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Fifteenth-Century Spanish Humanism: Thirty-Five Years Later

Ottavio Di Camillo

Forty-two years ago almost to the day, when I began a lifelong inquiry into Spanish humanism, reconstructing its uncertain history was truly a daunting task. As I ventured out of the comfortable and familiar field of literary criticism, I was hardly prepared to spend more years than I expected in the wilderness, carrying out my research in total isolation with no guide or interlocutor to discuss my few findings and my many doubts. It was difficult to make sense out of those few evidentiary fragments I was able to collect, for they seemed broken relicts left by an ancient shipwreck on the cultural backwater of modern times. But in the world of scholarly research, as we all know, one can easily dispense with the physical presence of collocutors and still carry on a dialogue with real people. In my case, I found half a dozen scholars who became my long-distance teachers, whose writings I still consult today, with the same respect but not with the same awe-inspiring wonder of a young graduate student. Some of these names are readily recognizable, such as Paul Oskar Kristeller, Hans Baron and Eugenio Garin; others, less familiar today but equally significant at that time, include Franco Simone for his studies on French humanism, Roberto Weiss on fifteenth-century English humanism, and José Antonio Maravall on the cultural and socio-political history of Renaissance Spain1.

The first results were made available in my 1972 doctoral dissertation, Spanish Humanism in the Fifteenth Century; only a few years later, in 1976, these investigations, together with some additional findings, appeared in Spanish as El humanismo castellano del siglo XV. At almost the same time, Francisco Rico published his Nebrija frente a los bárbaros. The long silence about humanism in Spain was suddenly broken and, more remarkable still, by two opposing interpretations as to its origins, its meaning and its early development.

To these initial contrasting accounts a third one was soon added when Luis Gil Fernández published his Panorama social del humanismo español (1500-1800) in a new series put out by Alhambra, the same publishing house that originally was going to publish my book2. Leaving aside Domingo Ynduráin's iconoclastic work, Humanismo y renacimiento en España, to which we shall return, the studies that have been published ever since have usually adopted, however loosely, either Rico's or Gil Fernández's understanding of humanism, together with unavoidable forays into the interpretation I had proposed. Despite the many favorable reviews of my study, it received a lukewarm reception, even though my views on humanism were grounded on primary sources and framed within the major scholarly interpretations of the 1960s and 1970s. Whether reluctantly accepted or deliberately ignored, judging by the often inaccurate recycling of the bibliography I cited, my conception of humanism did condition, for better or for worse, the outcome of later investigations.

Looking back forty years to the time when scholars still questioned whether Spain had ever experienced a Renaissance, not to mention humanism, the progress that has been made is unquestionably significant. During the intervening period, the many contributions that have been made to this field not only have extended the chronological boundaries of Spanish humanism but have also brought to light its manifestations in other areas of the cultural life of fifteenth-century Castile and Aragon. Nevertheless and notwithstanding the many inroads that have been made, we cannot deny that a widespread complacency has set in, complacency which, with an acceptance of the old paradigms turned into normative categories, has thus far prevented further exploration into other possible interpretations of Spanish humanism. But before making any suggestion for new ways to advance the study of humanism in Spain, it is useful to review, however briefly, the main presuppositions on which are based the three contrasting paradigms I have alluded to and which are, to a different degree, currently in use.

I will begin, and only for chronological reasons, with the paradigm I first elaborated in my doctoral dissertation and later refined in other publications. On the footsteps of Simone, after searching for the first stirrings of humanism in Spain in the cultural relationship that Spaniards had with the papal curia at Avignon -with little success-, I found a more promising venue in the role that Spanish prelates and ambassadors played in the various Church councils convened between 1414 and 1449 in order to solve the Papal Schism. I discovered that at the council held in Basle from 1434-1439, Alonso de Santa María, later known as Alonso de Cartagena, circulated among the participants, at the request of other learned men, a critique of the Latin translation of Leonardo Bruni's Nichomachean Ethics. The polemic to which it gave rise, which lasted for some time among fifteenth-century Italian humanists, had been viewed by Alexander Birkenmajer, the scholar who in 1922 first discovered the only surviving text of Cartagena's criticism in Krakow, as another instance of the clash between the old, obstinate scholasticism and the new humanist culture («Der Streit des Alonso von Cartagena mit Leonardo Bruni Aretino»)3. In the mid-1960s, in the wake of the polemic among American historians over the opposing definitions of humanism proposed by Baron and Kristeller, a renewed interest in the old controversy between Bruni and Cartagena resurrected Birkenmajer's interpretation, which in terms of the ongoing debate of the time was transformed into a conflict between logic and rhetoric, and viewed, mutatis mutandi, as a defense of scholastic dialectics against humanistic rhetoric4.

But a close reading of Cartagena's critique as well as other writings by contemporary Italian humanists -including Bruni himself, who weighed in with words of praise for the Spaniard- did not corroborate the widely accepted notion that what was at issue was a conflict between a medieval and a Renaissance way of thinking. In fact, looking at the dispute from a later stage of humanism, such as the one that prevailed at the close of the fifteenth century, it became clear that their disagreement was rather the harbinger of two contrasting trends of humanist culture that were to accompany its development throughout the fifteenth century and that would go well beyond the stylistic or rhetorical usage of classical Latin5. The result of this initial inquiry led me to discover not only that by the time Cartagena went to Basel he was already aware of the works being carried out by Italian humanists but that he himself shared the same aspirations, expressing a sincere appreciation for their writings. His criticism of Bruni's version of the Nichomachean Ethics, together with the intellectual concerns he revealed in many of his works, including his many translations of Cicero's and Seneca's treatises, were unmistakable clues that pointed to indigenous strains of humanism in early fifteenth-century Spain. Parallel but somewhat dissimilar to the main trends of Italian or French humanism, these produced noticeable changes that definitively affected Spanish cultural life. They were, in fact, part of a larger European historical phenomenon whose problematic, transnational nature could only be explained by sober historical scholarship, capable of sifting through disparate data and of navigating through a maze of received ideas. The emphasis on ancient languages and classical texts might have been for some an important source for elegant linguistic expression and might have supplied rhetorical instruments for stylistic exercises. For others, however, the function of Latin and Greek works seemed also to provide desirable new models against which they could measure and understand their own culture and society. What was happening, in short, was an intellectual revolution, as Garin aptly put it, which would slowly have an impact on all the major institutions of the day, from politics to religion, from social organization to economic praxis, from technology to the arts and from thinking to literary expressions (Rinascite e rivoluzioni). It was this particular kind of humanism that I tried to uncover, not so much in the literary texts of the time but in the conceptual formulations of their thinking as they tried to organize their cultural universe in treatises, prologues and commentaries.

As mentioned above, less than two years after my book came out, an up-to-date essay on Nebrija was published by Rico. Focusing on the new Latin grammar elaborated by Nebrija in the last two decades of the fifteenth century, Rico made of this significant linguistic contribution the centerpiece of Spanish humanism. Taking literally this humanist's claim of having singlehandedly banished from Spanish universities the entrenched ignorance of the barbarians -that is to say the prevailing language and teaching of the professors of the time who had learned their Latin in medieval grammar handbooks- he concluded that before Nebrija there were no teachers of studia humanitatis. This confirmed an old view, still held by many today, that in Spain the fifteenth century was a period that can at best be characterized as one of pre-Renaissance or proto-humanism6. Vague terms that convey a noncommittal way out, along the lines of the old Spanish proverb, ni carne ni pescado.

