Abstract and Keywords
The defining goal of humanism was to recapture in the writings the beauty of the poetry and prose of antiquity. The humanists articulated for the first time in European history the modern ethic in which the life of lay people had at least equal value to that of clerics in God's sight. This article expounds substantial continuities between fourteenth-century humanism and its medieval antecedents in literary culture, continuities that belie representations of the humanist movement as a categorical break with the medieval past. They created the secondary school curriculum focused on ancient Greek and Roman authors that dominated Western European education down to the twentieth century. The philological techniques and hermeneutical methods the humanists developed proved fundamental to the wave of religious reform movements that swept over the subcontinent in the sixteenth century. The ancient geographical and astronomical works that it made available provided vital spurs for the exploration of the earth. Finally, the humanists' highly developed sense of historical perspective helped Europeans gain control of the past by conceiving of it as a time-differentiated series of social, political, economic, religious, and intellectual changes, and also, by objectifying the present with a view to the reform of society and politics.
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