History 104A, November 23: Humble—to be or not to be!
Welcome here for the few of you who have arrived waiting for your
hunger day tomorrow, Thanksgiving.
Q Did you read today's comic?
THE PROFESSOR: That was today, Boondocks. My big comic on
today's paper though was this guy who is, who's filmed with Fremont
pulling a two ton truck with his penis. Did anybody see that in
today's news? They're going to do a show on one of the stations in a
couple of months called penis envy. Another guy is lifting weights
with his penis. Now, I know, but this was in Fremont. There's a
whole Chinese form of Marshal arts that's centered around the penis.
And before he pulled the truck with the tape around his testicles and
penis to pull this truck, his partner kicked him with a karate kick
right in the testicles so he wouldn't feel it. There are strange
things in history, and so why should we wonder about some of those
hermits like Semus Steelus (phonetic) who lived on top of a poll for
30 years in his faith for Christ, or the people during the medieval
period who beat themselves to get rid of the evil within themselves
after the black plague. In any case, I don't think that's a sign of
modern times. I think that's more of the ancient times, if you will.
What the hell is breaking all these chairs?
A That was Gabe from last period. He sat up. He just sad like
this and --
THE PROFESSOR: And it cracked like that?
THE PROFESSOR: Not that big, they're just old.
A This one is broken too.
THE PROFESSOR: Wow. I've seen them break off, but that looks
like somebody gave it a karate kick.
A No, he didn't.
THE PROFESSOR: In any case, we were talking about some of the
transition to the early modern period, where to from here, and
identified of course the forces of nationalism, capitalism, science,
and the faith in the individual, and in a sense the individual
breaking away from the sense that they are to learn only from God and
that God has directed them to do everything. Don't get me wrong, it
doesn't introduce atheism, although atheism has always existed but
people don't talk about in societies. What it does is, change the
view of God's rule in life and in nature. By the time of the
enlightenment, the view of intellectuals towards God is known as Deism
which is the sense that God set the universe in motion and stepped the
aside, wound it up like a clock.
However, one of the other signs of the modern world is diversity
in religion. What I'm really referring to is western civilization
because we're going to be entering the renaissance. And there are
three renaissance men that we tend to talk about that they don't often
see as renaissance men, but they are in the same period, yet we
actually set up different time periods for them. Obviously with the
renaissance we often identify, Leonardo DeVinci, and then of course
the other three Ninja turtles -- Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello
A I haven't watched television in years and yet I still know them.
A He's 300 years old.
THE PROFESSOR: I was playing with sphincter, with the name.
The other individual who will be part of our emphasis is Martin
Luther. Again, not Martin Luther King Jr. who, as we sort of alluded
to and mentioned previously in passing and as we're dealing with
again, is the individual who opened the door to a break in the
uniformity, if you will, of Christianity in the West. And of course
one of the signs of the modern world is the diversity at least the
western modern world in Christianity; translation, Protestantism.
Martin Luther is within the renaissance period. And we will identify
how he is a renaissance person and falls within the pattern, even
though when we discuss him and with the nice little peripheral vision
of historians boxing things in, it's called the reformation or the
Protestant revolution as some refer to it.
The third individual again, very much a renaissance man and very
much part of the ideology that we're going to talk about of the
renaissance period, is Christopher Columbus or Christopher Colon
which translates to Christ the colonizer. Interesting name.
Q What -- is that his real name?
THE PROFESSOR: We don't think so; but again, we're not really
sure. We'll talk more about that later.
And of course with Christopher Colon/Columbus we are entering
another period of time that overlaps but another period in the history
book called the age of exploration. And so the diversity of religion,
a factor in the modern world, and tied to that the western
intervention, the western violation of the prime directive, the fact
that the world moves into a western nature. European history bams
world history. And again, we talked about this the other day, what we
are entering is a period where the rest of the world is coming back
and saying screw you West, we've got a culture that we want to spread.
And so we're seeing definitely a reactionary period or, I don't know
what you want to call it, but it's certainly a movement to restore and
expand other areas in the East, if you will, to bring about a change
from what we would call the modern world or modern society that began
with the age of exploration. These are factors that really help us to
understand the history we're going into, the early modern period, but
certainly the modern period itself. And I think that's certainly
important enough to deal with.
