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He was born at Constantinople of a distinguished family, and was a pupil of Gemistus Pletho. In 1390 he led an embassy sent to Venice by the emperor Manuel II Palaeologus to implore the aid of the Christian princes against the Turks. Roberto Rossi of Florence met him there, and in 1395 Rossi's acquaintance Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia set off for Constantinople to study Greek with Chrysoloras. In 1396 Coluccio Salutati, the chancellor of the University of Florence, invited him to come and teach Greek grammar and literature, quoting Cicero:
- 'The verdict of our own Cicero confirms that we Romans either made wiser innovations than theirs by ourselves or improved on what we took from them, but of course, as he himself says elsewhere with reference to his own day: "Italy is invincible in war, Greece in culture." For our part, and we mean no offence, we firmly believe that both Greeks and Latins have always taken learning to a higher level by extending it to each other's literature."
Chrysoloras arrived in the winter of 1397, an event remembered by his most famous pupil, the humanist scholar Leonardo Bruni, as a great new opportunity: there were many teachers of law, but no one had studied Greek in Italy for 700 years. Chrysoloras remained only a few years in Florence, from 1397 to 1400, teaching Greek, starting with the rudiments. He moved on to teach in Bologna and later in Venice and Rome. Though he taught widely, a handful of his chosen students remained a close-knit group, among the first humanists of the Renaissance. Among his pupils were numbered some of the foremost figures of the revival of Greek studies in Renaissance Italy. Aside from Bruni, they included Guarino da Verona and Pallas Strozzi .
Having visited Milan and Pavia, and resided for several years at Venice, he went to Rome on the invitation of Bruni, who was then secretary to Pope Gregory XII. In 1408 be was sent to Paris on an important mission from the emperor Manuel Palaeologus. In 1413 he went to Germany on an embassy to the emperor Sigismund, the object of which was to fix a place for the church council that later assembled at Constance. Chrysoloras was on his way there, having been chosen to represent the Greek Church, when he died suddenly.
Though Chrysoloras became famous as a translator of Homer and Plato (The Republic), his works circulated in manuscript in his lifetime; two were eventually printed, his Erotemata (Questions). first published at Venice in 1484, and then widely reprinted, which was the first basic Greek grammar in use in Western Europe, and Epistolae III de comparatione veteris et novae Romae (Three Letters Comparing Ancient and Modern Rome). Many of his treatises on morals and ethics and other philosophical subjects came into print in the 17th and 18th centuries, because of their antiquarian interest.
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