George Gemistus Pliphon (Greek Γεώργιος Γεμιστός Πλήθων, Latin Pletho, c. 1360 – June 26, 1452, Mistra, Despotate of the Sea, Byzantine Empire) was a Byzantine Neoplatonist philosopher. In 1439, out of respect for the philosopher Plato, whose views he promoted and developed, George Gemiste assumed the consonantal name “Pliphon” (“filled”). A major figure in the intellectual life of the last decades of Byzantium. It is believed that thanks to Pliphon the works of Plato were disseminated in the West.
The external side of Gemiste”s life is practically unknown. Born about 1360, he was educated in Constantinople, after which, under circumstances unknown exactly, he became acquainted with a certain Jew, Elisha, through whom he became acquainted with Arabic and Jewish philosophy. In the 1390s he taught in the capital, but was then accused of heresy and banished from Constantinople. About 1409 he settled in the capital of the despotate of Mistra, where he founded a general school and a philosophical circle in which he preached his ideas. The rulers of Byzantium and Moreia had recourse to the advice of Hemistus, who had a reputation as a highly educated man. In 1437-1439 he took part in the preparation and then the debates of the Council of Ferraro-Florence, convened for the purpose of signing a union between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. During his stay in Italy, Plifon became intimate with the Western European humanists who participated in the council and with the ruler of Florence, Cosimo de Medici. In the course of his dogmatic discussions, Pliphon concluded that the source of the divisions in the churches was the preference of the Western scholastics for Aristotle. Eager to prove that Aristotle”s teaching distorted Plato”s philosophy, was false and full of contradictions, Hemist wrote a short treatise, On the Problems on which Aristotle Diverges from Plato, which is when he adopted his pseudonym. Written in a sharp polemical style, the treatise provoked years of dispute between Platonists and Aristotelians. During the philosopher”s lifetime, his main opponent was the prominent Byzantine theologian and scholastic scholar Gennadius Scholarius, later the patriarch of Constantinople. During the 1440s Pliphon and Scholarius exchanged rebuttals of each other”s views, after which the dispute was continued by their disciples. Pliphon expounded his system of views most fully in his treatise, The Laws, which he worked on secretly until the end of his life. According to the prevailing view, in the Laws Pliphon advocated a revival of ancient Greek paganism, reformed on the basis of Neoplatonism. The theological principles formulated in the treatise are presented by the author as the ancient true religion received by Plato through the chain of sages of antiquity, beginning with Zoroaster. Pliphon”s ethical system was influenced by Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. It is based on a hierarchy of virtues, the adherence to which makes it possible to imitate God.
He formulated his political program in several speeches. In his view, in order to save the dying empire it was necessary to divide the population of the Peloponnese into several classes, to reform taxation and the army in accordance with this division, and to build an autonomous economy. Many modern scholars see in Pliphon”s program a prototype of the nation-states of the 19th century, or a utopianism that anticipated Thomas More. The phrase of one of his speeches, “we are a people of Greek descent,” gave rise to a lively and fruitful discussion of Byzantine and modern Greek identity. In this regard, Hemist has been called both “the last Hellenist” and “the first modern Greek.
In addition to his philosophical writings, Pliphon wrote a number of polemical texts on Christian theology in which he discussed the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit. His other works relate to history, rhetoric, philosophy, politics, military affairs, geography, mathematics, astronomy, and music.
After Plifon”s death in 1452 or 1454, the tractate of the Laws was burned at the initiative of Gennadius Scholarius, who recognized the work as heretical. In 1464 Pliphon”s ashes were carried by his admirer Sigismondo Malatesta to Rimini and buried at the Tempio Malatestiano.
Not a single authentic image of Plifon has survived, and unlike many of his scholarly contemporaries, he left no correspondence or biography. Almost everything that is known about his life comes from his ideological opponents. Based on various considerations about the date of Gemiste”s death and his age by that time, his birth date is presumed to be between 1355 and 1360. Practically nothing is known about the origin of the future philosopher except that his father might have been a certain Demetrius Gemistus, the protonotary of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in the last quarter of the fourteenth century. The other Gemist was a monk on Athos during the same years, which agrees with the statement of Gennadius Scholarius about the scholar”s “pious, holy and learned” origin.
Only circumstantial information has survived about Plithon”s elementary education. It undoubtedly included the traditional courses of the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, music), the components of which he retained interest in throughout his life. Toward the end of his life he compiled, among other things, a grammar of the Greek language, notes for his lectures on Homer, and a theory of music. Like many Byzantine humanists before him, Plifond made extracts from authors of interest to him-some of these texts have survived in the Venetian archives of Cardinal Vissarion. Among these are handwritten extracts from geographers, classical and Byzantine historians, biographies, and works on the natural sciences and rhetoric, all dating from the 1440s. It is noteworthy that among the extracts are none pertaining to the sciences studied in higher education courses-philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence. As an explanation, Christopher Woodhouse suggests two possibilities – that Pliphon used his notes in teaching, or that, as far as philosophy was concerned, he shared Plato”s and Pythagoras” distrust of the written word. This lacuna raises the problem of the extent to which Pliphon was familiar with Plato”s authentic writings. There are also no excerpts on theology, and his major writings show a readiness for Greek patristics, but no more. Whether Pliphon knew Latin is not clear; at least it was not part of the regular education program and was studied on personal initiative on very rare occasions. In support of the negative answer, in addition to the absence of Latin autographs, Woodhouse cites the controversy that took place during the Council of Ferrara-Florence between Cardinal Vissarion and Theodore Gaza over whether in his Latin Hieronymus of Stridon imitated Cicero. The details of the dispute and the arguments expressed by the parties have been recorded by contemporaries, but nothing is reported about the participation in the discussion of Pliphon, who was also present there. Similar doubts exist about the Italian, from which Cyriac of Ancona translated his writings to the Greek. Unlike most Byzantine writers who copied the texts of their predecessors verbatim, Pliphon, whose scope of knowledge encompassed virtually all literature in Greek, drew on the thoughts and ideas of the preceding tradition. Pliphon provides a representative list of his predecessors in the second chapter (“On the Conductors of the Best Judgments”) of the Laws. He names Zoroaster, “the most famous among the Midians, the Persians and the majority of the ancient peoples of Asia” as the first, and divides the rest into “lawmakers” and “sages”. Among the first he names Evmolpa, Minos, Lycurgus, Numa and the founder of the Olympic games Iphitheus, who established the Athenian Eleusinian mystery. Plithon divides the wise men into barbarians, of whom he considers the most worthy the Indian Brahmans and Midian magicians, remembering the creation of the world by the Hellenic Curites, and Greek philosophers, listing from the mythical Tiresias to the Neoplatonist Lampliticus. From Pliphon”s extracts, his correspondence with Vissarion of Nicaea, and the accusations of his ideological opponents, we know of an extremely wide range of ancient and contemporary authors with whose writings Pliphon was familiar. Nevertheless, there is no direct manuscript evidence to establish which Platonic and Neo-Platonic texts he actually had.
By the end of the fourteenth century, opportunities for quality education in Byzantium were rather limited. Both institutions which could be classified as “universities,” the secular University of Constantinople and the Patriarchal School, had long been in decline or even closed. Studying at the Patriarchal School did not necessarily imply further acceptance of the priesthood, but it would have been a circumstance of which one would expect to find mention in the reviews of Pliphon”s friends and enemies. The principal mode of in-depth study of the sciences in the later period of Byzantine history was with a private teacher. A number of historians have suggested that he might have been the famous literary scholar Demetrius Kidonis (1324-1398), although there is no clear evidence of this. The philosopher”s long-standing opponent, Gennadius Scholarius, refers to the Jew Elisha as Pliphon”s teacher, while presenting two versions of the events. The first, longer version is contained in his letter to Theodora Aseni, wife of the last despot of Moraea, Demetrius Paleologus. The letter was probably written around 1455. In it the patriarch tries to explain the ideological evolution of Hemistus, which led to the appearance of his heretical work On the Laws. According to him, not having yet reached spiritual maturity, Gemistus was filled with “Hellenic” ideas, caring little about the study of traditional Christianity, studying the works of poets and philosophers instead. The natural consequence of the absence of divine grace is a tendency toward error and apostasy, the logical conclusion of which was to fall under the influence of the Jew Elisha. The latter interested Gemist in his interpretations of Aristotle, drawn from Averroes and other Persian and Arab philosophers, as well as the teachings of Zoroaster. For a long time Hemist was under this Jew, not only as a pupil, but also receiving money for his service, for Elisha held an important office in the court of the Barbarian monarch. As a result, Gemiste ended badly – he was expelled from the capital by the Emperor Manuel and the Church, who sent him into “ignominious exile.” Already after the destruction of the Laws, Scholarius listed the spiritual predecessors of the late philosopher in a letter to the Peloponnesian Exarch Josephus. Besides the already mentioned Zoroaster, of whom he had learned from Elisha, they were Pythagoras, Plato, Plutarch, Plotinus, Jamlichus, and Proclus. Nothing is known of this Elisha from other sources, and in assessing the reliability of Scholarius” testimony one must consider his hostility to Pliphon and the general tendency of the Byzantines to associate those accused of heresy with the Jews.
The circumstances under which Gemistos and Elisha met are not at all known. If we assume that he was expelled from Constantinople, then (taking into account Scholarius” hints) the place of exile could be either the first Ottoman capital, Bursa in Bithynia, or Adrianople in Thrace, which became the capital in 1366. Both cities were significant cultural centers during the period in question: Adrianople had an Arab-Persian medical school and Bursa was famous for its Sufi teachers. There were indeed many Jews at the Ottoman court who had fled from Spain, Italy, Greece, Syria, and Persia. Some of them held high positions, so it is quite plausible to hear Scholarius” statement that the Gemist was not only a disciple of Elisha, but also a “servant” to him.
Many scholars have paid close attention to the personality of Elisha and his influence on Pliethon as a channel for the transmission of Eastern teachings. There are three main theories concerning the intellectual identity of this, as Scholarius calls him, crypto-pagan Jew. F. Mazet (1971) emphasizes the part of Scholarius” statement according to which Elisha was a follower of the philosophy of Averroes (1126-1198) as well as “other Persian and Arabic commentators of Aristotle whom the Jews translated into their language”. On this basis he cites Elisha as the source of the Neoplatonic reception of Aristotle, which Pliphon later used in his polemic with Scholarius. The French Islamic scholar Henri Corbin has put forward the thesis that the “Zoroastrian” knowledge transmitted by Elisha to Pliphon was connected with the Iranian mystical doctrine of as-Suhrawardy. A third theory asserts the identity of Elisha with the Jewish doctor Elisha, whose medical school was attended by Byzantines and Italians. Elisha is known from Jewish sources as a polymath who specialized in medicine and philosophy. Finally, Dionysios Zakitinos and a number of later historians generally question the testimony of Scholarius, seeing no need for Gemistos to resort to the services of the enigmatic Jewish teacher. N. Siniossoglu, on the basis of biblical and Islamic connotations associated with the name “Elisha” (“Elisha”), suggests that it served as a pseudonym for a sectarian of Greek origin associated with the idea of Hellenism.
According to Scholarius, Elisha”s life ended at the stake. Since there is no indication that religious dissidents were executed in this way in Byzantium, some scholars suggest that he was either executed by the Turks or it was an accident. Gemiste himself never reported the fate of his teacher or even gave his name. It is noteworthy, however, that in his “Laws” Hemistus prescribes execution by fire for ideological and religious apostasy.
