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History of the Byzantine empire
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After the ruin of the Empire in 1204 and its division into a certain number of independent Latin and Greek dominions, the state of Nicaea became not only the center for the future political unification of the Hellenes, but also a hotbed of intense cultural life. As George of Cyprus states, in the second half of the thirteenth century, Nicaea was said “to be an ancient Athens in her abundance of scholars” and “a marvelous and greatly loved source of scholarship.” Perhaps it may not be amiss to recall that in the West in the Middle Ages Paris was called “a new Athens” and “a city of science.” However on his coming to Nicaea George of Cyprus was disappointed in his expectations of Nicaea as a city of scholarship. In one of his works Theodore Lascaris said that Corinth was famous for music, Thessaly for weaving, Philadelphia for shoe-making, and Nicaea for philosophy. All the Lascarids, except the last, the child John IV, were real admirers of learning and education and very well understood that spiritual culture was one of the foundations of a strong state. In spite of the great difficulties in the external and internal relations of his young empire, the first ruler of Nicaea, Theodore I, was interested in the problems of learning. He invited to his court many scholars, especially from the Greek regions occupied or menaced by the Franks. Such an invitation was received, for example, by the metropolitan of Athens, Michael Acominatus, who had fled before the Latin invasion to the island of Ceos, but he was unable to accept it because of his advanced age and poor health. However, Michael’s brother, Nicetas Acominatus, an historian, retired to Nicaea after the taking of Constantinople by the Franks. Enjoying leisure and tranquility at Theodore Lascaris’ court, he put into permanent shape his historical works and wrote his theological treatise A Treasury of Orthodoxy. Theodore’s successor, the famous John III Ducas Vatatzes, despite his vigorous and continued military and international activity, found time enough to satisfy the cultural needs of the Empire. In his cities he founded libraries, particularly of art and sciences, and he sometimes himself sent young men to school to stimulate education in his country. To his time belongs the most eminent representative of the cultural movement of the thirteenth century, Nicephorus Blemmydes, scholar, writer, and teacher. Among his disciples were the enlightened writer on the throne, Vatatzes’ successor, Theodore II Lascaris, and a very well known historian and statesman, George Acropolita. Like his father, Theodore was deeply interested in libraries; he collected books and distributed them to different libraries, and he even allowed the books to be taken out by the readers to their homes for reading.
As in the epoch of the Comneni, the educated people of the thirteenth century wrote, with very few exceptions, in the artificial school-Greek tongue. This had broken away from the spoken language, which was not admitted in literature. The Greek classical writers and the Church Fathers were the models under whose yoke the medieval educated Greeks in general, and the Greeks of the thirteenth century in particular, lived and thought.
The most eminent figure in the cultural life of the Nicene Empire was, undoubtedly, Nicephorus Blemmydes. Besides many works of various kinds, he left two interesting autobiographies published in 1896 by the German scholar, A. Heisenberg. These give a picture not only of the life of the author, but also of the events and men of his epoch.
Blemmydes was born in Constantinople at the very end of the twelfth century. After the taking of the capital by the Latins the boy Blemmydes and his parents emigrated to Asia Minor, in the dominions of Theodore I Lascaris. There he started his education in the elementary school. Passing from city to city, Blemmydes became gradually acquainted, through various teachers, with poetics, rhetoric, logic, philosophy, natural sciences, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, physics, and astronomy. Then he settled in a monastery and, for the first time, devoted himself entirely to the active study of the Scriptures and the works of the Fathers. In Vatatzes’ reign, Patriarch Germanus had a feeling of affection for Blemmydes, kept him at his court, and made him familiar with the broad interests of the Church. But Blemmydes had a tendency to solitary life, abandoned the court in spite of the persuasions of the patriarch, and retired to a monastery on the mountain of Latros, close to Miletus, in Caria, famous for its strict monastic rule, where he devoted himself to the spiritual life. On his return from the monastery, during the negotiations of Vatatzes and the patriarch with the papal legates concerning union, Blemmydes was a strict defender of the Orthodox doctrine; finally, he took refuge in the cowl and established himself in a monastery, where he occupied himself with his scientific works, founded a school, and became a teacher of philosophy. Among other young men entrusted to Blemmydes by the Emperor was the future historian and statesman George Acropolita. Vatatzes, attentive to the progress of learning and art in his Empire, sent Blemmydes on a scientific mission through Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, Mount Athos, and other places, to purchase valuable manuscripts of the Scriptures and other works, or, if purchase were impossible, to read them and make extracts and notes. This commission successfully fulfilled, enriched Blemmydes’ mind with new knowledge that greatly astonished his contemporaries. The Emperor confided to his care the education of his son and heir, Theodore Lascaris, who later became an enlightened ruler and writer. After having founded a monastery of his own, Blemmydes established himself there. He participated in the religious discussions of his epoch, came near being elected patriarch, devoted most of his time to his literary studies, survived the restoration of the Byzantine Empire by Michael Palaeologus, and peacefully passed away in his monastery about the year 1272. Blemmydes’ contemporaries unanimously pay to him the highest tributes.
