10 April 2014

The Maltese whelp

In February of last year, I wrote an entry on Bessarion's Little White Dog and used the two dog painting I have here. I think I'may have identified the two dogs here, as to species, even though there are some differences between them. Apparently from ancient times on up to modern, this white toy Maltese -- with some breeding changes over time -- has been traditionally identified as a lady's lap dog.  If Bessarion did have one, he wouldn't have worried about that issue.  Odysseus (xvii: 315) compared his hunting dog Argos to lap dogs.  He called them τραπεζῆες κύνες -- table dogs, the kind of dogs we here who are partial to mastiffs and karabaş might in an off-moment call a "kick-me" dog, though I have been known to become sentimental over a King Charles Spaniel.

What is particularly interesting about this over-enlarged blurry dog is Aristotles' comparison of the Maltese to a mustelid, and it does have a slight resemblance to a weasel. These little white dogs are also found in the writings of Pliny, Strabo, Martial, and possibly first of all in Callimachus.  They have an tradition in scholarly writing, which may be why they appear with images of Bessarion.  Or maybe he really did own a little white dog.  I keep hoping.

But there seems to have been a Byzantine development where the term "Maltese whelp" became a term of literary contempt. We don't know if they had the little white dogs but they had the insult.  Psellos called John Italos a "Maltese whelp." When George Gemistos Plethon wrote Theodoros II about reforming the Morea, he spoke harshly about the present system of military defense:
It is better to be ready for war and inexpensively dressed than to wear golden robes and live in dread of your enemies.  Or one may compare the way of a shepherd, who will feed a guard-dog from his produce rather than waste it on keeping Maltese whelps, or other useless or voracious animals . . . like one or two of those you are now keeping, who flatter and deceive you , with their mouths wide open . . . unable to restrain their greed.
He is mixing a lot of metaphors here and making a lot of points, but contempt for Maltese whelps comes through.  

So think then about how George Gemistos Plethon, the philosopher of Mistra, friend of emperors, despots, and scholars, honored guest of Florence, judge and teacher, wrote George Scholarios in what was presented as a scholarly reply to Scholarios' Defense of Aristotle.  Nestled among arguments about Aristotle's errors, logic, circular motion, comets, and heat, the great Plethon included statements such as these: 

Along with your other faults, lying comes naturally to you. . . .

. . . a man who has no shame in boasting about the influence of a wretched woman -- and a little tart at that . .

You are not only vindictive, but dull-witted, as your present work shows . . 

[You] enjoy discussion, which is a practice of moderation, as well as simultaneously enjoying your own vanity, which is deplorable and tasteless and has nothing in common with moderation; and you seem to be so consumed with your vanity that you will even sacrifice your religious beliefs for it, changing them at every opportunity in whatever direction you think will bring you greater esteem. . . 

They are certainly not stupider than you, for it would be hard to find among serious students of Aristotle anyone stupider than you. . .

You can have nothing to say that affects me . . . I have paid, and shall continue to pay, no more attention to it than to the howling of a Maltese whelp.1

 I have found these remarks devastating.  Scholarios' response is a matter for another entry.

1Woodhouse 1986: 283, 285, 166, 298, 299, 307. 

02 April 2014


[We first arrived in Nauplion in September 1977.  This entry is about how it was then, before the old houses were painted and air-conditioned and turned into boutique hotels, before the voices of children vanished, before the public oven became a bank. The avge man is no more, my Venetian house has been replaced by a gelato shop, the baby-blue helix is white. This wall that we saw from our balcony has been replaced by a bar with red chairs, but the red no longer means what it did 40 years ago. Photo: Bill Connelly.]

In Nauplion, early October is the time of year when the grey mullet run in to the land. After dusk, half the men in town stand along the waterfront dangling unbaited hooks in the water pulling out dozens of fish, while the other half sit at the waterfront cafes and criticize. Every evening after supper we walked the waterfront to watch the mullet catch and then to watch the shrimpers.

There was a strict division of labor: men fished for mullet; small boys went shrimping. Each boy had a small net and a flashlight to shine straight down the side of the quai into the water: the shrimp eyes reflected light like tiny Christmas bulbs and the boys scooped them out, although it might take an hour to collect four or five shrimp. After the shrimp, we walked into the darkness at the end of the quai, past the broken boats, past the football field, and up along the coast road, watching the fishing boats come in, the lights flickering along the road that rimmed the bay, the small soft owls swooping down from the telephone lines.

