www.whyville.net Apr 13, 2000 Weekly Issue

The Renaissance

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     Have you noticed that the streets of Myville are all named after famous scientists and artists from the Renaissance? In case these folks aren't so famous to you, you might want to follow along this series of articles, and get to know the person on whose street you're living.

by Lois Lee
Times Staff

The Renaissance

Until now, I have focused my attention on describing the lives of artists and scientists under the broad definition of the Renaissance. Have you noticed that many of them have been from Italy? There is an actual reason for this observation. Italy was the birth place of the Renaissance. However, similar movements swept all across Western Europe.

So why did it all start in Italy? In the feudal society of the Middle Ages, the nobles who lived in the country provided the king with protection in exchange for land. Peasants worked the land for the nobles, for which they received protection and their own small parcels of land. This was a rough life for the peasants, but, to be honest life was not that great for the nobility either.

In the late Middle Ages, when the threat of invasion from "barbarians" lessened, people left the country for towns and cities looking to try to make a different life for themselves. As city populations swelled, a new demand for goods and services was created and a new middle class began to emerge as bankers, merchants, and tradespeople once again had a market for their goods and services.

Malacca Port, around 1511. Malacca, a city-state at the mouth of the Strait of Malacca on the Malaysian Peninsula, was a strategic trading post in the spice trade.

Lets leave western Europe for a moment and talk about spices (and I'm not referring to the spice girls). Believe it or not, the spice trade played a very important role in the development of the Italian Renissance. As early as 350 BC, sailors from the Malaysian peninsula rode the monsoon to China to trade. They pioneered a sea route from Sri Lanka to China and developed a market for spices from Malacca.

The spice route during the time of the Mongol Kahns was completely overland across Asia. However by the 14th century, raiders made the route unsafe. The fifteenth century route was a complicated one which involved many nations. At the far eastern end, the Chinese collected cloves and nutmegs from the East Indies and delivered them to the Malaysian port of Malacca. Muslim merchants from India, Malay or Arabia transported the goods back to India where the cinnamon and pepper from India was added to the cargo and sold in the spice ports along the western coast of India.

These ports were controlled by Arabs who would then transport these spices through the Persian Gulf to Shatt-al-Arab where the goods were then taken by river boat and camel caravan to Aleppo, Damascus, or Constantinople. From these ports, the spices were transported on Italian ships to Venice and Genoa. Italian traders then took the goods though the rest of western Europe. The Italian merchants who sponsored these trade caravans became very wealthy and influential. Huge amounts of money from theses carvans fed the Italian cities.

As the businesses of these merchants, bankers, and traders improved, they had more than enough money to meet their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. They wanted larger homes, finer art, tastier food, and better clothing. The middle-class population also had leisure time to spend on education and entertainment. In fact, education became essential for many middle-class professions. Many Italian coastal cities became centers for trade and commerce, as well as for the wealth and education that followed.

Famous view of Florence, Italy, arguably the most influential city of the Renaissance.

One of the cities that exemplified these new trends was Florence. The leading citizens of Florence, the Medici family, made their wealth as business people (in other words, instead of starting as nobility they had middle class beginnings). All of these factors contributed to Italy being the birth place of the Renaissance.

However this movement did not stay confined to Italy for long. This new enthusiasm for learning spread north to Germany and extended as far as Scotland, north of the Alps, and became known as Humanism.

The Renaissance and Humanism movements were about becoming intellectually free from the Church. People had grown tired of the lives the Church thought they should live. The Church had way more power then it does now, literally controlling every aspect of life. The Church demanded that scholars, scientists and artists use their work to exalt the heavens and severely punished anyone who chose to do otherwise.

With more freedom from the Church, the Renaissance became a time for individual expression, self-conciousness, and pursuit of knowledge. The Renaissance started to define the world as you and I know it; the revival of literature and art, the ability to express criticism without threat of punishment, the freedom of intelligence from the control of the Church, the invention of the printing press, the discoveries of navigation and the exploration of America and the East, as well as the definition of the solar system.

The ancient Coliseum of Rome. Chock-full of relics from ancient Roman times, Rome was primed for the revival of the classics.

Like the Renaissance, the achievements of the Humanist movement were to recover literary treasures and monuments of ancient Greece and Rome. Not since the Greek and Roman times had people been allowed to explore their own philosophies and write literature that was about mere worldly things.

To science, this meant a new way of experimenting based on observation and a new way of interpreting findings based on the world around us instead of worrying about whether these discovers contradicted the Bible. The "Scientific Principle", which you are familiar with, arose from this time: you don't just accept whatever you're told, but you test the truth of it.

The Renaissance allowed people to start to develop a sense of morality based on what society believed was right and wrong, and choose ways to enforce this morality. Before the Renaissance, morals came from the Church's strict interpretation of the Word of God and this was not always a fun view of what life should include.

What was the difference between The Renaissance and Humanism? The Renaissance was fed by individual creators and individual accomplishment. In the new culture north of the Alps, the Humanist movement, the universities and schools played a much more important part than in the south. The representatives of the new scholarship were teachers.

Humanism gave birth to the idea of useful education for all people, and the idea of a "well rounded" schooling in many different fields of learning. In addition, the humanists, in general, were not as creative as the artists in Italy. It was a general improvement of the masses, and not the outstanding contributions of a few. That is not to say that there were no outstanding individuals in the humanist movements.

Bonus: We'll give you 30 clams for distinguishing the famous Renaissance people from the famous Humanists presented in this series. Additionally, we will give you 100 clams if you can tell us one individual achievement for each of those people.

University of Oxford in Oxford, England, was an important hub for the Humanist movement.

The humanists drew the seperation between Church and state more clearly then that of the Renissance. The humanist idea held that the Church should not rule civic matters, but should guide only spiritual matters. Many states began to separate themselves from the Church to improve their self-image and this gave rise to a spirit of nationalism.

Spiritualism became popular, and the search for a direct experience of God led people to belief things other than what the Church originally desired. Increased study of the Bible led people to differing views of how the Church should be. As a result, the Church became less powerful and the individual and governement became more powerful.

That a Renaissance was needed is a startling fact in Western history. The key to the start of the Renaissance was individuals rebelling against authority. This is as true now as it was then. Great thinkers and creators march to their own drummers, respecting, though not necessarily following the beat of others.

Do you march to your own drummer?


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