Reading Questions 12-1
Reading Questions 12-1: Petrarch, Letter to Livy
1. Why did Petrarch admire Livy?
Petrarch views Livy as a hard-working, perfect role model, as he claims that Livy wrote “one hundred and forty-two books on Roman affairs. With what fervor, with what unflagging zeal must though have labored, and of that entire number there are now extant scarcely thirty…..” This conveys that Petrarch respects passion and had an appreciation for intellectual learning. Petrarch turned to Livy to find true morals, and eventually developed the basis for humanism by implementing these lessons. The relationship between Petrarch and Livy resembled a master and student. Furthermore, Petrarch mentions that he should thank Livy, due to the fact that, “thou didst so frequently cause me to fort the present evils, and transfer me to happier times…” This means that Livy’s books, allowed Petrarch to escape his “flawed” world. Livy indirectly permitted Petrarch to grow as a person, and for that, Petrarch is grateful.
2. What implicit contrast did Petrarch draw between Livy’s time and his own?
Livy’s time appears to have greatly differed from Petrarch’s age, the main dissimilarity being, “men value nothing except gold and silver, and desire nothing except sensual, physical pleasures.” Despite these characteristics in men reigning throughout history, Petrarch believes that there is little that could compare to the glory of Rome. Additionally, Petrarch calls other men of the time, “dumb beasts of the field”, obviously perceiving himself above them, and that “inert matter has a richer, higher goal than that proposed to itself by thinking man.” Petrarch degrades his fellow peers as a result of their actions, and because their principles do not align with his. Petrarch thinks his time is filled with imbeciles that cannot comprehend the importance of classical Rome and Greece.
3. In what ways does Petrarch wish to bring Livy into his world encapsulate the humanist program?
Essentially, the humanist program is the belief that human nature, mostly in classical Rome and Greece, is worthy of recognition. Petrarch believes that the writers of Rome reached a level of achievement was nearly impossible to duplicate. Petrarch’s longs to bring Livy into his world, which effectively summarizes the humanist program, as that would be the ultimate and literal revival of classical Rome. Petrarch wants to pull himself out of the physical and mental world around him to live imaginatively in Roman antiquity. Petrarch aspires to be Livy, and meeting this “matchless historian” would be life-changing.
Reading Questions 12-2: Machiavelli, The Prince
1. Why must a prince be both a lion and a fox? What qualities do these animals represent?
According to Machiavelli, a prince, “should know how to use the beast’s nature wisely, he ought of beats to choose both the lion and the fox; for the lion cannot guard himself from the toils, nor the fox from the wolves. He must therefore be a fox to discern toils, and a lion to drive off wolves.” A lion, the king of the jungle, is a common symbol for a ruler, as it represents might and glory. Moreover, the prince can use physical force in order to command the respect of his subjects. However, too much power and pompousness may be the downfall of a prince, as they believe they can defeat any threat. In contrast, a prince must embody the characteristics of a fox, as they are quiet, cunning, and willing to deceive. As a fox, the prince can use political tactics and diplomacy to control his enemies. A leader must always be on alert for potential threats, and should not be afraid to take drastic measures to achieve a goal. Taken individually, neither of these talents will guarantee a prince’s success, but combined, the diversified skillset is challenging to counter. A wise ruler will strive to master the unique aptitudes of both beasts. The general public must have faith in the prince, and see he is capable of protecting the state, which requires the strengths of the lion and fox.
2. What light does The Prince shed on the realities of Italian politics?
The Prince exposes the truth of Italian politics, as Machiavelli explains that men who lived craftily have accomplished great things, and “in the end got the better of those who trusted to honest dealing.” This signifies that untrustworthy men rise to the top by preying on the morally just and fair. Machiavelli adds, “…he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding willing dupes,” proving that this is a staple of the age. The reality is that Pope Alexander VI, who should be pious, and devote his life to helping others, was the most deceitful of them all. Machiavelli praises, “No man ever had a more effective manner of asseverating, or made promise with more solemn protestations or observed them less. A yet, because he understood this side of human nature, his frauds always succeeded….” Nothing is genuine, and unfortunately, honor is worthless, for rulers solely thirst for power. Italian politics had always been messy, as alliances needed continual monitoring, which was solved with permanent embassies, and relations between city-states only grew tenser. Intense local loyalties prevented unification, which Machiavelli comments on Pope Alexander VI’s analyzation of Milan, Venice, Faenza, and Rimini. The Prince shows that careful rulers make intelligent decisions, and contemplate the consequences; one does not attack the raging bull, one stalks the limping cow. Cesare Borgia, Pope Alexander VI’s illegitimate son, was equally as merciless, as he killed his own sister’s husband. Cesare Borgia tricked the populace into turning against his minister, Remiro d’Orco, and ordered his beheading in the market place of Cesena. The Prince reveals that rulers need to be pitiless to bend the public opinion in his favor, and integrity is insignificant in Italy.