In the daytime it was still warm enough to swim. We took the bus eight miles over to the great rock of Homeric Asine, spread blankets on the cave side away from the wind, and spent the days with books and picnics of figs and tomatoes and cheese. The children climbed over the ancient stones and searched the thorn and thyme for shards which they threw down to me, shouting. Late in the afternoon, waiting for the bus back to Nauplion, farmers walking home would stop and greet us, as was Odysseus, "Welcome, strangers. Where are you from? Why are you here?" and then take us home with them to give us tangerines or eggs or tomatoes for our supper.

* * * *

I had always wanted to live in Greece, ever since I was thirteen and read about Mycenae, read about the shadows of the grape arbor moving in the firelight at La Belle Hélène, and  young Agamemnon pouring the wine. Once in Greece, I reread the book where I thought I had found the image: it had no grape arbor, though La Belle Hélène does, over the deep veranda;, and Agamemnon has a grandson.

The grape arbor was the first of many images, and finally the desire to come to Greece was as persistent as salt in the mouth, the decision as clear as a gold coin in the hand. There were children to persuade, a house to sell, farewells to make. It was four months between the decision and the oily, suffocating brown dawn when we sailed from a Brooklyn pier, passed under the necklace of lights of the Verrezano bridge, and set out into the fogbound Atlantic.

A month later, there was a bus ride from Corinth to Nauplion on a rainy night: two hours of standing-room-only on a sprained ankle, juggling backpacks, gasping against the accumulation of cigarette smoke and body heats -- an open window apparently meant instant pneumonia -- all of us terrified by our first experience of normal Greek night driving. The windshield wipers were out of order; the driver extended the life of his headlights by using them only on straight stretches where they could shine the farthest; he otherwise relied on his horn and the icons over his head illuminated by a red light to negotiate passing on the curves.

We swayed down through the mountains of the Dervenakia, passed a sign pointing to Mycenae, halted in Argos where most of the passengers got off and we sat down, and then tore along a straight road past the bulk of Tiryns. The night rain was luminous for miles from the lights of Palamidi, a great whale-shaped hill overshadowing Nauplion with an illuminated fortress in the shape of a Byzantine headdress with pendants.

The Nauplion bus stop was closed for the evening. We stumbled into the first taxi, clutching at the phrase-book to find the words for "cheap hotel." There was a pelt through narrow streets under dripping balconies, and we were disgorged at the cheap hotel. Fatigue was washed over with soft color: a white church with a terracotta roof, a gilded shrine hung with roses, cascades of jasmine and four o'clocks over the yellow walls and white pilasters of the Hotel Otto. Inside, there was a circular staircase, a baby-blue helix floating up to a painted ceiling.

"Of course," said Apostolos, reaching for our bags, "you can stay as long as you like.

We breakfasted in the Otto's minute formal garden. It had orange and lemon trees, arbors of jasmine and roses, basil, and cages of ornamental birds. It also had a house across the street which happened to be for rent. We wandered the town for four days, trudging up and down the slippery stone steps of the hill, trying to make up our minds, trying to assimilate the newness and the strangeness and the beauty.

Old Nauplion is built on a hillside. Half the streets are vertical stairs going up to the castle or down to the harbor, past a thousand shadings of terracottas and creams and buffs and yellows on old buildings painted so many times that they have had no edges for a very long time. Every yard has a grape arbor, an orange or fig or lemon tree, a window box spilling geraniums. In early fall, Nauplion had the air of perpetual teatime held among sets left over from one of the lighter Italian operas. The Venetians of 1700 built bulky stone mansions; scattered among them are smaller, slenderer plastered houses built according to what the Bavarians of the 1830s insisted Classical architecture ought to have been: graceful houses of creams and blues and buffs and ochres and mauves, all with balconies and architraves and Corinthian capitals and acanthus leaves and tiny sphinx faces. Above the city, the fortress of Acro-Nauplion is rimmed with sharp-edged Venetian walls that blend into rougher Frankish and Byzantine ruins, and all are supported by massive Cyclopean stones.

The streets were full of cats and the air was full of bells. Beside the church bells, rung often but on schedules known only to God, the bell tower on Acro-Nauplion rang the hours and half-hours, each twice, several minutes apart. If it were ever necessary to know the precise time, there was the bank or the bus station, but the only times exactness was needed was when catching a bus, and there would always be another in half an hour, or tomorrow. There was always tomorrow: Avrio, the most common word in Greek, possibly because of the silken way it floats through the mouth. Nauplion offered limitless tomorrows.

The important thing about living in Nauplion, in Greece, is that the physical facts of life are almost overwhelming. Every sensor of the body is relentlessly besieged by stimuli as distinct as black olives on a plate. Everything has a scent, a nuance, a color, a texture, and as soon as they are perceived, a breeze passes, a cloud changes, and everything is to be learned anew. The golden-brown mountains multiply, merge, become blue and grey.

