In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Classical Tradition

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Central and Eastern Europe
  • France
  • Germany
  • Great Britain
  • Italy
  • The Low Countries
  • Scandinavia
  • Spain
  • “New” World Encounters
  • Mythology
  • Translations
  • Race, Gender, and Sexuality

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Renaissance and Reformation The Classical Tradition
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0003


Even the word “Renaissance” (“rebirth” in French) points to the effort to revive the learning of antiquity that motivated the intellectual elite of that era—for what sprang forth was an urgent awareness of the ancient past, prompting innovations in both ideas and the arts. The classical tradition, accordingly, has long played a central role in Renaissance studies. With the growing interest in nonelite cultures, the classical tradition in what is now sometimes called the early modern period has had to share the scholarly stage with an ever-increasing number of other areas of inquiry, but the recent burst of activity in reception studies has given the classical heritage a new lease on life along with a way to engage with the more theoretical discourse that has flourished in other areas of Renaissance studies over the past generation.

General Overviews

The absence of a worthwhile book-length survey of the classical tradition in the Renaissance is a noticeable lacuna in the scholarship of the past fifty years. Much good information can still be found in Bolgar 1954, Highet 1949, and Jenkyns 1992, although these classic studies are becoming increasingly dated. The essays in Bolgar 1976 are good, but coverage is limited; Buck 1976, in turn, treats only the Romance-language areas. Kallendorf 2007 suggests some of the issues that a new narrative survey might address. Hardwick 2003 and Martindale 1993 show how the emphasis is shifting from a more passive understanding of tradition to a more active appropriation of the classics that gives new emphasis to postclassical readers.

  • Bolgar, R. R. The Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1954.

    A general survey of Europe’s long affiliation with the classical world; see especially pp. 239–379, on the Renaissance, and the appendices on Greek manuscripts in Italy during the 15th century and on pre-1600 translations of Greek and Latin authors. Reprinted in 1958, 1963, and 1973.

  • Bolgar, R. R., ed. Classical Influences in European Culture, A.D. 1500–1700: Proceedings of an International Conference Held at King’s College, Cambridge, April 1974. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

    A set of conference proceedings by distinguished contributors, with sections on catalogs and editions, the arts of discourse, religion, political thought, and the fine arts.

  • Buck, August. Die Rezeption der Antike in den romanischen Literaturen der Renaissance. Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1976.

    An older study, but clearly written and useful in laying out general issues; restricted to Romance-language materials, but covering textual criticism, commentaries, philosophy, historical writing, poetry, mythology, and the “quarrel of the ancients and moderns” in the Renaissance.

  • Highet, Gilbert. The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature. Oxford: Clarendon, 1949.

    A magisterial overview, based largely on direct work with the primary sources, with long sections on various literary genres in the Renaissance.

  • Jenkyns, Richard, ed. The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

    A study of Rome’s influence on later centuries, with most chapters devoted to individual literary genres; see especially Anthony Grafton, “The Renaissance” (pp. 97–123).

  • Kallendorf, Craig W., ed. A Companion to the Classical Tradition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

    The first new survey in a generation, designed to bring the field into contact with recent scholarship. See especially the editor’s “Renaissance” (pp. 30–43). Countries are treated separately, each with a section on the Renaissance. Other relevant material can be located through the index.

  • Hardwick, Lorna. Reception Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    A nice introduction to reception studies, suggesting how classical studies can be reoriented by giving serious consideration to the succession of postclassical readers.

  • Martindale, Charles. Redeeming the Text: Latin Poetry and the Hermeneutics of Reception. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    Ostensibly an introduction to reception studies, but one that has actually staked out a provocative and influential position, arguing that inevitably, modern interpretations of the classics are simply the latest in a chain of readings extending back to the works’ first audience.

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