Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/637

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

labourer in this field was Ambrogio Traversari, General of the Camal-dulite Order who died in 1438. To him the Church owed an improved version of the Homilies of Chrysostom on the Pauline Epistles, of other tracts by the same Father, of the Greek Vitae Patrum, of Dionysius the Areopagite, of Aeneas of Gaza, and not a few other books. His joy in his labour of translating, which was the great object of his life, appears over and over again in the hundreds of letters we possess from his pen. The interruptions in his work, which his appointment to the Generalship of his Order occasioned, were a constant grievance. Bitter were his regrets when he had yielded to the persuasions of Cosmo de' Medici, and undertaken to make a Latin version of Diogenes Laertius: not solely because the task distracted his attention from the holy Doctors, but because the lives of the pagan philosophers were not a subject upon which a Christian monk should spend his time. Of all the prominent translators, Traversari is perhaps the one who has most clearly before him the thought that it is a worthy task to reopen to the Latins the mines of Greek theology. We see of course in him the same rather disappointing want of interest in the writers of the very earliest Christian period that we have noticed in studying the library catalogues-disappointing, because the conviction can hardly be resisted that, had the scholars of the fifteenth century made special and definite enquiries, they would have been in time to recover writings which have since perished.

It is impracticable to discuss at any length the productions of the multitude of translators contemporary with or subsequent to Traversari. We may mention but one of the most notable among them. Next to the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria, no patristic treatise is more remarkable for the number and value of the ancient authorities whom it quotes than the Praeparatio Evangelica of Eusebius. It therefore naturally attracted the attention of the lover of pagan antiquity as well as of the smaller band who desired to learn more of the origins of Christianity; and to the men of the Middle Ages it had been absolutely unknown. The Latin version of it, by George of Trebizond, was one of the most important additions to learning which that age could have seen. It opened up a whole realm of forgotten history. From it men first learned the names of such writers as Sanchoniathon, Manetho, and Berosus; indeed, the publication of the book may very probably have paved the way for the once famous forgeries of Annius of Viterbo. Translations of some part of Philo's works, and of the venerable Hellenistic forgery known as the Letter of Aristeas, were also produced before the middle of the fifteenth century.

Much, then, had been done towards reopening the ancient storehouses before the date at which it was long fashionable to say that the revival of Greek learning began-the taking of Constantinople in 1453; much, too, before the printing press had been set up. Great libraries had been formed, and translators had been at work, and to such