Humanism: the philosophy of the
Renaissance The School of Athens
by Raphael
Humanism in the Italian city-states
• Spoke for and to the
dominant social groups of
the time
• It arose from the urban
ruling group
• It was the study of classical
Greek and Roman literature,
poetry, geography, natural
• The philosophy emphasised
Man in society
• Life of action & social
3 ideas of Greeks & Romans that
humanists focus on:
• 1. individual worth- humans
could improve themselves
through study
• 2. strong commitment to
public service
• 3. development of skills &
Studia humanitas:
• Studia humanitas:
Latin, Greek, grammar, rhetoric, poetry,
history and ethics
Rhetoric: art of the most effective speaking &
writing, art of persuasion, eloquence in speaking
& writing
This study was
recommended for
those in government:
princes, noblemen,
statesmen, & citizens
An educated ideal for::
1. a practical life in society
2. those who held leading social positions in
politics & govt.
Latin is everything
• Grammar/Language meant LATIN
• Greek of secondary importance
(Classics were written in Latin thus not accessible
to the common people)
Latin is the language of
• Culture & empire are intertwined.
Lorenzo Valla in the preface to his 6
volumes, Elegantiarium, 1435-44 :
• Latin = Rome
• Language- Latin = city (urban
culture of the educated élites)
• Conquerors’ language during the
“the Roman Empire is wherever the
language of Rome dominates.”
• Rome, ancient Greece, of one’s city, &
recent and contemporary events.
• History told the Humanists of their
own experiences- what they could
learn from the past
• Made associations with the lessons of
history with practical politics & govt.
• Humanists wanted to forget the 900
years of “Gothic barbarism” after the
fall of Rome
Lionardo Bruni 1405 in De studiis et
“ the careful study of the past enlarges
our foresight in contemporary
affairs……and affords to citizens and
monarchs lessons….From history also
we draw our store of examples of
moral precepts .”
History (
• Humanists were looking to the
glorious past of the Roman Empire
to forget the Dark Ages, and wrote
in unashamed praise of their own
cities, patrons, and rulers.
• Bernado Giustiniani, Venetian,
(1408-89): drew inspiration for the
past , said that “letters & culture
always followed a great empire”.
Education of boys
• Boys began work at 13 or 14 in rich
merchant houses in Genova, Milan or
• Humanist education up until the age of 17
• Lower middle-class boys were set to learn
a trade by 7 or 8. How does this compare
to our education system?
• Plea by humanists not to force the boys
into a mercenary merchant way of
• Homer, Virgil, Horace, Juvenal,
Seneca, Ovid, Terence, & rarely
Greek tragedies
• Was a commentary on the
experience of life and was used as
a guide and a shaper of men.(where
did this leave the women??)
• Most Humanists wrote poetry or
translated verses
• Pre-Christian poetry was
considered “Pagan Poetry”
Battista Guarino, son of prominent
educator, 1457
• “…without a knowledge of Greek, Latin
scholarship itself is , in any real sense,
• “ the ability to write Latin verse is one
of the essential marks of an educated
Contributions of Humanism to
• 1. Getting texts right: dating & producing an
authentic text
• 2. Seeing texts in historical contexts
• 3. emphasis on ascertainable facts: words,
documents, dates, events, & historical persons
• 4. revival of secular history: highlighted
politics, war & biography
• 5. new disciplines formed in order to study
history better, e.g., archaeology, topography
How did the Humanist philosophy spread
outside Florence?
• 1. Through travel & trade-think of
the port city-states (Venice,
Genova, Pisa)
• 2. Printed word after 1438
• 3. Monarchs support humanists
The end of the Renaissance
Italian Wars 1494-1559
France (Charles VIII), Spain & the
Holy Roman Empire joined
forces to split Italy amongst
Alfonso (Spain) 1443 new
dynasty of Aragonese kings
based in Naples
Peace of Lodi 1454 kept peace
amongst the Italian city-states
• 1454-1494 various wars to
settle minor conflicts
• In the end, these years of
peace helped the Renaissance
spread but
• the Spanish (Ferdinand)
gained control of nearly all of
Italy & the French (Louis XII)
took Milan
Death of the
• Renaissance culture did
not thrive under
foreign rule
• Effect of the wars: to
expose northern Europe
to the ideas,
accomplishments and
culture of the
Italy in 1494
Titian, The Abduction of Europa, 1559-1562,
Venice, Italy

Humanism: the philosophy of the Renaissance