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§ 65. Greek Teachers and Italian Humanists.

The revival of the study of Greek, which had been neglected for eight centuries or more, was due, not to an interest in the original text of the New Testament, but to a passion to become acquainted with Homer, Plato and other classic Greek authors. Not even had Gregory the Great any knowledge of the language. The erection of chairs for its study was recommended by the Council of Vienne, but the recommendation came to nothing. The revival of the study of the language was followed by the discovery of Greek manuscripts, the preparation of grammars and dictionaries and the translation of the Greek classics.

If we pass by such itinerating and uncertain teachers as the Calabrians, from whom Petrarca and Boccaccio took lessons, the list of modern teachers of Greek opens with Emanuel Chrysoloras, 1350–1415. He taught in Florence, Milan, Padua, Venice and Rome and, having conformed to the Latin Church, was taken as interpreter to the council at Constance, where he died. He wrote the first Greek grammar, printed in 1484. The first lexicon was prepared by a Carmelite monk, Giovanni Crastone of Piacenza, and appeared in 1497. Provided as we are with a full apparatus for the study of Greek, we have little conception of the difficulty of acquiring a book-knowledge of that language without the elementary helps of grammar and dictionary.

A powerful impetus was given to Greek studies by the Council of Ferrara, 1439, with its large delegation from the Eastern Church and its discussions over the doctrinal differences of Christendom. Its proceedings appeared in the two languages. Among those who attended the council and remained in the West for a period or for life, were Plethon, whose original name was Georgios Gemistos, 1355–1450, and Bessarion, 1403–1472. Cosimo de’ Medici heard Plethon often and was led by his lectures on Plato to conceive the idea of the Platonic Academy in Florence.

Bessarion, bishop of Nicaea, became a fixture in the Latin Church and was admitted to the college of cardinals by Eugenius IV. The objection made in conclave to his candidacy for the papal chair by the cardinal of Avignon was that he was a Greek and wore a beard. He died in Ravenna. Like all Greeks, Bessarion was a philosophical theologian, and took more interest in the metaphysical mystery of the eternal procession of the Spirit than the practical work of the Spirit upon the hearts of men. He vindicated Plato against the charges of immorality and alleged hostility to orthodox doctrines, pointed to that philosopher’s belief in the creation and the immortality of the soul, quoted the favorable opinions of him given by Basil, Augustine and other Fathers, and represented him as a bridge from heathenism to Christianity. Bessarion’s palace in Rome was a meeting-place of scholars. At an expense of 15,000 ducats or, as Platina says, 30,000, he collected a valuable library which he gave, in 1468, to the republic of Venice.10151015    Bessarionis Opera in Migne’s Patrol. Graeca, vol. CLXI. Lives of Bessarion by Henri Vast, Paris, 1878, and H. Rocholl, Leip., 1904.

George of Trebizond, 1395–1484, came to Italy about 1420, conformed to the papal church, taught eloquence and the Aristotelian philosophy in Venice and Rome, and was appointed an apostolic scribe by Nicolas V. He was a conceited, disputatious and irascible man and quarrelled with Valla, Poggio, Theodore of Gaza, Bessarion and Perotti. The 50 scudi which Sixtus IV. gave him for the translation of Aristotle’s History of Animals, he contemptuously threw into the Tiber. His chief work was a comparison of Aristotle and Plato, to the advantage of the former.

Theodore of Gaza, George’s rival, was a native of Thessalonica, reached Italy 1430, taught in Ferrara and then passed into the service of Pope Nicolas. He was a zealous Platonist, and translated several Greek works into Latin and some of Cicero’s works into Greek and also wrote a Greek grammar.

John Argyropulos, an Aristotelian philosopher and translator, taught 15 years with great success at Florence, and then at Rome, where Reuchlin heard him lecture on Thucydides. His death, 1486, was brought about by excess in eating melons.

