BMCR 2021.12.44

Greeks, books and libraries in Renaissance Venice

, Greeks, books and libraries in Renaissance Venice. Transmissions: studies on conditions, processes and dynamics of textual transmission, volume 1. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2021. Pp. x, 401. ISBN 9783110575200. $103.99.

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

This book is the first volume in a new series, edited by Rosa Maria Piccione: Transmissions: Studies on Conditions, Processes and Dynamics of Textual Transmission, abbreviated TM. The series, published with De Gruyter, “aims to constitute a space for documentation, theoretical and methodological reflection and critical discussion on the transmission of texts” (from the website of the publisher). While the series concentrates on Greek and Latin texts, it is also open to comparisons with other literatures and the graphic and visual aspects of the transmission process, especially where they intersect with Greek and Latin textual culture.

The volume resonates with an increasing interest in the various ways in which early modern people perceived of, and engaged with, the culture of ancient Greece. The transmission, dissemination, study, and reception of Greek language and literature have an established tradition of scholarship, both within and beyond classics. Additionally, recent years have seen a growing interest in the phenomenon of ‘early modern Hellenism,’ reflected in a number of volumes with contributions by scholars coming to the subject from a range of different scholarly traditions, including classics.[1]

This book joins the scholarly conversation from the perspective of book collecting and book history, with an exploration of how and why Greek texts were collected in early modern Venice, an eminent site of cultural encounter between Greek East and Latin West with a strong Greek presence. The term ‘Renaissance’ in the book’s title is slightly misleading as its scope is not confined to this period but also covers the Baroque period, which is one of the volume’s strengths. As the introduction briefly explains, the book draws inspiration from approaches that explore book collections not just as repositories of books, but as “intellectual projects” and “intellectual spaces, integrated into specific cultural contexts and into networks of social practices and relations” (Piccione in the Introduction, pp. 6–7). Sitting at the crossroads of book history and the history of collecting, material culture, and “object epistemologies” (inspired by the work of Markus Hilgert), the volume primarily addresses a readership of book historians, librarians, historians of knowledge, and perhaps cultural historians. For classicists, too, the volume has some interesting things to offer, and this review will concentrate mainly on aspects that can be of interest to this group of readers.

The volume is divided into three parts: “Greeks and Greek Books in Renaissance Venice,” “Western Intellectuals, Books, and Book Collections,” and “Libraries in Archives”. The book’s first part explores the cultural context and book collection of the fascinating Gabriel Severos (before 1540–1616, sometimes spelled Gavriil Seviros in the volume), a major reference point for the Greeks in Venice. The two chapters on Severos are followed by three chapters centered on milieux or persons related to him (Nikolaos Choniates’ atelier, Manolis Glyzonis’ printing shop, and Maximos Margounios). The second part focuses on the Greek libraries of the Spanish poet and diplomat Diego Hurtado de Mendoza and the French prelate and diplomat Guillaume Pellicier, both ambassadors to Venice; Greek manuscripts in private collections in Padua; and on a Greek manuscript belonging to Henri II Estienne. The third part of the book deals with the traces of personal libraries in present-day libraries and archives, how these traces can be studied, and why this is interesting. The chapters grouped in this section mainly deal with the loan registers of the Biblioteca Marciana and what they can tell us about how Cardinal Bessarion’s library was used in the sixteenth century, as well as with the Archive of the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies and the State Archives of Venice. Some of the articles derive from a conference on Greek manuscripts in fifteenth-century Venice, held at the University of Turin in 2017 as part of a project on the private libraries of Severos and Pellicier, funded by the same university.

The book’s main overall strength is in spotlighting less known and understudied individuals and networks, their book collections and bookshops. While the early Greek diaspora in Italy has traditionally received ample scholarly attention (mainly for its contribution to the ‘rediscovery of the classics’ in Italian humanism), the later diaspora has received considerably less concerted attention, at least from non-Greek scholars. The present volume contributes to rectifying this situation. Taken together, the chapters show, among other things, that the Byzantine Greek diaspora of the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not just cater to the classical interests of its Italian hosts, it also cultivated its own concerns and interests. This is, for example, reflected in personal libraries of some of the diaspora’s protagonists: unlike the collections of Western humanists and their patrons, post-Byzantine libraries in the Latin West generally showed less interest in classical authors (especially the poets), while they emphasized the Church Fathers, theological and philosophical texts, as well as Byzantine literature.

