The literature of Niccolo Machiavelli, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and Baldassare Castiglione’s greatly illustrated the fundamental characteristics of humanism, individualism, secularism, and a fascination with antiquity. Displaying and analyzing their various works of literature can define these characteristics in more detail. Humanism is a group of perspectives centered around humans and their values, capabilities, and worth. Machiavelli, Mirandola, and Castiglione were all humanist teachers. In Mirandola’s book Oration on the Dignity of Man he says ”…since we have been born into this condition of being what we choose to be — that we ought to be sure [that we are] above all else…” later he continues that God had created man higher than angels because man chooses to be good whereas angels are created to be good.
This is an example of the worth and capabilities of humans in Mirandola’s perspective. In Machiavelli’s perspective though, humans are untrustworthy and will deceive you the moment they have the chance to gain profit as he explains in his book The Prince. Individualism is the belief in the primary importance of the individual. In Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man he explains how Renaissance men are “exceptional” because they are depicted in the image of God. He stated that after God had created all creatures, he had the desire for another but every slot in the chain had been filled from angels to worms. He then created man so that he had no specific slot, instead men were capable of learning. When man philosophizes, he moves up in the chain. But when he doesn’t he vegetates. Mirandola made no mistake in adding that Renaissance scholars were very high in the chain because of their superior intellect. Some Renaissance authors also made their literature very exclusive to other scholars because the style and vocabulary was very difficult to read for common citizens. The reason they would do this is to show off how their intellect was superior to everyone else.
Secularism is a view that religious opinions should be excluded from government institutions. Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier was secular because it allowed many different social classes of people to read about how a courtier is supposed to be courteous and what abilities he should practice. Some people who read this book weren’t courtiers but it still showed how one should be courteous. Not only was The Book of the Courtier available to different social classes, it was also available to people of different languages and religions.
The final characteristic of the Italian Renaissance is a fascination with antiquity. During the Renaissance, scholars and artists were quite fascinated in studying the Greek and Latin Era. Many works of art such as the Statue of David were fashioned after Greek art. Machiavelli even described his nightly retreats into his library: “At the door I take off my muddy everyday clothes. I dress myself as though I were about to appear before a royal court as a Florentine envoy. Then decently attired I enter the antique courts of the great men of antiquity. They receive me with friendship; from them I derive the nourishment which alone is mine and for which I was born.
Without false shame I talk with them and ask them the causes of the actions; and their humanity is so great they answer me. For four long and happy hours I lose myself in them. I forget all my troubles; I am not afraid of poverty or death. I transform myself entirely in their likeness.” To conclude, the literature of Machiavelli, Mirandola, and Castiglione all made great attributions to the Italian Renaissance and thoroughly illustrated the fundamental characteristics of humanism, individualism, secularism, and a fascination with antiquity.