The leading Greeks, who emigrated to Italy after the fall of Constantinople, were Callistus, Constantine Lascaris and his son John. John Andronicus Callistus taught Greek at Bologna and at Rome, 1454–1469, and took part in the disputes between the Platonists and Aristotelians. Afterwards he removed to Florence and last to France, in the hope of better remuneration. He is said to have read all the Greek authors and imported six chests of manuscripts from Greece. Constantine Lascaris, who belonged to a family of high rank in the Eastern empire, gave instruction in the Greek language to Ippolita, the daughter of Francis Sforza, and later the wife of Alfonso, son of Ferdinand I. of Naples. He composed a Greek grammar for her, the first book printed in Greek, 1476. In 1470, he moved to Messina, where he established a flourishing school, and died near the close of the century. Among his pupils was Cardinal Bembo of Venice.

His son, John Lascaris, 1445–1535, was employed by Lorenzo de’ Medici to collect manuscripts in Greece, and superintended the printing of Greek books in Florence. He accompanied Charles VIII. to France. In 1513, he was called by Leo X. to Rome, and opened there a Greek and Latin school. In 1518, he returned to France and collected a library for Francis I. at Fontainebleau.

Among those who did distinguished service in collecting Greek manuscripts was Giovanni Aurispa, 1369–1459, who went to Constantinople in his youth to study Greek, and bought and sold with the shrewdness of an experienced bookseller. In 1423, he returned from Constantinople with 238 volumes, including Sophocles, Aeschylus, Plato, Xenophon, Plutarch, Lucian. Thus these treasures were saved from ruthless destruction by the Turks, before the catastrophe of 1453 overtook Constantinople.

The study of Greek suffered a serious decline in Italy after the close of the 15th century, but was taken up and carried to a more advanced stage by the Humanists north of the Alps.

The study of Hebrew, which had been preserved in Europe by Jewish scholars, notably in Spain, was also revived in Italy in the 15th century, but its revival met with opposition. When Lionardo Bruni heard that Poggio was learning the language, he wrote contending that the study was not only unprofitable but positively hurtful. Manetti, the biographer of Nicolas V., translated the Psalms out of Hebrew and made a collection of Hebrew manuscripts for that pontiff. The Camalduensian monk, Traversari, learned the language and, in 1475, began the printing of Hebrew books on Italian presses. Chairs for the study of Hebrew were founded at Bologna, 1488, and in Rome 1514.

Passing from the list of the Greek teachers to the Italian Humanists, it is possible to select for mention here only a few of the more prominent names, and with special reference to their attitude to the Church.

Lionardo Bruni, 1369–1444, a pupil of Chrysoloras, gives us an idea of the extraordinary sensation caused by the revival of the Greek language. He left all his other studies for the language of Plato and Demosthenes. He was papal secretary in Rome and for a time chancellor of Florence, and wrote letters, orations, histories, philosophical essays and translations from the Greek, among them Aristotle’s Ethics, Politics and Economies, and Plato’s Phaedo, Crito, Apology, Phaedrus and Gorgias and his Epistles and six of Plutarch’s Lives. Foreigners went to Florence expressly to see his face. He was a pious Catholic.10161016    Lionardo Bruni Aretini Epistolae, ed. Mehus, 2 vols., Flor., 1742.

