Program in Hellenic Studies
Committee for Renaissance Studies

Hellenic Studies 30th Anniversary

Renaissance Encounters:  Greek East and Latin West

John Monfasani (State University of New York, Albany)
“George Gemistus Pletho and the West: Greek Emigrés, Latin Scholasticism, and Renaissance Humanism”

George Gemistus Pletho visited Italy as a prominent lay member of the Greek delegation to the Council of Florence in 1438-39. But his contacts with the West, chronologically, intellectually, and personally, extended far beyond this one episode. Greek émigrés to the Latin West and Italian humanists corresponded with him and reacted to him in various ways, not all of which have yet been adequately studied.  Furthermore, though Pletho is generally --- and correctly --- viewed as the leading philosopher of late Byzantium, and despite his apparent anti-Latin attitude and even neo-paganism, he needs also be studied  within the context of the growing influence of Latin Scholasticism,  and especially of Thomas Aquinas, in this period. Opposition and influence are not mutually exclusive.

Katerina Ierodiakonou (University of Athens)
“The Western Influence on Scholarios’ Logical Commentaries”

The obvious place to detect a Western influence on late Byzantine Aristotelian commentaries is George (Gennadios) Scholarios’ (c. 1405–after 1472) extensive logical commentaries on Ars Vetus, that is to say his commentaries on Porphyry’s Isagoge, on Aristotle’s Categories and on the De interpretatione. For in the preface to his commentaries Scholarios himself explicitly says that the Latin logical works were particularly instructive to him both in terms of their content and in terms of their method; moreover, he proudly acknowledges that it is exactly this dependence on the non-Greek commentators that adds extra value to his commentaries and distinguishes them from those written by the other Byzantine scholars. Indeed, modern scholars in recent years have convincingly argued that large chunks of Scholarios’ logical commentaries are nothing but mere translations from Latin sources. So, should we understand the Western influenceonScholarios’ commentaries as having the character of a slavish dependence on the scholastic tradition? Or, does he manage to combine elements both from the Greek and the Latin commentary traditions in an innovative manner that makes it intriguing to carefully study how these are brought together in a coherent whole? My aim in this paper is to reappraise the extent of the Western influence on Scholarios’ logical endeavours, to try to understand the reasons which led a Byzantine scholar for the first time at the first part of the fifteenth century to take into consideration Western scholarship, and finally to investigate the further impact of his innovation to the next generations of Aristotelian commentaries.

Teresa Shawcross (University of Cambridge)
“Italian Political Thought and its Impact on Byzantium: The De regimine principis of Theodore Palaeologus, also known as Theodore of Montferrat”

This paper examines the impact on the Byzantine Empire of Italian political thought in the early fourteenth century. During a period of severe crisis in government, a heated debate can be shown to have developed at the court of Andronicus II Palaeologus regarding the appropriateness of introducing 'constitutional' reforms that would imitate recent developments in northern Italy.  Our focus in the paper will be on a specific treatise on rulership, the De regimine principis, written by an important Byzantine courtier who contributed to the debate, Theodore Palaeologus.  Theodore’s career spanned both the eastern and the western Mediterranean.  Born in Constantinople, he was the son of the reigning Byzantine emperor.  However, during his early childhood, he headed, together with his mother (a member of the Italian Aleramici family) and his siblings, a new, quasi-independent regime in Salonica, the second city of the empire.  In his teens, Theodore inherited the Marquisate of Montferrat.  He would spend his adult life in Italy, but did return to Constantinople on two occasions, most probably in order to advance a claim to the imperial throne.  The proposals made by him in the De regimine principis would become highly influential during the Renaissance, although not necessarily in the circles for which the treatise was originally intended.

Maria Georgopoulou (Gennadius Library, American School of Classical Studies at Athens)
“Sacred Commodities? Icons from Venetian Crete”

Since the late 1980’s religious icons of all periods have taken center stage in scholarly discourse especially with the publication of Hans Belting’s Likeness and Presence. The history of the image before the era of art (Chicago, 1994; German ed. 1990). At the same time many exhibitions originating in Greece and Russia have brought to light an astonishing number of post-Byzantine icons produced on the island of Crete from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, a period when Crete was a colony of Venice. The wide range of subjects, the varying quality, and the iconographic novelties observed in these icons beg for a thorough investigation of the circumstances in which they were produced and distributed. The sheer number of icons mentioned in late fifteenth-century contracts attests to an immense production of panel paintings in tempera at a time where oil painting was gaining ground in Europe. The repetition of religious themes painted according to older norms made these icons look outdated by the standards of the European Renaissance and Art. Moreover, because they have been primarily considered in the past as slavish imitations of famous Byzantine works, they never acquired a good standing within the realm of Byzantine art. Recently few art historians (Maria Konstantoudaki, Maria Vassilaki, and Robin Cormack) have argued for the richness of this material when placed within its early modern context. Following their footsteps I explore questions related to the trade of these icons in the sixteenth century: issues of quality and cost, function within the home or the church, and the meaning of the elusive terms “Greek” and “Latin” form. Focusing on a few specific objects my paper intends to investigate some of the central issues in the study of late medieval icons from Crete: Were these archaic-looking icons sought after as exotic, Eastern images that exuded sanctity? Who was buying them? How did they affect the artistic environment of transalpine Europe?

