This is not so much of a surprise as it might seem. Thanks to CirĂ­aco of Ancona his reputation as a sage, as 'the most learned of the Greeks of our time', had preceded him. What was prized was his knowledge of Plato, now a focus of interest among the Florentine humanists. He was invited to give a series of informal lectures on the differences between Plato and Aristotle. They generated great enthusiasm and were remembered long enough for Cosimo de' Medici to institute a Platonic Academy in his honour. Their success was testimony to the spread of knowledge of Greek among Italian humanists. Leonardo Bruni, the chancellor of Florence - a pupil of Manuel Chrysoloras -will certainly have lent his support, since he translated works of both Plato and Aristotle from the Greek. The reception of Plethon at the council of Florence opened the way for other Byzantine scholars to make their mark on the Italian scene. The transmission of Byzantium's classical heritage to the west was a long-drawn-out process, beginning in the late fourteenth century and continuing into the seventeenth. But the council of Florence was the crux. It gave a further and decisive impetus to the process. The debate over the differences between Plato and Aristotle was largely confined to Byzantine scholars operating in both Byzantium and Italy, but it fuelled Italian interest in Plato, although it took some twenty years before Marsilio Ficino presented Plato in a way that appealed to Italian humanists. However fascinating the Italians found Plethon he remained very much a Byzantine figure. He seems to have understood the gulf that existed between a sage, such as himself, and the Italian humanists he encountered. He refused to accept that the Latins enjoyed any intellectual superiority. It saddened him that so many Byzantine scholars abandoned their traditions on exactly those grounds. Unlike them, he was not seduced by the west.

The majority of the Byzantine delegation found the outcome of the council an anticlimax. Far from triumphantly vindicating Orthodoxy, union seemed to be very largely on Latin terms. In contrast to what happened on the way out, the Byzantines met a hostile reception from the Greeks of the Venetian ports where they stopped. The latter understood union to mean subordination to the Roman Church. This interpretation was not strictly true, but it had a basis of truth. The emperor who had shown such energy and commitment in driving through union was curiously apathetic. He never recovered from the death of his beloved third wife, which occurred a few days before he reached Constantinople. Little was done either to implement the union or to combat its opponents ledby MarkEugenikos, who now emerged as a dominant personality. Bessarion preferred to return to Italy rather than promote the case for union. The emperor could only wait on events. The long-expected aid from

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment