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Hi, I'm John Green, This is Crash Course: World History and today we're going to talk
about something that ought to be controversial: The Renaissance.
So you probably already know about the Renaissance thanks to the work of noted teenage mutant
ninja turtles Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. But that isn't the whole story.
(Me-from-the-past:) Mr. Green, Mr. Green. What about Splinter? I think he was an architect.
Ugh, me from the past, you're such an idiot. Splinter was a painter, sculptor, AND an architect.
He was a quite a Renaissance rat.
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Right, so the story goes that the Renaissance saw the rebirth of European culture after
the miserable Dark Ages, and that it ushered in the modern era of secularism, rationality,
and individualism.
And those are all in the list of things we like here at Crash Course.
(Me-from-the-past:) Mr. Green. I think you're forgetting Cool Ranch Doritos?
Yeah, fair enough.
Then what is so controversial? Well, the whole idea of a European Renaissance presupposes
that Europe was like an island unto itself that was briefly enlightened when the Greeks
were ascendant and then lost its way and then rediscovered its former European glory.
Furthermore, I'm going to argue that the Renaissance didn't even necessarily happen.
But first, let's assume that it did. Essentially, the Renaissance was an efflorescence of arts
(primarily visual, but also to a lesser extent literary) and ideas in Europe that coincided
with the rediscovery of Roman and Greek culture.
It is easiest to see this in terms of visual art, Renaissance art tends to feature a focus
on the human form, somewhat idealized, as Roman and especially Greek art had.
And this classicizing is also rather apparent in the architecture of the Renaissance which
featured all sorts of Greek columns and triangular pediments and Roman arches and domes. In fact,
looking at a Renaissance building you might even be able to fool yourself into thinking
you're looking at an actual Greek building, if you sort of squint and ignore the fact
that Greek buildings tend to be, you know, ruins.
In addition to rediscovering, that is, copying Greek and Roman art, the Renaissance saw the rediscovery
of Greek and Roman writings and their ideas.
And that opened up a whole new world for scholars well, not a new world, actually since the texts
were more than 1000 years old, but you know what I mean.
The scholars who examined, translated, and commented upon these writings were called
humanists, which can be a little bit of a confusing term, because it implies they were
concerned with, you know, humans rather than, say, the religious world.
Which can add to the common, but totally incorrect, assumption that Renaissance writers and artists
and scholars were, like, secretly not religious.
That is a favorite favorite area of speculation on the Internet and in Dan Brown novels, but
the truth is that Renaissance artists were religious. As evidence, let me present you
with that fact that they painted the Madonna over and over and over and over and over and
Anyway, all humanism means is that these scholars studied what were called the humanities. Literature,
philosophy, history.
Today, of course, these areas of study are known as the so-called dark arts. What? Liberal
arts? Aw, Stan, you're always making history less fun. I WANT TO BE A PROFESSOR OF THE
Stan (Off camera): The Dark Arts job, it's a dangerous position.
John: Yeah, I guess that is true, so we'll stick with this.
Right so here at Crash Course, we try not to focus too much on dates, but if I'm going
to convince you that the Renaissance didn't actually happen, I should probably tell you,
you know, when it didn't happen. So traditionally the Renaissance is associated with the 15th
and 16th centuries. Ish.
The Renaissance happened all across Europe, but we're going to focus on Italy, because
I want to and I own the video camera. Plus, Italy really spawned the Renaissance.
What was it about Italy that lent itself to Renaissancing? Was it the wine? The olives?
The pasta? The plumbers? The relative permissiveness when it comes to the moral lassitude of their
leaders? Well, let's go to the Thought Bubble.
Italy was primed for Renaissance for exactly one reason: Money.
A society has to be super rich to support artists and elaborate building projects and
to feed scholars who translate and comment on thousand-year-old documents. And the Italian
city states were very wealthy for two reasons.
First, many city states were mini-industrial powerhouses each specializing in a particular
industrial product like Florence made cloth, Milan made arms.
Second, the cities of Venice and Genoa got stinking rich from trade.
Genoa turned out a fair number of top-notch sailors, like for instance Christopher Columbus.
But the Venetians became the richest city state of all.
As you'll remember from the Crusades, the Venetians were expert sailors, shipbuilders,
and merchants and as you'll remember from our discussions of Indian Ocean trade, they
also had figured out ways to trade with Islamic empires, including the biggest economic power
in the region: the Ottomans.
Without trading with the Islamic world, especially in pepper, Venice couldn't have afforded
all those painters nor would they have had money to pay for the incredibly fancy clothes
they put on to pose for their fancy portraits.
The clothes, the paint, the painters, enough food to get a double chin all of that was
paid for with money from trade with the Ottomans.
I know I talk a lot about trade, but that is because it is so incredibly awesome, and it
really does bind the world together.
And while trade can lead to conflicts, on balance, it has been responsible for more
peaceful contacts than violent ones because, you know, death is bad for business.
This was certainly the case in the Eastern Mediterranean where the periods of trade-based
diplomacy were longer and more frequent than periods of war, even though all we ever talk
about is war because it is very dramatic, which is why my brother Hank's favorite video
game is called Assassin's Creed, not Some Venetian Guys Negotiate A Trade Treaty.
Thanks, Thought Bubble. So here's another example of non-Europeans supporting the Renaissance:
The Venetians exported textiles to the Ottomans.
They were usually woven in other cities like Florence, and the reason Florentine textiles
were so valuable is because their color remained vibrant.
That is because they were dyed with a chemical called alum, which was primarily found in
Anatolia, in the Ottoman Empire.
