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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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Chronologically, the first to be named is a Greek of Calabria, in southern Italy, Barlaam, who died about the middle of the fourteenth century, who participated in the Hesychast quarrel. He put on the monastic habit in Calabria, changed his name from Bernardo to Barlaam, and spent some time in Thessalonica, on Mount Athos, and in Constantinople. The Emperor, Andronicus the Younger, sent him on an important mission to the West concerning the crusade against the Turks and the union of the churches. After a fruitless journey he returned to Byzantium, where he took part in the religious movement of the Hesychasts, and then went back to the West, where he ended his days. Barlaam is a personality of whom the first humanists often speak, and the scholars of the nineteenth century vary in their opinion of him. At Avignon Petrarca met Barlaam and began to learn Greek with him in order to be able to read Greek authors in the original. In one of his letters Petrarca spoke of Barlaam as follows: There was another, my teacher, who, having aroused in me the most delightful hope, died and left me at the very beginning of my studies (in ipso studiorum lacte). In another letter Petrarca wrote: He (i.e. Barlaam ) was most excellent in Greek eloquence, and very poor in Latin; rich in ideas and quick in mind, he was embarrassed in expressing his emotions in words. In a third letter he said: I always was very anxious to study all of Greek literature and if Fortune had not envied my beginnings and deprived me of an excellent teacher, now I might be something more than an elementary Hellenist. Petrarca never succeeded in reading Greek literature in the original. Barlaam also had some influence on Boccaccio, who in his work The Genealogy of the Gods (Genealogia deorum) calls Barlaam a man with a small body but enormous knowledge, and who puts entire confidence in him in all matters pertaining to Greek scholarship.

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Medieval West * The Making of Europe
Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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