Imágenes de páginas

which invested Ennius and Lucilius are not such as to make us bewail the ravages of time or of the popes. Dr. Drake in his Literary Hours' has drawn up some tables which exhibit, in three columns, the names of the principal authors of antiquity, the titles of their surviving compositions, and also of those which have perished; and from these it appears that, with the exception of the hundred and five books of Livy, and the Orations and Epistles of Cicero, we have not so much to lament the loss of as is commonly supposed. To be sure we have only six out of the many comedies of Terence, but they are probably the best.

But in Grecian literature the work of destruction has been much more extensive than Dr. Drake seems to imagine; the scanty catalogue which he has given, after Quintilian, of Greek authors, affords but a very imperfect idea of the loss which we have sustained.

The prevalence of the Greek language in the western parts of Europe, to an age comparatively recent, and the vast number of monasteries scattered over the Byzantine empire and the whole of Asia Minor, might, one would think, have ensured to posterity the works of many poets and philosophers, of whom nothing now remains but a few insignificant fragments.

The fact, however, is, that these very circumstances will serve in some measure to account for the loss in question. The Greek language, it is true, was prevalent in the eastern empire till the middle ages; but it was in a very corrupt form, debased by the alloy of Latin, French and Asiatic words and inflexions. A natural consequence was, that classical Greek was but little studied. This will generally be the case when a language is much altered from its original form. Men are satisfied with using it as they find it, and pay less attention to the ancient dialect of their own country than to the study of foreign languages. It must be confessed that this was not the case in Italy, where the Latin language was never lost sight of, notwithstanding the gradual change of the vernacular tongue. But this may be easily accounted for by the continued use of Latin in the theological schools and writings, and by the custom, which had long obtained, of making that language the vehicle of all learned discussion, and what is more, of the canon and civil law. The number of monastic institutions was also unfavourable to the preservation of ancient authors. The libraries of these establishments had probably by degrees engrossed almost all the copies extant; the classical authors, in the later ages of the Greek empire, were studied only in schools, and the schools were in convents; the teachers being universally monks, who took the trouble of transcribing only such portions of the poets and prose writers of antiquity, as were used in the course of their lectures, whilst the others were suffered to decay from age, or were cut up

to form the envelopes of their school books. That this was the case is rendered very probable by the following circumstance. Of the three easiest plays of Eschylus, a great many copies are ex tant, while of the more difficult tragedies there are not more than one or two MSS.; and the reason is, because they were seldomer used in schools. Thus too we may suppose, that the Epinicia of Pindar, being the most popular and easy of that poet's composi tions, were read in the schools, while his Threni, Hyporchemata, &c. were neglected, and the copies of them at length lost.

The writings of Menander, Philemon, and the later poets, were deemed unfit for the ears of Christian youth; and Aristophanes might have shared their fate, had it not been for the authority and example of Chrysostom, whose partiality for that witty buffoon is well known. That all the writings of Plato, and many of Aristotle should have been preserved, while the lucubrations of the Porch and of the later Academics have been suffered to perish, will excite no surprise in those who are versed in ecclesiastical history. The zealous endeavours of the Alexandrian school to engraft Platonism upon Christianity, and subsequently the prevalence of dialectic theology, are sufficient to account for the different fates which have attended the philosophers of antiquity, even independently of their own intrinsic merits.

It is impossible to fix, with any great degree of probability, the precise time, when so many valuable remains of antiquity disappeared; yet there are some data, which may assist us in forming a conjecture. Procopius the historian, who lived in the sixth century, quotes from a play of Eschylus which is now lost; and Simplicius, who wrote about the middle of the same century, quotes largely from the poems of Empedocles.* Photius, who was patriarch of Constantinople in the ninth century, gives extracts in his Myriobiblon, from many authors who no longer exist, and from others who survive in a mutilated state. It seems to be very doubtful whether he had consulted all, or many of the authorities, to which he refers in his Lexicon, which was most probably compiled by him from Diogenianus, Pausanias, and other more ancient lexicographers. Michael Psellus lived in the eleventh century, and is said to have written a commentary upon twenty-four comedies of Menander: but the story rests upon no good foundation; although it is quoted, as authentic, by Harris in his 'Philological Inquiries."

