Skip to main content Accessibility help

Humanist Lives of Classical Philosophers and the Idea of Renaissance Secularization: Virtue, Rhetoric, and the Orthodox Sources of Unbelief

  • Ada Palmer (a1)


Humanists seeking to defend the classics in Christian-dominated Europe often reframed ancient philosophers as virtuous proto-Christians. This is particularly visible in the biographical paratexts written for printed editions of ancient philosophers such as Pythagoras, Epictetus, and Democritus, whose humanist editors’ Christianizing claims grew stronger over time. Pious humanists intended and expected the classics to strengthen and reaffirm Christian orthodoxy, but humanists’ own claims that pre-Christian sages, by the light of reason alone, had deduced the central truths of theology and surpassed Christians in the exercise of virtue inadvertently undermined the necessity of scripture and paved the way for later deism.



Hide All
Allen, Michael J. B. Synoptic Art: Marsilio Ficino on the History of Platonic Interpretation. Florence: Olschki, 1998.
Apuleius. Apulei Opera Orania Quae Extant Gev. Elmenhorstius Recensuit, Librumque Emendationum Et IndicesAdjecit. Ed. And trans. Gerhard Elmenhost and Johannes Rutgers. Frankfurt, 1621.
Aquinas, Thomas Summa Theologiae. Vols. 4–12 of Opera Omnia. Rome: Ex Typographia Polyglotta S. C. de Propaganda Fide, 1888–1906
Aquinas, Thomas. Super Boetium de trinitate. In vol. 50 of Opera Omnia, 75–171. Rome: Ex Typographia Polyglotta S. C. de Propaganda Fide, 1992.
Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment. Ed. Michael C. W. Hunter and David Wootton. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.
Baker, Patrick Italian Renaissance Humanism in the Mirror. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Banfi, FlorioRaffaele Maffei in Ungheria.L’Europa Orientale 17 (1937): 462–88.
Baudoux, BernaudPhilosophia, Ancilla Theologiae.Antonianum 12 (1937): 293326.
Baumer, Franklin L. Religion and the Rise of Scepticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1960.
Beech, Dave, and Roberts, John, eds. The Philistine Controversy. London: Verso, 2002.
Betts, C. J. Early Deism in France: From the So-Called “Déistes” of Lyon (1564) to Voltaire’s “Lettres Philosophiques” (1734). The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1984.
Bradstock, Andrew Radical Religion in Cromwell’s England: A Concise History from the English Civil War to the End of the Commonwealth. London: I. B. Tauris, 2010.
Brown, Alison The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.
Brown, Alison. “Lucretius and the Epicureans in the Social Context of Renaissance Florence.I Tatti Studies 9 (2011): 1162.
Buckley, George T. Atheism in the English Renaissance. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965.
Buckley, Michael J. At the Origins of Modern Atheism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
Bullivant, Stephen “Defining ‘Atheism.’” In The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (2013), 11–20.
Burleigh, J. H. S, ed. Augustine: Earlier Writings. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953.
Buys, Ruben‘Without Thy Self, O Man, Thou Hast No Means to Look for, by Which Thou Maist Know God’: Pieter Balling, the Radical Enlightenment, and the Legacy of Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert.Church History and Culture 93 (2013): 363–83.
Buys, Ruben. Sparks of Reason: Vernacular Rationalism in the Low Countries, 1550–1670. Hilversum: Verloren, 2015.
Caferro, William Review of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. Modern Philology 111.3 (2014): E306–08.
Celenza, Christopher “Pythagoras in the Renaissance: The Case of Marsilio Ficino.” Renaissance Quarterly 52.3 (1999): 667–711.
Celenza, Christopher. Piety and Pythagoras in Renaissance Florence: The “Symbolum Nesianum. Leiden: Brill, 2001.
Clement of Alexandria. Stromateis, I–III. Trans. John Ferguson. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1991.
D’Amico, John F.Papal History and Curial Reform in the Renaissance: Raffaele Maffei’s ‘Breuis Historia’ of Julius Ii and Leo X.Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 18 (1980): 157210.
Davidson, Nicholas “Unbelief and Atheism in Italy.” In Atheism from the Reformation (1992): 55–86.
Davidson, Nicholas. “Lucretius, Atheism and Irreligion in Renaissance and Early Modern Venice.” In Lucretius and the Early Modern, ed. David Norbrook, Stephen Harrison, and Philip Hardie, 123–34. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
de, Besse Pierre. Heraclitus Christianvs, Hoc Est, Peccatoris Poenitentis Suspiria, Lachrymae. Ed. Matthias Martinez van Waucquier. Cologne, 1615.
de, Besse Pierre. Democritus Christianus, Id Est, Contemptus Vanitatum Mundi. Cologne, 1616.
de Bujanda, Jesús Martínez, ed. Index Des Livres Interdits. Sherbrooke, Québec: Centre d’études de la Renaissance, Editions de l’Université de Sherbrooke, 1984.
de, Coras Jean. Altercacion, En Forme De Dialogue, De L’empereur Adrian Et Di Philosophe Épictète. Toulouse, 1558.
