I know that Ancient Greece and Rome were not forgotten completely in the Middle Ages: I know, for instance, that Aristotle was studied and that some knowledge of the Roman Empire and the emperors was kept alive - even mentioned often in the Bible. So what important writings or knowledge were lost and then re-discovered in the Renaissance?
There must have been a fair amount of stuff that was well-known in the East but lost in the sense of forgotten, not on anybody’s radar in the West. Scholars migrating westwards after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 brought a good deal of texts, and a good deal of learning, that had completely been lost sight of in the West.
In more concrete terms, I believe the art of building masonry domes, which of course the Romans had, was lost with the fall of Rome in the West, and only rediscovered in the Rennaissance. Also the technology for making structural concrete was lost with the fall of Rome, and not really recovered until the sixteenth century.
Publication of books was key; books weren’t cheap until the invention of the printing press and the widespread use of paper in Europe, both events coincided roughly with the Fall of Constantinople.
Many of the ancient Greek works (including writings by Euclid, Aristotle, Archimedes, Apollonius, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, Galen), were translated into Latin not from the original Greek, but from Arabic translations of the originals. (This was partly due to the fact that Classical Greek was hardly intelligible to Byzantine Greeks.) This important work of translation began several centuries before the printing press and was centered in Toledo, Spain where Latin Christian, Arabic Muslim, and Jewish cultures were in contact.
A great deal of Greco-Roman statuary and sculpture was recovered during the Renaissance. The Renaissance Popes sponsored excavations of many of the historic sites of Rome. The Belvedere Torso (beloved by Michelangelo), the Apollo Belvedere, and the Laocoon come to my mind as works recovered during the era, but there were many, many others.
As one example, the rediscovery of Aristotle dated back to the Middle Ages, but I think Plato only circulated widely in the Renaissance.
A lot of the writings were kept in monastery libraries. It was only with the printing press (as mentioned) that many people could get copies of these works. The monks, of course, were more interested in religious works -so these manuscripts may have been filed, but were not heavily read. (Reading frivolous and pagan works was not in keeping with a life contemplating God…)
Renaissance means “rebirth” as in the rebirth of culture. Between the sculptures and the written works, (and the evidence of structures and ruins) educated people came to realize just how rich the ancient cultures had been.
Plato is a good example. Were there any other writers or texts that were effectively forgotten in the West? Euclid? Archimedes? The Illiad? Virgil? Pliny?..
Ancient documents are quite perishable and much of Archimedes’ work exists only because it was translated into Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. But perhaps the greatest of Archimedes’ recovered works is the famous palimpsest, a 10th-century Greek copy of some of his most important work, which was washed and overwritten in the 13th century and discovered only recently. It is now being read by a variety of very high-tech methods.
Archimedes was surely one of the greatest geniuses ever.
This is very misleading. In fact many works by Archimedes have been completely lost (though some recovered on the palimpsest) but are known because Greeks or Arabs incorporated some of the ideas into their own work, while citing Archimedes.