* A curious circumstance relative to these quotations from Empedocles deserves to be mentioned here. They are chiefly contained in his Commentary on Aristotle de Calo et Mundo, of which the only edition was that printed by Aldus in 1526. In this edition, the fragments of Empedocles bore so little resemblance to verse, that Sturzius, who collected and published them, was reduced to the necessity of re-making them. Mr. Buttmann, not content with Mr. Sturzius's attempt, remodelled the Empedoclea; when lo! Professor Peyron discovered, in the library at Turin, the original Greek of Simplicius, with the real verses of Empedocles, the printed edition being only a re-translation into Greek of a Latin version of Simplicius.

[ocr errors]

John Tzetzes, in his Chiliads, and Isaac Tzetzes in his commentary upon Lycophron, quote many writings which we know only by reputation; but they had probably no knowledge of them, except through the medium of more ancient grammarians, whose labours they appropriated to themselves, and afterwards perhaps destroyed the copies of them, as Photius is said to have done to the authors of whom he has given abridgments; and as Petrus Alcyonius is reported, upon bettergrounds, to have treated Cicero's treatise on Glory. Eustathius, Archbishop of Thessalonica in the twelfth century, had certainly no Greek authors who are not extant at the present day, if we except the grammarians from whom he compiled his Παρεκβολαί, or Excerpta; and the same is true of the Empress Eudocia Macrembolitissa, who composed her Violet-Bed towards the end of the eleventh century. We may therefore conclude, with some degree of probability, that those works of antiquity, of which we deplore the loss, had successively disappeared before the tenth century; perhaps before the eighth. We have already touched upon some of the causes of this disappearance; and the following observations will throw additional light upon the question. Petrus Alcyonius, in his treatise de Exilio,' tells us, that the Cardinal John di Medici (afterwards Pope Leo X.) used to say, that the Greek priests had obtained such an ascendancy over the Byzantine. emperors, that at their instigation orders were given to burn many of the ancient poets, particularly the lyric and comic writers; 'tum pro his,' he concludes, substituta Nazianzeni nostri poëmata, quæ, etsi excitant animos nostrorum hominum ad flagrantiorem religionis cultum, non tamen verborum Atticorum proprietatem et Græcæ linguæ elegantiam edocent. Turpiter quidem-sacerdotes isti in veteres Græcos malevoli fuerunt; sed integritatis, probita tis, et religionis maximum dedêre testimonium.'

This remarkable passage was misunderstood by Cardan, and afterwards by Colomies, who impute this atrocious act of arson to Gregory Nazianzen himself; whereas that worthy bishop had no hand in the affair, any further than that he wrote bad verses, which the Byzantine priests preferred to those of Menander and Álcæus. This account, as far as it relates to the influence of the church, is confirmed by a letter of Stephen Gerlachius to Martin Crusius, written from Constantinople, in the year 1574.* Libros philosophicos et poeticos Græci non curant; et quos scribis, plerosque ignorant. Et audio, ante aliquot secula, lectionem eorum, Calogeris (the Caloyers) quâdam superstitione interdictam fuisse. Ex quo tempore, studia humanitatis, artes et scientiæ, pleraque neglecta videntur ut doctiores jam solâ fere lectione Patrum contenti sint.' From some of the classical poets the monks were contented to expunge those passages which grossly offended against

[blocks in formation]

decency and morality, or to alter them, and transmit them corrected to posterity.

The most audacious innovator in this way was Maximus Planudes, a monk of the fourteenth century, who undertook to purify the Anthology. It was probably the same person who deprived Theognis of the 159 verses, which have been lately detected in one ancient MS. And if he had stopped here, we might not have had much reason of complaint; but in consequence of his injudicious curtailments, great confusion has been introduced into the Anthology at large; and besides this, it appears probable, that the loss of most of the valuable iambic fables of Babrius, is to be attributed to the prevalence of that wretched collection which Planudes made and published.

