BMCR 2024.02.32

Liber Defensionum contra Obiectiones in Platonem: Cardinal Bessarion’s own Latin translation of his Greek defense of Plato against George of Trebizond

, Liber Defensionum contra Obiectiones in Platonem: Cardinal Bessarion's own Latin translation of his Greek defense of Plato against George of Trebizond. Byzantinisches Archiv – Series Philosophica, 6. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2023. Pp. xxviii, 242. ISBN 9783111246352.



John Monfasani, an esteemed scholar in the study of Byzantium and the Renaissance, here makes available for the very first time the intermediary Latin text of cardinal Bessarion’s In Calumniatorem Platonis (Against the Slander of Plato, henceforth ASP). Published in 1469 on the printing press, the ASP was a response to George of Trebizond’s Comparison of the Two Philosophers (1458), in which George blasted Plato and contemporary Platonists as un-Christian, immoral, and destructive to civic life. Once it appeared in 1469, Bessarion’s summation of Platonism served as a major if often unacknowledged source for later Renaissance Platonists such as Marsilio Ficino. As Monfasani has highlighted elsewhere, the published Latin text in 6 books underwent a long gestational period before publication. It began as a Greek text of four books (Books 1, 2, 4, and 5 of the 1469 text), which Bessarion revised and expanded over the course of more than a decade.[1] Since 1927, we have had a usable if not always accurate edition of the Greek text of Books 1, 2, 3, and 4.[2] However, the intermediary Latin text, tentatively entitled the Libri Defensionum contra Obiectiones in Platonem (LD), in which Bessarion worked up Books 1, 2, and 4 for publication, has remained a major desideratum. Since the 1990’s, Monfasani has laid the groundwork for this edition.[3]

Many scholars will welcome this edition, as they can now easily read this intermediary redaction of the text and appreciate how Bessarion’s circle transformed his original Greek into the polished Latin of the ASP. As a scholar studying the development of the ASP, I am grateful to Monfasani for providing an edition of the Latin text, which helped me correct some inaccuracies in my own transcription of the manuscripts. He at last also answers a number of scholarly questions such as whether Bessarion wrote all the Greek first and then the Latin or if he wrote them side by side.[4] We can now definitively say that he added to his Greek text at the same time as he made major changes to the Latin.[5]

Having said that, the present reviewer has serious concerns about the quality of the edition itself and whether it fulfills its stated goal in the book blurb of helping the reader understand Bessarion’s “major decisions on what to include as well as what to exclude from his original Greek text and exactly how he would render the Greek into Latin.”[6] Let us begin with the fundamental questions of date and authorship, as the manuscripts studied by Monfasani point away from his conclusions.

In the introduction, Monfasani repeats his earlier established claim that the latest version of this text was completed by late 1465 to early 1466 based on a letter sent by Niccolò Perotti after reading the LD. But there are two major problem here. First, Perotti’s letter is not dated: 1465/6 is Monfasani’s guess, not a definitive fact.[7] The letter could date to anywhere between November 1464 and 1468. Second, if one reads manuscript Q (Marc. Lat. 230), which Monfasani himself labels the earliest exemplar of this text,[8] we find many ad hominem attacks on George in the text itself and not the margins. Q says that George “had many times before and only recently left prison.”[9] In a long tirade against George at the end of Book 3 (4), the LD dwells on his visit to the Turks, “to whom he recently went to exhort them against all Christians and advise them how to attack us. Tell me, best men, what our opponent did among our Turkish enemies. You certainly know what he did and you ordered him to be thrown in prison when he returned…Then he dares to come into your sight, he greets you, and he addresses you…”[10] Q must allude here to George’s imprisonment in fall 1466 and his subsequent release in spring 1467, which Monfasani himself has elsewhere sketched based on dated, surviving documents.[11] Yet, in the introduction, Monfasani does not accordingly revise his date for the LD’s drafts.[12] The book’s back cover claims that the final Latin redaction was complete by 1466 even though, as we have seen, the earliest draft cannot have been written until after February 1467. Therefore, all the other manuscripts and redactions must date to 1467 and after. All this matters because it shows that George’s trip to the Ottoman empire and his subsequent imprisonment drove Bessarion to translate the text into Latin.

