St John's College : Erotemata of Manuel Moschopoulos

St John's College

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript, probably produced in the late 14th century, contains the <i>Erotemata of Manuel Moschopoulos</i>, a grammatical textbook written by the grammarian, classical scholar and teacher who worked in Constantinople in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Grammars in the genre of Erotemata (Questions) were structured as a dialogue of questions and answers. Moschopoulos's work was the most influential text of its kind produced in Byzantium, dealing with its subject matter more concisely and accessibly than earlier, more exhaustive works. It provided the model for all the major Greek grammars of the Renaissance, and, although these successors improved upon it, it long remained in widespread use among both native speakers and western European students of Greek.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript retains a binding in the Byzantine style, whose blind-tooled ornament includes the imperial double-headed eagle. Given the date of the manuscript, it is plausible to suppose that this binding is the original one.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The binding incorporates endleaves of parchment waste, made up of two parts of a Byzantine imperial document issued in the middle of the 14th century, whose text is not preserved elsewhere. It belongs to a rare type, the <i>chrysoboullos horismos</i>, a formal grant made by the emperor and authenticated by his seal in gold, but less solemn and elaborate than the traditional <i>chrysoboullos logos</i>. Since the latter part of the document is not preserved, it lacks the date of issue and the name of the emperor responsible. However, the few other known examples of this category of document belong to the early years of the personal rule of John V Palaiologos, which began in 1354, after he overthrew the regime of his father-in-law and co-emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (Magdalino, 'Pronoia grant', pp. 155-156). It was almost certainly issued by one of these two emperors.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The grant is an example of <i>pronoia</i>, the practice, increasingly common in the later centuries of Byzantium, of assigning tax revenues from a given area to soldiers, officials and relatives of the emperor. It confers the revenues of the small island of Marmara (Prokonnesos) near Constantinople to Manuel Sergopoulos for his lifetime. Sergopoulos was a personal retainer (<i>oikeios</i>) of the emperor, who held the court title of <i>parakoimomenos tes sphendones</i>. This was traditionally a high office of the imperial bedchamber, which in earlier centuries had always been held by a eunuch, with particular responsibility for the imperial signet ring used for sealing documents. However, by this period its holders had ceased to be eunuchs and it may well have become merely an honorific title without specific functions, like many other positions in the Byzantine court hierarchy. Little is known of Manuel Sergopoulos beyond what is revealed in this document, but a man of that name was sent by John VI on an embassy to Egypt in 1349.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Prerogatives explicitly assigned to Sergopoulos by this grant included the island's sales tax and pasturage dues, and the right to buy its inhabitants' produce at market rate before it was offered to other purchasers. While the degree to which <i>pronoia</i> entailed the delegation of governmental powers and duties is a matter of much debate, Sergopoulos is here given responsibility for aspects of the island's security and its settlement ("οἰκισμός"). This was a time of acute political and military insecurity, and Marmara was devastated by an earthquake in 1344. It could be that one goal of the grant was to promote economic recovery by conferring authority over the island on someone with a vested interest in its prosperity. By this period <i>pronoia</i> grants often were or became hereditary, but the fact that within probably only a few decades this valuable document had become scrap fit for reuse in a binding suggests that the grant was not extended beyond its initial lifetime term, if indeed it endured that long.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript evidently found its way to Italy within a few decades of its creation. A note on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(5);return false;'>f. 1r</a> identifies it as the property of the Florentine banker, politician and humanist scholar Palla Strozzi (1372-1462), on loan to the Monastery of Santa Giustina in Padua, with a stipulation that it should not be sold. Strozzi was one of the founders of Greek studies in Renaissance Italy, supporting the pivotal recruitment of the Byzantine scholar Manuel Chrysoloras to teach in Florence from 1397 and studying under his tuition. He continued throughout his life to act as a patron of Greek scholarship, and acquired numerous Greek manuscripts. The manuscript has been extensively annotated in Greek and Latin by an Italian hand of this period, but it is not that of Strozzi. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Strozzi was exiled from Florence in 1434 for his leading role in political opposition to Cosimo de'Medici, and thereafter lived in Padua until his death. He bequeathed some of his books, including Greek manuscripts, to the Monastery of Santa Giustina, but this one is not among those listed in this bequest (L. A. Ferrai, 'La biblioteca di Santa Giustina di Padua', <i>Inventario dei manoscritti delle biblioteche di Francia</i>, 3 vols. ed. G. Mazzatinti, (Rome 1887), vol. 2, pp. 549-661 at pp. 569-572). It also does not appear in the inventory of the monastery's books begun in 1453 and updated until 1484 (<i>ibid</i>, pp. 579-661). There is a Greek paper manuscript of Erotemata listed, but it is described as being bound without boards (<i>ibid</i>, p. 626 (no. 602)). However, it is possible that this manuscript's original status as a loan led to its omission from the inventory. Supposing that the monks failed to return the manuscript, it may soon have left Santa Guistina, since many of the monastery's books were dispersed in the late 15th century, and a search in 1599 could find none of the manuscripts bequeathed by Strozzi in its collections. Its subsequent history is unknown, until its acquisition by the 19th-century Professor of Archaeology, Churchill Babington.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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