Manuel Chrysoloras was a Byzantine scholar and diplomat. He is best known as the first notable professor of Greek language in Italy. He occupied the chair of Greek at the Florentine Studium, and he also taught Greek occasionally in Pavia, Milan, and Rome. Among his students were some of the prominent early Italian humanists including Leonardo Bruni, Uberto Decembrio, Guarino of Verona, Pier Paolo Vergerio, Palla Strozzi, Roberto Rossi, Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia, Cencio de’ Rustici, and others. His method of teaching Greek language and literature was innovative and was continued by some of his students. He had a significant impact on the revival of Greek studies in the West through his Erotemata, as this work became the central textbook of Greek grammar until the sixteenth century. He was a pioneer of the so-called transferre ad sententiam method for translating Greek texts into Latin, and he was the first who translated Plato’s Republic (in collaboration with his student Uberto Decembrio). His other writings are mainly rhetorical epistles; he engaged in extensive correspondence with many of his contemporaries, eminent humanists and ecclesiastical and political figures, such as the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus and Coluccio Salutati. He was appointed to a number of important diplomatic missions on behalf of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, and he was in the service of Pisan Pope John XXIII. He spent most of his life visiting the European courts in an attempt to secure help for Byzantium and to negotiate the Union of the Churches. He was an ardent unionist, he participated in the Council of Constance, and he may have converted to Catholicism.
Manuel Chrysoloras was born in Constantinople into a noble Byzantine family. His exact date of birth is unknown, albeit it is commonly accepted that he was born around 1350. The widely held view in the past that Demetrius Chrysoloras was Manuel Chrysoloras’ brother has been first rejected by Cammelli (1941, pp. 198–201), and nowadays it remains an open question (cf. Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 12–15).
Almost nothing is known about Manuel Chrysoloras’ early life. The first mention of Chrysoloras dates back to 1386, when Demetrius Cydones makes reference to Chrysoloras’ deep knowledge of Latin in a letter sent to an unidentified recipient (Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 33–34). Another piece of information dates back to 5 July 1388, when the Byzantine senator John Lascaris Calopherus named Manuel Chrysoloras and Demetrius Cydones as executors of his will in case they were in Venice at the time of his death; this indicates that both Cydones and Chrysoloras were soon expected in Venice. There has been considerable disagreement among the scholars about Chrysoloras’ first trip to Italy. According to Thorn-Wickert (2006, pp. 36–37) and Wilson (1992, p. 8), who follow Loenertz (1950, pp. 64–65), Chrysoloras accompanied Demetrius Cydones to Venice in 1390–1391. There Chrysoloras first met Roberto Rossi (ca. 1355–1417) to whom he gave instruction in Greek. Cammelli (1941, pp. 25–29) and Setton (1956, p. 57n95) dispute Loenertz’s view and along with Thomson (1966, p. 76) argue that in 1394–1395, Chrysoloras with Cydones arrived in Venice to request financial and military aid against the Turks. The diplomatic mission failed, but their presence attracted the attention of two young Florentine students of the Florentine chancellor Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406), Roberto Rossi and Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia (ca. 1360–1411), who went to Venice to meet them. Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia followed them in Constantinople (1395–1396) in his determination to study Greek under Chrysoloras, whereas Roberto Rossi returned to Florence.