As is often the case with volumes deriving from conferences, the volume’s individual chapters differ in approach, style, and quality. Despite the book’s professed focus on collections and networks, most chapters also, or mostly, discuss aspects of specific manuscripts or printed books rather than the libraries they belonged to or the networks of the people who were building and using the collections. Many chapters share an interest in codicological and bibliographical detail and provide full descriptions of the materials they discuss. Some contributors present research in its earliest stages (e.g., the chapters on the libraries of Severos and Pellicier), while others report on ongoing research projects, including the Archivio dei Possessori of the Marciana Library of Venice (see the chapter of Braides and Sciarra) and Libri Veneti in Europe, which is part of the Mobility and Humanities Project at the University of Padua (see Mazzon’s chapter). Other chapters reflect results of completed projects that have sometimes been less easily accessible to the wider academic audience (this is the case for Papadaki’s interesting chapter, which relies on her two-volume PhD thesis from 2005 written in modern Greek). A lot of groundbreaking research, pioneered by some of the authors, has still to be carried out before more wide-ranging conclusions can be drawn.

Although the volume does not primarily target classicists, it has some interesting things to offer to classical scholars interested in the collecting, transmission, and dissemination of Greek literature. These readers are particularly referred to the chapters of Martínez Manzano, Piccione, Giacomelli, and Mazzon. For Greek humanism, Elia’s chapter is of special relevance. Unlike what her chapter’s title suggests, Elia does much more than trace the journey of a single manuscript, now in Turin (Taur. B.I.3), and containing Sextus Empiricus’ Hypotyposeis, Adversos mathematicos, and Adversus dogmaticos. Elia’s contribution also charts the ways in which the French Hellenist Henri II Estienne used the manuscript, which he bought in Florence in 1555, possibly from the Brabantian (not “Flemish”, as is stated on p. 229) librarian and book trader Arnoldus Arlenius. Elia shows that Estienne used the manuscript at different moments for different purposes over an extended period. Estienne’s intensive engagement with the Greek text is not only traceable in notes, emendations, and Latin translations he scribbled in the margins. The French scholar also included cross references to loci paralleli, page numbers to his own Latin translation of the text (printed in Geneva in 1562), and an index of authors cited. These traces of reading show that Estienne used the manuscript as a working copy and reveal how he organized his manuscripts to make them easily usable and navigable. Elia also argues, convincingly, that Estienne used the manuscript as a source for his anthology of pre-Socratic philosophers, printed in Geneva in 1573. Additionally, she shows that it was used for still another edition of Sextus Empiricus: the editio princeps of the Greek text, published in Geneva in 1621.

For classicists with an interest in humanist literature in Ancient Greek, there is the excellent chapter of Ciccolella on the Anacreontic poems of Maximos Margounios (c. 1549–1602), printed in Augsburg in 1601 with a Latin translation by Conrad Rittershausen. In addition to giving an overview of the contents, structure, and printing history of his hymns, Ciccolella discusses Margounios’ motives for composing Anacreontic poems on personal and religious subjects. While the chapter does not discuss books or libraries, it joins two burgeoning fields of interest among historians and classical scholars: the reception of Greek, and especially late-antique/Byzantine, texts in the Reformation and the ‘reinvention’ of ancient Greek as a literary language across early modern Europe (a first comprehensive anthology of this niche-literature has been prepared by Filippomaria Pontani and Stefan Weise).[2]

For those interested in (the reception of) late-Byzantine literature, too, there are some interesting things to be found in this book, for example in the joint chapter of Elia and Piccione, shedding light on the transmission history of “codex T” (i.e., Taur. B.II.1) of the Chronicle of the Morea and codex Taur. B.VI.20, one of the principal witnesses of George Sphrantzes’ Chronicle (pp. 52–53), as well as in Giacomelli’s chapter, hypothesizing on the scribes and annotators of some Byzantine authors, including Theodore Metochites in Par. Gr. 1935 (p. 217) and Pachymeres in Par. Gr. 1947 (p. 219).

