Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

literature of Greece, and the first to interpret to the middle ages the logical treatises of Aristotle. He thereby gave the signal for the age-long conflict between Nominalism and Realism, which exercised the keenest intellects among the Schoolmen, while the crowning work of his life, the Consolatio Philosophiae (524), was repeatedly expounded and imitated, and reproduced in renderings that were among the earliest literary products of the vernacular languages of modern Europe. His contemporary, Cassiodorus (c. 480-c. 575), after spending thirty years in the service of the Ostrogothic dynasty at Ravenna, passed the last thirty-three years of his long life on the shores of the Bay of Squillace, where he founded two monasteries and diligently trained their inmates to become careful copyists. In his latest work he made extracts for their benefit from the pages of Priscian (fl. 512), a transcript of whose great work on Latin grammar was completed at Constantinople by one of that grammarian’s pupils in 527, to be reproduced in a thousand MSS. in the middle ages. More than ten years before Cassiodorus founded his monasteries in the south of Italy, Benedict of Nursia (480-543) had rendered a more permanent service to the cause of scholarship by building, amid the ruins of the temple of Apollo on the crest of Monte Cassino, the earliest of those homes of learning that have lent an undying distinction to the Benedictine order. The learned labours of the Benedictines were no part of the original requirements of the rule of St Benedict; but before the founder’s death his favourite disciple had planted a monastery in France, and the name of that disciple is permanently associated with the learned labours of the Benedictines of the Congregation of St Maur (see Maurists).

(b) Greek Studies.—Meanwhile, the study of the Greek classics was ably represented at Rome in the Augustan age by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (fl. 30-8 B.C.), the intelligent critic of the ancient Attic orators, while the 1st century of our era is the probable date of the masterpiece of literary criticism known as the treatise On the Sublime by Longinus (q.v.).

The 2nd century is the age of the two great grammarians, Apollonius Dyscolus (the founder of scientific grammar and the creator of the study of Greek syntax) and his son Herodian, the larger part of whose principal work dealt with the subject of Greek accentuation. It is also the age of the lexicographers of Attic Greek, the most important of whom are Phrynichus, Pollux (fl. A.D. 180) and Harpocration.

In the 4th century Demosthenes was expounded and imitated by the widely influential teacher, Libanius of Antioch (c. 314-c. 393), the pagan preceptor of St Chrysostom. To the same century we may assign the grammarian Theodosius of Alexandria, who, instead of confining himself (like Dionysius Thrax) to the tenses of τύπτω in actual use, was the first to set forth all the imaginary aorists and futures of that verb, which have thence descended through the Byzantine age to the grammars of the Renaissance and of modern Europe.

In the 5th century we may place Hesychius of Alexandria, the compiler of the most extensive of our ancient Greek lexicons, and Proclus, the author of a chrestomathy, to the extracts from which (as preserved by Photius) we owe almost all our knowledge of the contents of the lost epics of early Greece. In the same century the study of Plato was represented by Synesius of Cyrene (c. 370-c. 413) and by the Neoplatonists of Alexandria and of Athens. The lower limit of the Roman age of classical studies may be conveniently placed in the year 529. In that year the monastery of Monte Cassino was founded in the West, while the school of Athens was closed in the East. The Roman age thus ends in the West with Boëthius, Cassiodorus and St Benedict, and in the East with Priscian and Justinian.

(iii.) The Middle Ages.—(a) In the East, commonly called the Byzantine Age, c. 530-1350. In this age, grammatical learning was represented by Choeroboscus, and lexicography by Photius (d. 891), the patriarch of Constantinople, who is also the author of a Bibliotheca reviewing and criticizing the contents of 280 MSS., and incidentally preserving important extracts from the lost Greek historians.

In the time of Photius the poets usually studied at school were Homer, Hesiod, Pindar; certain select plays of Aeschylus (Prometheus, Septem and Persae), Sophocles (Ajax, Electra and Oedipus Tyrannus), and Euripides (Hecuba, Orestes, Phoenissae, and, next to these, Alcestis, Andromache, Hippolytus, Medea, Rhesus, Troades,) also Aristophanes (beginning with the Plutus), Theocritus, Lycophron, and Dionysius Periegetes. The principal prose authors were Thucydides, parts of Plato and Demosthenes, with Aristotle, Plutarch’s Lives, and, above all, Lucian, who is often imitated in the Byzantine age.

One of the distinguished pupils of Photius, Arethas, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (c. 907-932), devoted himself with remarkable energy to collecting and expounding the Greek classics. Among the important MSS. still extant that were copied at his expense are the Bodleian Euclid (888) and the Bodleian Plato (895). To the third quarter of the 10th century we may assign the Greek lexicon of Suïdas, a combination of a lexicon and an encyclopaedia, the best articles being those on the history of literature.

Meanwhile, during the “dark age” of secular learning at Constantinople (641-850), the light of Greek learning had spread eastwards to Syria and Arabia. At Bagdad, in the reign of Mamun (813-833), the son of Harun al-Rashid, philosophical works were translated by Syrian Christians from Greek into Syriac and from Syriac into Arabic. It was in his reign that Aristotle was first translated into Arabic, and, shortly afterwards, we have Syriac and Arabic renderings of commentators on Aristotle, and of portions of Plato, Hippocrates and Galen; while in the 10th century new translations of Aristotle and his commentators were produced by the Nestorian Christians.

The Arabic translations of Aristotle passed from the East to the West by being transmitted through the Arab dominions in northern Africa to Spain, which had been conquered by the Arabs in the 8th century. In the 12th century Toledo was the centre of the study of Aristotle in the West, and it was from Toledo that the knowledge of Aristotle spread to Paris and to other seats of learning in western Europe.

The 12th century in Constantinople is marked by the name of Tzetzes (c. 1110-c. 1180), the author of a mythological, literary and historical miscellany called the Chiliades, in the course of which he quotes more than four hundred authors. The prolegomena to his scholia on Aristophanes supply us with valuable information on the Alexandrian libraries. The most memorable name, however, among the scholars of this century is that of Eustathius, whose philological studies at Constantinople preceded his tenure of the archbishopric of Thessalonica (1175-1192). The opening pages of his commentaries on the Iliad and the Odyssey dwell with enthusiasm on the abiding influence of Homer on the literature of Greece.

While the Byzantine MSS. of the 11th century (such as the Laurentian MSS. of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and the Ravenna MS. of Aristophanes) maintain the sound traditions of the Alexandrian and Roman ages, those of the times of the Palaeologi give proof of a frequent tampering with the metres of the ancient poets in order to bring them into conformity with theories recently invented by Moschopulus and Triclinius. The scholars of these times are the natural precursors of the earliest representatives of the Revival of Learning in the West. Of these later Byzantines the first in order of date is the monk Planudes (d. 1330), who devoted his knowledge of Latin to producing excellent translations of Caesar’s Gallic War as well as Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Heroides, and the classic work of Boëthius; he also compiled (in 1302) the only Greek anthology known to scholars before the recovery in 1607 of the earlier and fuller anthology of Cephalas (fl. 917).

The scholars of the Byzantine age cannot be compared with the great Alexandrians, but they served to maintain the continuity of tradition by which the Greek classics selected by the critics of Alexandria were transmitted to modern Europe.

(b) In the West (c. 530-c. 1350).—At the portal of the middle ages stands Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), who had little (if any) knowledge of Greek and had no sympathy with the secular