In a letter on 8 March 1396, Coluccio Salutati informed Chrysoloras, who was at that time in Constantinople, that he had arranged for him to teach Greek in Florence. On 28 March 1396, Chrysoloras received the invitation of the Florentine state, also written by Coluccio Salutati, to teach Greek language and literature in Florence’s highest institution known as the Studium (text in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 41–42). He had been initially offered an annual salary of 100 gold florins and a 10-year contract. On 11 December 1396, when his appointment as a professor of Greek at the University of Florence was announced, the final terms offered to him were an annual salary of 150 gold florins and a 5-year contract. The following autumn (probably in October), Chrysoloras and Cydones returned to Venice where they spent the winter of 1396–1397. At the end of January, Chrysoloras moved to Florence where he remained for almost 3 years (1397–1400), being one of the first Byzantine scholars who moved to Italy long before the fall of Constantinople. His Erotemata, a sort of text for teaching Greek grammar, dates from this period, perhaps written in the first months of his stay in Florence (Cammelli 1941, p. 83; cf. Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 199). Chrysoloras gave his opening lecture at the Florentine Studium on 2 February 1397. One year later (14 March 1398), his salary was raised again, reaching 250 gold florins annually. On 31 October 1399, the onset of plague necessitated the Republic of Florence to give permission to Chrysoloras to stop lecturing temporarily at the Studium. In the winter of 1399–1400, Chrysoloras took shelter in Casentino, in the villa of the wealthy Florentine nobleman Palla Strozzi (1372–1462), who had taken a leading part in the negotiations regarding his appointment. Before his 5-year contract had expired, Chrysoloras’ teaching activity in Florence ended officially on 9 March 1400. During his 3-year tenure at the Studium, he taught Greek to a small number of humanists. Among his students were the Florentine Palla Strozzi, Roberto Rossi, and Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia and, from October 1398, the Paduan teacher of arts Pier Paolo Vergerio (ca. 1370–1444/5). His most famous student in Florence was Leonardo Bruni (ca. 1370/72–1444), the apostolic secretary to four popes, the future Florentine chancellor (1427), and the official historian of Florence (Hankins 2002). Niccolò Niccoli (1364–1437) and Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459) should not be thought of as regular students of Chrysoloras, since they took only a few courses at the Studium (Cammelli 1941, ch. 2; Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 47). It is worth noting that Coluccio Salutati had never been a student of Chrysoloras, even though he was a correspondent and an ardent admirer of him. Contrary to what is often claimed by scholars (Thomson 1966, p. 64n3; Mergiali-Sahas 1998, p. 4n18), who follow older sources (Bolgar 1954, p. 403), Carlo Marsuppini (ca. 1398/9–1453) and Ambrogio Traversari (1386–1439) could not have been Chrysoloras’ students; during Chrysoloras’ teaching in Florence, Carlo Marsuppini was in his early childhood, and Ambrogio Traversari had not yet arrived in Florence (Cammelli 1941, pp. 66–67; Geanakopoulos 1989, pp. 283–284; Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 45–47).
Chrysoloras left Florence on 10 March 1400, the day after he announced his resignation as the chair of Greek at the Studium. Undoubtedly the reason for his early departure from Florence was the arrival of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus in Italy, who has left Constantinople on 10 December 1399 to visit the European courts in an attempt to secure help for Byzantium. After a quick stop in Pisa, where he met his nephew John Chrysoloras on 11 March 1400, Manuel Chrysoloras joined Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus in Pavia. From 1400 to 1403, Chrysoloras stayed in Pavia and in Milan. During this period he moved around in Lombardy trying to collect funds for the Byzantine Empire. In the same period, he taught Greek intermittently, but very little is known about his teaching activities. There are some indications (listed in Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 55) that he offered private lessons in Pavia and in Milan, in the circle of the Duke of Milan, Giangaleazzo Visconti (1351–1402), who supported him financially during his stay in Lombardy. While Chrysoloras was still in Florence teaching Greek (1397–1400), Duke Giangaleazzo Visconti, who was Florence’s hated enemy, had already invited him several times to join his court at Pavia and to teach Greek and rhetoric to the scholars of his dominions; Chrysoloras however continued to refuse the Duke’s invitations until Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus visited his court to request financial assistance (Hankins 1991, p. 105). It is without doubt that Chrysoloras did not occupy the chair of Greek at the University of Pavia, given that it had been transferred to Piacenza before his arrival in Pavia, because of the plague, from 1398 to 1403; and in addition it is known that Chrysoloras never taught at the University of Piacenza (Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 55). Chrysoloras’ best and only known student, since there are no records of his tutoring from that time, was Uberto Decembrio of Vigevano (ca. 1350/1370–1427), a humanist and an influential figure in the service of Duke Giangaleazzo Visconti of Milan (Cammelli 1941, ch. 4). The first translation of Plato’s Republic into Latin, composed by Chrysoloras and his student Uberto Decembrio, dates from this period (see below for details). After the unexpected death of Duke Giangaleazzo Visconti, in September 1402, Chrysoloras remained in Lombardy continuing his diplomatic missions until he joined Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus either in Genoa (22 January 1403) or in Venice (21 March 1403). Chrysoloras had already spent almost 6 years in Italy, when he decided to return to Constantinople accompanying Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus at the beginning of April 1403. A few months later (probably after 21 August 1403), the Italian humanist Guarino of Verona (1374–1460) went to Constantinople to learn Greek under Chrysoloras (Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 67–68). He stayed in Chrysoloras’ house most of the time, perhaps until 1406 (Thomson 1966, p. 69). In Chrysoloras’ absences from the city, due to diplomatic missions, Guarino of Verona studied with his nephew, John Chrysoloras. During the time Guarino of Verona was in Constantinople (1403–1408), he made a compendium of Chrysoloras’ Erotemata which he also translated into Latin (Cammelli 1941, p. 84; Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 199–200). Guarino’s Greek-Latin compendium of Chrysoloras’ Erotemata was widely circulated in Italy in the late fifteenth century (see below for details).
