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Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > Ancient period > Greeks

The Greeks, with greater resources, and under circumstances more favourable, are less distinguished as linguists. John Matthew Caryophilos, a native of Corfu, who was archbishop of Iconium and resided at Rome in the early part of the seventeenth century, was a learned Orientalist, and, besides several literary works of higher pretension, published some elementary books on the Chaldee, Syriac, and Coptic languages. But he has few imitators among his countrymen. Leo Allatius (Allazzi), although a profound scholar, and familiar with every department of the literature of the West, whether sacred or profane, can hardly be considered a linguist in the ordinary sense of the word. The same may be said of the many Greek students, as, for instance, Metaxa, Meletius Syrius, and others, who, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, repaired to the universities of Italy, France, and even England. It can hardly be doubted, of course, that many of them acquired a certain familiarity with the languages of the countries in which they sojourned, but no traces of this knowledge appear to be now discoverable. By far the most notable of them, Cyrillus Lucaris,the well-known Calvinistic Patriarch of Constantinople, spoke and wrote fluently Arabic, Greek, Latin, and Italian; but, if his latinity be a fair sample of his skill in the other languages, his place as a linguist must be held low indeed. It should be added, however, that as polyglot speakers, the Greeks have long enjoyed a considerable reputation. The celebrated Panagiotes Nicusius (better known by his Italianized name Panagiotti) obtained, despite all the prejudices of race, the post of First Dragoman of the Porte, about the middle of volumes, is said to have used the same pen for no less than forty years, and to have been thrown almost into despair upon its accidental destruction at the end of that period. Some of these visited the English universities. Of one among the number, named Metrophanes Critopulus, who wa3 sent by Cyrillus Lucaris to be indoctrinated in Anglican Theology, and who lived at Oxford at the charge of archbishop Abbott, a very amusing account is given by the disappointed prelate in a letter quoted by Neale (History of Alexandria, II., 413-5.) He turned out " an unworthy fellow," far from ingenuity or any grateful respect," a "rogue and beggar," and in other ways disappointed the care bestowed on him. the seventeenth century ; and, from his time forward, the office was commonly held by a Greek, until the separation of Greece from the Ottoman Empire.

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