Monfasani’s answer to the question of the translation’s authorship is also problematic. Monfasani has long claimed that Bessarion translated the text himself.[13] The book’s subtitle is “Cardinal Bessarion’s Own Translation.” However, this interpretation is called into question by Bessarion’s Greek marginalia not included in Monfasani’s edition or noted in his apparatus.[14] For example, on f. 105v of Q, Bessarion scribbles, “He did not translate the words of Herodotus” in response to a passage where he noticed Herodotus’s words had been paraphrased not translated.[15] Later on, reviewing his passage on drunkenness in Plato, Bessarion noticed that the text of the original Greek had vastly been changed in translation and wrote, “check what has been left out.”[16] In other places throughout the manuscript, he writes similar things regarding passages not so faithfully translated.[17] Finally, one might add the cultural ignorance of the text as proof that Bessarion did not do the translation. In Book 1 of manuscript Q, the text glosses the Athenian orator Lycurgus as Lycurgus the “Spartan.” Reading the manuscript, Bessarion crossed out “Spartan” and wrote over “orator,” as Monfasani notes in his apparatus.[18] One doubts a scholar as learned as Bessarion would commit such an error if he translated his own text himself. Clearly then, the Latin text is not Bessarion’s own translation but a translation done by someone else and reviewed by him. All this matters because it raises questions about Bessarion’s capacity in literary Latin, an issue of much interest to Monfasani over the years.[19] If Bessarion farmed out the translation of the LD to someone else, it could show that his command of literary Latin was even less than previously thought.

Monfasani’s selective inclusion of Bessarion’s marginalia also challenges his editorial practice in the LD. For example, he claims that the LD’s text “is crucial for knowing how Bessarion understood his original Greek text…”[20] I agree, but if Bessarion is only an editor of a translation, then his Greek marginalia should not be omitted from a modern edition. They are crucial for showing how Bessarion understood his text. While Monfasani does include some of his marginalia, it is only a small selection of those present in the manuscripts. We need them all in order to understand how Bessarion approached the translation. In the case of marginalia cited above, he took no action, but many of his other marginalia often presage Latin corrections made in the same manuscript or later redactions (see no. 45 in the corrections below). Alternatively, they foreshadow deletions such as a note ζητητέον in Q at LD, 177 l. 24. Monfasani’s apparatus shows that Bessarion deleted a significant chunk of text here in the later manuscripts.

As to the collation of the Latin text, I cannot speak comprehensively here, but after comparing passages I had previously collated from Book 4 against Monfasani’s edition, I noticed at least one error per page of printed text, usually involving the manuscript Q. In order to see if this was the case more broadly, I checked the first chapter of Book 1 and the first and second chapters of Book 2 against the Latin manuscripts Q and K (Marc. Lat. 226), of which I had reproductions. I found a total of 19 errors across 6.5 pages of printed text. Based on this small sample of the printed edition and my own previous collation of passages throughout the work, I have compiled a list of 56 corrections printed as an addendum to this review. Some errors are small such as transposing words and typos. Others are more significant such as incorrectly reporting the text of a manuscript, incorrectly reporting marginalia (e.g., no. 39), not labeling Bessarion’s interventions in Q properly (e.g., nos. 14, 21, 24, 48), and, most importantly, missing Bessarion’s handwritten Latin corrections in the margins of Marc. Lat. VI, 60 (W). The latter (nos. 36, 44, 45, 54 below) matter a great deal, as they show that W served not just as the main exemplar for the Latin of Book 5,[21] but also the final Latin redaction of Books 1, 2, and 4. W represents Bessarion’s final will for the Latin text before he had Niccolò Perotti rework the text for the 1469 edition, not manuscript H, as Monfasani claims.[22] Similarly, though Monfasani generally does not record Bessarion’s Greek notes across the manuscripts, the notes he does transcribe from Q suffer from typos, incorrect accentuation, omissions, etc. I offer below a corrected version of the note by Theodore Gaza in no. 25, as Monfasani’s version is only partially comprehensible.[23]

For the general reader, this book is successful in making available a key stage in the composition of the ASP, but its many issues will hamper its stated goal of helping the reader understand Bessarion’s transformation of his Greek text into Latin. Anyone conducting focused research on Bessarion should use this edition with caution and always check the manuscripts.



