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The Humanism of the Renaissance

Humanism (the philosophy that people are rational beings) became quite popular during the Renaissance. The dignity and worth of the individual were emphasized. This movement originated with the study of classical culture and a group of subjects known collectively as the “studia humanitatis”, or the humanities.

Humanism and the humanities disciplines included studies in speaking, grammar, poetry, ethics, and history. The humanist preference was to study them as much as possible in their original classical texts (mostly Latin). The more traditional educational approach was that of scholasticism, which concentrates on logic, natural science, and metaphysics.

The scholars from each philosophy often clashed with each other. The more traditional scholastic training prepared students to become doctors, lawyers, and theologians. The new humanism believed that the focus on education should be broader and encompass more professions. Humanists proposed a more rounded education that placed the emphasis not only on intellectual learning but also on physical and moral development.

This new humanism also placed importance on the individual’s responsibilities of citizenship and leadership, including the participation in the political process in the community. The general humanism belief was that the scholastic type of education did not instill a respect for public duty.

It was controversial for the new humanists to believe that the ancient ways of thinking had been outgrown and that a person’s thoughts should no longer be of abstract speculation or rely on Christian thinking. Humanisms popularity grew as more urban residents learned of it. These people tended to object to the traditional education system that was monopolized by the clergy and effectively excluded them. They could see that the new humanism could include them.

Humanism relied on flexible thinking and being open to all of the possibilities of life and less concerned with the thinking of the past (antiquity).

The First Great Humanist

Francesco Petrarca (commonly known now as Petrarch) was born in 1304 near Florence and is known as the first great humanist. He was raised in Italy but traveled widely collecting ancient texts. One can see the urban emphasis in his teachings and his emphasis on the experiences of daily life like climbing mountains or traveling.

Petrarch was pulled between two worlds, the ideal world of antiquity and his desire to improve the current world. He believed he could learn to make the world a better place by studying classical literature. He, along with other humanists, admired the formal beauty of classical writing. He attempted to share the teachings of classical texts by studying them, and then, imitating them in Latin writings of his own.

Humanism Spreads

After Petrarch, the humanism philosophy spread first through Italy, then into other parts of Europe. During the mid to late 14th century, a number of scholars in Florence followed Petrarch’s lead and collected and studied ancient works. They lectured about them, imitated the style of the ancient works and the city of Florence became a center of humanistic learning.

As the movement grew, some extremists emerged. For the most part, humanists became experts in rhetoric and some town governments would frequently employ them to give humanistic style to their formal documents and to write official histories. Some of these humanists went to the extreme and became so pretentious and artificial that they would lose sight of their true objective and concentrate solely on the technique and detail of their work. Some of the extreme humanists had honed their style to such a pureness that they would only employ words used by the ancient Roman orator Cicero. It was this type of extremist humanists that caused some to accuse the humanists of being a frivolous pursuit. The detractors even accused the humanists of killing the Latin language by making it so isolated from their everyday life that it excluded everyone except the humanists themselves.

Other humanists used their study of classical writing to approach the world of politics. Florence had many humanists, led by historian Leonardo Bruni, become extremely patriotic. This was during a time when they were frequently attacked by Milan, a rival city-state. They applied classical teachings and used them to help solve their current problems. They found in the ancient Roman literature a love of country and then applied the patriotism to their current problems.

Some of the humanists broke from tradition and applied classical literature standards to their own language in everyday writing. This is the foundation for literary development in non-Latin writings and their intense patriotism allowed them to write about the city’s history, today, this gives us the modern historical perspective.

The study of texts was expanded by some humanists, during the 15th century, to include Greek. For the first time, Greek texts were read in the original language of Western Europe. The inclusion of Greek texts opened up new ideas for the humanists. One of the outcomes is a more precise understanding of Greek philosophy.

There was one Greek philosopher, Plato, who increasingly gained respect among the new humanists. A close follower of Plato was Marsilio Ficino, who persuaded the Florentine Academy, during the late 15th century, to take a more serious study of all of Plato’s works. Ficino hoped that Plato would be the guide for new Western humanists thought, like Plato’s student Aristotle had been for the traditional scholastic thinkers.

Humanism Spreads Throughout Europe

Italy started as the hub for the new humanist education and attracted many students from other countries as well as sending many of their scholars to work in other countries. The ideas of Italian humanism had spread into many parts of Western Europe before the end of the 15th century.

The roots of humanism are based in the past and the humanism of the countries North of Europe was strongly influenced by their past too. The differences between Italian and Northern humanism is, in great part, due to their differing histories.

The Italian humanists identified strongly with Rome. The Northern Europeans did not have such a strong tie to Rome and their form of humanism often viewed the history of the Middle Ages with more sympathy. The Northern humanists also retained stronger ties to Christianity than did Italy and were, in general, less hostile to the traditional educational system of scholasticism.

Because the humanism movement took longer to move into Northern Europe, its arrival and acceptance coincided with the Reformation. Sometimes northern humanism is identified with Christian humanism. Christian humanism attempted to use the scholarly techniques of humanism and apply them to the study of the Bible while ignoring prior medieval interpretations.

Humanists also read biblical texts in their original Greek and Hebrew and discovered discrepancies among the sources. These discrepancies led to more questions about the Catholic Church’s policies and practices. These questions evoked more support for the reform movement.

