Renaissance and Reformation Cardinal Bessarion
by
John Monfasani
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0230

Introduction

In the last century of Byzantium, as the Ottoman conquests culminated in the taking of Constantinople in 1453, cultural influences between East and West flowed in both directions. The impact of Greek émigrés, manuscripts, and ideas upon the Italian Renaissance is well known. Much less appreciated is the large influence that medieval Latin Scholasticism exercised upon Greek intellectuals from the mid-14th century onward. Cardinal Bessarion (b. 1408–d. 1472) participated in this two-way exchange—indeed, contributed to it to an eminent degree. Chosen as one of the two main Greek spokesmen at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–1439), he eventually became the leading proponent of union with the Roman Church among the Greeks and spent the rest of his life trying to make that union a reality. His coat of arms, consisting of a Latin arm and a Greek arm jointly holding up the cross of Christ, reflects how he understood himself as a Greek cardinal in the Roman Curia. Even before he came to Italy in 1438, he had studied St. Thomas Aquinas in the Greek translation made by Demetrius Cydones in the previous century. Eventually, while gaining fame as a patron of Greek and Latin humanists and forming one of the great libraries of Greek classical texts of all time, he also acquired a vast library of Latin scholastic texts. He was a major player in the Plato-Aristotle controversy of the 15th century and the most important Platonist of the Renaissance before Marsilio Ficino (b. 1433–d. 1499). His writings and translations were printed and read well into the 16th century. He consciously strove to integrate himself into Latin politics and culture. Several times he plausibly stood a chance of being elected pope in papal conclaves. He failed in his overriding political goal of a crusade to rescue Greece from the Turks, but by his writings, library, and patronage he played no small role in Renaissance culture. Since then he has become almost a paradigmatic figure in the ecumenical movement and virtually inescapable in discussions of the transmission of classical Greek texts and their manuscripts in the Latin West.

General Overviews

Mohler 1923–1942 has long been the standard study because of its detail and accompanying texts. Coluccia 2009 is recent, but not without flaws. The proceedings of four conferences, Il cardinale Bessarione 1972, Fiaccadori 1994, Gutkowski and Prinzivalli 2012, and Märtl, et al. 2013, have greatly expanded our knowledge of his life and works. Labowsky 1967 provides a trustworthy starting point for any study of Bessarion; Bianca 1999 and Monfasani 1995 are useful collections of various articles on the cardinal.

  • Bianca, Concetta. Da Bisanzio a Roma: Studi sul cardinale Bessarione. Rome: Roma nel Rinascimento, 1999.

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    A most useful collection of articles on Bessarion by one of the great authorities on the cardinal and the Italian milieu.

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  • Coluccia, Giuseppe L. Basilio Bessarione: Lo spirito greco e l’Occidente. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2009.

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    The most recent biography of Bessarion. Although some of its assertions are debatable, it contains much useful information, translations of Greek texts, and coverage of Bessarion’s entire life.

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  • Fiaccadori, Gianfranco, ed. Bessarione e l’Umanesimo: Catalogo della mostra. Venezia, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, 27 aprile –31 maggio 1994. Naples, Italy: Vivarium, 1994.

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    An invaluable collection of major articles, documentary material, and images. The illustrations and the accompanying catalogue of manuscripts in the exhibit are of an extraordinary quality, quite apart from the very important and original articles in the volume.

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  • Gutkowski, Andrzej, and Emanuela Prinzivalli, eds. Bessarione e la sua Accademia. Collected essays, mostly presented at the conference held in Rome, Italy, Mar 18, 2011. Rome: Miscellanea Francescana, 2012.

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    A useful collection of up-to-date articles on Bessarion and his milieu.

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  • Il cardinale Bessarione nel V centenario della morte (1472–1972): Conferenze di studio 7–18 nov. 1972 tenute nella «Sala dell’Immacolata» del Convento dei SS. XII Apostoli in Roma. Rome: Convento dei SS. XII Apostoli dei Frati Conventuali, 1974.

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    Some of the contributions are now dated, but the two articles by Antonio Coccia on Bessarion’s biography and his relationship with the basilica of Ss. XII Apostoli remain valuable.

