishing of the arts and sciences in the Greco-Roman tradition. It was sparked by the rediscovery and new translations of ancient texts after the reconquest of Spain, and the immigration of Byzantine scholars during the Council of Florence and the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Its humanism was preceded by the scholasticism of the Middle Ages, in which art and intellectual pursuits were mostly concerned with glorifying God. Parallels are often drawn to the age of Enlightenment. Laypersons usually associate the word with pretty paintings.


The Renaissance was preceded by a century and a half (more or less) of unprecedented literary development in Europe; previously, relatively little original literature had been produced on the model of the classics of Greece and Rome. Italian poets like Dante, author of the Divina Commedia, and Petrarch, author of the collection of secular love poems Il Canzoniere, turned their efforts to subjects less religious than political or social. Dante's Divine Comedy, especially its famous first section Inferno, skewered the corrupt papacy. Those authors also made the vernacular Italian language prestigious, moving away from the traditional Latin used by the Church. While the Church remained an important patron of the visual arts, the nobility also increasingly sought artists to immortalize themselves in art.

Scholastic and Thomistic appreciation of not only the rediscovered ancient texts, but also their Arabic commentaries, led to new insights. The Aristotelean philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) was hailed as "The Commentator", despite being considered controversial in his own society.[1]

Politics and philosophy[edit]

As the fractured Italian states began to ally with the pope or the Holy Roman Emperor, who were often at odds, political philosophers arose to solidify their princes' positions and justify their governance. The works of Machiavelli and More, among others, advocated greater respect for humanity in governing, though of course traditional monarchical absolutism would remain in Europe for centuries. The development of humanism in this period was aided by the rediscovery of many classics, like the letters of Cicero that Petrarch personally found; humanism's wisdom would be passed from Renaissance thinkers like Poggio and Mirandola to later philosophers of the Enlightenment like Voltaire and Locke.

While Aristoteleanism was dominant, Neoplatonism saw a revival in Florence. The Byzantine Gemistus PlethoWikipedia, who had traveled to Florence for the Council of FlorenceWikipedia, repopularized Neoplatonist thought there. This led to a new Platonist Academy in Florence, founded by the Duke and led by Marsilio FicinoWikipedia, which tried to syncretize Christianity and Neoplatonism.[2] Pletho, disillusioned with Christianity, founded a polytheistic school in the Peloponnese.[3]

Wouldn't you know it[edit]

The rediscovery of classical texts was made possible by the Crusades, because texts had survived after being translated into Arabic. But y'know, heathen savages, right?

Other uses[edit]

The term "Renaissance" is often used to describe important cultural or artistic movements.

See also[edit]