Tag: Byzanz


The “father of humanism” did understand a bit about self-promotion. So Francesco PETRARCA (Ger., Eng.) worked his connections, notably via Dionigi di BORGO SAN SEPOLCRO (Eng.), an old friend who once gifted him with a valuable  copy of Augustinus’ confessiones that he had read on the Mount Ventoux (Eng., text), his connections I say to the king of Naples Robert d’Anjou (Ger., Eng.). He wanted to become a crowned poet, a poeta laureatus. And since the popes had left Rome, this crumbling village belonged to the domain of Robert il saggio. Francesco surely intended to become the official poet at the court of Naples; he even wrote  on a long and winding epos dedicated to Robert, Africa, but all this came to an end when the king died in January 1343. PETRARCA indeed was crowned in Rome in April 1341 (Ger.). The king couldn’t come by, so the senator count Orso dell’ANGUILLARA (It.) put the laurel on the poets head – he just jumped in because the king’s representative Giovanni BARILLI had fallen in the hand of robbers, travelling was always a bit of an adventure.
Because nobody had a real idea about how such a ceremony should proceed PETRARCA designed it the way he wanted it to be. He was allowed to keep the crimson cloak the king had sent over, maybe he simply didn’t need it anymore. Rumour has it that PETRARCA was very tall, 184 cm I read somewhere, what would have made him a giant in his time, so the coat may have been a bit tight-fitting around the shoulders.
This laureatio was based on weak foundations, after all it should honour the poetic œvre of the man, and Francesco’s was not that large at the time. He was busily writing letters, a clever diplomat, and one of the first European intellectuals who described (and mystified) his own life, but he was not good at writing an epos. As ALIGHERI (Ger., Eng.) had done. As the venerated antiqui had done – think Virgilius (Ger., Eng., works); as stands at the beginning of it all, an opus magnum of the calibre of a Homeros (Ger., Eng., Bav.): He never had read the Greek originals, he not even possessed a text, the old one would laugh on the daddy of humanism. This had to change.
In 1348 PETRARCA met the byzantine ambassador Nicola SIGER in Verona, who was on his way to Avignon. In the course of the conversation Francesco mentioned his Greek teacher BARLAAM (Ger., Eng.), who had been the teacher of BOCCACCIO (Ger., Eng.) in Naples too, and whom SIGER surely knew. PETRARCA wanted to possess a codex with the original text of Iliad and Odyssey, and either in the end of 1353 or the beginning of 1354 he received the promised (and valuable) gift. Still, he couldn’t read it.
Accidentally on a visit to Padova in 1358 he was introduced to a Greek-speaking man from Calabria, who just had returned from Byzanz, a disciple of BARLAAM called Leonzio PILATO (Ger., Eng.), who knew his Homer pretty well. One of the early Greeks who became important for the so-called renaissance (Eng.). PETRARCA grabbed the chance and charged PILATO with a test translation. In spring 1359 PETRARCA met BOCCACCIO in Milano and both of them decided that PILATO should translate both works, Iliad (Ger., Eng., Bav.) and Odyssey (Ger., Eng., Bav., listen in German, listen in English). BOCCACCIO managed to install PILATO as professor for Greek in Firenze, the first professorship of this kind in Western Europe, and put him to work. PETRARCA seems to have chipped in some money too. After three years the work was completed, and in 1363 PILATO travelled from Venice to Constantinople  – to deal in manuscripts. Three years later, 1366, Francesco learns to know that Leonzio was struck by lightning and killed while on the ship on his voyage back to Venice; in this year he finally received the copy of the translation BOCCACCIO had initiated, his beloved Homer.
PETRARCA retreated himself into the loneliness of Arquà (Ger., Eng.), near Padova, in Petraracadia, a last play with names. Here he found his last Arcadia, busy working, writing and translating, until the ark made of stone, the petrarca, would become his final resting place. The monumental stone sarcophagus stands on four pillars in front of the church of Arquà to this day.
When the box was opened the last time it was found that the skull belongs to a woman. The resurrection men (Ger., Eng.) did it all get wrong.


Some weeks ago a friend gave me the  German edition of NORWICH’s (Ger., Eng.) three volumes about Byzantium (Eng.). I read the second volume The Apogee with interest and joy. I realized that history’s point of view, as I was taught it in the last classes of the Gymnasium and later at the university’s seminars, was a bit one-sided, mostly from a Western (that is: Roman), and Northern (that is: from the Reich’s or German king’s) perspective.
NORWICH reaches in the course of the narration a very interesting man of the tenth century, LIUTPRAND of Cremona (Ger., Eng.). Like his father LIUTPRAND became a diplomat and led two diplomatic voyages to the court of Byzanz: The first 949 serving for BERENGAR II. (Ger., Eng.), a minor holder of power in Italy; the second, and well-known (Ger. radio program), 968, in the service of the Western emperor OTTO I. (Ger., Eng.) visiting NIKEPHOROS II. PHOKAS (Ger., Eng.), a total disaster described in his book Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana.
Ironically his first visit, when he represented a minor “National king” of Italy, when all he had to present was a letter riddled with lies looking a bit shabby besides the precious gifts the diplomats of Cordoba were presenting to the apostolic highness, was something like a success. LIUTPRAND had bought presents for the emperor on his own costs – mean BERENGAR later would deny to cover the expense – and to save face he presented armor, shields and other things made from gold and silver in the name of his master.
And finally

“four carzimasian slaves, who seemed to be of more value to the emperor than the other things mentioned. Carzimasians is the name given by the Greeks to young eunuchs, who had a full operation and even the rod removed. The merchants of Verdun try to get them for the incredible possible profit and use to export them to Spain.”

Please excuse the bad English: I translate a text NORWICH brought from Latin to English, an editor from English to German, and me finally back into English again. I should have a look into the original*, but I could not find the passage, and actually I can not go to the library. I knew that  there has been a European slave trade, but I thought it had ended with emperor KARL. I was surprised to learn that it was officially abolished in England f.e. only at the beginning of the 12th century. The German wikipedia article about the history of slavery states that “Prag and Verdun housed locations where slavic boys were castrated and made eunuchs for the  Islamic market”. Well, the emperor of Byzanz is anything else but a true follower of the prophet, so this is a not acceptable description. Castration (Ger., Eng.) normally refers to the innocuousness of the testicles, however reached – a full penectomy (Ger., Eng.) must be something rare, and when LIUTPRAND presented four “carzimasii” at a time he surely left an impact on the emperor.
Strangely enough I could find no reference to the word “carzimasii” in any lexicon I consulted, online or printed. Maybe there’s a reference in the edition NORWICH used.

* Liutprand von Cremona: Liudprandi Opera, Darmstadt 1971 (Freiherr vom Stein-Gedächtnisausgabe, VIII); darin Liudprandi Antapodosis und Liudprandi legatio; auch MGH Scrpt.rer.Germ. 41; Antapodosis, 6-8, 491.