8.02 The Rhetoric of Print
Good point, Liam. What I wanted to convey here is that what we now think of as mainstream Christianity is a highly rhetorical, language-centered faith, but that medieval Christianity –in the absence of widespread literacy, remember– was strongly visual and oral. One of the lasting effects of humanism was to reclaim the rhetorical tradition of classical culture and make it over into a central fact of Christianity. This could only happen because humanist rhetorical ideas were adopted and made universal through wider literacy and through the medium of commercial print.
Do you really think that these ideas “displaced” aspects of Christianity, or were they reinterpreted and adapted to serve a purpose within Christian society?
The interesting thing about the passage you cite in Celenza’s book (which I think overall is brilliant, by the way) is that he seems to have decided there is no chance we can train American scholars to read Latin well. So Americans need translations, while we can assume the philological training in Italy and Germany will continue to flourish, and those scholarly publics will not need translations. No doubt this opinion of Celenza’s derives from the practical experience of his own teaching. I guess, since I live in a research library world, I am more optimistic about Americans reading Latin. Still, these Latin works (not necessarily the schoolbooks I spend time with, but certainly the dialogues and poetry and treatises that constitute the original works of humanists) deserve to be better known. Fortunately, we have good translations (with Laatin on facing pages) coming out regularly now from the Harvard I Tatti series, one of the most exciting initiatives or recent years
To punt the question back to you, Mike: Do you think we need more and better Latin training, or more and better translations? You (not I) are the future of Renaissance studies, so it is really the students in your class who must answer this question.
Christopher S. Celenza’s 2004 work “The Lost Italian Renaissance” urges scholars to study the Latin writings of Renaissance Italians for a fuller understanding of the contested subject. He also stresses the dire need, especially in the United States, for more translations of Latin Renaissance texts. “Humanism for Sale” seems to fit in quite nicely with what Celenza wants, and where he thinks the interdisciplinary field of “Renaissance Studies” should go in the new millenium. How do you, as the scholar, feel about this assessment?