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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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The theological and mathematical essays, notes, and orations of Barlaam which are accessible afford no sufficient reason to call him a humanist. In all probability, his writings were unknown to Petrarca; and Boccaccio distinctly says that he has seen no single one of his works. Neither is there enough data to testify to his wide education or exceptional knowledge of literature, in other words, no reason to believe that Barlaam possessed enough talent or cultural force to exert a great influence on his most talented and educated Italian contemporaries, the leading spirits of the epoch, such as Petrarca and Boccaccio. Therefore we cannot agree with the exaggerated estimation of Barlaam's influence upon the Renaissance which appears sometimes in excellent works. For example, a German scholar, G. Korting, observed: When Barlaam, by his hasty departure from Avignon, had deprived Petrarca of the possibility of deeper knowledge of the Greek tongue and civilization, he destroyed thereby the proud structure of the future and decided for centuries the destiny of the European peoples. Small causes, great effects! A Russian scholar, Th. Uspensky, wrote on the same subject: The vivid conception of the idea and importance of Hellenic studies with which the men of the Italian Renaissance were filled, must be wholly attributed to the indirect and direct influence of Barlaam. Thus, great merit in the history of medieval culture belongs to him... On the basis of real facts, we may strongly affirm that he combined the best qualities of the scholarship then existing.

The role of Barlaam in the history of the Renaissance was in reality much more modest. He was nothing but a rather imperfect teacher of the Greek language, who could impart the elements of grammar and serve as a dictionary, containing, said Korelin, very inexact information. The most correct estimation of Barlaam's significance was given by A. Veselovsky: The role of Barlaam in the history of earlier Italian humanism is superficial and casual... As a medieval scholastic and enemy of Platonic philosophy, he could share with his Western friends only the knowledge of the Greek language and some fragments of erudition; but he was magnified by virtue of the hopes and expectations in which the genuine evolution of humanism expressed itself and to which he was unable to respond.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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