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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
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Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The fall of Byzantium

Byzantium and the Italian Renaissance

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The second Greek who played a considerable role in the epoch of the earlier Renaissance was a pupil of Barlaam, Leontius Pilatus, who like his teacher came from Calabria and who died in the seventh decade of the fourteenth century. Moving from Italy to Greece and back again, passing in Italy for a Greek of Thessalonica and in Greece for an Italian and living nowhere without quarrels, he stayed for three years at Florence with Boccaccio, to whom he taught Greek and gave some information for his Genealogy of the Gods. Both Petrarca and Boccaccio spoke of Leontius in their writings, and depict in a similar way the refractory, harsh, and impertinent character and repulsive appearance of this man of such bestial manners and strange customs. In one of his letters to Boccaccio, Petrarca wrote that Leontius, who left him after many insolent remarks against Italy and the Italians, on his journey sent him a letter longer and more disgusting than his beard and hair, in which he exalts to the skies hated Italy and vilifies and blames Greece and Byzantium, which he greatly exalted before; then he asks me to call him back to me and supplicates and beseeches more earnestly than the Apostle Peter besought Christ commanding the waters. In the same letter are the following interesting lines: And now listen and laugh: among other things, he asks me to recommend him by letter to the Constantinopolitan Emperor, whom I know neither personally nor by name; but he wants this and therefore imagines that (that Emperor) is as benevolent and gracious to me as the Roman Emperor; as if the similarity of their title identified them, or because the Greeks call Constantinople the second Rome and dare to regard it not only as equal to the ancient, but even as surpassing it in population and wealth. In his Genealogy of the Gods Boccaccio described Leontius as horribly ugly, always absorbed in his thoughts, rough and unfriendly, but the greatest living authority on Greek literature and an inexhaustible archive of Greek legends and fables. While he was with Boccaccio, Leontius made the first literary Latin translation of Homer. However, this translation was so unsatisfactory that later humanists judged it desirable to replace it by a new one. Taking into account the fact that Leontius, as Boccaccio stated, was indebted to his teacher Barlaam for much of his knowledge, Th. Uspensky said that the importance of the latter must rise even higher in our eyes.

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