20 May 2011

Bessarion to Theodoros

Court dress from a 15thC fresco, Kariye Djami.  

Theodoros II Palaiologos made his first visit to Constantinople in 1436 -- he had not seen it since he was sent to the Morea as a young child -- ostensibly to take with him an elaborate gold-embroidered epitaphios for the tomb of his parents, but most surely to make himself available for the throne.  He was apparently thrilled beyond expression by his first, adult, real appreciation of The City.  His brother, John, had given him a fine celebratory procession, and he was seeing buildings and churches unimaginable to someone whose idea of sophistication had been formed at Mistra.

Bessarion -- who had spoken at Cleofe's memorial three years earlier -- was then back in Constantinople.  During his few years in Mistra, he had come to know Theodoros quite well, and was keenly aware of his unsuitability.  He wrote Theodoros two letters.  These letters are exceptionally sycophantic, and if one is familiar with other writings of Bessarion, their construction may suggest something of Theodoros' grandiose personality and what was required to get his attention.  He writes from the standpoint of a resident of the Morea, asking Theodoros to come back. He describes Constantinople, and the Morea, as places flowing with milk and honey, descriptions nearly unrecognizable to their contemporaries, but Bessarion was always generous.
* * * * * *
To the Despot Theodoros, Porphyogennetos.

There is that which moves us to sorrow, because an unseasonable loss has overtaken us, distressed as we are by an absence that wastes us and leaves us despairing of anything better; you, however, the place of your birth has found you, perhaps not soon enough, but sincerely and with a great show. The ultimate in honor is the name for it. Your entrance saw a day of festival, and the Despot was received with a brilliant display which the emperor, your dear brother, arranged for you, the ruler of all for all.

Every class and age of the populace that teems in the city crowded together in it and exhibited to whoever was there the delight and exultation in their souls, but perhaps it is right to say that you observed your homeland with equal happiness as you had so long desired it but only now first saw it. For the the earlier time cannot be counted since you were of too tender an age for an infinity of impressions. But now you can go about to observe the fine things that have been poured into the city from every side as they challenge one another like contestants in the theater striving to excel in beauty. On the one side you will see the abundance and fineness of holy things, even more abundant than they are fine, and even better than they are abundant. On another side you will see the walls and towers and the defense circuit of the city, whose measure and strength no one can wonder enough at, and on yet another the brilliance of the city's houses and the overwhelming pride in public show. On still another you will see the massiveness of the public buildings and their extent, evidences of royal indulgence and the luxury of power. You will see the size and beauty of these and you will hear much recounted to you about them. For this city is bejewelled in the eyes of those who see it beyond any other, and in those who remember it, even beyond reality, so that how could you pass through it without marvelling at many things, you who used to clap and dance with pleasure and seemed to see it almost as if you were one with those who longed for it.

But why do I speak of this, when you are in the presence of even more. You are where everything is holy, and every godly thing has been stored up as if this city had become a sort of treasury for God, curating for him every holy bone from the martyrs, every relic of priests and holy superiors, of all who have served God. These you could not find time enough for walking about with eagerness and desire, embracing them and gathering in their grace, for their beauty surrounds you from every side in every way. You revel in the many beauties of the land of your birth Its guardianship of all the products from land and sea, and the way in which all the best gathers her from every side and there is no good thing that the inhabited world produces that is not present here in abundance, all of this the very facts are witnesses to. Faster than you can think of them all the gifts from land and all those from the sea are gathered for you, some of them from right at hand, some from distant lands, whatever is needed and useful for mankind and whatever is desired for the amusement and pleasure of kings. This too is good indeed, the best of all goods. How could it not be?

The thing which is finer than all else, by far, is the goodwill and love of both nobles and populace, and simply, of all people. Some of them captured by the mere rumor of your excellence, others held by the nets of your speech that you, yourself have cast about them, binding them with steel bonds. If anyone were not to be taken by your first or second effort, that would be a marvel, such is the power of persuasion that sits on your lips and sends out such an incantation, as you utter the language of rhetoric and reason.

