Auca 130: Italian Renaissance
1. Why are Pico’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man” and Alberti’s “Book of the Family” such important statements about human self-determination? Why does Alberti value reason over Fortune? Why does Pico consider humans to be even more favored than angels? Pico’s listing of multiple sources of his ideas is seen as an important model for humanistic education. Why? Do you agree with Pico’s ideas that every person is ultimately in control of their own destiny? Explain in detail. Quote directly from your sources in this essay.
Alberti discussed in the “Book of the Family” the disadvantages of fortune. At first, it may look lucrative to be wealthy and well-liked but as time passed by, everything that seemed important and valuable have slowly faded leavings individuals and families to be unhappy, poor, lonely and miserable. Alberti described fortune as something that has caused the obliteration of relationship particularly among the smallest unit of the society which is the family. However, it may be very obvious that fortune has made a huge influence on the manifestation of “abject, dark and tempestuous adversity” but humans can also be held responsible for their own success or mishaps. Fortune will always be a temptation that would be present all the time but it is up to people if they will succumb to this lure. According to Alberti, “You can be sure that whatever you seek or hold dear… there is nothing easier for you to acquire or obtain than this nobility. Only the man who does no desire it is without it.” Because of this notion, it can be surmised that an individual who is endowed with strong sense of virtues and morals, he/she can resist the enticing benefits of fortune. Therefore, being “prudent and wise” can affect the professional and even personal life which proves that “reason is more significant than fortune.” Alberti believed that without these valuable traits, a relationship will not blossom into something wonderful. In the case of families, the household heads practice “careful management, good practices, honest customs, humanity, openness and civility” to ensure that their love ones or family members do not fall into the lure of fortune. Moreover, fortune is not negative on its own. Humans still has the power to turn into something productive or destructive. So in the end, reason is still more influential than fortune in shaping a person’s destiny (Bondanella, 1987, p. 166-169).
Meanwhile in Pico’s “Oration of the Dignity of Man,” he discussed the drive of humans to learn. He discussed that man is ay top of the chain among all living things on earth. Also, he highlighted the difference of man compared to other entities from the physical and the spiritual world such as the angels which are perceived as one of God’s divine creations. More so, man is considered as the most privileged being who is deserving of respect and elevated status in the chain of all living things (Bondanella, 1987, p. 166-169). For Pico,
Man is the intermediary between the creatures, the intimate of higher beings and the lord of those below him; the interpreter of nature by the sharpness of his senses, by the discernment of his reason, and by the light of his intellect; the intermediate point between fixed eternity and fleeting time…the bond or rather the marriage song of the world, but little lower than the angles. (Bondanella, 1987, p. 180)
Moreover, Pico mentioned several sources on the definition of a man in the context of his function, role and goal in the physical and mystical setting which made his text and explanation about human learning more comprehensive. He supported his main points by inserting statements from philosophers and other great historical personalities such as Ascelpius and Chaldean. The ideas of these great men have added different perceptions or views on the uniqueness and the superiority of humans. Also, Pico reiterated that man possessed free will and intelligence which other creatures do not have. Man has the ability to transform himself into a beast or a venerated being depending on the choices he makes in his lifetime. According to the Pythagoreans, if man violates the divine law, he can become a beast. On the other hand, if a man understands all the things that surround him through the use of right reason, he is given dues respect or honor which makes him a “celestial and not an earthly being.” Additionally, a man who is free from desire and focused learning is perceived to be “a higher spirit clothed in mortal flesh and most worthy of respect.” In short, man is very much in control of his own destiny in life. It is up to him to choose what path he would take. He can decide to do the morally right thing to do or completely the opposite. Whichever course man would take, in the end he would still be the one to experience the joys and drawbacks of his decisions (Bondanella, 1987, p. 182-183).
Overall, Pico’s “Oration on the Dignity of Man” and Alberti’s “Book of the Family” are important texts that put significant meaning on human self-determination. Both have cited that humans are responsible for their own destinies. More so, humans were given the gift of intellect and reason to become skilled and revered. Since humans’ actions are motivated by several factors, they have developed a sense of determination in order to experience the many benefits and advantages of being a human, which is a privilege and at the same time an honor. Through their experiences, they learn how to adapt to changes and to develop in order to become a better person. It is just a matter of choosing between right and wrong or good bad and accepting the consequence of his/her actions.
