02 July 2014

Bessarion on educating the imperial children

Early in 1465, Thomas Palaiologos directed that his children be sent from Corfù to Italy. He had gone to Italy in the winter of 1460. Their mother had died in August 1462. We know nothing of their circumstances in Corfù without either parent. The only individual in Corfù of whose presence we can be sure was Giorgios Sphrantzes, loyal Palaiologan courtier, but he had declined to be part of Thomas’ court in exile.

Thomas died in March of 1465. A sense of impending death may have made him send for his children. The children -- Zoe, age 17; Andreas, 12; Manuel, 7 -- arrived in Ancona in the summer. There appears to have been considerable and frantic correspondence between individuals in Ancona with some responsibility for the children, and Cardinal Bessarion in Rome whom Thomas had left as their guardian.

Bessarion wrote, or dictated, a letter to an unnamed individual in Ancona who was to be head of these young remnants of an imperial household. This person, and Dr. Kritopoulos, were to work out the details of the household and education, and send them to Bessarion. Meanwhile, the Pope, Paul II, would give 300 ducats a month for various expenses. Of this, 200 ducats were to go directly to the children’s household, for 6 or 7 servants each, for food, for 3 or 4 horses and their food, and for a little extra each month, depending on what was needed.

Bessarion, after reading the correspondence, had decided that a Greek teacher was essential. He was concerned about their understanding of Greek, concerned enough that he was not writing them directly but wanted his letter, in demotic Greek, read to them several times until they could understand it. They were to have a Latin teacher, who would certainly have taught Italian. They were to have Dr. Kritopoulos, and a translator or interpreter. This raises the question of what language they had been raised to speak in Greece, which they had left five years earlier, and what language they had been speaking in Corfù, but it is clear from Bessarion that their conversational demotic Greek was considered deficient.

Bessarion says nothing about Greek or Italian literature, mathematics, philosophy, history, swordplay, riding, hunting, or anything normally included under education. He does mention writing, but writing would be part of the language education. The rest of his instructions concern manners, behavior, how these young imperials were to present themselves to the world. The instructions give a chilling view of the world these children had entered, but Bessarion had observed Thomas for four and a half years, and he was keenly aware of what was necessary for these children without parents, without a country, and without income of their own.

They would be, he wrote, living on strangers’ money and strangers’ expectations. They could not vaunt their imperial descent. They were orphans, foreigners, beggars. Any advantages they had would come because they were pleasing. So they were to dress and live completely in the Italian style. Their diet was to be restrained, and their table manners excellent, as well as their manners toward the members of their household. They were not to be rude, but well-behaved, humble, and serene.

They were to learn to bow appropriately to each rank, to touch their hats, lift them slightly, or remove them according to the social standing of the person they encountered. They were to walk with dignity in public, speak in low voices, keep their eyes down, and not gape or giggle. When people came to pay calls, they were to learn how to make appropriate conversation and high-minded without laughing or chattering too much. They were to learn how to evaluate the Greeks who would come to their household, and the appropriate courtesies for each, particularly towards those in a difficult situation.

If they met a cardinal or the Pope, they were to kneel and not rise until told to. It would not shame them -- this was something kings and great rulers did. They should not sit in the presence of individuals of high rank -- Thomas told Bessarion he had often told them that. They were to be completely obedient and deferential to their administrator and doctor and teachers.

The household was to have one or two priests of the Latin rite who would be constantly saying the liturgy so they could become letter-perfect in it. They were to observe the Latin rite meticulously, and learn the kneelings and crossings and gestures, copying the Italians. They were not to smile at anything in the service, and not to whisper to each other. It had been reported to him that on the trip over, the children had walked out of the church some of the members of their suite had walked out of the church at the liturgical commemoration of the Pope:  this could not happen again, because if they did it it were to happen again, they the children would have to leave Italy, and then they would be beyond Bessarion's protection.

They were to come to Rome -- for this they should learn by heart little addresses they could make to the Pope -- but not until October at least, because there was plague in the city. The household should remove itself from Ancona, an old city liable to be unhealthy, and go up to the mountains to Cingoli where the Bishop of Osimo -- one of Bessarion's people -- had a house he wanted to offer them. Actually, the archons in Rome thought it might be a good idea for the children to stay there all the time.

They did go to Rome. Sphrantzes, one of those in a difficult situation, came to see them the next year and stayed for five weeks, but beyond this, we know nothing about their lives as children.

When she was 24, Zoe was finally married, to Ivan III of Moscow. Her sister and cousin had been married when they were 14. Her formal education must have been of some use. Bessarion died shortly after Zoe's marriage and so her brothers lost his protection. The boys were over-educated for what life in Italy had to offer them.   Andreas tried to auction off his title to the throne of Constantinople. Manuel left to visit the important courts, looking for a job or an allowance, but no one offered him enough to maintain the household he thought he should have. Andreas’ complicated life has been excellently described by Jonathan Harris. In 1476 Manuel went to Turkey where he was welcomed by Mehmed II and given a generous income. His own son converted to Islam.  

[More next week.]

No comments:

Post a Comment

I will not publish Anonymous comments.