|Giorgione, Sleeping Venus, 1510|
In Italy, people started to get interested in Latin ancient philosophy since the 15th century and the intellectual aspect of the Renaissance illumination began. Before the beginning of the great immigration activity from the Byzantine, Catholic Italy was already familiar with Aristotle (especially thanks to Thomas Aquinas) though the number of texts in hand was limited, and somehow it had managed to integrate Aristotle with the Christian Catholic doctrine especially in ethics, but they had almost no Latin translation about Plato (so certainly about Socrates). The Byzantine immigrants brought not only the Greek ancient philosophy books that had been lost and forgotten by the Europeans for 6 centuries but also various ancient books from geography to history, from linguistics to theology, and far more importantly, they brought the greatest loss of Europe in the medieval age, which was the secular education. In the Byzantine Empire, higher education was not only carried out according to Orthodox doctrines but also with a secular content using the works of the ancient Greek philosophers, historians and poets. In Italy, where the Renaissance illumination had just begun, this evoked a great admiration. And they must have been astonished that; “this miserable, and due to their Orthodox identity half-heretic miserable neighbor of them, which had been defeated by the Ottomans” had delicately preserved the ancient Greek philosophy and secular education which the Europeans had lost because of the medieval age.
|Raphael, School of Athens, 1510 / Plato and Aristotle in the middle and Socrates in the left with the green dress|
The Italian poet and one of the first humanists, Petrarca, “re-discovered” Cicero’s letters in early 14th Century, shared these with the Italians of his time and initiated the intellectual illumination.
"Renaissance was above all things a revival of Cicero, and only after him and through him of the rest of Classical antiquity."
“The rest of Classical antiquity” as defined by the Polish historian Zielinski, was completed by the books brought by the Byzantine immigrants. After Cicero, reading Plato, who had had a great influence on Cicero, and realizing that education could be secular, boosted the illumination that had been initiated.
|George of Trabzon|
Manuel Chrysoloras: He was born in Constantinople in 1355. He was a statesman. He was sent to Venice in 1390 by the Emperor Manuel the 2nd Palaeologus to carry out lobbying work against the possible attacks of the Ottomans. In 1396, he started to give Greek language and literature courses in the University of Florence. He translated the works of Plato and Homer into Latin and shared these with the Italians of his time.
Theodorus Gaza: He was born in Salonika in 1400. He escaped to Italy in 1430, when Salonika was invaded by the Ottomans. He gave Greek language and literature courses in the University of Ferrera. He translated Aristotle’s works which were not available in Latin.
Basilios Besarion: He was born in Trabzon in 1389. He got education in Constantinople and in Morea Peninsula. He became the Nicaean Metropolitan Bishop. He participated in 1437 Ecumenical Council of Florence to represent the Byzantine Empire. He adopted Catholicism in time. He was assigned as a cardinal by the Pope Eugene the 4th and he moved to Italy in 1439. He translated the works of Plato, Aristotle and the historian, Xnephon.
Discussions on Platonist philosophy:
The re-emergence of Plato in Europe in the Medieval age especially owing to the translations of George from Trabzon and Manuel Chrysoloras brought about significant discussions. The definition of a citizen who was interested in and participated in political issues, as set forth by Cicero and Aristotle was replaced by a citizen who left politics to its “specialists” and who instead dealt with meditation by avoiding earthly issues. Plato had had a great influence on this. “Rule of educated scholars” as stated in Plato’s works were interpreted as the limited participation of a simple citizen, and attracted a great support in the humanistic environment of Renaissance. Nevertheless; there was a big obstacle before Plato’s popularity: The church and university, which were somehow able to adopt Aristotle’s ideas into Christian doctrine made it impossible to fit Plato’s ideas on reincarnation and spouse-sharing into Christian belief.
The discussion between the Aristotelians and Platonists grew more in time. There were two people just in the middle of this discussion: One of them was George of Trabzon, who was a great supporter of Aristotle, though who himself translated the works of Plato. He claimed that reading Plato had to be prohibited as it would cause religious perversion; and Cardinal Besarion, a great supporter of Plato, who was again born in Trabzon and who claimed that the Platonist philosophy wasn’t that much distant from the Catholic doctrine, indeed.
|Duccio, Calling of Apostle Petrus and Andreas / We see the Byzantine influence in art in this early Renaissance painting of Duccio. The faces of Jesus and apostles are just like the mosaics in Chora Church.|