27 February 2010

Theodoros II Palaiologos

Theodoros II Palaiologos has been a tremendous disappointment. It shouldn't have been a surprise, given his isolated and distorted upbringing, but there were opportunities where he might have become a better person. I have written about Theodoros more than once, here in particular, and as information collects and sources get translated, my view has been altered.

Regardless of his philosopher father and the philosophers of Mistra -- and, in fact, what we see of Theodoros is no recommendation for any of them -- his heart and courage were starved.  So we see him, when faced with stress -- marriage in 1421, Ottoman assault in 1423, fatherhood in 1428 -- isolating his bride, dithering agan and again about retreat into a monastery, ignoring his child.

In the period when things were good, he became expansive, took on showy public works -- and I am dating the great palace wing at Mistra to this period -- and while I have changed my mind slightly about  the date of the poem I wrote about here, it and the great gold embroidery fit into this period.

He might have learned something from the Kleope experience.  He had finally come to love her, even enjoy her in bed and as a scholarly companion, and despite the horrific shock of her death -- two sources talk about the sudden gush of her blood and one says that Theodoros was spattered with it -- he was able to force himself to a remarkable level of discipline in that first month of grief, enough to write an intricate, highly organized, and deeply loving poem.  That was in 1433.  He may have still been under her influence --maybe the project was already started -- when he wrote the long poem for his parents and ordered up the embroidery.  He clearly had ability at writing, and he should have written a lot more, but he had no one now to serve as muse and editor

Then in 1436 he went to Constantinople, his first visit since he left in 1407 at the age of ten, taking the embroidery and the poem with him.  He came on the same ship as Zoe Paraspondylos who was married to his brother Demetrios a few days after they arrived.   John VIII, gave Theodoros a magnificent processional welcome, and despite the fact that The City was half empty of its population, the infrastructure deeply eroded, the palace poky and crowded, he was  thrilled to be there.  He apparently ignored the fact that he had a motherless seven-year old daughter in Mistra, but then his brother Andronikos had been shipped off to be despot of Thessaloniki when he was seven.

Bessarion was already in Constantinople, in residence at a monastery, and the closeness they had had at Mistra for a couple of years seems to have been forgotten as Bessarion wrote Theodoros letters even though they were in the same city -- two survive -- and they are stunningly revealing.  We have many letters written to Manuel, and despite the florid style apparently required of Byzantine letter-writers, there is much sense of friendship and loyalty.  The language of Bessarion's letters to Theodoros is as extreme and formal as the species can get, and the evident cravings of his personality, exposed to the flattery at the imperial court, are not attractive.  

The letters also give a momentary glimpse of an almost childish personality, Theodoros -- in his 30s -- dancing about and claping when someone in Mistra described some glory of The City. Now he was actually there, and Bessarion shows us Theodoros' excitement over the architectural treasures, the churches that made Mistra's look negligible, the great houses that equaled anything he had as a palace back home.  He seems to have been particularly interested in relics, and he was wallowing in the homage paid him by all sorts of important people -- all of whom seemed to find him tremendously important.  He decided that he would stay in Constantinople and be the heir to the throne.  It could happen any time, really.  John had been extremely ill, expected to die, four years earlier, and suffered from what was probably rheumatoid arthritis.

So it was decided among the brothers that Theodoros would remain in Constantinople, and that Constantine would replace him at Mistra as Despot.  That would leave Constantine and Thomas in the Morea, and Theodoros and Demetrios in Constantinople where, presumably, John could keep an eye on their ambitions.

Constantine left for the Morea in June, and almost immediately Theodoros followed him, not being able to bear actually giving up his position.  This had happened before, in late 1428, when he was so sure he wanted to go into a monastery that Constantine had been sent to take over.  Theodoros changed his mind then, which set Constantine off on the sequence of conquests that eventually acquired Patras, the Tocco lands, and Achaia for Greek rule.  Enough was enough.  Feelings ran so high this time in 1436 that Constantine and Thomas collected an army, while Theodoros collected one on his side.  Outright internecine war was barely avoided, and John sent over two representatives to work out a settlement.

