Humanism in the Renaissance
The word humanism refers to a Classical course of study at European universities, many of which were founded between about A.D. 1000 and 1200. Human- ism meant the study of the seven liberal arts, “liberal” because in ancient Rome this was regarded as the proper course of study for a free man (in Latin, liberus means “free”). The liberal arts consisted of grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy.
The humanist course of study focused on Classical texts, from both the Greek and Roman eras. Roman texts predominated for two reasons. First, they were written in Latin, which was much easier for Europeans to understand than Greek. All the Romance languages of Western Europe, especially Italian, were closely based on Latin, and Latin had been kept alive by constant use in the Church. Second, Italy was the seat of the Roman Empire; the Roman manuscripts and scrolls were physically handy, relatively easy to obtain and copy for study purposes. Only time, travel, and cultural exchange would eventually bring the Greek manuscripts west for study.
Humanist scholars of the Renaissance focused their interest on the human being as a unique individual, with his or her own way of thinking about the great questions of philosophy and the meaning of life. All of this, however, was firmly in the context of the human being as God’s creation, with all human achievement being dedicated to God’s glory. In this era, the word humanism did not have the secular connotation it has in our own time.
Desiderus Erasmus, born in Rotterdam in 1466, is probably the best known of the Humanists. Erasmus’ work shows that he embraced both biblical and Classical studies. He published a Latin translation of the Greek New Testament in 1516, but also completed translations and scholarly commentaries on Classical texts, including the works of Plutarch and Seneca. He corresponded with most of the great European scholars of his day and was widely regarded as the hub of the intellectual world.
Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:The Renaissance Period Practice Test
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