Philosopher, Scholar (1445 – 1535)
One of the many Greek scholars who fled to the West during the dawn of the Renaissance to disseminate the Greek letters was Janus Lascaris of the House of Lascaris, an old Byzantine family of nobility with many distinguished philosophers. His work consists of translations into Latin, original treatises and lectures in the universities of Italy.
After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, 8-year old Janus fled with his family to Peloponnesus and from there to Crete, which was under the rule of Venice. Under the guidance of Bessarion, Janus was sent to Venice to study classical studies. He then became a scholar in the University of Padua.
In 1472 he left Padua for Florence. The royal family of the Medici had made their court into a philosophic school where eminent philosophers from Italy and Greece gathered to promote Hellenism. Janus was welcomed there by Lorenzo de Medici, who appointed him the prestigious position of headmaster of his library. There, Janus taught ancient Greek philosophy and anthology. Marcus Musurus was his student there.
Twice was Janus Lascaris sent by Lorenzo de Medici to various places in Greece to retrieve as many ancient manuscripts as he could find. He travelled to Constantinople, Crete, Thessaloniki and Mount Athos, collecting and salvaging over 200 such ancient Greek manuscripts.
Later, upon invitation by King Charles VIII he settled in Paris, where he became his advisor and organized the royal library of France. From 1500 to 1509 he served as ambassador of France in Milan and in Venice. In 1503, he joined the Greek Academy of Aldus Manutius and became a professor of Greek philosophy. His former student Marcus Musurus was also a professor there and the two became colleagues.
In the following years, Pope Leo X appointed him headmaster of the newly founded Greek Gymnasium of Rome. Together with Marcus Musurus they founded a printing office, which further promoted the dissemination of Hellenic thought. In 1518 he was called in Paris by Francis I to take on the organization and direction of the royal library. He attempted in found another Greek school but without success.
Janus wrote numerous commentaries and printed them together with Marcus Musurus in their printing office. Janus printed the Iliad with his own commentary, as well as Sophocles’ plays. He translated works into Latin, published works such as the entire Greek Anthology and Philosopher Porphyry’s Homeric Questions as well as original works such as On canonic Law and Greek Rhetoricians.
Janus Lascaris left his last breath in Rome in 1535 at the age of 90. Together with his students and his colleagues, he had helped plant the seeds of the Renaissance. He remained a flaming patriot throughout his entire life, never ceasing his struggle to free Greece from the Ottoman rule and awaken humanity from the darkness of illiteracy the Middle Ages had imposed. On his tombstone was inscribed: Lascaris in foreign land deposided his body, and he does not blame her that she is very foreign, oh stranger. He found her sweet. But he is worried about the Achaeans (the Greeks), because their country does not cover them with free soil”.
- Αίας ο Τελαμώνιος. Άγνωστες μορφές του Ελληνισμού: Ιανός (Ιωάννης) Λάσκαρις. Λαϊκός Σύνδεσμος Χρυσή Αυγή. Xryshaygh.com. July 1, 2016. Web.
- “Lascaris, Ioannis”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.