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The Early Modern Period

Polybius's ideas were revived in the Renaissance and especially influenced Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), who argued for the superiority of mixed governments in his Discourses (1512–1517). However, notions of cyclicality were evident before the revival of Polybius. For example, a system of cyclic historical development is apparent in the Chronicle of Florence by Giovanni Villani (c. 1275–1348). A later example is Giorgio Vasari's (1511–1574) theory of cycles in the history of art in his Lives of the Artists (1550 and 1568). Vasari viewed the history of art as a long series of advances and declines. However, he believed that art had reached a peak of perfection in his own age in the works of Michelangelo; having been perfected, art could not rise further but would either be maintained or decline.

In the eighteenth century, Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) divided history into three ages in his New Science (1725): the age of gods, the age of heroes, and the age of humans. He saw history as the occurrence (corsi) and recurrence (ricorsi) of these ages. According to Vico, every nation follows a similar pattern of development. During the first age, nations invoke imagination in order to comprehend the world as the creation of the gods. The age of gods then gives way to the second age, wherein humans use imagination to establish moral values and institutions following heroic models. The age of heroes declines into the third age, a time when social order is created through reason. Vico's vision of history was the infinite repetition of these three ages.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Cyanohydrins to Departments of philosophy:Cycles - The Ancient World, The Early Modern Period, The Twentieth Century, Bibliography