Dominic Green

What’s It To Do with the Price of Bread?

The Enlightenment: History of an Idea

By Vincenzo Ferrone (Translated by Elisabetta Tarantino)

Princeton University Press 216pp £19.95 order from our bookshop

The Dark Ages did not become dark, or the Middle Ages medieval, until the 19th century, when it turned out that the Nuova Scienza, the ‘New Learning’ of the Italians, had really been the Renaissance, a rebirth of old learning. But the Enlightenment named itself as it was happening: l’Illuminisme, Aufklärung, Haskalah. As Vincenzo Ferrone argues in this illuminating history, the Enlightenment was simultaneously a philosophical ideal, self-conscious and abstract, and a historical event so messy and protracted that its origins, nature and extent remain controversial. It is an impossible hybrid, like Aristotle’s ‘goat-stag’ – in Elisabetta Tarantino’s translation, a ‘conceptual Centaur’.

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