A new concept of human individuality, originating in the citystates of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy, that was based on desire for excellence in scholarship, creative work, and education. The humanist movement spread to northern Europe, France, England, and elsewhere, and continued to flourish until the mid-seventeenth century. Among its more familiar literary figures are, in Italy, Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca (known as Petrarch), Giovanni Boccaccio, Baldassare Castiglione, and Niccolò Machiavelli; in England, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, and John Milton; in France, François Rabelais and Michel de Montaigne. Books setting forth an ideal of the well-formed individual, ruler, or commonwealth are a major aspect of the humanist movement, from Leonardo Bruni’s Dialogues (–) to Roger Ascham’s Schoolmaster (), Machiavelli’s The Prince (, publ. ), Castiglione’s The Courtier (ca. , publ. ), and More’s Utopia (). During the Renaissance the term humanista meant nothing more than a teacher of Latin. But the Latin classics proved to be the key to the era’s renewed understanding of the individual’s goals and ideas. Latin authors addressed issues like the dignity of man, the role of fate, and the strength of human will: the factors in life that make for human happiness, or flourishing. HUMANISM 145
(Greek was somewhat less familiar, at least at first, among the humanists; Petrarch and Dante could not read it.)
The Renaissance’s new studia humanitatis contrasts with the earlier medieval version of education, which consisted of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy). In the medieval scheme, there was little room for the study of history or moral philosophy. Now, though, education could be based on the ethical ideas suggested by the ancients in their literary and philosophical speculations.
The key terms of the Italian humanists are fame, fortune,...