What people read began to change during the Renaissance. The continued expansion of schools and universities and better literacy was bolstered by the European invention of print in the mid-fifteenth century. The rediscovery of classical antiquity and of the New World, the cosmic shifts, temporal and terrestrial, affected by the Reformation and the Copernican revolution, a renewed interest in mysticism and symbolism — it is in this world-turned-upside-down climate that new and novel literary genres emerged.
Written by Niccolò Machiavelli in 1513, The Prince is undoubtedly the most famous political treatise of the Renaissance and a book that is, if not actually read, familiar to many even today. More than 500 years after its first publication, it still remains both popular and controversial, surviving in popular culture through the adjective Machiavellian, a by-word for political machination, amorality and that ultimately, virtue must bow to expediency.
Even prior to the completion of Gutenberg’s landmark Bible in about 1454, the print-run of 180 copies was already sold out. We know this because it was recorded in letters between Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (1405–1464) and his friend, the Spanish cardinal Juan de Carvajal. In an often quoted passage, De Carvajal writes to Aeneas in a letter dated 12 March 1455:
The cathedral of Notre Dame has stood at the heart of France and of Paris for the best part of 1,000 years. It watched as Paris rose from a former outpost founded during the Roman Republic to become the biggest city of medieval Europe. And although European printing was born in Germany, it is in France, in the shadow of Notre Dame, that the modern book was born.
Love it or hate it, dread it or revel in it, suck at it or excel in it, math makes the world go round, sending rockets to the moon, forecasting the weather, describing the motions of the planets and everything else in the cosmos. Galileo (1564–1642) famously said that ‘the universe is written in mathematical language, without which it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.’ But today we are concerned not with the math of the astronomer or physicist but with the altogether simpler but equally important branch of mathematics, arithmetic. From the Greek words for number and art, arithmetic describes the traditional operations of or fundamental manipulation of numbers, including addition and subtraction, multiplication and division.
Many of the first printed books in Europe were decorated with illustrations, initials and borders. Each served a purpose: initials signaled, via their range of sizes, a textual hierarchy, working in much the same way as chapter headings and sub-headings do today. Decorative borders were employed to demarcate or divide books, chapters or sections and, from the last decades of the fifteenth century, were used at the beginning of books as openers or title-pages.
Today we tend to associate magic either with the sleight of hand tricks performed by magicians and illusionists or with the fictional universes of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter.