Issuing a call for true nobility, which comes from, and is found in virtue, Battista Guarino calls for a proper devotion to the humanities. The program put forth in this writing is a method that is tested by a long practice, which is contrary to the often cutting-edge, immediate, new trend, spirit of the age all too common in our moment.
One thread that recurs throughout this work is an emphasis on a genuine zeal for learning, as well as zeal for teaching. There is an illustration given as to the potential for the far reaching effects of teaching when Guarino retells the famous anecdote how Alexander the Great said that he owed more to Aristotle, his tutor, than he owed to his own father Philip.
Possibly the most delightful aspect of this essay is the many insights into the way teaching used to be conducted as it also related to discipline. He urges the teachers that they ought not to beat students as this may inadvertently encourage cheating. Guarino does encourage the use of charm, flattery, and even fear to motivate the student and even sometimes includes shame.
As with many other treaties of the Renaissance and Medieval world expounding upon Liberal learning, there is significant attention given to the seven Liberal arts, in particular how Grammar is foundational to all learning. Again, there is much in this essay contrary to the spirit of our age. For example, “once they have mastered these rules, they must add knowledge of quantity and prosody, a knowledge so useful that I daresay no one can rightly be called an educated man who does not possess it.” Today if someone spoke about the category of “being truly educated,” the charge of elitism would be issued and the proponent of such an elitist position would be dismissed by the non-truly educated masses.
If one is looking for a stereotype of Medieval or Renaissance Liberal Arts dry erudite nomenclature, do not read this essay. There is much in this essay that rings of delight and even elicits laughter. It is common that Battista Guarino calls the reader, teacher, student, to take delight in the learning process.
There is much about education in this piece related to the actual Renaissance, that great and glorious Renaissance of education. Guarino exhorts the teacher that he ought to correct the false astrology of that day and correct it with the truth of astronomy of that day. Within this work is even practical advice while reading. Long before Great Books and Liberal Arts polymath, Mortimer Adler encouraged readers to mark up books, Guarino says, “writing glosses in books is also extremely profitable.”
Here meets love of great past authors and their writings. The past is not enemy to be feared, or outdated to be ignored, but the past is foundational. There are numerous references to Virgil, Ovid, Quintilian, Cicero, Homer, Horace, Lucan, Terence, Statius, Augustine, Juvenal, Plautus, Aristotle, Pliny, Cato, Xenophon, and Hesiod.
Additionally, there is a stress, as found in many writings of liberal arts of the Medieval and Renaissance, between the relationship or link of learning and virtue. For modern students reading such documents of the past, there must be this cognitive disconnect that learning, while seen as a good “in and of itself” was also valued as being a means by which humanity is developed. As rational creatures created in the imagine of God, the intellect or reasoning capabilities were called to assist humans in placing into subjugation our baser or animal nature.
What is most unusual in this writing, and would stun into silence most students, professors, and certainly university administrators today, is the exhortation given to, “devote waking hours, even sleep, to studies.” These people were indeed serious about learning! Guarino continues, “Let students develop the same amount of time to reviewing studies that others devote to gambling, sports, or spectacles.” The greatest treasure found within this essay appears toward the end. “To mankind has been given the desire to know, which is also where the humanities get their name. What the Greeks call paideia, we call learning and instruction in the liberal arts. The ancients also called this humanitas, since devotion to knowledge has been given to the human being alone out of all living creatures.”
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.