Dionisotti, Carlo Chierici e laici nella letteratura italiana del primo Cinquecento. Padua: Antenore, 1960.
Dionisotti, Carlo. Geografia E Storia Della Letteratura Italiana. Torino: Einaudi, 1967.
Edelheit, Amos Ficino, Pico and Savonarola: The Evolution of Humanist Theology 1461/2–1498. Leiden: Brill, 2008.
Epictetus. Encheiridion, Idem Latine Per Angelum Politianum. Trans. Angelo Poliziano. Nuremberg, 1529.
Epictetus. Enchiridion, Hieronymo Verlenio Interprete, Priore Illo Longe Locupletius. Trans. Heironymus Verlenius. Antwerp, 1550.
Epictetus. The Manuell of Epictetus Translated out of Greeke into French and Now into English, Conferred with Two Latin Translations. Trans. James Sandford. London, 1567.
Epictetus. Epicteti Stoici Philosophi Enchiridion. Trans. Angelo Poliziano. Lyon, 1600.
Epictetus. Epictetus His Manuall. And Cebes His Table. Out of the Greeke Originall by J. Healey. Trans. John Healey. London, 1610.
Epictetus. Epicteti Philosophi Enchiridion. Et Cebetis Thebani Tabulae. Quibus Accessere, Senecae Liber Unus De Tranquillitate Animi, Ac Sententiae Aliquot Selectissimae Philosophorum. Cologne, 1642.
Epictetus, and Gilles Boileau. Les Caractères D’Epictete, Avec L’Explication du Tableau de Cebes de M. L’Abbé de Bellegarde. Trans. Jean-Baptiste Morvan l’abbé de Bellegarde. Trevoux, 1704.
Epictetus, and Simplicius. Arte di Corregger La Vita Humana. Trans. Matteo Franceschi. Venice, 1583.
Epictetus, Simplicius, and Flavius Arrianus. Enchiridion, Hoc Est Pugio, Sive Ars Humanae Vitae Correctrix: 1. Trans. Hieronymus Wolf. Basel, 1563.
Eusebius of Caesarea, and Jerome. Heironymi Chronicon. Ed. Rudolf Helm. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1913–26.
Febvre, Lucien The Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century: The Religion of Rabelais. Trans. Beatrice Gottlieb. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Flüeler, Christoph, Lanza, Lidia, Toste, Marco, and Austenfeld, Anne-Marie, eds. Peter of Auvergne: University Master of the 13th Century. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015.
Frazier, AlisonThe First Instructions on Writing about Saints: Aurelio Brandolini (c. 1454– 1497) and Raffaele Maffei (1455–1522).Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 48 (2003): 171202.
Frazier, Alison. Possible Lives: Authors and Saints in Renaissance Italy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
Frazier, Alison. “Biography as a Genre of Moral Philosophy.” In Rethinking Virtue, Reforming Society: New Directions in Renaissance Ethics, ed. David Lines and Sabrina Ebbersmeyer, 215–40. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013.
Fubini, Riccardo Humanism and Secularization: From Petrarch to Valla. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.
Garin, Eugenio Il Ritorno Dei Filosofi Antichi. Naples: Bibliopolis, 1994.
Greenblatt, Stephen The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011.
Güsgens, Joseph. Joannes Chrysostomus Magnenus, Ein Naturphilosoph Des 17. Jahrhunderts. Ed. Joseph Güsgens. Bonn: P. Hanstein, 1910.
Hankins, James Plato in the Italian Renaissance. 2 vols. Leiden: Brill, 1990.
Hankins, James. “Marsilio Ficino on Reminiscentia and the Transmigration of Souls.” Rinascimento, n.s., 45 (2005a): 3–17.
Hankins, James. “Plato’s Psychogony in the Later Renaissance: Changing Attitudes to the Christianization of Pagan Philosophy.” In Platons Timaeos Als Grundtext Der Kosmologie in Spätantike, Mittelalter Und Renaissance, ed. Thomas Leinkauf and Carlos Steel, 387–406. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2005b.
Hankins, James. “Religion and the Modernity of Renaissance Humanism.” In Interpretations of Renaissance Humanism, ed. Angelo Mazzocco, 137–53. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
Hankins, James. “Socrates in the Italian Renaissance.” In A Companion to Socrates, ed. Sara Ahbel-Rappe and Rachana Kamtekar, 337–52. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2009.
