Monday, November 06, 2017


La Plus Richa Joya Qui Al Mont Sia

Peter Lock, The Franks in the Aegean, 1204-1500 (1995; rpt. London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 299-300 (footnotes omitted):
Surprisingly the Latin occupation of Constantinople and the Aegean did not contribute significantly to the knowledge of the classics in the west. There were signs of an interest in Greek manuscripts on the part of a few exceptional scholars like William, a monk of St Denys who brought codices from Constantinople in 1167, but teachers and manuscripts in Greek were in short supply in the west in the twelfth century. Those involved in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 were not classical scholars; their concern was for precious metals and reliquaries and clearly libraries were not spared in their search for loot. Byzantine scholars of the late twelfth century like Eustathios of Thessalonika, Michael Choniates and John Tzetzes, a schoolmaster from Constantinople, had all read texts which disappeared forever in 1204, like works by Callimachus and Hipponax. Manuscript hunters from Italy did not tour the Aegean until the fifteenth century, but a modest start was made from a quite unexpected quarter, namely the diocese of Lincoln in England. When he became bishop in 1235 Robert Grosseteste (c. 1168-1253) was just getting into his stride as a Greek scholar. Both the chronicler Matthew Paris and the friar Roger Bacon described how the bishop gathered scholars and texts around him to assist in his translations of Greek theological works and, later, Aristotle's Nichomachaean Ethics. John of Basingstoke (d. 1252), who had visited Athens in the early thirteenth century, was made archdeacon of Leicester within months of his election. It may well have been he who stimulated the sending to foreign parts for scholars. Bacon stated that there were many Greeks in England and France at this time but only a very few who taught Greek correctly. Two of these 'veri Graeci' were in the Grosseteste circle — Robert Graecus and a magister Nicholas Graecus who seems to have been a clerk connected with the Abbey of St Albans which presented him to the church of Datchet (Bucks.) in 1239 and who in 1246 became a canon in Lincoln. Apart from the translation work, the 'Parcioarium', a Graeco-Latin lexicon, which made much use of the Suda in the bishop's translation, might also be attributed to this circle. It survives today in the College of Arms and was described by the late M.R. James as a monument to the study of Greek in thirteenth century England. Grosseteste did something to remedy the lack of teachers and books and his coincidence in time with the Latin occupation of the Aegean should not be dismissed lightly. He certainly inspired Roger Bacon (c. 1214-92), who regarded him as a pioneer in Greek studies, to produce a Greek grammar in the 1270s and to emphasise the importance of the Greek Fathers to theological studies, but both men were ahead of their times.
Id., p. 301:
This interest [in Greek history] did not extend to the preservation of ancient statuary about which attitudes were ambivalent. The magnificent group of gilded bronze horses were brought back to grace the facade of the basilica of San Marco but the bronze statues of pagan deities were melted down for small change. As Professor Setton has emphasized, the first aesthetic eulogy of a classical site from a western pen was written by Pedro IV of Aragon in 1388 when he described the Acropolis as 'the most precious jewel there is in the world' (la plus richa joya qui al mont sia). The king had never seen the Acropolis but was clearly moved by the accounts of those of his subjects like John Boyl who had.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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