For anyone who thinks long enough and doesn’t live in the jungle it’s impossible to deny that we’re moving into a new age. All the categories of time we capitalize today such as the Age of Discovery or the Age of Sail are products of humans not waiting for history to happen to them but of humans getting up out of their seats and making history happen to the world. A year ago I asserted that we’re living in the Second Renaissance, and in a newer post I even went as far as to say that we’ll soon be living in a Second Gothic Revival, for, like how classical Greece and Rome was the “golden age” of the First Renaissance, the Middle Ages is the “golden age” of the Second. Bear with me here.
After a year of pursuing my Ph.D. in Medieval Studies, I know the term “renaissance” can be confusing because really there wasn’t just one renaissance even though we call it “the Renaissance.” In the nitty-gritty, there were many renaissances in the Middle Ages–the Twelfth-Century Renaissance and the Italian Renaissances for instance–that we clumped together under one title for convenience of research and study. This is exactly what we’re doing for the Second Renaissance. Today, in reality, we’re facing many small renaissances that together make up a larger vast revival or shared narrative that can be viewed conveniently in hindsight many years from now.
Tonight, I want to share some more realizations I had regarding this narrative, six direct comparisons we can make between the renaissances of the Modern Era and the renaissances of the Middle Ages. Most of these realizations came from personal research and hours of thinking on lonely Saturday nights (like tonight), but some of them came directly from this amazing YouTube video which I highly suggest you watch right after reading this:
For me, this video proved I’m not crazy. There are academics around the world broaching the same spiel that I am–even a historian from the University of Oxford, Chris Kutarna, who wrote “Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance.” It was so fascinating to listen to these speakers and hear them say almost everything I had said independently. Although I would have added much more to this conversation (like how Petrarch talked about moving away from “medieval” which can be compared to us moving away from “modern”), they made some great points, namely comparing the printing press to the internet. They also said some things I never considered. So check it out, but first let me share those six comparisons I promised.
Comparing the First Renaissance to the Second
- Before the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, much wide-spread European literature was written in Latin. Then, alongside the rediscovery of Aristotle in Europe thanks to Arabic translations emerging in Muslim Spain, Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula, the High Middle Ages saw the rise of literature in vernacular languages. This phenomenon can be directly compared to the rise of simplified language in texting and meme culture in the 21st century. Medieval Latin is like 19th- and 20th-century literary prose, and the rise of vernacular literature in the High and Late Middle Ages (Roman de la Rose and Parzival) can be compared to, I hate to say it, YA fiction and Stephen King today.
- This rise in vernacular literature in the 12th and 13th centuries came in tandem with the development of new poetic styles and formulas like terza rima and the sonnet. At the time, these new formulas for conveying narratives were highly innovative, which is one of the reasons why they became so popular. Then, during the height of the Renaissance, we started to see prose replacing verse in popular literature. This, today, can be directly compared to the advent of movies, TV shows, podcasts, comics, blogs, et cetera.
- This next point is something Chris Kutarna helped me clarify in my own mind. We often like to think of the Renaissance as being a happy time. But the truth is that people were sharing a larger narrative of struggle against the odds, which is why looking back at a golden age was so helpful for facing the dangers of the time. Today, we are very much sharing a larger narrative all thanks to pressure from current dangers in our society, hence the popularity of Jordan Peterson asserting responsibility as the meaning of life. People during the Renaissance drew inspiration from the classical Greeks and Romans. Today, it’s not hard to notice that we’re drawing inspiration from the Middle Ages more and increasingly more. A larger shared narrative, like cooperative nationalism for instance, is exactly what we need to band together and solve dilemmas. Chris Kutarna warned us that the next 100 years may be very difficult, but I still have hope because history repeats itself and that means a Second Renaissance is inevitable. Speaking on this further, I expect that the Third Renaissance of the future will look back at the Modern Era as the golden age.
- Many historians claim that one of the main reasons why the Renaissance came to be is the rising importance placed on the individual. After all, Humanism can be directly compared to Environmentalism, and the rise of the individual in the High and Late Middle Ages can be compared to our imposed selves on social media today.
- During the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, thanks to medieval philosophers and theologians such as Pope Sylvester II, Anselm, Abelard, Peter Lombard, Bernard of Chartres and John of Salisbury, whom all grew around the rediscovery of Aristotle and faced much backlash, either directly or indirectly, from figures such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Francis of Assisi, cathedral schools (scholasticism) in towns and cities began to replace the prominence of monastic schools (monasticism) in rural areas. Today, this can be directly compared to YouTube, Amazon and other avenues of knowledge like the Great Courses Plus replacing our declining universities, not to mention today’s decline of small villages and our rise in city populations.
- During the 13th century, there was a rise of heresies and mendicant orders either healthily separating or directly competing with the Catholic (Latin) and Orthodox (Greek) Churches, such as the Dominican and Franciscan Orders (not to mention all the other many heresies that sprung with the Protestant Reformation in the early modern period) which can be directly compared to the many lunatic fringes and social groups we’re seeing in our own time like the LGBTQ+, Post-Modern, Justice Warrior and Alt-Right movements.
Lately I’ve been hearing many motivational speakers stress the importance of speaking your truth. Even if you’re not sure if what you believe is true, you should share it with the world to see what kind of feedback you get. That’s what I’m doing here, following the scientific method. So please remember that this is an opinionated blog post. It’s not a peer-reviewed article, not yet anyway.