  1. P. 1 l. 2 pollicebatur. The apparatus criticus should read polliceretur KQ, not pollicerentur.
  2. P. 2 l. 21 contra iret. The apparatus should read obloqueretur KQ, not obloquerentur.
  3. P. 2 l. 27 the apparatus should note that Q corr. Admiratur from Miratur.
  4. P. 2 l. 32 inquinatum. The apparatus should read temeratum KQ not temerarium.
  5. P. 3 apparatus to l. 9–10 should read: Q, 5v: quae suis spuricissimis moribus ipse digna cogitarit…
  6. P. 3 apparatus to l. 20 should include the fact K, 3v adds in the margin: Timon humani generis hostis, which the apparatus correctly notes was in Q as Timon naturae humanae inimicus but omitted in later manuscripts. This shows that at some point Bessarion wished to add back in what had been cut out.
  7. P. 3 apparatus to l. 21 should read habetur not habeatur in Q, 5v.
  8. P. 4 l. 19–20 qui nostram oppugnant religionem should note that K, 3v, has qui nostrae pugnant religioni.
  9. P. 4 apparatus l. 20 KQ are cited. Only K should be cited.
  10. P. 4 l. 26 after lingua maledica Q, 5v, adds et mente capta. The apparatus omits this.
  11. P. 4 app. l. 27 potest tamen. Monfasani criticizes the sentence division in the manuscripts fixed in the 1469 Latin. However, Q, 5v, properly divides the sentence potest. Tamen.
  12. P. 5 app. l. 20. Only quibis…veniam is in K, 5r.
  13. P. 17 l. 11. Q, 14r, has Et adversarius rather than Adversarius.
  14. P. 17 l. 12 aut sunt should be marked in the apparatus as a correction made by Bessarion at Q, 14r.
  15. P. 42 l. 30 et sibi concorde. The apparatus should note that Q, 30r, has ac et sibi concorde.
  16. P. 43 l. 3 ut quae nostri doctores. Q, 30r has ut ea quae nostri doctores.
  17. P. 43 l. 11 aliquantulum explicare valerent. The apparatus should note Q, 30v has aliquantulum (marg. explicare) valerent.
  18. P. 43 l. 16 opiniones utriusque. Q, 30v, K, 32r, have utriusque opiniones.
  19. P. 43 app. l. 1: existimationem is also the reading of Q, 30r; K, 32r.
  20. P. 43 app. l. 3 read stulte for stule.
  21. P. 43 app. l. 6. The apparatus should note that Bessarion himself writes the correction bone vir for homo inique in the margin of Q, 30v.
  22. P. 43 app. l. 21–2 tecum should be noted as a marginal addition. All uncapitalized sentences should be capitalized throughout.
  23. P. 49 l. 5-6: quantum tamen inter haec verba et Platonem intersit apparet manifeste. The text of Q, 34r, is incorrectly reported in the apparatus criticus. It should read:  Sed quantum inter eum et Platonem intersit ostendimus.
  24. P. 65 l. 15 Hesiodus etiam dicit should be noted as a correction of Bessarion in Q, 43v.
  25. P. 75 app l. 28: Monfasani’s transcription of Gaza’s note has six errors ranging from incorrect accents to the omission of words. I reproduce a corrected version of the note followed by Monfasani’s for comparison: Σκεπτέον βέλτιον ταῦτα. Βούλεται μὲν γάρ τοι ὁ λόγος κατασκευάσαι ὅτι προτέρα τοῦ σώματος ἡ ψυχὴ τῷ χρόνῳ, λαμβάνει δὲ μέσον, τὸ ἀπὸ αὐτοκινήτου κινεῖσθαι τὸ σῶμα. Τὸ δὲ τοιόνδε μέσον οὐχ ἱκανὸν· προτέρα γὰρ ἂν εἴη τῇ φύσει οὕτως ἡ ψυχή, οὐ μὴν δὲ καὶ τῷ χρόνῳ. Τὸ δὲ πρότερον εἶναι τῇ φύσει, οὐδὲ τό γε ἀθάνατον ἄλλως εἶναι ἱκανὸν ἀποδέξαι, μὴ ὅτι τῷ χρόνῳ πρότερον. καὶ λίθου γὰρ εἶδος καὶ φυτοῦ καὶ ὄλως πᾶν εἶδος τῇ φύσει πρότερον. Monfasani reads: Σκεπτέον βέλτιον ταῦτα βούλεται μὲν γάρ τοι ὁ λόγος κατασκευάσαι ὄτι προτέρα τοῦ σώματος ἡ ψυχὴ τῷ χρόνῳ. λαμβάνει δὲ μέσον, τὸ ἀπὸ αὐτοκινήσου κινεῖσθαι τὸ σῶμα. τὸ δὲ τοιόνδε μέσον οὐχι κανόν. προτέρα γὰρ ἂν εἴη τῇ φύσει οὕτως ἡ ψυχή. οὐ μὴν δὲ καὶ τῷ χρόνῳ. τὸ δὲ πρότερον εἶναι τῇ φύσει οὐ δὲ ἀθάνατον ἄλλως εἶναι ἱκανὸν ἀποδέξαι, μὴ ὄτι τοῦ χρόνῳ πρότερον. καὶ λίθου γὰρ εἶδος καὶ φυτοῦ καὶ ὄλως πᾶν εἶδος τῇ φύσει πρότερον
  26. P. 82 app. crit. L. 6 sirpis as an alternative reading should also be noted in Q.
  27. P. 82 l. 7 earundem should be noted in the apparatus as a marginal addition in Q.
