Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.07.04 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.07.04

Federica Ciccolella, Luigi Silvano (ed.), Teachers, Students, and Schools of Greek in the Renaissance. Brill's studies in intellectual history, 264.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2017.  Pp. xv, 471.  ISBN 9789004338036.  $172.00.  

Reviewed by Gerald Sandy, University of British Columbia (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The term “Renaissance” is generally applied to Western Europe in the late 14th to the 16th centuries. In this book it pertains almost exclusively to Italy during the same period. Most of the Greek and Latin quotations are translated into English or paraphrased in the immediately preceding context. The contributors rely substantially on archival primary sources, some of them not previously published.

The beginning of the institutional teaching of Greek in Western Europe during the early- modern period is traditionally ascribed to the appointment of Manuel Chrysoloras (1397- 1415) to the chair of Greek at the studio in Florence in 1397. As the fiscal records of the Republic of Florence confirm, however, the Calabrian Leonzio Pilato taught publicly at the Florentine studio and thus has the distinction of being the first publicly funded professor of ancient Greek in early-modern Western Europe. The records show that he received fl. 100 in each of the academic years 1360-1361 and 1361-1362. Giovanni Boccaccio confirms this in his Genealogie deorum gentilium libri, 15,7, Nonne ego fui […] maximo labore meo curavi, ut inter doctores Florentini studii susciperetur, ei ex publico mercede apposita?

The contributions are arranged chronologically from the end of the 14th century to the 16th century, beginning with Fevronia Nousia’s “The Transmission and Reception of Manuel Moschopulos’ Schedography in the West.” Schede (probably derived from σχέδος, gen. -ους, pl. σχέδη: “note” in Byzantine Greek) were short passages of Greek assigned to pupils for orthographical and grammatical analysis in Byzantine schools from the 11th century. The schedography of Manuel Moschopoulos became the standard such exercise in Byzantine schools and was brought to Italy by the émigré Byzantine teachers of Greek, eventually being used by such humanists as Guarino da Verona in their teaching of Greek to fellow Italians. The presence of more than 120 copies of Moschopoulos’ schedography in European libraries as well as the printed edition produced by Robert Estienne in 1545 attest to the importance of this work in Western Europe during the Renaissance. Nousia concludes her chapter with samples from two previously unpublished manuscripts.

In a letter of 25 March 1396 Coluccio Salutati, the chancellor of Florence, wrote to Iacopo Angeli da Scarperia, who was in Constantinople studying Greek with Manuel Chrysoloras, urging him to acquire a range of classical Greek texts and Greek dictionaries. Italian humanists of the late 14th and 15th centuries had to rely on inadequate Greco-Latin dictionaries, and the situation throughout Western Europe was not to improve until the publication in 1529 of Guillaume Budé’s Commentarii linguae graecae and above all Henri Estienne’s Thesaurus graecae linguae (1572). Antonio Rollo in his submission, “Study Tools in the Humanist Greek School: Preliminary Observations on Greek-Latin Lexica”, takes up this topic, focusing on a group of Greek lexical manuscripts of the 15th century that derive from Guarino da Verona’s (or his son Battista’s) compilation of extracts from classical Greek and Christian authors. These extracts usually take the form of one- or two-word Latin glosses of Greek words. They are not important in their own right, but they provide a record of students’ and teachers’ continuing efforts to master Greek in the absence of adequate Greco-Latin dictionaries.

Marchese Ludovico Gonzaga appointed Vittorino da Feltre to be headmaster in his court school, which gradually expanded to become an independent boarding school attracting the sons of important Italian humanists and such notable pupils as Lorenzo Valla. Greek was part of the curriculum at the school, and Vittorino, described by Giovanni Aurispa as litteras Graecas medocriter eruditus (moderately knowledgeable of Greek), had the good sense to employ at the school the Byzantines Theodore Gaza and George of Trebizond to teach Greek and copy Greek manuscripts. Mariarosa Cortesi, who has published extensively on Vittorino’s school in Mantua, in her contribution “Greek at the School of Vittorino da Feltre,” emphasises the encyclopaedic nature of the curriculum, which was designed to prepare pupils for fruitful civic lives.

