Renaissance Essay, Research Paper
The Renaissance was a period prompted by the rebirth in classical culture. As classical culture resurfaced, it gradually awakened and inspired the human soul, leading to tremendous development in individuality. Humans took a gigantic stride away from barbarianism and distinguished themselves by focusing on intellectual progress. The capabilities of human nature unfolded as man studied all things including himself and others. The Renaissance period marks the growth of individual thought and the emphasis on moral character. Authors such as Baldesar Castiglione and Pico Della Mirandela provide literature, emphasizing self-hood as a tool to fashion the ideal self, which became a major theme of the Renaissance culture. It is possible that Dante’s Inferno encouraged Pico and Castiglione to communicate the value of self- improvement in their writings.
Baldesar Castiglione outlines the ideal man in The Book of the Courtier. The text suggests that the cultured person is required to acquire grace and competence through situations, knowledge, love, and skills. These requirements are presented to the reader through the debates of several parties. One declares, “What the courtier especially requires in order to speak and write well, therefore, is knowledge, because the man who lacks knowledge and has nothing in his mind worth hearing has nothing worth writing and speaking.” (The Courtier, 76) This supports the emphasis that is placed on intellectual progress alone. Aside from knowledge, Castiglione also stresses the importance of character as he recommends one to be “…modest and reserved, observing always, and especially in public, the reverence and respect which should mark the attitude of a servant toward his master.” (The Courtier,126)
These ideals of self-fashioning could easily have been inspired by Pico Della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of a Man. Pico asserts that one has the choice and potential to excel as the Supreme Maker decreed:
The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted with lawswhich We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. (Oration on the Dignity of Man)
According to Pico, the Supreme Maker also addressed man to say “…you may, as the free and proud shaper of you own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer.”(Oration on the Dignity of Man) Pico appeals to the people of the Renaissance as he argues that humans have no limitations, motivating one to master all the elements leading to an ideal self.
Castiglione concentrates on military skill, speech and writing, music, painting, and love while describing the ideal character. The idea is for one to have knowledge in all subjects, master all skills, and convey modesty and grace. Pico says “…we shall find perfection and peace in the felicity of theological knowledge.” (Oration on the Dignity of Man) Both Authors support education and believe that humans have the potential to improve the self by striving for perfection in all things. Leon Battista, a great man of the Renaissance said, “Men can do all things if they will.”
It is possible that Dante’s Divine Comedy was a source of these ideals. Dante’s great poem illustrates hell to encourage others to lead a better life than the ones described in The Inferno. Dante attempted to scare individuals by depicting gruesome consequences of sin, in order that these individuals will love and worship God more, while avoiding sins. In the Oration on the Dignity of Man, it is said that a philosopher by the name of Empedocles believes “…that there is in our souls a dual nature; the one bears us upwards toward the heavenly regions; by the other we are dragged downward toward regions infernal.” (Oration on the Dignity of Man) This supports the idea that Dante could have inspired the idea of improving the self in order to avoid the downward pull. This proposal coincides with Pico’s belief that we have the potential or choice to become either bad or good. Pico’s text relays the Supreme Maker as saying “It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.” (Oration On the Dignity of Man)
Dante’s great poem illustrates hell as an organized system based upon sin. One sin addressed in The Inferno is that of excessive pride. Dante inspires modesty among his readers as they wish to avoid due punishments in their afterlife. Likewise, Castiglione motivates readers to evade being “…a stupid flatterer or boaster,” (The Courtier, 126) as bragging yields the consequence of an unachieved ideal self. In regards to affectation, which is also related to pride or the appearance of pride, Castiglione says:
I have discovered a universal rule which seems to apply more than any other in all human actions or words: namely, to steer away from affectation at all costs, as if it were a rough and dangerous reef, and (to use a novel word for it) to practise in all things a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless. (The Courtier, 67)
This supports the idea that Dante’s work could have been a source or inspiration for these authors for it is possible that they adapted old ideals to complement the humanism point of view.
The Book of the Courtier, by Baldesar Castiglione, confirms the major preoccupation of the Renaissance culture with fashioning an ideal self. Castiglione communicates the characteristics one should have in order to achieve the ultimate self. Pico Della Mirandella’s Oration on the Dignity of Man is another example of a text focusing on self-hood and self-improvement. It is possible that Dante’s Divine Comedy could have influenced the gradual growth of these ideals, as he motivated individuals to live an ideal life.