The Christian humanists, like other religious reformers of the Renaissance, generally considered themselves good Catholics. The best known Christian humanist was Desiderius Erasmus. He had numerous works, including a Latin translation of the New Testament as well as a Greek edition. Erasmus favored flexibility and tolerance and condemned overly rigid belief systems. He had an unequaled reputation as a biblical scholar and his view influenced large numbers of people (both Catholic and Protestant). Although receptive to change, the biblical humanists generally believed in the unity of the church and wanted to preserve reformed Catholic traditions. When Martin Luther condemned some of the basic teachings of the Catholic Church, Erasmus, along with some other Christian humanists, refused to accept Martin Luther’s arguments.

Without united support for either side, the Christian humanism’s contributions to the Reformation were of a more indirect nature. The Reformation inspired skepticism and encouraged questioning of past beliefs and religious traditions, but Christian humanists simply could not embrace Martin Luther’s assertions that, with absolute certainty, major doctrines of the Catholic Church could be proved wrong.


A touch of “Swan Song” and a dash of “The Stand”…Very good post-apocalyptic tale in the mode and mood of R. McCammon’s “Swan Song” and S. King’s “The Stand”. ★★★★★

Excerpt from Troop of Shadows:

Colleyville, Texas

Dani cursed the weight of her backpack. The final two items from the ransacked Walgreens, crammed in as an afterthought ten minutes ago, might cost her everything. After surviving the last twelve months of hell only to be thwarted now by a can of Similac and a twelve-pack of Zest soap, would be sadly anticlimactic. Despite running at a full sprint down a dark suburban street, dodging overflowing garbage cans while eluding three men who would steal her hard-won tubes of Neosporin and likely rape and kill her in the process, she snorted at the thought of a fictional headline: Young Woman’s Life Ends Tragically but Zestfully Clean.

Damn it, she would ditch the backpack. She could come back tomorrow night for it, but right now staying alive outweighed any future benefit its contents might provide. As her pursuers rounded the corner behind her, she darted across the front lawn of a house and leaped over a cluster of dead juniper shrubs. A year ago, those shrubs had been green, manicured, and providing curb appeal to the upscale neighborhood; they functioned now as a hurdle component in the obstacle course Dani navigated on most nights.

She angled toward the side of the house and around the corner, only to come to an abrupt stop next to a six-foot barricade. Residents of these sprawling bedroom communities situated between Dallas and Fort Worth clung to their privacy fences as fiercely as their rural counterparts did to their firearms. Why all those day-trading dads and cheerleader moms required such secrecy was beyond Dani. She didn’t care. All that mattered was how difficult they made her nightly forages. Only idiots or people with a death wish traveled alone on the streets anymore. The clever ones navigated through backyards and drainage ditches, shadowed easements and alleyway, avoiding open spaces and other humans.

Especially humans traveling in groups.

Stealth and caution were second nature to her now, and she was pissed at herself for loading up the backpack with more weight than she could easily carry at a full run.

Rookie mistake.

She flung the pack into the undergrowth of a once meticulous garden, making a mental note of the enormous red tip photinia which camouflaged the bundle in a leafy shroud. She hoped to be alive the next day to retrieve it.

She clambered up the fence, finding a toehold on a warped plank, and squirmed over the top. A silver fingernail of a moon did little to illuminate the backyard. Weak starlight reflected off the inky surface of a half-empty, kidney-shaped swimming pool. Her Nikes gripped the concrete deck as she skirted the murky water and made a beeline for the back of the yard that was, of course, separated from its neighbor by a privacy fence. It was a tall one too — a full ten feet. There were no bushes or trees to use for leverage either. She scanned the area for anything that might serve as a step ladder.

Of all the yards she could have chosen for her escape, she’d picked one with a damn ten-foot fence.

Her heart raced from the sprint, but not from panic. Gone was the young woman from a year ago, the full-time floundering college dropout and part-time surly Starbucks barista who spent too much time reading books and not enough time looking for a job that would allow her to move out of her parents’ house. She was too smart for her own good, everyone had told her. She should have taken that secretarial position in North Dallas, but she would have lost her sanity in that environment. The tedious filing, the ringing phones, the office politics — in other words, hell on earth for a girl with an IQ over a hundred and fifty.

Despite the recent horrors, she’d come into her own at last, after twenty-one years of meandering through life unfocused and unchallenged. The extra twenty pounds she’d been carrying courtesy of Freddy’s cheeseburgers and Taco Bell burritos were gone, thanks to her newfound self-discipline and endless hours of Krav Maga training with Sam. Not only had she transformed her body, she’d elevated and strengthened her mind as well. Before the power had gone out, she’d watched countless tutorials on T’ai Chi, Qigong, and Buddhist meditation. During that same window — when people were beginning to get sick, but before most of them had died — she’d combed book stores and libraries within a fifteen-mile radius. When the country went dark and people realized that life-saving information was no longer available with a few keystrokes, Dani had amassed reference material on subjects as diverse as hydroponics and combat first aid, ancient meat drying techniques and bomb making. Between martial arts lessons with Sam, she spent every spare minute absorbing the printed esoteric knowledge like a greedy lizard on a sun-drenched rock.

Knowledge was survival.

When the first of the men slithered over the fence into the backyard, she hadn’t found anything to use as a foothold. Another figure followed behind him. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and released it from her lungs, slow and measured, then took off at a full run toward them. While she ran, fingers slid down to a leather sheath secured to her belt. Two seconds before she reached the first of her would-be assailants, a Ka-Bar — the grandaddy of tactical knives — was in her hand.

Dani used momentum and every ounce of her one-hundred-twenty pound frame to slam the first man into the second, knocking both assailants off-balance and unprepared for her next move: a vicious stab to the groin of the first. He collapsed to his knees. She followed with a backhand movement, opening up the throat of his companion. A similar gesture to the man with the injured groin silenced his moaning.

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