BMCR 2004.07.69

Cyriac of Ancona: Later Travels. The I Tatti Renaissance Library

, , , Later travels. The I Tatti Renaissance Library Series.. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. xxii, 459 pages, 10 pages of plates : illustrations ; 21 cm.. ISBN 0674007581. $29.95.

It is wonderful to have the material in Cyriac of Ancona: Later Travels so admirably available. Cyriac, or Ciriaco de’ Pizzecolli (1391-1452), was a merchant and diplomat from Ancona, a self-taught humanist and antiquarian. For many of the antiquities he described, and for most of the thousand Greek and Latin inscriptions he copied on voyages in Italy, Greece, the Mediterranean islands, and Asia Minor, his is the only surviving record. Bodnar gives this account of his name (page xx, n.1): “Called Cyriacus in Latin, German, and sometimes in English; Cyriaque in French; and Ciriaco de’ Pizzecolli in Italian. He usually signed himself as Kyriacus Anconitanus de Picenicollibus (abbreviated to K.A.P.) or, occasionally in his later years, as Κυριακὸς ὁ ἐξ Ἀγκῶνος.”

This attractive volume follows Bodnar’s earlier Cyriacus of Ancona and Athens 1 which contained a biography, detailed reading of manuscript variants, and an analysis of the inscriptions Cyriac collected in Athens, variant readings of the inscriptions, and their present whereabouts if known. Bodnar’s new Cyriac of Ancona: Later Travels contains transcriptions and translations for Cyriac’s letters and diary entries from 1443-1449, a map of sites mentioned, 10 plates of drawings or copies of drawings by Cyriac,2 Biographical Notes, a Note on the Texts and Notes to the Text which involve the manuscripts, Bibliography, Notes to the Translations, and an index of proper names.

In just the first 12 months of the period recorded. Cyriac was successively in Euboea, Ragusa, Chios, Asia Minor, Adrianople, Constantinople, the Propontis, Imbros and Ainos. His correspondents in those 12 months included John VIII Palaiologos, the Cardinal of Sant’Angelo, and John Hunyadi: most of the letters are to a Genoese official and humanist on Chios, Andreolo Giustiniani-Banco. In the first five letters, he writes at length about church union, about a treaty of the King of Spain with the Pope, the Hungarian war against the Turks, the government of the Morea, pirates in the Aegean, large sales of Greek slaves, a minute description of the Parthenon, and the weather on a sea voyage.

Cyriac was not a scholar of language: when he wanted to learn Latin, he hired a humanist to help him read Vergil and omitted much concern with grammar. Later he wrote in Latin — the diaries and letters in this volume are in Latin — but somewhat idiosyncratic Latin. Poggio Bracciolini wrote of his style, “Graeca plurima latinis mixta, verba inepta, latinitas mala, constructio inconcinna, sensus nullus …,” but Cyriac had criticized him publicly. Early on, he could not read the Greek inscriptions he recorded, then during a delay on Cyprus, he began learning to read Homer.

Bodnar intersperses the 53 letters in the book with diary entries for the corresponding times, and gives us a man who must have been a delightful if sometimes exhausting companion. Cyriac wrote to Giovanni Pedemontano in January 1445 (141):

On the night after the festival that celebrated the new year in the court of Thasos, we embraced each other lovingly and often, then embarked with good omens on a small boat, whose destination was ancient Ainos. The sailors, sprawled on their hard benches beneath the oars, caught some sleep, but sweet sleep did not hold your Cyriac.

For long before the cock with his wakeful voice called forth the warm day, I roused the captain and his crew by singing “alleluia.”

That he was a kindly man is evident in his care to record the names of the men with whom he sailed (Manuel from Imbros, Ioannes Rosea from Dry) or a falconer (Manuel) or a sacristan (Dositheos), the greetings to a friend’s wife (Andreolo Giustiniani’s Carenza), the gifts (an ancient coin with a bird and snake for Andreolo, a coin of Vespasian for Raffaele Castiglione, an inscription for Leonardo Giustiniani, a silver coin of the archer Apollo for the archer Niccolò Zancarolo, another coin of Apollo for his host on Crete).

When not going on tramps across the Greek hills or on small boats along the Greek coast to see some classical site or a recently-uncovered column, Cyriac was trying to organize a crusade against the Turks (he had a safe-conduct from the Sultan in hand, but his friend and former employer was now Pope) or working to support Union of the churches (in the wake of the Council of Ferrara/ Florence), or serving as ambassador to and eye for the Byzantine emperor (to whom he reported on his travels), or visiting his patrons Cosimo de’ Medici and Francesco Filelfo. In the earlier volume, Bodnar gives a remark by Filelfo on Cyriac’s death which suggests something of his hyperactive personality: “Nunquam quiescit Kyriacus.”