Chrysoloras stayed in Constantinople in the period 1403–1407, but not constantly. He travelled twice in Italy as an imperial envoy; he was in Venice in December 1404 and early in 1406 and in Padua on 3 January 1406. We know that he was in Constantinople by the end of 1405, when he requested Pope Innocent VII (1404–1406) to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church with permission to perform the Latin rite in Greek. Although the permission was granted by the Roman Pope on 19 February 1406, Chrysoloras was never actually ordained. Therefore, it is uncertain if and when he formally embraced Roman Catholicism. Thomson (1966, p. 81) claims that Chrysoloras’ conversion to Catholicism took place at the end of 1405, whereas Hankins (2002, p. 180) suggests the year of 1406. Thomson (1966, p. 81) further asserts that his conversion to Catholicism was perhaps sincere, but it is also possible to be seen as another diplomatic move to reconcile with the West (cf. Loenertz 1950, p. 68). Cammelli (1941, p. 141) and Thorn-Wickert (2006, p. 70), however, doubt that Chrysoloras was indeed converted to Roman Catholicism (cf. Dennis 1977, p. xxxvi).
By the end of 1407, Chrysoloras left Constantinople for the last time and moved permanently to the West where he spent the rest of his life travelling from one country to another in order to form new alliances against the Ottoman Turks and to negotiate the Union of the Churches (the Greek Orthodox Church with the Latin Catholic Church). In the course of the following years, he was appointed to a number of important diplomatic missions on behalf of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus; from 1407 to 1410, he travelled round the courts of Europe (Italy, France, England, and Spain). Little is known about the reason for and the outcome of these diplomatic missions. In addition, there is no evidence that Chrysoloras taught Greek in the period 1407–1410. He was in Venice in December 1407 and in January 1408. According to Cammelli (1941, pp. 144–145), who draws from Leonardo Bruni’s correspondence with Niccolò Niccoli (dated 16 December 1407), Chrysoloras’ mission was to discuss a possible union of the two Churches with Pope Gregory XII (1406–1415), who had succeeded Pope Innocent VII. Based on other sources cited by Thorn-Wickert (2006, pp. 75–76) and Mergiali-Sahas (1998, p. 7), Chrysoloras’ mission was to request financial support for the fortification of Hexamilion in Peloponnese. Later that year, on 18 April 1408, Chrysoloras was in Genoa as it is evidenced by an official document, according to which he was granted tax exemption for buying horses (Cammelli 1941, p. 146; Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 76). No later than May 1408, Chrysoloras arrived in Paris. His duty there was to deliver as a gift an eleventh-century illuminated manuscript (bound in gold and ivory) of Dionysius the Areopagite’s writings to the royal abbey of Saint Denis on behalf of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus (Dennis 1977, pp. xxxvi–xxxvii; Mergiali-Sahas 1998, pp. 7–8; Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 77). The following year, in 1409, Chrysoloras travelled to London and Salisbury as attested in his Comparison of Old and New Rome written in 1411, where he mentions that he was in London 2 years earlier (Mergiali-Sahas 1998, p. 8; Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 77). His presence in England is also confirmed by a letter of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus (letter no. 55 in Dennis 1977, pp. 154–157), written sometime in 1409, in reply to Chrysoloras’ discouraging report which he had probably sent to the Emperor either from England or on his way from there to Spain. Nevertheless, the reason for this mission is unknown. On 7 April 1410, Chrysoloras arrived in Barcelona in order to deliver as diplomatic gifts a series of precious relics associated with Christ’s Passion to King Martin I of Aragon who died upon his arrival in Spain, on 31 May 1410; and thus it remains unclear whether Chrysoloras accomplished his mission or not (Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 78–80; cf. Mergiali-Sahas 1998, p. 9). The final destination of his long-lasting diplomatic mission was Bologna, which he reached after 4 May 1410 and before the end