Gemistus Pletho

Gemistus Pletho

Georgius Gemistos (or Plethon, Pletho), in Greek Γεώργιος Πλήθων Γεμιστός, (c. 1355 – 1452or 1454 ) was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher and scholar, one of the chief pioneers of the revival of Greek learning in Western Europe.


He was a Greek by birth, who settled at Mistra in the Peloponnesus, near the site of ancient Sparta.

As a young man, he began to study Plato, and was so enamoured with the philosopher that he took the similar-meaning name "Πλήθων/Plethon" ("the full", pronounced IPA2|ˈpliθon). Plethon is also an archaic translation of the modern Greek "γεμιστός/gemistos" ("full, stuffed").

Plethon was the author of "De Differentiis", a description of the differences between Plato and Aristotles' conceptions of God. George Scholarios (who became Gennadius II, Patriarch of Constantinople) later defended Aristotle and convinced the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos that Plethon's support for Plato amounted to heresy. Manuel had Plethon confined in Mistra, though he remained somewhat of a celebrity. In Mistra, he wrote pamphlets to Manuel II describing how the Empire could be reorganized according to Plato's Republic. He also wrote a "Summary of the Doctrines of Zoroaster and Plato", which detailed his own eclectic polytheistic beliefs. These works did not help to clear him of the charge of heresy. He also wrote about the condition of the Peloponnesus, compiled several volumes of excerpts from ancient authors, and wrote a number of works on geography, music, and other subjects.

Byzantine scholars had been in contact with their counterparts in Western Europe since the time of the Latin Empire, and especially since the Byzantine Empire had begun to ask for Western European help against the Ottomans in the 14th century. Western Europe had some access to ancient Greek philosophy through the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslims, but the Byzantines had many documents and interpretations that the Westerners had never seen before. Byzantine scholarship became more fully available to the West after 1438, when Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus attended the Council of Ferrara, later known as the Council of Florence, to discuss a union of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Accompanying John VIII were Plethon, his student Johannes Bessarion, as well as George Scholarios.

As a secular scholar, Plethon was often not needed at the council. Instead, he set up a temporary school to teach interested Florentines about previously unknown (to them) works of Plato. He essentially reintroduced much of Plato to the Western world, and shook the domination which Aristotle had come exercise over Western European thought in the high and later middle ages. Cosimo de' Medici attended these lectures and later founded the "Accademia Platonica" in Florence, where Italian students of Plethon continued to teach after the conclusion of the council. Because of this, Plethon is considered one of the most important influences on the Italian Renaissance. Marsilio Ficino, the Florentine humanist and the first director of the Accademia Platonica, paid Plethon the ultimate honour, calling him 'the second Plato'.

Pletho died in Mistra in 1452, or in 1454, according to J. Monfasani. In 1466, some of his Italian disciples, headed by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, stole his remains from Mistra and interred them in the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, "so that the great Teacher may be among free men". His "Summary", considered the most heretical of his works, was later burned by Gennadius II and its contents lost to mankind. Many of his other works still exist in manuscript form in various European libraries. Most of Pletho's works can be found in J. P. Migne, "Patrologia Graeca", collection; for a complete list see Fabricius, "Bibliotheca Graeca" (ed. Harles), xii.

Plans for Reform

Plethon drew up plans in his "Nomioi" to radically change the structure and philosophy of the Byzantine Empire in line with his interpretation of Platonism. He believed in a new religion, founded on a hierarchical pantheon of Pagan Gods, based largely upon the ideas of Humanism prevalent at the time, incorporating themes such as rationalism and logic - As an ad-hoc measure he also supported the reconciliation of the two churches in order to secure Western Europe support against the Turks [Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 7, p.356] . He also proposed more practical, immediate measures, such as building a wall across the Isthmus of Corinth, in order to secure the country from invasion.



* [ Darien C. DeBolt Paper on De Differentiis ]
* Brown, Alison M., 'Platonism in fifteenth century Florence and its contribution to early modern political thought', "Journal of Modern History" 58 (1986), 383-413.
* Harris, Jonathan, 'The influence of Plethon's idea of fate on the historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles', in Proceedings of the International Congress on Plethon and his Time, Mystras, 26-29 June 2002, ed. L.G. Benakis and Ch.P. Baloglou (Athens: Society for Peloponnesian and Byzantine Studies, 2004), pp. 211-17
* Keller, A., 'Two Byzantine scholars and their reception in Italy', "Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes" 20 (1957), 363-70
* Mandilas, Kostas, "Georgius Gemistos Plethon" (Athens 1997)* ISBN 960-7748-08-5
* Masai, F., "Pléthon et le platonisme de Mistra" (Paris, 1956)
* Monfasani, John, 'Platonic paganism in the fifteenth century', in John Monfasani, "Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and Other Émigrés", (Aldershot, 1995), no. X
* Runciman, Steven, "The Last Byzantine Renaissance" (Cambridge, 1970)
* Setton, Kenneth M. 'The Byzantine background to the Italian Renaissance', "Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society", 100 (1956), 1-76.
* Tambrun, B. Pléthon. "Le retour de Platon", Paris, Vrin, 2006, 300 p.
* Tambrun-Krasker, B., "Georges Gémiste Pléthon, Traité des vertus". Édition critique avec introduction, traduction et commentaire, Corpus Philosophorum Medii Aevi, Philosophi Byzantini 3, Athens-The Academy of Athens, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1987.
* Tambrun-Krasker, B., "Magika logia tôn apo Zoroastrou magôn, Georgiou Gemistou Plêthônos Exêgêsis eis ta auta logia. Oracles chaldaïques. Recension de Georges Gémiste Pléthon". Edition critique avec introduction, traduction et commentaire par B. Tambrun-Krasker. "La recension arabe des Magika logia par M. Tardieu", Corpus Philosophorum Medii Aevi, Philosophi Byzantini 7, Athens-The Academy of Athens, Paris, Librairie J. Vrin, Bruxelles, éditions Ousia, 1995, LXXX+187 p.
* Tambrun, B., « Pletho » (article) in: W.J. Hanegraaff, A. Faivre, R. van den Broek, J.-P. Brach ed., Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 2005, 2006.
* Vassileiou, Fotis & Saribalidou, Barbara, Short Biographical Lexicon of Byzantine Academics Immigrants in Western Europe, 2007.
* Woodhouse, C.M., "George Gemistus Plethon - The Last of the Hellenes" (Oxford, 1986)

See also

* Christian heresy
* Byzantine scholars in Renaissance

External links


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