So to make the textiles the Ottomans craved, the Italians needed Ottoman alum, at least
until 1460.
When Giovanni da Castro, Pope Pius Ilis' godson, discovered alum, in Italy, in Tolfa.
And he wrote to his godfather, the Pope: ''Today I bring you victory over the Turk. Every year
they wring from the Christians more than 300,000 ducats for the alum with which we dye wool
various colors... But I have found seven mountains so rich in this material that they could supply
seven worlds. If you will give orders to engage workmen, build furnaces, and melt the ore,
you will provide all Europe with alum and the Turk will lose all his profits. Instead
they will accrue to you."
So the Pope was like, "Heck yeah." More importantly he granted a monopoly on the mining
rights of alum to a particular Florentine family, the Medicis.
You know, the ones you always see painted.
But vitally, Italian alum mines didn't bring victory over the Turks, or cause them to lose
all their profits, just as mining and drilling at home never alleviate the need for trade.
Okay, one last way contact with Islam helped to create the European Renaissance, if indeed
it happened: The Muslim world was the source of many of the writings that Renaissance scholars
For centuries, Muslim scholars had been working their way through ancient Greek writings,
especially Ptolemy and Aristotle, who despite being consistently wrong about everything
managed to be the jumping off point for thinking both in the Christian and Muslim worlds.
And the fall of Constantinople in 1453 helped further spread Greek ideas because Byzantine
scholars fled for Italy, taking their books with them. So we have the Ottomans to thank
for that, too.
And even after it had become a Muslim capital, Istanbul was still, like, the number one destination
for book nerds searching for ancient Greek texts.
Plus, if we stretch our definition of Renaissance thought to include scientific thought, there
is a definite case to be made that Muslim scholars influenced Copernicus, arguably the
Renaissance's greatest mind.
Oh, it's time for the open letter? An Open Letter to Copernicus.
But first, let's see what is in the secret compartment today. Wow, the heliocentric solar
system? Cool. Earth in the middle, sun in the middle, earth in the middle, sun in the
middle. Ptolemy. Copernicus. Ptolemy. Copernicus.
Right, an open letter to Copernicus.
Dear Copernicus,
Why you always gotta make the rest of us look so bad?
You were both a lawyer and a doctor? That doesn't seem fair.
You spoke four languages and discovered that the earth is not the center of the universe,
come on.
But at least you didn't discover it entirely on your own. Now, there's no way to be sure
that you had access to Muslim scholarship on this topic.
But one of your diagrams is so similar to a proof found in an Islamic mathematics treatise
that it is almost impossible that you didn't have access to it.
Even the letters on the diagram are almost the same. So at least I can tell my mom that
when she asks why I'm not a doctor and a lawyer and the guy who discovered the heliocentric
solar system.
Best wishes, John Green
Alright, so now having spent the last several minutes telling you why the Renaissance happened
in Italy and not in, I don't know, like India or Russia or whatever, I'm going to argue
that the Renaissance did not in fact happen.
Let's start with the problem of time. The Renaissance isn't like the Battle of Hastings
or the French Revolution where people were aware that they were living amid history.
Like, when I was eleven and most of you didn't exist yet, my dad made my brother and me turn
off the Cosby Show and watch people climbing on the Berlin Wall so we could see history.
But no one, like, woke their kids up in Tuscan village in 1512 like, ''Mario, Luigi, come
outside! The Renaissance is here!
Hurry, we're living in a glorious new era, where man's relationship to learning is changing.
I somehow feel a new sense of individualism based on my capacity for reason."
No. In fact, most people in Europe were totally unaware of the Renaissance, because its art
and learning affected a tiny sliver of the European population.
Like, life expectancy in many areas of Europe actually went down during the Renaissance.
Art and learning of the Renaissance didn't filter down to most people the way that technology
does today.
And really the Renaissance was only experienced by the richest of the rich and those people,
like painters, who served them.
I mean, there were some commercial opportunities, like for framing paintings or binding books,
but the vast majority of Europeans still lived on farms either as free peasants or tenants.
And the rediscovery of Aristotle didn't in any way change their lives, which were governed
by the rising and setting of the sun, and, intellectually, by the Catholic Church.
In fact, probably about 95% of Europeans never encountered the Renaissance's opulence or
art or modes of thought.
We have constructed the Renaissance as important not because it was so central to the 15th
century. I mean, at the time Europe wasn't the world's leader in, anything other than
the tiny business of Atlantic trade.
We remember it as important because it matters to us now. It gave us the ninja turtles.
We care about Aristotle and individualism and the Mona Lisa and the possibility that
Michelangelo painted an anatomically correct brain onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel,
because these things give us a narrative that makes sense.
Europe was enlightened, and then it was unenlightened, and then it was re-enlightened, and ever since
it's been the center of art and commerce and history.
You see that cycle of life, death, and rebirth a lot in historical recollection, but it just
isn't accurate.
So it's true that many of the ideas introduced to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries became
very important.
But remember, when we talk about the Renaissance, we're talking about hundreds of years. I
mean, although they share ninja turtledom, Donatello and Raphael were born 97 years apart.
And the Renaissance humanist Petrarch was born in 1304, 229 years before the Renaissance
humanist Montaigne.
That is almost as long as the United States has existed. So was the Renaissance a thing?
Not really. It was a lot of mutually interdependent things that occurred over centuries. Stupid
truth always resisting simplicity. Thanks for watching. I'll see you next week.
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The Renaissance: Was it a Thing? - Crash Course World History #22

23149 Folder Collection
Aurora Yang published on August 13, 2015    鍾昀倫 translated    Grace Chen reviewed
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