Philosopher, Scholar, Judge (1355 – 1452 or 1454)
The greatest political and spiritual figure of the Greek Middle Ages and one of the greatest philosophical minds in world history, Georgios Gemistus was the leading Pythagorean – Neoplatonic philosopher in Europe as well as a diplomat to the Byzantine Emperors, a jurist, historian (polyhistor), translator and an important social reformer and economist. Gemistus was responsible for the restoration of the Ancient Greek spirit in all of Europe and subsequently for the Renaissance.
He was born during the final years of the Byzantine Empire. He studied in Constantinople under the influence of noteworthy scholars such as Elissaeus and Demetrios Cydones. After witnessing the heinous crimes against philosophy and after his political and economical reforms were dismissed by the governing class, he eventually settled in Mystras, founding, at the time, the greatest philosophical and spiritual centre of the Byzantine Empire. There, Pletho, a name that he would later earn from the Italians thanks to his wisdom, dedicated himself to studying the Ancient Greek scriptures and reviving the Ancient Greek spirit and philosophy. He lived in a den, which he had decorated with all the Ancient Greek symbols and emblems necessary for him to tune in to the Ancient Greek frequency. There he meditated (Διαλογισμὸς) and communicated with the Divine Beings the same way as his forefathers did.
Pletho took upon himself alone a massive undertaking which similarly Emperor Julian had begun during the 4th century – only to result to his assassination – of restoring the Ancient Greek spirit. He himself believed to have been a direct descendant of the Ancient Greeks. Basileios Bessarion had stated that Pletho was the wisest man Greece had given birth to since Plato and Aristotle and that he was the last of the Ancient Greeks. His philosophical school in Mystras attracted hundreds of enthusiastic students from Europe, seeking to help revive the Hellenism. Notable students included Bessarion, who would later become Cardinal and almost Pope, philosophers Marcus Eugenikos and Manuel Chrysoloras, Georgios Scholarios, who would later become his sharpest opponent, Italian humanists Marsilio Ficino and Cosimo de’Medici and many other philosophic minds of the Renaissance.
It wasn’t long until Pletho’s fame spread across the collapsing empire, eventually reaching Emperor John Palaiologos’ ears, who decided to include Pletho in his team of diplomats in the Council of Ferrara – Florence for the unification of the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches because of his great wisdom, even though Pletho was against Orthodoxy. In that manner, the emperor sought help in defending Constantinople from the Ottomans. Unfortunately, and despite Pletho’s excellent diplomatic skills, the treaty did not pass and Pletho, along with Bessarion and Patriarch Joseph chose to remain to Italy and spread the Platonic message. With the help of Cosimo de Medici, Pletho founded the Platonic School of Philosophy where he taught Plato and Aristotle and roused the crowds against the religious establishment which had destroyed and kept on destroying human progress. It was then that the fire of knowledge broke out and burned down the stagnated religious establishment and from all the knowledge that Pletho and the rest of the Greek philosophers had disseminated to the west started sprouting the new seeds of life and spirit, which would eventually become the Renaissance.
In his older years, Pletho resettled back to Mystras and wrote his magnum opus Περὶ Νόμων (On Laws), which was a result of meticulous studies conducted on Plato’s works and of a life-long meditation. The book included Platonic philosophy, guidelines for the search of truth, subjects on law making, on Gods, demons and divine beings from parallel worlds and from the sky, on life and death, on the origin and types of souls, journey and fate of the soul, immortality of the soul and soul of the stars, on the creation of mortal beings, on logic, on Eimarmeni and Pronoia. Moreover, he wrote books on astronomy, on the types of stars, capabilities of the planets, motion of the planets and the stars and of aether. His work included ethics, politics, sociology, education and mathematics.
Georgios Plethon Gemistus, died in Sparta almost at the age of 100 just 1 year before (or after) the Fall of Constantinople and subsequently of the Byzantine Empire, after nearly 1100 years of existence. His student Bessarion wrote on a letter to his two sons that “…(Pletho) abandoned the earthly element and went to the skies to dance the mystic dance of Iacchus together with the Olympian Gods… Since the time of those honourable men of the first years, Greece had not given birth to men such identical to Plato, in knowledge and in virtue”. He did not live enough to see the result of his work but just before the dwindling candle of Hellenism was put out, Pletho planted the seeds of the Renaissance in order for it to shine once again and pull Europe out of the darkness of the Middle Ages that it was plunged by religion. Alexander Papadiamantis wrote about Pletho: “He was so much ahead of the times he lived, as much as the ancient times were superior to these awful times…”. His remains were taken by Sigismundo Pandolfo Malatesta in 1465 from Mystras and transported to the Temple of Malatesta, Rimini, from his infinite love for the great hegemon of the philosophers of his times, where they are kept to this day. Together with his student Bessarion they share the title of “Father of Renaissance”.
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- Theodorakakos, Kyriakos. Plethon, Bessarion, the Dawn of New Hellenism. ΙΧΩΡ, February 2002, Issue 18, pages 72-87. Print.