Dbq – Renaissance Humanism

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DBQ – Renaissance Humanism

Directions: The following question is based on the accompanying documents 1 - 11. This question is designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. As you analyze the documents, take into account both the sources of the documents and the authors’ point of view. Write an essay on the following topic that integrates your analysis of the documents. Do not simply summarize the docu­ments individually. You may refer to relevant historical facts and developments not mentioned in the documents.
Background: You are a historian who has been charged with defining humanism. Your only tools are those of the historian - primary sources and your ability to analyze and form generalizations from this analysis. The first step that you took was to look up humanism. This is what Webster's Dictionary has to say on the subject: the revival of classical letters, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns, characteristic of the Renaissance. Use the following documents.

  • Does the title of the document indicate any elements of humanism?

  • How does the document’s message convey an element of humanism?

  • Which documents convey similar messages?


Document 1

From: Pico, Count of Mirandola, "Oration on the Dignity of Man"

"I have read in the records of the Arabian, reverend fathers, that this Abdala the Saracen, when questioned as to what on this stage of the world, as it were, could be seen most worthy of wonder, replied: "There is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man."


Document 2

From: Petrarch, "Assent of Mount Ventoux (Ventosum)"

"... the mountain which is visible from a great distance, was ever before my eyes, and I conceived the plan of some time doing what I have at last accomplished today (climbing the mountain). The idea took hold upon me with especial force when, in re-reading Livy's History of Rome (Livy was an Ancient Roman historian), yesterday, I happened upon the place where Philip of Macedon, the same who waged war against the Romans, ascended Mount Haemus in Thessaly..."


Document 3

From: William Shakespeare, Hamlet

"What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! See what a grace was seated on this brow: Hyperion's (a titan or giant in Ancient Greek mythology) curls; the front of Jove (Jupiter) himself. An eye like Mars, to threaten and command. A station like the herald Mercury new lightened on a heaven-kissing hill, a combination and a form indeed, where every god did seem to set his seal. To give the world assurance of a man"


Document 4

From: Erasmus, "The Goodly Feast"

"An admirable spirit surely, in one who had not known Christ and the Sacred Scriptures. And so, when I read such things of such men (Socrates telling a friend that he has tried to please a god), I can hardly help exclaiming "Saint Socrates, pray for us!"


Document 5

From: Thomas More, Utopia

"That is why Plato in an excellent simile showed that wise men will not meddle in affairs of state. They see the people swarm into the streets and get drenched with rain, and they cannot persuade them to go out of the rain and back to their houses. They know that if they should go out to them, they would accomplish nothing, and be drenched themselves. So they stay indoors. Although they cannot remedy the folly of others, they can at least be wise themselves."


Document 6

From: Vivies, "A Fable About Man"

"I should like to begin this essay of mine on man by some fables and plays, since man is himself a fable and a play. Once upon a time, after a certain lavish and sumptuous feast given by Juno (the wife of Jupiter) on her birthday for all the gods, they, feeling carefree and elated by the nectar, asked whether she had prepared some plays which they might watch after the banquet."


Document 7

From: Columbus, "The Third Voyage"

"...in supporting this opinion, it agrees with that of Seneca (a Roman historian), and says that Aristotle had been enable to gain information respecting the world by means of Alexander the Great, and Seneca by the emperor Nero, and Pliny (another Roman historian) through the Romans."


Document 8

From: Rabelais, Pantagruel

All the world is full of knowing men, of most learned schoolmasters, and vast libraries; and it appears to me as a truth, that neither in Plato's time, nor in Cicero's, nor Papinian's, there was ever such a convenience for studying, as we see at this day there is.”


Document 9

From: Machiavelli, The Prince

A prince … should seem to be all mercy, faith, integrity, humanity, and religion. … Let the prince therefore aim at conquering and maintaining the state, and the means will always be judged honourable and praised by everyone, …”


Document 10

From: Castiglione, The Courtier

Let him be conversant not only with the Latin language, but with Greek as well, because of the abundance and variety of things that are so divinely written therein. Let him be versed in the poets, as well as in the orators and historians, and let him be practiced also in writing verse and prose …”


Document 11

From: The School of Athens, Raphael

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