EUH 1000

 

Great Works of Renaissance Literature

 

 15th 16th Century          RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION

Francesco Petrarch

1300s

Dialogues and Poetry

By meditating on his lost love, Laura, Petrarch plants the seeds for all the later poets and even Shakespeare. This collection unites Earthly love for Laura with the Divine love of the Virgin Mary, producing a union of the supernatural and the personal. It is also the essential transition from the medieval mind into the renaissance.

Italy

Giovanni Boccaccio

1300s

The Decameron

Cooped up for ten days (hence Deca in Decameron) in a country manor house, seven women and three men- tell each other 100 stories. The stories seem funny, romantic, erotic, carefree, even frivilous. But each has a bittersweet moral tale, and after spending 'The 10 Days,' all go forth with a greater knowledge and a life changed. This harks back to the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer, and the 1001 Arabian Nights all in one.

Italy

Baldassaire Castiglione

1500s

The Courtier

For centuries since its publication during the renaissance, this book has provided the model of the ideal gentleman and the ideal lady. European 'courts,' that is, 'King's Courts' or 'duke's court', 'count's court', or any important court, required the land's noblefolk to behave in certain ways. This is the guidebook to proper behavior and manners, inspired by medieval chivalry but going beyond it, it features a conversation between some nobles in the court of Urbino, Italy, a famous renaissance venue. These Urbino nobles discuss the virtues, grace, love, humor and happiness of the ideal man and woman of the aristocratic class. Today, we don't have the same kind of aristocratic-commoner distinction, so its fun to read about the old times, when some people were just, yes, considered better.

Italy

Martin Luther

1500s

Ninety Five Theses

It had to come. Here is one of the simplest documents we know, certainly the shortest work of any of the Great Books... yet one very profound. It is one showing the abuses of some of the clergy of the 16th Century church. This is the document that changed Christianity forever, ripping it asunder into all of the diverse denomenations of today's world. It condemns the selling of indulgences as 'tickets to heaven.'  Due to the peoples' reception of Luther's 95 Theses, 'The Church,' became the 'Catholic Church' which was set against the Lutheran,' and then Calvinist, in a matter of only a few decades. Religious wars were begun over the nature of Christ. An ordeal by fire.

Germany

Niccolo Machiavelli

1500s

The Prince

Theological and moral behavior have no place in the political arena. This book and its credo are the first stirrings of modern philosophy, whose endpoint tells us that nihilism, 'a belief in nothing,' is about as good as human beings are going to get. So... this is a complicated situation. Even though modern philosophy has hardened our hearts, this is a great and exciting book, telling Prince Lorenzo de Medici how do run his principality in central Italy. He says that the prince must sometimes go against the religion, the right, and the morally good deed, to preserve the power of the State. Codified power politics find their root here.

Italy

John Calvin

1500s

Institutes of the Christian Religion

Calvin was a man defiant. He defied the Church as Luther did, and while his doctrines also stress the individual's relationship to God and Calvinist churches still reflect a kind of plain or non-ornamental (bland) appearance in comparison to Catholic, his doctrine of going back to the soil for a simple and hardy life is very powerful and very profound. The Pilgrims that settled the shores of America were Calvinist. The famous protestant work ethic was perfected by Calvin. The rigor and piety of the Christian workingman makes the Institutes one of the founding documents of the American Republic.

Switzerland

Desiderius Erasmus

1500s

In Praise of Folly

The ultimate wit, the ultimate critic and the ultimate humanist of the Renaissance, reading Erasmus is like waking up from a dream, but on a beach with the surf washing on your face to snap you back into reality. In Praise of Folly, like its funny title, skewers the establishment with just the right humor to show that yes, people are still people, concepts like 'The Church' are fine but sometimes the people who make them up can be more... human than their ideal. Erasmus is one of those rare writers who terrorises the establishment not because he is a revolutionary with a new idea, but because he is a simple writer with a sharp enough mind to use truth to destroy pretention and the petrified nature of the institution.

Holland

Nicholas Copernicus

1500s

On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres

Sometimes called 'On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres,' this was the greatest science book in a thousand years. On his deathbed in Frombork Cathedral, Poland, Copernicus got a package containing his life's most important work, this book, the content of which "Stopped the Sun and moved the Earth." The Scientific Revolution began with this book. For the first time, mankind knew that what was apparently a no-brainer, that the Sun moved around the Earth every 24 hours, was completely wrong. From Ptolemy's Amalgest to Copernicus, this was the rule. "The book that nobody read," told us that we were not the center of the universe. And we had to rethink... EVERYTHING.

Poland

St. Thomas More

1500s

Utopia

 Utopia means, 'That which cannot exist.' Yet, More wrote this book to tell us what should exist. Its a story of an island society- isolated, with no crime, no vice, all virtue and good, with all Christian people seeking the eternal salvation and loving each other. A powerful critique of his society in England at the time, the real lesson of Utopia is that there is not a truly perfect way to construct 'a masterpiece society.' The best we can do is strive for a just and honorable way of life, and if a majority of us do it, our lives will be grand- but let's not be perfect, just work on being better first!

England

St. Ignatius Loyola

1500s

The Spiritual Exercises

In 1535 this masterwork of the Catholic counter-reformation was born. The influence was nothing less than an astounding rebuke of Luther's crusade against the church. In fact, it glorifies the church and the individual Christian's unification with the true house of the Lord God. Organized into 5 books: The Creation, Mankind, the Kingdom of God, Christ Jesus and The Trinity, Loyola leads you on the supreme 'finding yourself' session, no yoga or mysticism is needed for a real Christian, instead, read St. Ignatius to find the relationship of your life to the greater whole of the world of God.

Spain

Leonardo Da Vinci

1500s

Notebooks

In all of history, very rarely a man of such incredible virtuosity and genius arises. Leonardo's life was full of amazing pursuits: he tried to invent airplanes, solve the problems of the human body and in fact, his imagination is so powerful that he is thought to be the Einstein of the Renaissance... or even greater. He was a painter and a sculpter as well, the Mona Lisa is his work. Da Vinci's masterful life is apparent in his famed 'Notebooks,' that is, his drawings of the things that make the world matter.

Italy

Francois Rabelais

1500s

Gargantua and Pantagruel

 A voracious alcoholic, Rabelais writes 'by drinkers, for drinkers.' Pantagruel is the son of Gargantua, and the first book is that of the dad, then the son. In Gargantua, we find a satire of the day's academic values. Pantagruel goes to college at the University of Paris and gets a 'care letter' from his dad with advice that is considered the twin super-education in Renaissance values (with 'The Courtier')!

France

Montaigne

1500s

The Essays

 His dad woke him every morning with the sound of a musical instrument. Montaigne inherited an estate in France and retired to it to write his life's work so that when he died, his friends would more easily remember who he was... live and almost in person. He and this book are the originators of the modern Essay. A short piece of opinion or story. Montaigne's are the first, and probably the most famous. They range to almost anything important you can think of, and are celebrated still today.

France

Jan Kochanowski

Laments (Treny)

 The ultimate story of the pain of the worst kind... the loss of a child... the great Polish bard Jan (Kok-han-ov-ski) reveals his soul to us after the death of Urszula, his two year old daughter. Usually reserved for important people, here we find an eleugy that paints such powerful imaginations in our head, that we find ourselves pained and comforted at the same time. After much terrifically powerful thought, it comes to pass that Christ answers all prayers.

Poland

 

<--------Back