Giovanni Dominici and the humanist debate: a tenuous rivalry

by Wendy Elizabeth Moore

Institution: Texas A&M University
Department: history
Degree: MA
Year: 2012
Keywords: history.; Major history.
Record ID: 1984862
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/ETD-TAMU-2000-THESIS-M665


At the end of the fourteenth century and into the fifteenth century Italian education underwent dramatic curricular changes. The humanists led a movement that sought to overthrow the medieval Latin curriculum as the means of educating the upper class. They saw medieval Latin as a pitiful corruption of the Latin of the classical past. Students could no longer gain meaningful and productive lessons under the old curriculum, and the humanists introduced a body of texts heavily dependent on the pagan classics to teach students morality, virtue, and honor. Not everyone greeted this educational revolution with the enthusiasm of the humanists, and it is the purpose of this thesis to examine the work of Giovanni Dominici, one of the curriculum's most ardent opponents. Giovanni, a Dominican friar, worried that the emphasis on pagan literature in the humanist curriculum would threaten the morality of those exposed to it. He voices these worries in his Lucula Noctis. He further argues against humanism in his treatise on the family, the Regola del governo di cura familiare. However, it is in the context of the Regola that we find parallels between the child rearing and educational techniques of Giovanni and the humanists. Giovanni and the humanists shared a psychological approach to childhood. They understood that children progressed through different developmental phases and had particular requirements during each phase. For example, one of the earliest humanist pedagogues, Vittorino da Feltre, used games to teach his youngest students to read. Likewise, Giovanni suggested children play at being sacristans so that they might learn about Christianity. Both Giovanni and the humanists understood that children were not miniature adults. Importantly, it is the child-friendly educational theories of the humanists, and especially Giovanni, that argue for a reassessment of the advent of modern childhood. Philippe Aris̈'s forty-year-old study argues that modern childhood began to manifest itself in late sixteenth- and early-seventeenth century France. However, his hallmarks for the rise of modern childhood  – the attention to child psychology, devotion of the family to children, the creation of a place for children in Christianity, and a respect for childhood innocence  – are all apparent in the treatise of Giovanni Dominici. Arguably, the rise of modern childhood began in the early fifteenth century in Italy rather than early modern France.