It is impossible to look at something only once. Homer wrote as much as he did, Seferis said, only because he was blind. Each street can be identified by its blend of smells -- lemon trees, bread ovens, leather workers, the ouzo distillery, fish soup, chestnuts roasting, jasmine, cigarettes, olive pressings, paint, oranges on the quai. Every corner presents another composition -- a blue Turkish fountain, a cascade of pink roses, an old man stitching shoes, cats in the sun, a Byzantine arch, a pyramid of apples, three children and a priest kicking a ball. There are all the ordinary noises that chart the day -- bells, the "Avge!" cry of the egg man, an angry woman shouting across a narrow street, a priest chanting in the church across the street, the gull-sound of winches, a sudden motor cycle, a piano practiced behind closed shutters, voices arguing  in a cafe, the dry rattle of the tric-trac board, the blunted sound of oars.

With sensory experience so acute, time blurs. One day I came back from a hike and reported that I had seen an old Turkish fortified house, an old Mycenean wall, an old woman and an old Byzantine church. With one limited word to speak of two hundred years, thirty-five hundred years, eighty years, and a thousand years, the past becomes a great accumulation of Then, which can only mean whatever is not Now.

Kathleen learned her Roman numerals from Venetian cannon, tracing sleet-chilled letters with mittened fingers; we swam at a beach from which ships set sail for Troy; we filled canteens from a spring mentioned by Pausanias. On any walk we found shards with red Mycenean spirals or fragments of amber Byzantine glaze. Our blue-green parrot was quadrupled in a fifth-century mosaic. The same weeks that we went to Epidauros to see Medea or Oedipos, we read in the paper of a woman killing her children, or of a charge of incest in the courts, and I went to Elektra fresh from wrangling with my teen-aged daughter.

We were outsiders, we were guests – kseni – the word is the same for both.

05 March 2014

Ash Wednesday

Then the Lord put a mark on Cain
so that no one would harm him.
Genesis 4:15.

19 February 2014


Iris by Jacopo Bellini

This is the 341st post for Surprised by Time since we began in June 2008 and there is a finite amount of material for the fifteenth-century Morea, the focus of Surprised by Time. I have been finding it more and more difficult to identify topics, and long-time readers will have noticed recent repetitions. Today I thought I had written a satisfactory entry, until something made me look back and I found I had already published it a month ago.  Circumstances have made it difficult to have the time to research topics not in my direct line of writing, and there is a dearth of art catalogs that excite me.

I have decided to take a leave of absence until early April. Perhaps more material will come to hand, perhaps it will be time to end, but time will continue to be surprising. I am grateful to my readers. Many of you have made yourselves known to me, and some of you have become close friends.

As of writing this, Google tells me I have had 256,669 page views. Google started counting some months after I began, while the counter I have used from the beginning tells me I have had 226,043 page views. That is a difference of 30,000-plus. Either way, Surprised by Time has had a generous share of the viewers who have a choice of some 239,000,000 blogs.  I average more than 150 viewers a day. The blog with the most viewers as been "Nick the Greek," mostly because of searches for Magellan's ship Victoria.  Because Nick was from Nauplion and a survivor of the first sailing to circle the globe, I had hoped Nauplion might be prompted to make a gesture in his honor.  Nauplion has so far appeared impervious to any of the many entries I have written about this small city I love.  The second most-viewed blog has been "Africans in Renaissance Europe: Black as Accessory, Black as Human." The third is "Rooms with a View," one to which I return weekly for the exceptional lyricism of those paintings.

Meanwhile, spring is coming in Seattle. A surprise iris has been blooming for two weeks. The front yard has a mass of yellow crocuses to the left, purple to the right. The south-west corner is dense with snowdrops, and all the flowerbeds are crowded with the green shoots of bulbs. There are minute buds on the grape vines, and the olive tree has new leaves the size of eyelashes.

A pair of young crows has been courting beside the house, and the crow-calls have become more musical. A brilliant Townsend's warbler has reappeared at the feeder. The Bewick's wren has been singing his heart out from the tops of the two hawthorn trees. We are deeply concerned because the Anna's hummingbird has not appeared for a month. We saw her daily during the weeks when the temperatures never got above freezing, but since it has been warming, we have missed her.

Pierre is having a birthday party.  I am making a Reine de Saba cake and an onion tarte.  

This wonderful Bellini iris seems to represent a great question-mark.  I don't know what the question is, but it is much more profound than just what happens to this blog.  I will return in April.  I welcome any ideas and questions you want to offer.

12 February 2014

Burning Plethon

Burning Plethon photocopies.

