Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

The Fragmentation of Italy Favored the Renaissance.

The snippets that follow are from Will Durant’s, The Renaissance. (Simon and Schuster, 1953, pages 44-48).


We have followed Petrarch and Boccaccio through Italy. But politically there was no Italy; there were only city-states, fragments free to consume themselves in hate and war…Partisans of the popes and partisans of the emperors not only divided Italy, they split almost every city into Guelf and Ghibellline; and even when the strife subsided the old labels were used by new rivalries, and the lava of hate flowed into all the avenues of life…The timid weakness of individuals, the insecurity of groups, and the delusion of superiority generated perpetual fear, suspicion, dislike, and contempt of the different, the alien, and the strange.

Out of these impediments to unity rose the Italian city-state. Men thought in terms of their city, and only a few philosophers like Machiavelli, or a poet like Petrarch, could think of Italy as a whole; even in the sixteenth century Cellini would refer to Florentines as “men of our nation,”and to Florence as “my fatherland.” Petrarch, freed by foreign residence from a merely local patriotism, mourned the petty wars and divisions of his native country…

The fragmentation of Italy favored the Renaissance. Large states promote order and power rather than liberty or art…Local independence weakened the capacity of Italy to defend herself against foreign invasion, but it generated a noble rivalry of the cities and princes in cultural patronage, in the zeal to excel in architecture, sculpture, painting, education, scholarship, poetry…

We need not exaggerate, to appreciate, the degree in which Petrarchan and Boccaccio prepared the Renaissance. Both were still mortgaged to medieval ideas…Petrarch properly and prophetically described himself as standing between two eras…he loved the classics with the troubled conscience at the close of the Age of Faith as Jerome had loved them at its opening…Nevertheless, he was more faithful to the classics than to Laura; he sought and cherished ancient manuscripts, and inspired others to do the same…he formed his manner and style on Virgil and Cicero; and he thought more of the fame of his name than of the immortality of his soul. His poems fostered a century of artificial sonneteering in Italy, but they helped to mold the sonnets of Shakespeare…

But again it would be an error to overrated the contributions of antiquity to this Italian apogee. It was a fulfillment rather than a revolution…Medieval men and women, despite an otherworldly minority, had kept, unabashed, the natural human relish for the simple and sensual pleasures of life. The men who conceived, built, and carved the cathedrals had their own sense of beauty, and a sublimity of thought and form never surpassed.

…And a revolution in art had begun when Giotto abandoned the mystic rigor of Byzantine mosaics to study men and women in the actual flow and natural grace of their lives.

In Italy all roads were leading to the Renaissance.





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