December 26, 2016

“For an ambitious youth, the fame and the brilliant position of the humanists were a perilous temptation; it seemed to him that he too ‘through inborn pride could no longer regard the low and common things of life’. He was thus led to plunge into a life of excitement and vicissitude, in which exhausting studies, tutorships, secretaryships, professorships, offices in princely households, mortal enemies and perils, luxury and beggary, boundless admiration and boundless contempt, followed confusely one upon the other, and in which the most solid worth and learning were often pushed aside by superficial impudence.

But the worst of all, was, that the position of the humanist was almost uncompatible with a fixed home, since it either made frequent changes of dwelling necessary for a livelihood, or so affected the mind of the individual that he could never be happy for long in one place. He grew tired of the people, and had no peace among the enmities which he excited, while the people themselves in their turn demanded something new.

Much as this life reminds us of the Greek sophists of the empire, as described to us by Philostratus, yet the position of sophists was more favorable. They often had money, or could more easily do without it than the humanists, and as professional teachers of rhetoric, rather than men of learning, their life was freer and simpler. But the scholar of the Renaissance was forced to combine great learning with the power of resisting the influence of ever-changing pursuits and situations. Add to this the deadening effect of licentious excess, and — since do what he might, the worst was believed of him — a total indifference to the moral laws recognized by others.

Such men can hardly be conceived to exist without an inordinate pride. They needed it, if only to keep their heads above the water, and were confirmed in it by the admiration which alternated with hatred in the treatment they received from the world. They are the most striking examples and victims of an unbridled subjectivity.”

~ “The civilization of the Renaissance in Italy”, Burckhardt.
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