Hope Greenberg
History 300
Daily Question: July 20, 1993

Are the evident differences in style and content between the selections by Ficino and Pico and those of Guarino and Salutati indicative of changes in the nature of Renaissance humanism, or are these differences due merely to the differences between the authors and their subjects? Or, to put it another way, can we draw any meaningful conclusions from the differences represented by this small sampling?

Salutati and Guarino share an evident concern with civic responsibility, the former in his recommendation to his friend to refrain from devoting himself to the "contemplative life", the latter in outlining an educational plan well suited to training future leaders. The works by Ficino and Pico are quite different. They express a fascination with the internal; the spiritual, and, to a certain degree, even physical. Pico expresses an opinion quite different from that of Salutati when he says that if "we pass our time in leisure of contemplation, considering the Creator in the creature and the creature in the Creator, we shall be all ablaze with Cherubic light."

The differences in the perception of both love and the human state are also quite apparent. Where Salutati speaks of love in terms of devotion and passion, Ficino speaks of the essence of love, love as an ideal. The images he uses are images of mind and body. In On the Painting of Love Ficino uses physical attributes and expresses the contemporary idea of the body as a balance of temperaments and humours. Pico, also, displays this fascination when he says that "man is rightly called and judges a great miracle and a wonderful creature indeed."

Each of the selections under consideration show evidence of the writer's literary training. They all display knowledge of the writings of classical authors, and, of course, biblical or sacred writings. However, where Salutati and Guarini concentrate primarily on the well-known Roman and early church writings, as well as, in Guarino's case, an expression of the importance of the Greek writers, Pico and Ficino use a much broader range of sources. The Roman and Greek sources they use are those of mythology, not necessarily the more mundane, political writings. They also include Hebrew and Arabic images.

The difference in tone and style between the writers is also evident, particularly between the earlier Salutati and the later writers. Where Salutati is straightforward and literal, logical and clear cut, Ficino and Pico write in a more poetic vein. They use imagery to add texture or a new dimension to their writing. They weave their premises in complex and ornate patterns, and altogether show a greater facility at manipulating the language.

Guarino's work does not fall so easily into place. A contemporary of Ficino, one would expect a similarity of style. The difference might be attributed to the very different subject of the two works, the one a "handbook" on education, the other a metaphysical musing. Or it may reflect what Jensen sees as the differing pace of the development of humanism in different circles. Ficino, with his emphasis on Plato and Pico, as a member of the "Platonic Academy," followed a different, more introspective, metaphysical path.

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