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  • Fifteenth-Century Spanish Humanism:Thirty-Five Years Later
  • Ottavio Di Camillo

Forty-two years ago almost to the day, when I began a lifelong inquiry into Spanish humanism, reconstructing its uncertain history was truly a daunting task. As I ventured out of the comfortable and familiar field of literary criticism, I was hardly prepared to spend more years than I expected in the wilderness, carrying out my research in total isolation with no guide or interlocutor to discuss my few findings and my many doubts. It was difficult to make sense out of those few evidentiary fragments I was able to collect, for they seemed broken relicts left by an ancient shipwreck on the cultural backwater of modern times. But in the world of scholarly research, as we all know, one can easily dispense with the physical presence of collocutors and still carry on a dialogue with real people. In my case, I found half a dozen scholars who became my long-distance teachers, whose writings I still consult today, with the same respect but not with the same awe-inspiring wonder of a young graduate student. Some of these names are readily recognizable, such as Paul Oskar Kristeller, Hans Baron and Eugenio Garin; others, less familiar today but equally significant at that time, include Franco [End Page 19] Simone for his studies on French humanism, Roberto Weiss on fifteenth-century English humanism, and José Antonio Maravall on the cultural and socio-political history of Renaissance Spain.1

The first results were made available in my 1972 doctoral dissertation, Spanish Humanism in the Fifteenth Century; only a few years later, in 1976, these investigations, together with some additional findings, appeared in Spanish as El humanismo castellano del siglo XV. At almost the same time, Francisco Rico published his Nebrija frente a los bárbaros. The long silence about humanism in Spain was suddenly broken and, more remarkable still, by two opposing interpretations as to its origins, its meaning and its early development.

To these initial contrasting accounts a third one was soon added when Luis Gil Fernández published his Panorama social del humanismo español (1500-1800) in a new series put out by Alhambra, the same publishing house that originally was going to publish my book.2 Leaving aside Domingo Ynduráin's iconoclastic work, Humanismo y renacimiento en España, to which we shall return, the studies that have been published ever since have usually adopted, however loosely, either Rico's or Gil Fernández's understanding of humanism, together with unavoidable forays into the interpretation I had proposed. Despite the many favorable reviews of my study, it received a lukewarm reception, even though my views on humanism were grounded on primary sources and framed within the major scholarly interpretations of the 1960s and 1970s. Whether reluctantly accepted or deliberately ignored, judging by the often inaccurate recycling of the bibliography I cited, my [End Page 20] conception of humanism did condition, for better or for worse, the outcome of later investigations.

Looking back forty years to the time when scholars still questioned whether Spain had ever experienced a Renaissance, not to mention humanism, the progress that has been made is unquestionably significant. During the intervening period, the many contributions that have been made to this field not only have extended the chronological boundaries of Spanish humanism but have also brought to light its manifestations in other areas of the cultural life of fifteenth-century Castile and Aragon. Nevertheless and notwithstanding the many inroads that have been made, we cannot deny that a widespread complacency has set in, complacency which, with an acceptance of the old paradigms turned into normative categories, has thus far prevented further exploration into other possible interpretations of Spanish humanism. But before making any suggestion for new ways to advance the study of humanism in Spain, it is useful to review, however briefly, the main presuppositions on which are based the three contrasting paradigms I have alluded to and which are, to a different degree, currently in use.

I will begin, and only for chronological reasons, with the paradigm I first elaborated in my doctoral dissertation and later refined in other publications. On the...


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