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He was born in Constantinople to a distinguished family. 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 Muslim Turks. Roberto de' Rossi of Florence met him in Venice, and, in 1395, Rossi's acquaintance Giacomo 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 one his most famous pupils, 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. Another very famous pupil of Chrysoloras was Ambrogio Traversari, who became general of the Camaldolese order. 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 and Ambrogio Traversari, they included Guarino da Verona and Pallas Strozzi.
Having visited Milan and Pavia, and having 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, he 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. His death gave rise to commemorative essays of which Guarino da Verona made a collection in Chrysolorina.
Chrysoloras translated the works of Homer and Plato's Republic into Latin. His own works, which circulated in manuscript in his lifetime, include brief works on the Procession of the Holy Ghost, and letters to his brothers, to L. Bruni, Guauni, Traversari, and to Pallas Strozzi, as well as two which were eventually printed, his Erotemata Civas Questiones which was the first basic Greek grammar in use in Western Europe, first published in 1484 and widely reprinted, and which enjoyed considerable success not only among his pupils in Florence, but also among later leading humanists, being immediately studied by Thomas Linacre at Oxford and by Desiderius Erasmus at Cambridge; and Epistolæ tres de comparatione veteris et novæ Romæ (Three Letters on the Comparison of Old and New Rome, i.e. a comparison of Rome and Constantinople). 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. He was chiefly influential through his teaching in familiarizing men such as Leonardo Bruni, Coluccio Salutati, Giacomo da Scarperia, Roberto de' Rossi, Carlo Marsuppini, Pietro Candido Decembrio, Guarino da Verona, Poggio Bracciolini, with the masterpieces of Greek literature.
- Chrysoloras's letters can be found in Patrologia Graeca, ed. J.-P. Migne, vol, 156, Paris 1866.
- M. Baxandall, 'Guarino, Pisanello and Manuel Chrysoloras', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 28 (1965), 183–204.
- Émile Legrand: Notice biographique sur Manuel Chrysoloras, Paris 1894.
- Jonathan Harris, Greek Émigrés in the West, 1400–1520, Camberley UK: Porphyrogenitus, 1995. ISBN 1-871328-11-X
- S. Mergiali-Sahas, S., ‘Manuel Chrysoloras: an ideal model of a scholar ambassador’, Byzantine Studies/Etudes Byzantines, 3 (1998), 1–12
- I. Thompson, `Manuel Chrysoloras and the early Italian Renaissance', Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 7 (1966), 63–82
- Lydia Thorn-Wikkert, Manuel Chrysoloras (ca. 1350–1415): Eine Biographie des byzantinischen Intellektuellen vor dem Hintergrund der hellenistischen Studien in der italienischen Renaissance, Frankfurt am Main, 2006.
- N.G. Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy. Greek Studies in the Italian Renaissance, London, 1992. ISBN 0-7156-2418-0
- Michael D. Reeve, "On the role of Greek in Renaissance scholarship.'
- Jonathan Harris, 'Byzantines in Renaissance Italy'.
- Richard L.S. Evans, "Chrysoloras' Greek: The Pedagogy of Cultural Transformation."
- "Manuel Chrysoloras". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press