of June 1410 (Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 82). He was sent by Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus to Pope Alexander V (26 June 1409–3/4 May 1410) who died before his arrival and succeeded by Pope John XXIII, and hence he entered the service of the newly elected Pope, in which he remained until his death. On 31 August 1410, he followed Pope John XXIII to Saint Michele in Bosco and then on 14/15 September 1410 to the castle of Saint Pietro in Bologna, where Pope John XXIII stayed until 14 November 1410 to protect himself from the plague. Chrysoloras stayed at the papal court in Bologna until April 1411, when he accompanied Pope John XXIII to Rome. In this period, according to Cammelli (1941, pp. ch. 6), who follows older sources, Chrysoloras returned for one last time to Constantinople, sometime after 4 May and before 29 December (which is the date of a letter addressed to Leonardo Bruni written in Bologna). The reason for this trip was to deliver letters from the Pope (probably Pope John XXIII) to the Patriarch of Constantinople Matthew (1397–1410). Thorn-Wickert (2006, pp. 82–83), however, argues that it was Chrysoloras’ nephew, John, who was sent to Constantinople and not Manuel himself.
In April 1411, Chrysoloras accompanied the papal curia from Bologna to Rome, where he stayed for 2 years, until 1413, in an effort to promote the Union of the Churches and to receive financial and military assistance for Byzantium. While in Rome, Chrysoloras taught Greek in private to the humanists Cencio de’ Rustici from Rome (ca. 1390–1445), the official historian of the Roman curia, and Bartolomeo Aragazzi from Montepulciano (after 1350–1429), the papal secretary of John XXIII (Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 91–95). Nevertheless, there was nothing on the scale of the widespread enthusiasm that Chrysoloras encountered in Florence in 1397 (Cammelli 1941, pp. 154–155). The available main body of his correspondence dates from this period, including his three famous letters addressed to Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus which is widely known as the Comparison of Old and New Rome (text in PG 156: 23–53; cf. no. 6 in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 223–229); to his nephew John Chrysoloras (text in PG 156: 53–58; cf. no. 7 in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 229–230); and to Demetrius Chrysoloras (text in PG 156: 57–60; cf. Baxandall 1965, pp. 197–199; no. 8 in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 230–231). In these letters Chrysoloras deals with the physical beauty of Rome, providing a theoretical basis of the Byzantine aesthetics. From the same period are also his letters to Palla Strozzi and Guarino of Verona (nos. 9–11, 14 in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 231–236, 240–242). It is not yet clear whether Chrysoloras was in Rome or in Florence, when he addressed a letter to Ambrogio Traversari about friendship (Cammelli 1941, p. 181; cf. no. 13 in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 237–240).
On 8 June 1413, Chrysoloras left Rome following Pope John XXIII to Florence, where he stayed for a few months. On 6 September 1413, he was sent by Pope John XXIII, together with the cardinals Antoine de Challant (ca. 1350–1418) and Francesco Zabarella (1360–1417), to the king of Hungary and the future Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund (1433–1437), whom they met in Tesserete (north of Lugano) on 13 October 1413, in order to determine a suitable location for the forthcoming ecumenical Church Council regarding the Union of the Churches and the Great Western Schism which divided the Roman Catholic Church for almost 40 years, from 1378 to 1417, when there were two, and later three, rival popes: Pope Gregory XII (1406–1415) in Rome and antipopes Benedict XIII (1394–1417) in Avignon and John XXIII (1410–1415) in Pisa. After the mission ended, Chrysoloras rejoined the papal curia either first in Florence and then in Bologna or direct in Bologna, where Pope John XXIII arrived on 25 February 1414 (Cammelli 1941, p. 163; Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 101). His Discourse to the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus dates from his sojourn in Bologna (see below for details).