Students and like-minded people
In the interval between studying under Elisha and being accused of heresy and banished again from Constantinople, Gemiste taught for some time. He probably still remained in the capital in 1405, for from that year the future metropolitan Marcus Eugenicus became his pupil. К. Woodhouse thinks it unlikely that the theologian known later for his radical orthodoxy followed his teacher into exile, and therefore attributes the cessation of the school in Constantinople to somewhat later times. There is, however, no other confirmation of this dating, and it is quite possible that Gemiste left the capital earlier, in the last years of the fourteenth century. His stay in Mistra is first recorded in 1409. It is possible that the philosopher lived for several years in Thessalonica, which had the reputation of a city where intellectual freedom flourished.
There are only indirect indications about the immediate surroundings of Hemist in Mistra, the circle of his disciples and like-minded people. The fact that such a society existed and even had different degrees of “initiation” is indicated in two extant panegyrics written on the death of the philosopher. One was written by the monk Gregory, the other by a certain Hieronymus Charitonimus. Although Hermistus regarded monasticism extremely negatively, there were monks among his disciples, and Gregory was one of them. On the contrary, Jerome”s repeated attempts to enter the ranks of the “initiates” were suppressed – accordingly, his epitaph is written in a more acrimonious style. An alliance of like-minded men probably developed between 1416, when a satire by Mazaris was written that reports nothing about him, and the departure of Gemiste to Italy in 1438. Besides Marcus Eugenicus, only one disciple of this period is known by name, the future Catholic Cardinal Vissarion of Nicaea. Vissarion was born in 1402 in Trebizond and had studied under metropolitans Dositheus of Trebizond and John Hortasmen and the astronomer George Chrysococca before entering Hemist. On Hortasmen”s advice, Vissarion decided to complete his education with Gemistos in Mistra. In 1431-1437 he repeated his course in the liberal arts, with special emphasis on mathematics and Ptolemy”s theory. According to scholars, it was during these years that his outlook was formed and the principles of his philological activity as a commentator and collector of manuscripts began to take shape. Many scribes from Mistra, including the aforementioned Charitonymus, took part in the collection of the Cardinal”s famous library.
In the first half of the fifteenth century there were many intellectuals living in Mistra. As C. Woodhouse believes, they inevitably, to a greater or lesser degree, were influenced by the Gemistos. The scribe and owner of a splendid library John Dokianos, John Mosch, who headed the school after Plifon”s death, Demetrius Raoul Kavakis, whom I. Medvedev calls “the philosopher”s favorite and secretary”, and several others are mentioned in connection with Gemistos. Coming from a noble Norman family settled in Mistra, Kavakis (c. 1397-1487) was a passionate admirer of Hemist and, under his influence, of Julian the Apostate. According to Kavakis, at the age of 17 he became a sun worshiper, like Hemistus. He subsequently emigrated to Italy, where he was engaged in preserving the writings of his teacher. In 1409, Isidor, a native of Monemvasia, the future Metropolitan of Kiev, was able to communicate with Gemistos, though not necessarily as a disciple. Among the people who were influenced by Gemistos is also Mark Eugenicus” younger brother, John, who visited the Peloponnese at least twice, in the 1420s and 1440s, and also took part in the Council of Ferrara-Florence. On his return from the council in 1439 he made a copy of Hemist”s treatise “On the Virtues,” and in one of his undated letters to the philosopher he called him “truly the best and wisest man.” Contradictory is the attitude of Gennadius Scholarius, who, on the one hand, thought highly of his scholarship and moral qualities, and, on the other hand, accused him of heresy and blasphemy. The philosophical interests of Hemistus were shared by some members of the imperial family. Emperor Manuel II had a good theological education, and in philosophy he preferred Plato to Aristotle. Of his sons, John and Constantine corresponded with Hemistus: the former about his writings, and the latter was involved in a dispute with Scholarius. Manuel”s other sons communicated with the philosopher personally at Mistra, though they had no deep interest in philosophy.
Gemiste”s stay in Mistra is divided into two stages by a journey to Italy in 1438-1439. Of the reliably identifiable pupils of the second period one can only name Laonica Chalcocondylus, who was in Mistra in 1447, later a famous historian. The most prominent among the followers of the new generation is considered to be John Argyropoul. As a young man he attended the Council of Ferrara-Florence and later made a significant contribution to the spread of Greek culture in Italy. Argyropoul was by no means an uncritical follower of Hemistus in philosophical disputes: with the approval of Scholarius he wrote a treatise in support of the Florentine Union and was more an admirer of Aristotle than of Plato. To his pupil Donato Acciaioli of the Dukes of Athens, Pliphon “diligently expounded Plato”s theories, his secrets and secret teachings.” Less reliably traced are the relations of Gemistos with Michael Apostolios and Nicholas Secundus.
The Reform Program and State Activity
Mistra, where Pliphon spent the last years of his life, experienced its last flourishing under Byzantine rule in the first half of the fifteenth century. The city, a few miles west of ancient Sparta, was conquered, like the other Peloponnesian cities, by the Crusaders in the early thirteenth century. In 1249, the Franks founded a fortress here, but already in 1259, Guillaume II de Villarduen was defeated at Pelagonia and gave Mistra along with three other fortresses as a ransom for his freedom. Following this, Michael VIII Palaeologus recaptured Constantinople, and Mistra became the center of one of the provinces of the restored empire. The Franks did not stop trying to regain their possessions and the Greek population was often forced to seek protection in Mistra, which soon became a fortified city. The Peloponnese, divided between the feuding Byzantine Empire, the principality of Achaea and the despotate of Morea, was a technically backward, poor and isolated region until the middle of the 14th century. In the second half of the century the peninsula was almost entirely liberated from the Franks. It did not bring general prosperity, but Mistra itself distinguished itself from most cities of the empire and was considered the third most important city after the capital and Thessalonica (and after the loss of the latter in 1423, the second).
The political philosophy of Hemistus and his program of reforms are set out in detail in a number of texts, the earliest of which is a letter written around 1414 to Emperor Manuel II concerning the situation in the Peloponnese (De Isthmo). According to the letter, the reason why the defense of the peninsula against the “barbarians” (i.e., Ottomans, Italians, and Latins) cannot be organized is the poor political organization (κακοπολιτεία). An examination of the current situation, the philosopher writes, indicates that successes and defeats depend on the excellence of government. In a speech to the Despot Theodore, Hemistes proves that the only way for a city or a state to improve its affairs is to reform its organization (πολιτεία). If things are going well because of fortunate circumstances, such a situation is not sustainable and can quickly change for the worse. To illustrate his point, he points out that the Greeks were in obscurity, governed by foreign rulers, until Hercules gave them laws and instilled a desire for virtue, just as the Lacedæmonians succeeded only when Lycurgus gave them laws, and such examples are numerous in history. The Arabs, by borrowing laws from the Roman Empire, were able to carry out their conquests. Reform is urgently needed, and the only way to compensate for the weakness of the despotate.
Hemistus explicitly calls the emperor”s policy wrong, as it not only does not allow the use of external means for defense against the Turks, but also does not strengthen the state through a solid internal organization. In 1415 the emperor arrived in the Peloponnese and the entire population of the province was involved in building works to strengthen the isthmus. About that time speeches were written to the emperor Manuel (Memorandum) and the despot Theodore II, which developed the ideas first outlined in the letter.
It is probable that Gemiste held an official position at the court of the despots of Mistra, but his status is not accurately recorded in any document. On the basis of the posthumous panegyrics of Hieronymus Charitonimus and Friar Gregory it is assumed that he was vested with supreme judicial power, that is, he was one of the “general judges of the Romans” who appeared as a result of the judicial reform of Emperor Andronicus III. In 1438 he was named a member of the Senate. It is unknown anything about participation Ghemist in turbulent events of last decades of existence of Byzantium – on May 21, 1423 Hexamylion has been destroyed by Osmans, but then military happiness smiled to Byzantines, and by 1429 they could recapture almost all Peloponnesus. He may have had something to do with these events after all, for in 1427 the despot Theodore had given to him the province and fortress of Fanarion as a princedom. The reforms proposed by Ghemist were not implemented. In 1444 Cardinal Vissarion proposed reforms in Byzantium similar in spirit, though less radical. But there was no more time to implement them.
Participation in the Council of Ferrara-Florence
The most important episode in the life of Hemistus was a trip to Italy to take part in the Council of Ferrara-Florence, held in 1438-1439. By this time the philosopher”s negative attitude towards Christianity had not yet become widely known, since the work on the Laws was done in secret, and only his closest disciples knew of the existence of the work. As a famous scholar, Hemist took an active part in the discussion of the Orthodox-Catholic union, designed to end the schism in the Christian Church. The compromise, which had lasted several centuries, was to result in an Ecumenical Council, the possibility of which opened up after the defeat of the Ottomans in 1402 at Ankara. It was also assumed that the conclusion of the union would make it possible for Western countries to provide Byzantium with military aid against the Ottomans.
One of the most important and fundamental issues that had to be resolved before the council began was the determination of the location and composition of the participants. According to the recollections of Sylvester Siropoul, then great ecclesiarch, in 1426, during one of his trips to the Peloponnese, the emperor John VIII consulted with Hemist on the advisability of holding the council in Italy, rather than in Constantinople, as seemed right to many in Byzantium. The philosopher expressed his negative attitude to this project, because he assumed that the dispute over doctrinal issues would be reduced to a vote in which the Byzantines would be in the minority. Italian historiography has suggested that the philosopher was persuaded to participate in the council by his friend Cyriac of Ancona, who was a guest in Mistra in 1435 and 1447-1448. One way or another, on 27 November 1437, together with the other members of the Byzantine delegation, Ghemist departed Constantinople. Together with the Byzantine delegation, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, who by that time did not yet have a reputation as a significant philosopher, returned to Italy. Perhaps the phrase of Cusanz from his treatise On Learned Ignorance (1440) “once, returning by sea from Greece, I … came … to try to embrace the incomprehensible together with its incomprehensibility in knowing ignorance through ascent to eternal truths as they are knowable to man” refers to his communication with Hemist, but there is no confirmation of this.
The Byzantine delegation to the council was not united, and the disciples of Hemist were among the leaders of both factions: Cardinal Vissarion was for the conclusion of the union, Marcus Eugenicus was against it; Hemist joined the latter. Siropoul mentions him in several episodes of the council”s history. In one of them, Patriarch Joseph II summoned Gemistus to ask his opinion on the difference of opinion between the Byzantines and the Latins on the effusion of the Holy Spirit, that is, on Filioque. Hemist”s answer was fully in line with the position of the Church of Constantinople: “None of us should doubt what our own say. For, behold, we have doctrine, first of all, from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, then from the apostles, and this is the foundation of our faith, on which all our teachers stand. Since our teachers are privy to the foundations of the faith and do not deviate in anything, while the foundations are the most authentic, we need not doubt in the slightest what they say about it. But if anyone doubts it, I do not know in what he is manifesting the faith.” In addition, Gemiste was included in a six-person commission to lead a discussion with Western theologians. Contrary to this, George of Trebizond characterizes Gemiste”s views, reporting that he allegedly claimed in Florence that “in a few years the whole world will be possessed by the same religion,” but not Christian or Muslim, but paganism. Accordingly, whether Gemiste was sincere in expressing orthodox views, or whether he spoke more from patriotic positions, modern scholars have expressed different points of view.
