Renaissance humanists and Greek sophists

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Renaissance humanists and Greek sophists

Postby Quintus Pomponius Atticus on Wed Jul 20, 2005 12:19 pm


Reading Jacob Burckhardt's famous "Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy", the similarities between the description of the humanists of the 15th and 16th centuries and the sophists in the Greek world rather struck me.

Here's for example a summary of the criticisms Italian humanists received in their age, and which sound almost like echoes of Plato's reproaches against Protagoras and his likes :

In the fifteenth century, Battista Mantovano, in discoursing of the seven monsters, includes the humanists, with any others, under the head 'Superbia.' He describes how, fancying themselves children of Apollo, they walk along with affected solemnity and with sullen, malicious looks, now gazing at their own shadow, now brooding over the popular
praise they hunted after, like cranes in search of food. But in the sixteenth century the indictment was presented in full. Besides Ariosto, their own historian Gyraldus gives evidence of this, whose treatise, written under Leo X, was probably revised about the year
1540. Warning examples from ancient and modern times the moral disorder and the wretched existence of the scholars meet us in astonishing abundance, and along with these, accusations of the most serious nature are brought formally against them. Among these are anger, vanity, obstinacy, self-adoration, dissolute private life, immorality of all descriptions, heresy, theism; further, the habit of speaking without conviction, a sinister influence on government, pedantry of speech, thanklessness towards teachers, and abject flattery of the great, who first give the scholar a taste of their favours and then leave him to starve.

Now, as a question for discussion perhaps, were the Italian humanists a kind of sophists, or - as I defend - were the Greek sophists a kind of humanists avant là lettre ? :wink:

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Postby Primus Aurelius Timavus on Wed Jul 20, 2005 8:50 pm

Salve Attice,

Gosh, I don't know enough (anything really) about the Italian humanists to answer your question. But you've reminded me that I've always felt that the sophists got a bad rap in history. For example, Gorgias' insistence that knowledge derives from only the senses deserved a better hearing than it received from Plato.

What do you think?

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