Demetrius Chalcocondilas (Greek Δημήτριος Χαλκοκονδύλης Demetrios Chalkokondyles, Latinized as Demetrius Chalcocondyles), Chalkokondyles or Calcocondilo (Athens, August 1423 – Milan, January 9, 1511) was a Greek writer, teacher and grammarian. He contributed to the Renaissance of Greek literature in Italy. He was the author of Erotemata (1493), a celebrated Grigian grammar, and produced the first printed editions of the works of Homer (1488) and Isocrates (1493).
Demetrios Chalkokondyles was born in Athens in 1423, into one of the oldest and most prestigious families of the Athenian nobility. He was the brother of the historian and chronicler of the fall of Constantinople, Laonicus Chalkokondyles. His father, George, was politically active under the Duchy of Athens; his relative Maria Melissena was married to Antony I Acciaioli, the Duke of Athens. Upon the death of Antony I, George Chalkokondyles maneuvered politically for Maria Melissena to acquire the Duchy of Athens, which put him at odds with Nerius II Acciaioli, who succeeded Antony I as Duke of Athens. George had to go into exile with his entire family to the Despot of Morea, in the Peloponnese.
Demetrios emigrated to Italy in 1447 and arrived in Rome in 1449, where Cardinal Bessarion became his patron. He studied under Theodorus Gaza and later obtained the patronage of Lorenzo de Medici, serving as tutor to his sons. Chalkokondyles lived the rest of his life in Italy, as a professor of Greek and philosophy at various Italian courts and universities. In 1450, through the mediation of Bessarion and Gaza, he went on to teach Greek at the University of Perugia. One of his Italian pupils described his classes in Perugia as follows:
A Greek has just arrived, who has begun to teach me with great difficulty, and I have begun to listen to his precepts with incredible pleasure, because he is Greek, because he is Athenian and because he is Demetrius. It seems to me that in him is embodied all the wisdom, the courtesy and the elegance of those so famous and illustrious ancients. Just looking at him, you imagine you are looking at Plato; even more so when you hear him speak. …
Entre sus alumnos se cuentan Janus Lascaris, Poliziano, León X, Baldassare Castiglione, Giglio Gregorio Giraldi, Pico della Mirandola, y Giovanni Maria Cattaneo. …
In 1463 Chalkokondyles was appointed professor of Greek at the University of Padua. During his stay in Padua, Chalkokondyles composed several orations and treatises calling for the liberation of his homeland, Greece, from what he called “the Turk, those abominable, monstrous and impious barbarians.” In 1463, upon joining Padua, Chalkokondyles had called on Venice and “all the Latins” to help the Greeks against the Ottomans, identifying this as a debt of the Latins to be paid to the Greeks, for according to him the Byzantine Greeks had come to the aid of Italy against the Goths during the Gothic Wars (535-554 A.D.):
“As she had pledged in their favor all her most precious and prominent possessions, with liberality and without any meanness, and had restored by her hand and the force of her arms the state of Italy, long oppressed by the Goths, they should in like manner now be ready to succor prostrate and afflicted Greece and deliver her by arms from the hands of the barbarians.” …
Through the mediation of Francesco Filelfo, in 1479 Lorenzo de Medici invited him to succeed Ioannis Argyropoulos as head of the Department of Greek Literature at the University of Florence, where he moved that same year, and where he was appointed Greek tutor to Lorenzo de Medici”s sons, among them the future Leo X. By then, Chalkokondyles was a prestigious humanist and promoter of Greek letters. In Florence, he joined the circle of humanists surrounding Lorenzo de Medici, and won the friendship of, among others, Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola, whom he instructed in classical Greek. In addition to teaching Greek and classical literature, in Florence Chalkokondyles was involved in the edition and distribution of numerous classical works. In 1488, during his stay at the Studium in Florence, Chalkokondyles produced the editio princeps (first printed edition) of Homer”s Iliad and Odyssey. This edition, dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici, is his greatest achievement. He also helped Marsilio Ficino with his Latin translation of Plato. The prominent German classical scholar Johannes Reuchlin was one of his pupils in Florence.
Chalkokondyles married in 1484 at the age of sixty-one, and had ten children. In 1491 he obtained permission from Lorenzo de Medici to move to Milan, where he had been invited by Ludovico Sforza to take up a chair of Greek at the University of Milan. In Milan he produced the editio princeps of Isocrates (1493) and of the Byzantine Suda (1499). He also published the only work entirely his own, a treatise on Greek grammar known as the ᾿Ερωτήματα (Erotemata) (1494), widely used during the Renaissance. During this time he was the teacher of Gian Giorgio Trissino, to whom he transmitted a passion for the study of the ancient Greek language and a love of classical Latin literature.
With the French occupation of the Duchy of Milan in 1499, Demetrios took refuge in Ferrara, thinking that his career was now compromised, but in March 1501 he received an invitation from Georges d ”Amboise, legate of Louis XII, to return to his Milanese chair. The last work of Chalkokondyles dates from 1504: dedicated to the Archbishop of Paris E. Poncher, it is a Latin translation of the partial compendium of the “Roman Histories” of Dion Cassius written by John Xiphilinus in the eleventh century.
Chalkokondyles died in Milan on January 9, 1511. He was buried in the Church of Santa Maria della Passione.
According to Benedetto Giovio, Poliziano would have criticized Chalkokondyles as “aridus atque ieiunus” (arid and fasting) while Erasmus of Rotterdam praised him as “probus” and “eruditus” but of a fundamental intellectual “mediocritas”. Instead, Trissino held him in such esteem that at the death of his master he dedicated to him a commemorative plaque still existing in Santa Maria della Passione.