Many famous philosophers of their day attended the Council of Ferrara-Florence, and there is a record of the communion of some of them with the Gemistos. The fact that a great reception was held in Ferrara in honor of the Greek delegation by the physician and philosopher Ugo Benzi is reported by Aenea Silvio Piccolomini, the future Pope Pius II. On the Italian side were present the Marquis Niccolò III d”Este, another future pope, Tommaso Parentucelli, and the theologian Ambrosius Camaldulus. Parentucelli at the time was head of Cosimo de Medici”s library and later became famous as a patron of Greek authors and education in general. Around this time a small treatise was written, “On the Problems on which Aristotle Diverges from Plato” – by Gemist”s own admission, from boredom during his illness, “for those interested in Plato.” Western readers in the middle of the fifteenth century were not very well aware of the problematic debate about the comparative merits of Plato”s and Aristotle”s philosophy, all the more so in the Byzantine interpretation. However, not limiting himself to asserting Plato”s superiority, Hemist went much further and accused Aristotle of numerous errors and contradictions. According to B. Tambren, the style and technique in which the treatise was written were calculated to produce maximum effect and could not fail to be appreciated by the Medici. Another effective way of winning the favor of the ruler of Florence was by giving the Gemiste a handwritten collection of Plato”s works. This manuscript (Laurentianus LXXXV, 9) was then given to Marsilio Ficino and became the conceptual basis of the Academy of Plato in Caredji.
Without waiting for the Council to end, Gemiste and Marcus Eugenicus left Italy in 1439. During this voyage the treatise “On the Virtues” was first promulgated and subsequently became widely known.
Death and Funerals
Plifon died at Mistra and was buried there according to the Orthodox rite, despite his reputation as a heretic. The date of his death is often given as June 26, 1452, based on an anonymous entry in the margins of a Plifonian manuscript, according to which “on June 26, the 15th indictment, Monday” the “teacher Homostos” (ό διδάσκαλος ό Γόμοστος) died. The author of the record is attributed to a disciple of Pliphon, Dimitri Raul Kavakis, known for his “orthographic fantasies.” This dating is also supported by the notes of Cardinal Vissarion of Nicaea (1403-1472), another famous disciple of Plifon, who placed memorial verses in honor of Metropolitan Dositheus of Monemvassy, who died September 1, 1452, after similar verses in honor of Plifon. Professor John Monfasani of the University of Albany, examining in more detail the circumstances of Vissarion”s epitaph as well as the destruction of the Laws by Gennadius Scholarius (c. 1400-1473), finds this argument unconvincing – in his view, Pliphon survived the fall of Constantinople and died in 1454. This version is confirmed by the 1457 report of George of Trebizond (1395-1472
Very little is known about Pliphon”s family. His sons Demetrius and Andronicus probably outlived their father and inherited his property. Perhaps the philosopher”s grandson was a certain “Lacedædemonian” John the Hermist, who served as a secretary at Ancona and who called for a Latin poem addressed to Pope Leo X to arrange a crusade to Greece. No lifetime images of Plifon have survived. It is believed that the philosopher is depicted in a portrait by Cristofano del Altissimo in the Uffizi Gallery and also in the famous fresco The Procession of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, also in Florence.
In 1464, Plifon”s ashes were transferred to Rimini by his admirer Sigismondo Malatesta. The reasons for this move are not known. Like many Italian rulers, Sigismondo Malatesta sought to surround himself with prominent figures in various fields of science and art. Since Rimini was not a wealthy city, it was not often possible to get top talents for long. Among the most notable scholarly friends of Malatesta were the poet Basinio Basini and the historian Roberto Valturio. Sijismondo may have learned about Plifon from his close relative Cleofa Malatesta, who in 1421 married the despot Theodore II Palaeologus. Her brother Pandolfo was Latin Archbishop of Patras during the same years. Cleofa was undoubtedly acquainted with the most famous citizen of Mistra, and when she died in 1433, Plifon responded to her death with a eulogy. The illiterate 22-year-old Sigismondo Malatesta did not take part in the Council of Ferrara-Florence, but he had heard of the famous Greek philosopher and invited him to his court. Plifon declined the offer and in 1440 he returned to his homeland. Nothing is known of further contacts between Malatesta and Plifon. In 1464 the lord of Rimini took over as captain of the Venetian troops fighting against the Turks in the Peloponnese, and in the same year he captured Mistra for the sole purpose of getting hold of Plifon”s remains. M. Bertozzi suggests that in this way the excommunicated Malatesta could express his opposition to the papacy.
The publication of the treatise On the Problems on which Aristotle Diverges from Plato (Περὶ ὧν Ἀριστοτέλης πρὸς Πλάτωνα διαφέρεται, “On Differences”) in 1439 was a turning point in the career of Hemistus – it was then that he adopted his pseudonym Plifon, by which he became widely known. In his defense of Aristotle, published a few years later, Gennadius Scholarius referred to his opponent by both names, giving preference to the new one. In more official contexts, both Scholarius and the philosopher”s friends continued to call and refer to him by his traditional name. It is traditionally believed that the name Pliphon Gemistus took in honor of Plato. The circle of Gemistos understood this connection, and, for example, Michael Apostolatus in his letters referred to the teacher as “the second Plato”, and in subsequent polemics he clearly pointed to the consonance of the names. Hemist”s opponents saw in the adoption of such a pseudonym the presumptuous confidence of the philosopher that he had a connection with the soul of the ancient Greek thinker. According to the ironic remark of George of Trebizond, Hemistus adopted the new name in order that the simpletons might sooner believe in his teachings. The Italians followed the admirers of Pliphon rather than the critics. Not knowing the philosopher personally, Marsilio Ficino called him “Plethonem quasi alterum Plationem.” After Cardinal Vissarion”s death, panegyrists wrote in similar terms about his teacher, followed by successive generations of disciples and successors. Recognizing the milestone significance of the philosopher”s decision to change his name, C. Woodhouse titled two parts of his monograph “Gemiste” and “Pliphon”. A later researcher, W. Hladki, in his work (2014) adopted the following principle: to use the name “Hemist” in that part which concerns the personality or social activity, and “Pliphon” only in the context of his “philosophia perennis”.
In ten chapters of De differentiis Pliphon examines a wide range of issues in which he believes the two great ancient Greek philosophers diverged, focusing most closely on the theory of form. The unusual harshness with which Pliphon expressed his opposition to Aristotle”s theories attracted the attention not only of the Western intellectuals to whom the treatise was originally addressed. In the first half of the 1440s, Emperor John VIII Palaeologus wrote a letter to the philosopher outlining the questions he had raised, particularly whether mortality was indeed an inherent property of man. About 1444 Gennadius Scholarius replied to “De differentiis” with a voluminous and well argued work “On Pliphon”s perplexities about Aristotle” (“Καττἁ τῶν Πλφωνος ἀποριῶν ἐπ᾽ Άριστοτέλει”, “Contra Plethonem”). Apparently Pliphon was not immediately acquainted with Scholarius” reply, and his next rejoinder did not follow until five or six years later in his treatise “Against Scholarius” Defense of Aristotle” (“Πρὁς τἁς Σχολαρίον περί Άριστοτέλους ἀντιλήψεις”, “Contra Scholarii”). Scholarius” book, as well as Pliphon”s reply to it, were built around the original theses of De differentiis, but they appealed to polemicists in varying degrees. In Contra Plethonem Scholarius devoted the greatest effort to refuting the section on the concept of God, trying to prove the correspondence of the Aristotelian idea of God to both Christianity and Plato”s views, leaving the refutation of the form theory critique for a more appropriate occasion. In Contra Scholarii Pliphon ridiculed this bias and also paid more attention to the divine problem. In arguing that Scholarius misinterpreted Aristotle”s philosophy and overestimated its value for Christianity, Pliphon applied the principle common to Byzantine philosophy and scholasticism that the views of a pagan philosopher are good exactly insofar as they agree with Christian teaching. It was Pliphon”s task to show that the difference between Plato and Aristotle was due to the greater proximity of the former to Christianity.
The polemic of Pliphon and Scholarius ended there, but the dispute was continued by their disciples and followers: Matthew Camariot and Theodore Gaza opposed Pliphon, Michael Apostolus wrote a treatise against Gaza in which he refuted Aristotle”s doctrine of matter, in response to which Gaza”s cousin Andronicus Callistus wrote his refutation of Plato and Pliphon. The most irreconcilable critic of Pliphon was George of Trebizond, who wrote his works (Comparationes philosophorum Aristotelis et Platonis, 1458) in Latin – thanks to him the polemic became known in the West. The next important participant in the controversy was Vissarion of Nicaea, a disciple of Pliphon, who tried to evaluate objectively the merits of both philosophical systems (“In calumniatorem Platonis”, 1469).
In considering the dispute between Pliphon and Gennadius Scholarius about Aristotle and Plato, the Austrian historian George Karamanolis finds it possible, without denying the importance of the political component of the conflict, to limit himself to the philosophical side of the case. In his opinion, Pliphon and Scholarius differently assessed the place of ancient Greek philosophers in historical perspective. Pliphon believed that the ancient tradition had a clear preference for Plato, while Aristotle was valued in the West and Averroes. Scholarius, one of the greatest philosophers of his time and one of the few in Byzantium who was familiar with Western scholasticism, rightly pointed out that many ancient philosophers, not only Peripatetics but also Platonists, paid tribute to Aristotle. Karamanolis notes that Pliphon could hardly have been unaware of the works of Porphyry, James and other Neoplatonists who commented on Aristotle, so Scholarius not only challenged the correctness of Pliphon”s view of the continuity and unity of the Platonic tradition, but also assumed a biased attitude towards one side of the argument of the Mistra philosopher. The reason why Pliphon speaks of Platonism as a unified tradition is seen by Karamanolis as a desire to distance Hellenistic-Byzantine philosophy as much as possible from Western philosophy, where Aristotelianism had become the basis of scholasticism. The scholastics, however, were not united in their attitude toward Aristotle, and some of Pliphon”s claims resonated with the themes of the bitter debates in the universities. While the Dominicans, represented by their greatest theologians, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, recognized Aristotle”s teaching as consistent with that of the church, other scholastic theologians tended toward neo-Augustianism or other versions of theology that better assured the omnipotence and transcendence of God. There was another group of philosophers, mainly concentrated in university art departments, called “Averroists,” who accepted Aristotle”s theories in their original form, regardless of their deviations from Christianity.
In his treatise On Difference Pliphon was sharply critical of Aristotle”s philosophy as significantly inferior to Plato”s. Without the aim of systematically comparing the two philosophical systems, Pliphon focuses exclusively on those components of Aristotle”s teaching which differ from Plato”s. His criticism is very sharp and includes accusations of Stagyrite”s inability to understand his teacher, of slander, of introducing innovations unnecessarily and of contradicting himself. Pliphon”s general assessment is that the works of Aristotle are worthy of study “on account of the useful things they contain, but it is necessary to know that a good deal of bad things have been mixed in with them”. According to G. Karamanolis, in his criticism Pliphon followed some of the ancient Platonists, especially Atticus and Eusebius of Caesarea (“Preparation for the Gospel”), known for their radical anti-Aristotelianism. Noting the importance and fruitfulness of this approach, W. Hladki points out the problems associated with it: Pliphon does not explicitly mention either Atticus or Eusebius, and the differences in argumentation are quite noticeable, while the Christian perspective in which Eusebius quoted fragments from Atticus was quite alien to Pliphon.
Another approach to explaining the reasons for Pliphon”s criticism of Aristotle is offered by the French scholar B. Tambren. Since “De differentiis” appeared during the Council of Ferrara-Florence, the historian draws attention to the dogmatic side of the question. As is well known, from the Byzantine point of view, the main obstacle to the conclusion of the union was the recognition by the Catholic Church of the doctrine of the descent of the Holy Spirit not only from the Father, but also from the Son and the corresponding addition to the Creed. In Mark Eugenicus and Pliphon”s interpretation, if the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, the original cannot be singular, and the Latins thus introduce two “causes” and “initiates” in the Trinity, violating its monarchy. According to the historian, for Pliphon here was also a contradiction with traditional Hellenism, as he understood it on the basis of his interpretation of Plato”s II letter. During the endless dogmatic disputes at the council, Aristotelian syllogisms and references to the works of Stagyrite were used by both sides, but more so by the Catholics. From a certain point the secular participants in the council were excluded from the debate, so Pliphon, seeing Aristotle”s teachings as an obstacle to the conclusion of the union, continued the dispute behind the scenes.
