19 November 2014

Cyriaco's Mycenae

Cyriaco's Mycenae, at Ag. Adrianos near Nauplion, 2 November 2014.

Nearly three years ago I wrote about Cyriaco's visit to what he thought was Mycenae,  to a small, elegant fortification near Nauplion.  At the time I inquired of various discussion lists “What did Mycenae mean in the Renaissance?” That question was too general and no response was ever offered, but a couple of weeks ago in Athens, Stella Chrysochoou, a scholar of cartography, brought up the topic from another angle.

She has found, in Plethon's copy of Ptolemy, annotations of the "modern" -- fifteenth-century -- names of Greek cities. For examples, Mt. Taygetos is Pentadaktylon, Stymphalos is Zaraka, Sikyon is Vasilika, and Kleonai and Nauplia are "the same".   Mycenae, however, Plethon had identified as "Polyphengos". Had he been there or did someone offer him the identification?   Polyphengos is actually to the NW of Mycenae, near Nemea.  Cyriaco's Mycenae is in the opposite direction, SE at Ag. Adrianos.

This means that at least two different sets of Cylopean stones were identified as Mycenae, neither of them accurately, and makes one wonder what was visible at Mycenae when Cyriaco was shown Ag. Adrianos in 1448.  Why did Cyriaco care about Mycenae? He doesn't say.

Before Mycenae, Cyriaco had been in Mistra with Plethon between August 1447 and April 1448 for at least two extensive visits, as well as exploring Mani.  He had with him a newly commissioned copy of Strabo which he had had received in Constantinople on 26 January.

Mycenae is to be found in Strabo 8.6.10 and Cyriaco was visiting in the general neighborhood.  Strabo gives Mycenae a page of attention, after Argos, and after mentioning the statues of Polykleitos at the Heraion.  Cyriaco was extremely enthusiastic about his discoveries of those very statues from the Heraion in the walls of a church. But what did his Venetian friends in Nauplion,  Pietro Rangano the scribe, and Joannes Bendramon, know about Mycenae?  Did Cyriaco pique their interest with his Strabo?  Of the three places Strabo mentioned in the immediate area -- Argos, Mycenae, the Heraion -- Cyriaco did not go to Argos.  Anyone from Nauplion would have told him that there was nothing there worthy of consideration.  But if he had known Plethon's identification of Mycenae, wouldn't he have gone there?  He doesn't mention Polyphengos. He never hesitated to travel several more days if he thought he might see something interesting.

Homer himself was not much interested in Mycenae, barely mentioning it in the Iliad as one of a cluster of cities under Agamemnon in the Catalog of Ships, and in the Odyssey as a place ruled by Aigisthos after he killed Atreides. It is Argos in the Agamemnon that gets the full benefit of the spectacular deaths.  It seems that Plethon and Cyriaco were more interested in Greek geography than in Greek literature and that is probably where Mycenae took on a little importance in the early Renaissance -- as one of a list of classical place names.

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