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).
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.