The Similarities and Differences Between Professional Football and Basketball

Published: 2021-07-01 08:49:51
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humanism A new concept of human individuality, originating in the citystates of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy, that was based on desire for excellence in scholarship, creative work, and education. The humanist movement spread to northern Europe, France, England, and elsewhere, and continued to flourish until the mid-seventeenth century. Among its more familiar literary figures are, in Italy, Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca (known as Petrarch), Giovanni Boccaccio, Baldassare Castiglione, and Niccolo Machiavelli; in England, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, and John Milton; in France, Francois Rabelais and Michel de Montaigne.
Books setting forth an ideal of the well-formed individual, ruler, or commonwealth are a major aspect of the humanist movement, from Leonardo Bruni’s Dialogues (???? –? ) to Roger Ascham’s Schoolmaster (???? ), Machiavelli’s The Prince (???? , publ. ???? ), Castiglione’s The Courtier (ca. ???? , publ. ???? ), and More’s Utopia (???? ). During the Renaissance the term humanista meant nothing more than a teacher of Latin. But the Latin classics proved to be the key to the era’s renewed understanding of the individual’s goals and ideas.
Latin authors addressed issues like the dignity of man, the role of fate, and the strength of human will: the factors in life that make for human happiness, or flourishing. HUMANISM 145 (Greek was somewhat less familiar, at least at first, among the humanists; Petrarch and Dante could not read it. ) The Renaissance’s new studia humanitatis contrasts with the earlier medieval version of education, which consisted of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy).

In the medieval scheme, there was little room for the study of history or moral philosophy. Now, though, education could be based on the ethical ideas suggested by the ancients in their literary and philosophical speculations. The key terms of the Italian humanists are fame, fortune, glory, and virtue. They see creative achievement and knowledge as heroic tasks, analogous to the brave deeds of conquerors and emperors. In the Middle Ages, prior to the humanist revolution, the sense of history was providential, based on the sacred narrative of the Bible, and moving from creation to revelation and edemption. (Saint Augustine’s City of God [??? –??? /?? ?? ] was the major commentary on this narrative. ) In the Italian Renaissance, with political life controlled by rivalrous city-states, history became a matter of daring strategy, not scriptural validation. Providential history did not disappear, of course; it was a significant influence in the Reformation. But it had been challenged. Another aspect of the humanist movement was its sense of intimacy with the classical past. Petrarch wrote a series of familiar letters addressed to Homer, Virgil, Cicero, Livy, and others.
Allied to this closeness with antiquity was a desire to correct the distortions of ancient texts, to recover them in their original fullness. The ambition to search for the source characterized the humanist attitude toward religious texts and ideas. The great Netherlandish humanist Desiderius Erasmus translated the New Testament into Latin (???? ), saving the sacred text from the errors committed in the Vulgate (the medieval Latin Bible, in the universally read version produced by Saint Jerome). In an effort analogous to his philological study of the original text of the Bible, Erasmus in his Colloquies (???? reacted against the medieval corruptions of church hierarchy. Through his description in the Colloquies of friendly, egalitarian conversation on both spiritual and worldly matters, he tried to regain the original ethical ideal of Christian community and decency: a humorous, liberal-minded fellowship. For humanists like Castiglione in The Courtier, the self became a work of art, with the individual’s “knowledge and skill informed by proportion and 146 HUMANISM grace” ( Joseph Mazzeo). The Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, in his great Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (???? , first described the ambition of figures like Leonardo da Vinci and the architect Leon Battista Alberti to become the uomo universale, or universal man. Here Burckhardt evokes the supremely well-rounded, eccentrically talented Alberti (who became worldfamous as the inventor of the laws of perspective): “In all by which praise is won, Leon Battista was from childhood the first: . . . with his feet together, he could spring over a man’s head; . . . in the cathedral, he threw a coin in the air till it was heard to ring against the distant roof. . . He acquired every sort of accomplishment and dexterity, cross-examining artists, scholars and artisans of all descriptions, down to the cobblers, about the secrets and peculiarities of their craft. . . . He also wrote an Italian treatise on domestic life in four books; and even a funeral oration on his dog. . . . And all that he had and knew he imparted, as rich natures always do, without the least reserve, giving away his chief discoveries for nothing. ” Burckhardt concludes by remarking, of this godlike lusus naturae, that “an iron will pervaded and sustained his whole personality. Alberti proved that the individual can do anything, and with perfect style. The humanist was an intellectual hero and adventurer. His interest in magic and mystical lore, like Francis Bacon’s devotion to science, was a way to achieve power over the secret sources of nature. For Pico della Mirandola, author of the Oration on the Dignity of Man (???? ), the human self was distinguished by flexibility and aspiration, and was capable of raising itself almost to divine level: wrestling successfully with the Protean, the endlessly various, character of God’s creation.
The Renaissance is the real home of humanism. But Victorian sages like Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, and John Ruskin shared the humanist belief in individual aspiration and excellence, necessarily grounded in the strength of the surrounding culture. Their concerns lived on in the works of American critics a hundred years later: for example, Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe. In the early twentieth century, a “new humanism” was promoted by the literary critics Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, who reacted against the overly specialized aspects of philology as it was then practiced.
But Babbitt and More were felt to be too vaguely emotive, their moralizing too glib. When critics like Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks turned, in the ???? s, toward a stricter consideration of the technical aspects of poetic lan- HUMANISM 147 guage, they were in fact promoting another version of the humanist ideal: man as the hero of articulation, expressing his precarious and uniquely complicated existence, and fighting with the weapons of skilled ambiguity, irony, and paradox (see N??
C???????? ). Humanism can be a pejorative term in current literary and cultural criticism, especially in the disciplines of cultural studies and new historicism. This turn began with the philosopher Martin Heidegger, whose “Letter on Humanism” (???? ) criticized Jean-Paul Sartre for his humanist existentialism. Heidegger asserted that man, Sartre’s focus, was a limited concept and should be superseded by the notion of Being (in German, Sein or Dasein, two distinct but related terms).
Later philosophers like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, both highly influential in literary studies, followed Heidegger’s lead in questioning the centrality of the human. But humanism always seems to return, if humanism is understood as the commitment to asking whether particular goals, practices, and ideas serve or damage the hope for human excellence and happiness. The definition of humanist ideals remains a constant concern of philosophy and cultural commentary, as seen recently in the works of thinkers like Martha Nussbaum and Tzvetan Todorov.
On Renaissance ideas of humanism, see Joseph Mazzeo, Renaissance and Revolution (???? ); Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought (???? ); Hans Baron, The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance (???? ); Eugenio Garin, Italian Humanism (???? ); and Thomas M. Greene, The Vulnerable Text (???? ). Constance Jordan provides an interesting account of Renaissance humanism in its attitude toward women in Renaissance Feminism (???? ). Rebecca Bushnell in A Culture of Teaching (???? ) connects Renaissance ideals with contemporary American debates over education.

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