Program in Hellenic Studies
Committee on Renaissance Studies


106 McCormick Hall
April 12-14, 2007


Paul Botley - Warburg Institute
"The Books of Andronicus Callistus, 1475-76"

Andronicus Callistus was one of the most able Greek scholars of his day. This paper examines the period between Callistus’ departure from Florence in March 1475 and his death in England in the following year. It addresses three questions. First, what circumstances led him to sell his important collection of Greek books at Milan in 1475? Second, what was the purpose of his subsequent journey to northern Europe? Third, can we identify any Greek books which he retained from the sale of his library to accompany him on this journey?

Gordon Campbell - Leicester University
"And knew not eating death’:  Milton’s Greek"

Much can be learned about the state of Greek in 17th-century England from an examination of the Greek of John Milton, who learned the classical version of the language from private tutors and from his teachers at St Paul’s School, and was also competent in New Testament and Patristic Greek. One example of his schoolboy Greek composition survives, as do a translation of Psalm 114 from Hebrew into Greek (1634), his annotations on his copies of the Phenomena of Aratus (1634; now in the British Library) and the tragedies of Euripides (1634; now in the Bodleian) and a scurrilous epigram at the beginning of his 1645 Poems. In addition to these examples, the paper will consider samples of Greek written by two of Milton’s contemporaries, John Potts (the sizar of Edward King, Milton’s Lycidas) and Charles Diodati (the closest friend of Milton’s youth). Finally, the paper will consider through the phrase in the title the possibility that Milton’s knowledge of Greek can be detected in his English verse.

Christopher Celenza - Johns Hopkins University
"Renaissance Hellenism"

This talks presents examines the emergence of Hellenism in the Renaissance by focusing on a mixture of ideals, texts, and historical confluences that, together, allowed Renaissance thinkers, ever hungry for things ancient, to appropriate the Hellenic world.  In the fourteenth century, both Petrarch (1304-74) and Boccaccio (1313-75) made attempts, ultimately unsuccessful, at learning Greek.  Yet it was not until the late 1390s, when humanism became rooted in a specific place, Florence, that a more systematic appropriation took place.  There and then, a university chair was established for Greek instruction, and it was filled by Manuel Chrysoloras, a Byzantine diplomat, with whom a number of humanists studied.  As one of them, Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), put it as he was deciding to quit his legal training, the lure was irresistible: “When you have a chance to see and converse with Homer and Plato and Demosthenes … will you deprive yourself of it?”  At the beginning of the fifteenth century, most major works of Plato and Plutarch were known only by reputation.  By the end of the century, Europeans found themselves in possession of almost all of the Greek works we possess today.  Beyond the textual acquisitions, however, there lay significant social and historical matters associated with Hellenism.  Though the humanist program wound up affecting most educated Europeans by the middle of the sixteenth century, in effect it was primarily Latinate; knowledge of Greek remained in the custody of a select few.  The anxiety of influence that pervades ancient Roman literature made itself felt in the Renaissance as well, as the Hellenic world remained a source of mystery, wisdom, and enticement.  Proceeding chronologically, this talk focuses on key figures, institutions, and cultural moments that shaped early modern Hellenism.

Nano Chatzidakis - University of Ioannina
"Renaissance Art After Byzantium: The Revival of the Antique in 15th and 16th Century Cretan Painting"

After the fall of Constantinople (1453), the island of Crete, which had been under Venetian rule since 1204, was the most important centre of artistic activity in the Greek world. The term 'Cretan Renaissance' has often been used in order to designate the flourishing of letters and the arts, under the impact of the coexistence of two different cultures, until the fall of the island to the Ottoman Turks (1669). In this paper I will  present a two-fold approach to the question of the revival of the antique in fifteenth and sixteenth century Cretan Painting: first, according to the legacy of Palaeologan Renaissance art, and second according to the degree of assimilation of western influences, particularly those of renaissance art through the wide diffusion of western engravings.