In the middle of July 1414, Chrysoloras left Bologna and, in company with Guarino of Verona, travelled to Venice; the reason for this journey is unknown. In the late summer or early autumn of 1414, Chrysoloras may have visited Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus in Thasos or in Thessalonica (Loenertz 1950, pp. 70–71; Dennis 1977, p. xxxvii; cf. Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 104–105). According to Cammelli (1941, pp. 163–164), however, Chrysoloras, after visiting Venice, returned to Bologna and from there departed with the papal delegation on 1 October 1414 for the Council of Constance, the proceedings of which he attended from the start as representative of the Greek delegation. It is undeniable that Chrysoloras travelled to Constance in the autumn of 1414, albeit it is disputable whether or not he accompanied Pope John XXIII, who arrived in Constance on 28 October 1414 (Loenertz 1950, p. 71; Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 107). What is certain is that Chrysoloras participated in the Council of Constance (1414–1418), which ended the Great Western Schism with the election of the new Pope, Martin V, in November 1417. Chrysoloras’ death occurred a few months after the Council of Constance had begun, on 15 April 1415; he died from high fever and was buried in the Dominican convent. From Pier Paolo Vergerio’s funeral oration on Chrysoloras (text in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 118–119; cf. Cammelli 1941, pp. 167–168), we learn that Chrysoloras’ presence at the Council of Constance was so dominant that he was considered as one of the possible candidates for the papal throne. This is also demonstrated by Guarino of Verona’s letter addressed to Jacopo de Fabris (on 1 July 1416), as well as by Battista Guarino’s letter addressed to his father Guarino of Verona (Cammelli 1941, p. 166; Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 115).
Innovative and Original Aspects
For teaching Greek language in the Florentine Studium, Chrysoloras composed a grammar under the typical Palaeologan title Erotemata (Ἐρωτήματα) which means Questions. This however was not modelled on the traditional Byzantine type of grammar manuals, since it provided a simplified and abridged grammar of Greek. As Wilson (1992, p. 9) notes, a comparison of Chrysoloras’ Erotemata with Manuel Moschopoulos’ Erotemata (fourteenth century) reveals that the categories of the noun have been reduced from 56 to 10. Chrysoloras’ success in teaching Greek lays in his innovative approach to the theoretical system of Greek grammar, in particular the noun declensions (Nuti 2012, p. 241; cf. Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 190–199). His Erotemata was written in question-and-answer form, containing examples of sentences but no texts for reading, and it was soon abbreviated and translated into Latin by Guarino of Verona. Both versions were originally used in manuscript; Chrysoloras’ Erotemata is preserved in more than a hundred manuscripts, and Guarino’s Greek-Latin compendium survives in at least 30 manuscripts. It is noteworthy that Guarino’s compendium was printed several times before Chrysoloras’ Erotemata appeared in print in its original form by Lorenzo de Alopa in Florence in 1496, which was once thought to be the editio princeps. From 1475 to 1491, the Guarinian compendium was printed five times: three in Vicenza (1475, 1490, 1491), one in Parma (1481), and one in Venice (1484). At the same period dates one more edition; in 1471, Adam of Ammergau/Ambergau, one of the earliest European printers in Italy (Venice), issued an abridged Latin version of Chrysoloras’ Erotemata whose author has not yet been identified, albeit it seems unlikely to be Guarino (Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 200–201). Moreover, Chrysoloras’ Erotemata had been more useful than other traditional Greek grammars distributed throughout the West, such as those of Constantine Lascaris’ and Manuel Moschopoulos’, given that it was the first Greek grammar provided with a Latin translation (Geanakopoulos 1962, p. 286). From the fifteenth century until the sixteenth century, Chrysoloras’ Erotemata was widely circulated in numerous manuscripts (in various long and short versions) as well as in multiple printed editions and reprints, including those of Aldus Manutius’ in Venice in 1512, Demetrios Ducas’ in Spain in 1514, and Zacharias Calliergis’ in Venice around 1520–1522 (Geanakopoulos 1962; Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 199–205; Rollo 2012, ch. 2; Nuti 2012).
