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Interpretations of the Renaissance in Spanish Historical Thought

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Ottavio Di Camillo*
Affiliation:
Graduate Center, City University of New York

Extract

There are Several Reasons for presenting an overview of what the terms Renaissance and humanism have meant to Spanish historians and literary critics during the past one hundred fifty years. Despite the fact that these historiographical categories have not received the same attention in Spain as they have in other parts of Europe, it is still useful to identify certain recurring assumptions regarding the nature of the Spanish Renaissance and to point out how these underlying presuppositions are usually linked, directly or indirectly, to the historical development of the concept of the Renaissance elaborated elsewhere in Europe.

Type
Special Review Essay
Copyright
Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 1995

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References

1 With the exception, perhaps, of Italy, nowhere in Europe was the use of the neologism “humanist” as widespread as in sixteenth-century Spain. Used at first to indicate the teacher of the studia humanitatis, it soon acquired a variety of meanings. It came to designate the dangerous scholar with reformist ideas, the pedant, the poet, any student of the humanities, the rogue and, with this same meaning, it was even applied to a feminine literary character. By the end of the sixteenth century, the need was felt to put an end to the trivialization of such a designation and the true role of the “humanist“ became the subject of two extensive treatises: Juan Lorenzo Palmireno, Vocabulario del humanista (Valencia, 1569) and Baltasar de Céspedes, Discurso de las letras humanas llamado el humanista, written in 1600, which circulated in manuscript form.

2 See among others: Juan Francisco de Masdeu, Historia crítica de España y de la cultura espanola, 20 vols. (Madrid, 1783-1805); Juan Andrés, Del origen, progreso y estado actual de toda literatura (Madrid, 1784).

3 Orígenes de la poesia castellana (Madrid, 1754). His work was to have a lasting influence both in and outside of Spain. It became known in Europe in German translation by the famous philologist Johan Andre Diez in 1769.

4 There were several histories of literature in translation circulating in Spain during the first half of the nineteenth century, including Frederick Bouterweck, Historia de la literatura española, trans. J. G6mes de la Cortina and N. Hugalde de Mollinedo (Madrid, 1829); and J. C. L. Simonde de Sismondi, Historia de la literatura espaiiola, trans. Lorenzo de Figueroa and Jose Amador de los Rfos (Seville, 1841). In these and other translations, one can see how the Spanish translators went to great lengths to try to fill in what the foreign author had disregarded or to mitigate the excessively harsh judgment passed on Renaissance authors accused of pedantry because of their erudition.

5 It is very likely that J. Michelet, Histoire de la France, 5 vols. (Paris, 1833-1850), which covered French history up to the end of the fifteenth century, inspired Amador de los Ríos to undertake a similar enterprise. The publication of the seventh volume of the Spaniard's Historia critica de la literatura española (Madrid, 1861-65), in which he deals with the fifteenth century, coincided with the appearance of Michelet's volume (1862) on the sixteenth century, entitled La renaissance.

6 José Amador de los Rios, Vida del Marqués de Santillana, reprinted by Espasa Calpe (Madrid, 1947), 83-84: “Aquel inextinguible amor al estudio, aquella insaciable sed de nuevas y mis luminosas ideas que le animö toda su vida estableciendo vivos y estrechos comercios con los pueblos más cultos de Europa,” which “dotaron a Castilla de inapreciables tesoros y contribuyeron poderosamente a preparar la venturosa era de Isabel la Catölica, época de verdadero renacimiento.“

7 The polemic started when G. Tiraboschi attributed the decline of Italian Renaissance culture to the Spanish domination of the country. Saverio Lampillas answered these and many other charges in a work written in Italian which is, in effect, a literary history of Spain: Saggio storko-apologetico delta letteratura spagnuola contro le pregiudicate opinioni di alcuni moderni scrittori italiani, 4 vols. (Geneva, 1772-1782). A Spanish translation of this work was published in Zaragoza in 1783. The exchange of letters regarding the controversy between these two scholars is reproduced in G. Tiraboschi, Storia delta letteratura italiana, 11 vols. (Modena, 1772-1782).

8 Historia, VI, 9-10.

9 Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, “Humanistas espanoles del siglo XVI,” reproduced in Estudios y discursos de crítica histórica y literaria, ed. E. Sanchez Reyes (Santander, 1949), II.3.

10 Ibid.: “Por renacimiento entiende todo el mundo la resurrección de las ideas y de las formas de la antiguedad clásica.“

11 Ibid., II.5: “la forma antigua en toda su amplitud, hasta en sus øltimas concreciones de lengua y de ritmo.“

12 Ibid., II.6: “espíritu crftico y arte del estilo.” Mayans y Siscar may have learned about the humanist attack on scholastic learning from Luis Vives, In Pseudodialecticos. It should be noted that the only edition of Vives’ complete works that has ever been published in Spain is the one prepared by Mayáns y Siscar in 1782.

13 Ibid., II. 18: “todos los elementos se determinaron con su propio y grandioso caracter.“

14 Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, Poetas de la corte de Don Juan II (Madrid), 11.

15 M. Menéndez y Pelayo, Historia de los heterodoxos españoles, 2 vols. (Madrid, 1965), I.45: “el espíritu latino, vivificado por el Renacimiento, protestó contra la Reforma que es hija legftima del individualismo teutónico.“

16 'Indicative of this position is V. KIcmperer, “Gibt es eine spanische Renaissance,“ Logos, XVI, 1927.

17 Adolfo Bonilla y San Martín, “Erasmo en España (Episodio de la historia del Renacimiento),” Revue Hispanique 17 (1907): 379-548.

18 Marcel Bataillon, Erasme et I'Espagne (Madrid, 1937).

19 Adolfo Bonilla y San Martín, Fernando de Córdoba (1423?-1486?) y los orígenes del Renacimiento filosófico en España. Episodio de la historia de la lógica (Madrid, 1911), 16.

20 Américo Castro, El pensamiento de Cervantes (Barcelona-Madrid, new ed., 1972), 215-19.

21 José Antonio Maravall, El humanismo de las armas en Don Quijote. Prologue by R. Menendez Pidal (Madrid, 1948).