03 December 2014

Bessarion's missing manuscript

Bessarion's index to Marciana Gr Z 533 (coll 778).

Five-thirty-three, as we call it here in this house (feeling that “Gr Z” and “coll. 778” are just plain pedantic in normal conversation), is a collection of Bessarion's writings that he put together himself and for which he wrote the index and an introduction.  His introduction to 533 says, in part, 

Of the writings included here, some were produced while I was still young and setting myself to the practice of writing for the first time, while I still had no ecclesiastical rank, since I was still tender in my years . . . Others in this collection, going on as time allowed, were published, some at the time of my ordination as I was brought into holy orders, others when I became patriarch . . . in addition a long letter to the Despot Constantine when I had already been raised to the rank of cardinal -- these letters which, even if they are not worthy of deep thought, I have an affection for as my own children, and I have put them in the book as a reminder for ourselves, rather than of value for others.

Bessarion's Introduction.

Despite the fact that Bessarion was well into his forties when he wrote the letter to Constantine in 1444, this collection in 533 is persistently called his “juvenalia,” which gives a completely incorrect expectation of its contents. Here are the contents of 533 (I am trying here to read the text above):

* Encomium
* Monody for Manuel II.
* Discourse to the emperor Alexis of Trebizond.
* Legal act in the name of the archbishop of Sophia.
* Monody for the empress Theodora of Trebizond.
* Another monody for her.
* Another monody for her.
* Epitaph to ??? (crossed out)
* Epitaph for George Amiroutzes. (crossed out)
* Canon to S. Pantaleon.
* Letter to ???
* Letter to the same.
* Another letter to Amiroutzes.
* Epitaph for the basilissa Cleofe.
* Epitaph for the basilissa Theodora.
* Verses for a tapestry for the tomb of Manuel and Helena.
* Letter to Theodoros II.
* Letter to the same
* Letter to Paul Sophianos.
* Letter to Demetrios Pepagomenos.
* Letter to Nikephoros Cheilas.
* Letter to the monk Dionisios.
* Letter to John Eugenikos.
* Letter to the monks Matthaios and Isidoros.
* Address to the synod of Constantinople in the name of the archbishop of Trebizond.
* Description of Trebizond.
* Homily
* Monody to John VIII on the death of his wife Maria of Trebizond.
* Another monody for her.
* Another monody for her.
* Speech made at the opening of the Council of Union in Ferrara.
* Discourse on Union.
* Letter to Constantine, Despot of Mistra.

Notice that the contents include 7 monodies -- 7 formal funeral laments which were sent as gifts to the family of the dead and read out at formal memorial services. One monody was for Manuel II, but the other 6 monodies are for women -- for two women, actually.

Which brings us to the missing manuscript. A monody.

His monody for Cleofe Malatesta Palaiologina is missing.  533 has a number of document from his Mistra period -- letters, and three poems for members of the imperial family, one of them Cleofe.  Why would he have omitted this monody?  Granted, it is fairly tedious and even incoherent in places, but so are the other monodies listed (except for Manuel's). It could not have been later removed from 533: all the pages are accounted for in his index.

I can speculate (with no evidence) as to why he would have decided to omit this document from 533, but the monody is missing from all the other manuscripts of his writings as well. The sole copy is to be found -- or was found ninety-some years ago -- in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and printed in volume 4 of Spyridon Lampros' 
Παλαιολόγεια καὶ Πελοπονησιακά in 1924/30, along with other monodies for Cleofe.  The monody  by Cheilas follows Bessarion's in the Paris manuscript.  The Pepagomenos monody is in the Vatican.  There are several copies of the Plethon monody -- thanks to his magic name -- in Madrid, Bucharest, Belgrade, the Escorial, Leiden, with two in Milan. 

The other three monodies for Cleofe seem unique.  The Bessarion monody is a brief rewriting of the three monodies in the list above for the empress Theodora of Trebizond who died before she could become the mother-in-law of John VIII.  Pierre MacKay has made a collation of the monodies, which shows -- among other things -- that the tedious and incoherent parts were for Theodora, while the parts written newly for Cleofe are specific to her:

This disaster  -- her death -- has touched every race.  She cared for them from her own resources.  Her work was impossible to conceal, even if she avoided incense and lighted torches. She was a city founded on a mountain, impossible to hide (a reference to Mistra).  

She flew out of her husband's hands, leaving him crying tears of blood.  He was cut in two, and we see see that the high-born suffer as do the humble. The reasons must be left in the hands of God.

Who that knew her could not mourn her?  She accepted respect from the ladies of the court, but she did not compete with them.  She knew she was beautiful, but she had no concern about it  She wanted to go beyond it and be good.  She had the intelligence to chose the good, and the ability to follow through on what she had chosen.  She was quick to select the best solution to an argument.

Who can adequately express what we have lost?  We could have lost anyone else without hurt, but she was our guardian, our benefactress, our protector, and our enjoyment of her goodness was never satisfied.  No one has been left unwounded.

Bessarion concluded Cleofe's monody with an apparent criticism of Theodoros whose inability to deal with his grief has contributed to a sense of disorder.  This reflects the opening sentence, first written for Theodora, "O, the passage of disordered time," and then Bessarion mentioned the order Cleofe had brought to them.

So I wonder why this manuscript is missing.  Was Bessarion, more than ten years later, still unable to face so tangible a reminder of the disorder, of the loss of Cleofe?

The photographs of 533 are by John Burke.

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