Burning a book is not easy in the normal course of events. Several years ago I needed to dispose of a disintegrating Bible. Understanding that burning was the respectful way to deal with it, I pulled up a stool to the fireplace and started putting pages into the fire. Only a few pages would burn at a time: even a small stack of pages was too dense for the fire to get adequately into the fine paper. It took a very long time, and I became intensely anxious, because it was as if this book had its own will and it was not willing to be destroyed.

George Gemistos Plethon did not have such fine paper: his paper would have been easier to burn, particularly if a page or two were ripped out at a time and ceremoniously deposited in a brazier. We don't know how it went.

When Mehmed took his Mistra guests -- Demetrios Palaiologos and Theodora Asanina -- with him to Adrianople in 1460, they took in their luggage the formal copy of Plethon's Laws. There is no reason to think that Demetrios had a problem with Plethon -- his sons were members of the despotate administration, but Theodora certainly did and when they stopped in Serres, she sent it the book off to Scholarios who was living as a monk on nearby Mt. Menoikeon.

Scholarios read the Laws, he said, in four hours, a tremendously upsetting experience that left him in tears, though that four hours allowed him time to make a list of chapter headings, and a summary. He sent the book back to Theodora directing her to burn it. Theodora had lived long enough in Mistra, six years while Plethon was still alive, to have a sense of his authority, and she couldn't bring herself to do so. She sent the book back to Scholarios who looked at it again to see if he might preserve the sections on logic and science. Even those sections, he claimed, were too bound up with paganism, and he burned it himself, in a public ceremony. That's why I thought of a brazier, and used one to burn the photocopies.  Scholarios kept a few pages for evidence, should it ever be necessary to justify his behavior. He also wrote that any other copies or parts of the Laws should also be banned, and anyone who refuses to cooperate should also be banned from the Christian community. 

Where they burn books, they are likely to burn people. A few years before this Scholarios -- also safely in a monastery -- sent a letter to the Morea vividly describing how a heretic should be tortured and then burned. He was circling in on Plethon's followers.

And yet, and yet . . .

Plethon had, in the Laws, recommended burning for those guilty of bestiality, pederasty, rape, incest, and men guilty of adultery. (Notice that these are all perversions of the sexuality he considered divine.) And the sophists who attack our beliefs. But these judgments need to be discussed by a tribunal, and the circumstances of the accused investigated, because maybe he wasn't properly educated, and maybe he could be straightened out by a time in prison.

Some of the information here comes from John Monfasani, "Pletho's date of death and the burning of his Laws," Byzantinische Zeitschrift 98/2 (2005) 459-463.

05 February 2014

Manoli Blessi: the man who never was

I Fatti e le Prodezze di Manoli Blessi, Strathioto
by Antonio Molino, 1561.

Having seen two blogs in the past month that went on at some length about Manoli Blessi, stratiote and poet/song-writer, I find it necessary to say that Manoli Blessi never existed.

This Manoli Blessi is a character invented by Antonio "Burchiella" da Molino who wrote a very long account in verse of Blessi's life and writings (Sathas 8: 78 pages of 8-line stanzas in double columns, and who also created an extremely long marching-song by him (Sathas 9: 82 pages of 6-line stanzas in double columns.)

These are written in greghesco, a 16th-century stage impression of the Greek-Venetian dialect. We cannot know how closely this represents the normal expression of second- or third- or fourth-generation Greek-Venetians, but it is great fun.

Unde è thora el gran Clemende,
capettagno del Strathia,
e chel Gerbessi valende
chie tremar feva ’l Turchia,
con chel Gigni del Fraschia
pien de inzegno, e del secretti?
          O Strathiotti puveretti.

Dovè e1 Stigni, e chel Canacchi,
Mexsa, Lopossi, et Berbatti,
con Andruzzo dal mustacchi,
Petro Bua, com Stamatti,
chie andama como ’l gatti
al buscade andavan stretti?
          O Strathiotti puveretti.

What is particularly striking to me here, is that these are all names of individuals (and villages) from the Nauplion area (and mostly from the period of Bartolomeo Minio), and it is fascinating to find a work by a Venetian in 1561 that remembers Petro Bua who died about 70 years earlier. These names certainly suggest something about Molino's informants.

What is also striking is that Sathas (8: 471-2) prints the dedication of Molino’s book which makes it very clear that Manoli Blessi is his creation. Very few have noticed that. Sathas didn't notice it (4: lvii-lix; 7: liv-lxiii, which includes the image above). The Ελληνική Βιβλιογραφία (Athens, Grafeio dimosievmato tis akadimias Athenon, 1984-86) didn’t notice it.

