A couple of selections from Francesco Scalamonti’s Life of Cyriac of Ancona, from the first of the I Tatti Renaissance Library’s two (eventually three?) volumes of Cyriac’s works. I first learned about Cyriac nearly 10 years ago when I got stuck in a museum bookstore during some bad weather and ended up reading the majority of Marina Belozerskaya’s To Wake the Dead: A Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology – which I would probably recommend over this first I Tatti volume since the Life here was only intended as a sketch for a fuller treatment to be written by someone else and wraps up without ceremony midway through.
By way of overview:
Cyriac is the only man in thirteen hundred years, since the age of Hadrian, whose expansive nature and highborn temper gave him the courage to travel all over the world – through Greece, Asia, Egypt, and the Ionian and Aegean islands – to survey and investigate the sties and characteristics of its territories and provinces, its mountains, woodlands, springs and rivers, its seas, lakes and noblest cities and towns. Whatever fine monuments of venerable antiquity he found worthy of not in these places, he faithfully recorded, not in the common language, but in Latin or Greek; and, as we have often heard him say himself, his indefatigable resolve, regardless of all discomforts, toils and sleepless nights the task involved, was to inspect and examine whatever ancient remains were to be seen in the world as far as the last rocky heights jutting into Ocean, the the island of Thule, and any other remote parts of the earth.
And in the tradition of renaissance book hunters like Petrarch and Poggio:
In Cyprus too Cyriac made a particularly lucky find. After a good day’s hunting panthers, the king, laden with the kill, arrived at a hunting lodge where he conferred knighthood on a Dacian youth; and Cyriac, on his usual search for books, went to a certain old monastery where, among its squalidly kept and long neglected manuscripts, he was overjoyed to discover an ancient codex of Homer’s Iliad, which he persuaded an illiterate monk, not without difficulty, to let him have in exchange for a Gospel book. This book afforded him his first great help in overcoming his ignorance of Greek literature. Late on, in Nicosia, from another monk, he also acquired an Odyssey, a number of the tragedies of Euripides, and a book of antiquities by the Alexandrian grammarian Theodosius; and whenever he found a moment of leisure, he would pore over the task of constructing and reading them through.