Images of Byzantium: Nicephorus Gregoras’s “On the Construction and Origin of the Astrolabe”

In 1498 Giorgio Valla published a Latin excerpt from Nicephorus Gregoras’s treatise “On the Construction and Origin of the Astrolabe.” Despite appearing as the fifth tract in Valla’s compendium, which included other Byzantine and Greek authors, Gregoras’s text quickly became a standard authority amongst scholars in 16th-century Europe. Authors such as Johannes Schöner and Peter Apian regularly cited him at various places in their own manuals on constructing and using astrolabes but do not appear to have read Gregoras’s text. Indeed, their familiarity with the Byzantine scholar seems to have been mediated through Valla’s excerpt.

This project has two parts. First, I am working on a critical edition and translation of Gregoras’s text. This volume will include a scholarly introduction that locates Gregoras and his work within the Byzantine tradition. The second part of the project explores how and why Gregoras became an authority for 16th-century Latin authors. This promises to illuminate how Byzantium came to occupy a place of intellectual and cultural importance in the sixteenth century, particularly amongst German scholars and humanists.