We must not omit to notice another cause of the mortality amongst ancient writers. Epitomes were made of the most voluminous; and the consequence was, that as these came into fashion, the originals fell into disuse, and so perished. Thus we have lost the first two books of the great work of Athenæus, the original of Stephanus of Byzantium, the valuable Lexicons of Harpocratio and Phrynichus, all of which are known to us only by their Epitomes.

We should be able to determine with greater probability the time, when the last copies of many ancient authors disappeared, if we knew exactly in what year the great library was burned, which consisted of 36,000 volumes, and which was situated in the Basilica of the Emperors at Constantinople. The foundation of it had been laid by Constantius, and Julian the Apostate greatly augmented it. This monarch was smitten with the Bibliomania; the following sentence from one of his Epistles* will, no doubt, be relished by some of our readers : ̓́Αλλοι μὲν ἵππων, ἄλλοι δὲ ὀρνέων, ἄλλοι θηρίων ἐρῶσιν· ἐμοὶ δὲ βιβλίων κτήσεως ἐκ παιδαρίου δεινὸς ἐντέτηκε πόθος. The library in question having been destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt by the Emperor Zeno in the fifth century, and formed part of a college which was inhabited by twelve professors. In the time of Leo the Isaurian, (A. D. 720,) it is said to have contained 36,500 volumes, and the later Byzantine annalists relate, that this emperor, who was a strenuous iconoclast, not being able to gain over the professors to his way of thinking, shut them up in their college, and having surrounded it with combustibles, reduced them and their books to ashes. But M. Basnage, in his Ecclesiastical History, refutes this story; and proves that this library is spoken of as subsisting in the next century. When it really was destroyed, he does not determine; but we think it not unlikely that it might have been accidentally burned during the reign of Leo, although the college may have been rebuilt, and the library partially re

* P. 163, Ed. 1583.

placed. If this supposition be not admitted, it may perhaps be thought to have been destroyed, when Constantinople was pillaged by the Crusaders in the thirteenth century.

But a library of far greater magnitude and importance, the destruction of which has been supposed to go a great way towards accounting for the loss of so many Greek writers, was that of Alexandria. Abulpharagius relates, that when that city was taken by the Caliph Omar, the contents of the library served to heat the numerous baths for six months. But the truth of this story has been often called in question; and Gibbon does not hesitate to treat it as a fiction: The tale,' he says, ' has been repeatedly transcribed; and every scholar, with pious indignation, has deplored the irreparable shipwreck of the learning, the arts, and the genius of antiquity. For my own part, I am strongly tempted to deny both the fact and the consequences.' Dr. Drake observes, that 'what tends strongly to prove that the destruction of these volumes by fire did not take place, is the vast treasure of antiquity still remaining with us;' an argument of no force, unless we suppose that of these treasures no copies were extant but those at Alexandria. And indeed one thing must be allowed, that such copies were extremely rare. If we take into account the troubles which desolated Greece and Asia after the death of Alexander, and which were succeeded by the Roman wars, we shall discoyer many reasons which may lead us to believe, that, before the commencement of the Christian era, manuscript copies of the more ancient Greek authors were principally confined to public libraries, and to the collections of wealthy individuals. That they were scarce in the time of Cicero, is proved by several expressions in his Letters to Atticus, who had collected some books during his residence in Greece; but at so high a price, that Cicero, who was then in full practice at the bar, could not afford to purchase them, not having saved a sufficient sum of money. Libros tuos conserva; et noli desperare, eos me meos facere posse: quod si assequor, supero Crassum divitiis, atque omnium vicos et prata contemno.'

But with regard to the Alexandrian library, it happens that we have one document, by which we are enabled to ascertain that its magnitude and value at the time of its destruction by the Saracens have been greatly overrated. It seems to have quite escaped the notice of those who have bewailed that catastrophe, that the original Alexandrian collection was pillaged, and dispersed, or destroyed, by the Christians, in the year 391, when they demolished the temple of Serapis : Unde,' says Orosius, hodieque in templis exstent, quæ et nos vidimus, armaria librorum, quibus direptis, exinanita ea a nostris hominibus memorant.'-Oros. VI. 15.


Taking it for granted then, that we have given at least a plausible account of some of the causes which co-operated towards the de

« AnteriorContinuar »