Renaissance and Reformation Manuel Chrysoloras
by
Christopher Hobbs
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0410

Introduction

Manuel Chrysoloras (b. c. 1350–d. 1415) was a Byzantine diplomat and influential teacher of early Italian humanists. Leonardo Bruni claimed that the study of Greek had been dead in Italy for seven hundred years until Chrysoloras revived it singlehandedly. While certainly exaggerated, such claims underscore the enthusiasm with which Chrysoloras was embraced by his pupils. A friend of the emperor, Manuel II Palaiologos, he left Constantinople to take up a professorship in Florence (1397 to 1400) at the behest of Coluccio Salutati. It was his diplomatic missions, however, that first brought Chrysoloras to Italy (Venice in the 1390s): he sought to win western military support for Byzantium against the rising Ottoman tide. He visited Venice, Padua, Genoa, Paris, London, Salisbury, Barcelona, and Bologna (1406–1411). Subsequently he settled in Rome (1411–1413) seeking to persuade the pope to convene a church council; he died at (or on the way to) the Council of Constance on 15 April 1415. Ultimately he converted to Catholicism. His pupils included Poggio Bracciolini, Leonardo Bruni, Guarino da Verona, Carlo Marsuppini, Niccolò Niccoli, Palla Strozzi, and Pier Paolo Vergerio the Elder. His influence lies chiefly in the enthusiasm for Greek scholarship which he instilled in his prominent pupils. His literary output, however, was rather small. He left behind a Comparison of the Old and New Rome in which he compared Constantinople and Rome. He wrote a textbook on Greek grammar, his Erotemata (Questions), which circulated widely and was the first Greek grammar to be printed (c. 1471). It was later used by Erasmus and Reuchlin; Guarino translated it into Latin. Chrysoloras was, unquestionably, a key figure in bringing Greek scholarship to Italy.

Life

There are two book-length studies on Chrysoloras’s life: Thorn-Wickert 2006 and Cammelli 1941. Detailed studies can also be found in Rollo 2017, Sabbadini 1890, Thomson 1966, and Wells 2006. Barker 2009, Kolbaba 1995, and Maltese 2000 situate his life within a broader context. For the physical likeness of Chrysoloras (namely a surviving drawing) start with Barker 1969 or Omont 1891.

  • Barker, John W. Manuel II Palaeologus (1391–1415): A Study in Late Byzantine Statesmanship. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1969.

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    See pp. 544–545 for a discussion of a pen drawing of Chrysoloras (Musée du Louvre, Paris); the drawing itself is reproduced on p. 262. See also the frontispiece of Cammelli 1941.

  • Barker, John W. “Emperors, Embassies, and Scholars: Diplomacy and the Transmission of Byzantine Humanism to Renaissance Italy.” In Church and Society in Late Byzantium. Edited by Dimiter G. Angelov, 158–179. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2009.

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    This work chiefly discusses Palaiologan diplomatic practices and Chrysoloras’s role as a ‘scholar-diplomat.’ It also contains a useful outline and discussion of his life (pp. 162–166).

  • Cammelli, Giuseppe. Manuele Crisolora. Volume 1 of I dotti bizantini e le origini dell’umanesimo. Florence: Vallecchi, 1941.

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    The first full-length study of Chrysoloras’s life and career. Older but certainly still worth consulting.

  • Kolbaba, Tia M. “Conversion from Greek Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism in the Fourteenth Century.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 19.1 (1995): 120–134.

    DOI: 10.1179/030701395790204136E-mail Citation »

    Essential context for ‘conversion’ in late Byzantium. While Chrysoloras’s own conversion to Catholicism is not mentioned directly, his teacher, Kydones (also a convert), is briefly discussed on pp. 132–133.

  • Maltese, E. V. “Introduction to: Manuele Crisolora, Roma parte del Cielo.” In Confronto tra l’Antica e la Nuova Roma. Translated and edited by Guido Cortassa, Torino: Utet, 2000.

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    For Chrysoloras’s life and another perspective on the debate over his decision to embark on his professorship.

  • Omont, H. “Note sur un portrait de Manuel Chrysoloras: conservé au Musée du Louvre.” Revue des Études Grecques 4.14 (1891): 176–177.

    DOI: 10.3406/reg.1891.5507E-mail Citation »

    For the portrait of Manuel Chrysoloras in the Louvre. Features from this portrait served as a model for a number of 15th-century representations of Aristotle (e.g., Wilson 2017, cited under Erotemata, pp. 13–14).

  • Rollo, Antonio. “Un tetravangelo appartenuto a Manuele Crisolora e una nota con la sua data di nascita.” Studi medievali e umanistici 15 (2017): 347–361.

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    Contains a discussion which attempts to establish Chrysoloras’s date of birth.

  • Sabbadini, Remigio. “L’ultimo ventennio della vita di Manuele Crisolora.” Giornale ligustico 17.9–10 (1890): 321–336.

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    Herein Sabbadini, the great scholar of Italian humanism, established the chronology for Chrysoloras’s life (especially for the years 1395 to 1415). Also useful to consult for manuscripts owned by Chrysoloras; for instance, he gave manuscripts containing dialogues of Plato to Vergerio.

  • Thomson, Ian. “Manuel Chrysoloras and the Early Italian Renaissance.” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 7.1 (1966): 63–82.

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    Chiefly of interest for Chrysoloras’s influence on his pupils and his broader influence, but this article also contains an interesting discussion on his decision to take up the professorship in Florence (pp. 76–82).

  • Thorn-Wickert, Lydia. Manuel Chrysoloras (ca. 1350–1415): Eine Biographie des byzantinischen Intellektuellen vor dem Hintergrund der hellenistischen Studien in der italienischen Renaissance. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2006.

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    The product of wide-ranging research, this biography brings together the studies on Chrysoloras’s life and offers new perspectives.

  • Trapp, Erich, and Hans-Veit Beyer, eds. Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 1976–1994.

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    Prosopographical entry in the standard reference work for the late Byzantine period.

  • Wells, Colin. Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World. New York: Delacorte Press, 2006.

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    Chapter four (“Chrysoloras in Florence,” pp. 66–88) provides a very readable survey of Chrysoloras’ life.

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