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

Saints Cyril & Methodius

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Theologists, Missionaries (826 and 815 – 869 and 885)

Constantine and Michael were two brothers from Thessaloniki, theologists and missionaries, who under the order of Emperor Michael disseminated Orthodox Christianity to the Slavs and created their first alphabet, the Glagolitic. While their work’s importance in Greece is somewhat negligible, they are considered as the most important saints of all in the Slavic civilization.

During the 9th century, when Emperor Ratsislav of Moravia sought help from the Byzantine Empire to neutralize the Franco-Bulgarian alliance that had posed as a threat to his empire, he turned to Byzantine Emperor Michael, who chose 2 theologists to introduce Orthodox Christianity to Great Moravia and translate its teachings to Slavic language, as part of a treaty, in return for the Byzantine Empire’s support. These two theologists were brothers Constantine and Michael. Constantine had graduated from the University of Constantinople with a degree in philosophy. Because of his ease to learn languages very quickly, he had great success as a diplomat of the Byzantine Empire with the Arabs and the Khazars. Michael, the older brother, had a familiarity with the Slavic language having worked in the monastery of Polichronos in Asia Minor.

There had been many missionaries from various kingdoms prior to the two brothers that were preaching the word of Jesus Christ. However, Constantine and Michael were the ones to successfully disseminate Christianity to them because they taught it in the Slavs’ own native language. Since there was no written Slavic language, they created the Glagolitic alphabet, the very first alphabet of the Slavs, which was used to translate hundreds of Christian works from Greek to Slavic, including the whole mystery of the Divine Liturgy. Many new words were created using Greek roots to express higher notions and meanings from Christianity. Thus, the Slavs could adore their God and perform the ecclesiastical mysteries in their own language.

Constantine and Michael laid the foundations of the Slavic literature; they transformed it from a language that was limited to expressing daily activities to a language that could express their God’s adoration. Michael translated the entire Old and New Testament as well as the Holy Scripture from Greek to Slavic with the help of two of his students while Constantine wrote numerous original treatises in Slavic.

Constantine and Michael received the highest honours from Pope Nicolas I for their offering to the Slavs. Shortly before his premature death, Constantine received the name Cyril while his brother Michael changed his name to Methodius and continued his work as a missionary in Moravia, preaching Orthodox Christianity and challenging many conservatives of the old religion. Even though he had a respectable amount of followers, Methodius and his students were imprisoned, tortured relentlessly and eventually sold as slaves. Their original alphabet also fell into disuse shortly after Methodius’ death due to its complexity.

The consignment of the two brothers to the Slavic world is enormous and eternal. After their deaths, their students and followers disseminated Christianity and scripture to Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Russia, where they found fertile ground to grow. The Glagolitic alphabet was replaced slowly over the centuries by the Cyrilic, so named in honour of Cyril, made by Climent of Ohrid, one of Methodius’ greatest students. It is the one used to this day by over 10 nations in Europe and Asia. Both earned the title of “equal-to-apostles” and co-patron saints. They were canonized by the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches and are commemorated on May 11th or May 24th.

Bibliography

  1. Άγιος Κύριλλος καὶ Μεθόδιος Φωτιστές των Σλάβων. Ορθόδοξος Συναξαριστής. Saint.gr. Web.
  2. Gonis, Dimitrios. Ιεραποστολικοί αγώνες των αγίων Κυρίλλου και Μεθοδίου-Αποτίμηση της προσφοράς τους. Βιβλιοθήκη «Πορφυρογέννητος». Apostoliki-diakonia.gr. Web.
Saints Cyril & Methodius

Ioannis Kottounios

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Philosopher, Theologist, Scholar (1572 – 1658)

Ioannis Kottounios (also spelled Johannes Cottunius) was an eminent humanist and scholar of the Renaissance. He occupied high academic positions in the Italian academia and was responsible, together with other great Greek humanists, for disseminating the Hellenism to the West that had fallen after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

He was called the “Macedonian Sage”, because of origin from Beroia. He studied in the Greek College of Rome, where he was appointed professor of philosophy in 1613 and in the University of Padua, where he received his doctorate on philosophy and medicine. Kottounios taught Greek philosophy in the University of Bologna and University of Padua. In addition, he taught poetry, rhetoric, politics, theology and most importantly Plato and Aristotle, including Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics.

Kottounios was a neo-Aristotelian philosopher and a prolific writer, who wrote many treatises on the works of Aristotle. His original work Greek Epigrams is a commentary on the works of Aristotle, which was used to introduce the West with Aristotelian philosophy. It is the only book that was written in Greek. The rest of the books, written in Latin, are also commentaries based on the works of Aristotle, such as Lectiones in Primum Aristotelis de Meteoris,Commentarii lucidissimi in tres Aristotelis libros De Anima, Expositio Universale Logicae and many others. Other books written by Kottounios concern Greek history and mythology.

