Renaissance humanism is a collection of intellectual Greek and Roman teachings, undertaken by scholars, writers, and civic leaders who are today known as Renaissance humanists, taking place initially in Italy, and then spreading across Europe. It developed during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and was a response to the challenge of medieval scholastic education, emphasizing practical, pre-professional and scientific studies. Scholasticism focused on preparing men to be doctors, lawyers or professional theologians, and was taught from approved textbooks in logic, natural philosophy, medicine, law and theology. There were important centres of humanism at Florence, Naples, Rome, Venice, Mantua, Ferrara, and Urbino. Humanists reacted against this utilitarian approach and the narrow pedantry associated with it. They sought to create a citizenry (frequently including women) able to speak and write with eloquence and clarity and thus capable of engaging the civic life of their communities and persuading others to virtuous and prudent actions. This was to be accomplished through the study of the studia humanitatis, today known as the humanities: grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and moral philosophy.
Early Italian humanism, which in many respects continued the grammatical and rhetorical traditions of the Middle Ages, not merely provided the old Trivium with a new and more ambitious name (Studia humanitatis), but also increased its actual scope, content and significance in the curriculum of the schools and universities and in its own extensive literary production. The studia humanitatis excluded logic, but they added to the traditional grammar and rhetoric not only history, Greek, and moral philosophy, but also made poetry, once a sequel of grammar and rhetoric, the most important member of the whole group.
As a programme to revive the cultural—and particularly the literary—legacy and moral philosophy of classical antiquity. Humanism was a pervasive cultural mode and not the programme of a small elite.
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“Remember that its never a crime in the face of humanity and enlightenment to distribute the works of the great humanists among the merchants and moneychangers of this godforsaken country... You better slip me the dough.”
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