Time for the next Renaissance?

Which Ninja Turtle painted the Mona Lisa? I forget. We deserve more than cartoons.

Adri Mehra

I was thinking recently from a bus seat trapped in the soot-choked environs of our fair city’s downtown district: Aren’t we humans due for another Renaissance?

We certainly have revisited the intellectual Dark Ages, relatively (and politically) speaking. So what should be next on tap is another rebirth of artistic and humanistic learning and culture, right?

Let’s hark back to fabled 19th-century historian Henry Hallam; the Dark Ages began in A.D. 500 and lasted for about 1,000 years, or until the Italian Renaissance in 1500. Just to refresh our collective memory, the Dark Ages were that period of European history in between classical antiquity and the rise of what we now call “the modern world,” heralded by the cultural achievements of the Renaissance.

The Dark Ages got their name from the idea that a certain creative light had been extinguished after all the great advancements in philosophy, law, art, literature and the sciences during the time of the ancient Greek and Roman empires, which together lasted from roughly 800 B.C.E. to A.D. 476.

It was in this final year that the last emperor of the West, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by the Goths. The Goths were the latest and strongest in a long line of barbarian invaders from the north and east who turned the culture and order of the Roman republic into bloody and frenzied anarchy. The 10th century was seen by medieval historians as the “darkest” part of this “intellectual night.”

This part of history is also “dark” because there is little evidence of civilized thought for these 10 centuries, especially when compared with the vast body of writings and sophisticated archaeological records found from ancient Greek and Roman cultures.

Humanity had become relatively silent; it was as if the pipes of knowledge were turned off for several hundred years, and then famously turned on again by the likes of Dante, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare and a whole host of other old, dead white guys.

Let us not forget the achievements of the other two teenaged mutant ninja turtles: Raphael and Donatello. Respectively, the painter and the sculptor – or the red and purple turtles.

See? You chuckle, but it’s true – these amazing Renaissance men (and women – just look at Joan of Arc, Mary Queen of Scots, Saint Teresa, Catherine de Medici) are well-established in our cultural lexicon.

Are they there for the right reasons? Not always. By all accounts, Michelangelo is probably known better for “Cowabunga!” than he is for Cordonata, a massive set of stairs in Rome that he built for people to get up to the top of a huge hill in the city.

Just what am I getting at? We deserve more from our human race. And it’s all our fault. Instead of watching cartoons named after these guys, we could be scrutinizing their works, pecking out the plentiful seeds of genius embedded in their concoctions. They had no Internet, no Fox News, no “Monday Night Football.” What they did have was dignity and independence, in spades. They had urban societies with many of the citified accoutrements and public resources we still addict ourselves to, but there seemed to be a sense of higher purpose. Was it to honor the gods? Hardly. These guys plastered their names on everything they did, just like our brainwashed, résumé-addled souls do today.

Put simply, I think we want what they wanted, but they wanted it more. The stakes are just as high today – if not higher. Time may be running out. Around every corner is a 20-foot tidal wave or a Turkish turkey with a vast need for TheraFlu.

And so you want moral values? Look up at the Sistine Chapel, and then you can tell me what George W. Bush did on his summer vacation.Where’s my Renaissance?

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]