Giacomo or Jacopo d'Angelo, better known by his Latin name Jacobus Angelus, was an Italian scholar and humanist during the Renaissance. Named for the village of Scarperia in the Mugello in the Republic of Florence, he traveled to Venice where Manuel Palaeologus's ambassador Manuel Chrysoloras was teaching Greek, the first such course in Italy for several centuries. Da Scarperia returned with Chrysoloras to Constantinople (Istanbul)—the first Florentine to do so—along with Guarino da Verona. In the Byzantine Empire, he studied Greek literature and history under Demetrios Kydones. Coluccio Salutati wrote to urge Da Scarperia to search the libraries there, particularly for editions of Homer and Greek dictionaries, with the result that he translated Ptolemy's Geography into Latin in 1406. He first dedicated it to Pope Gregory IX and then (in 1409) to Pope Alexander V. He also brought new texts of Homer, Aristotle, and Plato to the attention of western scholars.
Early life and early education
Jacopo d'Angelo was born in the town of Scarperia. Legal documents from this time show his full name to be “Iacobus Angeli Lippi Sostegni". Sostegni, therefore, was his surname but he went by Angeli. His exact date of birth is not known, but scholars place it around 1360. This date of birth is based on an observation made by d' Angelo's contemporary, Leonardo Bruni. Bruni, who was born in 1369 notes in his Commentarius that d’Angelo, was much older than him. Scarperia was a Florentine fortress in the Mugello, a region in northeastern Tuscany. It was a stronghold that protected against the feudal might of the Ubaldini, a powerful family who dominated the area during this time.
There is not much known about d’Angelo’s earliest years; this also applies to his family. What is known is that he was quite young when his father, Angelo, died. After his father's death, his mother soon remarried. She relocated to Florence with her new husband and took young d’Angelo with her. It was in Florence where d’Angelo would start his education. There he would meet two people that would be very influential in his life. The first was Coluccio Salutati, who took an interest in d'Angelo and became his mentor. It was through Salutati’s that d'Angelo began his study of the humanities. Also, it is very likely that Salutati advised d'Angelo to start school under the tutelage of Giovanni Malpaghini, a teacher at the Florentine Studio (University).
Coluccio Salutati and Giovanni Malpaghini
Coluccio Salutati was a prominent humanist and Chancellor of Florence for many years. Becoming chancellor in 1375 and holding it for thirty-one years. He was a notary who studied law and rhetoric in Bologna. Much of his early life was spent in humble political offices where he read his favorite classics and composed Latin poetry. His work also concerned the subjects of philosophy and politics. Salutati also played a part in supplanting Aristotelianism and emphasizing the study of Plato when it came to philosophy. He influenced this transition in two ways. Firstly, he collected many works of Plato and secondly by encouraging his pupils, like Leonardo Bruni, to make new translations of these works. Salutati's admiration for ancient literature led him to read classical authors first hand and incentivized him to search for unknown works. His searches also led him to find those written in Greek, although he did not have much skill in it. In regards to his relationship with d'Angelo, it was very close. D'Angelo he even stood to be godfather for one of Salutati's children. D'Angelo's study of Greek throughout his life was clearly influenced by Salutati's interest in this subject. Also a picture of what d'Angelo's early education was like can be deduced from what Salutati studied.
Giovanni Malpaghini was another of d’Angelo’s early teachers. He taught at the Florentine studio. Many of his students, like Vergerio and Strozzi, became important figures in the history of Italian humanism. His early life also included working for Petrarch as his principle secretary. Both he and Salutati worked under Francesco Bruni where a close relationship formed. It is known that Malpaghini taught rhetoric from 1394-1400. However, it is uncertain if he taught before that time. Some scholars believe that Malphaghini's influence and reputation are understated. This is for two reasons, one because he never wrote any great work, and he is often confused with another Giovanni da Ravenna. They believe that the stylistic tendency to imitate Cicero, the major distinctive element of 14th-century humanism, was inspired by him.Crediting him with the new humanism of the 15th century would make him a major figure in the movement. Although not achieving the stature of some of Malpaghini’s students, d’Angelo no doubt was influenced by his teacher’s lessons in rhetoric and stylistic techniques.
Early Greek studies in Europe
Although, d’Angelo was one of the first humanists to study Greek and to attempt to translate Greek texts it was not done in a vacuum. There are many myths about the study of Greek during the period. First was the after the fall of Rome no one was able to access knowledge of Greek, and the other was that Greek came to Western Europe after the fall of Constantinople. The fresh perspective that humanist brought to the study of Greek was the desire to read these texts for their own sake. Early Greek studies in the Middle Ages can be traced to the court of Charlemagne during the 8th century. At the Papal Curia, there were Greek manuscripts and men able to read them, as well as large parts of Sicily and Southern Europe were Greek speaking. Graeco-Sicilian scholars were responsible for translating many ancient Greek authors. The Council of Vienne in 1312 also commissioned teaching of the Greek language in the church, among other languages. Even places as far west as England had a history of Greek studies. Oxford established an official position for teaching Greek around the year 1320. Although, Greek studies can be traced even further back to Robert Grosseteste, a bishop of Lincoln in the early 13thcentury. He was responsible for translating some of the works of Aristotle. All this to show that d’Angelo and other Greek humanists of his time were not embarking on something new, but rather building on a tradition that stretches back throughout the Middle Ages. Albeit a tradition carried out intermittently, slightly suppressed in the 11th century, only to be revived in the 12th century.
