The Poet's Wisdom: The Humanists, the Church, and the Formation of Philosophy in the Early Renaissance


The book explores the philosophical thinking of Petrarch and Boccaccio in contrast to the writings of contemporary mendicants. Examining both Latin and vernacular works, it investigates how these humanists poetically express the temporal, subjective, and emotional quality of moral sensibility, in a way that shifts to the reader the weight of discerning the ethical message. The book centers its analysis on a series of paradoxes pondered by these humanists: the self that changes yet persists over time; the awareness of self-deception; the individual's validation of authority; and the ethics of pleasure. This study is valuable to those interested in Renaissance philosophy, literature, religion, and the history of ideas.
Restricted Access


EUR €119.00USD $156.00

Biographical Note

Timothy Kircher, Ph.D. (1989) in History, Yale University, is Professor of History at Guilford College, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Review Quote

Kircher’s combined talent for literary criticism and historical contextualization results in a most rewarding fusion which should be of inspiration to a new generation of Renaissance scholars. Rocco Rubini, Forum Italicum 42.1 (2008): 231-33 Kircher has given the field an important work of literary criticism and philosophical investigation worthy of consideration from all scholars of Giovanni Boccaccio, challenging the reader to regard the Decameron as a foundational text of the philosophy of Italian Humanism. Jason Houston, Heliotropia, 6.1-2 (2009) The Poet's Wisdom illustrates conclusively how fundamental these exchanges [between humanists, clerics and layman] are to understanding the central thinkers and texts of Renaissance Italy. Emily O'Brien, Erasmus Rotterdam Society Yearbook, 29 (2009): 108-114 Readers... will find the textual analyses of The Poet’s Wisdom wonderfully rich and rewarding. Kircher excavates their meaning and significance while accounting for social, political, and intellectual influences upon them, and with the skills of an acute literary critic he measures them carefully against the writings of mendicant preachers. He brings to the task a comprehensive interest in the philosophy of history, textual hermeneutics, and the integral relationship between style and thought, as parenthetical references to the theoretical work of Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Hans Blumenberg, and G. Heath King enrich his detailed footnotes on the relevant scholarship in history, literary studies, theology, and philosophy. This is a head-clearing book that will reward scholars in all those fields. Wiliam Kennedy, Renaissance Quarterly, 2006 Like Ronald Witt’s In the Footstep of the Ancients, Kircher’s The Poet’s Wisdom sheds new light on a critical period in the emergence of modern Western thought and letters. David Marsh, Italian Quarterly, 2005. The Poet's Wisdom is an excellent book. Its clarity of argument of exemplary, and it presents a convincing picture of the Decameron that answers some questions that have been nagged at critics over the years. It is a splendid addition to our understanding of early humanism and, especially, provides a new way of interpreting the Decameron. It should be read by scholars and students alike for its insights into the emerging world of Italian humanism. Stephen Kolsky, Speculum (2007) 1006-1007.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements List of Illustrations I. Introduction II. Tracking the Vagaries of Time: Anxiety and Freedom in Humanist Accounts of the Plague of 1348 III. Morality’s Hazy Mirror: The Humanist Modality of Moral Communication in the Decameron IV. The Paradox of Experience and Moral Authority in Petrarch’s Writings V. The Sea as an Image of Temporality VI. The Ethics of Pleasure: Faces of the Feminine VII. Senescence and Renascence Bibliography Index


All those interested in intellectual history, the history of ideas, philosophy, Renaissance humanism and ecclesiastical history, as well as readers of medieval and Renaissance Italian literature.