2. Analyze the following quotation by Boccaccio’s fellow humanist, Leon Battista Alberti, in light of Boccaccio’s views on the social importance of compassion. Quote directly from the “Decameron” in your discussion. “Happiness cannot be gained without engaging in good, just and virtuous deeds. Good and just deeds are those which not only harm no one, but help the many. In fact, nature decreed that you complement me in the qualities I lack and a third supplement your own deficiencies. Why did nature do this? So that I might need you, you will need another and he another, who in turn will need me so this mutual need might be a bond and a reason for our staying together in friendship.”
Do you agree or disagree with Alberti’s statement? Why or why not? Is it significant in your opinion that Alberti uses the word “Nature” rather than “God”? Explain.
Humans are social beings. They cannot live alone because God did not make them self-sufficient. They are in constant need of physical sustenance which is provided by other living things and they possess this hunger to learn and to be part of an organization. Because of this, humans have learned to forge relationship with other human beings. As a result compassion is expressed. According to Alberti, being compassionate is a means of connecting with other people. Through this modest gesture, an individual experiences happiness. More so, this can also be viewed as a way of complementing the differences of each human being with one another. In the “Decameron,” Alberti mentioned that compassion is an essential part of life particularly when it is used to alleviate the pain of others. Alberti supported this argument by using an example of an individual who have experienced compassion from other people. First, Alberti described the individual as a compassionate person who sympathizes with others when they are in agony. According to the individual, “of any man ever had need of compassion and appreciated it or derived from it, I am that person…I have been aflame beyond all measure with a most exalted noble love.” However, when the time came when he suffered the pains of broken love, he was saved from the protracted misery of sulking over the lost of a great relationship through the help and compassion of his friends. As a result, the individual rendered his utmost gratitude for his friends for giving him the relief and direction that he badly needed. He mentioned that, “in my suffering, the pleasant conversation and the admirable consolation of a friend on a number of occasions gave me much relief, and I am firmly convinced I should now be dead if it had not been for that.” In relation to Alberti’s statement, he mentioned that being compassionate wound correspond to happiness. Also, the absence of some qualities an individual can be balanced off or filled up by another individual’s qualities. For example, if a person is impulsive, he/she can be complemented or taught by a person with patience or vice versa. Either of these circumstances, both the individuals will end up changing for the betterment of their personalities and their relationship with one another. Moreover, I believe that if a person does good things for himself and other people, the likelihood of being treated with respect and compassion will be high. No matter how bad an experience is for an individual, coping with despair and grief and forgetting the unhappy moments in life would be very much possible. It is just a matter of what comes around goes around (Bondanella, 1987, p. 62-63). In the “Decameron,” it was cited that
gratitude is the most praiseworthy of all qualities and that its opposite the most worthy of reproach, in order not to appear ungrateful, I have promised myself to use my limited talents in doing whatever possible in exchange for what I have received-if not repay with consolation those who helped me, then, at least, to assist those who may be in need of it. (Bondanella, 1987, p. 62-63)
This only means that kindness and compassion can be a never ending cycle if people would appreciate and be grateful to the humanitarian efforts of others.
On another note, the term used by Alberti to refer to God was inappropriate. Nature is not a suitable word that would best describe the Creator of all things or the Supreme Being. In the hierarchy of all living things, God is considered above all creatures because without him, nothing would be come to life. The concept of nature is defined as the setting wherein humans live or simply human’s natural habitat. Because of this, it is not enough to equate the powers and capabilities of God with the qualities of nature. Moreover, it can be accepted if God is only related or associated to the perception nature. However, by using nature in his statement, Alberti was able to regard God as someone who is within reach and can be interacted with easily. In short, Alberti gave God humanistic qualities who can understand the needs and wants of ordinary humans.
Bondanella, J.C. (1987). Italian Renaissance. New York: Plume.