The Renaissance of the 1500s: A Focus on “Myself”

The Renaissance stretched between the 1500s and 1600s. The focus of the “rebirth” of interest in Greek and Roman history, literature, and art, was just that – INTEREST. Previously, people had studied Greek and Roman antiquity in order to better understand the current culture – but in this particular Renaissance, people studied it in order to better understand the OLD culture – and to, in effect, change the current culture.

Humanism was one major facet of the Rennaissance. In those days, the term “Humanism” had a different connotation than it does in modern times. Humanism is a lens through which some view the world, with a focus on MAN, and what MAN can achieve. Today, humanism is seen as an opposite of Christianity, but back then, humanism was seen as compatible with the Catholic Christian viewpoint. Their argument held that man did not need to try to “hide” himself, or be seperate from the world, in order to live a life that honors God. People became more focused on individualism – signing their names to their works of art, attempting to attain earthly fame – and held that it was possible to be both a Christian and a humanist.

One such Renaissance thinker was a man named Petrarch, a philosopher who embodied the humanist spirit of the Renaissance. He professed to be a believer in God, but His Catholic leanings did not keep him from pursuing things of the world – happiness, fame, poetry, self-acknowledgement. He was forced to enter law school, but when his father died, he left Law and entered what he’d wanted all along – Greek, Literature, Poetry, source texts, etc. In his romance poetry, he presents a surprising angle; a focus on himself, and HIS love, and HIS pain, as opposed to the love they share, or much of an emphasis on the object of his love. Eventually, he chooses between two offers (from Paris and Rome) to become poet laurate, deciding on Rome.

One of the major innovations from the Rennaissance was the development of the printing press. The printing press not only made books and literacy more available to the middle class, (who before could never have afforded painstakingly hand-copied literature,) but also ushered in a new and sudden revolution within the church – Luther’s protest against indulgences, which led to a greater and more expansive movement than he had ever intended. His works were circulated wider than they ever could have without printing, and not only him, but others, also got the opportunity to spread their ideas through the new method of copying books.

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A senator’s speech

Photo by Skitterphoto on

Cicero was an ancient cultivator of rhetoric in Ancient Rome. He was an active master of rhetoric within the years 106 BC and 43 BC, when he was assassinated. In approx. 63 BC, Cicero gave a speech in the Senate, in order to try to persuade a man named Catiline to leave the city of Rome. Catiline was a senator who was supposedly a power-monger and a traitorous threat to Rome.

The speech is a brilliant example of persuasion and a great example of how although Cicero could not say for sure what he did, he was seriously good at persuasive speaking.

The first and biggest problem that appears when studying the text is that Cicero gives NO evidence for any of his implied (and serious) accusations. He accuses Catiline of treason; killing his wife; causing all crime in the city; ill character; and never gives a shred of evidence.

If the speech had not been given in the Senate but in a court trial, then Catiline could easily have refuted all these accusations based upon lack of evidence. But because Cicero’s speech was not presented within the confines of a judicial system, he did not have to present evidence. He merely had to use his strong powers of persuasion in order to influence and convince the Senate that Catiline was the scumbag that Cicero said he was.

He portrayed himself as having been a victim of Catiline’s crimes, and assured the Senate that he had been patient and restrained in dealing with the wayward Catiline. He implied that he himself held purely honorable intentions.

He brought to mind measuring rods to help his case that were of sentimental value to the Senate – the gods, the Republic, and Roman tradition. In doing so he was “getting inside their heads” to subconsciously and emotionally influence them to his line of thinking by identifying with them.


The speech was not based upon convincing Catiline to leave by using logic. He used persuasion and emotional rhetoric. (This is similar to a sect of ancient philosophers who practiced persuasion and manipulated reason to the point where they could logically prove something, even if it wasn’t actually true.) Cicero proved nothing, yet he accomplished his goal – he got Catiline to leave.

There was really nothing Catiline could have said to protect himself– not because of a lack of things to say, but because Catiline was unable to interrupt him. It was a speech presented to the Senate, not a legal proceeding. At that point, Catiline would have been embarrassed and publicly shamed. To rebuild whatever reputation he had left would take eons. In defeat, he gave in and left, and I don’t blame him. If you are not affluent in rhetoric, you simply cannot beat the master.