Linda Safran  (University of Toronto and Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
“Betwixt or Beyond?  Apulia in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries”

Italy may be the geographical center of the Mediterranean and the birthplace of many art history paradigms, but parts of it have fallen between the scholarly cracks.  For reasons both historical and historiographic, the Italian south has received far less attention than the rest of the peninsula. The province of Apulia in particular presents problems for Western medievalists because its linguistic and cultural ties to Byzantium place it outside the mainstream, while Byzantinists find it too Westernized. For Renaissance art historians, the action is all in the north and certainly not south of Naples.  Yet Apulia in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries is important for the challenges it poses to the usual taxonomies:  its culture is partly Greek and partly Latin, part Northern and part Mediterranean; its art is not quite Eastern and not entirely Western. Such ambiguity exposes the inherent weaknesses of common cultural and chronological labels.  Consider a rock-cut chapel repainted in 1379/80, where a family prays toward a representation of the Woman of the Apocalypse with paternosters over their arms.  Their prayer is painted in Greek, but their accoutrements and the object of their devotion are alien to a Greek-rite church.  Are they Byzantine or Western?  The Oxford History of Art handbook Art in Renaissance Italy, 1350–1500 implies that a painting in Italy dated 1379/80 is a Renaissance painting.  Apulian works, however, are never mentioned in the book.  When and where do such liminal works “fit”?  And why do we try to make them fit in the first place?  In the course of examining artistic production during a period of cultural transition in a much-neglected region, this paper critiques our dependency on binary opposites that have outlived their usefulness.

Maria G. Parani (University of Cyprus)
“Encounters in the Realm of Fashion:  Attitudes towards Western Styles in the Greek East

The present paper proposes to explore varying attitudes towards Western fashions in the lands of the Greek East, both those that had come under Latin rule as well as those that remained in Byzantine hands after 1204. Following an attempt, based on a survey of the written sources, to discover what the Byzantines thought of the styles sported by the Westerners with whom they came into contact, the discussion will turn to the adoption, adaptation, or rejection, of Western styles by the Byzantines themselves as part of their own wardrobe. This discussion will be structured as a series of case-studies focusing on various social groups as defined by historico-political environment, social position, economic condition, and gender and will be based on an analysis of the available archaeological, written and artistic evidence. It is hoped that this approach will not only help to highlight the diversity of attitudes towards Western dress styles in the Greek East but also to trace the historical and conceptual framework in which these fashion encounters, positive or negative, took place. Indeed, given that dress is one of the most potent signifiers of identity for both social groups and individuals, the investigation of Byzantine attitudes towards Western styles also raises questions related to the self-perception of the groups under discussion and the cultural values they ascribed to, which have to be addressed.

Maria Evangelatou (University of California, Santa Cruz)
“Between East and West:  The Symbolism of Space in the Work of Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco)”

The idiosyncratic style of El Greco’s Spanish period can be considered one of the most extraordinary outcomes of the interaction of Byzantine and Western traditions through the catalyst of the artist’s genius. This paper explores the symbolism of space in a number of El Greco’s works from his Cretan, Italian and Spanish periods, tracing the combination of Byzantine- and Western-inspired elements that enabled the artist to infuse his paintings with subtle intellectual and theological references. In this light, El Greco’s life and work are seen as an exposition on the transcendence of boundaries: the interaction and permeability of different realms of existence, first experienced through the union of the material and the spiritual in the Orthodox tradition of the Eastern Mediterranean and later manifested in the artist’s geographic, stylistic and intellectual itinerary in Western Europe.

Antony Molho (European University Institute, Florence)
“What Did Greeks See of Italy?  Thoughts on Byzantine and Tuscan Travel Accounts”

What did the Greeks see of Italy during their sojourn there in 1439 on the occasion of the Councils of Florence and Ferrara? Drawing on the great Chronicle of Syropoulos, and casting my observations against contemporary accounts written by Tuscan travellers to the Eastern Mediterranean, I reflect upon the differences between Byzantine and Tuscan travel narratives. Unlike other historians (from Mango to Galatariotou) who have studied or referred to Byzantine travel accounts, my own reading of these texts suggests that it is not so much their rhetorical constructions (ekphraseis) that distinguish them from comparable accounts written by Italian travellers, as the limited interest shown by the Greeks for their surroundings in Venice, Ferrara, and Florence. In my paper I document the striking difference of Greeks and Italians in reporting the sights (and sites) they observed, and suggest some cultural reasons for such a difference.