The first of the era is a all encompassing one called the
renaissance. And once again, I identified that the renaissance is a
period of emphasis on the individual and on man, a very important
element of the period of time because it does change art. Art now
emphasizing similar to the ancient world in part, humanity. And the
flatness of art that is symbolic of the medieval period similar of
course to symbolisms in Egypt now creates a new form of sculpture now
becomes truly three dimensional rather than flat. And painting is
reflective of the way people actually look body and face and perhaps
soul rather than the spirit that comes through in the art that's hung
in the churches during the medieval period.
The renaissance period -- dates will vary. Historians differ,
not only on dates, but what period it was, what it really did, when it
lasted, when it ended, if it ended, like anything else. But again,
traditionally, the historian dates the renaissance from 1350 to about
1550. In other words, 200 years, if you will. The 1350 date is used
because we begin to see around that time a certain sense of what we
call the looking back to Greece with the new establishment of learning
or the new learning of Greek as a language and finding many more Greek
works or searching for Greek works that were available certainly
preserved in the Muslim world.
The renaissance means, literally the word means rebirth. The
concept is a rebirth of Greek and Roman lifestyle, a rebirth of the
Greek and Roman language, a rebirth of the Greek and Roman art and
architecture and certainly literature.
There are those who identify the renaissance with the beginning
of science, technology. However, as we identified, much of that is a
growth coming out of the Romans. And I would say many, if not most of
the renaissance scholars, see the renaissance in more of humanistic
terms, humanism. When we talk about taking a humanities course, we're
talking about English literature. What else is included in
humanities? Western civilization is used in contrast to a science
class. So culture is part of the humanities. And humanism is the
movement of the renaissance. Now, again, when we use the term
humanism today, I think we think of people who are going out to work
for human beings, who will go into the slum, who see poverty,
illiteracy and disease as something that needs to be done away with
that put an emphasis on human beings being superior to all other
animals, I suppose, and in a sense perhaps God-like. The word secular
humanism is a word used by fundamentalist Christians often, especially
in the Bible belt, to refer to the concept today that they see people
seeing themselves as God-like because they emphasize their own
capacity to achieve. And the theme of the renaissance was, in a
sense, men can do all things if they will, rather than men can do
things that God wills. And that is a difference perhaps in the
humanism today in that it's not the sense that men can do all things
if they will, but aiding humanity. Renaissance people are not big on
charity. They were not big on getting rid of poverty, literacy and
disease. It was basically a study and worship, if you will, of the
classic, the classics being the Roman and Greek literature. And of
course from this came from many studies and of course a lot more
knowledge. One of the famous ones I mentioned earlier was by Valla
who found out that the church's use of the so called donation of
Constantine, that document that indicated that when Constantine
controlled Rome, he left a will when he died -- and I believe he died
in 337 CE -- that will gave Rome to the Catholic church, Christian
church as its city, as in a sense establishing the papacy. He gave
them the territory around Rome. And that document had remained in
Christian lore, if you will. But Valla, in his study of Latin and the
use of Latin over the centuries, was able to prove without carbon
dating, which they didn't have, but by the language usage that that
document was written in the 900s, that it was, in a sense, a forgery.
And so again, that was part of that classical learning and tradition
that comes through the renaissance.
Tied to men can do all things if we will is another form of
renaissance mentality that certainly ties to Martin Luther and
certainly ties to Christopher Columbus and certainly ties to da Vinci.
Braggadico, Americans hate braggarts. It's a negative word in this
country. We're taught we're supposed to be humble. Don't let it go
to your head the coach says to the kids when he does a good job in the
game. You know, the reality of the situation is that -- and I hate to
say it -- great people aren't humble. This is why Mohammed Ali was
hated. He got out there and told everybody what round he was going to
knock somebody out in and he bragged about it. That was quite
different from Joe Lewis who shuffled along, I tried hard, yes, I won,
type of thing. But Mohammed Ali, disliked for his braggadocio and
also for his refusal to enter in the military during the Vietnam War,
was just awarded the medal of freedom given by the president. And of
course it was given by President Bush, which was interesting within
itself. By the way, just to deal with that sense of being humble, I
mean, I grew up with that just like many other people. And I could
never understand why, if I put in for scholarships, I never got them.
You feel if you've done hard work and a straight A student you could
get some dam money. People could say, okay, you came from a wealthy
family? But No. 1, it wasn't true; and number two, most academic
scholarships aren't based on wealth. And finally, in graduate school
I applied and I was really pissed by this time and I was absolutely
saying -- what I used to write was yeah, I try hard, I think I deserve
it, look what I've done, maybe you'll give me a scholarship. And when
I got to graduate school I wrote, look, I deserve it. You're not
going to find a better candidate, see how great there are or words to
that affect, and I got it. Now, again, the difference being that we
see braggarts and people who are saying things often that aren't true.
When we talk about braggadocio in the Italian, the renaissance sense,
we're talking about people who say what they've accomplished, who
identify honestly. They don't go beyond it. They just use words that
expand on their accomplishments, their achievements. And as I
identified before, they even paint their portrait in the background
of -- Michelangelo putting themselves in the Sistine Chapel. Cellini
putting themselves in his sculptures. How many of you have portraits
painted of yourself? How many have big pictures, photographic
pictures hanging on the wall that you've put up, not your parents?
See? We don't have that sense. But in Italy, everybody did. How
many of you write diaries so in the future you'll be known when you
write your book? One.
A I also put a lot of our generation. We don't even like having
THE PROFESSOR: That's because they're taken by your parents.
A No, I mean, by anyone. You even go up to a friend times and say
let's take a picture. No, my face is ugly.
THE PROFESSOR: Because there are so many cameras out there you,
think it's just burned out about taking pictures?
A Everybody is going to have a different reason. Maybe they just
feel like they don't look good that day.
A They don't lose their souls.
Q Do Americans really believe that it will steal your soul?
THE PROFESSOR: I'm wondering perhaps without thinking about it,
it's a psychology base of parents today having cameras and constantly
shooting their children in every event they go on, all these thousands
of pictures. It's an interesting fact of life. How many of you feel
that way; you don't like feel taking your picture? I have a portrait
of myself that was painted of me. I hang it over the toilet bowl.
That's a good place for it.
Q So that you can see it or --
THE PROFESSOR: So that I can see it. Instead of having a mirror
there, I look at myself.
Q Are you on the toilet in the picture too?
THE PROFESSOR: It looks like, that's why I put it there. It was
done when I was about 26 at the time and I was running a gym in New
York. There was this little guy who was a pro boxer and had won the
golden glove in Scotland. He wanted to work out in the gym, but he
had become a painter in New York and had been doing it in the
expressionist style. He offered to do a portrait of me for a
membership in the gym. So I said, what the hell, why not. I'm a
renaissance man in that sense.
But another element of the renaissance man is the universal man.
And by the way, we'll identify women's involvement here too in a short
period of time. Men can do all things if they will, also men do all
things; meaning, that the concept of being a specialist that we live
in, in today's modern society, was not part of the renaissance
mentality. The sense was that you were supposed to be a generalist, a
universalist. A generalist often gives the impression that you don't
do anything well but you do everything. The difference being that the
universal man was good at whatever he did. And I learned years ago
when I was teaching high school, the old philosophy was, well, if you
have some dummy who can't do well in class, put him in auto shop or
let him erase the board. The validity in the class was, if you put
someone who was a good student in the academic class into auto shop,
they're going to be a good student there too, even without the
interest necessarily. The idea often that they did well in auto shop
was that they were interested in autos, I'm talking about the poor
students in the academic class. And of course the image of the
renaissance man, the universal man was Leonardo da Vinci -- invention,
art, music, painting sculpture. They worked in all areas. I don't
know too many of our younger faculty, candidly. I guess I've been
isolated and, sadly to say, most of the faculty that I came with have
The other day one of my favorite people was on campus Walt
Halland. He was the epitome of the universal man although sadly he
was not the renaissance person because he didn't have the braggadocio.
He acted in a very humble way. While at Ohlone, he taught the history
of sex or biology of sex and of course used to pull in or pack the
classrooms with 160 students. I talked about him before, how he
started the class with everybody chanting the F word just to see if
they could handle it. He taught anatomy and physiology, a special
course on the brain. He taught a course in the birds of California.
He taught a course in color photography. He played beautiful
classical piano, and I was always amazed listening to him. In other
words, he was talented in many areas, the concept of the universal
man. He has this MA/BA degree in history, and he got his advanced
degree from Cal in biology. You don't -- in our society, we don't
have that respect for them in an academic sense. I remember I was on
a hiring committee at the university and we were hiring somebody in
Latin American history. Now, this guy had done research in the
borderlands between American and Mexico. He had done some research in
Mexico. He had done some research in Cuba and also in Chile and the
attitude of the department was that he was a generalist. He hadn't
narrowed himself down and therefore his scholarship and his academic
career were still immature. When I taught at the university, I had to
be an expert in my area which turned out to be, according to them,
Mexican history between 1920 and 35. If I strayed beyond those
boarder areas, then I was not being a true scholar. So again, while
we enter the modern world, societies differ, changes come about. And
sometimes it's hard for us to put ourselves in the place of someone
living in the 15th century. Translation, taking it to another
direction, there's no way people living in the renaissance period
could be somebody reborn from ancient Greece or ancient Rome. It was
a different society.
For example, in the ancient Greek society, your polis was vital
to your existence. And as I appointed out, the worse punishment in
part was ostracism, would be removed from the polis, the city state.
However, renaissance men/women, traveled from city to city. Being
exiled from their city was not seen as a great punishment, if you
will, to be ostracized. Different values. So as one scholar said, if
you dress a renaissance woman in her great grandparents clothing,
she's still not her great grandparent even if she looks like her. We,
in a sense, we better would use the term for the renaissance, I think,
renewal. It was renewing elements of the classical world. And so I
think renewal is the term many historians are using today to reflect
what the renaissance is. The term renaissance itself, rebirth, was a
word used starting at around 1350 or at least the concept was, that
now a new world had arisen coming out of the dark Gothic period of
time. And among those who are known as perhaps early renaissance
writers are people like Petrarch, Petrarch in sonnets to Laura. He
wrote about how we are now emerging from the darkness with culture and
art and literature in the middle of the 14th century, 1300s. But
interestingly, he was writing not in Italy, but at where the new
papacy had moved for a period of time, a place known as Avignon in
At around 1304 the French king brings the papacy to southern
France, decides we've had it with the Italian papacy and we're going
to put the Pope in Avignon. The 14th century, the 1300s, the Pope is
no longer in Rome. The papal court is in southern France. It is a
period known as Babylonian captivity, sort of stemming from the Jews
being taken from Babylon in the old testament. There we have a papal
court that is beginning to support learning and knowledge. And here
Italian scholars, Italian writers go to change ideas, thoughts, et
cetera. In 1378 there's an attempt to restore the Pope in Rome. And
this church finds itself with two Popes, one in Rome and one in
Avignon. So it decides to compromise and they eliminate both Popes
and create a third Pope. And now we have, for a short period of time
around 1400 three Popes, all claiming to be the legitimate Pope.
Around 1415 the papacy is finally restored to Rome. However, it is
somewhat under the control of the church councils, the power of the
Pope obviously is weakened. And it is due to this Babylonian
captivity and that power that the Pope has lost that about 100 years
later, it's going to aid Martin Luther's reformation.
What I want to do in a sense, sum up some of this with an article
from "hangups from way back" that I think identify some of the
differences and certainly reviews the concepts of what I've been
presenting, men can do all things if they will.
Behavior that is frowned upon by one society may be encouraged by
another. By studying behavior patterns of other societies, we gain
perspective from which to understand our own. A study of
individualism in the Italian renaissance may help expose some of our
own hangups. When former world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Lewis
used to knock out an opponent in the early bounds of the title match,
he did no boasting. The champion who invariably mumble something
about how well the fellow fought, that it was a great fight. He never
took any credit for his own fantastically fast or powerful punching of
his boxing skills. Joe Lewis is the epitome of the modern and
unassuming American. He knew the ropes of the clipping and the rules
of the game. As a result, he remained one of America's all time
favorite sports figures. Mohammed Ali, also known as Cassius Clay,
was different. Before scheduled audiences of his world companionship
title, Ali would generally boast about his skills and actually predict
the round in which he was expected to knock out his challenger.
Frequently he would compose rhymes that ridiculed his opponents, and
the press who make the most of it. Ali was remarkably accurate in
predicting the details of his ring victories. Like Joe Lewis, he
remained undefeated as the heavyweight world champion, the first time
around at least. Mohammed Ali never enjoyed the popularity of Lewis
30 years ago, partially because of his political activity, but mostly
because he violated a fundamental American ethics of sport, he was not
humble. Many Americans tended to recent Ali's boastful behavior by
accident of birth. Joe Lewis fit well into the mold of American
society; Mohammed Ali did not. With different timing, these two men
might have experienced quite different receptions for their style of
behavior. If Mohammed Ali had lived during the Italian renaissance,
he would have found a favorable reception for his proud claims of ring
success. Joe Lewis would have lost in the shuffle. One of the traits
exhibited by the renaissance men was braggadocio or brag about one's
achievements. Instead of being frowned upon, this trait was
encouraged. And that's not all. Braggadocio was merely one
particular manifestation of the renaissance ideal of individualism
which helped shape so much of the behavior of renaissance man. The
renaissance man was supposed to develop his talents in as many ways as
he could. There were none of the restrictions that have been imposed
by Greek societies.