At the same time that Rico called due attention to Nebrija's major philological achievements as the defining criteria for what constituted the proper role of a humanist, he paid little attention to the fact that Nebrija's grammatical innovations seem to be isolated contributions, rarely connected to the other disciplines of the studia humanitatis, with the possible exception of history7. I use the word possible because even in questions of historiography, Nebrija's silence on the problematic nature of the ars historicae (its function and exposition), and his publication of Annius of Viterbo's account of ancient history (an obvious forgery that many learned men of the time were quickly to denounce)8, are disturbing indications of the humanist's limitations that need to be addressed. Similarly, one wonders why, in his long career as university professor, such an accomplished humanist, a professional teacher of the studia humanitatis, was never to express any opinion, much less concern, regarding the study of rhetoric, logic or moral philosophy, at a time when these disciplines were undergoing serious revisions9. Even his much-heralded classicism seems to be put to use mostly in commentaries on Christian authors of antiquity; only rarely does he turn his attention, as far as I know, to works of classical antiquity10. Rico's main argument is that Nebrija's new concept of grammaticus refers, and rightly so, to the expert in all fields of knowledge, capable of undertaking the exegetical exposition of any text, be it from the disciplines of the studia humanitatis or from any other field of arts and sciences. However this new notion of the concept 'philologist' cannot be attributed exclusively to Nebrija, nor is it entirely applicable to his works. The new concept of grammaticus seems to have already gained wide acceptance among professors and students at the university of Salamanca toward the end of the fifteenth century, and it is not clear whether in Spain it actually originated with him. In any case, his defense of the grammarian is translated into practice only in a limited way, mainly in his commentaries, his annotationes on civil law or the Scriptures; it cannot, and should not, be compared with the diverse philological activities of a Poliziano, the first, by the way, who sought to elevate the humble role of the grammaticus to the rank of the philologist as critic of all recorded knowledge (Scaglione)11. To be sure, these shortcomings do not detract in any way from his standing as a great humanist, for the great majority of these erudite men to whom we refer as humanists are known to have cultivated some, but not all, the disciplines of the studia humanitatis whether they lived in Spain or anywhere else in Europe. Not even a polymath like Poliziano, somewhat older than Nebrija, approaches the depth and scope of a Juan Luis Vives whose learning and ideas represent, a generation later, the true and only embodiment of the teacher of the studia humanitatis in Renaissance Europe (De disciplinis). But whether Nebrija is to be viewed as the perfect example of the grammarian or just as an ordinary representative of this profession, one should not lose sight of the fact that both the grammaticus and the professor of the studia humanitatis, our venerable predecessors, despite their propensity for inflated self-promotion, kept on occupying the lowest rung of the university hierarchy, thus setting that century-old pattern of receiving the lowest pay for their teaching.

Because of the vagueness with which the phrase studia humanitatis is used, comparable in frequency and carelessness only to the term humanism, I should point out that even the key concept of the studia humanitatis, from which the term «humanist» is derived, is seldom found in fifteenth-century Spanish writings. And even when it occurs, it is not always used to indicate that cluster of disciplines (grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history and moral philosophy) deemed suitable for the formation of young people according to a new model of responsible cives of the res publica12. One should not forget that even in Italy the use of the syntagm studia humanitatis to designate the above-mentioned disciplines began to circulate only after the middle of the fifteenth century, that is to say, after at least two generations of humanist teaching. For this reason, a paradigm of humanism based solely on the degree of acquisition of classical Latin, on following however vaguely the precepts of the studia humanitatis or on the stylistic use of the language of a particular author or thinker, leaves out other significant criteria and ultimately fails to take into account the complex realities of the individual literate who, through his erudition, writings and by his actual deeds and behavior, did much to shape this intellectual movement.

Rico's interpretation of humanism found support among British literary critics. The limited interest in humanism among Anglo-American Hispanists, usually more interested in questions of literary analysis and interpretation, had its expected repercussion when it came to evaluate, interpret and define the intellectual life and literature of fifteenth-century Spain13. Due to a general «benign neglect» toward Renaissance studies, these scholars accepted Menéndez Pidal's theory of a medieval culture that extended well into the sixteenth century, rendering any likely speculations of Spanish Renaissance humanism as moot. Similarly, having widely accepted the caste structure of Spanish society propounded by Américo Castro (La realidad, 29-41), many shared the presupposition that Spain was a unique case in the historical development of European culture. On the one hand were the higher ranks of «cristianos viejos» who were generally unwilling to pursue intellectual endeavors, being culturally prone to oppose learning and ideas and to disdain menial works. On the other, the argument went, the caste that was traditionally involved with the creation and transmission of knowledge, being mostly made up of conversos who were obsessed, by their historical circumstances, to emphasize their social and spiritual preoccupation. Onto this latter group literary critics and historians of the 1960s and 1970s grafted Bataillon's Erasmismo, a pervading sixteenth-century sociospiritual current that in their eyes all but replaced a vaguely perceived humanism (Di Camillo, «Interpretations of the Renaissance in Spanish Historical Thought» 381ff).

In essence, one can well understand, when faced with an unclearly defined revival of classical languages and cultures, with an almost total absence of philological interest in restoring the texts of ancient authors, and with learned conversos ever watchful of their precarious condition and thus troubled by far more pressing existential concerns, why none of these three interrelated approaches could have logically led to contemplate within their scope of interest the possibility of an incipient humanism in early fifteenth-century Spain.

Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, these untested premises have weighed heavily on Spanish literary history and some of their presuppositions are still with us today. In fact, despite Nicholas Round's later works on fifteenth-century philosophical interests, it is his early article, «Renaissance Culture and its Opponents in Fifteenth-Century Castile», that is widely quoted to this day14. Castro's caste structure with its rigid and predetermined role in Castilian society still enjoys widespread acceptance in this country, even though the accumulation of historical evidence to the contrary has now reached massive proportion. We know, for example, that in the fifteenth century members of various ranks of the nobility, who supposedly embodied the negative cultural values of the «cristianos viejos», played a decisive role in the literary life of the time. Similarly, if one were to judge by the repeated accusations made by contemporary moralists such as Mosén Diego de Valera, it seems that the nobility (the caballeros) did not shun undignified undertakings such as commerce and other unbecoming activities15. In this same context, Castro and his epigones offered no socioeconomic explanation as to why the nobility (the caste of the bellatores, the defenders, the «old Christians» par excellence who supposedly disdained learning) came to determine, more than any other sector of society, the development of national literature during the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, a unique historical phenomenon that is not found in any other region of Europe.

This particular historical reality apparently pointing to the material aspect of the literary culture (which to this day has never been the object of investigation), did not escape the attention of Peter Russell when he tried to elevate the topos of arms versus letters to a status of reliable criterion for defining fifteenth-century Spanish humanism («Arms versus Letters»). His attempt, remarkable in every respect, could not break free, however, from the general mindset of the time. And although he rejected some of the underpinnings of Castro's thesis, the dominant critical school of the time, he did not question the notion of the cast of the «cristianos viejos» and by extension the nobility's aversion to learning and thought. There are in Russell's essay distant echoes of both the early Castro, who in El pensamiento de Cervantes first identified the symbolic value of the courtly topos of arms versus letters, and a youthful work by Maravall, who developed the idea further in a short book, El humanismo de las armas en Don Quijote, rarely mentioned by the Spanish historian in his later writings but one which he completely revamped in his Utopía y contrautopía en el Quijote at the first opportunity16. Russell's defining characteristic of fifteenth-century Spanish humanism, known mainly in the Spanish version of the essay, has been widely accepted. Though he is reluctant to include Cartagena among fifteenth-century humanists, still I would like to believe that my assessment of don Alfonso's intellectual outlook might have been somehow instrumental in Russell's inclusion, in his revised study, «Las armas contra las letras: para una definición del humanismo español del siglo XV», a substantial comment on this learned bishop, which he did not incorporate in the original article written in English («Arms versus Letters) in 1967.