An important concomitant result of Pliphon”s work in establishing a correct interpretation of Plato”s writings was the preparation of a collection of the ancient Greek philosopher”s works. As in the case of the Chaldean Oracles, Pliphon undertook a significant revision of the text, eliminating the fragments that seemed to him incorrect or misleading. However, it was not only Pliphon who was selective with his sources – Gennadius Scholarius based his rejection of Plato on the works of Thomas Aquinas, who, in turn, believed that Plato and Aristotle were in agreement on matters of principle. The course of the dispute over which of the philosophical systems of antiquity was closer to Christianity demonstrated to critical Renaissance thinkers the need to work more carefully with their sources. Above all, thanks to Vissarion of Nicaea, it was possible to show that neither “Aristotelianism” nor “Platonism” were united antagonistic currents. As a result, the humanists became aware of the need to study the history of philosophy. One of the first works in this field was a small Latin treatise written by Vissarion”s friend Nicholas Secundin, De origine et sectis philosophorum, about 1455. In a broader sense the controversy contributed to the expansion of philosophical contacts between Byzantium and the West. In the Orthodox Church the victory of Scholarius made Aristotelianism part of official Christian ideology for centuries, something later opposed by figures of the Greek Enlightenment.
As George of Trebizond claimed, Pliphon worked on his main work in secret all his life. Probably the final version appeared before the trip to Italy. The generally accepted theory of F. Mazet is that the Laws underwent two revisions: in the second, the work was greatly expanded and acquired a complicated structure with repetitions. The events connected with the destruction of the manuscript of Laws are known from the direct participant of the events, from the letter of Gennadius Scholarius to Exarch Josephus. According to the most popular belief, the first version of the book was finished around 1436. Some of its chapters, such as “On Fate”, circulated in manuscripts during the philosopher”s lifetime. After Pliphon”s death in 1452, the manuscript of the Laws remained in the possession of the ruling family of Mistra. Many were aware of this and petitioned Despot Demetrius Palaeologus and his wife Theodora for permission to copy the manuscript. Theodora, however, did not want to do anything without permission from Scholarius, who became patriarch after the fall of Constantinople. The manuscript was sent for evaluation to the patriarch, who decreed that it should be burned, and in 1456 Scholarius abdicated the patriarchate. Theodora did not do this, and when in 1460 the Ottomans seized Mistra, the manuscript went with it to Constantinople. In 1462 Scholarius, having become patriarch a second time, burned the work of Pliphon between 1460 and 1465, retaining only the contents and some fragments (21 chapters of 101) to prove the heresy of the late philosopher. After the second renunciation, Scholarius retired to the monastery of John the Baptist on Mount Menikio near Sere, where he wrote his letter to Joseph the Exarch.
An alternative version was proposed by the French biographer of Gennadius Scholarius, Marie Blanchet. According to her version of the chronology, Scholarius was patriarch only once, from January 6, 1454 to the winter of 1456, and only during his patriarchate did he have enough authority to burn the “Laws”. To explain how the manuscript fell into his hands before the fall of Mistra, the historian suggests that it occurred during an Albanian insurrection inspired by the Ottomans in the despotate territory between the fall of 1453 and the fall of 1454. A third version is offered by G. Monfazani, who suggests that Plifon died in 1454, and Scholarius burned the manuscript in 1460 not as patriarch, but as a monk in Menikio. The manuscript, however, came to him when the Paleologians stopped at Sera as transit, prisoners, on their way to Constantinople. All three reconstructions suggest that the manuscript of Pliphon”s work was of such high value that it was remembered in the critical circumstances in which the rulers of Morea found themselves after 1453. The American historian Maria Mavroudy suggests that the codex, which included the text of the Laws, may have included separate texts used for theurgic practices. In particular, it may have been the Chaldean Oracles, the subject of Pliphon”s keen interest. Perhaps that is why Demetrius and Theodora did not destroy the manuscript earlier.
In Platonism”s writings, reinterpreted Platonism is put forward as an alternative to official religion. In his treatise The Laws he writes: “The universe is eternal because it arose with Zeus, and at the same time, having become the most beautiful thing there is, forever in the same state, unchanging in the form once and forever given to it. The perfection of the universe follows from the fact that it cannot be assumed that God, being himself the highest good, has produced something less perfect. From this also follows the immutability of the universe. He expresses the same idea in stricter philosophical terms in De differentiis. According to Pliphon, proponents of the doctrine of ideas believe that God did not create the universe directly, but through a substance closer to his nature. This substance, being a totality of different ideas and concepts, forms a supersensible world, at the head of which stands the most important and perfect of ideas. It, taking the supersensible world as its model, has created our sensual world. Accordingly, all parts of the sensual world have their cause in the supersensible world. In doing so, Plifond admits the existence of contingency, because causes have no “deprivations, failures, and all that is fall into nothingness,” as well as negations. Nothing in the supersensible world is infinite, but all the infinite phenomena of our world (such as matter) have as their cause a common idea.
The sources of Pliphon”s cosmogony differ. According to one point of view, the ontology set forth in the Laws is influenced by the Neo-Platonic doctrine of the mystical emanation of the material world from the spiritual primordial, the highest god who communicates (απορροη, “effusion” in Plotinus) his essence to lower gods, and from them to immaterial substances and corporeal things. According to F. Mazet, Platon”s doctrine is closer to the doctrine of explicatio, that is, the “unfolding” or “self unfolding” of God, of Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno. In one of the hymns Pliphon refers to Zeus: “The producer and almighty ruler of everything, who, bringing everything in himself together and inseparably, then releasing each thing in a special way from himself, thus making his work something complete and unified”. I. Medvedev disagrees with the point of view of Mazet, who sees in the links of the “unfolding” ontological picture of the world a chain of decreasing perfection, drawing attention to the words of Plifon that the perfect God cannot create anything less perfect than himself.
The Pantheon of Plithon forms a system of personified philosophical categories describing the world, deductively deduced from each other and genetically related to each other. The cause of all things, existence itself, as the most general category, is embodied by Zeus. The most important god is Poseidon, who is conceived as a unity or form-giving beginning. Personified in the image of Hera, the idea of matter and multiplicity of forms is actualized in the concrete physical world, uniting with Poseidon. Apollo and Artemis represent the ideas of identity and difference. Poseidon”s children are the bearers of the ideas of specific entities, with legitimate children representing eternal categories and illegitimate children representing mortal ones (demons, humans, plants, etc.). The bearer of the idea of the human immortal soul is Pluto, and the bearer of the idea of mortal human flesh is the titanid Cora. Pliphon”s system is polytheistic because it allows for a plurality of creators with different natures. In “The Laws” he writes:
Pliphon himself cautions against a literal interpretation of his pantheon in the traditional pagan sense, explaining that “it was not possible to designate the gods by some definitions instead of names, for such a thing would not have been easy for most people, nor to give them new names or apply barbaric ones, but only to use those inherited from the fathers”. The choice of the names of the gods was probably not accidental, but what principles guided Pliphon in this case is not clear. Regarding Poseidon (Ποσειδῶν), F. Mazet has suggested that the choice of name was due etymologically to the consonance of the phrase “consort of the Ideas” (ποσις ειδῶν) – in Plifon”s system Poseidon was the consort of Hera, with whom he “cohabiteth chaste and divinely”.
The chronological system elaborated by Pliphon is preserved only in the Laws (I.21). According to his ideas, it was necessary to be guided by natural laws, and therefore the length of the month was established in accordance with the rotation of the moon, and the year – the rotation of the sun around the Earth. The year was to begin immediately after the winter solstice, and had a duration of 12 or 13 months. Pliphon also gave instructions on how to divide the days among themselves and how to determine the length of the month. According to Theodore of Gaza”s commentary, Pliphon did not name the months, naming them simply by their ordinal number. According to Plithonus, the months were divided into four parts, denoting the formative period, the middle period, and the periods of decline and death, and included six “sacred” days of rest. There were three consecutive days of rest: the 29th day of the month in honor of Pluto and the next two “for the examination of one”s conscience.” The new moon was dedicated to Zeus. Gaza gives no further details. Charles Alexander, the first publisher of the Laws, speculates that Gaza may have seen the text of the treatise before it was destroyed by Scholarius, but had forgotten much by the time he wrote his notes in 1470.
The fact that Pliphon expounded his chronological concept in a chapter entitled “On the Veneration of the Gods” indicates, according to M. Anastos, that, like the ancient Greeks, he associated the calendar with the cycle of religious festivals. The first-century B.C. astronomer Geminus explains that “the taking of the years by the sun means that the same sacrifices to the gods are made at the same times of the year, and the spring sacrifices will always be made in spring, the summer sacrifices in summer, and just the same in the other seasons will also have their sacrifices; and they will be welcome and gladly received by the gods. But this cannot happen unless the solstices and equinoxes fall on the same months. Taking the days according to the moon means that the names of the days will correspond to the phases of the moon: for the days are named precisely according to the phases of the moon”. It is not known whether Pliphon used the writings of Geminus directly or in the form of quotations; the state of the manuscript tradition allows for both possibilities.
In organizational terms, the religious cult of Plyphon is arranged quite simply. Although it does not require the destruction of the spiritual estate, anyone who is “distinguished by age or anything else” can perform worship, and any open-air place cleansed of excrement and human remains can serve as a temple. Prayers are replaced by simple invocations to the gods, which must be recited at certain times of the day and year. There are five in all: one in the morning, to be recited immediately upon awakening, three in the afternoon, and one in the evening, to be recited before going to bed on ordinary days and after sundown and before dinner on Lenten days. Since the prayers, according to Pliphon, are performed three times a day, M. Anastos sees no reason to speak of Islamic influence in this case. Instead, the historian draws attention to Pliphon”s adherence to the late Antique pagan and Neoplatonist traditions. For example, Plutarch wrote that the Egyptians made offerings to the sun three times a day, while Jamlichus pointed out the importance of addressing prayer to the right one in the hierarchy of the gods. No doubt Plithonus was aware that Proclus prayed in the morning, at noon, and at sunset, as well as recommendations to the emperor Julian”s priests. Despite its pagan connotations, however, Plyphon”s terminology is traditional for describing Byzantine liturgy. In his descriptions of the body movements that should be observed during prayer- kneeling, the raising of hands, and the threefold prosciences-Pliphon borrows some elements from descriptions of Christian and pagan cults in literature and works of art.
In addition to prayers, Pliphon wrote 28 hymns for festivals in dactylic hexameter, in imitation of Proclus and Pseudo-Orpheus. Julian considered memorizing hymns useful for memory training, while Proclus read to students hymns of his own composition. According to the Laws, the performance of each hymn was to be accompanied by music limited to four tonalities. At least in part, Pliphon”s musical ideas are based on the writings of the ancient Greek music theorists Aristoxenus and Aristides Quintilianus. According to the general conclusion of M. Anastos, the result of Pliphon”s efforts to create an original liturgy was “a mixture whose forms, essentially Christian, were defined by a pagan spirit.
