The Renaissance was a time of change amongst those living in the countries that make up Europe. Jakob Burckhardt, Swiss historian and author of The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, considered the Renaissance to be “nothing less than the birth of modern humanity and consciousness after a long period of decay” (“Renaissance”). This period of time was most definitely one of metamorphosis, but traditions continued to be strong among the lives of the people. Ancient mythological tales continued to be passed down throughout the years; however, the methods in which the folklore was made known changed to fit the new lifestyles of the people. Mythology, during the Renaissance, was visibly expressed through the artwork, music, and literature of those living during this time.
While mythology is not as visibly present today, it was virtually omnipresent in the artwork of the Renaissance. In the late 1300s, the existence of the devil was permeated throughout “the various manifestations of an intimate and macabre religious art” (Nicholls 26). These horrifying visuals of Satan were seared into the minds of most people who attended religious events. Not only was the devil on display, but “demons, the punishments of Hell and personified vices covered the walls of churches in a powerful synthesis of triumphalism and morbid piety bordering on the perverse” (Nicholls 26). The constant reminder of the atrocious underworld had churchgoers living in fear. This was the tactic the clergy had used to move their followers toward piety (Nicholls 27). By painting images of the devil on the walls of religious buildings, the ministry instilled angst among Christians. The myth of the devil steered them toward the path of God. Mythology was not only exhibited through the use of artwork, however.
Music of the Renaissance displayed mythology by incorporating myths within its lyrics. Orpheus and Amphion are two classical mythological characters who used music to complete their conquests (Butler 42). Musicians during the Renaissance took these stories and used different interpretations to compose their own tune (Butler 42). However, there was controversy as to whether or not the musical aspect of the myths was important. One author, Sir William Waller, claimed that the purpose of using these specific tales was to focus on the fact that “the choice of music as a symbol was in itself representative of music’s influence over the nature of people in ancient society” (Butler 48). To some, the most important aspect of Orpheus and Amphion’s stories was the music, and this is why they were included in Renaissance tunes (Butler 48). Mythology in music was also “used as evidence of the ancient powers of music and music’s necessity in society” (Butler 48). To spread the notion that music is important, the myths were rewritten as lyrics to be heard by everyone living during the Renaissance. Music was not the only form of expression that continued the legacy of a mythological character.
The people of the Renaissance also wrote literature to spread their stories of mythology. The werewolf is a mythological creature that humans have included in writing since before the birth of Christ and was portrayed as “a savage beast that lurks in the dark and preys on the helpless” (Sconduto 2). Although this creature was portrayed to be morbid, the Renaissance sparked an inner fire for change amongst those living during the time period. Writers focused more on “the importance of the individual and along with it individual identity” when writing about werewolves (Sconduto 180). They used this tactic to instill the growing idea among people living during the Renaissance that self-identity overshadows the concept of group-identity (Sconduto 180). The changing beliefs of the Church “also contribute[d] to the creation of the chivalrous werewolf,” as it had an “insistence on the rational nature of human beings” (Sconduto 182). The religious aspect of the lives of people living during the Renaissance deeply impacted the way in which mythology was incorporated in daily activities (Sconduto 182). The constant yearning to become better was a popular idea amongst those living during the Renaissance, and mythology was one way that it was expressed.
Artwork, music, and literature of the Renaissance frequently incorporated stories of mythology in order to convey a message to those who were willing to pay attention. Inspiring others through an aged work is a tactic that has carried into the twenty-first century. While works during the age of the Renaissance used mythology, people living today utilize the history of the human race to emphasize the need for a change. Instead of a focus on the devil, those living in the twenty-first century reminisce the racism that the United States of America had been infected with. Women’s rights activists are seen as heroines, like Orpheus and Amphion. Instead of the use of werewolves to spark change within the hearts of the people, the pleas of acceptance from homosexual humans begs for action. While the source seems to change throughout the centuries, the pattern remains the same. Humans tend to lean on the past in order to improve, and this pattern will most likely continue as time passes and the human race strives to reach perfection.
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Butler, Katherine. “Changing Attitudes Towards Classical Mythology and Their Impact on
Notions of the Powers of Music in Early Modern England.” Music & Letters. 2016: 42-
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Nicholls, David. “The Devil in Renaissance France.” History Today. 1980: 25-30. EBSCOhost.
Web. 28 August 2017.
"Renaissance."Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. EBSCOhost, 2016. Web. 11
Sconduto, Leslie A. Metamorphoses of the Werewolf: A Literary Study from Antiquity Through
the Renaissance. North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2008. Print.
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- Emma Johnson (Author), 2017, Mythology in the Art, Literature and Music of the Renaissance, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/423706