But despite Russell's belated acknowledgment of Cartagena's interest in classical authors, he still considered the bishop too steeped in scholasticism to be promoted to the rank of representative of humanist culture -a lesson that was not lost among Rico's and Russell's disciples who, over the years, have never missed the opportunity to remind us of Cartagena's antihumanist stance. Disregarding later investigations carried out by Pedro M. Cátedra, Guillermo Serés, María Morrás, González Rolán and Saquero Suárez-Somonte, Teresa Jiménez Calvente, Luis Fernández-Gallardo, and others who have tried to delineate a more accurate picture of this early humanist17, many scholars still insist on placing Cartagena in the camp of those obdurate scholastics who remained unaffected by the spread of humanism. The usual justification for such a claim has never been based on his critical evaluation of Bruni's translation, as historians of European humanism have argued, but rather on the fact that he never showed much concern for literature, either classical or contemporary, or for grammatical and pedagogical problems. Such a narrow concept of humanism, based on the revival of classical languages and authors according to the paradigm outlined above, could not but misconstrue his thinking to the point of transforming him into a paradoxical figure. This is the reason why Cartagena, the only fifteenth-century Spanish man of letters who confronted Italian humanists on their own ground, debating the accuracy of Bruni's translation or the validity of Plato's treatment of women in the fifth book of the Republica in Pier Candido Decembrio's translation (Celestis politia), who gained their respect and friendship as attested in their numerous epistolary exchanges, whose Latin prose is as elegant as that of any of his Italian counterparts, who translated Cicero's De inventione, De officiis, De senectute, Pro Marcelo, Seneca's letters and who knows what else, has been turned into a scholastic theologian by the same critics who have no objections in viewing Villena, Mena, Santillana and a few other poets and writers of the time as active participants of the humanist movement, even though they never wrote a line in Latin and their eclectic thinking still awaits to be disentangled. Even Nuño de Guzmán, who never wrote a single work and can only count on a couple of dubious translations of his own, has always passed for a humanist or proto-humanist. Much has been made, in fact, of a century-old assumption that he is the pariente who brought to the Marquis of Santillana a number of classical and humanist works he had acquired in Italy. The fact is that the Marquis's relative was most likely Íñigo D'Ávalos, the future Marquis of Pescara. It was he who came loaded with manuscripts, among them the much talked-about Iliad in the Latin translation of Pier Candido Decembrio, upon securing the Visconti's permission to return to Naples and from here to Spain after several years of being held hostage (rehén) in Milan. The reason for his forced and prolonged stay at the court of Filippo Maria Visconti can probably be found in the negotiations that followed the disastrous defeat Alphonse the Magnanimous suffered at Ponza (Zaggia, «Appunti sulla cultura letteraria» 180-82, 211ff., 336ff., and «La versione latina di Pier Candido Decembrio della Republica di Platone» 27ff., 44ff.). His long captivity, however, even if it cannot be considered a blessing, did turn into a culturally rewarding experience as he came to know such renowned Milanese humanists as Pier Candido and Angelo Decembrio, Francesco Filelfo and Guiniforte Barzizza, as well as other lesser-known figures. That this is the pariente of Santillana is confirmed by the fact, among others, that some of the books he brought back to Spain, translated by Íñigo D'Ávalos' secretary in Milan, appear in the Marquis's personal library. Because Mario Schiff could not recognize the telltale signs of the provenance of these books and manuscripts in his reconstruction of the library of Santillana, he was misled by Morel-Fatio's earlier suggestion identifying the Marquis's relative as Nuño de Guzmán, on the ground that the latter was a better-documented figure and a confirmed lover of books according to the biographical sketch made by the famous Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci18. Later scholars who have studied the travels and cultural activities of the remarkable Guzmán have had no qualms in making him a humanist on the questionable merits of being the bearer of the manuscript of the Iliad, befriending some Italian humanists, and having commissioned a number of books in Florence.

But who, then, are Íñigo D'Ávalos and Nuño de Guzmán, who make such a fleeting appearance on the stage of early Spanish humanism? The best way to describe the first is as a Santillana who had the opportunity of living many years of his life among Italian humanists. As for the second, Nuño de Guzmán, I have to admit that he is a puzzling but exemplary figure, for he was in many ways both the product and an «active» witness of the new humanist culture that was rapidly spreading throughout many parts of Europe. My impression, pace Lawrance, is that he was a sort of humanist groupie, who, with a lot of money, a little Italian, and less Latin, befriended Vespasiano da Bisticci and the humanist Giannozzo Manetti; he persuaded the latter -I am sure with a generous remuneration, for he lived off his rhetorical skills- to write three short pieces in Latin: an Apologia about his wanderings and laudationes for his mother and father respectively (edited and studied in Lawrance).

In connection with Nuño de Guzmán, it becomes necessary at this point to comment, however briefly, on the views of humanism of Jeremy Lawrance, the scholar who has thoroughly researched and analyzed the life and works of this enigmatic figure. There is no doubt that he, more than anyone else, has made and continues to make significant contributions to the study of fifteenth-century Spanish humanism. Having started along the lines of Russell and Rico, who favored a late beginning of humanism in Spain that was chiefly promoted by Nebrija, Lawrance has moved toward accepting an earlier manifestation of this movement as it appears in some cultural trends of Spanish intellectual life toward the middle of the century. This recognition implies that he has placed less emphasis on the centrality of classical Latin and the role of the professional grammarians as the only determining factors of this cultural phenomenon. By giving more weight to ideas and works written in Castilian concerning the revival of classical antiquity, he has offered critics and literary historians a more guarded interpretation of humanism. Hence his characterization of the peculiar manifestation of this cultural movement in Spain as humanismo vulgar (vernacular humanism), a solution which I myself entertained at first but later disregarded for fear that it would reinforce a false but, unfortunately, widely held idea that Spanish men of letters were either incapable of learning Latin or had a genetic aversion to this language. In and of itself, Lawrance's characterization of humanism, while satisfying literary critics, implicitly relegates to a secondary position the considerable corpus of Latin writings produced during the fifteenth century. But to his credit, Lawrance has been for many years one of a very small number of scholars who has been actively involved in making known precisely many of the Latin works of this period. In fact, his translations and editions of humanist texts written in Latin have expanded considerably the scope and depth of this intellectual movement19.