The Ethics of Plifon
Pliphon set forth the initial sketch of his moral system in his Treatise on the Virtues, which scholars date in a wide range from 1414 to 1439. The treatise was written under the influence not only of Plato but also of Epictetus, which is characteristic of the circle of late Byzantine intellectuals from Mistra. The moral principles proposed by Pliphon correspond to Stoic ideals:
In his Treatise on the Virtues, the philosopher speaks of the relationship between the concept of the good and the divine and postulates three principles concerning the latter. First, among all entities only one is divine, and it is superior to all others. Second, the divine essence cares for humanity and takes part in human affairs, great or small. Third, it arranges everything according to its judgment, always righteous and just, and no human offerings or ceremonies can affect it. In essence, the deity does not need humans, but there is nothing wrong with a moderate observance of religious rituals, understood as a symbolic recognition of the external source of worldly goods. According to Hemistus, virtue (ἀρετή) consists in a correct attitude toward the divine, that is, an understanding of its qualities and moderate worship. Following the opposite principles leads to impiety, of which he distinguishes three kinds, similarly to what is set forth in Plato”s Laws (chapter X). The first is the belief that there is absolutely nothing divine in the world; the second is the belief that the divine exists but does not care about human affairs. The last kind of wickedness would be to believe that the divine exists and cares about human affairs, but that it can be influenced by prayer or religious ceremonies of some kind.
As for all the Platonists, the basis of virtue for Hemistus is the likeness of God, but unlike his predecessors he does not require man to deny his corporeal nature. Choosing between a life “active” (vita activa) and “contemplative” (vita contemplativa), the late ancient and medieval Platonists predominantly chose the latter, as directed toward more significant spheres of ontological and metaphysical reality. Hemist”s notion of virtue follows from his ontology, the characteristic feature of which is the idea of the harmony of the entire world order, from the abstract stages of existence to social relations. Virtue, understood not only as a way of individual perfection, but also as a way for a nation to carry out political, social, religious, agricultural and military reforms as well as to achieve independence and freedom, extends to his political theory as well. In ontological terms, virtue is important because self-improvement and reform are part of the fulfillment of a providential plan governed by the divine mind. Human beings, according to Hemist, have freedom in a world governed by divine predestination. According to his thought, necessity (ἀνάγκη) is not slavery (δουλεία) and does not contradict freedom, since only God alone is free from necessity. It is necessary to strive for the likeness of God, which is achieved by following the virtues, which, in turn, are the states according to which we are good. It is purely intellectual activity, contemplation, the best and happiest thing a man can do. Associated with the name of Hemistus is the tendency to rehabilitate the political virtues and to restore Plato”s original theory, which includes both aspects. Political activity, as a way of leading an “active” life, was seen by the Neoplatonists as an important preparatory step, but not as the highest degree of a perfect life. Porphyry”s fourfold scheme, while including the “civic” virtues as the initial stage, had as its ultimate goal the highest possible elevation of man to the level of the “divine” mind. For Hemist, man represented a unity of soul and body, and the individual was understood as part of the national identity. The goal of the virtues was the transformation not only of the individual, but of the nation as a whole, whose unity is achieved by the harmonization of its individual qualities.
In De differentiis, Hemist criticizes the Aristotelian notion of the “middle,” understood in the Nicomachean Ethics as a position equidistant between the extreme passions on two fronts. First of all, starting from one of Aristotle”s phrases (“He who oversteps the measure, moreover in fearlessness, has no name (we have already said that much is nameless), but if a man fears nothing, even an earthquake, as they say about the Celts, he is probably demoniac or stupid”, III, VII), he considers the “middle” to be an indefinite and quantitative concept. If this is so, then, developing this thought, the difference between “forgivable” and “unforgivable” is quantitative, not qualitative. The question of gradations of virtues was discussed in Byzantine philosophy, but exactly how the quoted passage relates to it is not entirely clear. According to J. Fink, the accusation of quantification could only have been made by Pliphon if he did not understand Aristotle”s teaching on “the middle” very well, or in order to draw increased attention to a circumstance of little importance. Scholarius” objection, however, is also not convincing. In his view, from the fact that not all affects and actions (e.g., committing adultery) are graded, not all virtues represent the “middle. Second, according to Pliphon, Aristotle”s virtuous people are “semi-virtuous” people, equally striving for both the beautiful and the bad. On the contrary, “an all-perfect man, quite the opposite of a virtuous man, would probably be one who despises that which must be aspired to and aspires to that which must be despised, such a one uses both opposite passions simultaneously and uses them badly, being in a double way in a certain middle and at the same time being quite the opposite of a virtuous man.” Scholarius responded by questioning the possibility of desiring opposites. Later, Pliphon explained that he did not see a contradiction here by example: Scholarius can love reasonable argumentation, which is the sign of a man of moderation, and he can desire empty glory, which is something opposite; thereby Scholarius is half-virtuous and in the middle.
According to F. Mazet”s analysis, Pliphon “does not believe in the Christian dogmas of original sin and grace,” and therefore the perfection of higher qualities does not require sacrifice on the part of lower, corporeal qualities. All living things exist insofar as they imitate God. Because morality is a property of human beings, it can be viewed in terms of various forms of activity. For Pliphon, the one most interesting is the one related to the relation to the body and to the power of instincts. As a result, the philosopher rethinks the classical scheme of dividing moral activity into four forms in ascending order: prudence or phronesis (justice (courage (ἀνδρεία), consisting in the performance by man of his social functions and overcoming involuntary feelings, affects and fears; temperance (σωφροσύνη) in relation to the instincts of the body.
The key virtues are listed in the first part of the Tractatus, and their derivatives in the second. The order in which the virtues are listed in each part is different, but the author does not reveal the reason for this arrangement. The disclosure of the meaning of the virtues is carried out according to Pliphon”s thesis that “man is nothing else than a living being endowed with reason, who has gone into this world as a spectator at a feast”. Consequently, the key virtue of Fronesis must provide the best possible conditions for scientific and philosophical reflection on reality. For this she has “benevolence,” which gives insight into the superiority of reason over dogma, “physics” for knowledge of the universe and the properties of things, and “religiosity. The other major virtues also distinguish three generic virtues each. The virtue of temperance has, according to Pliphon, as many forms as there are needs to be satisfied. The three main ones are pleasure, fame, and possessions. Each of these has its own generic virtue: propriety, moderation, and generosity. Decency (κοσμιότης) is at the heart of morality – it helps to recognize the desirability of pleasures and moderates their gratification, distinguishing man from creatures devoid of reason. In his conception of moderation (μετριότης) Pliphon departs from the Christian ideal of “modesty” and “humiliation,” associating this virtue with the modesty of the well-bred man who knows his worth and is not concerned with the opinion of the crowd, but only with the recognition of men of worth. The next stage of moral perfection according to Pliphon is generosity (ἐλευθεριότης), which allows the proper disposal of the surplus that even a poor man will have as a result of the preceding virtues. What is meant, however, is not traditional almsgiving in Christianity, but the satisfaction of one”s love for the beautiful expressed in material things. Thus, the ideal of Plifon”s generosity is embodied in the Renaissance patron of the arts.
The division of types of courage is made according to the types of suffering voluntarily and independently of desires, whether sent by the deity or inflicted by men. Nobility (γενναιότης) consists in restraint with respect to pleasures – Epicurus said that those who are intemperate lose their health and ability to enjoy. Determination (εὐψύχια) helps to patiently endure the troubles that come from above, and it makes one realize oneself not a “bag of meat,” but an immortal being endowed with reason. Gentleness (this helps us to bear the troubles caused by our loved ones, especially by their views which contradict ours. One should respect the beliefs of others and try to change them with better arguments. In this case, tolerance is proclaimed as an ethical principle, but it does not extend to law enforcement. One”s civic qualities are revealed in the gradations of the virtue of justice. Piety (ὁσιότης) helps evade both atheism and prejudice. Citizenship (πολιτεία) prescribes one”s certain place in society, and decency (χρηστότης) regulates our relations with others.
Pliphon”s doctrine of fate is closely related to his theology, ontology, and ethics. His views on the principle of causality he set forth in the treatise “De Differentiis” and the chapter “On Fate” of the “Laws”. Pliphon”s correspondence with his former disciple Vissarion of Nicaea contains important details for understanding his views. Scholarius, in his Defence of Aristotle, does not deal in detail with Plithonian determinism, leaving the matter for a special treatise, which was never written. In the form of a separate treatise, the chapter “On Fate” was already in circulation during the philosopher”s lifetime, eliciting responses from representatives of both sides of the Platonist and Aristotelian dispute. The problem that Pliphon discusses in this case was raised by the Stoics, who declared that “everything happens according to fate,” that is, in harmony with antecedent causes. Such determinism had a teleological aspect, implying that fate corresponds to divine providence and ultimately leads to the establishment of the best possible order of affairs in the universe. At the same time, the views of the Stoics did not exclude compatibilism, insofar as man was capable of rejecting or accepting something. The Platonists did not accept the Stoic doctrine of fate, and the writings of a number of middle Platonists attempted to preserve the autonomy of the human soul simultaneously with the transcendence of God and his providence. Drawing on Plato”s few statements, the second-century author Pseudo-Plutarch, in his treatise On Fate, set forth a theory of “conditional fate” according to which “virtue is not subject to anyone as well as vice, granting at the same time to fate the right to grant good life to those who chose right, and give something opposite to those whose choice was wrong. Further, the lots themselves, scattered in disorder, are left to chance, which also determines much in our lives, since much depends on one”s upbringing and the society in which one is to live. The Peripatetics took a similar stance, although some of them pushed the boundaries of, in modern terminology, human subjectivity even further. The contribution of the Neoplatonists was to reconcile divine providence with the genuine randomness of human action, ensured by restricting randomness to the physical world, while the out-of-body soul was regarded as beyond its control.
To justify that “everything happens according to the law of necessity,” Plifond cites two statements postulated by him as axioms. According to the first, “everything that happens is necessarily conditioned by a cause,” and the second states that “every cause necessarily produces a strictly definite consequence. The first principle is found in Plato and was then widely used in Greek philosophy, while the sources of the second are not clearly defined. The closest to Platon”s formulation of the principle of determinacy of consequences can be found in the Neoplatonist Ammonius Saccas. There is no place for chance in Platon”s picture of the world, and in this he goes further than the Stoics. The question of divine providence of events also has a long history. The Peripatetic Alexander of Aphrodisias considered it in connection with the Stoic doctrine of fate – in his view, unlike humans, the gods were able to foresee random events. Among the middle Platonists and Neoplatonists the most widespread was the theory of Ammonius and Jamvlichus about the different degrees of knowledge available to humans and gods. Pliphon considers Aristotle”s views on causality to be contradictory because, in his view, one cannot simultaneously allow the existence of chance and postulate the obligatory conditionality of motion. Pliphon considers Aristotle”s assumption of chance in the form of fate to be the most flawed in Aristotelianism, since it undermines the doctrine of God by limiting the fullness of his providence. In the Laws, Pliphon says that the gods necessarily possess foresight, since they themselves determine future events by choosing which of mutually exclusive outcomes will occur. In one of his letters, Vissarion asked Pliphon”s opinion about the Neo-Platonic concept of different knowledge depending on the nature of the cognitive subject. In response, the philosopher expressed bewilderment – what additional knowledge can the gods have (“can it be that a cow is a man and a man is a star”) about the essence of things? Thus, Pliphon again demonstrates a selective adherence to his predecessors, returning to an earlier stage of the debate, when divine foresight of events and their contingency were seen as incompatible opposites.
