What Is The Literary Legacy of the Renaissance?

Rebecca Graf
Feb 21 · 10 min read

The Renaissance years have had a large impact on our current culture. References to its advances are found everywhere. The art is seen in every gallery. The literature is evident in our world today as well though few recognize it when they see it. In today’s world, all forms of entertainment can trace many aspects to the Renaissance.

The following is a short list of many great pieces that came from the Renaissance era that have had large impacts on our world today. Our culture, our literature, or media, and our government can trace back to many of these pieces. Enjoy learning more about the literary legacy of the Renaissance.

By Gustave Doré (1832–1883) — [From the Title Page:] Dante's Inferno translated by The Rev. Henry Francis Cary, MA, from the original of Dante Alighieri, and illustrated with the designs of M. Gustave Doré, New Edition, With Critical and Explanatory notes, Life of Dante, and Chronology. Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co. New York, London and Paris The book was printed c. 1890 in America., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5752410

Divine Comedy

Summary

The Divine Comedy is an allegory of human life presented as a visionary trip through the Christian afterlife, written as a warning to a corrupt society to steer itself to the path of righteousness: “to remove those living in this life from the state of misery, and lead them to the state of felicity.” ” (Biography.com)

Legacy

“Dante’s Divine Comedy has flourished for more than 650 years and has been considered a major work since Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a biography of Dante in 1373. (By 1400, at least 12 commentaries had already been written on the poem’s meaning and significance.) The work is a major part of the Western canon, and T.S. Eliot, who was greatly influenced by Dante, put Dante in a class with only one other poet of the modern world, Shakespeare, saying that they ”divide the modern world between them. There is no third.”” (Biography.com).

Marco Polo By [1], but also many other copies online., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31606

The Travels of Marco Polo

Summary

“The Travels of Marco Polo” presents a broad and wide-ranging panorama of Kubilai Khan’s thirteenth century empire. Marco Polo is the Great Khan’s emissary who is commissioned to travel throughout his empire. Marco Polo is sent to investigate and report back his findings about people, customs, culture, climate, flora and fauna, game, birds and habitation. The Great Khan’s empire ranges from the Mideast and the Levant east through all the lands and kingdom…(http://www.bookrags.com/The_Travels_of_Marco_Polo/#gsc.tab=0)

Legacy

Marco Polo’s work gave the Western world insight into a far off land. It caused wanderlust to settle within many in the West. New worlds were to be seen. To the West, the world suddenly got bigger. It has been noted that “perhaps the thing that matters most is not the truth of the stories or existence of Marco Polo, but the fact that the book has inspired people to travel and instilled a curiosity to explore and learn about other cultures.” (http://independenttravelcats.com/2014/03/30/travel-history-marco-polo-worlds-first-great-travel-writer/)

By Geoffrey Chaucer, John Urry — Private Collection of S Whitehead, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7598939

The Canterbury Tales

Summary

In The Canterbury Tales Chaucer created one of the great touchstones of English literature, a masterly collection of chivalric romances, moral allegories and low farce. A story-telling competition between a group of pilgrims from all walks of life is the occasion for a series of tales that range from the Knight’s account of courtly love and the ebullient Wife of Bath’s Arthurian legend, to the ribald anecdotes of the Miller and the Cook. Rich and diverse, The Canterbury Tales offer us an unrivalled glimpse into the life and mind of medieval England. (Amazon.com)

Legacy

The Canterbury Tales is a somewhat satirical frame narrative of English Society at the time of its creation. Chaucer is believed to have taken inspiration from The Decameron, a medieval allegorical piece of literature, however, an important distinction is that Chaucer uses the depiction of “sondry folk,” or everyday people, rather than more respected nobles. He outlines a day in the life of many professions such as The Knight, The Monk, The Merchant, The Shipman and many others (23 in total). Although much of his work is considered unfinished, these descriptions give us a much better understanding of what each profession entailed as well as how they were looked upon by the other people of the day. The collection acts as our window into that time period.

Another important aspect of the story is that it was written in Middle English. This is significant because during this time English was looked down upon. Society was diglossic, French being reserved for the high code of the Nobility. English was viewed an incapable language that lacked beauty and flow and as such was suitable only for the insignificant. However, Chaucer’s writing was elegant, it was poetic, and it demonstrated just what English was capable of. It showed the people, at a time when French and Latin were the only languages used for ‘art’ that English had significant power as well.