Closely related to the paradigm of humanism proposed by Rico is the one elaborated by Gil Fernández in Panorama del humanismo español (1500-1800). As indicated by the time period expressly stated in the title of this work, he excludes outright the fifteenth century and reaffirms the belief that humanism in Spain becomes a prevailing cultural force at the beginning of the sixteenth century, in other words, at the time of Nebrija. His understanding of this historical movement, which shares the same premises as those held by Rico, will remain, as far as I know, fundamentally unmodified. Rico, on the other hand, in his later study El sueño del humanismo, in dealing with the European manifestations of the movement will characterize its revolutionary thrust, as we shall see, as an overambitious oneiric endeavor destined to be shattered within the span of a few generations upon clashing with the reality of the times. Gil Fernández's study centers on the revival of classical antiquity as an enduring achievement that Renaissance humanism bequeathed to future generations. He examines the dominant role that for three centuries the studia humanitatis played in schools and institutions of higher learning, both how they conditioned the cultural outlook but were also conditioned by some social and political forces. His historical account of humanism in Spain is certainly one of the best studies, if not the best, to analyze the lasting impact of the movement on an early modern culture. It is based on the interpretation of humanism, both literary and pedagogical, espoused by modern classical philologists, who have always felt, consciously or unconsciously, a certain bond with the pioneering work of their humanist predecessors20. Like other classical scholars, he is mostly concerned with the recovery and transmission of Latin and Greek authors as well as with the university professors who, against many odds, kept alive and reinforced the classical heritage in European culture. Gil Fernández's far-reaching study is not -as the title, Panorama social, might imply- simply a historical survey; his emphasis on the social aspect of classical education that was to condition the intellectual life of Spain for three hundred years makes it unique among the scholarly works published by historians of classical philology. It is curious to note that Gil Fernández ends his study on humanism precisely at the time when the traditional schools that are the object of his examination are entering an irreversible crisis as the demand for creating a system of public education clashes with entrenched institutional interests21. At this juncture in European history, under the increasing pressure for educational reforms, the word humanism is coined in Germany, first in order to describe the type of education based on the disciplines of the humanities and fifty years later as a historiographical concept characterizing the novelty and impact of a new current of thought that broke with traditional ways of thinking and ushered a new historical period, appropriately named the Renaissance.

Of the paradigms outlined above, Gil Fernández's has been by far the most successful, for it has been adopted by classical philologists who today have taken the lead in the study of Spanish humanism. Some of them have found clear manifestations of humanism as early as in the second decade of the fifteenth century, notably González Rolán, Moreno Hernández, and Saquero Suárez-Somonte, who have reclaimed the role played by Cartagena (195-232).

In his 1994 study, España y la Italia de los humanistas, Ángel Gómez Moreno, working within the parameters of humanism understood as the revival of classical languages, focused on the humanists' search for lost works of antiquity, on their elaboration of an incipient philological method for restoring ancient texts to their pristine literary elegance, and on the effects the movement would eventually have on vernacular Castilian and literary genres. To this end, he assembled massive documentation, comprising new and old sources, that shows an unabated flow of cultural exchange between the Italian and Iberian peninsulas throughout the fifteenth century. Though the subtitle Primeros ecos gave the impression of alluding to distant resonances of one culture over another, the wealth of documentary evidence he was able to gather in support of his thesis actually belied the caption of his study. Indeed, what his investigations seem to confirm is the constant stream of contacts and interactions between Spanish men of letters and Italian humanists and their works, an unprecedented cultural phenomenon that, according to Gómez Moreno, increasingly had an impact on indigenous Spanish literary development but also stimulated new interest, through a process of assimilation, for areas of studies concerning Spanish antiquities. Though he stressed the national character of the movement, it is the Italian template that ultimately dominates his analysis of humanism in Spain. However, having adopted the classical-philological paradigm of the revival of ancient Roman and Greek civilizations that supposedly was central to Italian humanism, and having found that in Spain there are not towering figures comparable to humanists of the Italian Peninsula, he is hesitant to claim, in spite of the remarkable accumulation of documents, a well-defined humanist movement before the sixteenth century; he thus leaves unexplored other promising possibilities that would explain the radical shift in Spanish cultural life that was well underway from at least the first quarter of the century.

A case apart is Ynduráin's impressive study, Humanismo y Renacimiento en España, whose complexity can never be adequately outlined in a few words or pages. Suffice to say that the singularity of his essay is difficult to explain in a systematic way, for it is virtually impossible to retrace the way he read the vast array of primary sources or to identify those foundational readings that formed part of his intellectual background. Equally intimidating is trying to account for what ultimately shaped his critical outlook or the orientation of his research leading to his peculiar interpretations of ancient and humanist texts, which he defends with the support of his vast erudition. Unlike most other approaches to the study of humanism as practiced in Spain in recent decades, the thrust of his work is to propose a radical new definition of the movement calling on interlocutors, not simply the small group of contemporary scholars who have dealt with this intellectual current in Spain, but on historians of different nationalities who have sought to explain this cultural phenomenon within a wider European context. Finding always positive answers in other scholars' overall investigations, he charts, however, a course rarely traveled and that is meant to satisfy his inquisitive intellectual curiosity. With respect to his particular historiographical take on humanism, he moves comfortably in the company of scholars whose views are associated with «the revolt of the medievalists» (a term coined by Wallace K. Ferguson to describe the views of a group of historians who rejected on different grounds the Burckhardtean concept of Italian Renaissance); at the same time and with less ease, he identifies with those belonging to an exiguous group known for taking an anti-Renaissance stance who for years have been trying to downplay the significance of humanism22. While acknowledging the contributions of Garin and Kristeller, he finds Étienne Gilson's observations (58ff) more stimulating.

At the center of Ynduráin's understanding of humanism is his notion that humanism and Renaissance are most likely two separate «incompatible realities» corresponding to two chronological moments in history, the latter of which follows the former. Throughout his study we learn that, whereas the term Renaissance is a historiographical construct to describe a particular period in European history, humanism is instead a historical phenomenon that has its distant origins in the cultural conflicts of the Church Fathers, reappearing after periods of dormancy at different times, and with increasing intensity, throughout the Middle Ages. Being a movement both philosophical and literary, its supposedly adversarial attitude toward scholasticism should not be given much importance. Whatever conflicts there emerged should be viewed with a great deal of nuance, more as a professional than a doctrinal confrontation. What they had in common, in fact, was far greater than their differences; judging from their individual rivalries, no two humanists or two scholastics happened to share the same beliefs. What is important in Ynduráin's sketchy analysis of humanism's relationship with the many historical, philosophical, sociopolitical, pedagogical and literary issues is that he tries to capture the dynamics of the movement and the relative role it played in the changing contexts of European history.

Ynduráin's controversial notion of humanism has not found, to my knowledge, any follower. And yet, unlike other paradigms that have been proposed, his view of humanism does break with the monolithic notion of a classical revival of humanist thinking over medieval scholasticism, of eloquence over dialectics, and other skewed comparisons that have long become commonplace. Though it is difficult to accept many of his assertions (and one wishes that he had carried some of his observations to their logical conclusions), his study has the merit of challenging the prevailing interpretations and, above all, of clearing most of the unnecessary undergrowth, leaving exposed the potentiality for a radical rethinking.

On the other hand, the premises of Rico's and Gil Fernández's paradigms, based exclusively on the recovery of the culture of classical antiquity and on the teaching of the studia humanitatis, have gained widespread acceptance. As for the interpretation of humanism I advanced almost thirty-five years ago, it has generally been judged in the light of these two prevailing paradigms and quite understandably has been often misunderstood. Unfortunately, my insistence on the social, political, ethical and religious components and my viewing the revival of antiquity as an additional factor, but not the decisive cause for the changes that were occurring in the culture of fifteenth-century Spain, has not generated the stimulating debate one would have expected.