Francesco Poggio Bracciolini, 1380–1459, was secretary of Martin V., then of Nicolas V., and lived mostly in Florence and Rome.10171017    Opera Poggii, Basel, 1513, and other edds. Epistolae Poggii, ed. Tonelli, 3 vols., Flor., 1832, 1859, 1861. Shepherd: Life of Poggio. Pastor’s castigation of Poggio, I. 33 sqq., is in his most vigorous style. He was the most widely known Humanist of his day and had an unbounded passion for classical antiquity and for literary controversy. He excelled chiefly in Latin, but knew also Greek and a little Hebrew. He was an enthusiastic book-hunter. He went to Constance as papal secretary and, besides discovering a complete copy of Quintilian’s Institutes, made search in the neighboring Benedictine abbeys of Reichenau and Weingarten for old manuscripts. In Cluny and other French convents he discovered new orations of Cicero. He also visited "barbarous England." Although in the service of the curia for nearly 50 years, Poggio detested and ridiculed the monks and undermined respect for the church which supported him. In his Dialogue against Hypocrisy, he gathered a number of scandalous stories of the tricks and frauds practised by monks in the name of religion. His bold description of the martyrdom of the heretic Jerome of Prag has already been cited. When Felix was elected, Poggio exhausted the dictionary for abusive terms and called the anti-pope another Cerberus, a golden calf, a roaring lion, a high-priest of malignity; and he did equally well for the Council of Basel, which had elected Felix. Poggio’s self-esteem and quick temper involved him in endless quarrels, and invectives have never had keener edge than those which passed between him and his contestants. To his acrid tongue were added loose habits. He lived with a concubine, who bore him 14 children, and, when reproached for it, he frivolously replied that he only imitated the common habit of the clergy. At the age of 54, he abandoned her and married a Florentine maiden of 18, by whom he had 4 children. His Facetiae, or Jest-Book, a collection of obscene stories, acquired immense popularity.

The general of the Camalduensian order, Ambrogio Traversari, 1386–1439, combined ascetic piety with interest in heathen literature. He collected 238 manuscripts in Venice and translated from the Greek Fathers. He was, perhaps, the first Italian monk from the time of Jerome to his own day who studied Hebrew.

Carlo Marsuppini, of Arezzo, hence called Carlo Aretino, belonged to the same circle, but was an open heathen, who died without confession and sacrament. He was nevertheless highly esteemed as a teacher and as chancellor of Florence, and honorably buried in the church of S. Croce, 1463, where a monument was erected to his memory.

Francesco Filelfo, 1398–1481, was one of the first Latin and Greek scholars, and much admired and much hated by his contemporaries. He visited Greece, returned to Italy with a rich supply of manuscripts, and was professor of eloquence and Greek in the University of Florence. He combined the worst and best features of the Renaissance. He was conceited, mean, selfish, avaricious. He thought himself equal if not superior to Virgil and Cicero. In malignity and indecency of satire and invective be rivalled Poggio. His poisonous tongue got him into scandalous literary feuds with Niccolo, Poggio, members of the Medici family and others. He was banished from Florence, but, recalled in his old days by Lorenzo, he died a few weeks after his return, aged 83. He was always begging or levying contributions on princes for his poetry, and he kept several servants and six horses. His 3 wives bore him 24 children. He was ungrateful to his benefactors and treacherous to his friends.10181018    His life, Rosmini, 3 vols., Milan, 1808, Epistolae Filelfi, Venet., 1502.

Marsilio Ficino, 1433–1499, one of the circle who made the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent famous, was an ordained priest, rector of two churches and canon of the cathedral of Florence. He eloquently preached the Platonic gospel to his "brethren in Plato," and translated the Orphic hymns, the Hermes Trismegistos, and some works of Plato and Plotinus,—a colossal task for that age. He believed that the divine Plotinus had first revealed the theology of the divine Plato and "the mysteries of the ancients," and that these were consistent with Christianity. Yet he was unable to find in Plato’s writings the mystery of the Trinity. He wrote a defence of the Christian religion, which he regarded as the only true religion, and a work on the immortality of the soul, which he proved with 15 arguments as against the Aristotelians. He was small and sickly, and kept poor by dishonest servants and avaricious relations.

Politian, to his edition of Justinian’s Pandects, added translations of Epictetus, Hippocrates, Galen and other authors, and published among lecture-courses those on Ovid, Suetonius, Pliny and Quintilian. His lecture-room extended its influence to England and Germany, and Grocyn, Linacre and Reuchlin were among his hearers.

