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ROBERT GROSSETESTE'S GREEK SCHOLARSHIP: SURVEY OF PRESENT KNOWLEDGE It was as a translator from the Greek that Grosseteste was to achieve celebrity on the European scale. The most popular of his versions (the Nicomachean Ethics, the Letters of St Ignatius, and the Testaments ofthe Twelve Patriarchs), far outweigh his original writings in numbers of extant copies, as well as outreaching them in geographical diffusion. Indeed the Ignatian letters and the Testaments were read well beyond the university and clerical setting which formed the intended readership of his other versions. I. LEARNING GREEK: THE WHY AND THE HOW The conventional date of 1232 for the beginnings of Grosseteste's Greek studies does not take account of either the breadth or the depth of scholarship that Grosseteste displayed in versions and commentaries within a very few years of then, and in reading and glossing even around that very time. There was no precedent at Oxford for the learning of Greek and no ready-made collection of books to learn from, with the result that the question concerning his motivation for taking up the language must in the very last analysis receive an answer in terms of his own free initiative. It was not Grosseteste's absorption in the logical and physical writings of Aristotle that impelled him to learn the Greek language: his motivation for its study derived essentially from his devotion to the sacred books of his religion, and its earliest fruits are shown in philological and textual criticism of the kind which had been the apparatus of biblicists in patristic and later times. That he taught theology for some period of time in the way that he himself had doubtless learned it, by glossing books of the Vulgate Bible for class 1An Italian language translation of this article is printed in Gh Inizi di Oxford. Grossatesta e i primi teologi, [Eredità Médiévale. Storia della teología médiévale da Agostino a Erasmo da Rotterdam] (Milan: Jaca Book, 1996) 197 ff. 255 Franciscan Studies, vol. 56 (1998) 256JAMES McEVOY instruction while drawing essentially upon the Latin tradition of exegesis for information and interpretations, we have good reason to believe on the basis of the surviving evidence pertaining to the Psalter (his commentary on Pss 1-79) and the Pauline epistles. His decision to learn Greek must be understood in the light of that conception of the theologian's task to which he appears to have held steadfastly throughout his career: the theologian is above all a teacher of the Scriptures after the manner of the Fathers of the Church. He may employ all other forms of learning and of scholastic exercise in order to promote the one central aim, the knowledge and appreciation of the Scriptures. This conviction became more and more articulate and was expressed more insistently as he aged, but it does seem to have guided his practice from the earliest stages of his teaching that are known to us. To read the New Testament in Greek, as St Jerome had done; to go behind the Vulgate (the text of which was widely acknowledged to suffer from many corruptions), and to study likewise the Septuagint version of the Old Testament: this was the ideal and the goal that moved Grosseteste to take up, at an unusually advanced age, the serious study of Greek. To this motivation we can subjoin circumstances that were propitious in the Western Europe, and even in the England, of his day. The Latin invasion of Constantinople, in 1204, and the ensuing colonisation of parts of the Byzantine territories had seen the establishment of Latin centres of administration at Athens and Nicaea, as well as in the capital itself. The violent way in which this new order had been brought about embittered its victims, the Greeks, but the enforced contiguity of the two peoples nevertheless had the effect of intensifying cultural exchange between them, and of opening up lines of communication which extended even as far as England, where Grosseteste was to feel their impact. Shortly after his time William of Moerbeke, the Flemish Dominican, was to become the Latin Archbishop of Corinth and, learning Greek on the spot, to attain to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 255-264
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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