Speaking of vain, idealistic attempts to literally “rebirth” a past age (as if the intervening time has not really taken place at all), Lynn Thorndike writes:

If, even in our own day, all the resources of the art of history aided by archaeology can give us only a faint and imperfect idea of the past, how can we expect actual renaissances of it or recognize them as
such, if they were to occur? At the age of sixty I am perhaps more like myself at the age of twenty than I am like anyone else. But I couldn’t possibly put myself back into the frame of mind that I had then. I have a dim recollection of it; my present state of mind is an outgrowth of it; that is all. A girl of eighteen, dressed up in the clothes which her grandmother wore when a girl of eighteen, may look more like her grandmother as she was then than her grandmother herself does now. But she will not feel or act as her grandmother felt and acted half a century or more ago. Much more tenuous is the connection between distant historical periods, and much less likely is it that historians can successfully venture upon glittering generalities about them. Who can evoke from the past more than a wraith, a phantasy, a specter, which murmurs, like the ghost in Hamlet, “Historian, remember me!” - “Renaissance or Prenaissance,” in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 4, No. 1. (Jan., 1943), pg. 66

Later he writes:

The concept of the Italian Renaissance or Prenaissance has in my opinion done a great deal of harm in the past and may continue to do harm in the future. It is too suggestive of a sensational, miraculous, extraordinary, magical, human and intellectual development, like unto the phoenix rising from its ashes after five hundred years. It is contrary to the fact that human nature tends to remain much the same in all times. It has led to a chorus of rhapsodists as to freedom, breadth, soaring ideas, horizons, perspectives, out of fetters and swaddling clothes, and so on. It long discouraged the study of centuries of human development that preceded it, and blinded the French philosophes and revolutionists to the value of medieval political and economic institutions. It has kept men i11 general from recognizing that our life and thought is based more nearly and actually on the middle ages than on distant Greece and Rome, from whom our heritage is more indirect, bookish and sentimental, less institutional, social, religious, even less economic and experimental. - pg. 74

Interesting thoughts.

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