The last chapter, “On Fate,” deals with the question of man”s moral responsibility for his actions, namely, whether divine punishment is just if men are not “masters of themselves. Pliphon”s answer is that freedom is opposed to slavery, not necessity. Men are governed by their rationality, which is determined by external circumstances, and therefore “men are masters of themselves, inasmuch as they govern themselves, though governed by those in authority, both being in some respect free and not being.” Pliphon does not consider serving a good master – that is, Zeus as a personified necessity – to be slavery, since nothing but pleasant and useful will be gained by the one who serves. Pliphon”s understanding of freedom is close to Epictetus” views on self-control and overcoming irrational desires, but, as László Bene points out, it differs in its approach to understanding external and internal freedom. For Plifón, external predestination manifests itself in the fact that human reactions to events are determined by our opinions and ultimately by the gods. It is compatible with freedom, whereas Epictetus, within the Stoic tradition, understands freedom in opposition to heteronomy. In speaking of the external definiteness of human actions, Pliphon enters into an argument with Plato, who regarded the soul as capable of self-motion and therefore a source of movement both on a cosmic scale and on the level of individual organisms.
“The Chaldean Oracles is an ancient text that occupies an important place in Neoplatonism. According to tradition, this collection of prophecies was created in the second century by two Chaldeans. Beginning with Porphyry, the Oracles became popular among Neoplatonists, who regarded it as a kind of revelation consistent with Plato”s philosophy. The original text of the prophecies was lost in antiquity and can be reconstructed in fragments from commentaries on them. Of the many interpretations, Proclus and Damascus were the most important. Proclus” commentaries were still available in the eleventh century, when Michael Psellus used them, but they were soon lost too. For his part, Pliphon was based on Psell”s Commentaries on the Chaldean Oracles, which have come down to our time in their entirety. “The Chaldean Oracles” were not the only representatives of their genre known to Pliphon, and these were usually referred to simply as “Oracles.” It was probably for this reason that Pliphon titled his compilation “Oracles of the Magi,” attributing its authorship to the magicians of Zoroaster – according to 16th-century philosopher Francesco Patrizi Pliphon was the first to make this suggestion. In textual terms, Pliphon is based entirely on Psellus” version and does not take into account the entire long Neoplatonic tradition of oracle transmission. However, Pliphon does not limit himself to reproducing and commenting on the text that has come down to him, gathering together Psell”s scattered oracles and correcting their text where he considers it necessary. He has a total of 60 hexameters, some of which are incomplete.
Pliphon wrote two commentaries on the Oracles: in the first he comments on each oracle separately, line by line, and in the other (“A brief explanation of what is not very clear in these oracles”) gives a kind of summary of the most important points of the teaching set out there. The ordering of the fragments by Pliphon makes the volume more meaningful than that of Psellus. “The Oracles describe the journey of the soul through the cosmos, and the structure proposed by Pliphon reflects a hierarchy from the material world, through the divine nature of the soul, the world of demons and minor gods and the world of Platonic forms, to the highest existence of God, the Father and creator of all things. In the “Brief Explanation” the order of presentation is reversed. The dependence of Pliphon on Psell”s commentary can be traced quite clearly, but in his version Pliphon reduces the Christian and theurgical reminiscences to a great extent. The commentary does not contain any indications which would allow us to date it.
The commentary begins with an exposition of the Pythagorean doctrine of reincarnation. It is stated that in the netherworld there are dark and light places in which the soul stays between incarnations. If the soul has done well on earth, it is destined for the light places (“the light and rays of the Father”, Paradise), if not – the dark places. It is further explained that the body is the vessel containing the soul. It is the duty of the soul to return to the light as soon as possible. It seeks God, and being bound to the body does it no harm. The “left side of the soul” contains virtue, passive and pristine; the “right side”, on the other hand, is active and damaging. Destiny depends on the seven planets, and nothing can happen that is not according to destiny. The Hemist clarifies the Platonic and Pythagorean view of the nature of the relationship between the immaterial spirit and the material body-they are neither completely merged nor completely separate, but potentially separable, though actually inseparable. According to the type of the relationship of spirit and matter, there are three types of forms. The soul has some properties and is capable of knowing things and God; it is indestructible. Souls are capable of moving in the non-material world, having some “movers” to do so. Souls also have movers (“images”), but they are irrational. The mover souls of demons and stars are of a higher quality. Speaking of the problem of good and evil, Hemist introduces the concept of demons as intermediate beings between God and humans. “Punishments,” vengeful demons, confine people, turning them away from evil and guiding them toward virtue. A few lines of commentary deal with theology and liturgy. If one often turns to God, one sees the word (λεκτόν), which is God, as the light or “fire of the universe.” The next question to which the philosopher turns is the nature of knowledge. The direct creator of the being of the soul, investing it with “images of cognizable forms,” is the “intellect of the Father.” The cognizable itself is beyond the soul and is in it only potentially. The Father created the cognizable forms and gave them over to a second god. The direct creator of cognizable things is the second god, whom most people mistakenly think is the creator of everything. The commentator concludes by saying that the Father has “separated” himself from the universe, making his divine fire inaccessible to other minds and gods. It is impossible to communicate with him, but it is possible to love him.
At the end of the Explanations Pliphon gives Plutarch”s interpretation of the treatise “On Isis and Osiris” in the light of the mythology of the magi, with the ultimate goal of showing the agreement of the “Oracles” with Plato”s philosophy. On the basis of Plutarch”s text Pliphon concludes that Zoroaster divided all existing things into three kinds: those belonging to Ahuramazda, Ahriman, and Mitra. Pliphon brings the original dualism of the Zoroastrian myth into accord with his understanding of the Oracles, with the result that Ahuramazda takes the place of the “Father”, Mitra the “second mind”, and Ahriman, who has no direct equivalent, the Sun. He further proves that the structure of the universe thus described is the same as in Plato”s II letter (together with the ancient Platonists Pliphon recognized it as authentic).
Zoroastrianism and “eternal philosophy”
In the light of Pliphon”s original philosophical views it is debatable to what extent he can be called a follower of Plato. According to L. Benet, this question should be answered in the affirmative, given that Platon shared many of Plato”s views, including the notion of the difference between speculative and physical realities, his hierarchical ontology, his approach to integrating pagan mythology into a metaphysical scheme, political utopianism and the concept of ancient knowledge. However, although Pliphon sought to link his views with those of Plato, he was not a continuator of the post-Plato tradition. In one of his letters to Vissarion, Pliphon lamented the lack of agreement among the Platonists. Nor did he agree with Plato himself on everything. In rejecting the myth of Aera, which contradicted his determinist conception, Pliphon deviated from the exegetical norm of Neoplatonism, which takes into account every word of Plato; in Pliphon”s system Plato”s authority alone was not enough to guarantee the truth of the doctrine. Since all innovation is an indication of error, only the most ancient, “eternal philosophy” based on general ideas (κοιναι ἕννοιαι) could be true. Accordingly, in “De differentiis,” he writes that the doctrine of ideas had been professed by the Pythagoreans even before Plato. Pliphon implied that Plato, like the Pythagoreans before him, had not systematically expounded his doctrine, confining himself to formulating general principles and leaving the rest to his successors. From this it followed that the emergence of new ideas in philosophy after Plato was impossible, and as a result Pliphon”s criticism of Aristotle was grounded.
A commonplace in medieval philosophy was the idea that the most ancient “barbarian” peoples possessed pure and supreme knowledge derived not from reason but from direct mystical experience, and that all the most important ancient Greek philosophers derived their teachings from this source. In Contra Scholarii, Pliphon develops his thesis on the origin of philosophy by calling the source of the knowledge of the Pythagoreans the magicians Zoroaster. According to the testimony of Plutarch, known to Pluphon, this sage lived 5,000 years before the Trojan War and was therefore “the most ancient man of whom memory has survived.” The Zoroastrians are thus called, through the Pythagoreans, the predecessors of Plato and at the same time the authors of the “Chaldean Oracles,” from which Pliphon concludes that all three sources of knowledge agree. Pliphon”s idea of the unity of the ancient teachings was not forgotten, and at the end of the fifteenth century Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in his speech “De hominis dignitate” proclaimed the “philosophical world” (lat. pax philosophica) of Christianity with the thinkers of antiquity, to whom he attributed Pythogoras, Hermes Trismegistus, the Chaldean and Jewish sages, Zoroaster, Plato, Aristotle, Scotus Eriugena, Thomas Aquinas, Averroes and Avicenna.
Beginning with the studies of Franz Teschner, there is a tendency in the first half of the twentieth century to understand Pliphon”s mention of Zoroaster”s name as a generalized reference to Oriental and Islamic wisdom. К. Woodhouse considers it obvious that Pliphon could not have had any knowledge of modern Zoroastrianism. N. Siniossoglu notes that Egyptian priests occupy a similar place in Plato”s “Timaeus”. “Zoroaster,” like the “Chaldean Oracles,” becomes additional external evidence for the historical reliability of the version of Platonism promoted by Pliphon. According to Gennadius Scholarius, Plithon was introduced to the teachings of Zoroaster by Elisha. The French historian Michel Tardieu agrees that it is unlikely that Pliphon could have learned the name of the Persian prophet from the writings of Greek authors. On the contrary, only a man from the East, such as Elisha, could have had sufficient knowledge of ancient religions to link the Chaldeans known to the Greeks with the Zoroastrian magicians. Since from the 13th century the Sufi current of the Ishrakis was developed by Qutbud-din al-Shirazi (1237-1311) in the direction of harmonizing the Iranian and Greek philosophies, as well as Zoroastrianism, many modern scholars consider the theory of the way of reception of Zoroastrianism by Plifon through Elisha and al-Suhrawardy very credible. However, the similarity between the views of Pliphon and al-Suhrawardī does not necessarily imply influence, since the latter”s philosophy is also close to the Neo-Platonism of Proclus.
Arabic Philosophy and Islam
Despite the lack of explicit indications, many scholars believe that in the 1380s Pliphon spent quite some time at the court of Sultans Murad I and Bayazid I in their European capital of Adrianople or in Asia Minor, Bursa. In the 1920s German Orientalist Franz Teschner suggested that Plifon was influenced by the Islamic spiritual world, giving the following arguments: in his “Laws” he constructed a picture of society in which religion, by analogy with Islam, controls all aspects of human life; the calendar he proposed, like the Islamic calendar, is a variation of the lunar calendar; the “esoteric union” founded by Plifon is similar to the Dervish and Futuva associations. While the subject related to the calendar quickly disappeared from scholarly consideration, since as early as 1948 the American Byzantine scholar Milton Anastos, who made a detailed study of the calendar described in the Laws, came to the conclusion that there was no basis to claim Islamic influence in this matter, attempts to identify more complex influences have continued up to the present. Since no new direct evidence has since been introduced into scholarship, emerging hypotheses are based on an expanded consideration of the social and intellectual context in the Ottoman Empire during Pliphon”s alleged stay there. Thus, Dionisios Zakitinos drew attention to the fact that, beginning in the last decades of the fourteenth century, Adrianople and Bursa were centers of the spread of Reformed Sufi movements. The most famous of these was that founded by Sheikh Bedreddin, whose utopian projects have notable parallels with the proposals of Plifon. Bedreddine”s short-lived experiment ended with the defeat and execution of the reformer in 1416. On the whole, as N. Siniosoglu notes, it is difficult to point out any definite traces of Islamic and Jewish mysticism in Plifon”s Laws, except perhaps the connection between religious sectarianism and utopian reformism.