  28. P. 82 l. 17: Prophetas quoque nonnullos. The apparatus should note that quoque is added in the margin of Q, 55v.
  29. P. 95 app. to l. 2: constitutum sunt. Corr. Q, 63v: constitutum sit.
  30. P. 104 app. to l. 13 should note among other things that monitus est and accomodare were written over an erased text.
  31. P. 118 l. 31–2:  quis an marem appeteret. The apparatus should read: Q 80r, K 88r; W 100r: expeteret.
  32. P. 119 l. 4–5:  id genus representare tale aliquid non patitur. The apparatus does not note that Q 80r, K 88v; W 100v lack non.
  33. P. 126 l. 22: vir facunda sapientia maxime. Corr. Q, 85r: vir facunda sapientia (marg. maxime).
  34. P. 126 l. 27: Credamus igitur Panetio a Platone suo disserentienti. Corr. Q, 85v: credamus igitur Panetio a Platone sua dissentiente.  N 109v; W 107r, K 94r, H, 136r: dissentienti. In N and W, the i is written over the e.
  35. P. 127 app. crit. Q, 85v, reads ex esurientis not exurientis.
  36. P. 128 l. 25 non minus librum Solomonis quam Platonem libidinis. In N, 108v, Monfasani misses Bessarion’s correction: non minus Canticorum Salomonis librum quam. This was preferred in the final Latin: Mohler 2.447 l. 13: non minus Canticorum Salomonis quam.
  37. P. 139 l. 15: Alioquin nunquam ad hunc venissent animantem. Cf. Q, 93r: alioquin numquam ad hunc animantem venissent.
  38. P. 139 l. 30: Quae celebrabamus. The apparatus incorrectly reports the variants of the mss: Q, 93v: quae celebrebamus.
  39. P. 144 app. l. 27 should fully read: τὸν Ἀλκήστυος καὶ Ἀχιλλέως ἔρωτα ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρόν τε καὶ μοχθηρῶς ἐκλαμβάνει καὶ οὕτως ἐκλαμβάνων ὑμνεῖ, καίτοι μὴ τοῦ ποιητοῦ, ὃς πρῶτος τὴν Ἀχιλλέως καὶ Πατρόκλου φιλίαν ὑμνεῖ.
  40. P. 150 app. crit: Platone versatur in illis nefandis. Corr. Q, 100r: Plato ne versatur in his illis nefandis.
  41. P. 167 l. 10: Sequabantur. Corr. Sequebantur.
  42. P. 168:  quasi illos arbitrentur nomine. Read quasi illos (marg. arbitrentur) nomine in Q.
  43. P. 173 app. crit: ignomina. Corr. ignominia.
  44. P. 173 l. 9: nonnisi clam et ita ut omnes tam viros quam mulieres lateat permittit, which Bessarion in his own hand corrects in the margin of P, 144v: non nisi cum paelicibus et hoc clam. The correction is missing in N, 147r; H, 186v, but included in the final ASP: Mohler 2.535 l. 21–2: non nisi cum paelicibus domesticis et clam et.
  45. P. 175 l. 26:  praedives sit et absolute bonus. Monfasani misses Bessarion’s concern with the text. In the margin of W, 146r, he wrote the Greek πλούσιον γὰρ σφόδρα καὶ σφόδρα ἀγαθὸν = Mohler 2.540 l. 37. Here Bessarion suggested the awkward dives admodum perfectusque bonus. Perotti’s version polishes Bessarion’s: Mohler 2.541 l. 31: praedives sit et virtute praefectus.
  46. P. 176 l. 5, ubi ipse opposuerit. In the margin of Q, 115r, Bessarion suggests ipse reprehensor.
  47. P. 181 l. 3. The apparatus should note that Bessarion himself corrects magistratum in Q, 118v.
  48. P. 181 app. 22 should note that Bessarion writes magistratum in Q, 122v.
  49. P. 195 l. 35–96 l. 1: est; hic pauca. Corr. est, et hic pauca. So W, 161v; N, 163v–4r; K, 142v; H, 209r.
  50. P. 198 ll. 5–7, should note that hand 1 erased what was there previously and wrote over this text.
  51. P. 216 app. crit. does not include Bessarion’s marginal addition: usque ab .16. versum.
  52. P 217 app. crit. Sic imperia quattuor [quattuor in marg. scr. Q1] Read: Sic imperia quattuor illa [quattuor illa in marg. scr. Q1]
  53. P. 218 l. 6: sed servati etiam possent. Q, 141r: sed servari possent. So all other manuscripts.
  54. P. 218 ll. 6–7: quatenus inter illas et nostras divinas convenit. Bessarion corrects at W, 178r: quatenus divinis nostris conveniunt legibus. = Mohler 2.621 l. 19–20.
  55. P. 224 app. l. 6: deriserunt (marg. contemptibilem). Read Q, 144v: deriserunt, (marg. contempserunt).
  56. P. 224 app. l. 6: minus [sic] honoris. Sic is not needed here. The text means that George received less honor than he hoped.