Stephen Gersh - Notre Dame University
"Hellenism in Renaissance Philosophy"

In this paper I shall look at the respective positions, with regard to the topic of “Hellenism”, of two of the most important thinkers of the fifteenth century: Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64) and Marsilio Ficino (1433-99).  Although the two philosophers – who have been considered as paradigmatic “Renaissance” thinkers – can usefully be compared and contrasted in terms of the range and type of their later influences, the present paper will mostly look backwards at their sources and hermeneutics.  On the side of similarity, we find Cusanus and Ficino placing the authority of Plato above that of Aristotle, orientating the Greek sources around a core of fundamentally Latin doctrine (especially Augustine and Boethius), and privileging the role of Dionysius the Areopagite.  On the other hand, we must contrast Cusanus’ reading of Greek authors through (medieval and humanist) translations with Ficino’s return to the reading of the original texts, and Cusanus’ emphasis upon the Neoplatonism of Proclus with Ficino’s preference for Plato’s and Plotinus’ doctrines.  In addition, although both writers attempt a systematic history of philosophy, only Ficino to a significant degree redeploys the late ancient “orientalist” thesis regarding the development of Greek thought.

Kristine Louise Haugen - California Institute of Technology
"The Birth of Tragedy in the Cinquecento:  Classical Scholarship and Literary History"

Why did sixteenth-century scholars care about the birth of Greek tragedy?  Indeed, absent a gripping theoretical reason like Friedrich Nietzsche’s, why should anyone care?  In this talk I point out, in the first place, that the form of the ancient tragedy was regularly discussed in 16th-century Italy, well before the scholars of the Florentine Camerata in the 1570s and 80s proposed that the Greek tragedy had been sung—a claim that led directly, many have argued, to the invention of the opera.

The questions that contemporaries asked about the tragedy took two overlapping directions.  What forms of poetry had been the tragedy’s precursors?  And how had it been performed in classical Athens? 

The story of their inquiries not only reveals their adventurous use of sources, as well their penchant for imaginatively reconstructing essentially undocumented aspects of antiquity.  It also alerts us to two important movements in 16th-century literary study that have often gone unexplored.  First, literary history enjoyed a broad currency as a method of research alongside textual criticism.  Secondly, these historians’ vexatious obligation to treat Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’ as a historical source placed them squarely inside the wider cultures of Aristotelianism (and anti-Aristotelianism) in contemporary Italy.

Jill Kraye - Warburg Institute
"The Revival of Greek Stoicism from the Renaissance to the Early Modern Era"

Although knowledge of Stoicism, mainly transmitted through the writings of Seneca and Cicero, was widely available in the Middle Ages, the Greek sources of Stoic philosophy did not become accessible in the West until the Renaissance. On the one hand, Greek doxographical works such as The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius and the anthologies of Stobaeus contained detailed information about Zeno, Chrysippus and the earliest period of Stoicism. On the other hand, the Enchiridion and Discourses of Epictetus, along with the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, enabled Western scholars to gain a deeper insight into the late Stoicism which flourished under the Roman Empire. Focusing on scholarly treatises and editions, vernacular translations and artistic representations, the aim of this paper is to trace the different ways in which Greek texts reflecting these two phases of Stoicism influenced attitudes towards the sect and its doctrines from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century.

Eric Nelson - Harvard University
"From Hellenism to Hebraism: The Transformation of Early-Modern Republican Thought"

Republican political theory underwent a dramatic transformation in the middle of the seventeenth century.  Before 1650, republicanism had always been a ‘relative’ position: those who argued in favor of republican government did so because they believed that republics were better than monarchies for various reasons.  None of them had any interest in arguing that monarchy was an illegitimate constitutional form.  This posture testifies to the remarkable dominance of Aristotelian constitutional analysis during the period.  Even the most radical republican authors were committed to the view that each of the three predominant regimes had both correct and degenerate forms, and that it was highly unlikely that any constitution would suit all polities at all times.  In the second half of the seventeenth century, however, we see for the first time the appearance of what we might call republican “exclusivism,” the claim that republics are the only legitimate regimes.  This paper will argue that the “exclusivist” turn was prompted by the Christian encounter with a tradition of rabbinic commentary on two chapters of the Hebrew Bible (Deut. 17 and I Sam. 8), according to which the Israelite request for a mortal king was regarded as an instance of the sin of idolatry.  It will further demonstrate that the English pamphleteers at the center of this story—John Milton, James Harrington, and Algernon Sidney—were themselves deeply conscious of the fact that they had abandoned the Aristotelian position under the influence of the “Talmudical commonwealthsmen.”  The paper’s conclusion is, therefore, that modern ideological republicanism has its roots, not in Athens, but in Jerusalem.

