John Philoponus

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Philosopher, Theologist, Mathematician, Physicist, Astronomer, Writer (c.490 – c.570)

John Philoponus was a Christian Neoplatonic and Aristotelian philosopher, philologist, scientist and theologist. His name means “friend of pain”, which denotes his love for hard work. Considered by many as the most educated man of his time, John Philoponus was a prolific writer, whose bibliography spans the fields of philosophy, mathematics, physics, logic, metaphysics, psychology, astronomy, theology and cosmology. Primarily renowned for his works in physics, he was the first scientist to propose the experiment of the fall of two bodies of different weight to disprove Aristotle’s long lasting theory that the heaviest of the two bodies would fall first.

Philoponus studied philosophy in the Neoplatonic School of Alexandria. His teacher, Ammonius, headmaster of the school, was a student of Proclus, one of the most influential philosophers in world history. Later on, Philoponus became a scholar in the same school and began writing commentaries on Aristotle’s works. As he started distancing himself from Aristotle’s axioms, he moved on to writing his own original treatises, unwillingly becoming one of the first critics of Aristotle and introducing his own new concepts and ideas in philosophy, a very daring act at the time.

In the field of physics, Philoponus disagreed with Aristotle that light is a static property and instead proposed that light is an immaterial action capable of heating up bodies. In a similar way, he asserted that the soul warms up the body. He deduced that light travels from light-emitting objects to the eye by means of geometric optics. Furthermore, he explained that heat is produced from the sunlight’s rays that refract and heat up the air by means of friction.

Philoponus rejected Aristotle’s theory that any three dimensional object must be a material body, redefined the concepts of void and matter, researched collisions and compiled studies on free fall. In particular, he described that during free fall of two bodies of different weight, the difference in their time of fall is not equal to the proportion of their weight, but in reality is very small. Moreover, he made significant contributions to the theory of impetus and in inertia, which changed the direction of dynamics towards a more modern form that it has today.

Concerning astronomy, he applied the theory of impetus on the celestial bodies, claimed that the sun and the stars are made of fire, that planets do not spin in perfect circular symmetry and that celestial bodies are three-dimensional. He attempted to provide an explanation for the creation of the galaxy and the universe and, while a Christian, he accepted Plato’s Timaeus of the creation of the universe as being in harmony with the Christian dogma.

Philiponus’ studies on physics influenced several scientists of the Renaissance. The most notable example was Galileo. In his first texts, Philoponus’ name is mentioned more times than Plato’s name. Galileo praises him for his ideas, most importantly on his theory of impetus, which helped Galileo develop his theory on the inertia. In addition, one can find numerous similarities between the two scientists, such as both questioning Aristotle’s theories, both believing that man will never be fully able to understand any natural phenomenon and both being condemned by the Church as heretics.

As an open-minded philosopher, his theses were not accepted by the Church or his colleagues. Accused of rejecting the dogma of the Trinity and being a tritheist, Philoponus was condemned by the Church. His sentence was revocated in 1990.

Philoponus’ works had a significant influence on Islamic, Judaic and Christian thought. They were subsequently translated into Arabic, Latin and Syrian. Perhaps his greatest achievement was that he made his thought independent from that of Aristotle, challenging the philosopher’s authority, thus allowing physics as a science to progress. His scientific genius has recently been compared to that of Isaac Newton and Galileo by modern scientists.

Bibliography:

  1. Ιακώβου, Μαρία. Η Φυσική του Ιωάννη Φιλόπονου και ο Γαλιλαίος, Πτυχιακή Εργασία. Αριστοτέλειο Πανεπιστήμιο Θεσσαλονίκης, Σχολή Θετικών Επιστημών, Τμήμα Φυσικής. Astro.auth.gr. Web.
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John Philoponus

Michael VIII Palaiologos

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Byzantine Emperor (1224 – 1282)

Michael Palaiologos (or Palaeologus) was the founder of the Palaiologos dynasty that ruled the Byzantine Empire for almost 200 years, longer than any other dynasty in the Empire’s existence. It was the last dynasty that ruled the Byzantine Empire. As Emperor, Michael reclaimed Constantinople and restored the Byzantine Empire after 57 years of Latin rule.

A few years before Michael ascended to throne, Emperor John Ducas Vatatzes had already set the ground for the reclaiming of Constantinople. Michael’s first and most difficult task as Emperor was to reclaim the lost lands of the Byzantine Empire that had fallen under the rule of a powerful anti-Byzantine alliance. Thus, in 1259, the army of Nicaea, led by Michael’s brother John Palaiologos, defeated the opposing alliance in Pelagonia, establishing its rule there.

