The Value of the Renaissance Past in Contemporary Culture
What is the significance of doing Renaissance Studies now, not only in terms of the field per se, but in terms of what the field has to say to contemporary society? In the past, the field of Renaissance Studies has drawn themes and orientations from particular concerns of the moment, without losing its rigorous focus, and has given back crucial insights to those studying it. Could the same be said today? To facilitate a multifaceted answer, this book attempts to cover some of the principal areas of this interdisciplinary field within the humanities and social sciences. Contributors include specialists in history, languages and literatures, the history of science, cultural studies, art history, philosophy, sociology and politics.
Nicola Gardini 2 Osiris and the End of the Renaissance
Metaphors of palingenesis, restoration, and unification are recurrent in Italian Renaissance literature and art. The ancient story of Hippolytus provides a paradigmatic account of the characteristically Renaissance dia- lectic between fragmentation and recomposition. As recorded in the epics of Vergil and Ovid, Hippolytus’ body was torn apart by Poseidon’s horses (in Vergil’s phrasing, ‘distractus equis’, Aen. VII, 767), but Aesculapius, the god of medicine himself, restored his members back to unity and life.1 This myth appears in the writings of numerous Renaissance literati with heav- ily charged cultural significance.2 Poliziano refers to it at the beginning of his Centuria secunda as a metaphor of his daring philological enterprise; Raphael mentions it in his famous letter to Pope Leo X in reference to the physical ruin of Rome; and Castiglione – who must have been the actual author of that same letter – equates Raphael’s planned restoration of the ancient city with Aesculapius’ miraculous reassembling of Hippolytus. However, we should not forget that the Italian Renaissance explores the concept of rebirth or restoration as much as it focuses on that of impend- ing death (a second much-feared death!). Representations of both are part of a single self-mythologizing courtly ideology, which is – in Italy at least – what I believe we should ultimately mean by the term ‘Renaissance’ (as I argue in my book Rinascimento). While celebrating itself as the return of light and unity after the centuries-long darkness and dispersal of the middle ages, the Renaissance also thematizes its own inevitable relapsing 1 Aeneid...
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