Italian 250B: Renaissance Literature Short Paper
We have seen two very interesting references to animals in the texts we have read so far. The first is Pico dello Mirandola’s comparison of humans to chameleons and the second is in Machiavelli’s The Prince, where he says a prince should be like both a fox and a lion. Although the references are very different, they both deal with very similar concepts of change and metamorphosis. Change and inconsistency may have been viewed as negative traits in the past or even still today, but not during the Renaissance. This was a time of great change both for each individual, but also for Italy as a whole. The idea of change, metamorphosis, and self-fashioning were seen as strengths of this time and many artists and authors shared this opinion. Picco and Machiavelli, used their own references to animals to show their appreciation of human metamorphosis.
In the Dignity of Man, Pico describes humans as chameleons, baring the ability to adapt to our environments and current situations. He also makes the point that humans exist in a realm between beasts and divine beings. Our ability to adapt, or be like chameleons, is one of his main reasons as to why he believes that there is no other being (except the chameleon of course) that can match the human ability to change. This adaptability sparks positive progress and forward movement that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Also, it is not just the fact that we can change that amazes Pico, it is the fact that we have the choice of when to change and what we want to change into. We have ultimate control and freedom to be whatever we so choose. It is this freedom of choice and the responsibilities attached to it that constitute the dignity of the human being. Humans are not meant to be stagnant creatures. We are meant to change and improve constantly and our great skill of adaptability allows us to do that.
In Machiavelli’s The Prince, he says that a good leader should be both a fox and a lion. He should be strong and courageous, sly and cunning, and be able to change between the two without a moment’s notice. Machiavelli says that the strengths of both these creatures are necessary for ultimate success. He says, “The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten…