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Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.03.57 09.06.

18 22:35

BMCR 2018.03.57 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.03.57

N. G. Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy: Greek Studies in the Italian


Renaissance. Second edition (first published 1992). London; New
York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. Pp. xi, 231. ISBN
9781474250474. $35.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Renate Burri, University of Berne (renate.burri@cgs.unibe.ch)

Preview

A quarter of a century after the publication of From Byzantium to Italy: Greek


Studies in the Italian Renaissance,1 Nigel G. Wilson has prepared a second edition
of this classic work. It remains an essential introduction to the reception of classical
Greek literature in humanist Italy. A first, slightly revised edition of the book
appeared in 2000 in Italian translation, and was reprinted in 2003.2 The author
updated the work once more for its 2015 French translation.3

The new 2017 English edition is a reasonably priced paperback, but it is also
available as an eBook (at the same price). According to the five lines added by the
author to the Preface to the first edition (p. x), the principal motivations for this
revision are the considerable amount of research done in the meanwhile, as well as
new findings in the fields treated in the book. For this purpose, “various adjustments
have been made, and a large number of the notes have been brought up to date” in
the text of this new edition. Nonetheless, the newly designed cover presents the
book – correctly, as we will see – as a “Second Edition” rather than as a revised
edition. The Table of Contents and the structure of the book are identical to the first
edition, but the pagination is not. After a short Preface and List of Abbreviations,
the material is arranged in a chronological overview of the theme and presented in
fifteen chapters of various lengths, some of which are divided into subchapters. The
chapters and subchapters are dedicated mostly to protagonists or places. The last
chapter, the Conclusion, is followed by the Notes, more precisely endnotes,
referencing the body of the work and organized in sequence by chapter.4 These are
primarily, but not exclusively, bibliographical references. Indexes conclude the
volume.

The main focus of the book is the revival of Greek studies, including the reception
and production of (usually) Latin translations of Greek classical works in Italy,
bridging the late medieval and early modern periods. Planned as “a sequel to
Scholars of Byzantium (p. ix), another classic by Wilson,5 the narrative’s first main
actor in the book under review is the Calabrian Leonzio Pilato. He produced – it

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Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.03.57 09.06.18 22:35

seems at the suggestion of the leading Italian authors of that time, Petrarch and
Boccaccio – complete Latin versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as a Latin
translation of the beginning of Euripides’ Hecuba. Pilato also lectured on these
authors in Florence in the early 1360s. But it was only with the Byzantine diplomat
Manuel Chrysoloras, appointed Greek professor in Florence in 1397, that a
continuous tradition of teaching and studying Greek in Italy was established. He
provided Italian humanists such as Leonardo Bruni, Ambrogio Traversari, Guarino
Veronese, and many others with the requisite know-how and he set new standards,
thanks to his Greek grammar book, the Erotemata, and his method of translating
idiomatically instead of verbum pro verbo.

Wilson concludes his narrative in 1515 – the year of Aldus Manutius’ death.
Manutius was the founder of the most significant Renaissance publishing house.
Located in Venice, this firm established its reputation in large part through the
editing of Greek texts. Theocritus was the first Greek text printed by the Aldine
publishing house, appearing in 1495. From 1498 onwards the Cretan emigré
Marcus Musurus became Manutius’ expert collaborator in preparing Greek editions.
The publishing house’s activities had a deep and lasting effect on scholars and
students. However, they were less kind to copyists, whose services became
increasingly expendable. Musurus’ death only two years after Manutius’ concluded
“one stage in the history of scholarship” (p. 177). At that point, the editions and
Latin versions of Greek texts produced to date were based on only one or a very
small number of manuscripts, and these were mostly not the most important textual
witnesses. Wilson argues that, all in all, the corpus of Greek classical literary works,
as far as it was extant after the Fourth Crusade in 1204, was preserved nearly
completely by humanists active on Italian soil.

The bulk of the amendments in this second edition are found in the Notes.
Numerous notes have been updated, and two thirds of the chapters now have one to
five additional notes. I would have expected the book as a whole and the
bibliographical information in particular to have been updated on a larger scale, but,
as already stated, this is a second and not a revised edition. Additionally, mostly
likely in keeping with his practice in the first edition, the author appears to refrain
from mentioning some titles if they “did not seem to offer a real contribution to the
point [he] wished to argue” (p. x). Still, the Notes should have been reworked more
carefully, especially as far as style and consistency are concerned.6

The book is generally free of errors, but there are a few typographical mistakes,
some of which are not present in the first edition, even though the text was not
altered in the relevant passages for the second edition.7

Apart from these quibbles, it remains a pleasure and a thrill to read this book.
Wilson’s language is clear and concise. The author focuses on the essential but still
enlivens the narrative with enjoyable and exciting anecdotes without ever losing the
thread of his argument. He finds the right balance between sticking to facts and
launching hypotheses on the basis of possible relations and links. In the age of
companions and conference proceedings, this monograph particularly captivates
thanks to the homogeneity of its contents and themes, as well as the sharpness of its
focus. 8

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Notes:

1. London: Duckworth, 1992.


2. N. G. Wilson, Da Bisanzio all’Italia: gli studi greci nell’umanesimo italiano,
edizione italiana, rivista e aggiornata, traduzione di Barbara Sancin (Alessandria:
Edizioni dell’Orso, 2000, ristampata ibid., 2003).
3. N. G. Wilson, De Byzance à l’Italie. L’enseignement du grec à la Renaissance,
traduit par Henri Dominique Saffrey (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2015), p. 14: “Je
suis heureux d’avoir une nouvelle occasion de faire une révision pour cette édition
française.”
4. In the Italian and French translations (see above notes 3 and 4), the Notes
appear as footnotes.
5. N. G. Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium (London: Duckworth, 1983).
6. For instance, references to works cited in an earlier chapter consist sometimes
only of the name of the author + “op. cit.” + page(s) (see, e.g., p. 197, n. 5),
sometimes “op. cit.” is additionally followed by “at Ch. #, n. #” (see, e.g., p. 188, n.
5), sometimes “op. cit.” is replaced by a short title of the work in question (see, e.g.,
p. 187, n. 1). For books, place and year of edition are usually indicated, but in a few
instances the place is replaced by the publisher’s name (see, e.g., p. 186, n. 8). Note
4 on p. 185 is supplemented with further references, but the text of the following
number appears unchanged so that the first word of it, “Ibid.”, now refers to the
wrong title. In n. 19 on p. 201 a reference to a preceding note has not been adapted
to the new numbering of the notes due to the insertion of an additional note.
7. These include: (p. 33) “pracsertim” for “praesertim”, (p. 42) “Muntua” for
“Mantua”, (p. 91) “Vittorino’s school He” for “Vittorino’s school. He”, (p. 92) “he
would he blamed” for “he would be blamed”, (p. 121) “empire the Enchiridion” for
“empire, the Enchiridion”, (p. 198) “Coaimo” for “Cosimo”, (p. 207)
“Miscellanca” for “Miscellanea”, (p. 228) “Modens, Biblloteca” for “Modena,
Biblioteca”. A few errors can be found in text additions (p. 86: “He write” for “He
wrote”, p. 186: “MS. Urh.” for “MS. Urb.”, p. 210: “Matese” for “Maltese”). One
further error has not been corrected from the first edition (p. 215: “intiera” for
“intera”).
8. I wish to thank Y. N. Gershon for various suggestions pertaining to the text and
English phraseology of this review.
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