There is almost no direct evidence of Plifon”s interest in Islam. The one pointed out by F. Klein-Franke”s small work which deals with the history of Islam from the death of the Prophet Muhammad to the conquest of Crete by the Arabs in 827
Modern scholars” views on Plifon”s attitude toward Averroism have undergone certain changes in recent decades. In 2010, Maria Mavroudi suggested that the philosopher”s interest in Arabic thinkers stemmed from his desire to better understand Aristotle”s teachings, and that he had studied Thomas Aquinas” Summa Theologica in the Greek translation of the brothers Demetrius and Prochorus Kidonis for the same purpose. In several later works it has been shown that the main source of Pliphon”s knowledge of the views of Averroes was precisely the translations made by Kidonis, which also included the “Summa against the Gentiles” and “De spiritualibus creaturis”. An analysis of the current state of the problem was undertaken in 2017 by Georgios Steiris, who took as his basis the thesis that the philosophical method of Pliphonus was not quite systematic. The historian argues that, in light of his attitude toward scholasticism, Pliphon regarded Arab philosophy as hostile and did not study it deeply. In this connection he again raises the question of the extent of the influence of Elisha and Jewish scholars in general on Plifon. It is known that a considerable school of philosophical commentators of Averroes existed in the Jewish community of Crete until the end of the 15th century, but no trace of Pliphon”s acquaintance with their achievements can be traced. It should be noted that Gennadius Scholarius” awareness of Arabic philosophy was based on the same sources as those of Pliphon.
The Heresy and Paganism of Plithon
For Christian intellectuals in Byzantium, the connection between Platonism, paganism, and heresy was very clear. They opposed paganism not only as a kind of ritual and cult of worshipping non-Christian deities, but also as a certain “Hellenic” worldview. As a rule, this worldview was associated with Platonism and was seen as a step on the road to heresy. From Epiphanius of Cyprus down to Scholarius and the critics of Spinoza”s pantheism, it was suspected that Platonism, as a philosophical paganism, was the progenitor of all Christian, Gnostic and later heresies. As confirmation of the thesis that Hemistus was a staunch opponent of Christianity, his opponents pointed to his criticism of monasticism. Unlike Michael Psellus, Eustathius of Thessalonica and other secular and ecclesiastical humanists, who criticized the institution for its secularization and certain ugly forms of life, but who did not oppose the ideal of hermit life, Hemistus demands the abolition of this “swarm of drones” because of its economic harm. The treatise “The Laws” has a distinctly anti-Christian orientation, in which Christians are called “innovating sophists” who, “guided by false judgments instead of correctly made inferences, deceive the more ignorant of those they meet”, causing the greatest harm to the states (“The Laws”, I.2). It is possible, however, that Pliphon”s aversion to Christianity was not all-encompassing, and that the characteristics quoted referred to the Hesychists, who had won a political victory in the middle of the fourteenth century. J. Hankins considers the notion of atheism or anti-Christianism of Pliphon to be anachronistic and sees in his views a specific manifestation of rejection of current political and religious realities. Hankins suggests that Pliphon may have viewed all of his contemporary religions as distortions of the truth, but Eastern Orthodoxy least of all. Apparently this is why his “Reply to a Treatise in Defense of Latin Doctrine” (1448), while justifying the Orthodox view of the effusion of the Holy Spirit, is based not on the writings of the Church Fathers, but solely on metaphysical arguments and “Hellenic theology.
The accusations of paganism were made during Plithon”s lifetime by his enemy Gennadius Scholarius, and were later reproduced by the historians of the New. Scholarius calls Pliphon and his followers “villains, fools, ignorant, possessed by demons” and accuses them of “in these times, when it is dangerous to try to invent, spreading Hellenic nonsense, trying impiously and senselessly to inflate and revive polytheism”. In similar terms Scholarius described the “apostate” Juvenal, tortured and mutilated in 1451 and then drowned in the sea. There is no definite evidence to indicate that Juvenalius was a disciple of Gemiste or at least met him, but their names are often mentioned together in the literature. From the fact that among the crimes incriminated against Juvenal was the establishment of a secret society (fraternity) in various parts of the empire, François Mazet (1956), and many others following him, suggest the existence of a neo-pagan movement in opposition to the dominant church and religion, of which Plifon was the head. Medvedev sees the reason Plifon did not repeat Juvenal”s fate as being because the former was too big a figure and a good conspirator. That Pliphon had many followers (“infected with Pliphon”s plague”) is also written by a disciple of Scholarius, Matthew Camariot. Although the connection between Pliphon and Juvenal is not explicitly established in these sources, Mazet suggests that Juvenal may have attempted to implement some of the philosopher”s theories. An indication that Pliphonus was aware of the existence of a secret society is seen by the historian in one of the prayers included in the Laws (“O you, our comrades, friends, citizens, and all others, who have so beautifully stood at the head of our common cause, and especially you, who have sacrificed your lives for the freedom of your compatriots and associates, for the preservation of that which is firmly established and prosperous, and for the improvement of all that is badly established, rejoice”), which the historian interprets as a commemoration of fallen associates.
In modern historiography there is a prevailing tendency to consider all Renaissance thinkers who did not identify themselves with Christianity as neo-pagans. In the case of Pliphon, most scholars accept Scholarius” thesis, although not necessarily in Mazet”s interpretation. Nigel Wilson (1983) considers Pliphon”s paganism to be a product of the imagination of Gennadius Scholarius. In 1986 Christopher Woodhouse, in his monograph, recognized Pliphon as a pagan. John Monfazani (1987) called Pliphon the only Pagan of the Renaissance, not, however, aiming to convert everyone to his faith, but preparing a new world order, a universal “Hellenic” state, with his “Laws”. The opposite view also has a long tradition in historiography and goes back at least to the 17th century scholar Leo Allacius. Of contemporary historians we can point to Edgar Wind (1980), who drew attention to the fact that his contemporaries regarded Pliphon as an orthodox Christian. According to the researcher, the Laws are the literary and philosophical counterpart of Thomas More”s Utopia, and their religious injunctions are as much a mind game as the philosophical religion of the English thinker. Paul Oskar Christeller (1972) suggests that the descriptions of the pagan deities in the Laws should be treated allegorically, as part of a venerable philosophical tradition. Brigitte Tambrun (2006) explains Pliphon”s philosophy in the context of early Christian sources. In her view, the doctrine set forth in the Laws is not pagan, but a form of monotheism designed to counteract Islam and Catholicism threatening Byzantine Orthodoxy. Finally, Niketas Siniossoglou (2011) calls Platonism “radical”, separating it from the “conformism” of Renaissance Platonists who tried to come to terms with Christianity. Siniosoglu understands Plephon”s paganism in a “heuristic” sense, without associating it with certain religious practices from the past. The researcher defines Hellenism or Pagan Platonism as a set of the following philosophical components: epistemological optimism, pagan ontology, a multi-causal polytheistic model, and political utopianism.
Plifont was the author of an astronomical treatise entitled Method of Determining the Compounds of the Sun and the Moon According to Tables Compiled by His Own Hand. In the two surviving manuscripts, the tables are preceded by a brief manual on their use, conventionally called “Textbook of Astronomy” by modern publishers. The relatively simple manuscript tradition is complicated by the existence of an anonymous treatise similar in structure but different in content, called by scholars “proto-Plyphon.” The tables of Pliphon contain data collected in Mistra in 1433 and 1446, while the measurements of the “proto-Pliphon” were made in Constantinople around 1410-1414. Anne Tihon suggests that both treatises belong to Pliphon and reflect different stages of his scientific activity. The definitions of year, month, and day in the Textbook agree with those in the Laws. The construction of the tables is based on a 19-year cycle, at the end of each of which the sisygia is repeated at the same longitude on the same day according to the Julian calendar. In his calculations, Pliphon takes 19 years approximately equal to 235 lunar months. This equality was well known to the Byzantines and was used to calculate the date of Easter, but was not used for astronomical calculations. Also Pliphon uses a period of 497 years, but the origin of this value is not known. According to Pliphon, the lunar months are repeated exactly every 497 years, and, indeed, such a cycle gives greater accuracy than a 19-year cycle. Until the end of the twentieth century, the tables and the textbook were virtually unknown, until a critical edition of them was published in 1998.
Pliphon is also the author of small, mostly compilatory treatises on geography. The manuscript Marc. graec 379 contains an unnamed collection of fragments in five chapters, the first of which is entitled “On the Shape of the Inhabited Part of the World” and is based on extracts from Strabo. The second chapter is an independent work, in which various incongruities in the ancient Greek text are discussed. The criticism is not quite fair, because the criticized information about the shape of the Earth from the second book of Geography (chapters 118-131) are more fully and accurately set forth in other parts of the book. A significant clarification by Pliphon is the definition of the Caspian Sea as an inland sea, not as a gulf. In addition, Plifon provides new data on the geography of northern Europe, including Russia. The extracts and critiques are from 1439 or soon after, since the latter mentions Paolo Toscanelli (1397-1482) and Claudius Clavus, whom Plifon had met during the Council of Ferrara-Florence. The travels of Marco Polo (1254-1324) and Odorico Pordenone (1286-1331) remained unknown to the Byzantine philosopher, but in general his geographical knowledge corresponded to the level of his time. Because geography was poorly developed in Byzantium, Pliphon”s treatise might have been of interest to educated readers. From a scientific point of view, the extensive, 108-page in-folio extracts from Strabo”s Geography were also of great importance. While a similar work by Claudius Ptolemy was translated into Latin in 1406 and maps were created no later than 1427, Strabo”s work remained unknown in the West. Thanks to a discussion of geographical issues initiated by Pliphon on the sidelines of the council with Nicholas of Cusa and Guarino da Verona, a project to translate Strabo into Latin was initiated. In 1458 the translation was published, with the result that the ancient Greek geographer”s important suggestion that navigation around Africa was possible became widely known and inspired the Portuguese to make geographical discoveries. Of geographical works, in addition to his criticism of Strabo, Pliphon also wrote his Description of Thessaly, now unpublished.
“Pliphon”s Opuscula de historia Graeca is one of the first indications of Renaissance antiquarians” interest in the history of ancient Greece. The manuscripts of the work (Marc. graec 379 and 406) contain two texts: “A Review of Events After the Battle of Mantinea according to Plutarch and Diodorus” (ἐκ τῶν Διοδώρου καὶ Πλουτάρχου περὶ τῶν μετὰ τὴν ἐν Μαντινείᾳ μάχην ἐν κεφαλαίοις διάληψις) and Minor Extracts from Diodorus (ἐκ τῶν Διοδώρου παρασημειώσεις). The first of these deals with the events between 362 B.C. and 341 B.C., when the battle of Crimissa took place. “Extracts” cover the period from the death of Alexander of Thera in 357 B.C. to the death of Philip II of Macedon in 336 B.C. The manuscripts were handwritten by Pliphon in the 1440s. Their first critical edition was prepared in 1988 by Enrico Maltese. The same sources were used by Pliphon to write several other historical treatises – History of the Assyrians and the Medes, History of Alexander the Great, and On the Macedonian Kings.
The basic idea, to which the sentences from the speeches and the Laws boil down, is to bring the Hellenic state back to its original, correct, state, which has been lost as a result of erroneous transformations. Being in the Platonic paradigm, Hemist is convinced that it is possible to achieve this goal through purposeful rational reforms. The task to be accomplished first and foremost is the defense of the national territory, that is, the Peloponnese. Hemist refers to the peninsula as the most important area of Byzantium, where the Greeks have lived since time immemorial. Without considering historical facts, Hemistus calls the Peloponnesian population the oldest and purest type of Greek people. The geographical position of the peninsula is extremely favorable, “no country could have better conditions,” and the mountain ranges stretching across it are natural fortresses. In one of his speeches, Hemist sharply criticizes the project of introducing a new tax to maintain an army of mercenaries to guard the Isthmian fortresses, suggesting instead to rely on local natives. In his opinion, foreigners often turn from guards into adversaries, and then the government would still have to turn to the locals, ruined by taxes and unable to arm themselves at their own expense. Instead, in a speech to the despot Theodore, Gemiste suggests that the demographic characteristics of the territories be taken into account. Where possible, the entire population should be divided into two classes according to the disposition of the individual – the taxed and the conscripted. The latter should be exempt, because an army does not always have enough booty for all the warriors, and they would have to spend their own property for maintenance as well. Of those taxpayers who must do military service, most should come unarmed. In areas where not all citizens are able to perform military service, the population should be divided into tax-free warriors and taxable ilots. Where a majority of the population is found capable of military service, the division will not be fixed, and the inhabitants will alternately work the land and guard the state. To provide sustenance for each infantryman, Hemist proposes to give one ilot, a horseman two. Given the current political realities, he limits himself to the problems of the land army and does not propose the restoration of the Byzantine navy.
