Intellectual Networks of Humanists at the Councils of Constance and Basel in the 15th Century

Intellectual Networks of Humanists at the Councils of Constance and Basel in the 15th Century

By Takashi Jinno

The Communications and Networks of Medieval Cities in the West: The Sixth Japanese-Korean Symposium on Medieval History of Europe (2007)

Introduction: The vivid interests in the classical works of Greek and Latin authorities were revived in the 15th century. In this period many intellectuals who were called humanists could be seen in Italy. Such persons were mostly clergies who had a lot of opportunities for learning classical languages and reading the classics. Consequently they were impressed by elegant styles and secular world views which the classics involved. So, they began to write their works imitating styles of the classics and they discussed humanism of the classical authorities with those who had the same interests in the classics. As a result they could acquire new and unprejudiced perspectives to men and nature.

But, we don’t know precisely how the intellectuals in this period obtained the manuscripts of the classics. It has not been answered by modern scholars accurately how they acquired them. Of course, many famous works of the Greek classics were already translated from Arabic language or Greek language to Latin language from the 12th century onward in Spain and Sicily. Furthermore, at the time of the collapse of Byzantine Empire, numerous manuscripts of the Greek classics were brought from there to western Europe. However, it is not well known for us how the humanists in this period discovered Latin manuscripts of the classics in Europe. It might be thought that almost all Latin manuscripts of the classics had been discovered in libraries of Italian churches and monasteries. But, in fact, only few manuscripts had been discovered in Italy. Rather, the greater part of  important manuscripts were discovered in libraries of churches and monasteries in the north regions of the Alps. Especially, at the time of two councils which were held in the territory of Germany, namely, the council of Constance (1414-1418) and the council of Basel(1431-1449), Italian humanists who accompanied their ecclesiastical patrons to take part in the councils gathered many manuscripts of the classics in libraries of churches and monasteries in the north regions of the Alps.

Further, many humanists who came from Italy found not only manuscripts of the classics written by church fathers dealing with dogmas and teachings of church, but also a lot of manuscripts of the pagan classics treating with secular problems in the libraries of the monasteries of St. Gall, Reichenau, and Cluny, etc. during these two councils. Normally they copied them, but sometimes they took away them from churches and monasteries. What is more, the manuscripts of the classics were sold at markets in both cities during the openings of the councils. So, ecclesiastics and masters of universities who came from various regions of Europe to participate in the councils competed with others in buying manuscripts of the classics. In this paper, we want to consider the discoveries of manuscripts of the classics and the diffusion of the ideas of humanism in the15th century especially in Germany.

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