Everything interested him. It is difficult to select a few items from all the good parts, but here are three passages:

[3 December 1442] For on numerous occasions we saw Christians — boys as well as unmarried girls and masses of married women of every description — paraded pitiably by the Turks in long lines throughout the cites of Thrace and Macedonia bound by iron chains, and lashed by whips, and in the end put up for sale in villages and markets and along the shore of the Hellespont, an unspeakably shameful and obscene sight, like a cattle market, so to speak.

[19 July 1444] … the most serene emperor himself, John Palaiologos, and his brother, Theodore Porphyrogenitos, the renowned despot, left Byzantium to go on a hunt, splendidly accompanied in the usual royal manner …. First they set up the king’s pavilion at Aphamnia … beside a beautiful rising spring, and, round about it, the tents of the nobles… . The next day, Jove’s lucky day, as the unclouded sun grew bright, some went falconing for colored birds among the thorn bushes, while others tried with great eagerness to catch varieties of fish in the rivers … Finally, we saw emerging from a wood between the valleys and slopes of the hills a large number of huge, wing-footed stags; they crossed the plains, passing us by at a distance… . And finally, the Cretan falconer Manuel held out a large, long-footed lizard that a peregrine falcon had killed before my eyes in the clear sky. Then the jovial emperor invited me to receive a portion of the prey.

[23 October 1444] In connection with this most wondrous spring [on Crete], there are among the inhabitants in surrounding villages, and particularly in Agauousia, priests of the Greek religion who testify that, even in our own day, they have sometimes seen Diana herself with her dazzling nymphs, their white robes cast aside, nude bathers submerged in the translucent waters.

Mostly, what Cyriac did was look for antiquities. Wherever he went, there was someone who knew of something to see: “along with his excellency the bishop and accompanied by a number of rustics and huntsmen from the neighborhood, we climbed through rocky, steep hills to the White Mountains”; “we climbed to the top of the city’s citadel, accompanied by the high-born Carlo Grimaldi himself”; “we left the monastery of Vatopedi accompanied overland by the poor monk David”; “escorted by the dearly beloved Athenian youth Chalkokondyles, we went back to see again the ancient and highly celebrated remnants of the city of Sparta.” He saw “a colossal statue of Apollo” on Delos, “a fierce struggle between a nude man and a lion” on Thasos, the marble quarries on Paros (“we penetrated with lit torches through the vast heart of the mountain to shafts of immeasurable height [and] we sent the servants to approach the inmost parts, we learned that the caves, carved out by hand with iron tools, extended for several stades”).

[28 October 1444] After these princes and distinguished men had received me most cordially, they expertly showed me all of the city’s important sites: first, we saw outside the city, at a remove of five stadia from the city walls, the remarkable Trojan tomb of Priam’s son Polydorus, which consisted of a large mound of earth. With Cristoforo we rode to the top of this mound on horseback …. Then, as we explored the city everywhere more carefully, we saw numerous traces of her great antiquity: huge marbles sculptured with a variety of figures, but for the most part demolished, and we examined numerous broken statue bases with their inscriptions, whose beginnings and endings were missing. Those that were somewhat complete and chosen as more important are written down here: [missing].

But first I made sure to record here a fine, intact marble statue base that I found in a garden near the sea.

Also, under the personal guidance of our very good friend Francesco Calvo, we saw near the walls of the city numerous caves hand-carved from the living rock, where the Thracians customarily dwell to fend off the unbearable winter, as we read recently in Pomponius Mela the illustrious geographer. Nowadays, these caverns, which are visible in the living rock, are called “Bubularia.”

What comes across most strikingly in this volume, apart from his indefatigable passion for antiquities, is the information that all across the Aegean and inland in Greece and Asia Minor, there were men of all classes — Genoese, Venetians, Greeks — keenly aware of the antiquities in their vicinity and with a good sense of their importance. Everywhere Cyriac went, people wanted to show him wonderful things. Cyriac’s references support the impression one gets from seeing the remarkable but inadequately known antiquities in the Correr Museum in Venice: lovely small pieces chosen for quality, easily carried by one person in a leather bag or small travelling chest, and while the Correr antiquities are not Cyriac’s, they may stand for what he saw Cyriac knows how to show the wonder:

to tell you something very special, when Giovanni Delfino, that diligent and most industrious fleet commander, had displayed numerous coins and precious gems to me as I lingered by night with him on his flagship, he showed me, among other items of the same sort, a splendid crystalline signet seal the size of a thumb that is engraved in deep relief with a bust of helmeted Alexander of Macedon …3

Cyriac was the guest you wanted because he would understand the particular excitement and importance of your treasures. At the end of the period covered in this volume, in July 1449, Cyriac was in Padua where he wrote admiringly of Donatello’s new equestrian statue of Gattemelata, and then in Ferrara where he was among the first to view Rogier van der Weyden’s masterpiece, “The Entombment of Christ” :

The illustrious Leonello d’Este showed us a painting of extraordinary workmanship, a representation of our first parents and of the incarnate Jove taken down [from the cross] after his most holy [act of] atonement; and round about him a number of men and women mourning with consummate sorrow, painted with wondrous — indeed, I would say with divine rather than human — skill.

