New College of the Humanities

The Expanding Horizons of Christopher Buondelmonti

Hilary Turner unrolls the life and achievements of a fifteenth-century Florentine humanist whose self-taught efforts at acquiring Greek and wandering the Aegean contributed to Renaissance mapmaking and a wider understanding of the classical world.

Moreover, if you can manage it with profit and honour, try, when you travel on business, to see a little of the world at the same time. Visit cities unknown to you, observe their customs, their governments and the habits obtaining in different countries. If you find you enjoy it, then do it for a year or two. In this way you will become more knowledgeable and more experienced in many things, and more wise. You will discover how to talk in society, you will be more highly regarded and so you will find yourself in a better position.

In these terms a successful Italian merchant, Giovanni Morelli, advised his sons at the end of the fourteenth century. He was probably a rather forward-looking parent; more than many, he appreciated how the long-established mental frontiers were opening up to new influences. It was into this world that Christopher Buondelmonti was born c.1380, a member of an indistinguished cadet branch of the powerful Florentine family. Later to describe himself as 'learned in Greek knowledge', by 1397 he would have been of an age to appreciate the instruction in the language given by the Byzantine prelate Manuel Chrysoloras, who had been invited to Florence by its chancellor, Coluccio Salutati, whom Buondelmonti calls 'preceptor'.

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