Chrysoloras left no account of his teaching methods. All the details known are drawn from the testimonies of his students: Leonardo Bruni’s treatise entitled De studiis et litteris (ca. 1425) which was the first exposition of Chrysoloras’ pedagogic technique; the correspondence of Guarino of Verona and Cencio de’ Rustici; and Battista Guarino’s famous treatise on education, De modo et ordine docendi et discendi (ca. 1459), in which he outlined his father’s teaching methods, Guarino of Verona, that were adopted by his teacher Chrysoloras (Cammelli 1941, ch. 3; Thomson 1966, p. 67; Wilson 1992, pp. 9–12). Chrysoloras method of teaching Greek could be summarized as follows. In the beginning he taught vocabulary and grammar, emphasizing the importance of constant revision and regular discussion of subject matter as the most effective ways of learning: a method of learning that has already been in use in scholarly circles of Florence. When his students possessed a good knowledge of Greek, he taught original texts of ancient authors, focusing on the correct pronunciation, on the use of mnemonics, and on the thorough study of a text with emphasis on methodice (vocabulary, grammar, syntax) and historice (the historical context of the text) (Thomson 1966, p. 67). In the early stages, they were introduced to prose authors writing history, biography, oratory, and moral philosophy, such as Lucian and Xenophon; in the advanced stages, they were instructed in poetry (starting from Homer), tragedy, and comedy. The favorite authors of Chrysoloras and his students were Plutarch, Demosthenes, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Lucian, and Claudius Ptolemy (Hankins 2007; cf. Wilson 1992, p. 10). Hankins (2007) points out that Chrysoloras’ practice of studying prose before poetry is one that has lasted down to modern times in Western educational practice.
Another important aspect of Chrysoloras’ teaching process is that he introduced a new method for translating Greek texts into Latin. He was opposed to the well-known ad verbum translation, namely, a literal translation word by word, as well as to a free translation. Both practices of translation were inadequate and could entirely falsify the meaning of the original text; an ad verbum translation could not preserve the author’s style of writing, and an overly free translation could lead to a commentary. Chrysoloras suggested rendering a passage according to the sense, but without changing the textual nuances. His method of translation into Latin is known as transferre ad sententiam (transfer to thought), and it was followed by all his students, particularly by Leonardo Bruni and Uberto Decembrio (Cammelli 1941, pp. 88–92; Geanakopoulos 1989, p. 10; Wilson 1992, pp. 11–12). Furthermore, while Chrysoloras was teaching Greek at the Florentine Studium (1397–1400), he began to translate Plato’s Republic and Ptolemy’s Geography into Latin for teaching purposes; nonetheless, both translations were completed later. Chrysoloras translated the Republic in collaboration with his student in Pavia Uberto Decembrio; the philological part of the translation was almost certainly done by Chrysoloras and the style improved by Uberto Decembrio. The first Latin translation of the Republic was published before the summer of 1402; being an unsatisfactory translation, with an abundance of errors and omissions, it was later corrected by Uberto Decembrio’s son, the eminent Milanese humanist Pier Candido Decembrio (1399–1477), who may have taught himself Greek in the early 1930s from Chrysoloras’ Erotemata (Hankins 1991, pp. 105–153, esp. p. 108; cf. Cammelli 1941, ch. 4; Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 57–60). The Latin translation of Ptolemy’s Geography was completed in 1409/1410 by Chrysoloras’ student – first in Constantinople (1395–1396) and then in Florence – Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia, who was encouraged by Cardinal Peter Filargis of Candia (later Pope Alexander V of Pisa) to revise and complete Chrysoloras’ version for publication; Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia’s translation was circulated under the title Cosmographia (Geanakopoulos 1989, p. 10; Hankins 2003, pp. 457–459; cf. Gentile 1992).
Chrysoloras’ best known work is a lengthy letter written in Rome in 1411 (in April or later but before October) and addressed not to the future Emperor John VIII Palaeologus (1425–1448), son of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, as it was widely held in the past (Cammelli 1941; Dennis 1977, pp. xxxvii), but to Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus himself (Rollo 1999, pp. 77–78; cf. Crisolora 2001, p. 13; Thorn-Wickert 2006, p. 223). It bears the title Σύγκρισις τῆς παλαιᾶς καὶ νέας Ῥώμης (Comparison of Old and New Rome), and it is also known in the secondary literature by its abbreviated form as Synkrisis or Syngrisis. In the first part of his Synkrisis, he provides a detailed description of architectural and sculptural monuments of Ancient and Christian Rome (Smith 1992; Webb 2012); in the second part, he makes a systematic comparison between Rome and Constantinople which he regards as the new Rome (Crisolora 2000, 2001, pp. 13–25). Chrysoloras’ purpose in this letter was to promote good relations between the East and the West by showing that these two cities, Rome and Constantinople, share a common bond which is nothing other than their cultural heritage dating back to Greco-Roman antiquity (Thomson 1966, p. 70; Mergiali-Sahas 1998, p. 2). His letter is highly rhetorical in both style and structure, and it represents a fine example of the Greek rhetorical tradition (Webb 2012, pp. 127–131). Chrysoloras’ Synkrisis was successfully distributed throughout Northern Italy by his devoted student Guarino of Verona, who had received a copy of the letter from him in October 1411 (Thomson 1966, pp. 69–70; cf. letter no. 10 in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 233).