Hankins, James. “Iamblichus, Ficino and Schleiermacher on the Sources of Religious Knowledge.Erudition and the Republic of Letters 1 (2016): 112.
Hankins, James. “Ficino’s Critique of Lucretius.” In The Rebirth of Platonic Theology in Renaissance Italy: Proceedings of a Conference in Honor of Michael J. B. Allen, Florence, 26–27 April 2007, ed. James Hankins and F. Meroi, 137–54. Florence: Istituto Nazionale Di Studi Sul Rinascimento and Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, 2017.
Hankins, James, and Palmer, Ada. The Recovery of Ancient Philosophy in the Renaissance: A Brief Guide. Florence: Olschki, 2008.
Heninger, S. K. Touches of Sweet Harmony: Pythagorean Cosmology and Renaissance Poetics. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1974.
Hierocles. In Aureos Versus Pithagorae Opusculum. Trans. Giovanni Aurispa. Florence, 1474.
Hill, Christopher The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution. New York: Penguin, 1991.
Hinch, Jim “Why Stephen Greenblatt Is Wrong—and Why It Matters.” Review of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. Los Angeles Review of Books (1 December 2012):
Hobbes, Thomas Translations of Homer: The Iliad and the Odyssey. Ed. Eric Nelson. Vols. 24 and 25 of The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008.
Hudson, Wayne, and Lucci, Diego, eds. Atheism and Deism Revalued: Heterodox Religious Identities in Britain, 1650–1800. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014.
Iamblichus. De Vita Pythagorae, & Protrepticae Orationes Ad Philosophiam, Lib. Ii. Trans. Johannes Arcerius Theodoretus. [Heidelberg], 1598.
Israel, Jonathan Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Jacob, Margaret The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans. London: Allen and Unwin, 1981.
Joost-Gaugier, Christiane L. Pythagoras and Renaissance Europe: Finding Heaven. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Kafker, Frank A. “The Recruitment of the Encyclopedists.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 6.4 (1973): 452–61.
Kahn, Victoria Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism in the Renaissance. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.
Ker, James The Deaths of Seneca. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Kors, Alan Charles. Atheism in France, 1650–1729: The Orthodox Sources of Disbelief. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
Kors, Alan Charles. Epicureans and Atheists in France, 1650–1729. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016a.
Kors, Alan Charles. Naturalism and Unbelief in France, 1650–1729. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016b.
Kristeller, Paul Oskar. “The Contribution of Religious Orders to Renaissance Thought and Learning.American Benedictine Review 21 (1970): 155.
Kristeller, Paul Oskar. “The Myth of Renaissance Atheism and the French Tradition of Free Thought.” In Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, Volume 3, 541–54. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1993.
Lange, Johann Peter. Democritus Ridens. Cologne, 1649.
Lemay, Joseph A. Leo. Deism, Masonry, and the Enlightenment: Essays Honoring Alfred Owen Aldridge. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1987.
Lima, Luiz Costa. The Dark Side of Reason: Fictionality and Power. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992.
Lucian, . Works. Trans. A. M. Harmon. 8 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1921.
Lucretius. De Rerum Natura. Paris, 1570.
Maffei, Raffaele Commentariorum Urbanorum Raphaelis Volaterrani. Rome, 1506.
Maffei, Raffaele. Commentariorum Urbanorum Raphaelis Volaterrani. Lyons, 1552.
Magnenus, Johann Chrysostom. Democritus Reviviscens, Sive, De Atomis. Addita Est Democriti Vita, Etc. Papia, 1646.
Magnenus, Johann Chrysostom. Democritus Reviviscens, Sive, Vita et Philosophia Democriti. Leiden, 1648.
Marcus, Hannah “Banned Books: Medicine, Readers, and Censors in Early Modern Italy, 1559–1664.” PhD diss., Stanford University, 2016.
Marenbon, John Pagans and Philosophers: The Problem of Paganism from Augustine to Leibniz. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.
McGregor, J. F., and Barry Reay, eds. Radical Religion in the English Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
McKnight, Stephen A. Sacralizing the Secular: The Renaissance Origins of Modernity. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
Meinel, Christoph “‘Das Letzte Blatt Im Buch Der Natur’: Die Wirklichkeit Der Atome Und Die Antinomie Der Anschauung in Den Korpuskulartheorien Der Frühen Neuzeit.” Studia Leibnitiana 20.1 (1988a): 1–18.
Meinel, Christoph. “Early Seventeenth-Century Atomism: Theory, Epistemology, and the Insufficiency of Experiment.” Isis 79.1 (1988b): 68–103.
Monfasani, John Review of The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began, by Stephen Greenblatt. Reviews in History 1283 (2012):
Mortimer, Sarah Reason and Religion in the English Revolution: The Challenge of Socinianism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Neander, Michael En Lector, Librum Damus Vere Aureum, Planeque Scholasticum. Basel, 1559.