In 1653 he founded the Cottounian College, a school that provided free food and shelter to Greek immigrants who sought for scholarship. The Hellenomuseum, as it came to be known, would also provide Greeks with Greek and Orthodox education.

Kottounios’ work had tremendous influence on West thought. A polymath and polyglot, he is recognized today for his contributions to the Renaissance and his efforts to help the subjugated Greeks. Today, a bust of him is found in the campus of the University of Bologna.

Bibliography

  1. Leontsini, Eleni G. Η ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗ ΦΙΛΟΣΟΦΙΑ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟ 16Ο ΚΑΙ 17Ο ΑΙΩΝΑ:ΧΡΙΣΤΟΦΟΡΟΣ ΚΟΝΤΟΛΕΩΝ, ΙΩΑΝΝΗΣ ΚΩΤΤΟΥΝΙΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΕΠΙΣΚΟΠΟΣ ΚΥΘΗΡΩΝ ΜΑΞΙΜΟΣ ΜΑΡΓΟΥΝΙΟΣ. ΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΟΝΙΚΗ ΕΡΕΥΝΑ ΣΤΑ ΚΥΘΗΡΑ. ΑΝΟΙΚΤΟ ΠΑΝΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΙΟ ΔΗΜΟΥ ΚΥΘΗΡΩΝ.academia.edu. Web. Retrieved on March 21, 2017.
  2. Το ήξερες; Ποιος σπουδαίος Βεροιώτης είναι ο εικονιζόμενος;. veriotis.gr. Web. Retrieved on March 21, 2017
Ioannis Kottounios

Damascius

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Philosopher, Physicist (c.458 – c.538)

The last of the Neoplatonists and the last headmaster of the Academy of Athens before its closure by Emperor Justinian in 529. Damascius of Damascus was primarily involved with Platonic philosophy, physics, metaphysics and astronomy and had significant influence in the Neoplatonic movement of philosophy during an era when the Ancient Greek flame was slowly dwindling and the Byzantine Empire was undergoing its first steps.

Damascius studied philosophy and astronomy 3 years in Egypt under his tutor, Theon. He was also a student of Isidore and Ammonius Saccas and served as director of the rhetoric school of Alexandria for 9 years. He continued his studies in Athens, under the guidance of Marinus, Proclus’ biographer and Zenodotus. He then became a scholar in the Academy of Athens and assumed its directory. There, he taught philosophy, rhetoric and astronomy at the time when Proclus was alive, until the Academy was closed and its property seized by Emperor Justinian. Damascius departed from Athens together with 6 of his colleagues and settled in the courtyard of King Chosroes. He remained there for 2 years until departing again for Greece due to the low level of intellectuality there. Simplicius was one of his students.

Damascius wrote commentaries on the works of Plato. These were based on their interpretation by Proclus. These include commentaries on Plato’s Phaedon, Parmenides, Philebus, Timaeus – Critias as well as commentaries on some of Aristotle’s works such as De Coelo, Physica etc. He did not limit himself on writing solely commentaries. His chief original treatise Difficulties and Solutions of First Principle deals with the nature of God and the soul. It is influenced by the Neoplatonic wave of Plotinus and Proclus. Damascius continues in this flow and asserts that the One (God) is connected with the Being and Nous (Mind). He attempts to discover the first principle of the world, the One of Plotinus and concludes that there exists a principle beyond the nature of reality that man cannot perceive with his senses and that it cannot be expressed. It is holy, divine, inconceivable and indescribable. For Damascius, the One creates the Being. Furthermore, he wrote books on astronomy, most importantly Paradoxa, which deals with the heat of the sun, the solar system and the galaxy.

Damascius’ influence on philosophy was significant. However, his treatises were and still remain very difficult for philosophers and scientists to understand. Few have been able to grasp the true meaning of his philosophical system, which is involved with metaphysics. Only recently was it revealed from Stelios Giannoulis, Professor of Theoretical Physics and assistant of Nobel-prize laureate Werner Heizenberg that, according to the latter’s own accounts, Werner Heizenberg’s teachings on the existence of multiple universes, one existing inside the other, with varying temperatures and velocities were borrowed from Damascius. Today, Damascius has been recognized as one of the greatest philosophic thinkers of humanity during the downfall of Ancient Greece.

