Are You a Renaissance Man?

by cmoneyspinner

A Renaissance man (or woman) has wide knowledge in many fields. Based on that definition you should be able to objectively answer the question: Are You a Renaissance Man?

Although the word renaissance is a French word meaning rebirth, this period actually began in Italy and then spread throughout Western Europe. This historical period is more correctly characterized as a revival or renewal of interests in the arts and in scientific inquiry, a return to the Greek and Roman classics, and to other ideas derived from the ancient Greco-Roman culture. In Western civilization, the Renaissance is the period of history between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age; from about the 14th century to the 16th century, A.D.

Many 20th and 21st century people like Steve Jobs, for example, might be someone others would refer to as a Renaissance man. It is less likely that characters such as Frank Lucas, though he was a creative entrepreneur, would be lumped in the same category, unless they put themselves there. Were it not for the popular movie, "American Gangster", many people probably would not even known the man's name. I didn't.

“The Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the 14th century.” ~ Source:  Burke, P., The European Renaissance: Centre and Peripheries 1998)

The Renaissance Connection

Not Everyone Who Says They're a Renaissance Man is Bona Fide.

Shakespeare versus Super FlyThe popular film, American Gangster, starred Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas, criminal drug lord in the 70s, who used the caskets of fallen soldiers being returned home from Vietnam to smuggle illegal drugs into the United States.

There was a scene in the movie where Lucas is being approached with a partnering-in-crime business proposal by another crime lord who made mention of the fact that he considered himself "a Renaissance man" and asked Lucas the question: "Are you a Renaissance man?" Not to be judged as anything less than an equal, Lucas countered: "I'm a Renaissance man too!"

Having heard the phrase "Renaissance man" used as a compliment when speaking of the famous playwright William Shakespeare, somehow I just could not make the connection between Lucas and Shakespeare.

I did some additional research thinking perhaps my understanding about the Renaissance was in error.  Per The New Lexicon Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language:

  • "The Renaissance created a culture which though based in large part on the imitation of the ancients, freed men to prove and enjoy the world in a way not possible under the medieval Church's dispensation. In this release lay the way of development of the modern world."

Aw forget about it!  I'll damage my brain trying to connect the dots between Shakespeare and Super Fly.  There is no Renaissance connection!!  However, there were four other notable persons during that time period who were also referred to as Renaissance men: Francesco Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, Francois Rabelais, and Desiderius Erasmus. It was much easier to connect the dots between those men and Shakespeare because they were also prolific writers who made a place for themselves in Renaissance literature.


[OFF THE RECORD and OFF TOPIC:  American Gangster was one of Mr. Washington's better performances.  Ditto for The Manchurian Candidate.  Better.  Not best.  His best performance was Malcolm X, but he got the Oscars for Training Day and Glory.  Whatever!]


Are you a Renaissance man (or woman)?

Can you prove it?
Renaissance Impostors and Proofs of Identity
Palgrave Macmillan
Only $98.63

Francesco Petrarch

(1304 - 74) - Italian poet famous for his sonnets.

PetrachTranslated and collected classical work manuscripts, wrote extensive letters and essays on religious, philosophical, and political topics. He wrote an epic poem titled "Africa", about the 2nd Punic War.

He has been called both, the Father of the Italian Renaissance and the Father of Humanism (a belief in the greatness of man). Some even say he was "the first Renaissance man".

But what do you think?
Was Petrarch a Renaissance man?


* * *
“A short cut to riches is to subtract from our desires.” – Francesco Petrarch

(Disagree totally!  Only short cut to riches is being born rich!  Ask any rich kid!)

Petrarch fashioned many versions of himself for posterity.
The Essential Petrarch
Hackett Publishing Co.
Only $17.0
The Secret: by Francesco Petrarch (Be...
Bedford/St. Martin's
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Giovanni Boccaccio

(1313 - 75) - Italian author and poet and close friend to Petrarch.

BoccaccioAuthored romances, epic poems and idylls, and together with his friend Petrarch they laid the groundwork for the philosophy or belief known as humanism.

Best remembered for his story collection called Decameron; a masterpiece of classical Italian prose; 10 tales of 10 people told over a period of 10 days. So significant is this work that the Italian Studies Department, Brown University, Providence, RI, spearheads a project, called Decameron Web, dedicated to the study and teaching of the work. Pier Paolo Pasolini, noted for his adaptations of classic literary texts, directed the film adaptation of The Decameron released in 1971. Also wrote the first collection of biographies devoted entirely to women.

So! Renaissance man or just BFFs with Petrarch?



"While farmers generally allow one rooster for ten hens, ten men are scarcely sufficient to service one woman."   - Giovanni Boccaccio

(Unless the woman is me.  One man is plenty!)

Of Note: First Biographical Work About Women

- The first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women, Boccaccio's Famous Women affords a fascinating glimpse of a moment in history when medieval attitudes toward women were beginning to give way to more modern views of their potential.


François Rabelais

(1494 - 1553) - Franciscan monk, doctor, writer and scholar.