At present the study of humanism in Spain is still flourishing among scholars of classical languages and literature and to a lesser extent among occasional literary critics and philologists. Their valuable contributions have hardly attracted the attention of historians, and no one to my knowledge has followed the lines of investigation that Maravall opened many years ago in Antiguos y modernos. Until historians of various aspects of cultural life in fifteenth-century Spain make humanism the object of their study, it will be impossible to gauge and evaluate the nature and full impact of this movement on the speculative thinking, the arts and the sciences of the time.

With the general decline of classical studies today, even the revival of classical antiquity, always the centerpiece of Humanism, and its impact on education are slowly falling into oblivion. Literary critics and historians of the present empire and its colonies are quite satisfied with replacing the term Renaissance -and its concomitant movement, humanism- with a more pliable catch phrase, «early modern» or «modern». Consciously or unconsciously, it is meant to blur the contextual, chronological and geographical boundaries of the period, an approach whose premises in less competent hands justify viewing the past as an undetermined period, bordering on the ahistoric, that looks more and more like an extended present23. Decentered and fragmented, Renaissance humanism is being swallowed up by an all-inclusive cultural period in which everything coexists with the contrary of everything else and one's particular specialized interest can be pursued as a single issue regardless of its historical context as long as it is accepted by a like-minded «interpretive community», no matter how small.

While words such as modern, early modern and post-modern seem to be dominating the historical discourse of Renaissance humanism, the older generation of scholars and their younger disciples have already been compelled by their ongoing investigations to rethink the origins, nature and significance of humanism. Taking into account the considerable amount of scholarship that is fast accumulating around the shifting concepts of periodization and particularly of the «modern period», John Monfasani, a well-known historian of humanist thought, has constructively reacted against this late trend. His bold proposal argues for dividing the past into three historical periods of longue durée: classical, medieval and modern, placing the Renaissance as the last phase of the Middle Ages, thus finding the Renaissance as having more affinity with the Middle Ages than the modern period («The Renaissance as the Concluding Phase of the Middle Ages»).

That we are, in fact, in the midst of a general rethinking of Renaissance humanism is clearly evident from the new direction that scholars from both sides of the Atlantic have taken in their research. The constant reappraisal of both the period and the movement, now perceived as two aspects of the same historical manifestation, is leading to a reopening of the question of its genesis, its nature, its impact and even of its demise. What is truly significant is that the major theses advanced in the second half of the last century by Baron, Garin and Kristeller have been subjected by their disciples to a scrupulous re-examination, resulting in the correction, modification and even rejection of some of their conclusions. Such a wave of revisionism, however, has not altered the two basic lines of interpretations: the one that focuses on the historical, sociological and intellectual impact of humanism and the other that stresses the pedagogical, rhetorical, and literary practices of the movement. While some scholars have drawn from their past investigations a reaffirmation of their understanding of this historical phenomenon, others have argued for a new conceptualization of humanist culture.

If on one end of the spectrum we find Ronald G. Witt, who places the origin of humanism in the second half of thirteenth-century Padua, at the other end we find Rico and William H. Bouwsma, who both argue for the end of the movement in the second half of the sixteenth century. The conclusion of Witt's research, carried out over many years, is that humanism first emerged as a poetic style when Lovato Lovati, who was searching for a new aesthetics in his writings, strove to imitate classical Latin verses (65). At this early stage, prose is excluded since it was usually practiced by the more practical dictatores, whose ars dictaminis called for a simplified and unadorned manner of writing. Lovati was followed by Albertino Mussato (1261-1329), who was also intent on reproducing, in his Senecan tragedies and other verse compositions, a style that most resembled classical forms of poetic expression. Mussato, however, did extend his stylistic concern to his prose composition, as one can see in his historical work on contemporary political life (Witt 130ff.). This poetic and prose lay tradition was broken by Francesco Petrarca, a third-generation humanist, who infused Christian values in his writings and did little to develop a classical prose style (Witt 246ff., 269ff.). The first writers imitating Cicero's Latin prose appeared toward the end of the fourteenth century with Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406) and his contemporaries. But it was with the next generation that a new way of prose writing based on classical stylistic tenets, mainly Ciceronian, displaced poetry as Bruni, Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) and other men of letters reverted to the secular outlook of the founders of humanism, rejecting Petrarch's and Salutati's concern for one's inner life (Witt 344 ff.).

Assimilating rather than imitating ancient authors also meant that these writers were absorbing moral and political lessons whose civic values were much in need in the development of the secular city state. In a review article by Robert Black, Witt's analysis of the conflictive educational systems that gave rise to humanism is corroborated as well as rectified by the reviewer's extensive research into the actual educational curriculum during the thirteenth century («The Origins of Humanism, Its Educational Context and Its Early Development»). What is new in both scholars' assessment is their agreement regarding the birth of humanism as arising out of the traditional grammar schools that were still based on works of classical authors, which had survived in some French and Italian cities. Equally significant is the opposition to this stylistic trend by professors of legal and notarial studies of the rising universities, as exemplified by the antagonism of Boncompagno da Signa (Palma 105) or Guido Fava. In Boncompagno's writings, in fact, he often ridicules the classical foundation of these grammar schools, mocking as well the Latinizing imitation of their teachers' writings24. If Witt surprises us by arguing for the early origins of humanism on the basis of contrasting educational approaches of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it is Black who seriously questions the educational innovations of the humanist curriculum (Humanism and Education in Medieval and Renaissance Italy). For most of the fifteenth century, primary and secondary education remained undistinguishable from that of the previous century, relying on methods of teaching grammar introduced in the thirteenth century. Such an unexpected finding that conditioned many aspects of the educational system, affecting for sure the teaching of Latin in fifteenth-century schools, corroborates Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine's study, From Humanism to the Humanities, where they explore the actual humanist schools and the efficacy of their methods as experienced by the pupils. These new pedagogical perspectives force us to reexamine the role that schooling played in the actual life of people, particularly the extent and concrete ways in which it promoted the development of fifteenth-century humanism.

If Witt and Black have delved into the origins of humanism, altering our perception of its development and its chronological boundaries, other scholars who have been concerned with the essential nature of the movement and its impact on the culture of the time have concentrated their attention either on the end of its short-lived efficacy or on the decline and eventual reversion to the culture it had successfully destabilized. In El sueño del humanismo, Rico views the movement as ensuing from an ambitious ideal of a few humanists who aspired to renovating and transforming the world in which they lived. Their visionary plan was indeed so successful that, after leaving profound marks on the culture of the time, it eventually clashed with the new historical realities that the movement itself had helped to bring about, against which it was no longer capable of offering resistance. The duration of this intellectual drive to create a new civilization goes from Petrarch to Desiderius Erasmus, with a number of humanists such as Lorenzo Valla, Leon Battista Alberti, Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola, Nebrija and a few others that helped transform every field of knowledge, from the arts to the sciences, through the teaching and study of the studia humanitatis. Issues, themes and ideas that make their first appearance in the works of Petrarch will be found again in the ideals of tolerance, peace and fraternity of Erasmus after humanism has run its course. But the failure to realize these goals that were central to the new culture, which was to be based on the expressive power of the classical language and on the wisdom of ancient authors, marked the beginning of the decline and the sad realization that these objectives were simply part of a dream created by the noble but unrestrained erudition of some far-sighted humanists.