Michael allied with Genoa to provide him with military support against Venice, which exerted the most powerful influence over Constantinople. In exchange, Genoa was granted with exemption from taxation as well as permission to build its own ports in the Byzantine Empire’s lands.

In 1261, Michael’s army defeated the Latins, reclaiming Constantinople and establishing the Palaeologian dynasty. From that point onward, Michael’s goal became to rebuild and fortify Constantinople. He rebuilt churches and monasteries, reconstructed the city’s walls and attempted to increase the city’s population. Under his diplomacy, the Byzantine Empire added a part of Morea to its lands, Mystras, which would later become the Empire’s most prestigious spiritual center, as well as most of the island of the Aegean Sea.

After the reclaiming of Constantinople, the Empire’s greatest threat came from the West. Charles of Anjou had began creating an Empire that intended to assimilate the Balkan lands of the Byzantine Empire, with the help of the Pope, the former Latin Emperor, Serbia and Bulgaria. Michael allied with Hungary, Egypt, Mongolia and Peter III of Aragon to stop the opposing empire’s procession to Eastern Europe. He spent vast amounts of money to start a rebellion in Sicily and ordered Peter III of Aragon to attack it. His operations ended successfully and Charles of Anjou’s Empire dissolved.

Throughout his emperorship, Michael fended off numerous enemies from the Byzantine Empire, both from shore and sea. A skilled diplomat, he would frequently resolve in signing peace treaties with neighbouring nations to alleviate tensions instead of going to war against them. He came into conflict with the Church when he attempted to unify the two Churches and was received negatively by his followers. Although history has shown that Michael was not as popular or likable as other Byzantine Emperors like Heraclius or John Vatatzes, he has been hailed as the New Constantine by some contemporary historians.

Bibliography

  1. “Michael VIII Palaeologus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261 – 1282). Dumbarton Oaks. Doaks.org. Web.
  3. Μιχαήλ Η Παλαιολόγος. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Μείζονος Ελληνισμού. Constantinople.ehw.gr. Web.
Michael VIII Palaiologos

Janus Lascaris

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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”.

Bibliography

  1. Αίας ο Τελαμώνιος. Άγνωστες μορφές του Ελληνισμού: Ιανός (Ιωάννης) Λάσκαρις. Λαϊκός Σύνδεσμος Χρυσή Αυγή. Xryshaygh.com. July 1, 2016. Web.
  2. “Lascaris, Ioannis”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
Janus Lascaris

St. Theodore of Tarsus

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Philosopher, Theologist, Archbishop of Canterbury (602 – 690)

Theodore was a Byzantine Greek born in Tarsus of Asia Minor. Serving as the 7th Archbishop of Canterbury for over 20 years, he created the English Church and laid the foundations of the Anglo-Saxon philology. He was called “the first archbishop whom all the English obeyed” because he became the first to control the whole English Church as one. He has been canonized by the Catholic Church.

He studied mathematics, philosophy and astronomy in Athens and Constantinople and earned the title of philosopher. His work as a reformer of the English Church began at age 60, when he was called up by Pope Vitalian from Rome to become Archbishop of Canterbury following his predecessor’s death. Theodore set out for England, only to find the Church completely disorganized as a result of the crisis that had broken out because of local pagans.

His first move was to organize the country; he made visitation to all churches of the English nation and divided the country into parishes and dioceses, appointing capable priests and bishops in charge. With the Council of Hertford in 673, he passed numerous reforms that put order and discipline back to the Church, the monasteries and the people and passed legislations forbidding bishops to interfere with other dioceses. Moreover, he made Easter an obligatory celebration, disconnected the Church from the movement of the Monothelites and implemented the teaching of music and sacred learning in the churches. Thus, Theodore managed to create one single, unified Church out of the many, heterogeneous ones that existed independently throughout England.

Theodore not only possessed strong administrative skills, but was also a cultivated man of letters. He founded schools throughout the entire country, the most famous school of Greek and Latin being in Canterbury, and promoted art and sciences in the monasteries. Theodore, together with Abbot Adrian, taught all the sciences themselves, including astronomy, Greek language and philosophy, music and arithmetic. Thanks to his reforms, the English Church became a center of culture that helped the development of Christianity as well as the dissemination and integration of the Greek language in England. None of his successors ever made any changes to the system which he had created.