3. How might a Renaissance critic of Machiavelli have responded to his work? What objections might such a person have raised to The Prince? How might Machiavelli have countered his critics’ arguments?
A Renaissance critic of Machiavelli may have called it utter nonsense, and disagreed with numerous statements. Machiavelli begins with the concept that most people are selfish, fickle, and corrupt. The positive outlook, which even the majority today chooses to believe, is that people are good, and they can learn from their mistakes. Critics would be concerned with the “right”, rather than the politically effective, which in Machiavelli’s mind, is the most important. To flourish in the wicked world, a prince might have to lie to his own people for the good of the state. Detractors of The Prince would proclaim that lying is terrible, no matter the cause. Machiavelli would suggest that this is the only way to achieve great things, for a prince must deceive, or he will be deceived. Machiavelli states, “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.” Most people of the Renaissance would think it is praiseworthy in a prince to keep his word. Machiavelli would argue that in the real world of power and politics, a prince must temporarily mislead. The function of the prince is to provide security, as weakness leads to disorder, which might end in civil war or conquest by outsiders. Machiavelli would counter that the means to achieve the goal is unimportant, it is only the outcome that matters. Brutality, and manipulation are necessary to preserve the state, as governments should be judged on safety, not on a ruler’s code of ethics.
Reading Questions 12-3: Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier
1. What are the characteristics of a good courtier? How would you explain the stress Castiglione places on military aptitude and training?
A good courtier “should be nobly born” and the “true profession of the courtier ought to be that of arms…be known among others as bold and strong, and loyal to whosoever he serves….” Castiglione emphasizes that the principal occupation of the courtier must relate to weaponry. The courtier’s devotion to the master must be unfaltering, like a knight to the lord of the manor. Again, Castiglione refers to a war-hero, as he explains, “let the man we are seeking be…..stern, and always among the first, where the enemy are to be seen…” This perfect solider must likely have hatred for the enemy, eagerness to fight, and unwavering allegiance to the lord. Even the body of the courtier must be beneficial in battle, as Castiglione states, “….I would have him well build and shapely of limb and would have him show strength and lightness and suppleness ad know all bodily exercises that befit a man of war: whereof I think the first should be to handle every sort of weapons well on foot and on horse…” Castiglione continually emphasizes military aptitude because his image of a hero is based upon the “saviors” of the Middle Ages. Knights were viewed as majestic, fighters that were protecting the lives of innocents against dangerous evils, and the courtier accurately represents this vision. Later, Castiglione declares that, “There are many other exercises, which although not immediately dependent upon arms, yet are closely connected therewith, and greatly foster manly sturdiness; and one of the chief among these seems to me to be the case, because it bears a certain likeness to war…” In almost every circumstance possible, a courtier must demonstrate his military prowess to the “great lords”. Daily, the courtier must prove that he is worthy for the court to keep his position, which is why Castiglione emphasizes war constantly. Consequently, he supplements this phrase, “It is also fitting to know how to swim, to leap, to run, to throw stones, for besides the use that may be made of this in war…” Castiglione stresses the importance only preforming “admirable” exercises that are befitting a man at court, most likely to gain honor or a high-ranking status. Apparently, skill in battle, will boost the reputation of the courtier and is the sole method of obtaining value.
2. What role does the courtier play in royal government? How does he facilitate his master’s success?
The courtier obeys the commands of the prince, whether it be reasonable, or “neither good not evil”. There should be no flaws to the courtier, as the lord will always find sometimes agreeable to say. The courtier should have finesse and appear natural at everything. The courtier, “will not be an idle or untruthful tattler, nor a boaster nor pointless flatterer, but modest and reserved, always and especially in public showing reverence and respect which befit the servant towards the master.” The courtier is a glorified servant who will perform any task, and he has no specific role in the royal government. The courtier is someone attempting to gain influence through royalty, and can be replaced quickly with subsequent social climbers, hoping to entertain.