The paradigm of humanism underlying Rico's study is but the logical evolution of the one he offered in his 1978 study on Nebrija and in subsequent writings. In El sueño del humanismo, he presents a synthetic and coherent interpretation of this intellectual movement which he has refined through years of judicious reflection. Though his interpretation of humanism is markedly personal, it remains within the tradition of Italian humanist studies and shows, more specifically, its association with the philological school of Giuseppe Billanovich, Carlo Dionisotti, Vittore Branca, Augusto Campana and others.

Central to Rico's understanding of the humanist cultural program is the new conception of ancient languages and of language itself, for on these and on the arts of discourse rests the foundation of a civilization. Through the study of the studia humanitatis and eventual assimilation of the works of classical authors, humanists were able to recover and appropriate the beauty and stylistic elegance of the use of these authors, an essential requirement for undertaking any sort of intellectual activity. It was by acquiring such a critical knowledge of classical languages and their uses that they could begin to restore ancient texts to their pristine language by cleansing them of the textual corruptions that medieval scribes with their barbarous Latin had inflicted on them. Fifteenth-century humanists, beginning with Valla, came to discover that language did change according to time and place. Consequently, if the meaning of words was determined by the actual use people made within a particular historical context, language had to be an historical construct and could no longer be perceived as referential according to the theories being taught in the universities of the time. The contextualization of language, whose meaning was based on the writer's concrete use of it and not on some speculative abstraction, led Valla to consider language, culture and society as indivisible aspects of man's historical presence in the world. I should point out that Rico's «linguistic turn», though it has some affinity with Waswo's modernized notion of humanist language (Language and Meaning in the Renaissance; «Theories of Languages»), is in many ways closer to Branca's «umanesimo della parola».

As to why the revival of classical antiquities and the pursuit of the studia humanitatis did not fulfill the radical expectations of many great humanists of Quattrocento Italy or those of the European «triumvirate» of the first half of the sixteenth century (namely Erasmus, Budé and Vives), Rico's explanation is that it was precisely its success that implicitly tended to transform the aspirations of humanism from a dynamic intellectual force to an educational pillar, unmovable but unmoving, at the service of culture in general (El sueño del humanismo 101-11). The end of the humanist dream as a unified intellectual design is thus marked at the highest level by the increasing complexity of the studia humanitatis, which caused a fragmentation into fields of specialization, and at the lowest level by a process of simplification and dilution to make accessible the disciplines of the humanities to a greater number of students in secondary education. They were, in other words, signs of the modern age and the harbinger of mass culture. Rico's provocative interpretation goes against the grain of the other dominant school of Italian scholars who have usually attached a philosophical meaning to this intellectual movement. From the time of national reunification, through the pre-war (Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile) to the post-war generation (Garin), humanism has always been viewed as a philosophically driven movement whose enduring influence has left its mark on the social, political and religious thinking of Western civilization.

In recent years other reasons have been proposed for the end of Renaissance humanism. William H. Bouwsma, for example, sees the crisis of European Renaissance in terms of a reaction to the cultural advances brought about by humanist innovation and creativity. The end or, more appropriately, the «waning» of the Renaissance begins to manifest itself toward the middle of the sixteenth century and will last approximately until the middle of the next century. His idea of decline or waning has to do with the aftermath of the Renaissance cultural climax and with the emergence of a well-defined countertendency that seeks to restore order, the primacy of reason, and orthodoxy in order to restrain the open-mindedness and artistic creativity that characterized the cultural life of the time. The bold and unfettered humanist movement that had succeeded in destabilizing the well-ordered world of the Middle Ages and in liberating the self had become the source of doubt and anxiety with a real or apparent fear of constituting a threat to the stability of the institutions. According to Bouwsma, the radical changes brought about by the intellectual freedom, the rejection of dogmatism, the new methods of teaching or by the search for a more satisfying spiritual life were being transformed into means of social, political and religious control in the name of reason, dogmatism and stability. Underlying each of these conflictive cultural trends he finds two dominant conceptual doctrines, one derived from Augustine and the other from the Stoics. Augustinianism, being rooted in the rhetorical tradition, since the time of Petrarch had sustained the development of humanism culminating, among other achievements, in the Protestant and the Catholic Reformations. Stoicism, on the other hand, because of its philosophical propositions, was used to repress the impulses of the will, the passion for seeking truth, and the liberty inherent in all artistic creation. In times of crisis, Stoicism offered the steady, rational order of the universe and the security of sociopolitical institutions established by natural laws and morality.

Between the historians who have been concerned with determining the birth of the movement and those who have tried to ascertain its end or its decline, the vast majority of scholars have continued to focus on the nature and actual impact of humanism through the study of particular authors and their works without losing sight of the broader interpretation of the movement25. A quick look at the program of the Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in any given year or at the articles published in various European and American journals dedicated exclusively to the study of Renaissance humanism reveals the unprecedented number of research based on archival sources that is truly revolutionizing our contextual understanding of the movement as it spread through many parts of Europe. Less interested in determining the origins or the end of humanism, and even less passionate about overplaying the recovery of classical culture as the principal cause of its development and diffusion, older and younger scholars seem to have shifted their attention to the study and recovery of humanist texts, to a revisiting of issues from more solid bases of inquiry, and to unraveling the authors' interconnectedness with the social realities of the time. In recent years, in The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanism, Historians and Latin Legacy, Christopher Celenza has called attention to the need for preparing in a systematic way editions of humanist texts in Latin, a practice that until now has been carried out sporadically among Renaissance scholars. More oriented toward a microhistorical approach, their analyses in general are characterized by a refusal to fit an author or his writings into preconceived humanist molds. By focusing, instead, on the individual and on the immediate intellectual and sociopolitical context in which a particular humanist operates, they often uncover facets of the author's learning and thinking that offer more plausible explanations than the inherited interpretations thus far given of his actions and motivations. The most striking results of this trend have been the demythologization and thus a reframing of humanism as an intellectual movement, an increasing refinement of the methodologies being applied, and an attempt at historicizing previous scholars' assumptions before rejecting their interpretations.

Through these processes, disciples and followers of Kristeller, Baron and Garin, as well as a new generation of scholars, have been challenging many of the advances made by these leading interpreters of the movement. As the premise and validity of their conclusions have been repeatedly questioned, each of their distinct formulation of humanism, which together had revolutionized this field of study, has undergone various degrees of radical revision. Garin, a historian of Italian and European philosophy, whose studies encompass various strands of humanist thought, has had a vast influence on scholars of humanism. Attracted since the 1950s to Antonio Gramsci's writings and attentive to the changes in Italian political life during the postwar period, he rejected the idealist philosophy of Gentile and Croce and became particularly interested in the activities and moral thought of Quattrocento humanists, particularly in the manner in which they related to the society of their time. Gramsci's concept of cultural hegemony, namely a dominant level of culture through which a social class can achieve and maintain political power, or of the «organic intellectual», a learned man engaged in the sociopolitical events of the day considered essential for the attainment of such a goal, are clearly present in his analysis of humanist thinking and attitude although they are never expressed in such terms26. His emphasis on the humanists' intent to replace the dominant culture of scholasticism with a way of thinking more responsive to present-day problems is reminiscent of Gramsci's modern concept of hegemonic struggle against a traditional power system that permeates all aspects of cultural life. Where he departs from Gramsci, however, is in the question of humanist education. If Garin's notion on the one hand can be considered an attempt at correcting the harsh judgment passed by Gramsci on fifteenth-century humanist schools, it is, on the other, one of the central premises of his new conceptualization of philosophy as historical knowledge (Filosofia come sapere storico).

