Essays on the Spread of Humanistic and Renaissance Literary Civilization in the Slavic World (15th-17th Century)

From Firenze University Press Book

Edited by: Giovanna Siedina, University of Florence

The topic The Spread of Humanistic and Renaissance Literary Civilization in the Slavic World is too vast to approach it within the confines of a brief contribution essay or of a single monograph. Therefore, after a few preliminary observations, I will move on to outline my intent in publishing the contributions gathered in this volume as well as the elements which unite the essays. The Renaissance age, whose impact manifested in various forms and levels of intensity throughout the Slavic world, has been the subject of study over two centuries. The bibliography on this topic, starting from the works of J. Burckhardt, G. Voigt and J. Michelet, is immense. Despite this long history of inquiry, the discussion on a whole series of issues is still open, first of all with regard to the chronological context of the European Renaissance. In fact, according to some scholars, who consider the Renaissance as a repeatable phenomenon and typologically similar to other phenomena which occurred before and after it, the Renaissance proper was preceded in the West by three different “Renaissance” or rather “renovations”: the Carolingian revival of the 8th and 9th centuries and those of the 10th and 11th and 11th and 12th centuries. Some scholars place the beginning of the European Renaissance in the 12th century; while others characterize the 13th and 14th centuries as a proto-Renaissance, that is, only a preparation for the true Renaissance.

However, the great majority of specialists share the opinion that the Renaissance was an era that sought a synthesis of values that began in the mid-14th century and ended at the end of the 16th century, even if some extend it to the mid-17th century, taking into account the ‘chronological lag’ of the countries of the Eastern Europe. In the literature on the subject, historical interpretation and the question of how to properly define the Renaissance has long been and is still under discussion. The Renaissance is generally regarded as an era of extraordinary cultural flowering, as a radical change in culture or as a transition stage, and sometimes in the most literal meaning of the word, as a recovery (re-establishment) of classical antiquity. Scholars are increasingly inclined to consider it as a historical cultural era, but to this day there is no full consensus in the academic community either on the criteria of ‘determination’ of the Renaissance, or on its definition.

Some scholars consider the Renaissance as a typological phenomenon, which occurred in different areas at different times, but in the presence of similar socioeconomic conditions and with similar characteristics, a sort of necessary stage in the history of world culture marking a renewal of the activity of a people or group of peoples defined in the context of spiritual culture after a long period of stagnation or decay. Among them N.I. Konrad sees it as a universal phenomenon, an “obligatory stage in the passage from the Middle Ages (every Middle Ages) to the Modern Age (every Modern Age), from feudalism to capitalism”.

Those who reject this theory emphasize the uniqueness of the Renaissance era in Italy and Western Europe, and deny the use of this word to characterize similar or precursory phenomena of the Renaissance, or even development models that claim to be universally valid, but “abstract from the historical detail”, as Graciotti writes.

Therefore, this current of thought considers the Renaissance as a non-repeatable historical-cultural phenomenon, with its specific tasks, which took place in a defined time and place. The coexistence of two different conceptions of the Renaissance, already starting from the end of the 19th century, gave rise to the aforementioned discordance of opinions. The study of Renaissance culture is further complicated by the very nature of the transition period from the Middle Ages to modern times. It was a period riddled with contradiction. As Graciotti points out, the Renaissance is an era that sought to synthesize the values of the medieval world with those that already belonged to the new world. Its task was “to reconcile the old theological culture with the new anthropological culture”, and for this reason, the scholar emphasizes, “that civilization was so changeable and so fragile” (Graciotti 1988: 240).

He identifies three constitutive elements of the Renaissance: the rebirth of classical culture; the cult of art and humanae litterae; and the centrality of the creator man (homo faber) in the perspective of Renaissance philosophy. Distinctive features of the Renaissance, alongside the birth of individualism and intellectual emancipation, are the discovery of the value of man as an individual and the secularization of human thought. As noted by Graciotti, as regards Slavic languages and literatures, the confusion between the Renaissance and other types of ‘rebirth’ or ‘awakening’, typologically different, could be avoided by using the Slavic term exclusively to name the different historical-social-cultural ‘awakenings’. Instead, to characterize to characterize the Italian Renaissance and the cultural phenomena (literary, artistic, philosophical) that participate in it or inherit some elements, it would be preferable to use the loanword derived from the term Renaissance (e.g. in Russian Renesans and the adjective renesansnyj).

DOI: 10.36253/978–88–5518–198–3

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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy