Early History Part VI
The adoption of the culture of antiquity by Europe seems to have resembled the Greco-Roman process of reception in that intellectual appropriation was preceded by a level of relatively dependent learning in relation to the sovereign, entirely intentional handling of what had been acquired. The Carolingian period, which was primarily linked to theology, artes liberales (especially grammar and rhetoric) and poetry of late Latin antiquity, came up to a large extent with works that were pieced together from existing scriptures, with compilations and collections of excerpts, also with dictionaries and translations. The Scholastic Program, the penetration of the Christian faith with rational means, led for the first time to independent use of the tradition, in this case the Aristotelian philosophy and the theology of the Church Fathers. At the same time, in Bologna and elsewhere, the corpus luris of Justinians began to be taken up; European jurisprudence of modern times emerged from these efforts in undisturbed continuity.
But it was not until the Renaissance that the adoption of ancient culture reached its climax and its full instrumentation; It was only then that attempts were made in all areas – in architecture and the fine arts no less than in all sciences and branches of literature – to make use of what had survived in the form of writings and monuments from antiquity for their own purposes. This was followed by the French (17th century) and German Classics (Weimar Classics) as the last epochs for which antiquity was programmatic. The scientific and technical progress noticeable that the famous – now made themselves – the later, the more Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns under Louis XIV had registered for the first time. Europe felt responsible in these areas and the model of antiquity was now limited to art and literature.
At the same time as the German classical period, a primarily educational direction came into being, neo-humanism, which, starting in Germany, soon drew all of Europe under its spell. The founder J. J. Winckelmann proclaimed an image of ancient man that was based entirely on the Greeks, especially on their art, and the Weimar Classicism gave ideological support to the ideal of true humanity derived from this. The visual arts took up the forms, often also the themes of ancient art, as classicism. At about the same time, the ancient studies created by F. A. Wolf began the entire culture of the Greeks and Romans according to the principles of the new historical hermeneutics critically, and the humanistic grammar school, which was committed to the reformer W. von Humboldt, was set up according to a curriculum that made the contemporary conception of antiquity the basis of general education. Neuhumanismus, whose claims Nietzsche et al. contested became routine in the course of the 19th century; in Germany in particular it was associated with nationalistic tendencies and finally lost its validity in the 20th century, first slowly and then rapidly.
Regardless of this, ancient culture provides artists and writers with an inexhaustible reservoir of materials, shapes and design patterns in the present too, which with each reinterpretation prove to be a living, ever-re-questioning, precious legacy.
The periodization of European history
According to Justinshoes, the concept of antiquity in the sense of a historical period with certain temporal limits emerged when its reception was the guiding principle and name giver of an entire age, namely the Renaissance, i. H. the “rebirth” of antiquity. It was originally based on the historical perspective and self-assessment of the Italian humanists of the 15th and 16th centuries. They believed and taught that the Middle Ages were a period of decline, of barbarism and that it was important to build on the ancient Greeks and Romans, to renew their culture and to bring about an age that was able to accomplish the achievements of antiquity again. From this endeavor to revive the arts and sciences of antiquity, a historical model emerged,
The three-part scheme began its career with the new literature created by the humanists: The founders of the new epoch, above all Petrarch, were considered to be poets and writers who, through their works that were based on classical Latin, ended an epoch of linguistic and literary decline that spanned from late antiquity to scholasticism and made a new beginning with Latin literature. From here the image of a “renaissance” of ancient achievements was extended first to the fine arts and finally to culture as a whole. The scheme gradually mutated from the program of the humanists to the generally accepted structure of European history, so that it finally superseded the universal historical periodizations of the Christian tradition, in particular the doctrine of the four world monarchies. It was so successful because in the century of its creation, during the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age.