Macedonian Intellectuals of late Byzantine Thessalonike

 
medievalperiod Macedonian Intellectuals of late Byzantine Thessalonike

After the Byzantine reconquest of Thessalonike in 1246, the first outstanding intellec­tual in the city seems to have been a certain John Pothos Pediasimos, whose identity was recently reconsidered in a convincing manner from a puzzle of source material by Costas Constantinides.

Pediasimos, born in Thessalonike in the 1340s, seems to have acquired only an elementary and perhaps a secondary education in his hometown. At any rate, for studies on a higher level he went to

Constantinople, where he finally was appointed con­sul of the philosophers (hypaios ton philosophon), probably by Emperor Michael VIII. He became a deacon of the Orthodox church around 1270, ca. 1280 chartophytax of the me­tropolis of Achrida (Ochrid), and in 1284 megas sakelarios of the metropolis of Thessalonike. From that time on he lived in Thessalonike, until his death between 1310 and 1314. From the fact that he pursued his higher studies in the capital, we may assume that before the 1280s intellectual life in Thessalonike was not yet very well developed. From Pediasimos’ correspondence we learn of a few intellectuals in Thessalonike, such as Demetrios Beaskos, Petros Tziskos, and George Phobenos, who were, however, less important. In the next generation we find already several outstanding intellectuals in the city. The oldest of them was Joseph Rhakondytes, the “Philosopher,” born on Ithaca around 1260, who seems to have lived mostly in Thessalonike during the years 1300-1308, and again from 1326 un­til his death ca. 1330. For some time he was the teacher and spiritual guide of Thomas with the family name Magistros, a native of Thessalonike, who was born ca. 1275 and be­came a monk, named Theodoulos, in a monastery of the city between 1324 and I328; he was active in a number of intellectual fields, primarily in philology. A contemporary of Magistros was Demetrios Triklinios, born ca. 1280, known as the only serious textualphilologist of the whole Byzantine period; he seems to have lived in Thessalonike, al­though there is no sure evidence for this. Isidore Boucheiros, born in ‘Iliessalonike shortly before 1300, was active there as a teacher and spiritual guide during a longer pe­riod before his patriarchate in 1347-50.

 

 

 

Between 1330 and 1350 two outstanding lawyers composed their law handbooks in Thessalonike, the monk Matthew (Matthaios) Blastares and Constantine Harmenopoulos. Gregory Palamas, the leader of a spiritual movement, hesychasm, and creator of a special theo­logical system, was born in

 

Asia Minor and only in his last years came in closer touch with Thessalonike. Although he was named metropolitan of the city in 1347, he could not get to his sec before 1350, but even then he did not live there permanently, before he died in 1357. The theologian Neilos Kabasilas, probably born in Thessalonike around 1300, mastered also Western theology and seems to have been the most influential teacher of Demetrios Kydones during his younger years, very probably in Thessalonike, although in his later years Neilos lived inConstantinople. There he wrote a treatise against the “Latins,” an attempt to refute scholasticism, but found a declared opponent in his former student Kydones. Not earlier than 1360 Neilos became metropolitan of Thessalonike, but died shortly after, ca. 1362, not having taken up residence there.His student Demetrios Kydones, born in Thessalonike ca. 1324, spent his youth there until 1345 and from 1347 lived inConstantinople, but until his late years kept in touch with his friends in Thessalonike. The same seems to be true for his fellow student Nicholas Kabasilas Chamaetos. After having come toConstantinople at the invitation of Emperor John Kantakouzenos, Nicholas seems to have stayed there most of his lifetime, but no less than Kydones maintained connections with his hometown. A presumed relative of Demetrios Kydones, George Gabrielopoulos Kydones, called “the Philosopher,” appar­ently lived in the city only in his youth and never returned in his later years.

During the years 1382-87, the co-emperor Manuel II stayed in Thessalonike, in order to defend the city against the Turks. This well-educated ruler, a student of Demetrios Kydones, should certainly be included among the intellectuals in Thessalonike. Hs presence in the city is well documented by numerous letters he received from Kydones, and also by some letters he wrote to him. To believe Kydones, the level of education in Thessalonike at the time of Manuel’s stay was rather low. In one of his letters to the emperor he regret­ted that only a few people in his audience were educated enough to understand the re­fined style of a speech of counsel Manuel had given to the citizens. But during that pe­riod there was by no means a total lack of intellectuals in Thessalonike. Particularly a certain Constantinos Ibankos, who lived as a rhetorician, lawyer, and teacher in the city, seems to have provided constant moral support and counsel to the emperor during those years.

