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The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists,…

The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin's Legacy (2004)

by Christopher S. Celenza

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A somewhat too delicate view of the history of Latin works from the Renaissance. ( )
  JayLivernois | May 29, 2016 |
For some reason, I have lately been the lucky recipient of numerous academic catalogues, especially from university presses that are having sales with as much as 75% off. One of the more recent ones, from Johns Hopkins, had this in it, and for a mere five dollars. It might have been better-suited for someone more thoroughly steeped in the formal study of the Italian Renaissance than I can admit to being, but what it had to say about the current state of study in this area was interesting. It certainly couches many of the problems of contemporary Italian Renaissance studies in interesting ways, and makes the reader privy to a lot of “insider” information. In this book, Celenza is mostly concerned with the formation and current state of Renaissance studies, and particularly the effects that certain sources (or lack thereof) have wrought upon that study.

“The Lost Italian Renaissance” is more a series of interconnected essays on a group of related themes than it is a book with a continuous argument. The first essay argues that twentieth-century Italian Renaissance studies seriously suffers from a lack of sources that were originally written in Latin for a number of reasons, but mostly because scholars from the previous (that is, the nineteenth) century thought that non-vernacular languages were of at most secondary importance (mostly because of the rise of nationalist conceptions of history, like that of Herder). Because of this, many of the most important sources in Latin have still not been sourced, recorded, and critically edited for the sake of posterity. The second chapter discusses two contemporary scholars in the field, Eugenio Garin and Paul Oskar Kristeller, their approaches to comparative historiography, and how they each contributed to a rediscovery of these important Latin manuscripts.

The rest of the book tries to construct an approach to the Italian Renaissance by looking at philosophical approaches to history including the synchronic and diachronic and looking at the way individual thinkers, including Claude Levi-Strauss and Richard Rorty, have thought about these problems. The last chapters try to build case studies in model intellectual history upon the ideas he has offered. He uses one essay to compare Lorenzo Valla to Marcilio Ficino, and the next to look at how traditional ideas of honor in the Italian Renaissance were tied to notions of masculinity and gender construction.

I would recommend this to anyone with a formal, academic interest in this area. I felt that I definitely would have learned more had I been more familiar with some of the problematic aspects of what Celenza was talking about, including the contributions of Eugenio Garin and Paul Oskar Kristeller. ( )
  kant1066 | Jun 19, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0801883849, Paperback)

The intellectual heritage of the Italian Renaissance rivals that of any period in human history. Yet even as the social, political, and economic history of Renaissance Italy inspires exciting and innovative scholarship, the study of its intellectual history has grown less appealing, and our understanding of its substance and significance remains largely defined by the work of nineteenth-century thinkers. In The Lost Italian Renaissance, historian and literary scholar Christopher Celenza argues that serious interest in the intellectual life of Renaissance Italy can be reinvigorated—and the nature of the Renaissance itself reconceived—by recovering a major part of its intellectual and cultural activity that has been largely ignored since the Renaissance was first "discovered": the vast body of works—literary, philosophical, poetic, and religious—written in Latin.

Produced between the mid-fourteenth and the early sixteenth centuries by major figures such as Leonardo Bruni, Lorenzo Valla, Marsilio Ficino, and Leon Battista Alberti, as well as minor but interesting thinkers like Lapo da Castiglionchio the Younger, this literature was initially overlooked by scholars of the Renaissance because they were not written in the vernacular Italian which alone was seen as was the supreme expression of a culture. This lack of attention, which continued well into the twentieth century, has led interpreters to misread key aspects of the Renaissance. Offering a flexible theoretical framework within which to understand these Latin texts, Celenza explains why these "lost" sources are distinctive and why they are worthy of study.

What will we really find among the Latin texts of the Renaissance? First, Celenza contends, there are a limited number of intellectuals who deserve a place in any canon of the period, and without whom our literary and philosophical heritage is diminished. Second, and more commonly, this literature establishes the intellectual traditions from which such well-known vernacular writers as Machiavelli and Castiglione emerge. And third, these Latin texts may contain strands of intellectual life that have been lost altogether. A groundbreaking work of intellectual history, The Lost Italian Renaissance uncovers a priceless intellectual legacy suggests provocative new avenues of research.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:29 -0400)

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