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  • Labowsky, Lotte. “Bessarione.” In Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Vol. 9, Berengario–Biagini. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti, 686–696. Rome: Treccani, 1967.

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    Still the best short overview of Bessarion’s life and writings, with much accurate detail.

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  • Märtl, Claudia, Christian Kaiser, and Thomas Ricklin, eds. “Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus”: Bessarion zwischen den Kulteren. Papers presented at a conference held in Munich during 15–17 July, 2011. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110316216Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The proceedings of the most recent conference on Bessarion, characterized by fundamental studies on his life and work. Almost all the contributions are cited elsewhere in this article.

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  • Mohler, Ludwig. Kardinal als Theologe, Humanist und Staatsmann. 3 vols. Paderborn, Germany: Schöningh, 1923–1942.

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    The first volume (Darstellung) is a biography that has been superseded in some respects, but remains fundamental. The other two volumes are indispensable. Vol. 2 (Bessarionis In Calumniatorem Platonis Libri IV) contains a critical edition of the Greek text of Bessarion’s In Calumniatorem Platonis along with the Latin text published in 1469. Vol. 3 (Aus Bessarions Gelehrtenkreis: Abhandlungen, Reden, Briefe) gathers Bessarion’s letters and opuscules as well as a rich collection of relevant Greek and Latin texts by others.

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  • Monfasani, John. Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and Other Emigrés. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1995.

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    Ten of the articles in the volume concern Bessarion directly or indirectly, while the remaining four treat Greeks and Greek culture in the Renaissance.

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Early Life

Bessarion’s date of birth is a subject of debate, but the date January 2, 1408, first proposed by Monfasani 1986, has been confirmed by new evidence (Tambrun-Krasker 2013, pp. 8–9) against the dates of 1399 (Saffrey 1964) and 1401 (Mioni 1991). He was born in Trebizond on the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey and christened Basil (Bianca 1999, cited under General Overviews). He was educated, however, in Constantinople, where he had been taken by Dositheos, bishop of Trebizond, in 1416, before transferring to Mistra in the Peloponnesus in the 1430s. His departure in 1437 for the Council of Ferrara-Florence with the Greek delegation marks the end of the first part of his life, during which he became a Basilian monk, then a priest, and finally the bishop of Nicaea (Saffrey 1964). He also produced a considerable corpus of writings during this period (Saffrey 1964, Stormon 1981).

  • Mioni, Elpidio. “Vita del Cardinale Bessarione.” Miscellanea Marciana 6 (1991): 11–219.

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    This biography was cut short by Mioni’s death and only covers Bessarion’s life up to the 1450s. Mioni was responsible for the modern catalogue of the Greek manuscripts of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice and was profoundly knowledgeable about Bessarion’s manuscripts, scribes, and early writings.

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  • Monfasani, John. “Platina, Capranica, and Perotti: Bessarion’s Latin Eulogists and His Date of Birth.” In Bartolomeo Sacchi Il Platina (Piadena 1421–Roma 1481): Atti del convegno internazionale di studi per il V centenario (Cremona, 14–15 novembre 1981). Edited by P. Medioli Masotti, 97–136. Padua, Italy: Antenore, 1986.

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    The main point of this article [recte 1987] is that Bessarion was much younger than modern scholars tend to believe and that therefore his career up to December 1439, when he was made a cardinal, was even more precocious than had been supposed (reprinted in Monfasani 1995, cited under General Overviews).

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  • Saffrey, Henri-Dominique. “Recherches sur quelques autographes du Cardinal Bessarion et leur caractère autobiographique.” In Mélanges Eugène Tisserant. Vol. 3, Orient chrétien. By Eugène Tisserant, 263–297. Vatican City, Rome: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1964.

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    Fundamental for Bessarion’s early life and writings, based especially on a study of the collection of his juvenilia in MS Gr. 533 (= 778) and an autobiographical note in MS Gr. 14 (= 395) of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice (reprinted in Saffrey’s Recherches sur la tradition platonicienne au Moyen Âge et à la Renaissance, Paris: Vrin, 1987).