But what then? Will you become one with the beauties there, and will you transfer yourself entirely to the great city, and utterly forget those in Peloponnesos, of every sort and age? Or will you not rather concede this much to yourself and not approve of showing such scorn for us. Whether one puts forward the good things from the sea and its abundance, our sea will not surpass that in quality, or the abundance of game, and the delight it offers to kingly eyes, along with the training in military discipline, I do not know whether any other place will surpass Peloponnesos. Surely you will have proud thoughts of this region in its own right, which offers us much nurture and such a populace of followers, which grants us so much freedom to wander up and down, wherever we might wish in the plains, the hills and the mountains. As for men, if you marvel at the numbers, we surpass them, and if you care more about excellence, I do not know who takes precedence. There are, however, aspects of excellence in which we may take great pride. For perhaps we are surpassed in wisdom, but yet we will not easily yield to others even in that realm, for we have one who is sufficient against all the rest. For bravery, I should be surprised if you did not yourself judge that it is superior among the Peloponnesians, while as for intelligence and good sense, even if they do not surpass, nor are they surpassed. When the Peloponnesian are adorned with these, along with all the abundance of Peloponnesos, how could anyone look down on them or pass them by?

In good fortune, therefore, reverencing both your homeland and all those there, having made obeisance to the holy objects and also to those to whom this is owed, and from them having received the very same consideration, may you, with God, dispose of the affairs for which you went there and may you return in good health to us who long for you more than we might for any father, regarding your stepping again on this land as a day of good fortune. Or may you let us learn of even better things concerning you, oh best of rulers, who bring much content to your subjects when present but thus also griefs because of your absence from us.
* * * * * *
Θεοδόρῳ⟩ Τῷ Δεσπότῃ τῷ Πορφυρογεννήτῳ.

  Ἄλλ’ ἡμᾶς μὲν ὥσπερ τις ἄωρος ὀρφανία καταλαβοῦσα πείθει πενθεῖν, (3)
τὴν καταλύσασαν ἡμᾶς οὕτως ὀρφανίαν ὀδυρομένους, ὡς οὐδὲ τὰ χρηστότερα
ἀπελπίζοντας· σὲ δ’ ἡ πατρὶς χρόνῳ μὲν καὶ μόλις, ἄσμενος δ’ οὖν καὶ μετὰ (5)
μείζονος ἀπέλαβε σχήματος. τὸ τιμαλφέστατον αὐτῇ ᾗ χρῆμα ὄνομα. καὶ
πανηγύρεως μὲν εἶδεν ἡμέραν τὰ σὰ εἰσιτήρια· μετὰ λαμπρᾶς δὲ πομπῆς
ὑπεδέξατο τὸν δεσπότην, ἣν διέθηκέ σοι μὲν ὁ πᾶσι πάντων κρατῶν, ὁ βασι-
λεὺς καὶ φίλος καὶ ἀδελφός.

    Συνεπληροῦ δὲ πᾶσα τάξις ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἡλικία προχυθέντων τῆς πό- (10)
λεως καὶ βοῆς πάντα καὶ κρότου πληρούντων καὶ πᾶσιν, οἷς ἔνεστι, τὴν
τῆς ψυχῆς ἡδονὴν καὶ τὸ γάνος δηλούντων. οὐ χεῖρον δὲ ἴσως εἰπεῖν ὡς μετὰ
τῆς ἴσης καὶ σὺ τὴν πατρίδα τεθέασαι εὐφροσύνης, ἣν ἐπόθεις μὲν πάλαι,
εἶδες δὲ νυνὶ πρώτως. τὸν γὰρ πρὶν χρόνον οὐδ’ ἐν λόγῳ θετέον, οὕτως
ἐν πάνυ ἁπαλῇ ἡλικίᾳ τῆς ἐνεγκαμένης ἀπέραντος. καὶ νῦν ἔξεστί σοι περιϊόντι (15)
τὰ πανταχόθεν αὐτὴν περικεχυμένα κάλλη θεᾶσθαι ὥσπερ ἐν ἀγῶνί τε καὶ
θεάτρῳ ἀλλήλοις ἁμιλλώμενα καὶ τοῦ κάλλους ἐρίζοντα. ἔνθεν μὲν γὰρ
ἱερῶν ὄψει πλήθη καὶ κάλλη. οὕτω μὲν πλείω ἢ καλλίω, οὕτω δὲ βελτίω
ἢ πλείω. ἐκεῖθεν δὲ τείχη καὶ πύργους καὶ περίβολον πόλεως, ὧν οὔτε μέτρον
οὔτ’ ἀρετὴν οὐδ’ ἀξίως ἔνι θαυμάσαι, ἑτέρωθεν δημοσίων οἰκοδομημάτων (20)
λαμπρότητα καὶ τὴν περὶ τὰ θέατρα περιττὴν φιλοτιμίαν, ἄλλοθεν ὄγκον
ἀρχείων καὶ περιφάνειαν, βασιλικῆς ἁβρόσεως δείγματα καὶ τρυφῆς ἐξουσίας.
ὧν κάλλη τε καὶ μεγέθη τὰ μὲν ὄψει, περὶ δὲ τῶν πολλὰ καλὰ διηγουμένων
ἀκούσῃ. μόνη γὰρ ἥδε ἡ πόλις κοσμεῖται τοῖς μὲν ὁρωμένοις ὑπὲρ πάντα
τὰ ἄλλα, τοῖς δὲ μνημονευομένοις τῶν ὄντων βελτίοσιν, ἃ πῶς ἂν μὴ πολλὰ (25)
θαυμάσας παρέλθοις, ὅς γε καὶ διηγουμένων ἀκούων ἐκρότεις καὶ σκιρτῶν
ὑφ’ ἡδονῆς ἐδόκεις ὁρᾶν καὶ μόνον οὐ συνεῖναι τοῖς ποθουμένοις.