Chrysoloras’ longest and probably most significant work is a discourse addressed to Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, written in Bologna in 1414, between 25 February and 15 July (Patrinelis 1972). Since the first folio of the sole extant manuscript is missing, the title Λόγος κατʼ ἐπιστολὴν περὶ τοῦ βασιλέως λόγου (Discourse to the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus), which is found in the literature, was created by its editors, Patrinelis and Sofianos (see Chrysoloras 2001, p. 50). His Discourse was composed at the request of Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus (letter no. 56 in Dennis 1977, pp. 158–160), and its original purpose was to improve the funeral oration which the Emperor had written for the second anniversary of his brother’s death, the Despot of Morea Theodore I Palaeologus (Chrysoloras 2001, pp. 38–39, 44–48; cf. no. 15 in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 242–245). The Discourse is divided into two main sections. In the first part, which is the largest, Chrysoloras discusses the funeral orations as a literary genre, and then he eulogizes the deceased Despot Theodore I Palaiologos and comments extensively on the Emperor’s funeral oration in a laudatory tone. In the second part, consisted of four paragraphs and written as an addendum, Chrysoloras expresses his deep concern about the growing Ottoman threat, and he proposes a series of educational reforms based on a revival of the Greco-Roman heritage that would prevent the imminent collapse of the Byzantine Empire (particularly in the first two paragraphs). Chrysoloras advocated the promotion of education (establishments of schools, support to scholars, and a systematic study of the literary corpus of the Greco-Roman antiquity) as a measure for the salvation of Byzantium, and he underlined the twofold lineage of its citizens; he was one of the first exponents of the racial identification of the Byzantines with the Greeks and Romans. Therefore his conception of Byzantium as being the cultural and political continuity of both Greek and Roman Antiquity is of great importance (Patrinelis 1972, pp. 500–502; Chrysoloras 2001, pp. 48–52).
Apart from the four works mentioned above (the Erotemata, the first Latin translation of Plato’s Republic, the Synkrisis, and the Discourse), Chrysoloras translated the Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church into Greek and plausibly composed a pro-Latin theological treatise on the procession of the Holy Spirit (Cammelli 1941, p. 178). Chrysoloras’ correspondence should also be included in his writings, being rhetorical and literary in character; besides the letters addressed to Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus (the Synkrisis and the Discourse), 13 letters are known to be extant today (listed in Cammelli 1941, pp. 180–182 and in Thorn-Wickert 2006, pp. 217–245), 2 of which are written in Latin (those addressed to Pope Innocent VII and to Uberto Decembrio). He engaged in correspondence with his relatives and his friends, as well as with many of his students. Among his correspondents were prominent humanists of the early Quattrocento, eminent ecclesiastical figures, and leading personalities.
Impact and Legacy
Chrysoloras had a significant impact on the revival and the development of Greek studies in the Italian Renaissance. He introduced the transferre ad sententiam method for translating Greek texts into Latin which was followed by the Italian humanists. Chrysoloras’ students contributed significantly to the dissemination of Greek culture in the Latin West. They became distinguished translators of Greek literature as well as teachers of Greek language. Leonardo Bruni produced influential translations of Greek authors (mainly of Plato’s dialogues); Uberto Decembrio, Cencio de’ Rustici, and Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia also engaged in the translation of Greek texts; Palla Strozzi and Pier Paolo Vergerio taught Greek at the Florentine Studium and introduced the teaching of Greek at Padua; Roberto Rossi founded a Florentine center of Greek and Latin studies; Guarino of Verona established the first humanist school in Venice, in which the study of Greek literature was an essential part of the curriculum, and he promoted the pedagogic technique of his teacher (Cammelli 1941; Thomson 1966; Geanakopoulos 1989; Hankins 2007).
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