Aurispa and his 238 Greek manuscripts

We owe the preservation of a considerable portion of the Greek classics to the actions of a single man.  The Italian Giovanni Aurispa made a trip to Constantinople in the early fifteenth century.  On his return, in the winter of 1423, he came back with 238 Greek manuscripts.  Many of these are the only, the oldest or the best source that we have for the text they contain.

I’ve always been curious to know more of Aurispa, but the sources tend to be in Italian.  This is not one of my better languages.

Today however I learn of the source of the numeral “238″, which is often mentioned but never referenced:

In his famous letter to Traversari, dated 27 August (1424), Aurispa says he has 238 volumes of pagan Greek authors and gives the names of many of them, including the following: “Aristarchum super Iliade in duobus voluminibus, opus quoddam spatiosum et pretiosissimum; aliud commentum super Iliade, cuius eundem auctorem esse puto et illius quod ex me Nicolaus noster habuit super Ulixiade.”

Traversari seems to have requested the Aristarchus, for on 23 February (1425) Aurispa says he cannot send it because it is in Venice with the others (he was in Bologna then).[1]

I had no idea that Aurispa’s letters exist!  It would be most interesting to see the list of authors in that letter.  But how?

Diller gives the following reference: R. Sabbadini, Carteggio di Giovanni Aurispa, Rome, 1931, pp.11f., 24, 159f.  But surely there must be an earlier publication?

If so, I was unable to locate it.

  1. [1] Aubrey Diller, Aurispa and Aristarchus, Classical Philology 55 (1960), p.35-36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/265440

2 Responses to “Aurispa and his 238 Greek manuscripts”


  1. Timothy Kircher

    Sabbadini, who edited the Carteggio, has fairly good notes and marginalia listing the authors that Aurispa recalls. Sabbadini’s sources for the letter are two 18th-C. editions: Mehus’s edition of the letters of Ambrogio Traversari (1759), p. 712; and Martène and Durand’s 1724 Veterum scriptorum et monumentorum amplissima Collectio, vol. 3 (p. 1026). I am unaware of any editions of Aurispa’s letters later than that of Sabbadini.

    The “238″ are the number of volumes Aurispa sent on to Venice; they stand in addition to the volumes of sacred literature and the Procopius and Xenophon he either sent to Sicily or carried with him to Bologna.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Thank you so much for this extra information! I wish this whole subject was better known. I keep meaning to read more of Sabbadini, and never do.

    I must get hold of his publication of the Carteggio, then. Yes, I was aware of the “sacred literature” supposedly sent to Sicily; what do you know about that? I had not heard of the Procopius and Xenophon, nor of the possible destination of Bologna.

    Any information (with sources to pursue!) gratefully received!