(http://rocknrollenglish.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/influence-of-the-canterbury-tales/)

By Unknown author — http://gawain.ucalgary.ca, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=621711

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Summary

Written by an anonymous fourteenth-century poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is recognized as an equal to Chaucer’s masterworks and to the great Old English poems, Beowulf included. A green-skinned knight offers the Knights of the Round Table a simple but deadly challenge — a challenge taken on by the brave Sir Gawain. A challenge that will force him to choose between his honor and his life… (Amazon.com)

Legacy

This story has become one of the greatest myths told down through the ages. Even though many might not know the exact story, it has been imitated in many modern versions that younger generations are familiar with. It is a story told by many over the years and adapted to the modern world.

By Jacques Bailly — http://www.muzeocollection.com/fr/reproduction-tableau/o358143-labyrinthe-versailles-apres-leclerc-bailly-jacques.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13361844

Aesop’s Fables

Summary

The Hare and the Tortoise. The Lion and the Mouse. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The Jackdaw and the Borrowed Plumage. For generations, these titles and scores of others have been synonymous with the best in the timeless literature of childhood. Although he was probably as mythical as the tales attributed to him, the legendary name of Aesop has been associated for thousands of years with an enduringly popular collection of enchanting fables. (Amazon.com)

Legacy

This is another book referenced more than people realize. In fact, many of these stories have become phrases we use in our everyday life. We use these stories to describe actions in our lives as well as situations we find ourselves in. Much of what we know today as fables can be attributed to Aesop (http://www.aesopos.com/).

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=851581

Le Morte d’Arthur

Summary

From the incredible wizardry of Merlin to the passion of Sir Lancelot, these tales of Arthur and his knights offer epic adventures with the supernatural as well as timeless battles with our own humanity. (from Amazon)

Legacy

Who doesn’t know about King ARthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table? This is one of the tales that has tickled our fantasy bone for generations. Because of Malory, imaginations of artists, writers, poets, and more have been stirred to create wondrous pieces of beauty.

By Hendrik Willem Van Loon — https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Van_Loon--The_Story_of_Mankind.djvu/315, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85953215

Martin Luther — New Testament

Pentateuch

by Martin Luther

Summary

During Martin Luther’s life, the Catholic church ruled Christianity. Tradition began to have a firmer hold on the teachings than the religious text had. Though there was no biblical proof to certain traditions, they were held as gospel because they were so ingrained in the religion.

Legacy

This opened the door for the masses to have direct contact with religious written works. Before Luther, the Bible was only for those in the priesthood. They saw the words. They conveyed them to the crowds. There was no chance for the people to see for themselves what what said in their religious book.

By Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12761351

William Tyndale’s New Testament

by William Tyndale

Summary

The first Christian Bible in the vernacular of the English language was William Tyndale’s New Testament. It was the first time that English speaking people could read the Bible for themselves.

Legacy

This book helped to change the world. In sync with other works such as Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into vernacular German, the masses had the holy scriptures in their hands for the first time. They could read the Word of God for themselves and not have a priest interpret the words for them. It was part of a the large Renaissance movement and the Protestant Reformation.

By Santi di Tito — Cropped and enhanced from a book cover found on Google Images., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9578897

The Prince

by Niccolò Machiavelli

Summary

This book was written to Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence. In the book, the author advises the ruler how to keep his position and deal with those who opposed him as well as supported him. How should a ruler deal with opposition or rivals? Machiavelli lays out what could go wrong and how to head issues off before they arise.

The Legacy

This work put to paper many thoughts of those in power on how to secure that power. Machiavelli “argued that a sovereign from time to time must resort to unethical and immoral policies and practices in order maintain control and maximize the safety and welfare of his domain. In other words, a ruler should lie, cheat, break promises, and so on to strengthen or maintain his control while promoting the welfare of the people. The end justifies the means.” ( https://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Prince.html#:~:text=What%20set%20The%20Prince%20apart,and%20welfare%20of%20his%20domain.&text=But%20politics%20was%20a%20tainted%20profession.) Many rules have since used this book as the foundation for their actions and justification for what others would condemn them for.

By Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–1896) — [From Title page]:Book of MartyrsbyJohn FoxeCondensed from the Larger EditionsWith Original Illustrations, Printed in Coloursby Kronheim"Glorify ye the LORD in the fires" — Isaiah xxiv. 15.London and New YorkFrederick Warne and Co.1887, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6453624

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs

by John Foxe

Summary

This is a summary of those who died for their faith specifically during the reign of Queen Mary of England. It lists all those who died and gives brief backgrounds on them.

Legacy

This book impacted history more than most realize as it gave a foundation for the persecution of Catholics. Each death under the reign of the harsh Catholic queen was seen as reason for each death of anyone who professed to be of the queen’s religion.

By Martin Droeshout — http://firstfolio-old.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/BookReader/BookReaderImages.php?zip=&file=cropped/jp2s/axc0005_0.jp2, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20219763

Shakespeare’s works

by William Shakespeare

Summary

Plays that covered murder, romance, and mystery as well historical figures were written by the man from Avon. Along with plays were numerous sonnets published by the famous bard.

Legacy

Shakespeare’s works have contributed much more to society than the average person realizes. This man who was largely self-educated coined many of the words and phrases today and inspired many authors. He created characters who are known to all in our world today as well as plots that have been copied over and over down through the years.

By Attributed to Juan Martínez de Jáuregui y Aguilar — 1. Unknown source2. cervantesvirtual.com3. The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 119216, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=676819

Don Quixote de la Mancha

by Miguel de Cervantes

Summary

An elderly gentleman loves books about knights and chivalry to the point that he believes he can join them in the cause. In pulls out armory that hasn’t been used in generations and set out to defend those who need it. His reality is much different than those around him, but it never stops him from fighting what he deems dangerous.

Legacy

This is considered the first modern novel and has set the foundation for many of the modern day stories and “considered the first novel in European Literature as well as one of the most admired and inspiring books throughout history.” (https://theculturetrip.com/europe/spain/articles/cervantes-don-quixote-an-endless-voyage-from-la-mancha-to-broadway/) Other famous authors like William Faulkner looked to this book as inspiration. He set a new style of writing: “As a writer, Cervantes is an absolutely brilliant imitator of the way people talk. In earlier literature, different kinds of characters speak the same way. In “Don Quixote” and others of his works, you find multiple characters giving us their individual versions of reality. Also, Cervantes really understood the multiple possibilities of linguistic expression. He was a keen student of literary language as well as of everyday language, and he managed to blend the two in a brilliant way, showing how ordinary people draw inspiration for the ways they express themselves, not only from life but also from books.” (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/04/a-true-giant/)

By Henry Fuseli — https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/fuseli-the-shepherds-dream-from-paradise-lost-t00876, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99648797

Paradise Lost

by John Milton

Summary

An epic poem of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden with glimpses into Heaven during debates and assignments and Satan’s intentions. It is a dramatic retelling of the Biblical story but with more scenes presented to the readers.

Legacy

Like many that were published during this period, this poem was an inspiration for many in the following decades and centuries. Some have stated that “Romantic writers celebrated Milton both for his stance against censorship (“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience”, Milton wrote in the pamphlet Areopagitica), and for his innovative poetic form, which was suggestive, allusive and free from what he called “the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming”. Paradise Lost inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, while Wordsworth began his famous sonnet London, 1802 with a plea: “Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: England hath need of thee”.” (https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20170419-why-paradise-lost-is-one-of-the-worlds-most-important-poems)

Thanks to the Renaissance

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Learn to expand your knowledge and your experience.

Rebecca Graf

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman. www.writerrebeccagraf.com

Renaissance Men and Women

Learn to expand your knowledge and your experience. Become a modern day Renaissance. We are dedicated to pushing ourselves and becoming well-rounded. Want to be a writer? Contact me at writingwithsuccess@gmail.com

Rebecca Graf

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman. www.writerrebeccagraf.com

Renaissance Men and Women

Learn to expand your knowledge and your experience. Become a modern day Renaissance. We are dedicated to pushing ourselves and becoming well-rounded. Want to be a writer? Contact me at writingwithsuccess@gmail.com

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