Possible Lives uses the saints'lives written by
humanists of the Italian Renaissance to explore the intertwining of
classical and religious cultures on the eve of the European
Reformation. The lives of saints were among the most reproduced and
widely distributed literatures of medieval and early modern Europe.
During the century before the Reformation, these narratives of
impossible goodness fell into the hands of classicizing
intellectuals known as humanists. This study examines how the
humanist authors received, criticized, and rewrote the traditional
stories of exemplary virtue for patrons and audiences who were
surprisingly open to their textual experiments.
Drawn from a newly constructed catalog of primary sources in
manuscript and print, the cases in this book range from the lure of
martyrdom as the West confronted Islam to the use of saints'lives
in local politics and the rhetorician's classroom. Frazier
discusses the writers'perceptions of historical sanctity, the
commanding place of the mendicant friars, and one unique account of
a contemporary holy woman.
Possible Lives shows that the classical Renaissance was
also a saintly Renaissance, as humanists deployed their rhetorical
and philological skills to "renew the persuasive force of Christian
virtue" and "save the cult of the saints." Combining quantitative
and anecdotal approaches in a highly readable series of case
studies, Frazier reveals the contextual richness of this
little-known and unexpectedly large body of Latin hagiography.
Subjects: Religion, History
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