REIGNITING CLASSIC HUMANISM
Speech by Angelo Paratico
At the Inaugural FutureHere Summit on 11th June 2019 at Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Firenze
My name is Angelo Paratico and I have been living in Hong Kong for the past 35 years. I am now a happy resident of Verona, where I work as a writer and publisher. I bought a publishing company, active in Bologna since 2006 and I am now directing it in Verona, publishing fiction and nonfiction books, which are then distributed throughout Italy and South of Switzerland.
In 2015 I published a book on Leonardo da Vinci with a small publisher based in Hong Kong. Well, more than on Leonardo the book is centered on his mother, Caterina. To write it I had investigated the period before and after the birth of Leonardo in 1452. The book has now been translated to Italian.
While studying the ethnic roots of Caterina I researched the phenomenon of the Mongol invasion of Europe, which happened in 1241; and the arrival of the Plague in 1347, through Mongol-controlled Crimea, which in turn took me to investigate the phenomenon of Domestic Slavery, with its widespread abuse. All facts which were somehow removed from the European consciousness, but which did set in motion several events, still affect us today.
The theme of Reigniting Classic Humanism is a complex task for me to discuss. First, we must understand what we mean for Classic Humanism.
Humanism or STUDIA HUMANITAS was an expression first used by Cicero. It indicates the study of the Classics, and the importance of men seen as individuals with shared emotions and aims.
Traces of Classic Humanism are found in Greece around the XV century BC then interpreted by Romans and partially accepted even during the Christian era, we find it in the works of Homer, first in certain episodes of the Iliad and then in its full depth in the Odyssey.
From Greece, Humanism travelled to Rome, persisting in the Roman ethos, literature and view of life, until the fall of the Western Roman Empire, during the V century, then it disappeared again, passing through the Christian conception of the world lain buried in manuscripts preserved inside monasteries all over Europe during Medieval times. We have a splendid, albeit picturesque, representation of it in the bestselling book of Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose. Humanism was reignited by the discovery of books which were thought lost.
Some re-discoveries were made by Petrarca, Boccaccio, Poggio Bracciolini, Coluccio Salutati. Then something unexpected happened: The Renaissance, to use the famous term coined by Giorgio Vasari in his monumental book containing the lives of the artists. It happened in several cities in Italy almost at once, but it reached its apex in Florence. Why in Florence, a city far from the sea? Because of the money. Its riches came from 3 factors: 1. The wool industry 2. Banking 3. Trade. Furthermore, they had some wise Heads of State, like Cosimo de Medici, who understood the importance of keeping peace - and for this reason he paid warlords in Milan and Naples to buy tranquility.
What started the Renaissance? There is a picturesque hypothesis put forward by Gavin Menzies in his best-selling book, 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance, about a Chinese embassy arriving in Venice and starting it by leaving behind sketches with detailed instructions, as well as dancing girls. But unfortunately, there is a certain lack of proof. We have no proof that Leonardo’s mother was a sing-song Chinese girl left behind by Chêng Ho’s treasure ships, as Menzies hints, but we do believe that she might have been a slave who had reached Venice on a ship sailing from Crimea.
The Renaissance in Italy was kickstarted by the combination of several complex factors over a long period of time, including also, undoubtedly, Oriental influences. As we’ll see the main factors were: the unwelcome arrival of the Black Death and the welcome arrival of Greek scholars running away from Constantinople.
The importance of the Black Death, in my opinion, has been grossly underestimated by historians, but, against all expectations, the Black Death, caused by the Plague, was responsible for Reigniting the Classical humanism, more than several other factors.
It struck from 1347 to 1353. The disease came Crimea and spread all over Europe like wildfire, causing the death of about 60% of the population. That was a cataclysmic event which changed everything, a true revolution. Cities laid empty, no one was tilling the fields. It was then that Genoa and Venice went to Crimea to buy slaves (90% girls) from the Tartar and took them to Italy to sell them as domestic slaves.
The plague was a turning point in world history and led to radical changes, which are still affecting our daily lives.
As Wilhelm Abel suggested, that was the beginning of: “A golden age for the working classes.”
The black death (plague) was a truly a wake up call for Europe, after the other shock caused by the arrival of the Mongol Knights whom arrived out of nowhere, as no one made a connection with the Tartars met a few decades earlier by Marco Polo and described in his book il Milione.
When the plague struck, Florence had 94.000 people, but after it, in March 1348, they were 37.000.
What should we do then to revive the Classics? Implant a disease that would kill 60% of the population? Well, I do cannot suggest that, even if such risk is always with us. Or should we invite aliens from the space to invade us? Also that option does not seem very good.
We should rather follow some simpler and less cruel recommendations:
1- Invest more in Books, both paper and electronic ones.
2- Invest money in culture, art and work of arts.
3- Limit the power of the few and favor a better distribution of wealth.
4- Stimulate the creation of freedom, not only political freedom but also full academic freedom and we should stop the spreading of Political correctness. After all Leonardo Da Vinci was not an academic, that’s why we are commemorating him today.
5- Political correctness is what once, in medieval times, was Religious Dogma, we should be free to debate and speak openly.
Last week a teacher in Venice was driven to suicide just because he was openly in favor for large cruise ship sailing within the city. For this he was insulted and threatened - and finally, his spirit cracked and death became a way out of his misery.
Should we then go back to the Greek and Latin classics?
Yes and No, but we should rather attempt a cross fertilization between EAST and WEST and vice-versa, which is what Future Here is doing today. There should be drown up agreements between government to introduce the study of Oriental classics in Europe and the study of Greek and Roman Classics in the East, China, Japan and Korea.
This is the best option and the only way forward.