The “incarnate Jove” startles, but Cyriac’s description of the painting, its meticulously depicted nature and costumes, and luminous colors, shows an awareness of this springtime of Western art with as much joy as his discoveries of classical treasures.4

For classicists, possibly Cyriac’s most important contribution was to record nearly 1000 Latin and Greek inscriptions, as well as to sketch or describe carvings. Most of the inscriptions and carvings he saw have disappeared, and many were found in sites where little or nothing has been recorded since. Plates VII and VIII record five carvings he saw at my own town of Nauplion — three grave monuments, a sculpture of Dionysos, a relief of three women holding snakes. Since the classical and Hellenistic remains from Nauplion are almost non-existent, access to these drawings is a great service and, as far as I know, the carvings have long since vanished. Plates IX and X record an inscription and three reliefs Cyriac saw in the church at Merbaka: the most complex and interesting of these, a large family group with dog, horse, snake, and the husband and wife barely dressed, has disappeared.5

Cyriac saw that antiquities were disappearing. At Cyzicus, he re-visited the temple (73):

“But alas! How unsightly a structure we returned to, compared to the one we inspected fourteen years ago! For then we saw thirty-one surviving columns standing erect, whereas now I find that [only] twenty-nine columns remain, some shorn of their architraves… . ruined and dashed to the ground, evidently by the barbarians. On the other hand, those exceptional glorious marble figures of the gods on [the temple’s] outstanding, wondrous façade, remain unharmed in their nearly pristine glory, thanks to the protection of almighty Jove himself ….”6

Clive Foss translated the Greek transcriptions and phrases in the text. These are uniformly excellent.

Bodnar has, over many years, subdued the massive and fragmentary manuscript tradition into remarkable order. His Notes to the Text suggest the complexity of Cyriac problems and the scholarship that was demanded. Most of Cyriac’s material survives in copies, or copies of parts, often with errors introduced. Little survives of what must have been an enormous diary, and most of that in extracts he sent to friends. However, no book based on the transcript and translation of a manuscript can do without the extra eye of an editor, particularly for consistency in English usage, and Cyriac of Ancona painfully shows the apparent lack of one. A minor example of this is in the inconsistency from letter to letter in the ordering of the greeting as, for example, in Letters 38, 39, 40. Because my field is Venetian Greece, I am particularly sensitive to Greek and Venetian names and identifications. I limit further criticism to a few such.

On 308-309 is the very useful information that the Venetian governor of Corone, Maffeo Bollani, governed “cum consularibus collegis” Marco Quirino et Bartholomeo Phalerio.” This should be translated to indicate that they were counselors, rather than consuls, according to the Venetian system of government in the stato da mar, but as any information in this regard is sparse to non-existent, the fact and the names are valuable. On 92-93 Ludovicus is translated as Lodovico (Loredan), on 95-96 as Alvise: the note on 420 gives Luigi and Alviso. The Venetian name is Alvise (sometimes Alvixe), and he is so named in Venetian documents of state. On 100-101, “Johannem Laskarim” is rendered “Janos Laskaris.” Greek has no J: Johannem should surely be represented by Ioannis, unless Cyriac had turned up a Hungarian in the islands. On 148-149, a Venetian governor of Mykonos is identified, in Latin and English, as “Francesco Namny,” and on 160-161 as “Nanni.” The governor during Cyriac’s visit was Francesco Nani.7

For the Greeks: on 298-299, Constantinus Dragas becomes Constantine Dragass. The hassek indicates a sound non-existent in Greek and despite his ancestry, Constantine Palaeologus at this point was known as Dragas or Dragases. On 328-329, “Hagion Heliam” becomes St. Elijah: preferably, this would be St. Elias. The interesting thing here is that Cyriac has given an “H” where Greek had lost the rough breathing in speaking (while retaining it in writing), and in his enthusiasm has added it to Elias where it could never have belonged.8

A more difficult transcription comes on 320-321 where Dryea (near Tainaron) is given as “Dry.” While there is a village immediately inland at Tainaron called Δρυ, given Cyriac’s route by boat from Corone to “Messanian Pylos” (Oitilo, Cyriac’s “Bitylon”) to Tainaron, Dryea must be Dryo, also known as Pyrgos-Dryo and Pirgos-Dirou.