The dedication of Molino's book seems to have been written by a Lodovico Dolce.  It assures the Magnifico e Valorosissimo Signore Giacomo Contarino, who probably paid for the printing, that Molino is a most honored citizen of Venice, ornamented with many virtures, and that since boyhood he has endeavored to master all the abilities of a civilized man.  Molino has spent much of his life as a merchant, and while in Corfu and Candia he became interested in comedy.  On his return to Venice, he started an academy of music, and to finance the academy, he took up writing comedies.  There is more, about art purifying the soul, and the importance of Petrarch, Virgil, and Homer, and such, but that really has nothing to do with the life and works of Manoli Blessi.

This entry has made use of Marc D. Lauxtermann, "Linguistic Encounters: The Presence of Spoken Greek in Sixteenth-Century Venice," in Renaissance Encounters: Greek East and Latin West, edited by Marina S. Brownlee & Dimitri H. Gondicas.

The volumes of Sathas are downloadable here.

29 January 2014

The Dynatoi

The dynatoi at dinner.
Outer narthex of the Katholikon,
Vatopedi Monastery, Mt. Athos.

In Emperor or Manager: Power and Political Ideology in Byzantium before 1453, Antonia Kiousopoulou has collected a list of 80 court officials and 44 ambassadors for Constantinople in that period. Twenty-five, or 17%, of these have the name either of Palaiologos or Kantakuzenos or of both, and fifteen more, or 28%, have other imperial names. Twenty-four, 16.6%, have the names of archons on the list of Moreotes giving allegiance to Mehmed. Some of the names on Kiousopoulou's lists overlap, but that reinforces her point:  the administration of the Eastern Empire depended on comparatively few people, used over and over .

I have made attempts at a similar list for the 15th-century Morea up through 1460, though not classified by position, and have compiled a preliminary, experimental list of 172 individuals who could be considered the dynatoi of the Morea in the fifteenth century -- archons, court officials, church officials, landholders, and wives. The 39 individuals with names from the archon list (twelve individuals, thirteen names) count for 22% of the total (another indication of the representative status of the group which made an arrangement with Mehmed), while 35 individuals named Palaiologos and 20 with other imperial names (Angelos, Asan, Doukas, Kantakuzenos, Laskaris) count for 31% (Kiousopoulou has 28%). 

The largest number of non-imperial names is the 10 Rallades (some were first cousins of the Palaiologos brothers). These groups overlap, and some individuals have names from more than one category or imperial families , while one extraordinary name has five imperial and four archon components (Ioannis Doukas Angelos Palaiologos Rallis Laskaris Tornikes Philanthropenos Asan who died young, commemorated in a burial icon at Megaspilion, now destroyed). There are two imperial names out of the thirteen on the archon list. Again, this is by no means intended to be a definitive list of names, but it gives a broad indication of how power clotted within a self-reinforcing group of individuals.

I doubt that I could put together a list of even 50 names of non-dynatoi Greeks from the same period.

Writer after writer in the last 80 years of the Morea mentioned the rapaciousness and brutality of the dynatoiGemistos gave them the responsibility for the pathetic condition of the Morea. Bessarion thought there were a few good men among the dynatoi, but that their efforts were far outweighed by what the rest had done.  Michael Choniates was writing on the same topic 250 years earlier.  I will not continue on that theme now: I have written about their actions in a draft chapter for my book.

I have found a single effort toward change.  When Constantine made Sphrantzes governor of Mistra, he said:
You are to stay here and govern your command well. You are to put an end to the many instances of injustice and reduce the power of the numerous local lords. Make it clear to everybody here that you are in charge and that I am sole lord (ὡς ἐμὲ μόνον αὐθεντην).

We know nothing about what Sphrantzes did.

22 January 2014

The better classes and the common people

Dedicatory inscription, Archangel Michael, Polemitas, Mani. 1278.

I've recently come across some fascinating articles (see below) by Sophia Kalopissi-Verti which have given me another glimpse of the Morea villages and people I have written about several times here (see, for example, "Mapping the Territory," Part 1 & Part 2) These articles concern the evidence to be found in church inscriptions, specifically inscriptions of church foundations and donations by entire villages. Most of them are from the 13th century with a few from the 14th, and very very few from the 15th -- following the pattern of inscriptions and records of donations to churches from individuals.  The two illustrated here are from churches in Mani, single-aisled, barrel-vaulted little churches like those we see off to the side of the road or up on the hillside. Nearly all the village inscriptions are found in similar churches.

