Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/577

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

number of highly-accomplished Greeks, who were induced to settle as professors at Florence or other centres. The revival was also furthered by the visits which several Italian scholars made to Constantinople for the purpose of studying the language there. In viewing the Italian revival of Greek as a whole, we must remember its essential dependence on these sources. The higher Byzantine level of Greek scholarship in that age was the highest to which Italy could then aspire. Italian students of Greek in the earlier and middle periods of the Renaissance learned the classical language from men to whom its modern form was a vernacular. This was, in one way, a distinct advantage, since there is a large continuity both of idiom and of vocabulary between classical Greek and the more polished modern Greek. On the other hand, the Byzantine feeling for the genius and style of the classical literature had become grievously defective.

Boccaccio is the first Italian of the Renaissance who is known to have made any progress in the study of Greek. He was impelled to it by the advice of Petrarch, a friend to whom his modest and affectionate nature gave an ungrudging and unbounded worship. His teacher was Leontius Pilatus, a pupil of the Barlaam who had been Petrarch's instructor, and, like him, a Calabrian who had migrated to Byzantium. The notion of Leontius to be gathered from Petrarch (who had read with him at Venice), and from Boccaccio, again illustrates the difficulty of finding tolerable Greek teaching in Italy. Leontius evidently knew little or nothing beyond the Byzantine Greek of the day; he was stupid and pretentious; his temper appears to have been morose, and his personal habits were repulsive. Nevertheless Boccaccio received him into his house at Florence, and caused him to be appointed professor of Greek in the Studio there. He made for Boccaccio a bald and faulty translation of Homer into bad Latin prose, which was sent to Petrarch, and received by him as an inestimable boon.

But the first real teacher of Greek in Italy, the man with whom the revival of Greek learning in the West began, was Manuel Chrysoloras, who lectured on Greek at Florence from 1397 to 1400. He was a Byzantine of good family, who had previously visited Italy on a mission from the Emperor Paleologus, for the purpose of seeking aid against the Turks. Some cultivated Florentines, who had then met him, afterwards prevailed on the Signoria of Florence to offer him the chair of Greek, which he accepted. His coming made an epoch in the history of European letters. He was a scholar, able to interpret the classical Greek poets and prose-writers; and he was eloquent. The enthusiasm created at Florence must have been remarkable. For the first time, Italians were placed in sympathy with the ancient Greek mind at its best. Ardent students, young and old, including several who afterwards became eminent, crowded the lecture-room. One of these was Lionardo Bruni, well-known in later life for his Latin History of Florence, as also