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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

Byzantium and the Italian Renaissance


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In considering what influence was exerted on the Italian Renaissance by the medieval Greek tradition in general and by the Byzantine Greeks in particular, it is important to remember that it was not interest in and acquaintance with classical antiquity that called forth the Renaissance in Italy. On the contrary, the conditions of Italian life which evoked and developed the Renaissance were the real cause of the rise of interest in antique culture.

In the middle of the nineteenth century some historians thought that the Italian Renaissance was called forth by the Greeks who fled from Byzantium to Italy before the Turkish danger, especially at the fall of Constantinople in 1453. For example, a Russian Slavophile of the first half of the nineteenth century, J. V. Kireyevsky, wrote: When after the capture of Constantinople the fresh and pure air of Hellenic thought blew from the East to the West, and the thinking man in the West breathed more easily and freely, the whole structure of scholasticism collapsed at once. Obviously, such a point of view is quite untenable if only for no other reason than elementary chronology: the Renaissance is known to have embraced the whole of Italy by the first half of the fifteenth century, and the chief leaders of the so-called Italian humanism, Petrarca and Boccaccio, lived in the fourteenth century.

There are, then, two problems; the influence of the medieval Greek tradition upon the Renaissance and the influence of the Byzantine Greeks upon the Renaissance. Considering the latter first, what sort of Greeks were those whose names are connected with the epoch of the earlier Renaissance, i.e. the fourteenth century and the very beginning of the fifteenth?

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A History of the Byzantine Empire - Table of Contents

Appendix : Emperors of the Byzantine Empire (324-1453)

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