Mike Pannone
HST 228
Prof. Wing
Book Critique


Nauert, Charles G. Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.


Charles G. Nauert professor of history at the University of Missouri in Columbia,recognition for his work on Erasmus and the cultural and intellectual history of Renaissance-Reformation Europe, authoring three books, numerous articles and extensive notes for two volumes of the collected works of Erasmus.
He begins his book, Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe, by explaining the origin of the humanist culture in Italy. He also references Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt's book, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, which Nauert describes as a "Masterpiece of cultural history."(p.3). He describes it in this manner because of the naming and explanation of the terms ‘Renaissance and ‘humanism'. His thesis presents an answer to the many debates over Renaissance history regarding the true understanding of the terms ‘Renaissance' and ‘humanism,' along with the explanation of how the Christian church was attempting to preserve ancient civilization and suppress any intellectual or religious revivals. He explains this through the attack on Burckhardt's meaning of ‘Renaissance.' by American medievalist, Charles Homer Haskins and his work The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. He disagreed with Burckhardt's values, which consisted of new modern philosophy of life, this new philosophy glorified the individual and the attractions of earthly life.(p.2).Nauert also poses the difficulties of explaining how this new humanist culture of Italy is linked to a unique set of social, political, and economic conditions.(p.4). He also provides the background of humanism, which describes as, Paduan ‘pre-humanism.' This is derived from the university town of Padua, which held the earliest known cluster of enthusiasts for the language and literature of ancient Rome and the central figure judge, Lovato dei Lovati, along with his peers.(p.5).
The first chapter explains the beginnings of humanist culture in Italy. Nauert provides an explanation about how humanism came to be, through the endless interest in the studia humanitatis from the works of Petrarch and forward. He also mentions the issue between medieval Aristotelianism and medieval scholasticism and how only the Aristotelian model was taught in schools until the rise of new science in the seventeenth century.(p.9). Nauert is trying to explain how humanism was not any kind of philosophy at all.(p.9). He explains how ‘civic humanism' in Florence, through the republican system, assisted humanistic education.(p.14). Nauert states that Humanistic education claimed to provide rhetorical skills that would help such young men participate effectively in political life.(p.15). He also references Cicero and his ethical and orated works that eventually became standard humanist textbooks.(p.16). He also explains the change of intellectual habits, how Renaissance classicism also differed from medieval classicism, and how that change exposed the weakness of the scholastic principle and humanists thought the traditional medieval approach to classical texts to be invalid.(p.18). Nauert goes further into detail explaining how scholastic thinkers applied these excerpted opinions to their own questions, not the original authors. This meant that they wrote interpretations or commentaries reshaping the ancient material so that it served their own purpose. This caused humanists to reject all commentaries that had accumulated about the words of an ancient author like Cicero or Aristotle, and demanded a return to the full original text.(p.18). Nauert feels that humanists achieved in teaching their model designed to teach eloquence and a good moral character through the study of the classics, such as Petrarch and Cicero.
In the second chapter Nauert explains the relationship between humanism and other social, political, and economic forces at the time. He explains why there is limited preoccupation of humanists with textual criticism along with how Petrarchan influence assisted the explanation of a limited return to study of classical authors in fourteenth-century Italian schools, such as Horace, Ovid, and Lucan.(p.47). He describes emergence of universities imposed new demands on grammar schools and how study of Latin grammar was divided into two clear levels: a very elementary introduction of young boys to Latin grammar, employing only Latin readings but in practice with the intention being to confer vernacular literacy; and a more advanced secondary or grammar-school level that prepared a limited number of boys for university study and other careers that required effective