Bibliography

  1. ΕΛΛΑΣ-ΑΦΥΠΝΙΣΗ-ΤΩΡΑ. «ΕΠΑΝΕΛΛΗΝΙΣΙΣ» με τον Κωνσταντίνο Πλεύρη 21/02/2017. Youtube. February 21, 2017. Web. Retrieved on March 10, 2017.
  2. Δαμάσκιος. Η Εγκυκλοπαίδεια του Πλάτωνα. Xtek.gr. Web. Retrieved on March 10, 2017.
  3. Georgakopoulos, Konstantinos. Ancient Greek Scientists. Georgiades: Athens, 1995. Print.
  4. Pleures, Konstantinos. Greek Philosophers. Athens: Hilektron Publications, 2014. Print.
Damascius

John Argyropoulos

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Philosopher, Scholar (1415 – 1487)

Thinker, philosopher and academic, one of the most outstanding Byzantine Greek humanists who disseminated the works of Plato and Aristotle to the West during the dawning of the Renaissance. With his original works and commentaries on the works of Aristotle and Plato, as well as their translations into Latin, John Argyropoulos exerted a tremendous influence on the Western thought, whereupon he was named one of the greatest humanists of the Renaissance era.

He studied philosophy and theology in the University of Padua and participated in the Council of Florence when he was young. He became one of the many Greek scholars who fled from Constantinople after its fall to the Ottomans in 1453, forcing him refuge to Italy. Argyropoulos settled in Florence, where he was accepted in the Platonic Academy, a university built by Cozimo de Medici, Florence’s hegemon who wanted to disseminate the philosophy of his teacher Georgios Gemistus – Pletho, whom he admired. Cozimo entrusted his son’s education to Argyropoulos, as well as the Academy’s Department of Ancient Greek and Philosophy. Soon, he became one of Italy’s most famous academics, attracting humanists from all over the country to study next to him. Among his most notable students were Angelo Poliziano, John Filelfo, the son of Franciscus Filelfo, Donato Acciaiuoli, Leonardo daVinci, Johannes Reuchlin and Alamanno Rinuccini.

Argyropoulos taught Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy in an innovative way; his house was always open to his students and humanists who wished to discuss and philosophize with him. For him, there were three major philosophers: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. By far the latter was his favourite. He dismissed Zoroaster and confronted Cicero for being an overrated philosopher. With his translations on the works of Aristotle to Latin, the West became acquainted with Aristotle once again, since the Roman era. He published translations, accompanied with his own commentaries on De Anima, De Caelo, De Mundo, Physica, Metaphysica, the Nicomachean Ethics, the Politics and the Organon, Aristotle’s book on logic. Furthermore, he published collections such as De Interpretione, Analytica Posteriora and Expositio Ethicorum Aristotelis. His original treatises include ecclesiastical poems and miscellaneous religious and philosophical treatises.

Argyropoulos worked tirelessly as an apostle of the Greek language and philosophy in 3 different universities throughout his lifetime. A close friend of Basileios Bessarion and a successor to Manuel Chrysoloras’ work, the philosopher became the most famous representative of Aristotelian philosophy in Italy and helped massively to restore the classical studies and connect the humanists with the Greek spirit. He died in Florence at the age of 72, in complete poverty. By the end of his life, he had gained thousands of followers both from inside and outside of Italy, who cultivated the seeds that Argyropoulos had taught them to plant and, with their turn, continued the work of John Argyropoulos and his predecessors, which led to the Renaissance.

Bibliography

  1. Condylis, Thanos. Αργυρόπουλος Ιωάννης. Αργολική Αρχειακή Βιβλιοθήκη Ιστορίας και Πολιστισμού. Argolikivivliothiki.gr. Web. July 26, 2011. Retrieved on January 29, 2017.
  2. Matula, Jozef. John Argyropoulos and his Importance for the Latin West. Univerzita Palackeho Olomouc. Academy.edu. Web. Retrieved on January 29, 2017.
John Argyropoulos

Nicephorus II Phocas

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Byzantine Emperor (c.912 – 969)

His name means “Bringer of Victory”. He reigned as Emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 963 to 969. During those 6 years he managed to prove himself as one of the most competent, skilful and eminent Emperors who ever held the throne of the Byzantine Empire. He is chiefly remembered for his political, military and religious reforms that led to the enforcement of the Byzantine Emperor, rendering it the most powerful of all the empires at the time.

His work began before he was crowned king, when he pursued a military career early in his life. He distinguished himself in battles and eventually succeeded his father Bardas Phocas as commander of the Byzantine army of the East division. In 961 he liberated the island of Crete, which was occupied by the Arabs for 137 years and established Christianity.

Having achieved widespread popularity by the public and having earned the trust of the high-ranked authorities, Nicephorus Phocas was crowned Byzantine Emperor in 963. His primary concern was Islam, which had started becoming a formidable enemy of the Byzantine Empire. Thus, in spring 964 he led a campaign against the Arabs. The successful reclaiming of Cilicia, Palestine and Cyprus from the Arabs opened to way for the liberation of Syria. In the absence of the emperor in Constantinople, the Byzantine forces entered Antioch and then reclaimed Aleppo, ultimately terminating the Arab Empire.