3. Would you describe Castiglione’s courtier as a medieval or Renaissance figure? Why?
Castiglione’s courtier is closer to a medieval figure than a Renaissance figure due to the relationship between the lord. For example, Castiglione explains, “I think that conversation which the Courtier ought most to try in every way to make acceptable, is that which he holds with his prince; and although this word “conversation” implies a certain equality that seems impossible between a lord and his inferior….” In summary, the courtier is considered less than the lord, and always must be willing to please. This is in stark contrast to the Renaissance philosophy that common people are capable of extraordinary talent. Castiglione affirms the courtier must “mold his ways to his prince’s liking,” which denounces individuality even more. A “Renaissance Man”, like Leonardo da Vinci, was the leader, who created something new, while the courtier merely follows orders.
Reading Questions 12-4: Erasmus, The Education of a Christian Prince
1. What metaphors did Erasmus use to describe the relationship of a prince to his people?
Erasmus outlines the metaphor of a prince to his people in extensive detail, as “The rule of a prince over his people is no different from that of the mind over the body. The mind dominates the body because it knowns more than the physical body but it does so to the great advantage of the latter than to itself….” This indicates the prince may be in full control, but that is for the benefit of the people. The mind’s finest element is reason, proving that the prince is not rash, but thoughtful. Erasmus discusses, “the heart is in the body of a living creature that the prince is in the state. If the heart is sound, it imparts life to the whole body, since it is the fountain of the blood and life sprit; but if it has been infect, it brings utter collapse to every part of the body. The heart is the last part of a living body to be broken down, and the very last trace of life are thought to survive in it. Consequently the prince should keep himself clean and undefiled from all corrupting folly whenever such disease lays hold of the people.” Erasmus convinces the audience that the prince is the vital source of energy for the state to function. If any harm comes to the prince, not only will the government fail, but every common person will be impacted. Erasmus refers to the good of the mind, but also the evils that may befall it; “If there is any evil in the mind it springs from infection and contact with the body, which is subject to the passions. Any good that the body possesses is drawn from the mind as from a fountain. How unbelievable it would be and how contrary to nature if the ills should spread from the mind down into the body, and the health of the body be corrupted by the vicious habits of the mind.”
2. In Erasmus’s view, what qualities should a Christian prince embody? Why?
A Christian Prince must excel all others in goodness, wisdom and watchfulness. “The prince should be superior to his officers in the same degree that they are to the common people.” The Christian Prince should attempt to improve his character by following the teachings of God and the Bible. The prince take the blame for the issues of the public, and utilize his experience to solve these problems. Erasmus states, “It would be just as absurd for was, seditious uprisings, profligate morals, debased laws, corrupt officials, and every similar curse of a state to spring from the prince whose wisdom should lay the storms stirred up by the folly of the common folk.” The prince should not rule over men with fear, nor take pleasure in the title “Master”. Moreover, Erasmus explains, “there is only one Master of Christian men. Why, then, do those who assume His functions prefer to take their patterns of government from anyone except Him, who alone is in all ways to be imitated. It is proper enough to gather from others whatever virtues they have; but in Him is the perfect example of all virtue and wisdom.” A Christian prince needs to literally embody God and reflect his qualities to the public.
3. Erasmus argued that he ideal Christian prince ruled over a “free” people. How might he have explained this apparent contradiction? What similarities and differences do you see between his understanding of the meaning of freedom and your own?
Reading Questions 12-5: Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies
1. How does de Pizan defend a woman’s ability to learn?
Christine de Pizan defends the ability to learn with calculated claims that are difficult to counter, such as, “Thus, not all men, (especially the wisest) share the opinion that it is bad for women to be educated. But it is very true that many foolish men have claimed this because it displeased them that women knew more than they did.” Christine de Pizan attacks the fragile ego of men, and proves that a woman’s ability to learn triumphs the opposite gender. Due to men’s lack of self-confidence, they must look upon woman as inferiors. In addition, Christine de Pizan expresses “Here you can see that not all opinions of men are based on reason and that these men are wrong.” This is a bold statement, but she follows up with, “How could anyone think or believe that whoever follows good teaching or doctrine is the worse for it? Such an opinion cannot be expressed or maintained….but it should not believed that women are worse for knowing what is good.” Christine de Pizan later provides examples of immensely successful women throughout history, solely furthering her claim, and attesting to the theory that women are capable of comprehending intellectual topics.
