It was for example his knowledge of roman history and

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It was, for example, his knowledge of Roman history, and more especially of the history of the Latin language, which allowed the humanist Lorenzo Valla to demonstrate, in the middle of the fifteenth century, that the so-called 'Donation of Con-stantine', a document in which the emperor handed over 15
central Italy to the pope and his successors, had nothing to do with Constantine but was written several centuries later [ 41]. There were two apparently contradictory elements in the attitude to classical antiquity of the humanists and the artists who were associated with them. On the one hand, they were much more conscious of the distance between the classical past and the present than their medieval predecessors had been, and concerned with what they called the corruption of the language and the decline of the arts after the barbarians invaded Italy. On the other hand, they felt personally close to the great Romans. Petrarch wrote letters to Cicero and others, while Machiavelli described himself as conversing with the ancients. Both men believed that antiquity could be revived. Petrarch took a sympathetic interest in the attempted restoration of the Roman Republic, which lasted -within the city walls -from 1347 to 1354. Machiavelli argued passionately in his Discourses on Livy that ancient Roman political and military arrangements, such as the citizen militia, could and should be imitated by modern states [62, 68, 72). To understand the revival of classical forms in architecture, say, or in the drama, or the enthusiasm for the discovery and editing of classical manuscripts, we need to see them as portions of a far more ambitious enterprise. It was nothing less than the restoration to life of ancient Rome. What could this mean? It is not always easy to decide whether the human-ists were writing literally or metaphorically, or exactly how much of the past they wanted to bring back. However, the basic idea of revival was much more than a figure of speech. Like the ancients, many humanists believed in a cyclical interpretation of history, according to which one age could be a kind of recurrence or rerun of an older one. Some of them thought that they and their fellow-citizens could become 'new Romans' in the sense of speaking like the Romans, writing like them, thinking like them, and emulating their achievements, from the Colosseum and the Aeneid to the Roman Empire itself. This idea of a return to the past may have been, as suggested above, a myth, but it was a myth which some people not only believed but lived. 16
One of the key concepts of the humanists was that of 'imitation'; not so much the imitation of nature as that of great writers and artists. Today, this idea has come to sound strange. We have become accustomed to the idea that poems and paintings are expressions of the thoughts and feelings of creative individuals, and although we are aware that some artists do in fact imitate others, we are inclined to think of this as a sign of their lack of talent or an error on the part of people who

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