In a few cases, all of the villagers are named, as they are in the Polemitas inscription (above), which gives the names of thirty individuals and their families, and lists their donations: a threshing floor, vegetable gardens, fields, olive trees.  We get a clear picture of the modest economic situation of the villagers when we see the small size of the patches of land offered, most often 1/4 to 1/2 of a modios (or stremma) 1000 square meters. Or when we see that one gift was 1/2 of an olive tree. At the same time, as Kalopissi-Verti points out, the gifts give an idea of the cost of constructing and maintaining a church that is 6.7m x 3.25m.  We know the name of the church's painter: Georgios Konstantinionas.

The inscription at Kepoula (below), is more specific about costs, detailing the coins given by twelve villagers and their families. The village lector and notary together donated 8 nomismata, while the rest of the villagers gave from 1/4 to 1 nomisma, for a total of 14 1/2 nomismata which seems to have been the cost of constructing a similar church that is 3.95m x 2.43. The painters were Nikolaos and Theodoros.

Dedicatory inscription, Holy Anargyroi, Kepoula, Mani. 1265.

Archaeologists have reported finding medieval Moreote villages that do not appear to have had a church at all, but Kalopissi-Verti has a 1372-3 inscription from Crete which commemorates "the contribution, labour and expenses of the Christians of the turma of Kityros," for constructing and painting the church of Ag. Paraskevi, and lists the seven villages belonging to the turma.  This could well account-for the missing Moreote churches.

Social distinctions are maintained.  Ag. Ioannis Prodromos in Magali Kastania Mani was built and painted by the "prokritoi and the common people." An inscription in Epiros refers to the "donors small and greater."  Another social distinction can be identified: the paintings in these collectively-financed villages churches are more conservative and their painters not usually as good as those in churches financed by government officials. The church in Platsa sponsored in 1337-8 by Konstantinos Spanos, tzaousios of the area, apparently was painted by an artist from Mistra.

I have just begun with this material, and am waiting for the library to obtain for me some of the articles with the full inscriptions, but I have been remembering a trip to Greece with my youngest daughter in 1994.  After two or three days sitting patiently while I kept jerking the rental car off on another unpaved road to chase down another little church surrounded by thorns, she snatched the keys out of my hand and said, "I'm driving from now on.  Enough churches."

15 January 2014

George Gemistos Plethon at Mistra

Holograph manuscript of George Gemistos Plethon, Marciana, Venice.

A great deal of twaddle has been written about Mistra and Plethon (a name he never used) by people who ought to have known better:

. . . the imagination offers a splendid choice, whether it be of warriors or artists, of gracious ladies or learned philosophers, of the Villehardouin lords revelling in the loveliness of the countryside, of the dark-bearded Despots in their ceremonial robes discussing with their architects and artists how to add to the city's glories, or of the great philosopher Plethon himself talking to his pupils, while the Lady Cleope leaned from her litter to greet him as she passed . . .

Here strolled Plethon, the famous philosopher, surrounded by students who had journeyed from the four corners of the Byzantine world to listen to his teachings.

In fact, most of the scholars, theologians, philosophers, artists, and architects melt away with the snows of Taygetos if you attempt to find out who they were, or how many.  Consider Plethon's "students from the four corners of the world." We have, in fact, evidence for only two individuals as his students -- Bessarion and Mark Eugenikos, and possibly Scholarios. Some claim Laionikos Chalcokondyles was a student, but the source used to prove that comes from Cyriaco of Ancona who merely used both names in the same paragraph. Undoubtedly most of those who encountered Gemistos took away ideas and learning, but this is something that happens in serious conversation, and serious conversations in themselves are not normally considered school. 

We have no evidence that Gemistos was Theodoros' tutor and we have no evidence that he led any kind of pagan cell: given the intense religiosity of Theodoros II and his closest associates, it is difficult to imagine how such a deviant organization could have been maintained. That was invented by Scholarios who seems to have come to despise Gemistos, despite both being anti-Union.  Scholarios, ever the opportunist, likely resented Gemistos for being so honored in Mistra. He had wanted a position at Mistra himself, feeling inadequately valued in Constantinople, and had written a whining letter to Theodoros begging for an invitation.  Even Demetrios honored Gemistos, despite his political alignment with Scholarios, and Scholarios' correspondence with his wife.

When Gemistos arrived in the Morea is unknown. His introduction to Manuel’s funeral oration is an indication of a close relationship to Manuel, not of residence in the Morea. Gemistos may well have traveled with Manuel in 1407-8 and 1415, at which time he is identified as one of the four καθολικοὶ κριταί, the members of the highest court of Constantinople. His letters to Theodoros, between 1416 and 1418, and Manuel in 1418, about the reorganization of the Morea, do suggest that he had been in the Morea, at least for a while, but they are no proof of residence: he could well have studied the situation on trips and from documents. That Doukas identifies him as a member of the Senate in Constantinople in 1438 means little beyond the survival of the title: there was no Senate, and no action recorded for it since 1204, and in 1438 Gemistos was in Florence at the Council of Union.