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  • Stormon, Edward J. “Bessarion before the Council of Florence: A Survey of His Early Writings (1423–1437).” In Byzantine Papers. Edited by Elizabeth and Michael Jeffreys, et al., 128–156. Canberra, Australia: Humanities Research Center, Australian National University, 1981.

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    A splendidly learned and sensible analysis of Bessarion’s writings before the Council of Ferrara-Florence that should be collated with Rigo 2001, cited under Council of Ferrara-Florence and Theological Writings.

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  • Tambrun-Krasker, Brigitte. “Bessarion de Trébizonde à Mistra: Un parcours intellectuel.” In “Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus”: Bessarion zwischen den Kulteren. Papers presented at a conference held in Munich during 15–17 July, 2011. Edited by Claudia Märtl, Christian Kaiser, and Thomas Ricklin, 1–35. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110316216Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Now the best study of Bessarion’s early life and career, especially valuable for its discussion of his relationship with his teacher George Gemistus Pletho.

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Council of Ferrara-Florence and Theological Writings

Until the Council, Bessarion’s writings were essentially rhetorical in nature. It was at the Council in 1438–1439 that Bessarion emerged first as a leading Greek theologian and then as a proponent of union with the Latin Church. Almost all of his theological writings were connected with the Council and its immediate aftermath. Indeed, his one late theological work, On the Eucharist (van Dieten 1984), reflects an issue that came up at the very end of the Council and that he was intimately involved at the time in resolving. Another late work, his Encyclical Letter to the Greeks, after he became Patriarch of Constantinople in 1466 was more an administrative and even rhetorical text calling for union with Rome than a theological text (Monfasani 2011). On the eve of the Council he wrote a critique of Thomas Aquinas in defense of the Palamite teaching on the divine energies then regnant in the Greek Church (Candal 1938, de Halleux 1989). Eventually, however, he came over to the Latin view and repudiated Palamism (Rigo 2001, p. 58). At the Council, he served as one of the Greeks’ spokesmen (Gill 1961, Kolditz 2013), and, once he became convinced of the Latin position on the doctrine of the Filioque, i.e., that in the Trinity the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, he delivered his famous Oratio dogmatica arguing for Greek acceptance of the doctrine and union with the Latins (Bessarion 1958, Lusini 2001). In the years after the Council, he wrote an extensive tract defending the Filioque (Bessarion 1961) and a series of refutations of Greek anti-Latin texts (Monfasani 2011), namely, against Maximus Planudes, Gregory Palamas, Mark Eugenius, and even his teacher George Gemistus Pletho.

  • Bessarion. Oratio dogmatica de unione. Edited by Emmanuel Candal. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1958.

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    The standard critical edition of this work, accompanied by Bessarion’s own Latin translation, though Candal was mistaken in thinking he was copying from Bessarion’s autograph copy of the latter.

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  • Bessarion. De Spiritus Sancti processione ad Alexium Lascarin Philanthropinum. Edited by Emmanuel Candal. Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1961.

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    The standard critical edition of this work, accompanied by Bessarion’s own Latin translation, where Candal again mistakenly believed he had the autograph of the latter.

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  • Candal, Emmanuel. “Andreae Rhodiensis, O.P., inedita ad Bessarionem epistula (De divina essentia et operatione).” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 4 (1938): 329–371.

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    An edition of a letter of Andreas Chrysoberges to Bessarion that quotes the letter of Bessarion that provoked Chrysoberges’ response, but it needs to be corrected by de Halleux 1989.

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  • de Halleux, André. “Bessarion et le palamisme au concile de Florence.” Irénikon 87 (1989): 307–322.

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    Proves that Candal mistook where the quotation of Bessarion ends in Andreas Chrysoberges’ response to Bessarion and that therefore Candal was mistaken in believing that Bessarion rejected Palamism when in fact the opposite is true.

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  • Gill, Joseph. The Council of Florence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1961.

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    The authoritative monograph on the Council, to which one must resort to put Bessarion’s role in context.

