Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and Other Emigres

By Hankins, James | The Catholic Historical Review, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and Other Emigres


Hankins, James, The Catholic Historical Review


Byzantine Scholars tn Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and Other Emt gres. Selected Essays By John Monfasani. [Collected Studies Series.] (Brookfield, Vermont: Variorum, Ashgate Publishing Co. 1995. Pp. xii, 351.) This is the second of two collections of his articles that John Monfasani has recently published in Variorum's "Collected Studies Series." The first volume, Language and Learning in Renaissance Italy, contains his articles on fifteenth-century humanism. The present volume contains fourteen articles in English and Italian on Byzantine emigre scholars in Quattrocento Italy, all previously published, including nine articles on Cardinal Bessarion and his circle. In addition to Bessarion, the volume contains studies dealing with Niccolo Perotti, Theodore Gaza, Pletho, Alexius Celadenus, Andronicus Contoblacas, Andronicus Callistus, Nicholas Secundinus, and numerous other figures. The articles are rather spottily updated in a four-page appendix, but the author adds a useful index of manuscripts and an index nominum. All of the articles display Professor Monfasani's deep learning and brilliant skills in textual and historical criticism; with their publication, he inherits Deno John Geanakoplos' place as the leading American authority on the emigration of Byzantine intellectuals to Renaissance Italy

Much of this volume consists of detailed textual studies of the works of Bessarion and his `academy, including hitherto unpublished texts of Bessarion, Gaza, Callistus, and others, collations of new manuscripts of previously published texts, manuscript descriptions, paleographical data, and rich new material on the textual tradition of Bessarion's writings. There is also important new biographical information on Bessarion, Niccol6 Perotti, and Andronicus Callistus. Beyond this, we are given an intimate view of Bessarion's struggles to enter the new linguistic environment of Latin humanism. From the Council of Ferrara-Florence onwards, Bessarion's three great causes were the union of the Greek and Latin churches, the preservation of the Greek cultural heritage, and the launching of a crusade against the Turks to recover Constantinople. In order to compass these ends, Bessarion needed the ability to write persuasively in Latin and to defend, against numerous detractors, his image as a pious, orthodox, and loyal prince of the Roman Church. Though competent enough in the Italian and Kchenlatein of the papal court, Bessarion never really developed first-rate skills as a writer of Latin prose. Monfasani shows the important role played by Niccolo Perotti in translating or transforming many of Bessarion's controversial and scholarly writings into good humanistic Latin; Perotti's lost biography of Bessarion, as Monfasani demonstrates, was probably the most important source for the encomiastic biographical tradition of the great Greek cardinal that took shape after the latter's death. …

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