Ideals of Humanism

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The late Middle Ages were marked by hunger, death, and warfare. Waves of famine across Europe caused mass destruction and led to starvation and a decline of European population. The plague known as the “Black Death” raged across the continent, leaving millions of Europeans dead in its wake. Population decreased rapidly and death became a common aspect of the European world. Due to these dark and dismal times, humans became pessimistic about life and the human condition. There were few advancements and innovations in education, technology, and the arts. People became reliant on communities for support as food was scarce, disease was rampant, and death was common. This caused a devaluation of the individual and placed a far higher importance on community; however, the importance of the individual emerged as the dark ages ended and a new light shined across England: the Renaissance. Full of innovative thinkers, artists, and writers, the Renaissance stressed the importance of individual expression. The view of the human condition became one of optimism and accentuated human goodness; this new outlook on humans and the world became known as humanism. Humanists emphasized the potential and perfectibility of humans, and revived classical writings while paying homage to figures of antiquity; these ideals characterize humanism and are conveyed through the letters of Petrarch, orations of Pico Della Mirandola, and the works of Shakespeare. Humanism evolved due to a desire for educational reform. Scholasticism, a form of learning that clung to traditional doctrines and teachings, was not satisfying the desires of the literate population of Europe. A push for educational reform began in Florence around the beginning of the fourteent... ... middle of paper ... ...arch praises and glorifies Cicero in his letters (Petrarch, Familiar Letters). He continues on to say that Cicero “is the light that illumines the path before us” (Petrarch, Familiar Letters). Petrarch depicts Cicero as his inspiration and as a leader for all humanists. By doing so, Petrarch pays homage to the ancient poet and gives life to him, though he is long deceased. Not only does Petrarch revive Cicero and other ancient figures through his letters, but he also revives classical rhetoric and argumentative structures. In his writings, Petrarch implements the epistolary form and “present[s] his argument in the Ciceronian manner,” which debates topics from opposing viewpoints (Schildgen 121). As he utilizes ancient rhetoric and writes to classical figures who used that rhetoric, Petrarch pays homage to figures of antiquity which is a main ideal of humanism.
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