Paul Oskar Kristeller, Frederick Woodbridge professor emeritus of philosophy at Columbia University, was a major scholar of Renaissance philosophy and Renaissance humanism. He was born Paul Oskar Gräfenberg in Berlin but took the name of his stepfather at age 14. His father died shortly after Paul Oskar’s birth. He attended school at Mommsen Gymnasium in Berlin.
In 1923 Kristeller started college, studying philosophy, medieval history and mathematics at Heidelberg, Freiburg, and Marburg between the years 1923-1928. He earned a Ph.D. in 1928 at the University of Heidelberg, with a thesis on Plotinus. With the rise of the National Socialist government in Germany and its racist and anti-Semitic policies, he went to Italy in 1933, remaining there until 1938 when the Mossolini regime gained more power. He obtained a position at Yale University, then a permanent faculty position at Columbia University in 1939, where he spent the rest of his career.
His talk, Renaissance Philosophy and the Mediaeval Tradition, was given as part of the Wimmer Memorial Lecture Series at Saint Vincent in 1961, and was published two years later. The widely-published and internationally-recognized scholar died in 1999 at the age of 94.
Kristeller wrote the preface to the book two years after the lecture as the book was being prepared for publication. He noted that “the rather broad topic, for which I must assume at least part of the responsibility, gave me a welcome opportunity to sum up a number of opinions and impressions which I had gradually formed in over thirty years of research … What matters in the study of history and particularly intellectural history are the details and nuances which belong to specific facts and persons, texts and ideas.”