William Stenhouse - Yeshiva University
"The Remains of Greece, Collections, and History Writing in the Late Renaissance"

This paper examines the Renaissance reception of Greek antiquities by focusing on their place in late sixteenth-century collections. I will ask how these objects were displayed, discussed, and then used as evidence for the history of the ancient Greek world. In the middle years of the sixteenth century antiquarians met to discuss Roman remains, and worked out ways to use those remains in their reconstructions of Roman life and institutions; I will consider how far the same was true of Greek antiquities, and how the physical, linguistic, and cultural remoteness of Greece affected scholarly perceptions of their status, value, and meaning.

Emily Wilson - University of Pennsylvania
"Folly, Wisdom and Revelation: Erasmus’ vision of Socrates"

This paper will examine Erasmus as a key figure in the early modern reception of ancient philosophy.  Focusing on the Convivium Religiosum and the Praise of Folly, I will show how Erasmus works back through Latin sources (Cicero and his character, Cato), to discover or re-discover the Greeks: Plato, and his character, Socrates.  Socrates becomes the locus for Erasmus’ thinking about human wisdom and knowledge in general, and especially the sources of legitimacy or authority for truth.  As Alexander Nehmas has suggested (in relation to Montaigne and Nietzsche, not Erasmus), Socrates is a paradoxical model, because his “authority” seems to undermine the notion of authority.  He is an inspiration for independent thought – or at least for an ironic, ambivalent response to conventional received wisdom.  But Socrates also seems to be almost identifiable as a Christian man of faith – almost, but not quite.  I hope to use the tensions surrounding the figure of Socrates in the work of Erasmus as a prism through which to think about Renaissance views of Greek philosophical literature in general, and Plato in particular.

Alexander Lingas, director

Hellenes and Music in the Renaissance

Founding artistic director Alexander Lingas leads his ensemble Cappella Romana in a program of unaccompanied vocal works in Greek, Latin, and French born from meetings between East and West during the 15th and 16th centuries.

The first part of the program addresses the continuation of the Byzantine musical tradition immediately before and after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 in Greek lands under Italian rule or influence. Virtuosic music written for Greek Orthodox services in Western 2-part polyphony by the Byzantine court singer Manuel Gazes (early 15th c.) will serve as a prelude to the important musical contributions of John Plousiadenos, a prolific scribe, theorist, theologian, hymnographer and composer. Plousiadenos began his career as a priest in Venetian Crete before migrating to Italy, where he remained for nearly 20 years before completing his life as the Eastern Rite Catholic bishop of Methone (Modon) in the Peloponnesus. Cappella Romana will sing a number of works copied by Plousiadenos during one of his sojourns in Venice, including majestic acclamations for the ceremonies of the (by then extinct) Byzantine court and his own ecstatic compositions in the florid kalophonic (“beautiful sounding”) style. Listeners will also hear triumphal hymns that he wrote to commemorate St. Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Ferrara-Florence, thereby demonstrating his fervent support for contemporary (and controversial) efforts to unite Orthodox Christians to the Roman Catholic Church.

The second half of the program first considers Western musical responses to the Ottoman conquest, passing from the initial shock of Christendom’s defeat in Guillaume Dufay’s profound Lamentatio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae to secular and sacred uses of L’homme armé (“The Armed Man”), a song associated with the Burgundian court and its efforts to mount a rescue crusade against the Turks. The ultimate failure of these plans left Venetian Crete suspended religiously and musically between East and West until 1669, when it was conquered by the Ottomans. During the Renaissance, traditional Byzantine chanting continued to flourish on the island as simple styles of polyphonic singing—represented on this concert by several anonymous four-part works in Greek—also became a fixture of Orthodox services. In the Latin-rite churches of Crete’s Venetian ruling class, the cultivation of Western styles of sacred music produced a number of musicians who moved West for greater opportunities. Among the most important of these was Franghiskos Leontaritis (1518?-1572?), the son of a Greek mother and Italian father who eventually sang in Venice under Willaert in San Marco and in Munich under Lassus. Leontaritis composed a significant body of polyphonic sacred and secular works, from which Cappella Romana will sing five Latin motets.