According to Princeton historian Anthony Grafton, one of today’s leading scholars of the Renaissance, “the studia humanitatis, the humanities….encompassed quite a specific range of subjects: grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, the arts that gave a command of Latin, the language of learning, and oratory, history, poetry, and moral philosophy.” For centuries after, these disciplines were considered indispensable for any well-educated person. Still more important, they helped to define an ethical ideal: they were “forms of thought and writing,” Grafton explains, “that improved the character of the student.” To study the humanities was to grow more independent and intrepid, both intellectually and morally; it was the royal road to becoming a complete human being. In the words of the critic George Steiner, A.M. ’50, modern education has been defined by the principle “that the humanities humanize.”
This tumultuous moment, when the humanities and humanism itself face an uncertain future, is the perfect time to shine a new light on the age when they were invented. That’s why it seems especially fitting that Vergerio’s treatise on education—along with a galaxy of other fascinating, inspiring, and almost wholly unknown texts—is being discovered by a new generation of readers, thanks to the I Tatti Renaissance Library (ITRL; www.hup.harvard.edu/itatti/index.html).