Renaissance and Reformation George of Trebizond
by
John Monfasani
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0418

Introduction

George of Trebizond (born in Crete, very probably in Candia [modern Heraklion], 4/5 April 1396; died, Rome, after 28 November 1473) was one of the most significant figures of the Renaissance. He emigrated to Venice in 1416 and established himself with remarkable rapidity as a teacher of Latin and rhetoric in Venice and the Veneto. In the late 1430s he entered the papal court, then resident in Florence. In 1444, after the papacy had returned to Rome, he gained the office of papal secretary and spent the rest of his life, apart from some notable absences, in the Eternal City. Already by 1434 he had published what became one of the classic Neo-Latin texts of the Renaissance, the Rhetoricorum Libri V, to which in Florence in the late 1430s he added the Isagoge Dialectica, which in turn became a best seller to the mid-16th century. Once arrived in Rome, however, George embarked on a new career as a translator from the Greek, becoming in the end one of the greatest of Renaissance translators. Between 1442 and 1459, he translated most of the Aristotelian corpus, Plato’s Laws and Parmenides, Ptolemy’s Almagest, Demosthenes’ Oration on the Crown, and the Church Fathers Basil the Great, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebiusof Caesarea, Gregory Nyssenus, and John Chrysostom. Then, in the 1450s and 1460s, he got involved in the Renaissance Plato-Aristotle controversy, writing the first major Latin work in the controversy, the Comparatio Philosophorum Platonis et Aristotelis, which is a passionate defense of Aristotle and condemnation of Plato and the spread of Platonism in the Latin West. Underlying George’s attack on Plato was an apocalyptic vision that demonstrably motivated him from the 1430s to the 1460s, when he went to Constantinople to convert Mehmed the Conqueror to Christianity in order to save the world from the onslaught of Gog and Magog. Upon his return to Rome in 1466, his extravagant praise of Mehmed resulted in his spending four months in jail under suspicion of treason. In August 1469, his great opponent, Cardinal Bessarion (b. 1403–d. 1472), came out with the In Calumniatorem Platonis, which successfully set the parameters of the Plato-Aristotle controversy for the rest of the Renaissance. George outlived Bessarion and remained famous throughout the Renaissance, but because the unique 1523 printing of his Comparatio was so miserably done (based on an enormously flawed manuscript to which the editor added a new set of errors), in the end he lost the one great intellectual-theological battle of his life.

General Overview

The only full biography is Monfasani 1976, while Monfasani 1984 provides a complete bibliography with an edition of George’s letters and many of his works that had hitherto remained in manuscript. A useful recent survey is Viti 2000. Two letters by George have recently been shown to have been addressed to his great opponent in the Plato-Aristotle controversy that would break out a few years hence, Cardinal Bessarion. See Cattaneo 2017 and Speranzi 2017. Four other articles offer important new biographical information: Barbalargo 1984, Mosconi 1997, Ganchou 2008, and Ganchou 2009. The important edition of letters published in Cessi 1956 has not been superseded.

  • Barbalargo, Donatella. “Un documento inedito su Giorgio da Trebizonda: La donazione di tre sue opere al convento della Minerva di Roma.” Pluteus 2 (1984): 159–162.

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    Publishes a document dated 28 November 1473, by which George gives three manuscripts to the Dominican church of S. Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. This is the last report of George alive and it provides previously unknown biographical information.

  • Cattaneo, Gianmario. “A proposito dell’anonimo destinatario di due lettere del cardinale Bessarione.” Italia medievale e umanistica 58 (2017): 305–315.

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    In a discovery independent of and contemporary with Speranzi 2017, Cattaneo proves that two letters to Bessarion attributed to others are actually by George of Trebizond, then living in Naples, and constitute the background to what will be George’s attack on the Bessarion circle once he returned to Rome.

  • Cessi, Roberto. Saggi Romani. Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1956.

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    Provides an edition of a rich collection of George’s letters that Cessi had published earlier in journals.

  • Ganchou, Thierry. “Iôannès Argyropoulos, Géôrgios Trapézountios et le patron crétois Géôrgios Maurikas.” Thesaurismata 38 (2008): 105–212.

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    This article and its mate, Ganchou 2009, offer a great mass of surprising new information concerning George’s life, his family, and his relations with figures in Crete and Venice into the 1430s.

  • Ganchou, Thierry. “La dilemme religieux de la famille crétoise de Géôgios Trapézountios: Constantinople ou Rome.” In I Greci durante la venetocrazia: Uomini, spazio, idee (XIII-XVIII sec.): Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi, Venezia, 3–7 dicembre 2007). Edited by C. Maltezou, A. Tzavara, and D. Vlassi, 251–272. Venice: Istituto ellenico di studi bizantini e postbizantini di Venezia, 2009.

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    A companion to Ganchou 2008, this article proves that George’s father, Constantinos, was a priest, and that his younger brother, Christophoros, joined George in converting to Roman Catholicism.

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

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    The first half covers George’s life in detail and works out the complex chronology of the Plato-Aristotle controversy to his death; the second half treats his work in rhetoric and logic and offers a series of appendixes containing texts and discussions of various issues.

  • Monfasani, John. Collectanea Trapezuntiana: Texts, Documents, and Bibliographies of George of Trebizond. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies 25. Binghamton, NY: Center for Early Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1984.

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    An inventory of all manuscripts and printed editions of George’s writings; a detailed bibliographical discussion of the history of each of his authentic, doubtful, and spurious works; and an edition of his letters, opuscules, and relevant documents, with an important section of addenda-corrigenda on pp. 855–863.

  • Mosconi, Luigi. “La presenza di Giorgio da Trebisonda in Val di Bagno in una lettera di Gherardo Gambacorti a Leonardo Bruni.” In Comunità e vie dell’Appennino toscano-romagnolo. Vol. 1. Edited by P. G. Fabbri and G. Marcuccini, 115–126. Bagno di Romagna, Italy: Centro studi storici, 1997.

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    Publishes a letter of 31 May 1440 by the Tuscan lord Gherardo Gambacorti that is rich in information on George’s activities in the late 1430s–1440.

  • Speranzi, David. “Scritture, libri e uomini all’ombra di Bessarione. I. Appunti sulle lettere del Marc. Gr. Z. 527 (col. 679).” Rinascimento, ser. 2 57 (2017): 137–199.

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    See Cattaneo 2017 for the significance of the identical discovery that Speranzi made contemporaneously and independently of Cattaneo.

  • Viti, Paolo. “Giorgio da Trebisonda (Giorgio Trapezunzio).” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani 55 (2000): 373–382.

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    Provides new bibliography and a somewhat different perspective from Monfasani 1976.

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