 

 

 

 

Between 1380 and 1430 there were three intellectual metropolitans in Thessalonike who determined the image of the intellectuals in this final phase. The first was Isidore Glabas, born in 1342, monk since 1375, metropolitan of Thessalonike from 1380 until his death in 1396. He was a highly educated man, as can be assumed from his work (ser­mons, treatises, and letters, which show both his classical and theological education), but we have no information about his studies or teachers. Glabas’ successor in the sec of Thes­salonike was Gabriel, son of a priest and diocesan official in Thessalonike. He became a monk in his youth, in 1374 abbot of a monastery in Thessalonike, and after 1384 abbot of the Chora monastery in Constantinople. He returned in 1394 to Thessalonike, which was then in Turkish hands. From 1397 to 1416/19

metropolitan of the city, he tried successfully to obtain from the Turks milder treatment for his flock and proved to be a distinguished preacher, especially after Byzantine government was restored in 1403. The last of the in­tellectual metropolitans in Thessalonike was Symeon. Born in

 

Constantinople between 1370 and 1390, he was named metropolitan of Thessalonike in 1416/17. In 1423, when the city was handed over to the Venetians, he went for some time to Mount Athos, but soon returned and died in Thessalonike, shortly before its conquest by the Turks in March 1430. He was for a long time only known for his theological work, but since some of hisother writings on different subjects were published by David Balfour in 1979, we know more about his pastoral and political activity.

 

 

After this brief outline I will try to specify the contributions of the Thessalonian intel­lectuals in different fields of activity, beginning with some remarks on the exchange of let­ters. A contemporary of John Pothos Pediasimos and his colleague in the ecclesiastical service was John Staurakios, a hagiographer who appears in a document of 1284 as chartophylax of the metropolis of Thessalonike in that year. Thirteen letters addressed to him by his friend Patriarch Gregory of Cyprus have survived. He not only copied a manuscript of Plato for him, but also was author of an encomium of St. Demetrios. From the scholar Thomas Magistros we have only twelve letters.’ The report in the form of a letter which he addressed to Joseph the Philosopher is of special interest. Here he praises Joseph not only as his teacher, but also for his commitment toward the social problems of Thessa­lonike, at the time when Joseph had just left for Constantinople in the winter of 1307/8.

 

 

Rich evidence about intellectuals in Thessalonike is available in the correspondence opinion of his own ability as a philologist. This is documented by his remarks in his scho­lia to ancient authors, where he arrogandy calls earlier scholiasts, his predecessors, igno­ramuses (άγνοοΰντες) or uneducated people (αμαθείς) and introduces his own interpre­tation with εγώ δέ οϋτω(ς). In comparison with him, other contemporary scholiasts, for instance Manuel Moschopoulos, show a more modest attitude.

 

Two important works on law also seem to have been composed in Thessalonike. There is first the canonist Matthew (Matthaios) Blastares, monk and priest in the monastery of Kyr Isaac in Thessalonike. In 1335 he completed his principal work, called Σύνταγμα κατά στοιχεϊον (Alphabetical Treatise), an attempt at reconciling canon and civil law to a greater degree than in the preceding nomokanones. Since he used several legal sources for his work, he must have had a specialized library at his disposal. We know that his teacher was the edu­cated clergyman Iakobos, founder of the Isaac monastery and later metropolitan of Thes­salonike, who may have encouraged Blastares to compose his work. Ten years later, Constantine Harmenopoulos completed his Πρόχειρον νόμων (Handbook of Laws), a compilation of secular law for easier reference. In a document from Chilandar monastery of 1345 we find his signature, where he calls himself σεβαστός and κριτής της θεσσα­λονίκης. There seems to have been a tradition of legal studies in Thessalonike before Blastares and Harmenopoulos, since already in 1295 the dikaiophylax George Phobenos, a friend of John Pediasimos, composed two legal texts and a short dictionary of legal terms. The anonymous compiler of the Hexabiblos aucta (late 14th century) had perhaps an even more substantial library at his disposal, but unfortunately we have no evidence whether he worked in Thessalonike or in Constantinople.

 

 

Bibliography: “Intellectuals in late Byzantine Thessalonike” by Franz Tinnefeld

 

 

 

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