In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Renesansnyi humanizm v Ukraini: Idei humanizmu epokhy Vidrodzhennia v ukrains′kii filosofii XV–pochatku XVII stolittia
  • James R. Weiss
Volodymyr D. Lytvynov, Renesansnyi humanizm v Ukraini: Idei humanizmu epokhy Vidrodzhennia v ukrains′kii filosofii XV–pochatku XVII stolittia. Kyiv: Osnovy, 2000. 471 pp. ISBN: 966-500-525-1.

Ukraine is still a nation in search of itself ten years after its declaration of independence. In its preoccupation with the present, its past can appear all but eclipsed, and Volodymyr Lytvynov has attempted to address what he perceives as a pressing need of his fellow citizens – a history of Ukraine's cultural and intellectual identity. For him, Renaissance humanism provided progressive impulses that allowed Ukrainians from the 15th to the beginning of the 17th century to examine and come to know themselves and their relations with God and the Concert of Nations. Divided into three parts – "Sowing Humanism in Ukraine" (5–40), "From Theocentrism to Understanding Nature and People" (41–186), and "Social Problems" (187–409) – the book traces Ukraine's cultural and intellectual metamorphosis, stressing continually that at no time did Ukraine exist in a metaphysical vacuum. Contacts with Western and Central Europe were quite frequent, and when humanistic philosophies reached "remote" Ukraine, they were translated into practical application. By degrees, the Ukrainian "community" underwent an evolutionary process in which it acquired a collective sense of self-awareness, a distinct "Ukrainianness" that then inspired a national consciousness. From there, guardian institutions such as the Cossack warrior-elites emerged to protect those nascent cultural and intellectual impulses. Those, in turn, inspired patriotism and the realization that Ukraine and Ukrainians existed on their own merits and not simply at the behest of powers terrestrial and eternal (8).

Key to Lytvynov's thesis is how Ukrainians altered their relationships with God, themselves, and the rest of humanity, particularly Poles and Muscovites, through the auspices of humanism. Through the works of such figures as Heorhii Meton (1355–1452) (a Byzantine Platonist) and Hryhorii Sanots'kyi (the Ukrainian-Polish church leader who founded the first humanist group in Ukraine), the struggle against scholasticism was pursued with vigor commensurate with that in Western Europe. At the University of Cracow, the University of Bologna, Charles University in Prague, and other centers of learning, Ukrainian scholars contributed as well as received (12–15). To buttress this assertion, the author presents Iuri Drohobych, a noted Ukrainian astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician who not only studied under Copernicus at Cracow but also [End Page 849] served as rector of Bologna in the early 1480s. For Lytvynov, it is of paramount importance for his readers to understand that Ukraine was a natural crossroads between Occident and Orient (26). When sources permit, he makes every effort to demonstrate Ukrainian initiative rather than portraying Ukrainians as mere passive recipients of Western knowledge. Judging from this work, those instances were few. For the most part, the connections he traces flowed decidedly from West to East. Not unlike Swift's "Battle of the Books," the works of More, Hobbes, Locke, Erasmus, Cicero, and other worthies competed with one another for influence and inclusion in the scholarship of Nikolai Kuzans'kyi, Stanislaw Okzhyc Orikhovs'ky, Kasiian Sakovych, and Kyrylo Trankvilion-Stavrovets'kyi, to name a few. Ready to acknowledge the Ukrainian humanist debt to the West, Lytvynov is also quick to credit the Ukrainian intelligentsia for actually effecting the gradual estrangement of the community from God's shadow. By no means a divorce, notions such as the neo-Platonic inner spiritual light (which Nikolai Kuzans'kyi conceived of as a circle of light representing the Godhead) compelled a re-evaluation of the relationship between God and the Ukrainians. It was at this point, the author asserts, that communal self-awareness first took root (237–38). A logical outgrowth of this was the "humanist" writing of history. In this literature it became apparent that God and humans existed in a "natural partnership," one that was obviously unequal but certainly not one of master and slave. In that same vein, the "intentional lies" of previous accounts that had mitigated human achievements in light of divine or saintly acts now inspired a curious sense of ethics. Building upon...