They settled that Constantine would go back to Constantinople and that Theodoros would remain as Despot in Mistra.  He seems to have been the only brother not involved in some way in the Florence-Ferrara conference. It is from the years after this that we see Venetian complaints about Theodoros -- or his people -- making attacks on Venetian territory, and seizing the Thermissi area from Nauplion.  He married off his thirteen-year old daughter, Helena, to King James of Cyprus.  She was miserable, and seems to have spent considerable time making others miserable.

In 1443 there had been letters and negotiations going back and forth, but in June Constantine left for the Morea and in December Theodoros arrived in Constantinople, having travelled back on the same boat had come over on.  He was given Constantine's appanage of Selybria, now Silivri, just south of Constantinople on the Sea of Marmara. It was still a city of some significance, just inside the end of the Anastasian Wall, on the edge of what remained of the Eastern Empire in Thrace.

That is about it.  Nothing more is said about him except that he died in June 1448 of plague, a wretched death with extreme fever and vomiting blood.  He was buried in the family burial church of the Pantokrator in Constantinople, near his father.

The images all contain Palaiologan monograms and eagles.  The two bright ones are from frescos in the Kariye Djami in Istanbul, one is from a cave church at Lake Prespa, and the red one is Theodoros himself as a small boy in the Paris ms. family portrait.


20 February 2010


τοῦ Ἰούδα [καὶ τῶν λέγοντων]
ἆρον ἆρον σταύ[ρωσον αὐτὸν]
. . . of Judas [and those saying]
Away with him! Cru[cify him!]
John 19:14

A year ago I wrote about a late antique tombstone found near Argos. It is now Lent in both the Eastern and Western rites, and a good time to revisit the Argos tombstones at a more serious level. 

The image here is from the Byzantine Museum in Athens, but it represents six of the fourteen or fifteen Christian epigraphs from the 5th and 6th centuries in Argos. It is a small thing: all but one of these Argos epigraphs are somewhat smaller than a piece of printer paper, 2/3 the width of my computer screen.  

In the ancient world, grave-entering -- robbing or using someone else's grave -- was an impious act of major importance, and the guilty were to pay fines to the municipal treasury. For a thousand years before Christianity, Jewish, Greek, and Roman epigraphs had called on the gods of the Greeks and Persians, on enraged Apollo, and on the iron broom and the flying sickle to punish the guilty. Constantine's divorce law of 331 considered grave-entering grounds for divorce. In 447 a law of Valentinian said that one who would harass the buried dead was an enemy of light itself. Some thought the clergy were particularly guilty of grave-entering, others said it was the people who carried the body to the grave.

Christian gravestones took up their own warning, often the anathema, or the curse of God on Judas and on those who cried Crucify him! when Pilate asked what to do with Jesus. Significantly, they used the form found in the Gospel of John, the most anti-Semitic of the gospels, and a longer form than those used in the other three. This anathema was quite popular in the Justinianic period, with the Greens using it in their court oaths and shouting it at the Blues. Justinian included the anathema in his law about perjury in 535.

What is striking here is the percentage of Christian epigraphs from Argos that use the anathema -- 6 out of fourteen or fifteen.  There is another from Hermione, in the Argolid.  None have been found at Sparta. We are dealing with survivals, but counting the Corinth epigraphs, I found only 2 out of 162, and at the Argos rate there should have been 50.  I found three from Athens, and at the Argos rate there should have been dozens. The anathema shows up very rarely in epigraphs from Italy, twice out of the thousands from North Africa, one from Asia Minor. [I did this work 10 years ago: it is likely that many more epigraphs have been discovered since, but someone else will have to do the numbers.] 