Next, he turned his attention towards the Bulgarians, who had signed a peace treaty with the Byzantine Empire, forcing it to pay heavy taxation as a means of subordinance to them. Phocas commenced negotiations with the king of the Russians, Tsar Sviatoslav in attempt to rid of the Bulgarians. The outcome, however, was much more different than what had happened to the Arabians, with Tsar Sviatoslav becoming more menacing for the Byzantines than the Bulgarians. The problem with the Bulgarians and the Russians would be resolved when John Tzimiskes would ascend to throne right after Nicephorus Phocas’s assassination in 969.

His Spartan way of life was reflected on his domestic policies for the administration of the Empire. His first priority was enforcement of the military; hence, he increased taxation and made cuts of funding in favour of the army. He forbade the Church from increasing its fortune and supported the restoration of old churches, monasteries and nursing homes instead of building new ones. Phocas himself had restored older churches in Crete and Cappadocia. Finally, he wrote two treatises on war, De velitatione bellica and Praecepta militaria, although some historians attribute them to others.

In the end, Nicephorus Phocas was assassinated by his consort and John Tzimiskes, who immediately assumed throne. Some saw Nicephorus Phocas as a military giant who, although rarely left his headquarters in Constantinople, organized an army so powerful that destroyed the Arabians and imposed itself in the East. Others saw him as an oppressive tyrant due to his interventions in the Church and his heavy taxation. Nevertheless, he was an undefeatable warlord whose death caused joy among the enemies of the Empire. He was beatified by the Church and is celebrated in Mt. Athos to this day as a saint every year on December 11th.

Bibliography

  1. Helene Ahrweiler. ”Nicephorus II, Phocas” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. 8 December. 2016.
  2. Νικηφόρος Β’, Φωκάς. Εγκυκλοπαίδεια Μείζωνος Ελληνισμού, Μικρά Ασία. Asiaminor.ehw.gr. Web. Retrieved on December 8, 2016.
  3. “Nikoforos II, Phokas”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
Nicephorus II Phocas

Demetrios Chalcocondyles

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Philosopher, Scholar (1423 – 1511)

Humanist, writer and professor of Classical studies, Demetrios Chalcocondyles was one of the chief representatives of the Renaissance. Having fled from Athens to Rome during the final years of the Byzantine Empire, Chalcocondyles became one of the core members of the Platonists of the West, who revived Hellenism in Italy and subsequently in entire Europe.

The Chalcocondyles was a noble family from Athens, many of which members, including Demetrios and his cousin Laonicus, became scholars in the largest universities of Italy. His family first fled from Athens in 1435 after the city fell in the hands of the Acciaioli dynasty and settled in Mystras. There, Demetrios studied philosophy next to Georgios Plethon – Gemistus, the greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages, until in 1449 when he went to Rome. There he was taught Latin by Theodore Gazis. The two men formed a strong friendship and Demetrios inherited Gazis’ entire library after his death.

Chalcocondyles taught Greek language and philosophy in Perugia, Italy and in 1463 he became chairman of the department of Classical studies in the University of Padua. Greek language, philosophy and mathematics began forming an important part of the schools’ curriculum with Plato and Aristotle being Chalcocondyles’ primary teachings.

In 1472 he abandoned his position from the university and settled in Florence. 3 years later he was appointed chairman of the department of Classical studies in the University of Florence, a position which he held for 16 years. During his years as chairman, he published the very first edition of the complete works of Homer, accompanied with his notes. The treatise was called Homerou Sozomena; it marked the first time that the West came into contact with the insuperable wisdom of the Homeric epics after thousands of years.

The third major city where Chalcocondyles taught was Milan, where he published the works of Isocrates and the Suda Lexicon. He unsuccessfully ran as candidate for the department of Greek philosophy in Venice and went to Ferrara, where he continued teaching until his death in 1511 at the age of 88.

Demetrios Chalcocondyles taught tirelessly for over 35 years in the most significant spiritual centers of the Renaissance, achieving widespread fame and recognition. He had hundreds of students, the most notable ones being Angelo Poliziano, his long-time friend and assistant Marcilio Ficino and the philhellene printer Aldus Manutius, who attended his lectures in Milan. The West got to know Homer once again thanks to Chalcocondyles, as well as Plato, Aristotle and Isocrates. The dissemination of the Greek knowledge which he and the other great Teachers of humanity had brought together with them from the fallen Byzantium broke the shackles of religion and ultimately led to the Renaissance, the revival of human thought and Hellenism.

Bibliography

  1. “Chalkokondylis, Dimitrios”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens, 1946. Print.
  2. Christou, Eirini. Χαλκοκονδύλης Δημήτριος (1423 – 1511). Αργολική Αρχειακή Βιβλιοθήκη Ιστορίας και Πολιτισμού. Argolokivivliothiki.gr. Web. July 22, 2011. Retrieved on December 9, 2016.
Demetrios Chalcocondyles