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  • Kolditz, Sebastian. Johannes VIII. Palaiologus und das Konzil von Ferrara-Florenz (1433/39): Das byzantinishe Kaisertum im Dialog mit dem Westen. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 2013.

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    An immensely rich detailed study of the Greek delegation to the Council before and during the Council, in which Bessarion figures greatly.

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  • Lusini, Gianfrancesco. Bessarione di Nicea: Orazione dogmatica sull’unione dei greci e dei latini. Naples, Italy: Vivarium, 2001.

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    An improved edition of the Oratio dogmatica with an Italian translation and annotations.

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  • Monfasani, John. “The Pro-Latin Apologetics of the Greek Émigrés to Quattrocento Italy.” In Byzantine Theology and Its Philosophical Background. Edited by A. Rigo, 160–186. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2011.

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    Concerns Greeks in Renaissance Italy; Bessarion’s pro-Latin writings are treated on pp. 170–174.

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  • Rigo, Antonio. “Bessarione tra Costantinopoli e Roma.” In Bessarione di Nicea: Orazione dogmatica sull’unione dei greci e dei latini. Edited by Gianfrancesco Lusini, 19–124. Naples, Italy: Vivarium, 2001.

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    The most thorough and up-to-date study available of Bessarion’s theological development from the time before the Council to his later years, valuable not only in interpreting Bessarion’s texts, but also in dating them (reprinted in Bessarione e la sua Accademia, pp. 20–55).

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  • van Dieten, Jan Louis. “Die Erklärung Bessarions zur Forma Eucharistiae.” Annuarium Historiae Conciliorum. Internationae Zeitschrift für Konziliengeschichte 16 (1984): 369–384.

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    An analysis of the sources for the discussion of the form of the Eucharist at the Council as they pertain to Bessarion and a discussion of his late opuscule on the Eucharist.

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Life as a Roman Cardinal

From 1440, when he returned to Italy from Constantinople, to his death in 1472, Bessarion consciously sought to integrate himself into the Roman Curia (Capizzi 1997, Henderson 2013), European politics, and Latin culture in general. He went on several important legations, including to Bologna and Germany (Bacchelli 1994, Märtl 2013). He cultivated ties with Italian political figures, from King Alfonso of Naples and Duke Francesco Sforza of Milan to Cosimo de’ Medici in Florence and the doges of the Venetian Republic. He was a tireless promoter of a crusade against the Turks (Meserve 2003, Ricklin 2013). He learned Latin as well as Italian (Monfasani 1981 and Monfasani 1983, cited under Translations). He created around himself a circle of intellectuals, both Greek and Latin, and in the case of the Latins, both humanists and scholastics (Bianca 1999). In 1455 and in 1458, he was viewed as a serious candidate for the papacy when the cardinals came together in a conclave to choose a new pope.

  • Bacchelli, Franco. “La legazione bolognese del cardinale Bessarione (1450–1455).” In Bessarione e l’Umanesimo: Catalogo della mostra. Venezia, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, 27 aprile–31 maggio 1994. Edited by Gianfranco Fiaccadori, 137–147. Naples, Italy: Vivarium, 1994.

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    Gathers the evidence concerning Bessarion’s first important political mission, which had the effect of making him papabile by the time it ended.

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  • Bianca, Concetta. “L’accademia del Bessarione tra Roma e Urbino.” In Da Bisanzio a Roma: Studi sul cardinale Bessarione. Edited by Concetta Bianca, 123–172. Rome: Roma nel Rinascimento, 1999.

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    The most detailed and comprehensive study of the identity of the members of the Bessarion circle up to his last years.

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  • Capizzi, Carmelo. “Momenti di vita del Bessarione a Roma.” Thesaurismata 27 (1997): 101–123.

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    A handy survey of the documentary evidence of Bessarion’s activities in the Roman Curia, with a great deal of fresh archival material.

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  • Henderson, Duane. “Bessarion, Cardinalis Nicenus: A Cardinalitial Vita between Ideal Conceptions and Institutional Structures.” In “Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus”: Bessarion zwischen den Kulteren. Papers presented at a conference held in Munich during 15–17 July, 2011. Edited by Claudia Märtl, Christian Kaiser, and Thomas Ricklin, 37–78. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110316216Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The best and most up-to-date treatment of Bessarion’s career as a cardinal in the papal Curia.

