Humanism began as a scholarly and artistic movement in Italy in the late fourteenth century and eventually spread across Europe. The word ‘humanism’ was mainly employed to refer to attitudes of life that were determined by the admiration of human beings and human culture as opposed to admiring God and theology.
Humanism was also concerned with the new notion of man in the Renaissance. It assisted man to be enlightened and to make him recognize his abilities and powers and to lessen the difference between capability and achievement. It aspired to glorify and elevate man. Humanism developed into a kind of philosophy that emphasized the fulfillment of worldly life instead of planning for the spiritual and the afterlife.
It is important to take into account that the humanist thinkers did not themselves employ the term humanism; they also did not comply with all the matters. Because of these difficulties of definition, some historians choose to employ the phrase “studia humanitatis” formulated by Cicero and revived by Salutati. “Studia humanitatis” denotes learning which rather than focusing on theological subjects, emphasizes instead what is a righteous individual and his abilities.
Characteristics of Humanism:
Humanists maintained that ancient and classical knowledge was very important for a civilized person. They stressed the importance of learning. Humanists believed that man is a special creation of God because man can improve himself by learning. Furthermore, the art and the literature of the Renaissance were adopted massively from ancient Greek and Roman. Oxford and Cambridge universities also flourished a lot during the time of the renaissance because humanists gave great importance to education and learning.
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The Renaissance humanist’s idea of a man was more constructive and practical than that of the Middle Ages’ severe Christianity. According to Medieval Christianity, a man was a depressed sinner waiting for salvation. On the other hand, for humanists, a man was a source of indefinite prospects. A man has the ability to provide meaning to his own life.
Origin of Humanism:
The Humanist Movement started with three Italian authors: Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Petrarch. Although Dante’s book “The Divine Comedy” was about salvation, there was a narrow shift from absolutely religious themes to humanist subjects. Petrarch, who was also a religious person, had criticized the Catholic Church through his works, especially its corruption and extreme attachment with wealth. Petrarch had a great interest in old manuscripts and discovered many historical works of Cicero from monastic libraries. His contribution to old manuscripts stirs up the learning of secular subjects with humanity at its core. Therefore, Petrarch is frequently considered the forerunner of humanism. Next came Giovanni Boccaccio, who had also discovered lost manuscripts pertinent to classical learning. The subject matter of his work “Decameron” is day-to-day human experiences. Boccaccio’s works like “Ancestry of the Pagan” Gods had greatly influenced later humanist scholars.
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As we have learned, the humanist movement began in Italy but with the help of the printing press humanist beliefs spread across Europe during the Renaissance. Two famous renaissance humanists are Desiderius Erasmus, and Thomas More.
Desiderius Erasmus: Desiderius Erasmus was a famous Dutch humanist. Erasmus’s famous works were “The Praise of Folly”, “Colloquy”, “On Free Will”, etc. In “The Praise of Folly”, Erasmus created a character called Folly. Through this character, Erasmus celebrated New Learning which had dismissed immorality, ignorance, and superstition. He firmly supported reason and the inner righteousness of man. This led Erasmus to defy rigid theology and to propose a logical religion with simple devotion connected with the example of Christ. In his work “Colloquia”, Erasmus censured the oppression of the Catholic Church.
Read More: Aristotle’s idea of imitation and catharsis
Sir Thomas More: Sir Thomas More was a famous humanist from England and his well-known work is “Utopia” which was published in 1516. In this work, More creates Utopia as one such fictional island, set on the recently explored seas and occupied by a people, with a fresh social order and a humanitarian viewpoint. The people of this Utopia live in harmony and brotherhood. War is not allowed and equality and fraternity are the fundamental goals of their social life. There is no discrimination there, all religions are open-minded and liberalism is the essence of the way of living. So “Utopia” was a criticism of the social flaws of his time: religious dogmatism, the striking disparity between rich and poor, the ideas of defeat, colonialism, and war.
In the end, we can say that humanism remolded learning and education and revived the world of ideas and arts with its finding, and transformation of ancient masterpieces.
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