The Argos use of the anathema crossed class boundaries.  It is found in a monastic burial vault; on the grave of Rhoda, daughter of Kyriaki who must have been poor; on the grave of a member of the city council; on the grave of a Syrian resident; and on two other working-class graves. We know nothing about what was going on in Argos in the 6th century, except that there may be a clue on the epigraph for a Christian of Jewish origin. It says
+ κοιμητήριον
Ἀραβάννας ἀγό
ραστον + ὁ ἠγό
ρασεν Σολομών +

[this] resting place
of Arabanna [is] paid
for + Salomon,
bought [it]+

Some, but not all of the Christian epigraphs have crosses: this has the most, three.  It also states twice that the grave site has been paid for.  Does these things reflect an uneasiness on the part of Jewish Christians about their status among Greek Christians?  Two other Jewish epigraphs have been found.  One is seriously eroded and has not been reconstructed.  The other, that of Aurelius Joses, quotes the Theodosian Code at 16.8.13 in asking that his tomb not be entered.

It was perfectly possible for Christians to protest grave-entering without vulgarity. 
-->One from Parori, outside Sparta, began with the Trisagion -- "Holy God, Holy Immortal" -- and concludes, "by this power, do not disturb this tomb. Another, from Corinth, says mildly, "Therefore let no one have designs against them and exhume them, and involve themselves in penalties." The Jew, Aurelius Joses, set a standard no Argos Christian met:

I, Aurelius Joses, pray
the holy and great
power of God and the
power of the Law and the
dignity of the patriarchs and
the dignity of the ethnarchs and
the dignity of the sages and
the dignity of the worship offered
each day before God that
no one will break up my tomb
which I built with much labor.

13 February 2010

PS, Part Three: Nauplion Details

Picking up on both of the two details in Nauplion: Two Details.

Going back again to the 16th century map detail of the inverted Y at the plateia of Ag. Spyridon, I said that I had found at that plateia strong support for the reliability of that drawn Y.  I have now found a picture of the end of the right-hand fork where it comes into old Nauplion's main plateia at the southwest corner.

You will recognize the pretty little mosque used for the Trianon cinema --  porch domes and columns now removed, and the building across the street to the left that has been a restaurant for three generations.  To the right of the mosque, where the yellow Acropolis hotel now stands you can see an open space going up the hill.  The top of the space, in a larger version of the picture, shows clearly a ribbon of steps.  So the mosque was built beside the road coming down from the Y.  In the 15th and 16th centuries, before the mosque was built, a church stood where the picture shows houses, just about where Dmitri Kountalis' shop and the bank are now.
* * * * * * * * * *
I wrote that the platan tree at the plateia -- diagonally across the plateia from the end of the street shown above -- was old enough to remember the Turks.  So I have been told many times.  But I found this undated photo on Facebook, and that platan tree looks to me extremely unlikely to have ever seen any Turks at all.  I cannot get the photo clear enough, large enough, to guess at the date from the clothes the people are wearing, so for now, this platan is one more fiction that needs to be allowed to rest quietly although it is a lovely tree, and fine for spending hours under. This means that the wanton slaughter of the great trees by the owners of two restaurants destroyed the two great trees remaining from the 17th century.  

The best Nauplion can do now is point out a palm tree or two, supposedly planted by Kapodistrias at independence. The palm in Greek is phoinix, and the first symbol of free Greece was the phoenix, the bird-lion that is reborn out of the flames that consume it.  This one being decorated for Christmas does not, I think, quite convey the power of that symbol.

You can find a couple of phoenixes left on buildings of the period, and one was used on the first coinage of the country. But a tall skinny palm with its little whoosh of feathers at the top cannot compare with those broad-spreading massive-trunked trees I remember.  Despite all one hears about "preserving our heritage," such preservation is extremely partial and easily influenced by profit.

06 February 2010



Christopher Columbus has the distinction of being nearly the only famous person from the 15th-century Mediterranean not known to Cyriaco of Ancona. When Columbus was not pirating or otherwise engaged, he exported mastic  from Chios, and in his first letter to Queen Isabella, he presented the possibility of new sources of mastic as one reason to invest in his explorations.  One line of Columban theology claims that Columbus was a Greek from Chios but this is not relevant here.

Cyriaco also exported mastic. Mastic is (the word is from the same root as masticate) a gum produced by a small shrub, found mostly on Chios, a highly profitable trade in the pre-Colgate era for sale as a tooth cleaner and breath sweetner. In January 1446, Cyriaco rode out with friends in a mule train to see where mastic came from. "I finally saw drops of glittering mastic in large numbers rather nearby on every side among the tearful but joyous trucks and had the pleasure of gathering some in my hand . . .

