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History of Science 15th Century - Brunelleschi's Dome

History of Science Online

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LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 9: 15th-century Science

Topic 2: Renaissance Science and Art

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
3 Thursday
11:59 p.m.

Topic2 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The second of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

In the first reading assignment we saw that despite Leonardo's remarkable accomplishments and enduring interest to us, his manuscripts were safe-guarded with utmost secrecy (to preserve their value to his court patrons). Unfortunately, therefore, his writings were of little influence for the development of science. Such secrecy was also a characteristic of the Hermetic tradition, which became an important scientific movement through the 16th and 17th centuries. Two other movements of central importance for science were Renaissance humanism and Neoplatonism. We will also take a brief look at by far the most important contribution of the 15th century to science: the printing revolution, which made it possible to magnify the influence of ideas by rapidly disseminating them throughout European culture. For a brief sampling of 15th-century science under these headings, please carefully read all of the pages linked to below (except for those marked optional). Then conclude with the short reading assignment from your textbook by Debus.

  1. Humanism
  2. Renaissance Neoplatonism
  3. The Hermetic tradition
  4. The Printing Revolution
  5. Allen Debus, Man and Nature in the Renaissance, ch. 1, "Tradition and Reform ," pp. 1-15.

TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, worth 2 points each.

  1. T or F? Italian humanism was suppressed by Pope Pius II in the late 15th century.
  2. T or F? Humanist scholars preferred the living Latin of the late middle ages to its more formal, ancient form represented by Cicero.
  3. T or F? Humanist scholarship emphasized the principle of ad fontes, or returning to the sources of classical literature.
  4. T or F? As Europeans began to see themselves as a single ethnic group with a common origin in the middle ages, the recovery of classical literature, both Latin and Greek, became a concern for all the medieval centers of learning.
  5. T or F? Petrarch’s discovery of several lost works of Cicero is part of the reason he is regarded as representative of humanism.
  6. T or F? Petrarch repudiated the Augustinian tradition by emphasizing the dignity of humanity, that a human being should seek to study oneself rather than God alone.
  7. T or F? The humanist recovery of Greek texts was aided by the arrival of many Greek scholars from Constantinople after 1453.
  8. T or F? Pico della Mirandola synthesized Platonic, Hermetic, Stoic and other philosophies in order to repudiate Aristotelian philosophy.
  9. T or F? Renaissance Neoplatonists discovered Plato’s Timaeus, a cosmological work that had been lost during the middle ages.
  10. T or F? Gemisthos Pletho, a Byzantine Neoplatonist, brought new works of Plato to Italy and taught Neoplatonism to Cardinal Bessarion.
  11. T or F? Marsilio Ficino founded a Platonic Academy in Florence, and translated the Greek texts of Plato into Latin.
  12. T or F? Neoplatonists such as Nicolaus of Cusa (Cusanus) taught the superiority of mathematical sciences in achieving truth.
  13. T or F? Ficino opposed the anthropocentric idea that humans occupy a special, central position in the universe.
  14. T or F? The alchemical and magical treatises of the Hermetic corpus originated in ancient Egypt around the time of Moses.
  15. T or F? At the Florentine Academy, Marsilio Ficino translated the Hermetic corpus from Greek into Latin.
  16. T or F? Codex is another name for scroll.
  17. T or F? Most incunabula were printed in France and England.
  18. T or F? To make the movable type, a type-caster would cut letters out of blocks of wood.
  19. T or F? Gutenberg’s ink is exceptionally black because of its high charcoal content.
  20. T or F? Gutenberg printed perhaps around 180 copies of the Latin Bible by 1455.
  21. T or F? Gutenberg revolutionized the distribution of knowledge by making it possible to produce a large number of copies of a single work in a relatively short amount of time.
  22. T or F? Elisabeth Eisenstein argues that printing contributed to the development of science in part because readers were able to make more detailed and sustained comparisons between different texts.
  23. T or F? Jacopo Angelo rescued a Greek copy of Ptolemy's Geography from his sinking ship on the way back to Italy from Constantinople.
  24. T or F? Marsilio Ficino finished his translation of the Hermetic corpus around 1460, before he completed his translation of the works of Plato.
  25. T or F? The more widespread availability of the works of Archimedes in the 16th century contributed to the growth of mathematical sciences.
  26. T or F? Agricola and Birunguccio produced influential treatises on mathematical physics.
  27. T or F? Robert Fludd represents a hermetic-chemical approach to mathematics.
  28. T or F? The mathematician John Dee prepared a mechancial flying scarab beetle for a theatrical performance.
  29. T or F? In his book Natural Magic, John Baptista Della Porta defined natural magic as the quest to understand the supernatural.
  30. T or F? The hermeticism of Thomas Tymme was an attempt to displace the role of religion in Renaissance culture by replacing it with science.


"If Uri Geller bends spoons with divine power, he's doing it the hard way." James Randi

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux