Chrysoloras, Manuel

Chrysoloras, Manuel
(ca. 1350-1415)
   Greek-born scholar, teacher, and diplomat, important in the history of the Renaissance as the first teacher to make a group of Western pupils sufficiently skilled in Greek that they could continue the development of Greek studies on their own. Born into an aristocratic family at Constantinople and renowned as a scholar, he became a friend of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II and in 1394 was sent to Western Europe to seek military and financial support against the Ottoman Turks. At Venice, Chrysoloras met a friend of the Florentine chancellor Coluccio Salutati, who persuaded the Florentine republic to employ Chrysoloras to teach Greek in the city. He reached Florence in early 1397 and stayed there until early spring of 1400.
   What made Chrysoloras more successful than earlier Greek language teachers in Italy was his broad mastery of ancient literature, Latin as well as Greek. He was fluent in Latin and hence could communicate with his Italian pupils far better than the masters who had tried to teach Greek to early humanists like Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio. Chrysoloras' reputation spread rapidly, and not only Florentines but also humanists from other parts of Italy came to study under him. Leonardo Bruni, one of the leading humanists of the next generation, abandoned the study of law to study with Chrysoloras because such an opportunity to learn Greek might never come again. Thus Chrysoloras opened the way to the permanent establishment of Greek studies among Western European humanists. Many of the most successful teachers of Greek in the next generation had been his pupils. He also influenced the humanists' ideas about translating texts. He was critical of medieval translators' practice of translating word for word. He argued that a good translation must convey the sense, not the words, of its original.
   About 1403 Chrysoloras returned to Constantinople, where he continued teaching and welcomed a number of Italian scholars who came east to learn Greek in its homeland. He made at least two later diplomatic missions to Italy and about 1405 became a convert to the Roman Catholic form of Christianity. In addition to seeking military assistance for his homeland, he also worked for the reunion of the Greek and Latin churches. Between 1407 and 1410 he travelled widely in northern Europe. He lectured on Greek literature at the University of Paris, but unlike Italy, where the growth of humanism had made many scholars realize the importance of Greek, neither Paris nor the other northern universities he visited felt the excitement that Chrysoloras' teaching had aroused in Renaissance Italy. In 1414 he accompanied the pope's delegation to the Council of Constance; while there, he fell ill and died, being then buried in the Dominican church in Constance.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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