Louise Ropes Loomis
The American Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Jan., 1908), pp. 246-258
The history of culture in Italian cities of the fifteenth century has long been considered a fascinating record of vivid, brilliant personalities who displayed a delightful enthusiasm for pictures, statues and cathedrals, antique coins, strange manuscripts and Ciceronian rhetoric. The causes of the rapid development of artistic and historical feeling that gave the period its peculiar character have never been altogether determined. But writers of reputation have occasionally ventured the opinion that the revival of the study of the classical literatures, in particular of the Greek language and the Greek writers, which marked the opening of the century, supplied the needed stimulus to the Italian intellect and set it free forever from the bondage of mnedieval ignorance and superstition; in short, that out of the revival of Greek grew the Italian Renaissance. The revival itself, they tell us, was due largely to the influence of Petrarch, “the first modern man”. He it was who scorned scholasticism, and found his comfort in the Latin classics and set his contemporaries and successors to inquiring how a knowledge of the Greek tongue could be regained. It is the purpose of this paper to present a few considerations bearing upon this theory and to inquire whether the much-vaunted recovery of Greek in the fifteenth century had in fact the significance and value which are currently ascribed to it.
In the beginning one may be saved from the danger of regarding the fifteenth-century movement as unprecedented and unique by a hasty preliminary glance at the work accomplished in a similar direction by the schoolmen of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. During those centuries, it is enough to remember, Latin translations of Euclid, Ptolemy, two or three dialogues of Plato and almost the whole of Aristotle were introduced into western Europe and widely and seriously studied. The effect of the influx of new learning was to enrich and broaden immediately the scientific and philosophical courses of the schools and to quicken and educate thought along many lines. Both Plato and Aristotle soon had disciples who applied the methods of reasoning and the knowledge gained from their works to discussions of religion and dogma.