George Gemistos or Plethon
eorge Gemistos was one of the most outstanding personalities of the Late Byzantine period.
The son of a prominent family, he was born in Constantinople in 1360 and acquired a very good general and classical education. In 1380 he travelled to Adrianople which was then the capital of the Ottoman state. There, he studied with a mysterious Jew, Helisseus, who seems to have been an adherent of Zoroastrianism and a polytheist. Under him, Gemistos must have already formed serious reservations regarding the intellectual and political level of the Byzantine state, as well as regarding the Christian religion. Thus, when he returned home, he went on to Mistra where he was not threatened by the strict laws of the ecclesiastical authorities in Constantinople. There he embarked on a long career as a teacher, judge, philosopher and writer and eventually became the most highly esteemed scholar in the city. He taught philosophy at the court of the despotai of Mistra and accompanied the emperor John VIII Palaiologos and
to the Council of Ferrara-Florence. During his stay in Florence he persuaded
Cosimo de Medici to found a
Platonic Academy. Gemistos was a fanatical supporter of platonic philosophy, so much so that he changed his name to "Plethon" so that it would be reminiscent of "Plato".Among his many notable works are philosophical treatises, memoranda on the political situation of the despotate of the Morea, works on astrology and geography, all of which are imbued by a classical spirit. The picture that shines through his writings is that of a patriot and a thinker, but also that of a politician and a social reformer. As a follower of Platonism and of Western
scholastic philosophy and influenced by the spirit of the Renaissance and
humanism of that time, Plethon was
the first Byzantine philosopher who dared to criticise and question the Christian dogma as a whole. His writings naturally aroused the strong opposition of the Church. His book Nomon Syngraphe,("Book of Laws") was banned, and the patriarch of
Constantinople, George Scholarios Gennadios himself flung the forbidden work into the fire. Nonetheless, his exceptional ntellectual activity and chiefly his contribution to philosophical thought established him as one of the most important personalities of the Renaissance in Byzantium.
See also: Council of Ferrara-Florence
George Scholarios Gennadios