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Renaissance Thought: the Lost Continent between Logic and the Occult

10:25, Fri 22 Jan 2010

Peter Mack and Maude Vanhalen discuss one of the most vibrant periods in human history.

The European Renaissance is one of those periods in history when everything seemed possible. The rediscovery of Greek texts led to a rebirth of literature and learning. Scholars across Europe and beyond formed a republic of letters, communicating across country and creed in a common language, Latin. Moreover, in this shared intellectual space, the arts and sciences flourished in extraordinary ways. It was the time when Plato rivalled Aristotle, when logic triumphed, when the light of reason pushed away the obscurantist clouds of a bygone age, as a Renaissance writer might put it. The Renaissance also witnessed a great concern with the occult: angels and demons, magic and mysteries were part and parcel of this enlightened age.
And yet, the Renaissance has now largely become a lost continent. The thousands and thousands of texts written in Latin and immortalised through the new invention of printing now lie largely unread and unstudied. For few are those who have enough Latin to peruse them.
But what were the intellectual and political forces which made this age of rediscovery and progress possible? Who were the scholars who brought Greek thought to Italy and the rest of Western Europe? And how did Platonic philosophy pave the way for numerology, demonology, and mysticism?