O’Callaghan, Daniel. The Preservation of Jewish Religious Books in Sixteenth-Century Germany: Johannes Reuchlin’s “Augenspiegel.” Leiden: Brill, 2012.
O’Malley, John W., Izbicki, Thomas M., and Christianson, Gerald, eds. Humanity and Divinity in Renaissance and Reformation: Essays in Honor of Charles Trinkaus. Leiden: Brill, 1993.
The Oxford Handbook of Atheism. Ed. Stephen Bullivant and Michael Ruse. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Pade, Marianne, ed. “Vitae Pomponianae: Lives of Classical Writers in Fifteenth-Century Roman Humanism.” Renæssanceforum 9 (2015) 87–106.
Palmer, Ada Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.
Palmer, Ada. “The Recovery of Stoicism in the Renaissance.” In The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition, ed. John Sellars, 117–32. New York: Routledge, 2016a.
Palmer, Ada. “The Active and Monastic Life in Humanist Biographies of Pythagoras.” In Forms and Transfers of Pythagorean Knowledge: Askesis—Religion—Science, ed. Almut-Barbara Renger and Alessandro Stavru, 211–226, 519–524. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016b.
Passannante, Gerard The Lucretian Renaissance: Philology and the Afterlife of Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Petrarch, Francesco Letters on Familiar Matters (Rerum Familiarium Libri). Trans. Aldo S. Bernardo. 3 vols. New York: Italica, 2005.
Reuchlin, Johannes On the Art of the Kabbalah (De Arte Cabalistica). Trans. Martin Goodman and Sarah Goodman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Robichaud, Denis J.-J. “Renaissance and Reformation.” In The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (2013), 179–92.
Screech, Michael A. Montaigne’s Annotated Copy of Lucretius: A Transcription and Study of the Manuscript, Notes and Pen-Marks. Geneva: Droz, 1998.
Seneca. Select Letters. Ed. and trans. Walter Coventry Summers. London: Macmillan, 1910.
Seneca, and Desiderius Erasmus. Opera Omnia, Cum Notis Erasmi. Ed. Desiderius Erasmus. Basel, 1515.
Sheppard, Kenneth Anti-Atheism in Early Modern England 1580–1720: “The Atheist Answered and His Error Confuted.” Leiden: Brill, 2015.
Simplicius. Simplicii Commentarius in Enchiridion Epicteti. Trans. Heironymus Wolf. Leiden, 1640.
Smith, Nigel “The Charge of Atheism and the Language of Radical Speculation, 1640–60.” In Atheism from the Reformation (1992), 131–58.
Socinus, Faustus Opera Omnia. Vols. 1–2 of Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum. Ed. Frans Kuyper, Daniel Bakkamude, and Andrzej Wiszowaty Sr. Amsterdam, 1656.
Solaro, Giuseppe Lucrezio: Biografie Umanistiche. Bari: Dedalo, 2000.
Soranzo, Matteo “Un’identità religiosa nel primo Cinquecento: Gli Hymni Heroici Tres di Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola.” Italian Studies 70.1 (2015): 53–57.
Trinkaus, Charles E. In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
Uckelman, Sara L. “Logic and the Condemnations of 1277.” Journal of Philosophical Logic 39.2 (2010): 201–27.
Wagar, W. Warren, ed. The Secular Mind: Transformations of Faith in Modern Europe: Essays Presented to Franklin L. Baumer. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1982.
Wallace, Dewey D. Shapers of English Calvinism, 16601714: Variety, Persistence, and Transformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Wilbur, Earl M. A History of Unitarianism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1945.
Wippel, John F.The Condemnations of 1270 and 1277 at Paris.Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 7 (1977): 169201.
Woodhouse, Christopher Montague. George Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
Wootton, DavidUnbelief in Early Modern Europe.History Workshop 20 (1985): 82100.
Wootton, David. “Lucien Febvre and the Problem of Unbelief in the Early Modern Period.” Journal of Modern History 60.4 (1988): 695–730.
Wootton, David. “New Histories of Atheism.” In Atheism from the Reformation (1992), 13–55.
Zucchini, Giampaolo “Unpublished Letters Added to the Letters of Fausto Sozzini, 1561–1568.” In Socinianism and Its Role in the Culture of the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries, ed. Lech Szczucki with Zbigniew Ogonowski and Janusz Tazbir, 17–24. Warsaw: Polish Academy of Sciences, 1983.

Humanist Lives of Classical Philosophers and the Idea of Renaissance Secularization: Virtue, Rhetoric, and the Orthodox Sources of Unbelief

  • Ada Palmer (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed