Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/622

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


It is a matter of common knowledge that Grosseteste brought Greek books to England (probably most of them came from Sicily and South Italy), and that in conjunction with at least two other men whose names are known-Nicholas the Greek, and John of Basingstoke-he gave to the world Latin versions of certain Greek documents. Foremost among these were the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a famous and early apocryphal book. The manuscript from which the Latin version was made is now in the University Library at Cambridge. Of the same character was a book whose existence in a Latin dress is almost certainly due to Grosseteste-though his name has not until recently been mentioned in connexion with it. This is the pretty Greek romance which treats of the life of Asenath, the patriarch Joseph's Egyptian wife. Though now forgotten, it was widely known to medieval men, owing to its inclusion in the great Speculum Historiale of Vincent commonly called "of Beauvais." The claim is sometimes set up in Grosseteste's behalf that he translated the Lexicon of Suidas into Latin; but when this very curious assertion is examined, we find that all he did was to render into Latin a few of the more important biographical articles in it. The principal one which has survived in his version is the article on Jesus Christ. This is in reality another apocryphon, containing the story of an enquiry into the priestly descent of our Lord. However, the undoubted fact that he possessed a manuscript of the Lexicon is a sufficiently interesting one.

Far more important in its bearings on Christian literature was the Latin version of that text of the Epistles of St Ignatius which is now accepted as presenting them in their most genuine form. This version, too, is reckoned as due to Grosseteste: but it seems to have been the one which attracted least attention of any. Not more than one ancient copy of it is known to exist, and the only medieval writers who show any knowledge of it are Oxford Franciscans, members of the House to which the Bishop bequeathed his library. Not until the seventeenth century were its merits and importance suspected, by Archbishop Ussher.

Of Dionysius the Areopagite, Latin versions were known and widely disseminated long before Grosseteste's day. It was presumably the unsatisfactory character of these that led him to undertake a new one; and it is improbable that he ever brought it to a conclusion. Versions of the treatise On the Divine Names, and of the Letters, are very definitely ascribed to him; and it is also likely that the detached Letter to Timothy on the Martyrdoms of St Peter and Paul was rendered into Latin by him or by his assistants. Yet, however much of the work he may have succeeded in finishing, it is certain that in the fifteenth century the need for a fresh translation of the whole was felt in Italy, and that the need was supplied by the indefatigable Camaldulite, Ambrogio Traversari.

The versions of works by John Damascene, of which Bacon speaks,