Another prolific writer on the subject of her contribution, Paola Tomè, in “Greek Studies in Giovanni Tortelli’s Orthographia: A World in Transition,” studies the Greek and Latin sources used by Tortelli in his massive treatise on the correct way to transliterate Greek proper nouns into Latin.

Denis J.-J. Robichaud in his “Working with Plotinus: A Study of Marsilio Ficino’s Textual and Divinatory Philology” examines Ficino’s philological prowess. He shows from Ficino’s marginal notations in MS BNF gr. 1816 (F), which Ficino used as the working copy for his translation of Plotinus’s Enneads (1492), that he employed both emendatio ope codicum and ope ingenii (divinatory philology).

In “Praeclara librorum suppellectilis: Cretan Manuscripts in Pietro da Portico’s Library,” David Speranzi deals with the manuscript collector who is often confused with the more famous Italian humanist Pier Candido Decembro, the former taking the “nomen” Candidus/Candido from his time in Candia (modern Heraklion), which he left in 1496 to join George Moschos in Corfu. He went to Crete in the first place because the supervisor of his religious order thought it was the best place to study Greek. Speranzi’s purpose is to provide a preliminary analysis of the many Greek manuscripts in Florence bearing the ownership note Monasterii Angelorum Petrus Candidus that the monk brought back to Italy from his five-year sojourn in Greece. The contribution is a model of codicology and palaeography, concluding with two tables that specify the salient features of all the manuscripts discussed in the contribution and ten plates that clearly illustrate various points discussed.

Francesco G. Giannachi, “Learning Greek in the Land of Otranto: Some Remarks on Sergio Stiso of Zollino and His School,” takes the reader to the south-east extremity of Italy, where Sergio Stiso, a priest in the Greek rite, taught Greek to such humanists as Aulo Giano Parrasio (who is best known for his extensive library and use of manuscripts from the Bobbio Abbey) and maintained a productive scriptorium. Giannachi focuses on Stiso’s teaching methods, which can be inferred from his pupils’ extant written exercises, and on the scriptorium, of which Janus Lascaris made use in 1491 when he was acquiring manuscripts for Lorenzo il Magnifico.

In “Antonio Allegri da Correggio: The Greek Inscription in the Hermitage Portrait,” Kalle O. Lundahl considers why the famous painter Correggio included in the painting three Greek words (one of which is not clear) from the Odyssey, 4, 220-1, and their significance for his rendering of an unknown subject depicted in imitation of Helen offering “drugged” wine to Menelaus and Telemachus. I will not give away the clarification of the many uncertainties of the painting that Lundahl achieves by an intriguing deductive process that involves metonymy, puns, “nomen-omen” and alchemy.

Luigi Silvano’s “Teaching Greek in Renaissance Rome: Basil Chalcondyles and His Courses on the Odyssey” studies the autographs of Basil Chalcondyles’ bilingual teaching notes for his course on the Odyssey in Rome in 1514. A son of the better-known Demetrius Chalcondyles, Basil focuses on the plot, relying principally on the ponderous Homeric commentaries of Eustathius of Thessalonica, whose life spanned most of the 12th century. Silvano concludes his contribution with a full, critical transcription of Basil’s teaching notes for Book 1 of the Odyssey.

In “Vettor Fausto (1490-1546), Professor of Greek at the School of Saint Mark” Lilia Campana provides a detailed account, based on archival documents, of the humanist who has attracted attention recently as both a naval architect (the subject of Campana’s MA thesis) and a Hellenist (the subject of Patrick Morantin’s recent Lire Homère à la Renaissance [Genève, Drox, 2017]). The contribution treats every aspect of Fausto’s life and career, from his (Latinised) birth-name, Lucius Victor Falconius, and his humble origins to the high regard in which he was held by the ambassadors to Venice of France and Spain and by King Henry VIII of England and his mention in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. As recently as 1988 Nigel Wilson remarked that Fausto was “all but unknown among classists.”1 Campana has provided an admirable account of this Renaissance man to fill the gap.