Still, there is nothing uninteresting in this book. To keep this review from getting out of hand, I omit Cyriac’s idiosyncratic theology (“All of us arrived safely thanks to supreme Jove’s help, our most holy protector Mercury’s guidance”), his visit to Homer’s tomb, or his stay at various monasteries on Mt. Athos and the manuscripts he recorded (and bought) there. 9

Cyriac of Ancona: Later Travels is a publication of The I Tatti Renaissance Library (see the handsome website). The designer of the series has intentionally chosen Renaissance prototypes for size and font, so that the books of the series, unlike the earnest little Loebs, present themselves as objects of physical pleasure, as well as instruments for scholarship. It is a shame that so attractive a volume nowhere identifies the font, a simple, beautiful, classical font with generous leading, based on one designed by Nicholas Jensen in Venice a few years after Cyriac’s death. The designer is Dean Bornstein who should be warmly complimented.10


1. E. Bodnar, Cyriacus of Ancona and Athens (Brussels 1960), Vol. XLIII of Latomus Revue d’Études Latines,

2. The first plate is a copy of Cyriac’s Parthenon drawing made by Giuliano da Sangallo. The facing page is Cyriac’s copy of the same drawing. Sangallo’s drawing changes Cyriac’s proportions (the façade of the Parthenon is essentially a square), removes two columns, adds composite capitals to the Dorian columns, rearranges metopes from the south side to the front, and puts the east and west columns on pedestals. Cyriac was an amateur draughtsman, but the fact that such a major architect (portrait online) would find so many variations acceptable gives a glimpse into the mentalité of that age.

3. This lovely 3.5 cm seal, of Athena rather than of Alexander, has been found. See notes 1 & 2 to Letter 26, page 427 for citation and source of a photograph.

4. Obtained by the Medici, it is now in the Uffizzi, 110×96 cm, nearly drowned in a roomful of huge Bottcelli’s: the gallery catalog dates it to 1450. It can now be seen online. Cyriac’s description continues (366-367): “For you would think you were looking at the living, breathing faces of those that he wanted to portray as living, while he whom [he wanted to portray as] dead [appears] dead; and such costumes! especially cloaks of many kinds of colors and vesture superbly executed in purple and gold; and the green meadows, flowers, trees; and the leafy and shaded hills; and the decorated porticoes and the gateways; the gold like [real] gold and jewels [like real] pearls and all other details — you might say that these were not [created] by a human artisan, but inwardly begotten by Nature herself, the parent of all.”

5. The town of Merbaka is officially known as Agia Triada, from the three-person relief shown in Cyriac’s sketch in Plate X. However, a serious problem with identification comes in the headings of the Merbaka section (336-337) which read [Nauplion, “Mycenae” (= Merbaka)]. Cyriac does not identify Mycenae with Merbaka but says, in Bodnar’s translation: “… desiring to see if anything of the destroyed city of Mycenae survived until our time, first of all we saw on the plain a great number of remarkable remnants of antiquity and, among the more important, some slabs of shining marble [bearing] images of outstanding beauty that had been removed in the past by Christians from a very old temple of Juno, … to adorn later churches of our religion.” Cyriac goes on in the same passage to (incorrectly) identify a particular impressive hill fortification as Mycenae: his sketch of that fortification allows easy identification as Katsingri on the Nauplion-Epidauros road.

6. Dedicated to Hadrian, the temple with 70-foot colums had been used as a quarry by Justinian; the site was still being quarried in recent times.

7. Carl Hopf (ed.), Chroniques gréco-romanes inédites ou peu connues (Berlin, 1873) 374 (Catalogues des gouverneurs Vénétiens).

8. I would prefer a beta on 298 not be transliterated as a B in English. The Greek pronunciation of beta in Cyriac’s time (as well as now) was V, and so a word transliterated as “Spartoboune” is essentially meaningless when spoken. Similarly, the “island of Lebadea” on 308-309 is Akra-Livadhies, the cape beyond the fortress of Corone: again, the -b- makes the word sound meaningless. “Livadhia” means “meadow”: the cape has a large area of meadow on the cliffs over the sea. However, as I write this, I am sitting across the table from a scholar who has just blithely used a B to spell the name of the Blachernae palace in Constantinople.

9. For Cyriac’s visit to Athos, see E. Bodnar & C. Mitchell, Cyriacus of Ancona’s Journeys in the Propontis and the Northern Aegean, 1444-1445 (Philadelphia 1976).

10. The book binding, however, particularly the back, shows distressing signs of wear from the handling and re-reading required for this review.