In the ten years in prison that preceded his death, Gramsci had long meditated on the ideology of Italian humanism, a period in which intellectuals as a social group exercised for the first time a significant historical function. The conclusion he reached was that Quattrocento humanism was essentially regressive and reactionary for it did nothing to advance the national consciousness of the people. Of course, there were some progressive features, but these were relegated to the cultural development of certain professional sectors of society (Gramsci, vol. 3: Quaderno 29, 2350). Taking a cue from one of Bruni's dialogues in which Niccoló Niccoli calls Dante «the poet of the bakers, cloth makers and similar populace» because of his use of the vernacular in the Comedia (Dialogi ad Petrum Paulum Histrum)27, humanists' emphasis on Latin and classical literature is for Gramsci further evidence of their deliberate separation from the vernacular, a language that characterized the literary culture of the more industrious sectors of society. Against this backdrop, the rise of humanism during the fifteenth century had only generated the type of «traditional» intellectuals, namely those who either renounced political involvement for private gain or sought personal success at the service of powerful magnates. Only at the close of the century does a sort of «organic intellectual» begin to appear in the figure of Machiavelli, who writes and think as an active participant in the cultural and political life of the time.

Unlike Gramsci, whose scholarly endeavors were limited by his incarceration and reliance on memory, Garin had always had access to a wealth of primary and secondary sources whose assessment for such a massive and complex material called for the development of a new historicist method distinct from those of his teachers as well as his contemporaries. He viewed Renaissance humanism as a watershed in the cultural history not only of Italy but of Europe and the humanist as a precursor of the modern-day intellectual -an image, I should point out, that he helped to popularize and that is still vivid in our collective imagination. He attributed, in fact, the revolutionary changes of this period to the educational program introduced by the humanists. Within the historical context of the time, Latin and classical literatures were deemed the most effective means for shaping the students' moral character and for endowing young people with the freedom to realize their potential. By fostering self-knowledge and the awareness of others by engaging in a dialogue with past and present authors through their writings, the new curriculum and methods of teaching were aimed at preparing a new generation of students to live an active social life and become responsible members of society.

In contrast with the modest impact in Anglo-American scholarship of Garin's scholarly contributions, the paradigm of humanism that has had a considerable influence in Renaissance studies and beyond in the Anglophone world has been the one proposed by Baron, generally known as «civic humanism». His thesis is that Quattrocento humanism as we know it had its birth in Florence around the year 1402 as the result of a very specific political crisis. At the core of this momentous change marking a sudden break with the individualistic humanism of the previous century was the unexpected revival of ancient republicanism, a political idea formulated by Bruni but widely shared by other members of Salutati's circle28. The immediate cause that brought about such a new political awareness was the critical moment in the drawn-out war between Florence and Milan, when Giangaleazzo Visconti seemed close to capture Florence itself in 1402. This immediate threat led Florentine humanists to use their learning and erudition in support of their city and their republican system. According to Baron, this new political attitude is clearly shown in Bruni's panegyric to Florence, which he dates a year or two after the danger had passed and the Milanese forces had been defeated29. At this juncture classical learning began to be used as an effective means of instilling in the minds of citizens, both adults and young students, a set of civic values aimed at preserving the city's self-government and its republican tradition.

Baron's thesis, as presented in The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance, became almost from the very beginning the object of much controversy. The dates of Bruni's writings on which he based the republican turn of Florentine humanism have been questioned ever since on philological and ideological grounds. As historians have stressed the chasm separating the ideas expressed in his works from the actions he actually took throughout his life, his political beliefs have come under severe criticism30. Even the highly praised republicanism of early fifteenth-century Florence has been vastly modified under the constant revisions of political historians. In spite of the objections to Baron's thesis and the refutation of many of its aspects to the point that no scholar today is willing to accept his interpretation, the paradigmatic concept of civic humanism he proposed in the 1950s continues to generate a significant number of studies. Even Baron's most severe critic, Hankins, has retained the syntagm «civic humanism» although he has radically redefined its meaning in accordance with the conclusions drawn from his extensive research into fifteenth-century humanist thought (see «The Baron Thesis after Forty Years» and «Humanism and the Origin of Political Thought»)31.

If Baron's emphasis on Florentine liberty and civic tradition as a defining moment of Renaissance humanism provoked many discussions among cultural and literary critics and was ultimately refuted for the inflexibility of its formulation, the enduring republican ideals inherent to his thesis found a more favorable reception among historians of modern and early modern political thought. In fact, the rebirth of republicanism in fifteenth-century Florence as described by Baron has become an important chapter in western political thinking. It has served as a starting point for re-examining republican concepts of liberty and self-government in the social and political theories of modern European thinkers. It should be noted that the scholars who have taken the lead in this field of research are generally known as belonging to the so-called Cambridge School of political thought, as represented by John G. A. Pocock, Quentin Skinner, and their students who have for decades been analyzing the different conceptualizations of republicanism from Quattrocento Florentine humanists to eighteenth-century European philosophes32. Focusing on the reinterpretations of the ancient notions of polis and res publica as understood by modern thinkers through different historical periods, they have viewed the humanist appropriation of these classical ideas as a crucial link to later intellectual debates over key concepts regarding the republican model of political organization. In short, what began as Baron's interpretation of Florentine civic humanism within a broader republican framework has gone from Bruni's and Machiavelli's Florence to Oliver Cromwell's England, from whence it crossed over to the British colonies of the New World, culminating in the American Revolution.

If on the one hand Baron and Garin viewed Renaissance humanism as a cultural and intellectual shift that rejected all forms of medieval scholasticism, that redefined the concept of man in the universe and his role in society, and was in many ways a precursor of the moral concerns of postwar philosophical schools, Kristeller, on the other, identified humanism exclusively with an educational and literary movement that grew out of the rhetorical tradition of the Middle Ages that had nothing to do with the philosophical thought of the time and even less with any humanist strain of twentieth-century philosophy. Though the studia humanitatis, as invented and practiced by students and teachers of these five subjects, did have an enormous effect on many aspects of the cultural life of the period, they were not the object of study of the philosophers. The same way that humanism evolved out of the medieval grammar school of the dictatores and not as a reaction to scholastic teaching, so Quattrocento philosophers never broke with traditional scholasticism. In fact, many professional philosophers such as Ficino, Pico, Pomponazzi and others who received a humanist education combined their classical learning with late scholastic thinking and methodology33. They all professed Christian beliefs, and many humanists either worked for the Church or belonged to one of its orders. No single political ideology can be ascribed to humanists as a group, nor were they all committed to religious reforms or obsessed with anticlerical sentiment. Kristeller's aversion to include humanists within the rank of the philosophers or his rejection of viewing this group as fiercely anti-scholastic, an antagonism he attributed to the normal contentiousness between university professors of rival disciplines, can best be explained by his education in Germany and, more importantly, by the philosophical trend that dominated the teaching of philosophy in American universities at the time of his arrival in the United States. It should be noted that before and after the war, European and American philosophers representing major schools of thought were seeking, in response to the political, economic and religious crisis of the time, a common ethical ground, what they called a New Humanism with which to meet the intellectual challenges of the present. Because of the confusion the term created in the minds of such an heterogeneous group of philosophers, who tended to merge their loosely applied modern connotation to the meaning of a scarcely known Renaissance movement, Kristeller insisted on drawing a sharp distinction between Renaissance humanism as practiced by the learned men of the time, mostly teachers and students of classical literatures, rhetoric and philology, and present-day humanism espoused by professional philosophers. He lamented the semantic inaccuracy they made of the word humanism, which in English is used to designate both movements, unlike the Italian terms that distinguish between umanesimo, the Renaissance historical phenomenon, and umanismo, the modern strain of thought («Il Rinascimento nella storia del pensiero filosofico» 156-57)34.

