11. FIFTEENTH- AND SIXTEENTH-CENTURY HANDS
The fifteenth century saw the terminal decline and, in 1453, the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Already before the fall of Constantinople, many Greek intellectuals had begun to seek their fortunes in the Latin West, especially in Italy. They brought with them as many books as they could (this is the main reason why so few old Greek manuscripts are today found in Greece and why so many are found in Italy), and they made an enormous contribution to the Renaissance in Italy as well as in France and elsewhere. A considerable number of these Byzantine intellectuals found work as scribes or teachers in the West, again especially in Italy (see N. Wilson's book From Byzantium to Italy), where interest in Greek literature was so strong that by the end of the century a printing press devoted primarily to printing the Greek classics (the famous Aldine Press in Venice) was not only viable but a highly successful commercial enterprise. This is an important period for the transmission of many Greek texts, because so many manuscripts from this period are extant today, and also because many of them were produced by scholars who were quite capable philologists.
The increasing personalization of handwriting continued apace during the fifteenth century, and it is nearly impossible to treat the scripts of this period in a synthetic manner; the paleographical bibliography concerning this period consists mainly of studies of the production of individual scribes. There is of course some resemblance between the handwriting of different individuals, and an attempt was made by P. Canart and P. Eleuteri to categorize the hands of Greek scribes of the Renaissance period in a monograph published in 1991. The samples below illustrate each of their seven categories and also provide examples of the scripts of some of the most important scribes of this period.
A. "'Neoclassical' scholarly-calligraphical" group: Vat. gr. 1007 (Plutarch), copied in Constantinople by George Chrysococces (RGK 2,95; 3,127) in 1428 CE. This neat and tidy script is reminiscent of the so-called Metochitesstil of the preceding century. Chrysococces produced many copies of classical Greek texts for prominent patrons, among them the famous Italian humanist Francesco Filelfo (1398-1481), and it has been suggested that his script was at least partially conditioned by the requirements of his Italian patrons, who were becoming accustomed to reading (and writing) Latin in the (then innovative) humanist minuscule, noted for its simplicity and clarity. The general lack of abbreviations may also be a feature designed to appeal to non-native readers. For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Vat. gr. 1007.
B. "Sober" group: Urb. gr. 33 (Plato et al.), probably copied by the noted Italian humanist Leonardo Bruni (RGK 3,381). Bruni was one of the many pupils of the Byzantine refugee Manuel Chrysoloras, whose own hand may be seen in the Laur. 6,30 and is more or less accurately reproduced by his Italian pupils (including Bruni). Besides the small, regular module and the lack of abbreviations, this type of script is often characterized by heavy stroke contrast, which is of course a function of the pen more than of the script itself. For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Urb. gr. 33.
C. "Recherché" group: Barb. gr. 221, ff. 56v-65r (Cornutus), copied by Janus Lascaris (RGK 2,197; 3,245). Born in Constantinople around the middle of the fifteenth century, Janus Lascaris was one of the great Greek philologists of the Renaissance, preparing for print a number of important editiones principes in Rome and helping Francis I of France to organize his Royal Library at Fontainebleau. He came to Italy in his youth and studied under another Byzantine refugee, Demetrius Chalcondyles (RGK 1,105; 2,138; 3,171), whose "recherché" script also seems to have influenced his other pupils, who included Angelo Poliziano, the Englishman Thomas Linacre and the German Johannes Reuchlin. These are rather fussy scripts of generally small module with a few very tall letters and with many curly flourishes. For practice reading and transcribing this type of script, please see Vat. gr. 2659 (copied by Chalcondyles).
D. "Narrow slanted and pointy" group: Barb. gr. 221, ff. 47r-54v; 56r; 65v-71r (Galen, Cornutus), copied by Demetrius Moschus (RGK 1,97; 2,131; 3,165). This script is similar to the preceding one except that the curly flourishes are absent and that only tau is systematically stretched in height. A similar tall tau will continue to characterize the handwriting of many scribes throughout the sixteenth century. Many examples of this script feature a stroke contrast similar to the one noted in group B. For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Barb. gr. 221.
