Nicephorus Gregoras

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Philosopher, Theologist, Mathematician, Astronomer, Rhetorician, Writer, Historian, Statesman (c.1295 – 1360?)

Nicephorus Gregoras, a polyhistor with special declension towards philosophy, was one of the most significant figures in the world of letters of the Byzantine Empire’s 1100 years of existence. A polymath whose work covers an extraordinarily large spectrum of fields, he is most well known for his work Roman History, a vast collection of books concerned with the history of the Byzantine Empire.

His descent was from Pontus. At the age of 20, he studied in Constantinople under the supervision of John Glycys (“the Sweet”). He became a disciple of Theodore Metochites, the Grand Logothetes of the Byzantine Empire (roughly equivalent to today’s Prime Minister), who initiated him to the science of astronomy. Gregoras was to become the spiritual successor of Metochites and wielder of his wisdom. Metochites’ library in the Monastery of Chora, which Gregoras inherited, became one of the richest libraries in the whole Empire.

He was involved in the Hesychast controversy, unwillingly becoming the leader of the Anti-hesychast movement, which, nevertheless, did not influence his work. He founded the Didascaleion, a school with the aim of preserving Hellenism and its Tetractys: Arithmetics, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. Other subjects, such as philosophy, rhetoric and physics were also taught by Gregoras himself. His school attracted numerous students and became highly successful, placing Gregoras among the most illustrious and erudite sages of his era.

As a homo universalis, Nicephorus Gregoras was a prolific writer. By far, his most recognizable work, his magnum opus is the Roman History. It comprises 37 tomes spanning the history of the Byzantine Empire from the conquest of Constantinople by the Latins in 1204 until 1358. The book covers historically significant events such as civil wars, the life and work of the Byzantine Emperors, the conflicts of the Empire as well as its enemies and its policies. The book is widely praised for Gregoras’ critical thinking as well as ability to judge the significance of certain events and their impact in the future. It has been extensively studied and translated in several languages.

Other than history, Gregoras wrote books on philosophy, theology, grammar and orthography, hagiology, commentaries and poetry. Of great historical importance is his enormous collection of 159 epistles to notable historical figures of his time. Furthermore, he was involved with the sciences. He attempted to complete Ptolemy’s Harmonica on music, which was left incomplete, wrote books on solar eclipses and on the construction of astrolabes, treatises on mathematics as well as commentaries on the works of Nicomachus.

Gregoras’ exact year of death is uncertain. Nevertheless, the Byzantine Empire lost one of its most spiritually cultivated men whose work remains unparalleled. Lover of the ancient Greek writers with profound knowledge on both Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, Gregoras’ deep faith in Christianity never came into conflict with his love of Hellenism, which he struggled to preserve and pass on to humanity.

Bibliography:

  1. Σκλαβενίτη, Άννα. Συμβολή στὴ Μελέτη των Επιστολών του Νικηφόρου Γρηγορά. Διδακτορική Διατριβή Τμήματος Φιλολογίας Πανεπιστημίου Ιωαννίνων, Ιωάννινα, 2014. olympias.lib.uoi.gr. Web.
  2. Νικηφόρος Γρηγοράς Η Ζωή του. Ikee.lib.auth.gr. Web.
Nicephorus Gregoras

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