This paper analyzes a series of contemporary religious and political glosses transmitted in a manuscript copy of lectures delivered on Thucydides in early Reformation Germany (Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, cod. philol. 166). Asit stands, this manuscript claims a unique and important status as one of the oldest – if not theoldest – examples in existence of lectures delivered on Thucydides in the Latin West during the Renaissance. This group of lectures, moreover, can be connected to no less a figure than the eminentre former Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), professor of Greek at the University of Wittenberg and theological right hand man to Martin Luther.
Studying the popularity of Thucydides during the resurgence of Greek studies in the Renaissance proves to be an endeavor with many blank spaces. Virtually no extensive commentaries on the historian exist from the Italian Quattrocento, and there is very little evidence (outside of Lorenzo Valla's 1452 Latin translation) to suggest that Renaissance scholars were actually interacting with Thucydides' infamous style of Greek. Modern studies on Thucydides' reception often make a considerable jump at this point, occasionally looking to the political theory in the works of Machiavelli or Guicciardini in the early 1500's, or going still further to the monarchial absolutism of Thomas Hobbes and his English translation of 1628. Thanks to Marianne Pade's work on Thucydides in the Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum, however, we can now see that Thucydides enjoyed considerable popularity across the Alps in the German Renaissance, and especially among certain Humanist members of the early Protestant Reformation. In this environment, numerous commentaries, translations, and teaching aides appeared on Thucydides' thought and language.
Despite Pade's work, however, very little detailed research has been done on the reception of Thucydides in German Protestant Humanism. This paper is a small step toward correcting this gap in our knowledge of Thucydides' reception. The manuscript itself consists of copies of lectures on the first three books of Thucydides, consisting of three different parts, one dated to 1542, one to 1555, and another undated. It begins with a prolegomena section, situating Thucydides' history into the wider frame of universal (and, by extension, theological) history. What remains is largely a loose Latin translation with short informal introductions to important sections, along with historical and rhetorical explications on the text.
Though this manuscript acts primarily as a teaching tool, it does employ a number of short comments about affairs external to the text; specifically, biblical correspondences to the time frame that Thucydides writes about, and comparisons to contemporary political and military affairs. These brief but exceedingly interesting comments will be the focus of my presentation. As Melanchthon sees it, Greek power had lasted 600 years, from the Trojan War to its demise in the Peloponnesian war, corresponding to the 600 year period between king Saul and king Cyrus. Individual states (Sparta, the Roman Republic, Israel, Poland, etc.) last 500 years. Now, the “Germanicum Imperium” (the Holy Roman Empire), had reached its 500thyear, and was in the process of falling apart; very likely, apocalyptic end times were close at hand. Art-hating Spartans become the uncouth Turks, Venetians look strikingly Athenian, and foedera/σπονδαÎ¯ become one of the defining causes of the war, something we need to eschew as much as possible. But these are just a few examples.
There is just one short article dealing with this particular manuscript (also by Pade), which gives only a brief overview of its contents and connects it with other scholars within Melanchthon's circle. No work has been done on the comments that Thucydides elicited about contemporary politics and religion in this incipient phase of his scholarship, but there certainly is much to learn. In a period of wildly complicated and constantly shifting political and religious relations, it should not be a surprise that Thucydides piqued the interest of these Humanist reformers.