A great many writers put him in Mistra by 1410, based on the theory that since he was judged dangerously influential in Constantinople, Manuel sent him to Mistra where he could contaminate the adolescent Theodoros.  This too is twaddle, if you stop to think about it.

While we have manuscripts from Gemistos, all we know that he actually did at Mistra was to speak at Cleofe's memorial service, and have a conversation with John.

The source that comes closest to indicating a date for Gemistos' arrival is Theodoros' statement in 1433, after Cleofe died, that George Gemistos had been sent by Manuel a few years earlier "to be in our service" and "our" would then have made his arrival after early 1421 when Theodoros and Cleofe were married. Manuel died in late July 1425, which would be the latest possibility for Gemistos’ arrival in the Morea. He was clearly at Mistra in 1427, as the 1433 statement confirmed and extended the gift of land Theodoros had made Gemistos in November 1427, in which he was"to serve our rule."

The problem here with this as evidence is the use of the first-person plural. Is this the royal "we" or does it have a more personal meaning? These grants to Gemistos are the only two extant Greek documents from Theodoros I have found (please let me know if there is another), and both speak of "our" service, one use of the plural in each where the singular -- τὴν βασιλείαν μου/my rule ‒ is otherwise the norm. Both John and Demetrios adjusted the land grant: neither used the plural. In the four personal grants Constantine made in the Morea, there are twenty singulars and five plurals. In the grant to Demetrios Mamonas Gregoras, which survives in a seventeenth-century copy, there are four singulars and three plurals, one of them "in our service," and all four include Theodoros in "our." The fourth grant, for Gemistos -- there are five different Palaiologos documents for the same land -- uses two plurals where it refers to Constantine and Theodoros. The evidence indicates a strong tendency towards a use of the plural to indicate more than one person and, on that basis, provides a reason for thinking Gemistos took up permanent residence at Mistra after Theodoros and Cleofe were married.

Gemistos' writings allow the idea that some of the service he provided Theodoros and Cleofe had to do with gently educating Theodoros regarding the matter of sex  (he denied Cleofe a sexual relationship for the first six years of their marriage) and it may be important that the first land grant to Gemistos was made shortly before the birth of their first child. Even if the written text comes from the Laws, considered a late work, there is no reason the ideas could not have been discussed years earlier.  Ironically, when Scholarios praised Theodoros as a ruler, speaking at his memorial in 1448, he described him as guided by ideas of justice which can also be found in the Laws.

To judge from the survivals of documents from Mistra concerning Gemistos and his family, we  assume a particular closeness to the Palaiologos family. Had other documents survived for other families, perhaps they would be seen as equally close, or closer, but there are fewer than ten survivals for other individuals in comparison with five for the Gemistos family. These five documents record gifts of land, first to Gemistos, and then to his sons. The first, from Theodoros in late 1427, two months before Cleofe gave birth, gave Gemistos a kastro and village at Phanari, making him the governor of a small territory for life, which could be passed on to his legitimate sons (γνήσιοι παῖδες) Demetrios and Andronikos.

A year later, John VIII confirmed this gift and added to it a property at Bryse, possibly considering that Gemistos had two sons who should each have his own inheritance, and probably as a gift of appreciation for the practical advice John had received from Gemistos on the annoying question of Church Union while he was at Mistra.
  (In Florence
 Gemistos recalled that when he discussed the council with John during his trip to the Morea in 1428, he warned that "your visit will accomplish nothing and get nothing for us.")

The Gemistos family, like the Sphrantzes family, was intertwined with the Palaiologos family over at least two generations: Theodoros, John, and Constantine use οἰκεῖος (member of the household) for George Gemistos, and Demetrios uses οἰκεῖοι for his sons.  There may be a slight hint that Demetrios and Andronikos Gemistos were young at the time of the first gift of land in 1427, and that they were both of age by 1433, as that year, after Cleofe’s death, Theodoros issued another document in which he made Demetrios governor of Phanari, and Andronikos governor of Bryse and a place called Kastri.  In early 1449, just before leaving Mistra for Constantinople, Constantine issued an argyrobull confirming Theodoros’ gift of lands, quoting heavily from the 1433 text. Finally, in July 1450, Demetrios Palaiologos -- conventionally assumed to have been antagonistic to Gemistos -- issued an argyrobull to Demetrios and Andronikos again confirming that of Theodoros.  Gemistos was over 90 at this point: does this document indirectly suggest that he was failing severely?