Closely related to the tax reform is the proposal to divide the population into classes. In a speech to the emperor Manuel there are three: those who work themselves (producers, αὐτουργιόν), the owners of stock and livestock, and those who provide all citizens with security and protection. In a speech to the Despot Theodore the philosopher refines the definition of the second category to include service providers (διακονικόν) and merchants, and the third, supplementing it with rulers of provinces, judges, and other officials. Hermistus demands a strict division of the functions of the divisions without interfering in the affairs of others. He dwells in particular on the “rulers”, who should be alien to everything connected with large and small trade. Warriors must be separated from the rest of the people; if any merchant is involved in government, he must immediately refuse to trade. He divides all kinds of taxes into three groups: public duties (ἀγγγρεία), taxes of money, and taxes in kind. The easiest form for the population is in kind, and it is to them Hemist proposes to reduce all the others. Although Hemistus calls the taxable classes of the population “ilots,” they are not the powerless slaves of ancient Sparta, but the primary category of citizens, the general breadwinners, who must be treated as best and as fairly as possible. Ownership of land must become common. Everyone would be able to grow fruit on it, which would lead to a considerable increase in production. Hemist, however, does not share Plato”s ideas about communal property and the complete prohibition of private property. Nevertheless, land must be communalized according to “natural law,” and everyone must have as much land as he needs, without any payment, as long as he is able to work it.
Of the forms of government, Hemist tends toward a compromise between monarchy and oligarchy, where the ruler listens to the opinion of a small number of “the most sensible men. The monarch”s advisors should be guided only by the common good and be moderately wealthy. Stops philosopher on some economic issues. So, considering it necessary to provide the population with locally produced goods, he insists on limiting imports, first of all of clothing, for the production of which there are enough raw materials. More generally, Hemist divides all imported goods into goods useful and harmful to the state. Only iron, arms and certain other goods are to be exempted from duties. On the contrary, the exportation of goods useful to the country should be subject to high duties. Since the quality of coinage deteriorated greatly under the last Paleologians, he recommends a return to natural exchange in trade.
One of Hemist”s suggestions was to change the system of punishment. The death penalty should be abolished, and even the practice of self-mutilation was considered by the philosopher as inappropriate for Greeks. Letting go without punishment was another extreme he considered, and as a socially useful alternative he suggested hard labor in chains, for example, repairing the wall of Hexamilion.
A widespread view, first of all in Greek historiography, is the idea of the emergence in Byzantium of the XIII-XV centuries of the prerequisites for the formation of a national Greek state. The twentieth-century historian Apostolos Vakalopoulos sees the manifestation of this tendency in the complete replacement of the Byzantine self-name “Romai” (ῥωμαῖοι) by ethnic “Hellenes” (ἒλληνς), which had long served as a synonym for “pagans”. These shifts are most often attributed to the Humanists and especially to Hemist. The word first appears in his speeches of the 1410s, when, analyzing the current political situation in historical perspective, the philosopher identifies the Ottomans with the inhabitants of ancient Paropamisada, defeated by Alexander the Great, and calls the inhabitants of the Peloponnese “Hellenes”. Elsewhere he expresses himself even more clearly: “We, whom you rule and govern, are a people of Greeks (Ἒλλληνες τὀ γένος), as our language and paternal upbringing testify.” Associated with the discussion of this phrase is much of the controversy concerning the political views of Hemistus. In its context two hypotheses are discussed: whether the historical roots of the Byzantines are meant here, or whether an attempt is made to restore the Hellenic culture in its entirety. More than thirty years later, in a eulogy in honor of Empress Helena Dragash, Gemiste uses the traditional expression “our Roman nation” (τὁ τοῦτο τῶν Ῥωμαίων γένος).
It is not surprising that Plifon has received considerable attention in Greek historiography. After the Greek Revolution of 1821 he was perceived in nationalist circles as a prophet of national revival. In 1850 the historian Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos dedicated an article to Plifonus entitled “The Fifteenth-Century Hellenic Socialist”. In his later History of the Greek People, Paparrigopoulos avoided the word “socialist”, but pointed out the similarity of Plifon”s proposed tax reform with the ideas of the French Physiocrats. Thereafter, the epithet “socialist” was applied to Plifon more than once, but less sympathetically. The writer and jurist of the first half of the twentieth century, Neoclis Kazatzis, suggested that Plifon”s socialist ideas stemmed from his inability to understand the realities of his time. No less interesting to Greek historians is the theme of Pliphon”s apostasy; it was first broached by the Byzantine scholar Constantinos Satas. In a romantic and patriotic vein, Alexandros Papademandis reveals the paganism of Pliphon in his novel The Gypsy (1884). For the poet Kostis Palamas, in his poem Dodekalog Roma (1907), the burning of the Laws becomes an occasion to show the conflict between Christianity and paganism. Each side makes its point in Psalms, and one of them is sung by Gypsy. In his view, the dispute over the preservation of ancient knowledge is useless, since it has already become the property of both East and West; antiquity itself cannot be brought back to life. In 1909 the church publicist Agesilaus Karambasis (Αγησίλαος Σ. Καραμπάσης) criticized Plifon”s apostasy, by which he sacrificed Christianity to Hellenism. The journalist described this vision of national revival as one-sided and short-sighted; only the synthesis of these two forces would allow Alexander Ypsilanti”s call “Fight for Faith and Homeland” to be fulfilled. Disagreeing with him, Kazatzis saw in the flames of the burning “Laws” the light of incipient Hellenism, the very Hellenism that Ypsilanti proclaimed. Kazatzis saw the ideal of national unification in Bismarckian Germany, agreeing with Plifon”s erroneous thesis of the ethnic homogeneity of the Peloponnese. At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the figure of Pliphon entered political discourse, being mentioned in various patriotic contexts. The theologian Anastassios Diomidis-Kyriakos, in a speech in 1885, emphasized the importance of Byzantium as the guardian of ancient knowledge and the role of Pliphon in its transmission. At the same time, Diomidis-Kyriakos was aware of the paganism of Pliphon and in his scholarly publications he denounced the anti-Aristotelianism of the Byzantine philosopher. A similar approach was taken by Kazatzis, who in his public speeches spoke of Plithonus as the source of Western knowledge of the mysteries of Hellenic wisdom. As a result, the canonical image of Platonus as one of the “ancient Apostles of future prosperity” prevailed in Greece at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The notion of Pliphon as a prophet of Greek nationalism has persisted long enough. Speaking of the “birth and formation of modern Hellenism” in the early 1960s, the Marxist historian Nikos Zvoronos suggested that Plifon had made the first attempt to reorganize Hellenism into a nation-state. The historian noted that the characteristic features Pliphon specified for his utopian state in Memoranda are the same as those that hold true for Western states after the decay of feudalism: a national army, an independent economy with its own currency, a reformed tax system, a monarchy balanced by advisors, and definite national boundaries. Not satisfied with such an analysis, the contemporary scholar Nikita Siniosoglu has attempted to determine whether Plifon”s meaning in the word “γένος” was racial-naturalistic or political and cultural. The historian concludes that in the politico-military context Pliphon is referring to racial nationalism, while in other cases the word should be understood as referring to a cultural community. Examining the concept of “γένος” in the Laws, it becomes clear that Pliphon”s proto-nationalism is not aimed at preserving the current state of affairs, but aims at the future (consisting in the resurrection of the past) and is thus utopian.
As J. Hankins puts it, Plifond became “the source of the revival of Neoplatonism in the late Quattrocento period. At the same time, however, Hankins notes that Plifon”s direct influence on Italian humanists was rather limited, and familiarity with his works was through the mediation of Vissarion of Nicaea. The only significant exception is Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), whose philosophical and literary legacy influenced European thought, and who undoubtedly read and cited Plifon”s writings. This is proved by the fact that Ficino refers to Plifon five times in his writings. Ficino gave the subtitle “On the Immortality of the Soul” to his main work “Platonic Theology” and, justifying the agreement between Aristotle and Plato on this question, refers to Pliphon”s “De differentiis”, where he refutes Averroes, who believed that Aristotle did not consider souls immortal. Ficino later referred to Pliphon in his commentaries on Plotinus, written in the late 1480s. Finally, thanks to Ficino, it is known that it was under the influence of communication with Platon during the Council of Ferrara-Florence that Cosimo de” Medici decided to found the Platonic Academy in Florence. The Italian cultural historian Eugenio Garin calls Plifon a “prophet and priest” of the “platonizing solar cult” (Italian un platonizzante culto solare), whose ideas can be seen in the “Hymn to the Sun” of the Italian poet of Greek origin, Michael Tarhaniota Marullus, and the sun-worship of Ficino. Plifon”s influence on later Western European thought is poorly researched, but it is considered significant by a number of scholars. According to the German historian Hans Wilhelm Haussig, Plifon”s denial of Christian predestination prompted Niccolò Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini to adopt a materialist understanding of history. The influence of the Mistra philosopher was felt by members of the French poetic association Pleiades. The early nineteenth-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi claimed that Plifon had foreseen the Reformation a hundred years before it began, and the twentieth-century British philosopher Philip Sherrard.
Around 1460 several chapters of the Laws were translated into Arabic. Presumably, the translation was done at the behest of Sultan Mehmed II, who wanted to understand the cultural and political context of the nations he conquered. “Plifon”s Oracles were translated into Latin by Marsilio Ficino. The commentaries were apparently in the Italian”s possession, but he did not translate them. A complete Greek text with commentaries was published in Paris in 1538, and a new complete Latin translation was prepared the following year by Jacobus Marthanus. Another translation was published in 1599 by Johannes Opsopeius. Modern scholars have not for a long time given serious attention to the Oracles, believing them to be derived directly from Psellus” version. A complete edition of all the fragments relating to them did not appear until 1971.
The modern stage of the study of the legacy of Hermistus dates back to a monograph by Friedrich-Wilhelm Gass (“Gennadios und Pletho. Anstotelismus und Platonismus in der griechischen Kirche” (1844) and to a greater extent from the first edition of the Laws, undertaken in 1858 by Charles Alexander. Despite the discovery of new manuscripts in the twentieth century, it still retains its importance. The first substantial attempt at a systematic study of Hermist metaphysics was made in 1874 by the German philosopher Fritz Schultze, and then in the late 1930s by Ioannes P. Mamalakis. In 1948 Milton Anastos published an important article on the chronological system of the Laws. The works of François Mazet in the 1950s and 1970s, especially Pléthon et le Platonisme de Mistra (1956), were of fundamental importance for subsequent research. He also discovered numerous manuscripts by Gemiste, on the basis of which Bernadette Lagarde prepared a commentary translation of the treatises “On Difference” and “Reply to Scholarius”. In the second half of the twentieth century, numerous works by Greek plithologists (Theodore Nicolaou, Leonidas Bargeliotes, Christos P. Baloglou) appeared. The works of John Monfazani and James Hankins examine the works of Hemist in the context of Renaissance philosophy. In 1986 a major new monograph appeared in which Christopher Woodhouse summarized the accumulated knowledge of the philosopher”s life, writings, and events in which he had participated. In the 1990s and 2000s new manuscripts of Ghemist”s works became available, and translations into modern languages appeared.