Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/586

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and Ammianus Marcellinus. Centuries were to elapse before the process of exploration begun by these early humanists was to be finished. Only in our own day has the actual wealth of Europe in classical manuscripts been ascertained with any approach to completeness. But in the period of the Italian Renaissance discoveries more or less important were of frequent occurrence, and no one could tell from what quarter the next treasure-trove might come. Thus in 1425 Cicero's rhetorical treatises were found by Gherardo Landriani in the Duomo at Lodi; and four years later Nicholas of Treves, a fiscal agent of the Vatican in Germany, sent thence to Rome the most complete codex of Plautus. One of the greatest acquisitions was among the latest. Not till 1508 did the modern world recover the first six books of the Annals of Tacitus. The manuscript, said to have been found in the monastery of Corvey, was sent from Westphalia to Rome, and was acquired by Giovanni de' Medici, afterwards Leo X.

But it was more especially the quest for Greek classics that engaged the ardent zeal of the earlier humanists. The comparative novelty of Greek literature stimulated curiosity; Greek codices were sought, not only by students eager for knowledge, but also by a much larger world. Commercial houses at Florence, such as that of the Medici, with agencies throughout Europe and the Levant, spared no expense in procuring Greek books. Princes, and sometimes Popes, joined in the competition. A new Greek classic gave not only the kind of pleasure which an expert finds in a rare book, but also the pride of possession, not necessarily allied with knowledge, which a wealthy collector feels in a good picture. In short, classical antiquity, Greek especially, was vehemently the fashion in Italy, if that phrase be not less than just to the earnestness of the movement. A letter-writer of the time has related that, just after the publication of Politian's Miscellanea at Florence in 1489, he happened to go into a public office, and found the clerks neglecting their business while they devoured the new book, divided in sheets among them. In an age when the demand for manuscripts had all these forces behind it, the search could not fail to be well-organised, if only as a branch of commerce. For Greek books, Constantinople was the chief hunting-ground. Thither, for at least half a century before the fatal year 1453, many Italian humanists repaired; enjoying, we may suppose, every facility for research. Three such men are foremost among those who brought copies of the Greek classics to Italy. Giovanni Aurispa (1369-1459) went to Constantinople in youth, to study Greek; and, returning to Italy in 1423, carried with him no less than 238 manuscripts. A quiet teacher and student, as he is described by Filelfo, -" placidis Aurispa Camoenis deditus,"—he closed his long life at Ferrara. Guarino da Verona (1370-1460), who also acquired Greek at Constantinople, brought back with him a large number of Greek books. But neither he nor Aurispa can have had better opportunities than