2. What examples of learned women does she provide?
Christine de Pizan refers to Hortensia, the daughter of Quintus Hortenius, who had mastered the science of rhetoric so thoroughly, her father could not surpass her. Hortensia’s eloquence was “so compelling that she was listened to, no less readily than her father would have been, and she won her case.” Hortensia began to support the cause of women and “to undertake what no man dared to undertake”. This specific reference to man’s weakness emasculates Christine de Pizan’s opponents. Giovanni Andrea, a law professor in Bologna, had a daughter, “who was educated in the law to such an advanced degree that when he was occupied by some tasks and not at leisure to present his lectures to his students he would send Novella, his daughter, in his place to lecture to the students from his chair.” These two empowering women support Christine de Pizan’s claim to a high degree, as they closely resemble her struggle against toxic masculinity.
3. According to de Pizan, why do some men not want to see women educated?
Some men believe the concept of education for women to be absurd, for mores would be ruined as a result. Christine de Pizan challenges this, “For it must not be presumed that mores necessarily grow worse form knowing the moral sciences, which teach the virtues indeed, there is not the slightest doubt that moral education amends and ennobles them.”
Reading Questions 12-6: Artemisia Gentileschi, Susannah and the Elders
1. How would you describe Gentileschi’s Susannah? How does the position of her arms and head help to convey her reaction to the unwanted advances of the elders?
Susannah is shying away from the encroachments of the elders. Clearly, her hands above her face is a feeble attempt at protection. Her head is contorted in the complete opposite direction, most likely due to fear, and she is twisting to get away from this attack. Susannah appears to be the fair, innocent maiden who had been caught in an unfortunate circumstance. Susannah is the isolated figure, with no companions for aid. Susannah crouches while the two Elders threaten, almost cowering in their presence. She is cornered and victimized, in the perfect position to be slaughtered by the predators. Rather than showing Susanna as coyly or flirtatious, Artemisia takes the female perspective and portrays Susanna as vulnerable, frightened, and repulsed by their demands, while the men loom large, leering, menacing, and conspiratorial in her direction.
2. How would you characterize the two elders? How does their placement in the painting reflect their power? What might explain Gentileschi’s decision to depict them whispering to one another at the very moment they accost Susannah?
The elders appear to be creeping over, but they are positioned above Susannah, conveying that they are in control of the situation. Gentileschi allowed the audience condemn the prurience of the elders while they enjoy Susanna’s discomfiture, unable to cover herself with the towel that the artist always makes just too skimpy for purposes of modesty. Gentileschi’s decision to portray them whispering to one another is show them plotting against her, ready to ruin her life if she does not submit.
Reading Questions 12-7: Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Holofernes
1. How would you describe Gentileschi’s Judith? How would you characterize her facial expression?
Judith can be described as determined and unafraid, as Gentileschi seems to believe that women should not be painted as passive weaklings. She believed they should be painted as being in command and taking charge of their own actions. Normally, women are submissive, and the male is dominant, but Gentileschi reverses the roles in Judith and Holofernes. Judith is not expressing horror, but unwavering belief for her grim task. Artemisia depicts two strong, young women working in unison, their sleeves rolled up, their gazes focused, and their grips firm. These two women are not taking orders
2. What might explain Gentileschi’s decision to focus attention on Judith’s arms and those of her maid?
Artemisia’s Judith does not flinch. There is no horror, no surprise, no remorse, simply obligation to right a wrong. Judith braces herself on the bed, as she presses Holofernes’s head down with one hand and pulls a large sword through his neck with the other. Judith holds the sword with confidence, never hesitating to do her duty. The creases at her wrists clearly show the physical strength required. Arms are typically exaggerated in Renaissance artists for men, with bulging muscles, but Gentileschi chooses to emphasize the authority of women. Holofernes struggles in vain, the thrust of his arms countered by the more forceful movement of her maid, Judith’s accomplice in this grisly act.
3. Compare this work to Susannah and the Elders. Taken together, what do the two paintings tell us about the connections Gentileschi made between gender, power, and violence?