RabelaisBest known for his satire, Gargantua and Pantagruel - a satire some believed was aimed at the feudal and the ecclesiastical powers of the day; which is, on the surface, the adventures of two rude but comical giants, father and son.  There are divided opinions about his works. Some say he wrote from a Christian perspective flavored with humanism while others declare him to be a radical atheist and anti-Christian.

There are also differing accounts about his final words. Many believe his last words was a one-sentence will wherein he stated: "I have nothing, I owe a great deal, and the rest I leave to the poor".

His writings have been described as "grotesque humor". However one describes his wittiness and jesting, it was undeniably his own special brand of humor.

What say you?
Renaissance man or some guy who liked to 'push the envelope'?


* * *
“Tell the truth and shame the devil.” -  Francois Rabelais

(I never knew he said that!)

Perfect example of the brand of humor Rabelais came to be known for.
Gargantua and Pantagruel / Francois Rabelais ; the five b...
New York : Heritage Press
Only $5.99

Desiderius Erasmus

(1466 {69?} - 1536) - Scholar, theologian, humanist and author.


Dutch scholar known as Erasmus of Rotterdam; wrote satires that pointed towards the abuses of the Catholic church.  Credited with publishing the first Greek edition of the New Testament, and an accompanying Latin version.

Believing that he espoused a rational and a practical study and application of Christianity, he sought to expound on these principles and precepts in his various works. However, the followers of Martin Luther assailed him for not standing with them in their attempts at exposing doctrinal errors and initiating religious reform; while those loyal to the Catholic church accused him of adding new troubles to the problems they were already experiencing. He found himself continually wrapped up in heated controversies over these matters until his dying day.

Do you have an opinion?

Renaissance man or ... average garden-variety struggling church reformer who managed not to get himself ex-communicated or executed?



“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king (In regione caecorum rex est luscus).”
Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus


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Links of Interest

Sofonisba Anguissola (1531 – 1625) holds a no little record: she is the only woman represented at the Prado Museum. Despite she were a celebrated artist at her days, her name has been forgotten for centuries ….
Isabelle d'Este Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons She's one of the women of history that few remember today, but she was well-known in her time and is.
I was very pleased to read about the win (on handicap or corrected time) of the yawl Dorade in this year's Transpacific Yacht Race from San Pedro, California to Honolu...
At the start of the school year of 1936-1937, Harvey L. “Heinie” Miller (1888 – 1967) was hired as head coach of the varsity boxing squad and professor of journalism b...

woman dress

Buy Renaissance and Medieval Clothing
- Complete outfits for men and women.

* Renaissance Festival *

Go back to the 16th century for 8 fun-filled weekends

Thanks for Stopping By!

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Updated: 10/26/2019, cmoneyspinner
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cmoneyspinner on 12/15/2014

@WriterArtist - I thank my high school teachers for introducing me to the Renaissance. It was part of our Humanities studies.

WriterArtist on 12/14/2014

Loved to read the origin of renaissance and the related literature and folks who echo the essence of renaissance. My admiration for renaissance stems from the costumes, I love the Victorian influence and the patterns of this glorious era.

cmoneyspinner on 11/06/2014

@EmmaSRose - Thanks so much for commenting. So many free images all around the web. Not sure I remember where I found the dividers. Information on the Renaissance abounds. It's possible that could have been an actual conversation between two members of the underworld. But I just figured it was the script. At any rate, the line in the movie inspired me to write this page. Thanks for stopping by. :)

cmoneyspinner on 01/20/2014

@suzette walker - Thank you so much for stopping by! I suspect we'll continue to bump into each other around the web. :)

suzette walker on 01/20/2014

cmoneyspinner: I love this site of yours. This is a great article on being a "Renaissance Man or Woman" I think you are a Renaissance Woman as your interests are so many. You have certainly picked some greats from the Renaissance that illustrate the Renaissance Man. I am familiar with them and their writings. Great article!

cmoneyspinner on 08/12/2013

@frankbeswick - It's cmoneyspinner.

frankbeswick on 08/12/2013

Tolovaj, have you read the book Witch, Wicce, Mother Goose. It is a good study of witch hunts. I have read it in English, but I know not whether it is available where you are. There is also the book Ecstasies, by Ginsberg, I think. This is also worth reading for your research.

By the way, Moneyspinner, I have nothing to do with Frank Lucas, I do not even know who he is.

cmoneyspinner on 08/12/2013

@Tolovaj - I miss my library. We used to live in a neighborhood where the library was a five minute walk from our house. Made research a whole lot easier for me. We moved and the public library requires a drive. I'm going to figure out a way to work around this!

Thanks for popping in!

Tolovaj on 08/12/2013

Nice job! I am just doing a research on witch hunts and it looks some things really never change, no matter if we are talking about 2nd, 12th or 22nd century. The same is probably with renaissance... Of course we can find few renaissance women too;)

cmoneyspinner on 08/12/2013

@frankbeswick - OK. So I have my eyeglasses on right now and double checked and triple checked. I don't see the name Frank Lucas in your paragraph, so your comment is officially APPROVED! :)

Thanks for visiting and giving this article a thumbs up.

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