The German humanists' conception of Germania
Nelson, William Steen
Master of Arts
With the crusades and the vast movement and intermingling of diverse peoples that they entailed began the breakdown of the old medieval theory of life. Heretofore life had been centered on the Universal Church, and not on the convictions and conscience of the individual. Cultural differences had been minimized. The crusades awakened a new cultural awareness in which these differences became manliest. The European peoples now had others with which to compare themselves. Man himself, as an individual, and the world in which he found himself, came into closer scrutiny. Diesseits, as opposed to Jenseits, was rediscovered. The Humanist movement in Germany is a part of this general intellectual awakening in Europe that began in Italy with the Renaissance. Zuruck auf die Quellen came to stand for a new religious enlightenment and individual reevaluation and investigation of the old orlginal sources. Man's inner conflict, zwivel, came to the fore, and the individual began to search for his own raison d'etre. The early German Humanists prepared the way by dedicating themselves to translating and assimilating the newly discovered material and bringing it into the widest possible circles. They imitated the ancients in their letters and this imitation was urged in the educational ideas of the time. By the end of the 15th century Humanism began to be viewed by its chief proponents as worthy of personal renewal In contemporary life. The period of mere imitation was over. The Humanists wanted to experience the energy of humanistic ideals within themselves on a personal level and share their ideas with others. thereby bringing about a change in the attitudes of the time. The German Humanists were particularly conscious of the reputation their country had as the "land of barbarians." The Italians of the time were in the forefront in scholarship and. Humanism in Italy had taken root early, They were haughtily conscious of their achievements and hastened to designate themselves as being the true descendants of ancient greatness. They lost no chance to point these things out to visiting German Humanists. These developments gave great impetus to the Germans. and they went back into their own history and made efforts to establish a place for the Reich in Europe as a nation of standing with a separate cultural entity and genuine historic tradition. They had their most lasting Influence in the area of historical study. By their barbs the Italians did much to stimulate the national pride of the German Humanists. The search for national identity, however, carried with it an inherent paradox. How was it possible for the Humanists to reconcile their surge of patriotism and enthusiasm for things German with their use of Latin and adoration for the ancient Romans? It is the purpose of this thesis to examine the nationalism of German Humanism and to discover a thread of consistency in the divergent manifestations of this new patriotic pride. To the modern earl the inflammatory nationalistic statements by some of the Humanists sound very different from the subdued poems to the glorification of German landscape and cities written by others. As these extremes are reconciled it will be possible to place Humanist patriotism within the context of the times and discover the function of nationalism within the Weltanschauung of German Humanism.