Why Renaissance Writers Considered History Important
Renaissance refers to a cultural movement that took place between 13th and 14th century, and characterized by the revival of the Greco- roman antiquity. The period witnessed intellectual transformation in literature, science, politics, and education. The movement began in peninsula- modern day Italy- in the 13th century and extended to the other parts of East and West. The renaissance writers are usually referred to as humanists of their contribution because of the way they used classical literature to foster better understanding of the political and civic life of the citizens during their time. These writers insisted on human as rational beings destined for intellectual development. The renaissance writers focused on the history, poetry, ethics, speaking and grammar. However, these writers had a great passion for history and considered it as an important component in their work. Consequently, each writer sought to clarify on the importance of history in his work. These writers considered history as the only component that people can use to enhance their understanding on the diverse aspects of the intellectual development. This paper analyzes the reasons why the renaissance writers thought that the study of history was important.1
First, the renaissance writers thought that the history was a source of unity due to useful lessons on behaviors that persons should emulate, and others that people ought to avoid. Therefore, the understanding of the various behaviors was key to ensuring moral growth of the people. Therefore, writers presupposed that at history inspires people to perform virtuous actions. In writing the history of the Florence people, George says “… there are powerful deeds that can be associated with the people of Florence (George, 1989, 36).” For example, he remembers that Florence had powerful leaders that enabled them to remain the most powerful nation against its 2immediate neighbors. He also recalls the wars that Florence participated and how they were able to defeat their neighbors. He notes that the conquest of Pisa has great value to humanity in that both the victors and the losers displayed equal tenacity and other deeds that are worth remembrance. He believes these deeds would serve both public and private ends. Therefore, writing of the history of Florence would enable people to progress socially and also politically.
Secondly, the writers believed that the history provided relevant analysis for the future both in leadership and also in the civic life. Machiavelli criticized Leonardo d’ Arezzo and Messer Poggio because of the poor way in which they described various events in history. He notes that these writers only concentrated on the history of the foreign countries and documented very little regarding their own country, Florence. He, therefore, notes that the most useful writing is that one that not only describes internal strife and hatred with the city, but one that provides critical cases of this disharmony. This history, therefore, serves as a guide to the people living in the today’s society to avoid these actions, and remain united. He analyzes the internal strives that existed between the nobles and the middle class and those between the middle class and the masses. He says “internal feuds resulted in many deaths, exiles, and destruction of families (Machiavelli, 1989, 1032). Therefore, he could note that the problems in the society can originate from the class struggle. This history, therefore, should serve to show people that they should always remain united in order to build a strong nation.
According to these writers, history provided a platform can provide information on the type of leadership that is desired in the society. He decided to write his book from the historical perspective because he believed that, by analyzing the history of the great men, he would be able to come up with concrete information on the founding of the new state. Machiavelli says, “The 3main cause of civil strife in was the republican government (Machiavelli, 1989, 1033).”
Additionally, they believed that the history enriched the mind of people and provided a strong foundation for critical thinking. Donald, K. Kelly gives an example of how he has benefited from the writing of the other writers. Therefore, he attributes his prowess to writing of the other writers who came before him and acted as the main source of his knowledge. Similarly, history would enable persons to engage the mind and find out whether the actions of these great men contain anything that is noble or anything that is firm and unbending against fortune. It also creates a desire in men to emulate the actions of these great men. Therefore, people would be able to experience the various situations in life and, therefore, learn from those actions. In addition, the perception of writers towards education was quite different from the medieval scholars. These persons did not only insist on technological education, but also emphasized on moral education. The chief objective in their work was to educate the public through the classical literature. The readers could draw useful lessons from these writings. However, the main theme was to avoid evil.
Further, renaissance writers believed that there are various moral examples that can be drawn from learning history. Therefore, these writers sought to engage in a new way of 4historical criticism that was different from the medieval scholars. These historians were inspired by the writings of Patriarch who claimed “the duty of man to understand his own history, its development and the achievements of the kings and people (Kelly, 1989, 246)”. He added that the aim of history was to draw moral examples and enlarge the political foresight. He asserts that the authors such as Cicero and Bruni sought to restore classical literature and civic liberty that had been lost in the medieval period. Consequently, the main duty of history was to analyze the events and practices of leaders with an aim of drawing useful moral examples.
On the same note, renaissance writers help people to understand the past and then use that knowledge to predict the future. The authors found a close connection between the classical literature and medieval literature. Their main responsibility, therefore, was to reconcile the two so that they can show how Florence rose to greatness and then use the same knowledge to guide on how the same knowledge can be used in the future. The greatness of Florence was related to republican liberty, humanist culture and military success. Therefore, history was a tool that scholars used to understand political ideals and civic humanism. The renaissance writers also believed that history was an important tool in promoting patriotism among the citizens of a particular country. Leonardo Bruni became extremely patriotic and used classical writing to approach the world of politics. In his literature, he described in 5detail the history of the city of Florence and explicitly claim that is only through the study of is book in the book “The history of Florence”. He begins his treatise by attacking the previous writers for concentrating too much about the foreign nations while writing very little about, their home city. He, therefore, devoted his whole book to write about the history of the City. He, therefore, devoted his book to write about the origin of the city and the things that happened inside the city. He added that if he had to write anything outside the city would to enhance the understanding of the issues happening in the city (Machiavelli, 1989, 1214).
History was also important to the understanding of Christian doctrines. Most of the renaissance writers embraced the catholic doctrines though they knew that there was growing tension between progressive humanist and the catholic doctrine. However, some writers dared to oppose the catholic doctrines. One of them was Giovanni Pico, who believed that man could communicate directly with God. He also believed that the priestly had falsely claimed this singular power. However, the church declared Pico heretic and was only saved by Leorenzo. The assertions of Pico became the foundation of the reformation movement later in the century. Additionally, Pico tried to reconcile the teachings of Christianity, Judaism and Islam (Pico, 1989, 376).
In conclusion, the renaissance writers believed that the study of history had a great impact on the society. Its importance relates to its value in providing useful lesson on the desired behavior patterns. Further, it is a tool for understanding the political landscape of the country and providing guidance on the right kind of leadership in the society. Most importantly, history offers moral examples and acting as a tool for promoting patriotism in the country. Therefore, renaissance writers believed that history cannot be alienated from the intellectual development of the renaissance period.
Machiavelli, Niccolò “The History of Florence” in the The Chief Works, And Others. ed. Allan Gilbert. (1989). Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.1026- 1215
George Trebizond “Lorenzo Villa” in The Chief Works and Others. ed. Allan Gilbert.(1989). Duke University Press. 34- 41
Pico Giovanni “Fam VI” in The Chief Work and Others. ed. Allan H. Gilbert. (1989) Durham, NC.: Duke University press 314- 377.
Kelly Donald “Humanism and History” in The Chief Works and Others” Allan Gilbert.(1989) Durhan, NC.:Duke University Press.236- 269