    Καίτοι τί ταῦτά φημι τὰ μείζω παρείς; ἐνταῦθα πᾶν μὲν ἀπόκειται
ἱερόν, πᾶν δὲ τεθησαύρισται θεῖον ὥσπερ τινὸς Θεοῦ ταμείου γενομένης
τῆς πόλεως καὶ συντηρούσας αὐτῷ πᾶν μὲν μαρτύρων ὀστοῦν ἱερόν, πᾶν (30)
δὲ λείψανον ἱερέων, ἀρχιερέων ὁσίων, παντὸς τεθεραπευκότος Θεόν. ταῦτ’ οὐκ
ἂν φθάνοις σπουδῇ τε καὶ πόθῳ περιϊὼν καὶ κατασπαζόμενος καὶ τὴν ἐκεῖθεν @1
(426.) κομιζόμενος χάριν. οὕτω σε πανταχόθεν παντοδαπὰ περιΐσταται κάλλη· καὶ
τρυφᾷς ἄρα πολλοῖς τοῖς τῆς πατρίδος καλοῖς. τὴν γὰρ ἐκ γῆς καὶ θαλάτ-
της δορυφορίαν, καὶ ὡς ἐνταῦθα τὰ πανταχόθεν ἄκρα συντρέχει, καὶ ὧν ἡ
οἰκουμένη φέρει καλῶν οὐδέν, ὃ μὴ καὶ ταύτῃ πρόσεστι δαψιλῶς, αὐτά σοι
μαρτυρήσει τὰ πράγματα. τάχιον γοῦν ἢ ἐνθυμηθῆναι τὰ μὲν ἐκ γῆς σοι, (5)
τὰ δ’ ἐκ θαλάττης παντοδαπὰ κομίζεται δῶρα, τὰ μὲν αὐτόθεν, τὰ δ’ ἐξ
ὑπερορίας, ὅσα τε πρὸς ἀνάγκην καὶ χρείαν ἀνθρώποις, ὅσα τε πρὸς διαγωγὴν
καὶ τρυφὴν βασιλεῦσι. καίτοι καλὰ μὲν καὶ ταῦτα καὶ καλῶν κάλλιστα.
πῶς γὰρ οὔ;

    Ἐκεῖνό γε μὴν πάντων πολλῷ κάλλιον ἡ τῶν ἀρίστων τε καὶ πολλῶν (10)
καὶ πάντων ἁπλῶς εὔνοιά τε καὶ φιλία· τῶν μὲν καὶ μόνῃ τῇ περὶ σοῦ φήμῃ
τῆς σῆς ἁλόντων ἀρετῆς· οὓς δὲ καὶ ταῖς τῆς φωνῆς αὐτὸς ἄρκυσι νυνὶ περι-
σχὼν καὶ πεδήσας ἀδαμαντίναις ἀνάγκαις. εἰ μή τίς σου γὰρ ἁλῷ μετὰ πρώτην
ἔντευξιν ἢ δευτέραν, θαῦμα ἂν εἴη. τοιαύτη σου τοῖς χείλεσιν ἐπικάθηται
πείθω καὶ οὕτως ἐπαγωγὴν φθέγγῃ, καὶ τὴν ἀπὸ ῥητορικῆς καὶ λόγων (15)
<γλῶσσαν> φωνεῖς.

