Oration on the Dignity of Man

One of the most eloquent descriptions of the Renaissance image of humankind comes from the Italian humanist Pico della Mirondola. In his famed Oration on the Dignity of Man, Mirondola describes humans as free to become whatever they choose.

The best of artisans ordained that creature to whom he had been able to give nothing proper to himself should have joint possession of whatever had been peculiar to each of the different kinds of being. He therefore took man as a creature of indeterminate nature and, assigning him a place in the middle of the world, addressed him thus: "Neither a fixed abode (place) nor any function peculiar to thyself have we given thee, Adam, though mayest have and possess what abode, what form, and what function thou thyself shall desire. The nature of all other beings is limited and constrained withing the bounds of laws prescribed (given) by Us. Thou, constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand We have placed thee, shall ordain (decide) for thyself the limits of nature. We have set thee at the limits of thy nature. We have set thee at the world’s center that thou mayest from thence more easily observe whatever is in the world. We have made thee neither of heaven nor earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate into lower life forms, which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power, out of thy soul’s judgement, to be reborn into higher forms, which are divine." O supreme generosity of God the Father, O highest and most marvelous felicity of man! To him is granted to whatever he chooses, to be whatever he wills.

Answer on a separate sheet of paper. Quote the reading where appropriate.

1. How did God make man different than other creatures?

2. Mirondola writes of man’s deserved freedoms. How did the middle ages restrict man from exercising his free will or freedom of choice?

3. How does what Mirondola writes a contradiction of medieval Christianity? Why do his words challenge medieval Christianity and the church

4. Based on what he writes, why could we consider Mirondola a Man of the Renaissance?