Proclus

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Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer, Scholar (410 – 485)

Proclus was the most eminent Neoplatonic philosopher, polymath scientist and theologist of late antiquity, who exerted enormous influence on Platonic philosophy and its preservation throughout the medieval times. He was the last and greatest representative of the Ancient Greek thought before its downfall, in an era where the Hellenic flame was dwindling, and the Western World was welcoming Christianity as the new religion. His works, mainly commentaries on Plato’s treatises, left a lasting impression in the Western thought and contributed significantly to the revival of the human soul.

Proclus was born in Constantinople. He studied Aristotelian philosophy and mathematics in Alexandria and continued his studies in Athens. In the Academy of Athens, Proclus was initiated into the mystery schools of the Platonic philosophy by Syrianus, the headmaster of the Academy, whom Proclus succeeded, earning the name Proclus the Successor. Proclus served as headmaster of the Academy of Athens for 50 years. Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, the architects of Hagia Sophia were both his students.

Proclus’ philosophical work marks the epilogue of the Hellenic spirit. He wrote many treatises, but he is most well known for his commentaries, primarily on Plato’s works. Proclus perfected Neoplatonism by providing invaluable exegeses not only of Plato’s works, but also those of Orpheus, Aristotle and Euclid. As far as concerning philosophy, Proclus did not write anything original, rather, through Greek Meditation (Ελληνικός Διαλογισμός) he compiled analyses of exceptional depth and wisdom. His commentaries on Plato’s Timaeus, which he wrote at the age of 28, Parmenides, Cratylus, Alcibiades, Republic, while even more difficult to understand than Plato’s treatises, are undoubtedly the works of a visionary, whose meaning can only be understood through Greek Meditation.

His works on mathematics, physics and astronomy include insightful commentaries on the systems of Hipparchus, Aristarchus and Ptolemy, commentaries on Aristotle’s physics, Euclid’s and Geminus’ geometry, as well as Hesiod’s theogony. He describes a method of measuring the Sun’s diameter, proves geometric theorems of his times, and preserves the treatises of mathematicians which otherwise would not have survived to this day. In addition, Proclus wrote poems, hymns and theological works, most notably Elements of Theology.

Even though he did not oppose Christianity, Proclus attempted to protect what was left of the Hellenic spirit, refine it and give it the glorious spot it once had in history. His efforts were hindered by Christianity and Proclus was forced to exile in Asia Minor. With the final blow coming in 528 by Emperor Justinian, the Academy of Athens was closed and the philosophers persecuted, thus putting an end to Proclus’ dream.

Proclus’ corpus was studied extensively during the Renaissance, when Neoplatonic philosophy underwent an upsurge and, subsequently, a revival. Philosophers such as Michael Psellos, Pletho, Bessarion, Marsilio Ficino, Thomas Aquinas and Hegel were deeply inspired by Proclus’ works, as were more contemporary philosophers Thomas Taylor and Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to Hegel, the ideas of Neoplatonists and specially the philosophy of Proclus were long maintained and preserved in the Church.

Proclus’ mastery of the Platonic philosophy renders him an eternal interpreter of Greek philosophy, which Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and all their predecessors brought down from the divine plane. Without Proclus, Platonic philosophy would have remained obscure.

Bibliography:

  1. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1996. Print.
  2. Helmig, Christoph and Steel, Carlos, “Proclus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/proclus/&gt;.
  3. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Hilektron Publications: Athens, 2013. Print.
  4. “Proclus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Disctionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1925. Print.
  5. Sakellariou, Georgios. Πυθαγόρας Ο Διδάσκαλος των Λαών. Ideotheatron Publications. Athens, 1963. Print.
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Proclus

Paulus Aegineta

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Physician (c625 – c.690)

Paulus of Aegina was a physician and scientist who lived during the 7th century. He was one of the last famous Greek physicians, whose work exerted significant influence on the medicine of the Middle Ages. He is mostly known for his work Epitome, a medical compendium used extensively throughout history.

He was born in the small island of Aegina and studied medicine in Alexandria, later becoming a teacher there. He was a pioneer in general surgery as well plastic and reconstructive surgery. Some of the most well-known operations he performed are described in his book; these are operations for nasal fractures, jaw fractures, treatment of gynaecomastia and hypospadias, catheterization of the urinary bladder, lithotripsy for the treatment of urinary bladder stones, surgical techniques for the treatment of inguinal hernia and liver abscess.

In addition, he described surgical operations of the eye, identified the aneurysm as a disease and wrote extensively about the cancer of the cervix and the uterus. Paulus Aegineta achieved remarkable success as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, earning the name “Al Qawabili”, meaning “The Obstetrician” from the Arabs, who recognized him as one of the greatest physicians of all time.

The book that made him a household name in medicine up until the Renaissance was the Epitome, an encyclopaedia consisting of 7 books, incorporating his own experiences with the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Aëtius, Dioscorides and other renowned physicians of antiquity. The first book is about hygiene, the second on fever, the third on internal medicine, the fourth on diseases of the external organs, mainly of the skin, the fifth book on diseases of the environment such as insect stings, bites and wounds, the sixth book was devoted entirely on surgery and the seventh book on pharmacology, which was based on the works of Dioscorides.

Paulus’ work was translated into Arabic in the 9th century thus bridging Western and Arabic medicine. Later, it was translated into most European languages and was used as the main textbook in the medical schools of Salerno and Montpellier. Its first edition was printed in 1528 by the Aldine Press. Among the people influenced by Paulus Aegineta were Rhazes, Avicenna, Fabricius, Albucasis and Hally Abas. He died in Rome in 690, leaving behind him an enormous consignment to the medical world. Even before his death, Paulus Aegineta was acknowledged as one of the greatest physicians in history.

Bibliography:

  1. Αίας ο Τελαμώνιος. Άγνωστες Μορφές του Ελληνισμού: Παύλος ο Αιγινήτης. Χρυσή Αυγή. Xryshaygh.com. Web. September 21, 2016.
  2. Καραμπερόπουλος, Απ. Δημήτριος. «Παύλος Αιγινήτης». Karabelopoulos.gr. Web. March 11, 2004.
  3. Παύλος ο Αιγινήτης (Paulus Aegineta). Aegina.blogspot.bg. Web. August 20, 2010.
Paulus Aegineta

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.
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