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Week 7: Political Rule and Utopia in the Early Middle AgesThe Middle Ages are a very dynamic period, and a time of great inventions and political experimentation. In Italy, the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Florence are rising forces. Dante Alighieri, writing in Italian, not Latin, thus propagating and defining the vernacular language. This in itself is a stark departure from the belief in the cosmopolitan Roman ecumene.The other Florentine write we will be discussing is Niccolò Machiavelli, whose Il Principe was modeled on Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI. He is famous for his political realism and presumed cynicism. Finally, we will end on a utopian note, and include an English perspective.Thomas More writes his Utopia at a time (1516) when a new continent has been revealed in 1492 (the same year the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors had been completed), which fueled new political imaginations. Only a year later, in 1517, Martin Luther published his “95 Theses” in his call for religious reform. More was executed in 1535 because he did not want to sanction Henry VIII’s claim to be the new head of the Church, after failing to secure a divorce from the Pope. The conflict between the Pope and worldly authorities like the King of England, together with calls for a reform of the church, inaugurate the end of the Middle Ages, and the breakup of the Roman (Catholic) world.Guiding Discussion Questions:At three crucial points of our class, we have seen major figures in politics die for their beliefs; each of these deaths illustrating the spirit of their times – Socrates, Caesar, and More. What unites the three, what separates them?Do you agree with the definition of the Middle Ages offered so far? Where would you see the breaking point between Middle Ages and Early Modernity?
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