E. "Slanted cursive" group: Vat. gr. 1351 (Colluthus), copied by Constantine Lascaris (RGK 1,223; 2,313; 3,362) in Messina (Sicily) in 1498. Born in Constantinople, Constantine Lascaris was yet another immigrant scholar who became famous as a teacher of Greek in Italy; having taught in Milan, Rome and Naples, in 1466 he settled in Messina, where pupils came from all over Italy to study under him. His script was imitated by his many pupils, who included Giorgio Valla and Pietro Bembo. It includes the tall tau from the previous group, but is otherwise more nearly bilinear. The stroke contrast noted in groups B and D is again generally present. For practice reading and transcribing this script, please see Vat. gr. 1351.
F. "Baroque" group: Barb. gr. 252 (Porphyry), copied in Venice by Valeriano Albini of Forlì (RGK 1,336; 2,452; 3,530) in 1539. Albini, a prolific scribe but a rather shadowy figure, appears to have learned Greek in Venice from a fellow Italian, namely the sometime librarian of the monastery of S. Antonio di Castello in Venice, Agostino Steuco (1497/1498–1548), who, by the time Albini copied Porphyry in this manuscript, had been named Prefect of the Vatican Library. While the script of the previous four groups appears self-consciously simplified, even hesitant, whether for didactic purposes or to facilitate reading by non-native speakers of Greek, this type of handwriting, which appears at the beginning of the sixteenth century, is, on the contrary, very fluent and is characterized by extreme polymorphism, freely invented ligatures, and flourishes of the most varied kinds. For practice reading this script, please see Barb. gr. 252.
G. A number of scribes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries continued to write in ways which recall various scripts the previous centuries; forming a "Traditional" group. For obvious reasons, scripts like this can be difficult to date. Among the examples of this phenomenon we may name Ott. gr. 22 (Hermogenes of Tarsus, shown in the sample below), copied in Venice in 1458 by John Rhosos (d. 1498, RGK 1,178; 2,237; 3,298), a prolific scribe from Crete who spent most of his career in various parts of Italy; his script is very reminiscent of the "Hodegon" style of the previous century; however, in the "original Hodegon" script, you would be unlikely to find features like the line-justifying superscription of the final letters of μέθοδος or the abbreviation, with a flourish, at the end of παραλαμβάνεται which you can see in the sample below. For practice reading this script, please see Ott. gr. 22.
H. The final stage of our pathway takes place in the sixteenth century, when printed books began to be increasingly common. Early typographers naturally modeled their characters on the scripts of contemporary scribes; but soon scribes began to do what we do today, namely model their script on the letters they saw in printed books. Giovanni Onorio (RGK 1,174; 2,232; 3,286) has a place on both sides of this divide, since his script looks like a prime example of a "typographic hand" (often also called Druckminuskel ["Print-minuscule"], which is yet another coinage of Herbert Hunger), to the point that one often needs a second glance at it to make sure that it is was not in fact produced by a printing press. On the other hand, Onorio himself was involved in designing the Greek characters for the printing press which was set up in Rome in the early 1550's by Marcello Cervini (then Cardinal Librarian of the Vatican Library, later to become Pope Marcellus II). Many pages written by Onorio are found in manuscripts of the Vatican Library which were restored by replacing pages which had gone missing with new ones written by him; an entire manuscript written by him may be seen in Vat. gr. 588 (Saints Cyril and Athanasius of Alexandria). In the viewer below, you can see this manuscript alongside an Greek incunable (Theodore Gaza's Grammar, printed in Venice in 1495) and note the resemblance.
(left) Vat. gr. 588 (initial view: p. 128); (right) Inc. II 649 (initial view: f. 29r)