Human Nature: Between Medieval and Modern
What is Mankind ? How are we placed in the cosmos; what constitutes the fundamental nature of our being; and in what ways can we be elevated, inspired, socialized, and corrupted? Our ways of answering these questions are said to have undergone a fundamental shift with the advent of renaissance humanism. This course investigates the nature and extent of that shift, and asks which areas of thinking about mankind were more, and less, altered at the dawn of the modern period. Topics will include the ways in which the story of Creation was understood, the location of mankind in the universe, how law and society are formed by and set boundaries upon the fundamental nature of man, and the importance (and limits) of education. We will think about human pleasures (sinful or playful), the definition of human creativity, and how the human body and its failings are understood. We will end with death, war, and the apocalypse.
Our particular focus will be on the ways in which the nature of mankind was visualized by European artists, from anonymous illuminators to Dürer, Holbein, Bosch and Bruegel, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Much of our reading will be from primary sources, including Paracelsus, Bartholomaeus Anglicus, Pico della Mirandola, Machiavelli, Thomas More, Erasmus, and Montaigne, as well as writing by artists.