Week 2: Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Ptolemy Comes to Florence

Renaissance engraving of Ptolemy

Claudius Ptolemy was a Greek mathematician living in Alexandria from about 90 AD to 168 AD. He was living in the international Roman Empire within which Egypt was now just another province. His Greek language heritage connected him to the whole Greek scientific tradition. He had access to everything back to Thales, including Aristotle, Plato, Euclid— everything. In the great metropolis of Alexandria with the greatest library in the world, Ptolemy brought together in his book, Geography, all knowledge of the globe that Greek science had gathered. He is the first writer to explain completely the idea of latitude and longitude. He provided latitude and longitude locations for all the major cities of Europe. He also provided in his book a how-to guide on drawing maps of the three dimensional globe on two dimensional flat paper. Ptolemy’s book was brought to Florence in 1400, probably by Manuel Chrysoloras, and the new arrival of this book in Europe sparked the whole Fifteenth Century research in cartography and led directly to the journey of Christopher Columbus to North America.


J. H. Plumb,

The Italian Renaissance,

Mariner Books; Revised edition (June 19, 2001),

ISBN 0618127380


1. J. R. Hale, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance.  This study of the whole Renaissance period in all of Europe was the final masterpiece of one of the greatest historians of the Early Modern period.  John Hale was working on this book when he was struck with a debilitating stroke.  But his wife, Sheila Hale, and other scholars finished the book for publication and we are all enriched by its availability.  It is in print, but you might also look at used copies of the original quality paperback.  This book will serve us for the whole year-long course.  It is especially useful for Winter and Spring Quarters.

John Hale,

The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance,

Scribner, Reprint edition (June 1, 1995),

ISBN 0684803526

2.  Ferdinand Schevill, Medieval and Renaissance Florence.  The Schevill book that we used in on our class during “The History of Medieval Italy,” is still useful for this Renaissance class.  But this year you would only want Volume 2 on Renaissance Florence.  It is a very detailed historical record of events in  Florence during the Fifteenth Century.  If you want one book to give you the year by year events and explanations of basic political structures, this is the book you want to own.  Copies of both volumes are in our Institute library.

Ferdinand Schevill,

Medieval and Renaissance Florence,

Harper Torchbook paperback, 1963, 2 volumes,