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Famous Italian Humanists AD Their Life Principles

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Italian Humanists in Pursuit of Happiness

Bikram Choudhury said, “Maintaining spirituality and humanism are the keys to success. It’s a balance.” In Europe, the Renaissance was a period of change in both the social and political aspects of life. The people during the Renaissance were more creative in the way that they perceived and thought about the world around them; they sought to create meaning for different events and ideas. This creative feature can be labeled as humanism.

Scholars did not coin the term humanism until the 19th century. Humanism comes from the late Medieval Latin phrase studia humanitatis which concerns studies including classic literature, history, ancient Greek, arithmetic, and rhetoric. In regards to a more specific focus, this term came to Italy in the 13th century. Italian humanists would focus on the style of a certain piece of literature and its relation to politics, theology, and the arts. Italian humanists such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini, and Poggio Bracciolini observed events that occurred around them and questioned that incident. By their use of tone and concern for humankind’s progress in the natural world, these Italians portray what it means to be a humanist.

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In his essay, The Discourses, Machiavelli convinces his readers to change their behavior when it comes to electing a proper government by using two Greek applications, pathos and logos. Machiavelli says,

“Nor in very truth can the heavens afford men a better opportunity of acquiring renown; nor can men desire anything better than this. And if in order to reform a city one were obliged to give up the principate, someone who did not reform it in order not to fall from that rank would have some excuse. There is no excuse if one can both keep the principate and reform the city” (Elmer, 145).

Machiavelli is promotes new human behavior in order to achieve a republic. He says that it is necessary for one man to uphold absolute power in order to strengthen and protect the state. He also mentions that not any one man can do the job correctly but that it must be a good man in comparison to Nerva and Marcus. He says,

“ He will see the senate’s authority respected, the magistrates honoured, rich citizens enjoying their wealth, nobility and virtue held in the highest esteem…He will notice, on the other hand, the absence of any rancor…corruption or ambition, and that in this golden age everyone is free to hold and to defend his own opinion. He will behold, in short, the world triumphant, its prince glorious and respected by all, the people fond of him and secure under his rule (Elmer, 145).

Machiavelli is persuasive in his argument to achieve a republic. He appeals to the audience’s pathos in a promise that the past shall not be repeated. Instead of tyranny and injustice, he promotes a republic that will be held by an honorable man who will have the best interests of his people in mind. In a lecture taught by McShea, she says that the goal of humanists is to be virtuous and to speak eloquently (The Arts in Renaissance Florence and Rome). Humanists must be persuasive in order to promote change to the society in an appealing manner. Machiavelli’s tone is both honorable and trustworthy. It is evident that he has the best interests of the people in mind and therefore is considered to be a humanist because of his behavior to promote a change to the social structure.

Not only does Machiavelli promote a republic as a change to the social structure but he also lists reasons why the former governments failed. He says that there are at least six types of government but all six could easily become corrupt. He says,

“…each of them is so like the one associated with it that it easily passes from one from to the other. For Principality easily becomes Tyranny. From Aristocracy the transition to Oligarchy is an easy one. Democracy is without difficulty converted into Anarchy. So that if anyone who is organizing a commonwealth sets up one of the three first forms of government, he sets up what will last but for a while, since there are no means whereby to prevent it passing into its contrary…” (Elmer 140).

Machiavelli appeals to logos to persuade his readers why there is a need for a change to the governing system. He mentions that all former governing systems have failed and that it will be a never-ending cycle of doom for the citizens unless they agree to form a republic. This is also an efficient persuasive method. Since the former systems failed, Machiavelli persuades his audience that they have no choice to agree on a republic and try something different. He says, “…sick of their government, [they] were ready to help anyone who had any sort of plan for attacking their rulers; and so there soon arose someone who with the aid of the masses liquidated them” (Elmer, 141). Machiavelli warns that unless a new plan of action occurs, the people will see a repeat of history that they have witnessed too many times before.

In his essay, Maxims and Reflections, Guicciardini reflects on the type government that will lead people to prosperity and happiness. One way to keep the people happy, he says, is to acknowledge the people’s worth. Guicciardini says,

“Generally, the people of Florence love popular government. It is not a machine guided by one or by a few toward a definite end, but rather changes its direction every day because of the number and the ignorance of those who run it. And therefore, a popular government must keep the favor of the people if it wishes to maintain itself” (Elmer, 165).