08 January 2014

What happened to the archons?

Probable representation of an archon, 
Andreas Pavias, Crucifixion, late 15th C.

Archons essentially disappear in 1460 with the Ottoman conquest. The term was used for Greek merchants and the more-privileged Greek citizens of Venetian terre, there were no archons in the Byzantine sense in the Venetian territories, before or after 1460 -- with the exception of an Andronikos Palaiologos, and though the Venetians never granted that title, records indicate that he behaved in the autocratic, anarchic tradition of the previous generations of archons.

What archons we can trace in the Morea after 1460 are the men identified by Venetians as capi, or kapetanioi. Recall that Mehmed called Kladas re'is (head, capo -- archon). It is probable that Petro Bua, the Rallades, and the other archons who moved into the Ottoman system also received that title. The letters of the Venetian, Jacopo Barbarigo, provveditor-general of the Venetian military in 1464-65, describe elements of the transformation of the archon class into a mobile and salaried professional military class which came into its full flower in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Italy with Theodoros Palaiologos and Mercurius Bua.

A comparison of the list of twelve archons who gave allegiance to Mehmed, with Barbarigo's lists, makes the change clear. Twice Barbarigo lists men who he says are the leading men of the Moreahomini da conto, zentilhomini, i molti principali, le persone de i condition – for a total of 22 names half Albanian, half Greek. The small number of names is striking. Where are the rest of the archons? Doukas gives a straight-forward explanation as of 1460:
After taking all of the Peloponnesos, the tyrant installed his own administrators and governors. Returning to Adrianople, he took with him Demetrios and his entire household, the palace officials and wealthy nobles from Achaia and Lakedaimonia and the remaining provinces. 

Rallis, Bua, Kladas, and others reappear by 1462 or 64: they were neither taken away nor killed off. But this removal, combined with emigration, is a reasonable and efficient way to explain the remarkable disappearance of what appears to be very nearly a whole class of people. Meanwhile, in the Morea Mehmed installed not only Turkish administrators and governors, but men of quality he had acquired in previous conquests. The list of timar holders includes a Russian, an Albanian, two men from Ioannina, brothers from Thessaly, and individuals from Lamia and Veria. With a very few exceptions, we lose sight of those Moreotes who might have been absorbed into the Ottoman land-holding system in the Morea. 

Outside the Morea, we know of only two Moreote archons: Matthaios Asan, kefali of Corinth who surrendered Corinth and arranged for the surrender of Mistra, was given Ainos, and a military command in Mehmed's Bosnian campaign. His brother-in-law Demetrios Palaiologos, former Despot of the Morea, was given Imbros and Lemnos, and half of the income from Thasos and Samothraki -- a total of 300,000 aspers annually, plus another 100,000 aspers from Mehmed's treasury.

Barbarigo calls the men on his lists stratioti, and says that their support will guarantee Moreote support for the Venetian effort. Since he calls them both kapetanioi, and stratioti, it is not clear what he understands by stratioti. Twenty years later, stratioti had become the general term for Greek and Albanian horsemen on contract and their leaders provisionati but within the Byzantine system, stratiotai were the men who held pronias, or what the Venetians called provisioni

What we see is a certain number of large families – Kladas, Bua, Rallis – who formerly had authority over large areas of land and taxpayers and troops, continuing within the Venetian system where they primarily commanded bands of troops. This was wartime and the land they had previously held was for the most part changing back and forth between Venetian and Ottoman control. Most of the land in the small Venetian territories -- Methoni, Koroni, Nauplion, Monemvasia -- was rented out for growth of cash crops. Some was used as payment for for stratioti where they farmed and kept their horses -- they were responsible for their own food supplies and equipment. Thus a small number of the landholding class became a professional salaried military class within the Venetian system. With the Ventian conquests early in the war, a few kapetanioi had taken over control of various areas. Manuel Rallis, followed by his son Michaeli, had taken over Chlemoutsi and Clarentza which had formerly been under the control of George and John Rallis, their relatives and first-cousins of the despots. The more specific records are of landholdings in Mani.

After the Kladas revolt, with no war at hand, the Venetians had to keep the kapetanioi pacified. This is illustrated over and over in the letters of Bartolomeo Minio who reports his helplessness when kapetanioi seized extra land they were not supposed to have, and then refused to pay taxes. The kapetanioi continued the anarchic tradition of the archons but they still needed cash and a protective umbrella. That is what they kept saying – they wanted to be under the shade of Venice, but they really wanted to do what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it. Similar pacification of certain Cretan archons, such as the Kalergis family, had been necessary for two hundred years.