[1] John Monfasani, “A Tale of Two Books: Bessarion’s In Calumniatorem Platonis and George of Trebizond’s Comparatio Philosophorum Platonis et Aristotelis,” Renaissance Studies 22 (2008): 8.

[2] Ludwig Mohler, Kardinal Bessarion als Theologe, Humanist und Staatsmann, vol. 2 (Paderborn, 1927).

[3] Monfasani traces the development of the book in the preface to the LD and cites his earlier work in the bibliography.

[4] Such is implied, for example, in Fabio Pagani, “Philology in/of a Byzantine Quarrel: Bessarion v. George of Trebizond,” in Bessarion’s Treasure: Editing, Translating and Interpreting Bessarion’s Literary Heritage, ed. Sergei Mariev (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020), 162.

[5] LD, XVIII.


[7] John Monfasani, “Il Perotti e la controversia tra platonici ed aristotelici,” in Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy (Aldershot: Variorum Reprints, 1995), I.198.

[8] LD, XVIII.

[9] LD, 132 app. to l 21–2: homo qui cum saepe alias, tum nuper profectus a carcere est.

[10] LD, 217 app. to l. 5: Ad quos nuper ipse se contulit ut eos adversus Christianos omnes hortaretur, et quo modo rem aggrederentur eis consuleret. Quid enim apud Turcos hostes nostros adversarius egerit, dicite, viri optimi. Nam certo nostis, ac eum reversum ad vos trudi in carcerem iussistis…Tum in vestrum conspectum accedere audet, vos salutat, vos alloquitur…

[11] John Monfasani, George of Trebizond: A Biography and a Study of His Rhetoric and Logic (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 192–94.

[12] LD, XVIII–IX.

[13] Monfasani, “Bessarion’s Own,” 8, 18–20. Reiterated in John Monfasani, “Cardinal Bessarion as a Translator of Plato, Aristotle, and Other Prose Authors in the In Calumniatorem Platonis,” in Translation Activity in the Late Byzantine World: Contexts, Authors, and Texts, ed. Panagiotis Athanasopoulos (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022), 465–66.

[14] He does include some marginalia (e.g., corrections to the Greek in Q: LD, 82 app. crit., 130 app. crit., 144 app. crit.).

[15] Q, 105v: τὰ Ἡροδότου οὐχ ἡρμήνευσεν. Cf. LD, 161 l. 2.

[16] Q, 127v: ζητητέον τὰ παραλελειμμένα. Cf. Mohler 2.574 l. 15 on. Cf. LD, 195 l. 17.

[17] E.g., Q, 98v: ζητητέον πολλὰ regarding Mohler 484 l. 27–39 paraphrased in LD, 148 l. 4–14.

[18] LD, 15 app. l. 1.

[19] E.g., John Monfasani, “Bessarion Latinus,” Rinascimento 21 (1981): 165–209; John Monfasani, Bessarion Scholasticus: A Study of Cardinal Bessarion’s Latin Library (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012); Monfasani, “Cardinal Bessarion.”

[20] LD, XI.

[21] LD, XIV–XV.

[22] LD, XIX.

[23] LD, XIV, XIX.