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  • Märtl, Claudia. “Kardinal Bessarion als Legat im Deutschen Reich (1460/1461).” In “Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus”: Bessarion zwischen den Kulteren. Papers presented at a conference held in Munich during 15–17 July, 2011. Edited by Claudia Märtl, Christian Kaiser, and Thomas Ricklin, 123–150. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110316216Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive study of Bessarion’s most extensive foray in Northern Europe to advance his and Pope Pius II’s program of a crusade.

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  • Meserve, Margaret. “Patronage and Propaganda at the First Paris Press: Guillaume de Fichet and the First Edition of Bessarion’s Orationes against the Turks.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 97 (2003): 521–588.

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    An important study reflecting Bessarion’s links to humanism and political elites beyond Italy and the use of the new medium of the printing press to advance his agenda of an anti-Turkish crusade.

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  • Ricklin, Thomas. “Bessarions Türke und andere Türken interessierter Kreise: Von der Schwierigkeit, ein Feindbild gelehrt zu plausibilisieren.” In “Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus”: Bessarion zwischen den Kulteren. Papers presented at a conference held in Munich during 15–17 July, 2011. Edited by Claudia Märtl, Christian Kaiser, and Thomas Ricklin, 277–300. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110316216Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent study of Bessarion’s literary campaign for a crusade, which was a dominant feature of his life from the 1450s to his death in 1472.

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Philosophical Writings

Bessarion wrote one of the great philosophical works of the Italian 15th century, the In Calumniatorem Platonis, which was printed in Rome in 1469 (Mohler 1923; Del Soldato 2010). This was a large-scale defense of Plato against the attack that George of Trebizond had launched against Plato and Bessarion’s teacher, the Platonist George Gemistus Pletho (Monfasani 1976, Monfasani 2008). The In Calumniatorem Platonis was in fact the culminating work in a controversy between Greek Platonists and Aristotelians writing in Greek in Greece and in Italy that was triggered by the comparison between the two philosophers that Pletho had composed at the Council in Florence in 1439 (Fyrigos 2012, Hankins 1990). As part of the controversy, Bessarion wrote a substantial opuscule that was later appended to the 1469 printing with the Latin title De Natura et Arte (Mariev 2013). Bessarion was a Platonist, but unlike Pletho he believed in the harmony of Plato and Aristotle. So, though he defended Plato, he did not attack Aristotle, but rather sought to bring the two philosophers into agreement (Lotti 1994). George of Trebizond was the first of the Greeks to write in Latin. Bessarion drafted his response in Greek, but with the intent to publish it in Latin, as in fact he did in 1469 (Monfasani 2012; see also Fyrigos 2011, cited under Translations).

  • Del Soldato, Eva. “Sulle tracce di Bessarione: Appunti per una ricerca.” Rinascimento, n.s., 50 (2010): 321–342.

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    Mainly concerned with the afterlife of Bessarion’s work among later authors, but makes some good points about the text itself.

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  • Fyrigos, Antonis. “San Tommaso a Bisanzio, il Cardinal Bessarione e la controversia su Platone e Aristotele nel Quattrocento bizantino.” In Bessarione e la sua Accademia. Edited by Andrzej Gutkowski and Emanuela Prinzivalli. Rome: Miscellanea Francescana, 2012.

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    Places Bessarion in the crosscurrents not only of the Platonists and Aristotelians, but also of the pro- and anti-Thomists among the Greeks in the last century of Byzantium.

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  • Hankins, James. “Cardinal Bessarion and Plato.” In Plato in the Italian Renaissance. Vol. 1. By James Hankins, 217–263. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1990.

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    A learned discussion of Bessarion’s interpretation of Plato and of his role in the Plato-Aristotle controversy.

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  • Lotti, Brunello. “Cultura filosofica di Bessarione: la tradizione platonica.” In Bessarione e l’Umanesimo: Catalogo della mostra. Venezia, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, 27 aprile–31 maggio 1994. Edited by Gianfranco Fiaccadori, 79–102. Naples, Italy: Vivarium, 1994.