Three distinguished Italian Humanists whose lives overlap the first period of the Reformation were cardinals, Pietro Bembo, 1470–1547, Giacopo Sadoleto, 1477–1547, and Aleander, 1480–1542. All were masters of an elegant Latin style. For 22 years Bembo lived in concubinage, and had three children. Cardinal Sadoleto is best known for his polite and astute letter calling upon the Genevans to abandon the Reformation, to which Calvin replied.10191019    Sadoleti opp., Moguntiae, 1607; Verona, 1737, 4 vols. In his Concilium de emendanda Ecclesia, 1538, Sadoleto admitted many abuses and proposed a reformation of the Church, which he vainly hoped from the pope

Not without purpose have the two names, Laurentius Valla, 1406–1457, and Pico della Mirandola, 1463–1494, been reserved for the last. These men are to be regarded as having, among the Humanists of the 15th century, the most points of contact with our modern thought,—the one the representative of critical scholarship, the other of broad human sympathies coupled with a warm piety.

Laurentius Valla, the only Humanist of distinction born in Rome, taught at Pavia, was secretary to the king of Naples, and at last served at the court of Nicolas V.10201020    Valla’s Works, Basel, 1540, J. Vahlen; L. Valla, Vienna, 1864, 2d ed., 1870; Voigt, I. 464 sqq. See Benrath in Herzog, XX. 422 sqq. He held several benefices and was buried in the Lateran, but was a sceptic and an indirect advocate of Epicurean morality. He combined classical with theological erudition and attained an influence almost equal to that enjoyed by Erasmus several generations later. He was a born critic, and is one of the earliest pioneers of the right of private judgment. He broke loose from the bondage of scholastic tradition and an infallible Church authority, so that in this respect Bellarmin called him a forerunner of Luther. Luther, with an imperfect knowledge of Valla’s works, esteemed him highly, declaring that in many centuries neither Italy nor the universal Church could produce another like him.10211021    Cui nec Italia nec universa ecclesia multis seculis similem habuit non modo in omni disciplinarum genere sed ex constantia et zelo fide Christianorum non ficto. See his Respons. ad Lovan. et Colon theol. of March, 1520, Weimar ed., VI. 183. In this reply to the Louvain and Cologne theologians who had condemned his writings, Luther also speaks of the injustice of condemning Pico della Mirandola and Reuchlin. He narrowly escaped the Inquisition. He denied to the monks the monopoly of being "the religious," and attacked their threefold vow. In his Annotations to the New Testament, published by Erasmus, 1505, he ventured to correct Jerome’s Vulgate. He doubted the genuineness of the writings attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite and rejected as a forgery Christ’s letter to King Abgarus which Eusebius had accepted as genuine. When he attacked the Apostolic origin of the Apostles’ Creed and, about 1440, exposed the Donation of Constantine as a fiction, he was calling in question the firm belief of centuries. In pronouncing the latter "contradictory, impossible, stupid, barbarous and ridiculous,"10221022    De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione. A well-written MS. copy in the Vatican is dated 1451. The tract is printed in Valla’s Opera, 761-795, and in Brown’s Fasciculus rerum, Rome, 1690, pp. 132-157, French text, by A. Bonneau, Paris, 1879. Luther received a copy through a friend, Feb., 1520, and was strengthened by it in his opposition to popery, which he attacked unmercifully in the summer of that year in his Address to the German Nobility, and his Babyl. Captivity of the Church. he was wrenching a weapon, long used, out of the hand of the hierarchy. His attack was based on the ground of authentic history, inherent improbability and the mediaeval character of the language. Not satisfied with refuting its genuineness, Valla made it an occasion of an assault upon the whole temporal power of the papacy. He thus struck at the very bulwarks of the mediaeval theocracy. In boldness and violence Valla equalled the anti-papal writings of Luther. He went, indeed, not so far as to deny the spiritual power and divine institution of the papacy, but he charged the bishop of Rome with having turned Peter into Judas and having accepted the devil’s offer of the kingdoms of this world. He made him responsible for the political divisions and miseries of Italy, for rebellions and civil wars, herein anticipating Machiavelli. He maintained that the princes had a right to deprive the pope of his temporal possessions, which he had long before forfeited by their abuse. The purity of Valla’s motives are exposed to suspicion. At the time he wrote the tract he was in the service of Alfonso, who was engaged in a controversy with Eugenius IV.