Again, if you recall, the Greek society dealt with the concept of
hubris and we'll get into that. The renaissance did, of course,
revive some elements of classical antiquity, but it did not restore
precisely the same conditions. Lacking a strong sense of polis,
renaissance men were not disturbed by exile as much as the ancient
Greeks had been. Lacking a hubris, excessive pride, renaissance men
felt fewer restraints upon individual self-fulfillment than did the
hubris-conscious Greeks. Thus, while the renaissance was a degree a
revival of antiquity, it was not a complete duplication of it. During
the renaissance, glory as actively sought. Success was proudly
announced loudly and often. These behavioral traits were part of the
accepted quest for attaining the state of well roundedness known as
the universal man. The universal man must not hide his talents. He
should feel free to boast about them. That was a vital element of the
spirit of the renaissance.
(the following is material read and not verbatim)
The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini is replete with statements
and praise of the author. They are in keeping the unabashed and
sometimes celebrated pride felt of the renaissance men. Cellini
certainly achieved a lot and he does not refrain from telling us. The
opening line of his autobiography leaves no doubt about the absence of
Joe Lewis time thought in Cellini. It is a duty incumbent of every
uprighted credible man of all ranks who have performed anything noble
or praiseworthy to record, in their own writing, the events of their
lives. Besides the many statements of his own that praise his works,
Cellini frequently reported the phrase that others uttered in his
behalf. For example, when Cellini had completed work on a silver
basin, the author tells us that the French king said, quote, it is my
realization the ancients were never capable of working in so exquisite
a taste. I have seen all the art peaces of the greatest artists of
Italy, but never before behold anything that gave me such high
There were other famous Italians of the renaissance that shared
the self-confidence of Cellini. The great poet Dante had been ...
For his political activities. He was offered an opportunity to
return, but the terms were not entirely to his liking. Sense
renaissance men do not share the deep sense of polis that the Greeks
had felt, Dante who dared to take an independent stand without
violence, renaissance values, he did just that as ... excerpt from his
.... Quote, can I not everywhere behold the light of the sun and the
stars? Everywhere meditate of the noblist truths? Without appearing
in gloriously and shamefully before the city and the people, my bred
will not fail me.
In classical Greek, that type of behavior would have considered
arrogant and high intemperate, just as Mohammed Ali's remarks were
considered intemperate at his time. Dante was lucky he lived in Italy
during the early renaissance.
The sonnet developed by Petrarch shows Earth and personal
developments that were missing in the middle ages. The sonnet went
much deeper into the love within men and king than did the lyrics when
they were celebrating the consult of the virgin and the middle ages.
Petrarch and a ... the author of the Cameron, demonstrated just as the
adviser of the scientific period and the beginnings of the exploration
phase do. At the core of the related renaissance the common ..
braggadocio, a dramatic visual example is provided in the work of the
sculpture .... In the Venus brass doors, it contains Biblical scenes
which are engraven in less than 2-inch reliefs.
It is not by accident that there were many individuals who
achieved remarkable versiocity during the renaissance, nor is it
coincident Leonardo DeVinci was an unusual person even for the
renaissance. His achievements are too well-known to cite here. At
the age of 30, his talents to the group of ... among which were in a
place is besieged, I know how to cut off water to the trenches and how
to contract an infinite number of bridges ... scales, ladders, et
cetera. Observe that da Vinci could conduct an independent number not
just a whole bunch. A favorite new thing for the renaissance
sculpture was David. David the giant slayer whose greater heights of
individual achievement would not hope to attain than killing a giant.
Michelangelo's David is one of the most widely renowned
sculptures of western man. It portrays David as the model of
self-confidence, powerful, dignified individual. Alberti said,
Michelangelo sculpted it and Leonardo lived it. Men can do all things
if they will.
Have a happy Thanksgiving.