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    A wide-ranging treatment of Bessarion’s Platonism, his relationship with George Gemistus Pletho and even Nicolaus Cusanus, and Bessarion’s place in the Plato-Aristotle controversy.

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  • Mariev, Sergei. “Der Traktat De natura et arte des Kardinals Bessarion.” In Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus”: Bessarion zwischen den Kulteren. Papers presented at a conference held in Munich during 15–17 July, 2011. Edited by Claudia Märtl, Christian Kaiser, and Thomas Ricklin, 367–389. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110316216Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first study dedicated exclusively to an analysis of this opuscule and its relationship to Bessarion’s philosophical views and erudition in general.

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  • Mohler, Ludwig. Kardinal Bessarion. Vol. 1. Paderborn, Germany: Darstellung, 1923.

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    Though dated in some respects, pages 335–398 remain important because of Mohler’s analysis of the development the In Calumniatorem Platonis and of the De Natura et Arte, based on his critical edition of the original Greek text of these works in Volumes 2 and 3 respectively.

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  • Monfasani, John. George of Trebizond: A Biography and a Study of His Rhetoric and Logic. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1976.

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    Pages 201–229 constitute a detailed study of the Plato-Aristotle controversy and especially the confrontation between George of Trebizond and Bessarion.

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  • Monfasani, John. “A Tale of Two Books: Bessarion’s In Calumniatorem Platonis and George of Trebizond’s Comparatio Philosophorum Platonis et Aristotelis.” Studies in the Renaissance 22 (2008): 1–15.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1477-4658.2007.00469.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comparative study of Bessarion’s and George of Trebizond’s work, with fresh information on Bessarion’s work and its history after 1469.

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  • Monfasani, John. “Bessarion’s Own Translation of the In Calumniatorem Platonis.” Accademia: Revue de la Société Marsile Ficin 14 (2012): 7–21.

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    An investigation of the process of how Bessarion’s work became a Latin text and also how the Dominican theologian Giovanni Gatti was mainly responsible for the content of the new Bk. 3, which first appeared in the printing of 1469.

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Translations

Bessarion invested considerable labor in translating, initially as a way to improve his command of Latin, but eventually as a way to affect the thinking of his Latin audience. Since he tended to compose initially in Greek, his favorite author to translate from Greek into Latin was actually himself (Charlet 1987; Monfasani 1981 and Monfasani 1983). But he also translated Xenophon (Marsh 1992), Aristotle, Demosthenes, and St. Basil the Great. On occasion, he even rendered a Latin text into Greek. Hence we have from him a translation of a section of Peter Lombard’s Sentences and a revision of Demetrius Cydones’ translation of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa contra Gentiles (Fyrigos 2011 and Fyrigos 2012).

  • Charlet, Jean-Louis. “Traductions en vers latins de fragments grecs dans l’Epitome de N. Perotti et l’In calumniatorem Platonis de Bessarion.” Res Publica Litterarum 10 (1987): 51–67.

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    By comparing the translation of Greek poetry in early Latin version of the In Calumniatorem Platonis and in the revised text printed in 1469, Charlet is able to take the measure of Bessarion’s Latinity and distinguish what he translated from what Perotti translated in the 1469 printing.

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  • Fyrigos, Antonis. “Il cardinale Bessarione ‘traduttore’ della Summa contra gentiles di Tommaso d’Aquino.” Rivista di studi bizantini e neoellenici 48 (2011): 137–266.

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    Proves that Bessarion continued to study Thomas Aquinas in Greek after settling in Italy and revised in his own manuscripts Demetrius Cydones’ translation of Thomas, providing a detailed study of Bessarion’s revisions of Cydones’ translation of the Summa contra Gentiles.

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  • Fyrigos, Antonis. “San Tommaso a Bisanzio, il Cardinal Bessarione e la controversia su Platone e Aristotele nel Quattrocento bizantino.” In Bessarione e la sua Accademia. Edited by Andrzej Gutkowski and Emanuela Prinzivalli, 103–131. Miscellanea Francescana, 2012.

