Renaissance Literature

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How did the rediscovery of classical models influence the arts and literature of the Renaissance?

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The term "Renaissance" is a French one meaning "rebirth." In the European Renaissance what was reborn was the culture of classical antiquity. This rebirth actually had two parts. The first was the rediscovery of Greek classics in Arabic translation prompted by contact with the Moors in Spain. The second major thread was contact with Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, where ancient Greek learning had never been lost, and especially the flight of Byzantine scholars to Italy after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire. At the same time as these external influences made themselves felt, many of the humanist scholars of the period were combing monasteries for ancient texts and rediscovering many Greek and Latin manuscripts that had been lying unread. The rediscovered letters of Cicero especially influenced humanist letter writing and prose style. The printing press, especially such great publishing houses as those of Aldus Manutius and Stephanus, widely disseminated these new discoveries.

In drama, the genre of revenge tragedy evolved from the rediscovery of Seneca's tragedies, and comedy drew its inspiration from Plautus and Terrence. The novel was influenced by the rediscovery of the Greek novel, especially Longus' Daphnis and Chloe and other ancient novels first translated into French by Jacques Amyot in the mid-sixteenth century, and shortly thereafter into English. Much of poetry imitated classical models and meters, rather than their immediate vernacular antecedents.

In architecture, classical Roman exemplars and the writings of Vitruvius influenced the movement away from the Gothic of the middle ages to a newly neo-classical architecture. The naturalism of ancient sculpture also factored into a shift toward the increasingly realistic nature of Renaissance art as compared with medieval art.

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