21 May 2011

Bessarion to Theodoros, Part Two

The empty throne room at the palace of Mistra
before the grotesque archaological reconstruction.

This is the second of Bessarion's two letters to Theodoros II Palaiologos, written in Constantinople in 1436.  For the first, go here.

Explaining this period, Sphrantzes (XXII) says that Theodoros traveled to Constantinople in March 1436 on the same ship as Zoe Paraspondylos who was to be married to Demetrios Palaiologos.  Although he was presenting himself as heir to the throne, John VIII was uneasy about this, much preferring Constantine. (Constantine confided this to Sphrantzes, and Bessarion wrote his two letters.) But plans were worked out that Thomas and Constantine would have the Morea, and Theodoros and Demetrios would remain in Constantinople.

Thus Constantine sailed for the Morea in June, and Theodoros, jealous, followed him immediately.  As suggested in the comments for the previous letter, Theodoros had a difficult personality. Armies were collected and there was some skirmishing.  John sent ambassadors who managed to cool things down for a bit, and followed them up with another embassy that arranged for Constantine to return to Constantinople and for Theodoros to have Mistra again.
* * * * * * 
To the same.

Since frequent correspondence is remembrance, while a long time of silence is forgetfulness, how could anyone blame us for choosing the better: memory and frequent correspondence, and siding with the stronger side, unless it is right to agree that tending to the proper relationship with benefactors and showing gratitude for such good things as are already available to us is a crime. Of course, where there are no great occasions to support memory, then no just debt is owed, but those who fail in remembrance would properly have to observe a decline in the number of those they are neglecting, for there is a recompense that comes about for those who put benefactors to the forefront. In your case, what could anyone forget, or how might anyone in justice fail to recall your kingly soul, the soul of a father, a ruler and a benefactor? For to us you are all these things through your encompassing solicitude, and the benefactions you grant are less part of the burdens of rule but, rather, you pour them out as magnanimous gifts, given by your own hand and from your generosity to us.

I, myself, am aware of the most excellent gifts I have received from you, and no one could ask for more, nor speak of a greater degree of favor. For great things,I am exchanging small things, whose value I would wish to increase, and offering them to those for whom anyone who offers such little things would be presenting himself simply as properly courteous, although there may also perhaps be those to whom small things will appear to be just what they are, small. To you kings, who practice magnanimity, what is brought to you even though small, seems great, for you measure great and small in your own way, differently from us. When you offer great things, you count them as less even than is right and proper, not paying attention to what the recipients deserve, but how much is required by your generosity. When you receive little in return, you think it much, judging things by their intent and setting your measure according to the ability of the giver. You, unless, by some chance you were later at variance with us, your subjects, would not exclude the memory of our good wishes from your soul. You do remain mindful of those who love you. Remaining consistent with yourself and proffering all the things that correspond with what we previously enjoyed from you, may you treat us still in future in these seemly and effective ways. You will confirm our hopes and show yourself in every way the ruler we marvel at. What we say about you concerning your great-spirited and noble soul and intelligence, you yourself will give witness to by the actions you set forth.

* * * * * *

Τῷ αὐτῷ.

   Ὅτι τὸ μὲν πυκνὰ ἐπιστέλλειν ἐστὶ μνημονεύειν, ἀμνημονεῖν δέ γε τὸ (3)
πολύν τινα χρόνον σιγᾶν, πῶς ἄν τις ἡμῖν ἓν τοῦτ’ ἐγκαλῶν, τὴν μνήμην
καὶ τὸ πυκνὰ ἐπιστέλλειν μέμψαιτό γε δικαίως ἅπαξ ἑλομένοις τὸ βέλτιον καὶ (5)
γενομένοις μετὰ τῆς κρείττονος μοίρας, εἰ μὴ καὶ τὸ τὰ εἰκότα περὶ τοὺς
εὐεργέτας τηρεῖν καὶ ταῖς ὑπάρξεσιν ἀγαθῶν εἰδέναι χάριν ὁμολογεῖν ἐγκλή-
ματος ἄξιον; καὶ μὴν ὅπου μὲν οὐ μεγάλαι τινὲς ἀφορμαὶ προϋπάρχουσαι
μνήμης, οὐδὲ δίκαιον ὀφείλεται χρέος. οἵ τε ἀμνημονοῦντες ἔχοιεν ἂν παραι-
τήσασθαι, ὧν τε ἀμνημονοῦσιν εἰκότως ὑποίσουσι. συμβαίνει γὰρ αὐτοῖς ἡ (10)
ἀντέκτισις, οἷς αὐτοὶ προκατέθεντο. σοῦ δὲ τί ἄν τις ἢ πῶς ἐπιλάθοιτο
πῶς δ’ ἂν δικαίως ἀμνημονοίη τῆς μεγαλόφρονος ὄντως καὶ βασιλικῆς ἐκείνης
ψυχῆς, τοῦ πατρός, τοῦ δεσπότου, τοῦ εὐεργέτου; πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα μετὰ
πολλῆς τῆς περιούσης ἡμῖν <μεριμνᾶς> ἦσθα, ὀλίγα μὲν τῷ τῆς ἀρχῆς χαρι-
ζόμενος ὄγκῳ, παντὸς δὲ πατρὸς μᾶλλον ἡμῖν εὐνοῶν καὶ δαψιλεῖ τῇ χειρὶ (15)
φιλοτίμους καταντλῶν δωρεάς.

    Ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν ἐμαυτῷ συνειδὼς ἁπάντων τετυχηκότι παρὰ σοῦ τῶν
καλλίστων χαρίτων, ὧν οὐκ ἄν τις ᾔτησε πλείους, εὐμενείας οὐδ’ ὅσης εἰπεῖν,
τιμῆς ὅσης ἂν ἴσως ηὐξάμην, μικροῖς τὰ μεγάλα ἀμείβομαι, καὶ οἷς ἄν τις
ἐνδείξαιτο τὸν εὐγνώμονα μόνον τά γε μὴν μικρὰ ταῦτα, ἄλλοις μὲν ἴσως (20)
μικρά, καὶ ὅπερ ἐστί, δόξει. τοῖς δέ γε βασιλεῦσιν ὑμῖν μεγαλοψυχίαν ἀσκοῦσι
καὶ μικρὰ ὄντα τὰ προσαγόμενα μεγάλα δοκεῖ. ἐναντίως ἐφ’ ἑαυτῶν ἢ ἡμῶν
τὸ μέγα μετροῦσι καὶ τὸ μικρόν. μεγάλα μὲν γὰρ παρεχόμενοι μείω ἔτι
λογίζεσθε τοῦ πρέποντος εἶναι καὶ τῆς ἀξίας, οὐχ ὅτου ἄξιοι οἱ λαμβάνοντες
συνορῶντες, ἀλλ’ ὅσα ὑμᾶς χαρίζεσθαι δέον. μικρὰ δὲ ἀπολαμβάνοντες μεγάλα (25)
ἡγεῖσθε, προθέσει τὰ πράγματα κρίνοντες καὶ τῇ τῶν προσαγόντων δυνά-
μει τὸ μέτρον ὁρίζοντες. σὺ δ’ εἰ μὴ μετὰ τοῦτό πω τῶν ὑπηκόων καὶ γνώμῃ
διασταίης ἡμῶν, μηδ’ ἐξέλοις γε τῆς ψυχῆς τῶν εὔνων τὴν μνήμην· ἀλλὰ
μνημονεύεις μὲν τῶν φιλούντων. εὖ δὲ ποιοῖς τοῖς εἰκόσι καὶ δυνατοῖς, αὐτὸς
αὑτῷ συμφωνῶν καὶ συμβαίνοντα παρεχόμενος, οἷς σου πρότερον ἀπηλαύσα- (30)
μεν, πάντα τὰ μετὰ ταῦτα. βεβαιώσεις μὲν ἡμῖν τὰς ἐλπίδας, διὰ πάντων
δὲ τὸν θαυμαστὸν ἐπιδείξεις δεσπότην. καὶ οἷς αὐτοὶ περὶ σοῦ λέγομεν τῆς
μεγαλόφρονος καὶ γενναίας ψυχῆς τε καὶ γνώμης, πράγμασιν αὐτὸς μαρτυρή-
σεις τὴν ἔργῳ παρεχόμενος ἡμῖν μαρτυρίαν.

* * * * * *
The English translation is by Pierre A. MacKay. The Greek text was downloaded from:
Ludwig Mohler, Kardinal Bessarion als Theologe, Humanist und Staatsman. Vol. III, (Neudruck der Ausgabe Paederborn 1942) Scientia Verlag Aalen Ferdinand Schöning. Paderborn 1967. pp. 425—427 (Venice Cod. Marc. gr. 533, fol. 50—51) available here.http://www.kenef.phil.uoi.gr/pdf/34852/34852.pdf

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