As to the book’s overall framework, Piccione’s introduction gives some methodological background, whereas Carpinato’s chapter sets the historical scene of early modern Venice. With a collection as diverse and specialized as this one, readers would have benefitted from a reasoned overview of the chapters and a synthesizing discussion of how the collected papers contribute to the volume’s aims. A more in-depth engagement with previous scholarship on histories of books and libraries (not least Bessarion’s) and Venetian Hellenism would have been helpful for readers to situate the book in the field and to see its important contribution more clearly. A more pronounced statement in that regard would have helped at least this reader to better understand, for instance, some strikingly critical comments on the work of Ersie C. Burke. Her book The Greeks of Venice, 1498–1600 is referenced in two different chapters as “rich in documentation but flawed by a misguided historical approach” (p. 1, n. 1) and as “not very useful” (p. 21, n. 34). The reader is left without explanation for these assessments, which contrast with the generally positive reception of Burke’s book in journals such as Renaissance Quarterly (71, 2, 2018, 716–717), European History Quarterly (48, 2, 2018, 331–333), and Mediterranean Studies (27, 2, 2019, 236–238). This reviewer felt that Burke’s work would merit a fuller, and fairer, discussion in a book on Venetian Hellenism that is inspired by an interest in the social networks that facilitated and enhanced the circulation and collection of books and ideas.

The overall design of the volume is attractive with functional images and diagrams to support the chapters.[3] It also offers a rich bibliography, gathering scholarship from a range of disciplines and in multiple languages. Although classical scholars may not be the primary audience of the book, some of the chapters collected in it are relevant to classicists working on, or interested in, the transmission, dissemination, and reception of Greek texts in early modern Europe.

Table of contents

Editor’s Preface, v

Greek Books in Renaissance Venice: Methodological Approaches and Research Perspectives, Rosa Maria Piccione  1

I. Greeks and Greek Books in Renaissance Venice
Venice in the Time of Gavriil Seviros (before 1540–1616): People, Books, Languages, and Images. Dialogue with Greeks (and with Greek), Caterina Carpinato,  15
A Rediscovered Library. Gabriel Severos and His Books, Erika Elia and Rosa Maria Piccione 33
Anonymous Collaborators of Nikolaos Choniates’ atelier in Manuscripts from Achilles Statius’ Library, Riccardo Montalto  83
Manolis Glyzounis, Greek Publisher and Copyist in Venice in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century, Irene Papadaki 115
Maximos Margounios and Anacreontic Poetry: An Introductory Study, Federica Ciccolella  147

II. Western Intellectuals, Books, and Book Collections
Towards the Reconstruction of a Little-Known Renaissance Library: The Greek Incunabula and Printed Editions of Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, Teresa Martínez Manzano  163
The Greek Library of Guillaume Pellicier: The Role of the Scribe Ioannes Katelos, Rosa Maria Piccione  177
Greek Manuscripts in Padua: Some New Evidence, Ciro Giacomelli  197
A Book Journey. About an Henri II Estienne’s Greek Manuscript in Turin, Erika Elia  221

III. Libraries in Archives
Knocking on Heaven’s Door. The Loan Registers of the Libreria di San Marco, Ottavia Mazzon  259
Reconstructing a Library: Case Studies from the Archivio dei possessori of the Marciana National Library in Venice, Orsola Braides and Elisabetta Sciarra  285
Archival Research on Private Libraries in Renaissance Venice: Considerations, Elements, Perspectives, Christos Zampakolas  307

Sigla and Abbreviations, 327
Bibliography, 329
Sitography, 376
Index of archival and library sources, 377
Index of proper names, 387
Index of tables and figures, 397


[1] See, from the last five years, for example, Federica Ciccolella and Luigi Silvano, eds., Teachers, Students, and Schools of Greek in the Renaissance (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2017); Natasha Constantinidou and Han Lamers, eds., Receptions of Hellenism in Early Modern Europe: 15th–17th Centuries (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2019); Federica Ciccolella, ed., When Greece Flew across the Alps: The Study of Greek in Early Modern Europe (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2022).

[2] Filippomaria Pontani and Stefan Weise, eds., The Hellenizing Muse: A European Anthology of Poetry in Ancient Greek from the Renaissance to the Present (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2022).

[3] Only few inconsistencies and typos caught my eye (for example, “Lodewikj” instead of “Lodewijk” on p. 254; a missing indentation on p. 263; Ein Wegbereiter der Griechischen instead of des Griechischen on p. 368; Universität Bibliotek instead of Universitätsbibliothek on p. 374; and the publication date of my Greece Reinvented: Transformations of Byzantine Hellenism, which is 2015, not 2005). A minor interpretive suggestion: should we perhaps understand posthac for post hac in the Latin phrase cited on p. 185?