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    In the course of discussing Bessarion’s role in the Plato-Aristotle controversy, Fyrigos proves that Bessarion’s translation of a section of Peter Lombard’s Sentences postdates his arrival in Italy.

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  • Marsh, David. “Xenophon.” In Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum: Mediaeval and Renaissance Latin Translations and Commentaries. Vol. 7. Edited by Virginia Brown, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and F. Edward Cranz, 75–196. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1992.

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    On pp. 166–168, Marsh provides an edition of Bessarion’s preface to Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini for his translation of Xenophon’s Memorabilia along with an accounting of the manuscripts and printings of this translation.

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  • Monfasani, John. “Bessarion Latinus.” Rinascimento, n.s., 21 (1981): 165–209.

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    An examination of Bessarion’s program to make himself a Latin author through his own Latin writings and the translation and retranslation of his writings into Latin by his longtime secretary Niccolò Perotti (reprinted in Monfasani, Byzantine Scholars).

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  • Monfasani, John. “Still More on Bessarion Latinus.” Rinascimento, n.s., 23 (1983): 217–235.

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    Confirmation with fresh evidence of the argument of the earlier “Bessarion Latinus” and new information on Bessarion’s dedication of a sermon of St. Basil the Great.

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Library

Perhaps Bessarion’s greatest achievement was his library. Already one of the great libraries of the time, it became the historic core of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice and remains to this day one of the most important of all depositories of manuscripts of Greek and Latin texts from antiquity to the Renaissance. Bessarion formally bequeathed his collection to the Republic of Venice in 1468; he sent part of his collection on that occasion, and in 1474, two years after his death, the remaining books arrived in Venice (Labowsky 1979, Zorzi 1987). Because of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Bessarion determined to make his library a legacy depository of the Greek literary tradition, bringing together the largest collection of Greek manuscripts of the time (Mioni 1976), many of which have proven to be the most important or some of the most important extant witnesses of Greek classical texts (Mioni 1981–1985). He also collected a surprisingly extensive Latin library that in its own way has proven to be an immensely rich resource for students of Latin culture and literature (Bianca 1999, Monfasani 2012).

  • Bianca, Concetta. “La formazione della biblioteca latina del Bessarione.” In Da Bisanzio a Roma: Studi sul cardinale Bessarione. Edited by Concetta Bianca, 43–106. Rome: Roma nel Rinascimento, 1999.

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    A fundamental article for understanding how Bessarion’s impressive Latin collection took shape.

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  • Labowsky, Lotte. Bessarion’s Library and the Biblioteca Marciana: Six Early Inventories. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1979.

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    A classic in its own right as a study of a Renaissance library, Labowsky’s book is the definitive study of Bessarion’s bequest to Venice. Every item in the bequest and early inventories is analyzed and correlated as well as can be done with the modern collection.

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  • Mioni, Elpidio. “Bessarione scriba e alcuni dei suoi collaboratori.” In Miscellanea marciana di studi Bessarionei: A coronamento del V centenario della donazione nicena, 263–318. Padua, Italy: Antenore, 1976.

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    Although some of its attributions have been disproved, this article remains an important and rich study of Bessarion’s labor in creating his Greek library.

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  • Mioni, Elpidio. Bibliothecae divi Marci Venetiarum codices graeci manuscript: Thesaurus antiquus. Rome: Istituto Poligrafico dello Stato, 1981–1985.

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    The modern catalogue of the historic core of the Greek manuscripts of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, virtually all of which come from Bessarion’s bequest. By leafing through page after page of these volumes, one gains not only exact information concerning each manuscript, but also a sense of the enormous historical importance of these manuscripts individually and collectively.

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  • Monfasani, John. Bessarion Scholasticus: A Study of Cardinal Bessarion’s Latin Library, Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2012.

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    An analytical study of Bessarion’s Latin collection, with a summary catalogue of his holdings in medieval philosophy and theology.

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  • Zorzi, Marino. La Libreria di San Marco: Libri, lettori, società nella Venezia dei Dogi. Milan: Mondadori, 1987.