Gentileschi uses these stories to stress the dark nature of men, and their lies. Her paintings capacity to address not simply the historical but also the modern woman’s experience of the threat of sexual assault in male-dominated societies is truly remarkable. In a patriarchal society, women are denied basic rights, and her paintings empower women to fight back against oppressive faculties.
Comparative and Discussion Questions
1. Compare and contrast Petrarch and Machiavelli. Should they both be considered humanists? Why or why not?
Petrarch and Machiavelli should definitely be both considered humanists, although respectively, one was a poet and one was a philosopher. Petrarch wrote letters to Roman poets and expressed his love to Laura, while Machiavelli repeatedly brings up the theme of importance of appearing like a virtuous ruler without possessing those characteristics. Despite these dissimilarities, Petrarch and Machiavelli show individual greatness as the highest achievement. Petrarch’s version of humanism was thought that people were rational beings who possess within themselves the capacity for truth and goodness, which Machiavelli directly contradicted. Petrarch focused on the dignity of man, but Machiavelli emphasized what man can do for himself. To Petrarch, intellectual and spiritual matters triumphed over the frivolous nature of politics. He was interested in individual affairs and cherishing ancient Rome than modern conundrums. Petrarch’s works contain self-analysis, meditation, internal dilemmas, and crisis concerning cultural values. Divinity and humanity were favorite topics of Petrarch. Of the two, Machiavelli was the more cynical and more willing to counsel individuals to succumb to “greater” social currents to attain their private ends. Though this leaves little room for enacting an individual’s vision of the moral life, and implies Machiavelli’s belief in the impossibility of maintaining both a wholly virtuous existence. The individual’s will is capable of achieving for him control over a powerful and stable state, but even this, in Machiavelli’s judgment, necessitates a high, almost infallible degree of political calculation to attain. To Petrarch, the individual’s will is capable of righteousness and looking past desire to uncover the truth.
2. Compare and contrast Erasmus’s depiction of the successful prince with Machiavelli’s. How does one envision the Renaissance state? What does each think is necessary for a government to function well?
Machiavelli supported absolute power of the ruler, as he took commands from no one, however, Erasmus believed the higher authority figure, God, should dictate the prince’s actions. A separation of politics from ethics and the direction of politics toward the “practical” enhancement of the state’s power was critical. All moral considerations are, according to Machiavelli, secondary or outright irrelevant. Whenever pretense at virtue serves a ruler’s practical ends, they should be followed, but even simple honesty is not an absolute for a Machiavellian statesman. The portrait of the ideal ruler presented by Desiderius Erasmus differs starkly from Machiavelli’s in its emphasis in virtue and moral principles above all. The Erasmian ruler must primarily devote himself to administering justice to the people and abstaining from inflicting harm upon them.
3. What light do the works of Christine de Pizan and Artemisia Gentileschi shed of the challenged faced by women of their day? How would you explain the success of each in male-dominated fields?
Christine de Pizan and Artemisia Gentileschi were able to achieve immense success in male-dominated fields because they could connect with the struggles of women. They represented a gender that seemed almost nonexistent, a risk that many are not willing to take. Statements concerning rape and unfair social standards were unheard of until de Pizan and Gentileschi. Centuries of women being portrayed in misogynist writings as untalented and fragile was refuted by de Pizan. Christine de Pizan conveys that women are ambitious, worthy of recognition, and could exceed the expertise of men. Gentileschi was the only woman of that time to consistently and successfully tackle religious and historical scenarios on canvas, rather than the less valued landscape and portrait painting, genres more acceptable for women artists.
4. What marks Erasmus’s Education of a Christian Prince as a work of the northern Renaissance? How does it differ from some of the other works included in this chapter?
Erasmus’s Education of a Christian Prince can definitely be categorized as a work of the northern Renaissance due to the excessive religious fervor. Education of a Christian Prince combines idealistic suggestions for the formation of a ruler’s character through careful examination of the Bible. Christian humanists nurtured the idea that the classical ideas of calmness and stoical patience should be joined with Christian virtues, creating an admirable character. Education in the Bible was a key theme of the northern Renaissance. This differs from of the other works, such as Petrarch’s Letter to Livy focuses much more on the classical past and Roman historians as worshipped figures, while Erasmus’s Education of a Christian Prince uses God as the role model. Machiavelli, in The Prince, expressed that Cristian ethics is separate from politics, and ideals in government do not matter.