Bibliography

  1. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. New Advent. Newadvent.org. Web.
  2. Νέος Συναξαριστής της Ορθοδόξου Εκκλησίας”, υπό ιερομονάχου Μακαρίου Σιμωνοπετρίτου, εκδ. Ίνδικτος (τόμος πρώτος – Σεπτέμβριος, σ. 205-206)
  3. Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume IX: September. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. September 19, St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, Confessor. Bartleby.com. Web.
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Saint Theodore of Canterbury. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica.com. Web.
St. Theodore of Tarsus

Romanos the Melodist

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Hymnographer, Musician (c.490 – c.556)

The greatest hymnographer of the Christian Orthodox Church, the “Pindar of Christianity” as he was called, was Romanos the Melodist, active during the Golden Age of the Byzantine Empire. He is renowned for being the greatest poet of the Byzantine era and has been canonized by the Greek Orthodox Church. His feast is on October 1st.

Romanos was of Graeco-Syrian origin and was born in Homs, Syria. He became deacon in the Church of Resurrection in Beirut and later went to Constantinople, where he served as presbyter (elder). Romanos was a musician; he is credited as having composed almost 1000 kontakions, which are ecclesiastical hymns honouring a certain religious event of figure such as apostle, saint etc. They are a form of sermon verse accompanied by music. Only one tenth of his work survives to this day. The music that accompanied the chanting of the hymns also does not survive. All of them were written in Ancient Greek.

With his work, Romanos honoured almost all saints of the Orthodox Church as well as all of the major religious events in Christianity. Among his most notable works are the troparion to Virgin Mary (Theotokos), the kontakion on Christ’s Nativity, the Last Judgement, Adam’s Lament, the Martyrdom of St. Stephen including hymns on Christmas, Easter and the Resurrection. His masterpiece, however, is the Akathist Hymn. It is a hymn to Theotokos (Virgin Mary) that was believed by the citizens of Constantinople to have protected their city from the siege of the Avarians in 626. Its name means the unseated hymn, because it was always chanted while standing. The Akathist is recognized as the greatest hymn written for the Orthodox Greek Church.

The eminent Byzantinologist Karl Krumbacher wrote about Romanos the Melodist: “In poetic talent, fire of inspiration, depth of feeling and elevation of language, he far surpasses all the other melodists. The literary history of the future will perhaps acclaim Romanos for the greatest ecclesiastical poet of all ages”.

Bibliography

  1. Michael G. Farrow. St. Romanos the Melodist. Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. Antiochian.org. Web. Retrieved on June 23, 2017.
  2. Ρώτα, Μαίρη. Ρωμανός ο Μελωδός. Ο Μεγάλος Χριστιανός Ποιητής. Κοινή Γνώμη. Koinignomi.gr. Web. April 14, 2016.
Romanos the Melodist

Marcus Musurus

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Philosopher, Scholar, Printer (c.1470 – 1517)

Marcus Musurus was one of the greatest humanists and most important representatives of the Renaissance. An erudite philosopher with profound knowledge on the Greek and Latin literature, he exerted extraordinary influence in Italy, where he worked as an academic in the most prestigious universities. As a long-life collaborator of Aldus Manutius, Musurus helped disseminate the works of the ancient Greek philosophers throughout Europe and preserve the ancient wisdom throughout the dark ages.

He was Cretan. He studied Greek language in the school of St. Catherine of Sina and continued his studies in Florence next to his teacher Janus Lascaris. In 1494 he settled in Venice where he met Aldus Manutius, the founder of the Aldine Press and the leading printer of all Italy. The two became close affiliates and would eventually publish numerous works of the Ancient Greek philosophers making them widely available to the public. These included the works of Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, Manuel Chrysoloras, Pindar, Callimachus, Aristotle, Homer, all the works of Plato as well as 25 other Classical and Christian writers.

Musurus worked incessantly to promote the ancient Greek philosophy and sciences to the West. Besides his work as a printer, he taught Greek language and philosophy in the New Academy of Carteromachus and Gregoropoulus and in the Platonic Academy of Venice. As a professor of Greek language, philosophy and literature, he held the department of Greek language in the University of Padua where he also taught Homer, Hesiod and Theocritus. He was appointed the title of “Publica Graecarum Literarum Officina” by the Council of Venice. In this way, he was in charge of approving which Greek book would get published. In addition, he served as bishop of Hierapetra of Crete and of Monemvasia, appointed by the Pope himself.

Musurus envisioned a free Greek nation. He wrote a Platonic ode and dedicated it to Pope Leo X, whose father was a student of John Argyropoulos, in an attempt to persuade him to help the subjugated Greeks. In 1513, he helped his teacher Janus Laskaris organize the Greek Gymnasium of Rome, where he also taught Greek. In 1515, the Council of Venice entrusted Musurus with 800 of Bessarion’s manuscripts. These he taxonomized together with Battista Egnazzio and placed them in the newly founded Library of St. Mark, which formed the basis of Biblioteca Marciana.

His unexpected death in 1517 caused great sorrow to the humanists of the West. He was honoured and respected for his tireless struggle to enlighten the world with the works of the ancient Greek philosophers. He had a vast number of eminent students who continued his work and founded departments of Greek language and philosophy in European universities. Among them were Johan Conon, Girolamo Alexandro, Lazaro Bonamico, Germain de Brie and the famous Desiderius Erasmus, who said about Musurus:”… a polymath and panepistemon, key-holder of the Greek language and an excellent connossoir of the Latin voice”.

Bibliography

  1. Condylis, Thanos. Μουσούρος Μάρκος. Αργολική Αρχειακή Βιβλιοθήκη Ιστορίας και Πολιτισμού. Argolikivivliothiki.gr. Web. August 2, 2011.
Marcus Musurus

Julian

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Philosopher, Byzantine Emperor (331 – 363)

Flavius Claudius Julianus was Caesar of the Roman Empire and Emperor of the Byzantine Empire during the latter’s first years of establishment. He was also a Neoplatonic philosopher with rich philosophic and scientific work. The Christians gave him the name “Apostate”, which they use to this day, because he did not accept Christianity. He was the only Byzantine Emperor who opposed Christianity as the new state religion and struggled to revive the Ancient Greek religion, philosophy and spirit, in spite of being Emperor only 20 months.

He was born in Constantinople and was the nephew of Constantine, the first Byzantine Emperor. He studied philosophy, rhetoric and science in Athens, then returned to Constantinople where he served as Caesar of the Roman Empire from 335 to 360 together with Constantius II and then alone from 361 until his death in 363.

Julian was the only Byzantine Emperor who was not a Christian. He reigned at a time when Hellenism was being hunted down in favour of Christianity that was quickly gaining a fertile ground and imposed as the new religion. Followers of the “old religion” were persecuted and their temples destroyed. Julian saw this as a threat against the Hellenic thought and decided to take actions to stop the dissemination of Christianity.

Aside from his military and economical reforms, by far the largest part of his politics was aimed at reviving the Greek civilization. He issued proclamation on the freedom of worshiping all religions, banned Christians from teaching in public education or occupying positions in politics and the military and obliged them to pay for the damages they had done on the Ancient Greek temples. Numerous Greek cities began regaining their former glory. Festivals and games in Olympias, Delphi and Antioch were revived, temples and cities that were mere ruins were repaired such as Athens, Macedonia, Epirus, Nicopolis, Eleusis and philosophic schools were protected by edict. Philosophers and priests were sent throughout the empire to promote the Greek civilization, which they successfully accomplished without bloodshed.

In parallel, Julian was involved with Neoplatonism, a continuation of the Platonic philosophy established by Plotinus and Iamblichus. He wrote numerous treatises on philosophy and astronomy as well as hymns and publicly supported Aristarchus’ heliocentric model.

Julian was not against Christianity; rather, he wanted to bring an order so that both religions were practiced. In his own words, he did not want the Christians to be killed, beaten or treated badly. He founded public hotels where people were treated independently of their religion. He did not forbid Christians to practice their religion nor did he persecute them, as he was against violence. Indeed, Christians were tolerant to his reforms.

During his last days as Emperor he embarked on an expedition to Mesopotamia to defeat the Persians. He was assassinated by a Christian on the way back. Shortly after, his reforms did not last and the situation was reverted back to how it originally was before his reign as Emperor. Destruction, persecutions and slaughter continued, reaching the apex with the destruction of the Library of Antioch by the Christians.

Julian remains a controversial figure who distinguished for his military and spiritual virtues. His big love for Greece and his ill efforts to reconcile the tensions between the two religions resulted to much unnecessary hate against him, even by modern scholars. The goal of his life to revive the Greek spirit would not be realized until 1000 years later by Georgios Plethon – Gemistus.

Bibliography

  1. Ayfantis, Georgios. Ο Βωμός της Ελπίδος. Hellenikon Selas: Athens, 2007. Print.
  2. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades, Athens: 1995. Print.
  3. Ιουλιανός,o Μέγας. Ένας πραγματικός Έλληνας. Theasis.gr. Web.
  4. Stewart Henry Perowne, Christian Kopff. Julian. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica.com. Web.
Julian