Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Born in Constantinople about , died in the Peloponnesus, Out of veneration for Plato he changed his name from Gemistos to Plethon. Although he wrote commentaries on Aristotle's logical treatises and on Porphyry's "Isagoge", he was a professed Platonist in philosophy.
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This claim is all the more interesting in light of the fact that Plethon is, as it turns out, a pagan. I argue that Plethon takes the position he does because his interpretation of the Platonic God better fits his own neo-pagan theological conceptions.
Part of the evidence for this is supplied by the first English translation of Plethon's Summary of the Doctrines of Zoroaster and Plato. George Gemistos, who called himself Plethon, ? Constantinople fell to the Turks less than one year after his death. Yet he had a significant, direct influence on the study of Plato in the Latin West.
This resulted from his membership in the Byzantine delegation to the Council of Ferrara-Florence in The purpose of this council was to effect the union of the two churches and thus, hopefully, to preserve the Byzantine Empire with the help of the West.
The Emperor, John VIII Palaeologos, knew they were going to face some of the finest minds in the Roman Church on their own soil; he therefore wanted the best minds available in support of the Byzantine cause to accompany him.
Consequently, the Emperor appointed George Gemistos as part of the delegation. Both had been students of Gemistos in their youth. Another non-clerical member of the delegation was George Scholarios: both a future adversary of Gemistos and a future Patriarch of Constantinople as Gennadios II.
During the Council, Gemistos found that he had free time because much of the counciliar discussion concerned theological minutiae that did not require the presence of a secular sage. Gemistos's fame had preceded him, and he was invited by some Florentine humanists to give a series of lectures on the differences between Plato and Aristotle. It should be remembered that in the Latin West at this time very little of the Platonic corpus was available.
For most of the Mediaeval Period, only the Timaeus in the partial translation of Calcidius was available. The Meno and Phaedo were translated in the twelfth century by Henricus Aristippus, but remained little studied. Among the attendees of these lectures was Cosimo d'Medici. Cosimo later founded the Accademia Platonica in Florence. The first director of the Academy was Marsilio Ficino. Ficino recorded the following about the founding of the Academy:.
At the time when the Council was in progress between the Greeks and the Latins in Florence under Pope Eugenius, the great Cosimo, whom a decree of the Senate Signoria designated Pater patriae , often listened to the Greek philosopher Gemistos with the cognomen Plethon, as it were a second Plato while he expounded the mysteries of Platonism.
And he was so immediately inspired, so moved by Gemistos' fervent tongue, that as a result he conceived in his noble mind a kind of Academy, which he was to bring to birth at the first opportune moment. Later, when the great Medici brought his great idea into being, he destined me, the son of his favorite doctor, while I was still a boy, for the great task.
While still in Florence, Gemistos summarized the substance of his lectures in a brief work entitled On the Differences of Aristotle from Plato , better known by its shortened Latin title as De Differentiis. This work was the first shot to be fired in an academic battle that continued in Byzantium with George Scholarios's Defence of Aristotle 6 and Plethon's subsequent Reply. Like many academic battles, it eventually wore itself out. Plethon treats of God in the first three substantive paragraphs of De Differentiis.
His first claim is that " Plato's view is that God, the supreme sovereign, is the creator of every kind of intelligible and separate substance, and hence of our entire universe. Aristotle, on the other hand, never calls God the creator of anything whatever, but only the motive force of the universe.
For example, his interpretation of Aristotle's position is supported by reference to Metaphysics b10 and Physics b Plethon continues his complaint by noting " But what about his implied characterization of Plato's position with regard to God? Modern scholars have cited Epistles ii, e and Timaeus 27cd as sources for Plethon's claim. Now if we take Plethon to be arguing that Plato's God is a creator ex nihilo , then clearly Plethon's interpretation is wrong.
More recent scholarship has not shown Grube's claim that " Plato remains true to the old Greek principle that nothing can be created out of nothing and, within the myth itself, his maker is not a creator in the strict sense" to be false. Plethon's claim is that, as we saw above, " Plethon then marshals more arguments to show that Aristotle did not believe that God was the creator of the universe.
His first is that Aristotle never articulates such a doctrine yet " This argument deals with causality in time. According to Plethon, Aristotle held that all causal generation must be temporal. He cites as his evidence for this Metaphysics a "It is absurd, indeed an impossibility, to suppose the generation of eternal entities. Plethon next turns to Aristotle's metaphysical astronomy. The core of Plethon's criticism is that " For example, Ross maintains against an interpretation such as Plethon's that "Aristotle's genuine view is that the prime mover is not in space.
Ross's interpretation certainly coheres with Aristotle's claim that God initiates movement as a final and not an efficient cause. However, Plethon can be forgiven his interpretation because there is textual evidence to support such a view. One of these arguments is based on a principle of Aristotle himself.
Plethon states it thus, "Things assigned must be proportionate to those to which they are assigned, if the assignment is to be appropriately made Plethon finds such a place for God simply inadequate. As Plethon claims, " In the text of De Differentiis itself, it is not clearly evident that Plethon considers the Platonic conception of God closer to that of the Christian conception than that of Aristotle.
