Hope Greenberg
History 300
Daily Question: July 16, 1993

1) According to Salutati, what were the pros and cons of the active vs. the contemplative life? How did the views of the Florentine humanists change on this issue during the early 1400s?

"If you provide for and serve your family....and your state (which embraces all), you cannot fail to raise your heart to heavenly things and please God." This statement by Salutati represents his disapproval of a life devoted solely to contemplation and study. His friend Peregrino, as the object of unrequited love, has threatened to cut himself off from a life of "cares and the pursuit of wealth," seeking instead a life of "true freedom" in solitary study and adoration of the Virgin, truly worthy of his love. Salutati uses the first half of his letter to question whether Peregrino is indeed sincere in his setting aside all thought of his earthly temptress.

The remainder of his letter is spent in proving to Peregrino that a civically active life not only has merit but is even perhaps superior to the contemplative life Peregrino has envisioned for himself. First he asks Peregrino to consider whether it is "actually God's will that you convert to another life." After all, God has "appointed [him] father of many" and has made it so that "in [his] commonwealth [he is] able to do more than generally anyone else." In other words, God has given Peregrino responsibility and influence. He should not abandon them lightly. (It goes without saying that Peregrino will want to do pleases God most.)

Next he questions whether the contemplative life is truly free of care, saying that "there will be worry in the hermitage" and that "you can have no peace in the flesh." He later re asserts this idea by saying that since man cannot be entirely one thing or the other he should not attempt to be. After citing various ancient sources to support his argument, and suggesting that posterity will better remember the active man, he concludes his arguments by reminding Peregrino that in the final judgement what is measured is one's works.

In defending the active life, Salutati defended not only his own chosen way but the way of many Florentines. A number of prominent humanists were also prominent leaders. Even Nicolò Nicoli, though he did not pursue a civic career, certainly did not shut himself away or retire, Petrarch-like, to some secluded valley. The combination of civic activity and humanistic prominence is not surprising. In a city that prided itself on its Republican heritage, whose very secular educational systems stressed business and civic duty, and where rhetoric and eloquent correspondence to better serve the state were emphasized, one would expect to see such a combination flourish.

2) According to Battista Guarino, what are the major purposes of education, and what course of studies is best suited for achieving them? What of his ideas may explain why women were generally excluded from humanist education in the Renaissance?

Guarino ends his treatise on education with the assumption that students will go on to become teachers. Yet the course of study that he outlines points to a different career. Like Petrarch, he views education as a series of steps or building blocks, one built upon another. He lays great stress upon recitation as a means to eloquent speaking and clear writing‹both hand and content. As we would expect of someone influenced by Chrysolarus, he considers the study of Greek as important as the study of Latin, not only to render Latin and the Romans more intelligible, but because the Romans themselves recommended it. He continues by proclaiming the importance of the study of history in order to "learn to understand the manners, laws and institutions of different types of nations...the sources of their successes and failure, their strength and weaknesses."

On several occasions Guarino provides clues to this non-pedagogical future for his students. He advocates small classes to "stimulate rivalry," a trait surely needed in business. Much of his concern is directed to eloquence, intelligent and effortless speech, and the acquisition of a good vocabulary, accomplishments needed by those who will become public orators and leaders. In addition to the insight it will bring into other countries, he praises the study of history as that with "practical value in the ordering of affairs," again suggesting a public leadership career. This emphasis echoes Bracciolini's interest in the historical narrative as a way of bringing renown to one's city. He also sees his course of study as providing good organizational skills, another quality useful to an administrator.

Interestingly enough, because it portrays the image of people as individuals, he states that "there can be no proficiency in studies unless there be first the desire to excel." This lack of "desire to excel" is exactly what Cereta decries when she says "...nor can those women ascend to serious knowledge who, soiled by the filth of pleasure, languidly rot in sloth." Though "the will most choose to exercise the gift of reason" she observes that "where we [women] should be forceful we are [too often] devious, where we should be confident we are insecure." With this image of her gender, with the derogation that she ascribes to such as Sempronius, and, living as she does in a culture where the accepted belief is that women do not belong in the public eye or in leadership roles, it is not surprising that few women pursued scholarship. With such obstacles as these to overcome we can perhaps forgive Cereta her obvious bitterness.


From Cereta, p. 294: "Nature has generously lavished its gifts upon all people..." Is this a result of the translation or do I see a personification of Nature here? (If it had said "Nature....her gifts"that would have been even more significant.) At what point does that shift occur?

Conspicuously absent in Guarino, particularly as one is forced to look at his statements through the veil of 19th-20th century practice, is that course of study so near to the heart of Victorian Britains: sport. One would suppose that the later Renaissance infatuation with the human form would at some point lead to the inclusion of physical development into the curriculum. When does that happen?

Now, would you care to comment on the validity of these or how they may be related:
1) We find the medieval opinion of The Romans as a people of one thought, one mind, one time to be rather odd, even laughable.
2) When we read selections of authors from the past we do not necessarily preface that reading with the thought that such-and-such a work may have been written in the ardor of youth or in the reflection of later years. Instead we see a cohesive body of work and assume that the personality that created it is constant.
3) Our conception of a book is of a finite, complete, "authenticatable" object. We assume that the book we hold in our hands contains the version that the author wrote, their final word, thus the "right" version. I would suggest this is a relatively modern attitude developed not necessarily as a result of moveable type but more of the later refinement of that process and of mass printing.

(By the way, as concerns the last statement, many people who work with electronic texts are rapidly coming to the conclusion that the future model may more closely parallel the medieval model of a text constantly changing and being annotated.)

This file is part of Hope Greenberg's Graduate Portfolio for the course History 300. Created 15 October 1996.