    Τί οὖν; ὅλος τῶν ἐνταῦθα γενήσῃ καλῶν, καὶ πρὸς τὴν μεγάλην μετα-
θήσεις σαυτὸν ἅπαντα πόλιν, Πελοποννήσου δὲ καὶ τῶν τῇδε ὁποιωνοῦν
ὄντων καὶ ἡλίκων τέλεον ἐπιλήσῃ; καὶ μὴν οὐδ’ αὐτὸς σαυτῷ τοῦτο συγχωρή-
σεις, οὐδ’ ἐπαινέσεις τὸ τοσοῦτον ἡμᾶς περιφρονῆσαι; εἴτε γὰρ τὰ θαλάττης (20)
προβαλῇ καλὰ καὶ τὴν αὐτῆς ἀφθονίαν, —τῇ γε ἀρετῇ πως ἡ παρ’ ἡμῖν
οὐ διοίσει—εἴτε κυνηγεσίων ἀφθονίαν ἅμα καὶ τέρψιν ὅσην βασιλικοῖς
ὀφθαλμοῖς καὶ τακτικῶν γυμνασίαν παρεχομένων, οὐκ οἶδ’, εἴ τις ἑτέρα
Πελοποννήσου κρατήσει. τάχα δ’ ἂν ἐφ’ ἑαυτῇ καὶ μέγα φρονήσεις τοῦτο
τὸ μέρος, πολλὴν μὲν ἡμῖν χορηγοῦσαν τὴν θεραπείαν καὶ πλῆθος τῶν ἑπο- (25)
μένων, πολλὴν δὲ τὴν ἄδειαν ἄνω τε καὶ κάτω περιϊοῦσι, καὶ οὗ τῶν πεδίων
τε καὶ γηλόφων καὶ ὀρῶν εἴη βουλομένοις. καὶ μὴν καὶ ἀνθρώπων, εἰ μὲν
πλῆθος θαυμάζεις, νικῶμεν ἡμεῖς. εἰ δ’ ἀρετὴν περὶ πλείονος ἄγεις, οὐκ οἶδα
μέν, ὧν τὰ πρεσβεῖα. ἔστι δέ τι τῆς ἀρετῆς, ᾧ καὶ ἡμῖν ἔξεστι μέγα φρονῆσαι.
σοφίας μὲν γὰρ ἴσως νικώμεθα. καίτοι οὐδὲ τούτου τοῦ μέρους ῥᾳδίως ἑτέροις (30)
παραχωρήσομεν· ἔχομεν γάρ, ὃς ἀντὶ πάντων ἀρκεῖ. ἀνδρείας δὲ θαυμάσαιμ’
ἄν, εἰ μὴ καὶ αὐτὸς Πελοποννησίοις κρινεῖς περιεῖναι. τῆς γε μὴν φρονήσεώς
τε καὶ γνώσεως, εἰ μὴ νικῶσιν, οὐδὲ νικῶνται. καίτοι ὅτε τούτοις, ἃ μόνα
κοσμεῖν πέφυκεν ἄνθρωπον, μετὰ τοσαύτης οἱ τῇδε τῆς περιουσίας κοσμοῦνται,
πῶς ἄν τις αὐτοὺς δικαίως περιφρονήσει καὶ ῥᾳδίως παρόψεται; (35)

    Ἀγαθῇ τοίνυν τύχῃ πατρίδα καὶ τοὺς ἐνταῦθα κατιδὼν ἅπαντας, καὶ
προσκυνήσας μὲν ἱερά, προσκυνήσας δ’ οἷς τοῦτο ὀφείλεται, ὑφ’ ὧν δὲ τοῦτ’
αὐτὸ δεδεγμένος, εὖ μὲν σὺν Θεῷ διαθείης τὰ ἐφ’ οἷς ἧκες. εὖ δ’ ἔχων πρὸς
ἡμᾶς ἐπανήκοις, τίνος οὐ μᾶλλον σὲ ποθοῦντας πατρὸς καὶ ἡμέραν εὐδαι-
μονίας τὴν γῆν ἐκδεχομένους ἐπάνοδον. ἢ δοίης μαθεῖν περὶ σοῦ τὰ βελτίω, (40)
ἀνδρῶν τε καὶ δεσποτῶν ἄριστε καὶ θειότατε. καὶ πολλὰ μὲν εὐφράνας τοὺς
ὑπηκόους παρών, πολλὰ δὲ λυπήσας ἀποδημήσας.
* * * * * *
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


  1. Would you please check the link (to Mohler), I get a 'not found' answer.

  2. Thanks for letting me know. It should work now.

  3. Possible typo. at "Porphyogennetos", Nauplion : perhaps "Porphyrogennetos" ?

    Philip Taylor

  4. "for the tomb of his parents". It would be more accurate "of his father" because at that time only Manuel II was dead. His mother will live til 1450.

  5. Not really more accurate. Even though his mother was still alive, the tomb covering had portraits of both parents, and the poem embroidered on it was addressed to both parents. Theodoros was assuming they would both be in the same tomb some day.


I will not publish Anonymous comments.