As Erika Nuti notes in her contribution “Franciscus Bovius Ferrarensis and Johannes Sagomalas Naupliensis: Teaching Elementary Greek in the Mid-Sixteenth Century,” Western teachers of Greek devised their own methods of teaching Greek grammar to compensate for the perceived shortcomings of the 15th-century grammars of the Byzantine émigrés Manuel Chrysoloras and Theodore Gaza. The process of revising Greek grammars began with the first Greek book printed anywhere in the world (Venice, 1470), Guarino da Verona’s revision of Manuel Chrysoloras’ Erotemata to make it “more useful [for students] in the Latin West than as a tool exclusively for Greek-speakers.” 2 Nuti examines two previously unpublished grammars assembled by Italian private teachers of Greek in the first half of the Cinquecento, that of the court poet Francesco Bovi who taught Greek grammar in Ferrara; and that of John Sagomalas, a Greek émigré who taught the rudiments of Greek to young members of the aristocracy in Venice. Both manuals are based on Guarino da Verona’s revision and the teaching methods recommended by his son Battista.

The final submission, “Greek in Venetian Crete: Grammars and Schoolbooks from the Library of Francesco Barocci” by Federica Ciccolella, examines the unpublished grammatical manuscripts assembled by this Venetian-Cretan aristocrat. His library is housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford and is almost unique in remaining intact, thus providing a rare opportunity to study the heterogeneous teaching material copied principally by Andreas Donos for a group of teachers. The grammatical texts are compilations of grammars written by the Byzantine teachers who appear regularly in this book such as Manuel Moschopoulos, Theodore Gaza and Manuel Chrysoloras.

As my previous sentences might suggest, the contributions are coherent in their focus on teaching methods and material. Only the contributions of Robichaud and Lundahl deviate from this pattern, but they are no less worth reading. At the studio in Florence Manuel Chrysoloras taught only a handful of students. They in turn transmitted their knowledge. Anyone interested in this process will find something of value in this book.

Table of Contents

Fevronia Nousia, The Transmission and Reception of Manuel Moschopoulos’ Schedography in the West, 1–25
Antonio Rollo, Study Tools in the Humanist Greek School: Preliminary Observations on Greek-Latin Lexica, 26–53
Mariarosa Cortesi, Greek at the School of Vittorino da Feltre, 54–78
Paola Tomè, Greek Studies in Giovanni Tortelli’s Orthographia: A World in Transition, 79–119
Denis J.-J. Robichaud, Working with Plotinus: A Study of Marsilio Ficino’s Textual and Divinatory Philology, 120–154
David Speranzi, Praeclara librorum suppellectilis: Cretan Manuscripts in Pietro da Portico’s Library, 155–212
Francesco G. Giannachi, Learning Greek in the Land of Otranto: Some Remarks on Sergio Stiso of Zollino and His School, 213–223
Kalle O. Lundahl, Antonio Allegri da Correggio: The Greek Inscription in the Hermitage Portrait, 224–249
Luigi Silvano, Teaching Greek in Renaissance Rome: Basil Chalcondyles and His Courses on the Odyssey, 250–310
Lilia Campana, Vettor Fausto (1490–1546), Professor of Greek at the School of Saint Mark, 311–341
Erika Nuti, Franciscus Bovius Ferrarensis and Joannes Sagomalas Naupliensis: Teaching Elementary Greek in the Mid-Sixteenth Century, 342–370
Federica Ciccolella, Greek in Venetian Crete: Grammars and Schoolbooks from the Library of Francesco Barocci, 371–393
Bibliography, 395–455
Indexes, 456–471


1.   N. Wilson, “Vettor Fausto, Professor of Greek and Naval Architect,” in (eds.) Carlo Dionisottti et al., The Use of Greek and Latin: Historical Essays, London, Warburg Institute, p. 89 (of 89-95).
2.   The preface to Guarino da Verona’s translation and revision of Manuel Chrysoloras’ Ερωτήματα, Venice, Adam von Ambergau, 1471/1472, 1. See also A. Pertusi, “Ἐρωτήματα. Per la storia e le fonti delle prime grammatiche greche a stampa” Italia medioevale e umanistica, 5, 1962, p. 324 (of 321-351).

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