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Exploring the library of a 16th-century Cretan teacher

Federica Ciccolella

A group of manuscripts of the Bodleian Library in Oxford contain grammatical and literary texts from the library of Andreas Donos, who taught Greek in Crete between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries, while the island was under the rule of Venice. Donos’ books and papers represent a unique case of homogeneous library of a Renaissance Greek teacher handed down to us. Classicists, Byzantinists, and historians of the Renaissance would benefit from a systematic study of these neglected manuscripts: in addition to helping us reconstruct the methodology that a Greek teacher used in his classes, Donos’ texts shed light on the transmission of Greek grammatical and literary works in early modern times and reveal the spirit with which Greek was taught and learned in Crete after the fall of Byzantium, at a time when the preservation of the Greek literary tradition was at stake. 

This paper considers, first of all, the grammatical material used in Donos’ school. Donos and his assistants taught Greek using a wide range of Greek and Byzantine grammars: in particular, Theodosius’ Canons and Moschopulos’ Erotemata were employed at an elementary level, while the treatises by Michael Syncellus and Gregory of Corinth provided instruction on syntax. The almost total absence of the Renaissance Greek ‘grammars for foreigners’ by Manuel Chrysoloras, Theodore Gaza, and Constantine Lascaris and, conversely, the presence of the extremely rare grammar by Theodore Prodromos show the uniqueness of the Cretan tradition of Greek studies. At the same time, there are not two identical copies of the same text; excerpts, summaries, and charts show that Donos felt free to adapt traditional grammatical material to the ever-changing demands of his pupils by continuously creating new schoolbooks. Editing these texts, uncovering their sources, and reconstructing their transmission would contribute to the history of Greek grammar and language as well as recover the voice of a Renaissance teacher.  

Secondly, the literary texts on which Donos’ pupils practiced their grammatical notions allow some considerations on the history of Greek culture. Byzantine pupils generally began by reading poetry. In the 14th century, because of the increasing gap between written and spoken Greek, the place of the ancient poets was reduced; the new syllabus was based on simple texts with a moral content. On the one hand, the readers included in Donos’ manuscripts reflect this transformation; his interlinear glosses and marginal notes reveal an almost exclusive attention to the correct meaning and usage of words, which apparently was the main goal of his teaching. On the other hand, the importance that Donos attributed to poetry distinguishes his syllabus from the texts read at that time in Western schools of Greek and in Crete itself, where prose had replaced poetry. Consequently, Donos’ attention to poetry can be interpreted as an attempt to preserve the Greek cultural heritage in Crete while the island was under the Latin rule and the Turkish threat. The same spirit was behind the editorial enterprise of other Cretans such as Marcos Musuros and Zacharias Calliergis, as well as many other Greeks who engaged their energies to spread Greek culture in the West. 

Session/Panel Title

What Can Early Modernity Do for Classics?

Session/Paper Number

6.2

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