However, the subsequent dispute between Plethon and Scholarios does. George Scholarios's Defence of Aristotle was written in about Plethon's Reply was written shortly thereafter. In his Reply , Plethon often stresses his belief that Plato is more consistent with Christian doctrine than is Aristotle. During his long lifetime, Plethon had published a fairly large number of works on a wide variety of topics. However, during much of his adult life, Plethon had also been compiling an extensive work on his esoteric doctrines.
This work, the Book of Laws , was not discovered until after his death. The work contained that which shocked many and confirmed the suspicions of more than a few. Theodora was not certain how to deal with the manuscript and so she sent it to Gennadios and asked for his advice. After he read it, he sent it back to Theodora with the advice to destroy it. Meanwhile Mehmet captured Mistras, the capitol of Morea and Theodora escaped to Constantinople with Demetrios and the manuscript.
Theodora, reluctant to destroy the only copy of a work by such a distinguished scholar, turned it over to Gennadios. He burnt the work in Fortunately, Gennadios wrote a letter to the Exarch Joseph detailing the whole affair.
In the letter, he lists all the chapter headings of the Book of Laws and gives a short description of the contents. Thus, at least, we know something of the substance of the work. However, a large number of Plethon's autograph manuscripts ended up in the hands of his former student Cardinal Bessarion. On Bessarion's death, he willed his personal library to the library of San Marco in Venice. This Summary was a summary of the Book of Laws.
Since it is short, I present it here for the first time in English translation. These are the principal doctrines that ought to be acknowledged by one who will be prudent. One of the gods is Zeus, the supreme sovereign, both the greatest and the best that it is possible to be. He is set over this whole order and singular in highest divinity. He is himself being in its entirety and completely ungenerated; both father and highest creator of all the other gods.
His eldest child, also motherless, and second god is Poseidon. Secondary matters have been entrusted by Zeus to him as master of all the things below; and, moreover, Poseidon is the origin and creator of the heavens here. He uses the other gods as coadjutors, as brothers, all motherless supercelestials--these include both the Olympians and the Tartareans.
He himself then begot from Hera, a goddess productive of the matter, other gods within the heavens, both the celestial offspring of the stars and then the chthonian offspring of the spirits who are close to us by nature. Who even in Helios, the eldest of his own children, he placed his trust as the master of the heavens here, and, moreover, Helios is the source of the mortal things in it. Nevertheless, he achieves this with Kronos, he who is one of the Tartarean Titans and their leader.
The Tartareans are different from the Olympian gods. The Olympians are the creators and rulers of the immortals in the heavens, but the Tartareans rule the mortals here; so that Kronos of the Tartareans, himself the leader of the Titans, rules over the mortal form altogether.
Hera, appointed second after Poseidon among the Olympians, is the creator and ruler of the highest matter, itself indestructible. She did this for the things made with Poseidon himself. Poseidon himself rules the entire form of both the immortal and the mortal. He is the master in the universe.
He himself has truly ordained the whole order. Since Zeus, alone in the singularity of his highest divinity, rules apart over the universe. On the one hand, they grasp hold of themselves immediately, on the other, they through themselves grasp those inferior, and all are entirely set right according to the laws of Zeus. These are the doctrines concerning the gods.
Both the second ranking and the third ranking gods are in it. This universe was begotten by Zeus; it was neither begun in time nor will it come to an end. Once it had been made, it was such that nothing had been left out and anything added to it would be excessive.
These then are the doctrines about the universe. That, even though we have a share in mortal things, one thing in us is from the immortals and this is our form.
George Gemistos Plethon
Bryn Mawr Classical Review
When it comes to philosophy, Byzantium can hardly claim a prize for distinction. The enigmatic Gemistos Plethon is one glaring exception and interest in his work has never been greater. He notes that there is no reference to the role of the Christian religion here but only to a vague theion that is never qualified. It is the most extensive, well-organized and useful part of the book, and it will remain a standard point of reference to anyone interested in Plethon.
325. Platonic Love: Gemistos Plethon
This claim is all the more interesting in light of the fact that Plethon is, as it turns out, a pagan. I argue that Plethon takes the position he does because his interpretation of the Platonic God better fits his own neo-pagan theological conceptions. Part of the evidence for this is supplied by the first English translation of Plethon's Summary of the Doctrines of Zoroaster and Plato. George Gemistos, who called himself Plethon, ? Constantinople fell to the Turks less than one year after his death.
George Gemistus Plethon
He re-introduced Plato 's ideas to Western Europe during the — Council of Florence , a failed attempt to reconcile the East—West schism. Here, it was believed until recently,  Plethon met and influenced Cosimo de' Medici to found a new Platonic Academy , which, under Marsilio Ficino , would proceed to translate into Latin all of Plato's works, the Enneads of Plotinus , and various other Neoplatonist works. In Constantinople, he had been a senator, and he continued to fulfil various public functions, such as being a judge, and was regularly consulted by rulers of Morea. Despite suspicions of heresy from the Church, he was held in high Imperial favour. In Mistra he taught and wrote philosophy, astronomy, history and geography, and compiled digests of many classical writers.