Later education and career
Jacopo studied under John Malpaghini, who was one of Petrarch's previous students and a well known scholar in rhetoric, in Ravenna in 1394 where he would study ancient literature. Humanism was starting to become popular in the region of Florence, Italy. When Jacopo learned of the arrival of Manuel Chrysoloras, a Constantinople-born Greek scholar in 1395, they met through an acquaintance by the name of Roberto de Rossi to learn Chrysoloras’ teachings on ancient Greek texts. De Rossi was also a student of Chrysoloars and Coluccio Saluati who was a key figure in Florentine humanists. Saluati would later become the Chancellor of Florence with important diplomatic ties to the Catholic Church. Chrysoloras, was originally sent to Italy by Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus in order to seek help from Christian nobles against the advancing Muslim Turks. In Florence, Jacopo, as well as other Italian scholars, would establish the Florentine School of Chrysoloras. At this school Chrysoloras would become one of the first people to teach the Greek language to Italians. Many scholars would flock to this school including Leonardo Bruni, an Italian scholar who would later become a famous humanist and Jacopo's rival.
After a meeting between Jacopo and Chrysoloras, they decided to return to Constantinople in 1395. At the time of his arrival, the city was under siege by the Muslim Turks. There, Jacopo learned the Greek language and studied Ancient Greek texts. While in Constantinople, Jacopo met a scholar by the name of Manuel Calecas who was a well known theologian and "admirer of the patristic tradition and school of the Latin West." Coluccio wrote to Jacopo about learning the Greek language where he stated that it was important to know "the vocabulary and the grammar and provide, rather, in memorizing the largest possible number of words and idioms, paying attention to their uses and meanings." Since the city and empire was collapsing, many Byzantine scholars fled Constantinople to Europe bringing with them different manuscripts from all periods of time.
After their return, Chrysoloras would have a gain a full-time position at the school that he had established and taught between the years of 1397 and 1400. In 1400, Jacopo travelled to Rome where he continued to translate Greek texts into Latin. He would also begin to translate the Greek manuscripts that were brought back from Constantinople.
After d’Angelo returned from Constantinople in 1396, he began translating Classical Greek works into Latin with the archbishop of Milan and Manuel Crysoloras. He also wanted to be a part of the papal court. In late 1400, he had already left for Rome because he hoped to obtain employment in the court of Pope Boniface IX. He spent the remainder of his life in the Roman Curia. While in Rome, he began to work towards becoming part of the patronage of a cardinal beginning in 1401. Due to his connections and friends already being cardinals, on July 25, 1401, d’Angelo became the papal scribe for the court.
In 1405, the papal scribe for Pope Innocent VII became vacant once again and d’Angelo wanted this position. However, Leonardo Bruni came to Rome and wanted the position as well. Pope Innocent VII set up a competition to see who was the worthy candidate. d’Angelo thought that due to his age and life experience, he would win against the much younger and less experienced Bruni. The test was each of the candidates needed to write a letter that devised a solution to solve the Great Schism. During the time of the Great Schism, the papacy was in Italy and France with two popes, one in each city. The letter’s focus was a solution as to why France was leaving the obedience. The letter then would be sent as a response to the Duke of Berry’s letter that had been sent to Pope Innocent VII. Since d’Angelo’s Latin was not as polished as Bruni’s, Bruni was the successful candidate and became the papal scribe much to the dismay of d’Angelo.
Tragedy struck when one of d’Angelo’s mentor Salutati died in 1406. d’Angelo wrote Salutati’s epitaph for him, which mainly celebrated his scholarly achievements. That same year, Pope Innocent VII died and Gregory XII was elected. d’Angelo was at both of these events and wrote important letters about them that were addressed to Manuel Chrysoloras.
Finally in 1410, d’Angelo achieved the position of papal scribe under John XXIII, the position that he had wanted five years before. With this new position, d'Angelo was responsible for recording important teachings and the diplomatic affairs during the Great Schism. However, this desired position did not last very long. On March 28, 1411, a document claimed that d’Angelo had died in Rome. The cause of his death or the actual date is unknown.
Jacopo D’Angelo’s translations of famous texts into Greek and Latin make him a semi-important figure during this period. He translated many of Plutarch’s works, for example, the Vita Bruti, Vita Cicerius, Vita Marii, Vita Pompeii, De Alexandri fortuna el Virtute and De Romanorum fortuna aut Virtute.
His most famous translation, from its original Latin into Greek, is the Geographie de Ptolemee, which interestingly is criticized for being inaccurately translated by D’Angelo as well as being largely invalid as a critical text due to its numerous scientific inaccuracies as well as being subject to Ptolemy’s exotification of global geography. D’Angelo’s translation allowed Ptolemy’s work to become a best-seller and although the information in hindsight was in parts inaccurate, its popularity mitigates the historical importance of D’Angelo’s translations on society during the Renaissance movement. D’Angelo as well as his teachers were considered influential in the world of geography due to the translations of Ptolemy’s work. This text became a key feature of the period and was a popular read among various circles. However, D’Angelo received derision and a lack of respect from many of his contemporaries because of his inaccurate translations.
Though his translations were often cited as inaccurate, the novelty and popularity of the works themselves is an indicator of the Renaissance movements thought. Also, his great efforts in translating major works into Greek and Latin help expose the continuation of education in these languages as prestigious and classical forms of knowledge. Despite his inadequacies in translation Latin, he told us much about the Renaissance movement.
- His name is variously given as Giacomo Angeli da Scarperia, Giacomo d'Angelo da Scarperia, Jacopo Angeli, Jacopo d'Angelo da Scarperia, Jacopo di Angelo da Scarperia, Jacopo Angeli de Scarperia, Iacopo Angeli da Scarperia, &c.
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