Judith Herrin (King’s College London)
“Unexpected Consequences of the Council of Ferrara-Florence: Manuscript Transmission after 1438/9”

The Council of Ferrara-Florence which met for nearly two years, 1438-9, was obviously a very significant meeting for eastern and western theologians, a hinge in relations between the Greek and Latin churches. In addition, it unexpectedly promoted a much wider appreciation of eastern traditions, in the form of manuscripts presented to Pope Eugenius IV (1431-47) and other texts carried by the participants. The council provided an occasion for George Gemistos Plethon to expound his interpretations of Plato, deeply appreciated by philosophers attached to the Medici court. It also brought Bessarion to Italy where he would shortly convert to the Catholic Latin faith – he was made a cardinal in 1439 – and he continued to encourage the study, copying and translation of Greek manuscripts. This included an edition of Diophantos’ Arithmetika made by Maximos Planoudes with scholia by John Chortasmenos (Bib. Marc. gr. 308). So in addition to the theological issues debated at the council, the East/West meeting itself generated greater interest in Byzantine and eastern scholarship, which will be explored in this paper.

Roderick Beaton (King’s College London)
“Boccaccio and the Greek World of his Time: A Missing Link in the ‘true story of the novel’?”

Margaret Doody, in her historical survey, The True Story of the Novel, comments: “It is almost harder to believe that Boccaccio did not know Heliodorus (in some form) than that he did.” This paper seeks evidence that would back that claim, based not on what is known of Boccaccio’s knowledge of ancient texts but rather of his awareness of the Greek world of his own time, as the medium through which he would have had access, if he did, to the fictional world of the ancient novel, prior to the writing of the Decamerone. The paper reconsiders evidence previously adduced but never before considered in:  (i) the alleged ‘Greek’ elements in the titles of Boccaccio’s early romances; (ii) the suggestion that he may have known the Greek epic/romance Digenes Akrites (based on the similarity of the names Arcita/Akrites); (iii) the recent/contemporary Greek world as portrayed in the Decamerone. A further, new, argument derives from a comparative reading of Fiammetta and of Eumathios Makrembolites’ novel Hysmine and Hysminias (c. 1150), in which it is argued that Boccaccio could have drawn upon the unique (for its time) sustained exploration of first-person narrative and the representation of individual consciousness by Makrembolites. In conclusion, it will be suggested that there is a balance of probability that Boccaccio was acquainted with aspects of Byzantine and ancient Greek fiction through the mediation of contemporaries active in the Frankish-controlled regions of Greece and the Levant.

Panagiotis A. Agapitos (University of Cyprus)
“The Poetics of Exoticism in French and Byzantine Romance:  The ‘Greek’ Cligès and the ‘Latin’ Livistros

The paper looks at two romances––Chretien’s Cligès (France, ca. 1170-76) and the anonymous Tale of Livistros and Rhodamne (Nicaea, ca. 1240-60)––as examples of “medieval exoticism”. The two texts offer represerntations of a contemporary Other (the ‘Greeks’ in the case of Cligès, the ‘Latins’ in the case of Livistros), that upon closer examination proove to be literary constructs based on culturally authoritative (qua older) texts, into which specific––highly politicized and historically relevant––images have been incorporated (e.g. “Byzantine eunuchs” in Cligès, “French female sexual behavior” in Livistros). Furthermore, the paper examines the way in which in Cligès and Livistros a particular aspect of this complex literary image of the Other (i.e. the metaphor of the “exotic artistic marvel”) is used in order to present the concepts of the two poets about the art and artifice of narrative erotic fiction. Finally, the Leipzig prose redaction of Cligès (AD 1454) and the Vatican redaction of Livistros (ca. 1470-80) will be used to show how the French and the Byzantine tales are transformed into Renaissance ‘de-historicized’ romances for non-aristocratic audiences. These are now new texts negotiating a different image of the Greek and the Latin Other than Cligès and Livistros had done in the twelfth and the thirteenth century.

Marc Lauxtermann (University of Oxford)
“Four Seventeenth-Century Grammars of Modern Greek”

The aim of this paper is to provide a short introduction to four grammars of the spoken Greek language written in the first half of the seventeenth century in Western Europe and to contextualize these grammars in terms of contemporary debates about language. The four grammars are those of Girolamo Germano (Rome, 1622), Metrophanes Kritopoulos (composed in 1627), Simon Portius (Paris, 1638), and Romanos Nikephorou (composed after 1638).

Elizabeth Jeffreys (University of Oxford)
“Byzantine Romances: Eastern or Western?”

This paper will deal with a long-standing question for which no satisfactory answers have been found – how much do the Byzantine romances owe to western models, and vice versa? Secular sustained fictional narratives were a rarity in Byzantium, and appear in two periods only – in the mid-twelfth century and the late thirteenth to early fourteenth. After a brief overview of the locations which might have provided opportunities for relevant cultural contacts – the Morea, Cyprus, Crete, Constantinople itself – both before and long after the Fourth Crusade, the social contexts implied by the content and the form of the romances in both periods will be explored. In the light of recent work suggestions will be made about the factors behind the genesis of these texts.