03 December 2012

The Philosopher and the Duchess

15th-C Greek philosopher

You know the Greek delegation at the Council of Union was in trouble from the git-go when George Amiroutzes was one of its leading minds. He, Scholarios, and Plethon -- all lay scholars -- had a better command of the issues and theology at hand than any of the 600-plus religious members of the delegation with the exception of Bessarion and Mark Eugenikos. Plus Amiroutzes and Scholarios read Latin, and Amiroutzes was one of the very few of the 600-plus who could speak Italian.

That Amiroutzes was a moral slug is amply demonstrated in Syropoulos' description of his taunting of Eugenikos during a major speech. On another occasion, in a discussion with Eugenikos, Bessarion, Isidore of Russia, Plethon, and the emperor, Amiroutzes was so aggressive towards Eugenikos that when Plethon came to his defense, Amiroutzes shouted Plethon down. Then there is the evidence from papal sources that he took a bribe for his vote. Scholarios voted for Union, too. And Bessarion. As did a great many of the delegation. Plethon had been warning them for 11-plus years that such a conference would be a disaster.

But few in the delegation had the social, political, or intellectual standing to be able to go back to Constantinople and claim so successfully that they had changed their minds. And there were not so many claims in mid-century to the position of "Greek philosopher" that Amiroutzes can be disregarded. In fact, if the intellectual accomplishment is hived off from his personal moral qualities, there is a great deal to be admired.

However, this entry is -- minimally -- about Amiroutzes and his private life, about which he showed no more taste than in his treatment of Eugenikos.

The lady in question was the daughter of Demetrios Laskaris Asan, kefali of Mouchli, who has been written about here before. There is no sure name recorded for her, although sometimes she is called "Maria" -- a reasonably safe name to assign a Byzantine woman, and sometimes she is called "Mouchliotissa." The fragile skeleton of a Byzantine church up on the Mouchli hillside is also called "Mouchliotissa" so I don't think this is very useful.

The lady was Duchess of Athens, wife of Franco Acciaiuoli, put in position by Mehmed after his cousin, Francesco, a minor, had come under the control of his mother and her lover who seem to have poisoned his father, Nerio II. When Mehmed took Athens in 1456, he also took the Duchess, Franco, and their three sons. The three sons eventually became janissaries, Franco became strangled, and the Duchess went into Mehmed's collection of high-status guests who were useful for negotiations.

Either in Constantinople or Adrianople, the married Amiroutzes met her and decided to marry her. Nothing is known of her feelings in the matter, and in fact nothing is known of her beyond her existence. Mehmed gave permission for the marriage -- a matter of Orthodox bigamy was not likely to concern him -- and the patriarch, Joasaph I, was ordered to perform the ceremony. Or to give permission for the ceremony.

There are various accounts of this, each worse than the others which variously claim that he was dragged, protesting, by his beard, and that he dropped down dead in chagrin. Or that Mehmed ordered the patriarch's beard and someone else's nose cut off, and that the patriarch tried to commit suicide in a cistern under the Pammakaristos. He was hauled out and exiled to Anchialos.  Much about this event and the patriarch is uncertain.

Amiroutzes and the Duchess seem to have been married, but this was not the last demonstration of his low moral character. He is said to have dropped dead with a dice-box in his hand, but this is probably not true.

What survives of this tawdry business are a couple of quatrains Amiroutzes is said to have written to the Duchess, very much in the tradition of medieval love poems from across Europe and the Middle East, and found not at all in Byzantine poetry, though many similar phrases show up in folksongs.

Shafts from your eyes strike the hearts
Alas, of those who see you. But, even so they adore
And rejoice as they burn; wounded, they love you.
Ah, what a love you beget, Ah what a passion you give birth to.

One time I saw you in the house, from below in the garden,
And by night, with your eyes leading me, I came;
A thrill took hold of me, astonishment and desire.
Ah what love you bear, who nurture as you conquer.

Βέλη ἐκ τῶν ὀμμάτων σου βάλλουσι τὰς καρδίας,
βαβαὶ, τῶν θεωμένων σοι. Οἱ δ'ὄμως ἀγαπῶσι
καὶ χαίρουσι φλεγόμενοι, φιλοῦσι τετρωμένοι.
Φεῦ οἷον ἔρωτα γεννᾷς, φευ οἷον πόθον τίκτεις.

Εἰς οἶκον εἶδον σε ποτὲ κάτωθεν ἐκ τοῦ κήπου,
καὶ τῇ σκιᾷ, τοῖς ὄμμασι σου προϊόντος, ἦλθον·
καὶ θάμβος ἔσχε με εὐθὺς καὶ πόθος σύν εκπλήξει.
Φεῦ οἷον φέρεις ἔρωτα, ἤ νίκας τρέφεις. 
Thanks to Pierre A. MacKay for the translation.

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