"For I recalled that I had often seen numberous boxes filled with this highly esteemed gum being loaded on to the great ships in your broad and tranquil port of Chios and I knew that the world was being filled with the scent of this island's gift, this wholesome exhalation, since in the course of the years, through the agency of Genoese and foreign ships, these fragrances are carried, some through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus to Thrace and eastern Europe, others through the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to the River Don, to comfort the Sarmatians, Scythians, and Hyrcanians beneath their cold sky; or elsewhere through Asia, to allure the Colchians, the Albanians, the Georgians, Cappadocians, and Cilicians, and thence the Persians, Parthians and Arabs and Bactrians and Medes and Babylonians, Others are carried over the immense Ionian and Libyan Seas to Egypt and Syria, thence to be transported to the Ethiopians, Garamantians, and Indians. And we know that others are brought via Illyria to Italy, while still others have been transported across the entire Mediterranean Sea, to Ocean and the western lands, to revivify Cadis, the Gauls, Germans, Spaniards, Britons, Irish and Scotch, and far-off Thule." 

This passage brings irresistibly to mind the letter to Henry Miller, in which Lawrence Durrell described George Katsimbalis at the locked gate of the Acropolis one midnight. He "sent out the most bloodcurdling clarion I have ever heard: Cock-a-doodle-doo . . .' and then, after a pause, 'lo from the distance, silvery-clear in the darkness, a cock drowsily answered -- and then another, then another." The night began to quiver with cockcrows.

In Mani at Cape Matapan, Patrick Leigh Fermor was told that they could sometimes hear cocks crowing from Cythera. "The distance between Cythera and Capate Matapan on the tattered map in my pocket, was somewhere between twenty and thirty miles. This enormously extended the possible ambit of George's initial cockcrow . . . the traffic could be reversed, and leap from the Mani (or better still, Cape Malea) to Cythera, from Cythera to Anticythera, and from Anticythera to the piratical peninsulas of western Crete; only to die out south of the great island in a last lonely crow on the islet of Gavdos, in the Libyan Sea. . . . But a timely west wind could carry it to the eastern capes of Crete, over the Cassos straits, through the islands of the Dodecanese, and thence to the Halicarnassus peninsula and the Taurus mountains. . . . The possibilities became suddenly tremendous and in our mind's ear the ghostly clarion travelled south-west into Egypt, south-east to the Persian Gulf; up the Nile, past the villages fo the stork-like Dinkas, through the great forests, from krall to krall of the Zulus, waking the drowsy Boers of the Transvaal and expiring from a chicken-run on Table Mountain over the Cape of Good Hope.

"North of Athens, all was plain sailing; it would be through the Iron Curtain, over the Great Balkan range and across the Danube within the hour, with nothing to hinder its spread across the Ukraine and Great Russia [[ the sudden hubbub in a hundred collective farms alerting the NKVD and causing a number of arrests on suspicion -- until it reached the reindeer-haunted forests of Lapland, and called across the ice toward Nova Zembla to languish among igloos . . . Thus, as the northern call fell silent among the tongue-tied penguins of the Arctic floes, the westward sweep, after startling the solitary Magyar herdsman with the untimely uproar and alarming the night-capped Normans with thoughts of theft, was culminating in ultimate unanswered challenges from John o'Groats and the Blasket Islands, Finisterre and Cape Trafalgar, and a regimental mascot in Gibraltar was already rousing the Berbers of Tangier . . ."

On New Year's Day of 1445, Cyriaco trumped the cock.  Despite the fact that the crew of his boat had celebrated long and deeply the night before, and were sprawled asleep on their benches, "long before the cock with his wakeful voice called for the warm day, I roused the captain and his crew by singing alleluia."

The mosaic is from Roman Tunisia.
The cockcrows are from Mani, by Patrick Leigh Fermor, pp, 123-124,
The mastic is from Cyriac of Ancona: The Later Travels by Edward Bodnar, pp. 213-215.