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    Pages 23–87 represent a synthetic study by a director of the Biblioteca Marciana of Bessarion’s relationship with Venice, his library as a whole and in detail, and his bequest to the Republic of Venice.

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Artistic Aspects

As a major Renaissance cardinal, Bessarion left his imprint in art history as a patron and the subject of pictorial representation. He is best known for endowing the chapel of St. Eugenia in his titular church, the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles in Rome (Schelbert 2007), and for the gift of a set of illuminated choral books to the Franciscans of Constantinople, now in Cesena, and of a famous reliquary, the Staurotheca, to a Venetian confraternity that is still preserved in Venice (Klein 2013, Lollini 1994b). Because Carlo Ginzburg made Bessarion’s visage an important factor in his 1981 interpretation of Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation of Christ, the study of images of Bessarion has become something of a cottage industry (Bianca 1999, Ginzburg 2001, Lollini 1994a, Ronchey 2013).

  • Bianca, Concetta. “Il ritratto di un greco in occidente: Il cardinale Bessarione.” In Da Bisanzio a Roma: Studi sul cardinale Bessarione. Edited by Concetta Bianca, 159–167. Rome: Roma nel Rinascimento, 1999.

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    A very learned discussion of the image of Bessarion as found in a large number of manuscript miniatures.

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  • Ginzburg, Carlo. Indagini su Piero: Il battesimo, il ciclo di Arezzo, la Flagellazione di Urbino. Turin, Italy: Einaudi, 2001.

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    First published in 1981, Ginzburg’s thesis that Bessarion’s visage is to be found in Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation has been controversial and fruitful in generating further study of Bessarion’s image and his relationship with Renaissance culture.

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  • Klein, Holger A. “Die Staurothek Kardinal Bessarion: Bildrhetorik und Reliquienkult im Venedig des späten Mittelalters.” In “Inter graecos latinissimus, inter latinos graecissimus” Bessarion zwischen den Kulteren. Papers presented at a conference held in Munich during 15–17 July, 2011. Edited by Claudia Märtl, Christian Kaiser, and Thomas Ricklin, 245–276. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2013.

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    The latest study of Bessarion’s famous Staurotheca, capturing the earlier literature.

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  • Lollini, Fabrizio. “L’iconografia di Bessarione.” In Bessarione e l’Umanesimo: Catalogo della mostra. Venezia, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, 27 aprile–31 maggio 1994. Edited by Gianfranco Fiaccadori, 275–283. Naples, Italy: Vivarium, 1994a.

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    A comprehensive study of the image of Bessarion in various settings, including in connection with his Staurotheca.

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  • Lollini, Fabrizio. “Bessarione e le arti figurative.” In Bessarione e l’Umanesimo: Catalogo della mostra. Venezia, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, 27 aprile–31 maggio 1994. Edited by Gianfranco Fiaccadori, 149–170. Naples, Italy: Vivarium, 1994b.

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    An attempt to survey Bessarion’s art patronage and analyze his tastes and the major themes of his patronage.

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  • Ronchey, Silvia. “Volti di Bessarione.” In Vie per Bisanzio: VII Congresso Nazionale dell’Associazione Italiana di Studi Bizantini, Venezia, 25–28 novembre 2009. 2 vols. Vol. 2. Edited by A. Rigo, A. Babuin, and M. Tizio, 537–548. Bari, Italy: Edizioni di Pagina, 2013.

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    An up-to-date survey of Renaissance images of Bessarion and the modern debate concerning their attribution and interpretation, encompassing Ronchey’s numerous earlier articles on Bessarion.

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  • Schelbert, Georg. Der Palast von SS. Apostoli und die Kardinalsresidenzen des 15. Jahrhunderts in Rom. Norderstedt, Germany: Books on Demand, 2007.

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    See pp. 66–76 (II.2: Johannes [sic] Bessaion), pp. 99–113 (III.3: Die Basilika zur Zeit Bessarions), pp. 140–152 (IV.2: Die Residenz Kardinal Bessarions [ca. 1443–1472]). Valuable because it treats Bessarion’s palace next door to the basilica as well as his commissions for the chapel of St. Eugenia in the basilica.

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