Guicciardini portrays a reflective tone that show that he has the best interest of the people of Florence in mind. He does not favor a particular government but instead shows people what they should look for in a ruling system and critiques the system to show them what they need to do in order to keep their people happy. People looked up to humanists like Guicciardini because they were seen as the intellects during that time. Guicciardini’s advice is important because people relied on his advice in order to be more successful. He says, “Nothing is more important than the memory of benefits received. Therefore, rely more on those whose circumstances do not permit them to fail you than on those whom you have favored (Elmer, 166). Here, Guicciardini is being unbiased and keeping all of his audience in mind. Not only was he a friend of the Medici family but he also had supporters who did not like the Medici’s. He wants his audience to keep an open mind when it comes to politics and to not always be in favor of the people they are friends with but rather choose the party that is going to do all of the citizens of Florence justice. Guicciardini is regarded to be an Italian Humanist because of his unbiased opinions and his notion that he believes all people deserve good fortune.

In his essay On the Inconstancy of Fortune, Poggio laments the destruction of Rome by using an accusatory tone to criticize the former citizens of Rome. Poggio says,

“From Rome flowed…the sanctity of customs and of life, the ordinance of laws, examples of all the virtues and the art of right living. Once she was a mistress of affairs, now through the unfairness of fortune…not only is she despoiled of her authority and majesty, but delivered up to the meanest servitude, slightly and degraded…” (Elmer, 7).

Poggio portrays humanistic characteristics in this verse because not only does he acknowledge the power and strength that Rome once held but he also laments that the city will never be the same again. He says that Rome is “dispoled of her authority and majesty…in the meanest servitude.” Poggio does not try to hide his disappointment in the way that Rome was destroyed. Poggio criticizes the former inhabitants of Rome. He says,

“…if any of those former citizens of the ancient city should be restored to life he would firmly assert that he was looking upon other men and inhabiting another city…it appearance and even the ground itself were so derelict that he would recognize almost nothing. Yet powers are replaced, sovereignties transferred…” (Elmer, 7)

Poggio is considered to be a humanist because of the way he critiques the destruction of Rome and blames the former inhabitants. He laments that the city is destroyed beyond repair that even its former inhabitants would not recognize any part of it. It is by the way he longs for the “authority and majesty” of Rome that readers are aware of the love that he had for the city. Poggio portrays characteristics of a humanist writer because he is able to look at a former great city and analyze its source of destruction while pondering about its former beauty and establishment of power.

Poggio also establishes his humanist credibility by the title of his essay, On the Inconstancy of Fortune. Although the term “fortune” can be used to associate wealth or even an aspect of the Supreme Being, it is not the case in this essay since it is on the “inconstancy of fortune.” He says, “ Though you pursue all the volumes of history, study all the written records, though you scrutinize all the annals of past deeds, fortune has never preferred a greater example of its own mutability than the city of Rome.” In this verse, Poggio is not blaming the Supreme Being for the destruction of Rome but its former inhabitants. As it was mentioned before, Poggio says that if the former citizens of Rome could see their city again, they would be unable to recognize it. Poggio laments that humankind could destroy a beautiful and powerful city such as Rome, a city that was divinely inspired and was able to succeed in so many ways. It is because of their faithlessness to the Supreme Being that Rome was destroyed. Poggio was also very well read. While in a monastery of Monte Cassino, he mentions that Julius Frontinus “writes that he was made keeper of the water supply under the divine Nerva, ranked them on a par with the pyramids of Egypt” (Elmer, 11). It is not a surprise that Rome was one of the divinely favored cities but because of its maltreatment, the destruction of Rome was inevitable. Poggio says, “The city used to be crowded with theatres and amphitheaters…the one commonly called the Colosseum. Built in Tiburtine stone, it is almost in the middle of the city and was commission of the divine Vespasian. Not it has been in large measure destroyed thanks to the folly of the people of Rome” (Elmer, 11). The maltreatment of Rome was seen as disobedience to the Supreme Being and therefore was destroyed because its inhabitants could not keep the city at peace. Poggio’s unique perspective and opinion on the destruction of Rome enables him to be labeled as an Italian Humanist.

In order to be a humanist, one must genuinely care about people and the state of wellbeing that they are living in. If they see disarray in society, it is their duty to fix the situation by persuading the people to change they way think about government or their purpose in society. Through their essay, Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and Poggio all inspired people in society to change their behavior towards certain aspects of life. It is no doubt that humanists were divinely inspired to keep their cities at peace. In a dim world, humanists were the light that kept the people moving forward.

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