Unfortunately, Valla’s ethical principles and conduct were no recommendation to his theology. His controversy with Poggio abounds in scandalous personalities. In the course of it, Valla was charged with seduction and pederasty.10231023    The first issues were Invectivae in Vallam and Antidoti in Poggium. The coarse controversial language, common to many of the Humanists, unfortunately Luther and Luther’s Catholic assailants shared, and also Calvin. His Ciceronian Dialogues on Lust, written perhaps 1431, are an indirect attack upon Christian morality. Valla defended the Platonic community of wives. What nature demands is good and laudable, and the voice of nature is the voice of God. When he was charged by Poggio with having seduced his brother-in-law’s maid, he admitted the charge without shame.

Pico della Mirandola, the most precocious genius that had arisen since Duns Scotus, was cut down when he was scarcely 30 years of age. The Schoolman was far beyond him in dialectic subtlety, but was far inferior to him in independence of thought and, in this quality, Pico anticipated the coming age. He studied canon law, theology, philosophy and the humanities in Ferrara and learned also Hebrew, Chaldee and Arabic.10241024    The Theses of Pico, Rome, 1486, and Cologne. His Opera, Bologna, 1496, and together with the works of his nephew, John F. Pico, Basel, 1572, and 1601.—G. Dreydorff: Das System des Joh. Pico von Mir., Marb., 1858.—Geiger, 204 sqq.—His Life, by his nephew, J. Fr. Pico. Trsl. from the Latin by Sir Thos. More, 1510. Ed., with Introd. and Notes, by J. M. Rigg, Lond., 1890. In his twenty-third year, he went to Rome and published 900 theses on miscellaneous topics, in which he anticipated some of the Protestant views; for example, that no image or cross should be adored and that the words "This is my body" must be understood symbolically,—significative,—not materially. He also maintained that the science of magic and the Cabbala confirm the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Christ. These opinions aroused suspicion, and 13 of his theses were condemned by Innocent VIII. as heretical; but, as he submitted his judgment to the Church, he was acquitted of heresy, and Alexander VI. cleared him of all charges.

To his erudition, Pico added sincere faith and ascetic tendencies. In the last years of his short life, he devoted himself to the study of the Bible with the purpose of preaching Christ throughout the world. He was an admirer of Savonarola, who blamed him for not becoming a full monk and thought he went to purgatory. Of all Humanists he had the loftiest conception of man’s dignity and destiny. In his De dignitate hominis, he maintained that God placed man in the midst of the world that he might the more easily study all that therein is, and endowed him with freewill, by which he might degenerate into the condition of the beast or rise to a godlike existence. He found the highest truth in the Christian religion. He is the author of the famous sentence: Philosophia veritatem quaerit, theologia invenit, religio possidet,—philosophy seeks the truth, theology finds it, religion has it.

Mirandola had a decided influence on John Reuchlin, who saw him in 1490 and was persuaded by him of the immense wisdom hid in the Cabbala. He also was greatly admired by Zwingli. He was the only one, says Burckhardt, "who, in a decided voice, fought for science and the truth of all the ages against the one-sided emphasis of classic antiquity. In him it is possible to see what a noble change Italian philosophy would have undergone, if the counter-Reformation had not come in and put an end to the whole higher intellectual movement."10251025    I. 217. See also II. 73, 306 sq. Giordano Bruno, one of the last representatives of the philosophical Renaissance, was condemned as a heretic by the Roman Inquisition and burnt on the Campo de’ Fiori in 1600. To the great annoyance of Pope Leo XIII., his admirers erected a statue to his memory on the same spot in 1889.


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