If his narrow definition of humanism was aimed at countering the indiscriminate use of the term that often blurred the distinction between the old literary movement and the new philosophical current, his concern for understanding Renaissance culture and thought in its actual manifestation led him to historicizing not only the origin of the terms humanist and humanism but also the meanings they were given by scholars at different periods and cultural contexts. Striving to understand the works of Renaissance humanists and philosophers within their cultural and intellectual context, Kristeller, always cautious not to fall into anachronistic judgments, unwittingly adopted the same scholarly practice that characterized early humanists' search for ancient writings. The collective enterprise of fifteenth-century humanists who combed Europe's monasteries and cathedrals in search of classical works was duplicated by Kristeller, who was able to gather bibliographical information on all extant written records that these learned men had left behind. His six-volume Iter Italicum, which lists all known catalogued, badly catalogued, and uncatalogued holdings of humanist manuscripts from libraries, archives and collections from all over the world, is without any doubt the most enduring legacy to humanist studies35. The extraordinary significance and usefulness of the Iter, clearly evident to anyone who has had to trace the whereabouts of a humanist work, can be viewed as an integral part of Kristeller's developing historical methodology. The need for assembling all available data that was present from the very beginning in his attempt to acquire a comprehensive view, both chronologically and geographically, of such a defining movement in European history, corresponded to one of his interpretation's fundamental convictions. To understand the movement, the complexity of the culture from which it arose, and its legacy was to historicize, in the widest sense of the word, all aspects of its manifestation, from the term coined to designate it to the historical accounts given through the centuries and, most important of all, to a direct examination of the actual writings and their diffusion.

Kristeller's interpretation of Renaissance humanism, similar to the ones postulated by Baron and Garin, has undergone the normal modifications in the hands of the new generation of scholars who have pursued the lines of inquiry he first established in the post-war years. If Witt and Monfasani are proposing anew a medieval origin of humanism, not longer based on the learning and professional practices of the dictatores as distant precursors of humanists, but on the literary and philosophical thought of men of letters and thinkers of that time, Michael Allen's studies on Ficino, first investigated by Kristeller in the late 1930s, have finally dispelled the idea of a nonexistent Renaissance philosophy. Kristeller's disdain for anachronistic interpretations of works and authors of this period has been taken to its logical conclusion by another of his disciple, James Hankins. Not only has this multifaceted scholar undertaken a general revision of a number of humanists' writings and ideas by delving into their immediate historical circumstances and aspects of the cultural climate of the time, but he has also analyzed today's prevailing interpretations by historicizing the ideological background and intellectual experiences that have conditioned, and to some extent determined, the different understanding of humanism proposed by Baron, Kristeller and Garin. Through his rigorous reexamination, we are now learning about humanists' limitations in understanding classical works and how they sought to re-create ancient communities as an idealized image of their present society. His demystification of the exemplary role we customarily attach to humanists, together with exposing the weaknesses of our exalted views of their works, have cleared the way for a more objective perception of the truly innovative features of their thinking.

A similar historicizing approach that has yielded surprising results has been taken for the last thirty years by Fubini who, like other Italian historians of humanism, has tended to emphasize the political, ethical and philosophical components of the cultural transformation that affected Italy and the rest of Europe. Underlying the many valuable contributions he has made over the years, one finds in his studies an emerging pattern leading toward an alternative view of this movement that challenges both the idea of its continuity with the Middle Ages and the revival of the classics as the crucial factor responsible for the expansion of intellectual interests during this period36. He sees humanism as a well-defined cultural movement that begins with Petrarch, goes through its most radical stage during the early decades of the fifteenth century, and begins to assume a more moderate, accommodating stance during the second half of the century. It is curious to note that it is precisely at the end of the Quattrocento, almost a hundred and fifty years after Petrarch, that documentary evidence shows the rise of a professional sector made up of professors and students of the studia humanitatis who are referred to as humanista, a newly coined term first used in the schools and universities of the time. Fubini's outline of an evolving humanism whose development is clearly conditioned by its internal intellectual strains, as well as by external oppositional currents of thought that it had to contend with, offers a dynamic and more complex account of the movement.

Given the fact that the early generation of radical humanists were either trained in law or associated with this profession (Bruni, Bracciolini, Valla), it is understandable why Fubini would question the revival of classical antiquity and the studia humanitatis as the crucial factor for bringing about a new way of thinking that generally characterizes Renaissance humanism. For this reason, he is willing to consider other possible causes, from the political to the ideological and even psychological motivation, that were equally responsible for changing people's minds and attitudes with regard to their intellectual tradition and accepted views and beliefs. In his studies, he emphasizes a recurrent theme running through the writings of early humanists; and if some Florentine humanists minimize the contributions of authors from the previous century (Dante and Petrarch), they all question in a variety of ways other aspects of their inherited culture. But it is their challenge of Scholastic methods and principles that, according to Fubini, constitutes the major factor in ushering in the modern period.

There is much to be said about Fubini's provocative recommendation calling for the reappraisal of a more realistic role played by the revival of classical studies in the origin and development of that very complex phenomenon that was humanism. Such a revision, I would suggest, is a much-needed correction, since reducing humanism to the study of ancient authors and languages, as was excessively emphasized in the second half of the last century, does not do justice to, nor does it explain, the profound historical changes that were to affect directly or indirectly all aspects of Renaissance cultural life. From a historiographical standpoint, a re-examination of the movement from a more disinterested point of view would distance us, the direct descendants of humanists, from our proclivity to overestimate all that our distant predecessors said and wrote. But it would also spare the modern critic and historian from constantly justifying a humanist culture in a society where there were no outstanding men of letters excelling in classical studies, as it was the case in many parts of Europe during the fifteenth century. In our particular case, which happens to be a crucial century in Spanish history, it could widen the field of investigation to other areas of its intellectual life; it would certainly encourage a re-examination of known works and also inspire new probing into the movement's manifestations in works and authors who have remained largely submerged in our perfectly idealized, but somewhat frozen, picture of fifteenth-century Spain.

Though the majority of scholars representing the latest trends in humanist studies deal mostly with Italian and to a lesser extent with European humanism, their methods and approaches are most useful for their heuristic value. Spanish humanism cannot be considered separate from a historical phenomenon that involved most of the European cultures of the time. Though the movements revealed itself in a variety of national manifestations, their similarities were far greater than their differences. It is by joining the ongoing research of many contemporary scholars of Renaissance humanism and by pursuing new lines of inquiry as demanded by the object of study that we could truly begin to make sense of the impact that Spanish humanism had in the Old and New World and the role it played in the literary, artistic, scientific and speculative life of Spain.

Works Cited

  • Allen, Michael. Synoptic Art: Marsilio Ficino on the History of Platonic Interpretation. Florence: Olschki, 1998.
  • Baron, Hans. The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance: Civic Humanism and Republican Liberty in an Age of Classicism and Tyranny. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1955.
  • Baron, Hans. From Petrarch to Leonardo Bruni: Studies in Humanistic and Political Literature. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1968.
  • Baron, Hans. In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism: Essays on the Transition from Medieval to Modern Thought. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988.
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