Numerous and varied works of Blemmydes have been preserved. The two autobiographies of Blemmydes give much valuable information about both the life and personality of the author and the ecclesiastical history and the political and social conditions of his epoch; in fact, the second is one of the very important sources for the history of Byzantium in the thirteenth century. Blemmydes was the author of a very great number of theological writings in the field of dogmatics, polemics, asceticism, exegetics, liturgies, ecclesiastical poetry, sermons, and lives of the saints. His “version of some psalms,” designed for the church service, became later a prescribed part of vespers in the Greek church, appeared afterwards in the south Slavonic churches, and finally reached Russia. Blemmydes’ secular works are also of great interest. His political treatise The Imperial Statue (Βασιλικος ανδριας), dedicated to his pupil. Emperor Theodore II Lascaris, depicts an ideal ruler who is to serve as an example of various dignities and virtues; this emperor is a model of all good, and shines brighter than the celebrated Polycleitus; in his life Theodore must follow such a model. In the opinion of Blemmydes, the ruler is “the highest official ordained by God to care for the people subject to him and to lead them to the highest good.” The emperor as “the prop and stay of the people” should have in view the welfare of his subjects, should not give vent to anger, should avoid flatterers, and should care for the army and navy. During peace he must prepare for war, because strong weapons are the best protection; it is necessary for him to care for the internal organization of the state, for religion, and for justice. “May the emperor,” Blemmydes said at the end of the treatise, “accept favorably this word of mine, and may he listen to better advice from wiser men which he will collect and keep carefully in the depth of his soul.” The starting point of all the speculations of the author on the ideal ruler is this statement: “First of all, the emperor must control himself, and then govern all his people.” The exact sources which Blemmydes used for his treatise are not known.
The opinions of scholars vary as to the significance of this treatise. “This work of Blemmydes,” a special writer on his life and works said, “has a particular value and significance, chiefly because it perfectly answered the needs and requirements of the Greek people of that time.” They had lost Constantinople, found refuge at Nicaea, and they dreamt, through an experienced, strong, energetic, and enlightened monarch, of driving out the foreigners from the shores of the Bosphorus and returning to their fatherland. Such an ideal monarch was portrayed by Blemmydes.
In contradiction to this opinion, another scholar, Th. Uspensky, wrote of the same work: “Blemmydes has no idea of contemporary requirements; he lives in the realm of fairy tales, beyond the limits of reality; he has no realization of contemporary life and the needs of the epoch. Blemmydes’ abstract king is wise but lacking in human passions and emotions. He is placed in a setting entirety isolated from life and everyday relations, and therefore his advice and suggestions cannot correspond to real requirements… The misfortune of the medieval Greek was that he was weakened by classical reminiscences; he had no creative force, and real life was veiled from him by books. We imagine Blemmydes to be such a man from his political treatise.”
Of course, classical traditions and religious emotions influenced Blemmydes a great deal. Still, in the course of his life, he was several times closely connected with the interests of the Empire and its Emperor, so that, perhaps, he was not always “a dweller in another world, entirely strange to the interests of the sinful earth.” Under the rhetorical disguise of his treatise one may distinguish some realistic traits which resemble the personality of Theodore II. It is very probable that when Blemmydes was writing his “imperial statue” the real image of Theodore II was hovering before his eyes, though the real traits in his ideal ruler are overshadowed by his rhetoric and classical erudition.
Of the philosophical writings of Blemmydes based mainly on Aristotle, the best known are Abridged Physics and Abridged Logic, especially the latter. After the author’s death, his Logic became known all over the Empire and, little by little, became the basis for teaching and the favorite textbook of philosophy not only in the East, but also in western Europe. The editor of Blemmydes’ autobiographies, A. Heisenberg, remarked that these two works “have really created an immortal name for the author.”
Blemmydes’ Logic and Physics are also important both from the point of view of understanding the philosophical movements in Byzantium of the thirteenth century, and from the point of view of elucidating the dark problem of the influence of Byzantium on the development of western European thought. There is also a correspondence of Blemmydes with Theodore II Las-caris, which gives much information on the history and culture of the time. Two small geographical writings in the form of textbooks, A History of the Earth and A General Geography, as well as some poems of secular character, complete the rich and various literary inheritance left by Blemmydes to subsequent generations. Though it is true that he failed to open up new ways in his works and thoughts, Nicephorus Blemmydes was a brilliant figure in the complicated epoch of the Empire of Nicaea and justly occupies one of the most prominent places in the history of Byzantine culture.
Among the pupils of Blemmydes two became particularly distinguished: George Acropolita and Emperor Theodore II Lascaris. Born at Constantinople, George Acropolita had gone in his youth to Nicaea, during the reign of John Vatatzes. Together with Theodore Lascaris, he had received a good education under Nicephorus Blemmydes. He later even became a teacher of Theodore himself. He reached the highest offices but failed in his military career. Then he accompanied Michael Palaeologus to Constantinople, devoted himself to diplomacy and, by the order of the Emperor, conducted the negotiations at the Council of Lyons in 1274, where he succeeded in accomplishing the union with the western church, against which he had formerly struggled. Acropolita died at the beginning of the ninth decade of the thirteenth century.
The main literary work of Acropolita is the history narrating the events from the capture of Constantinople by the crusaders to the restoration of the Byzantine Empire (1203-1261), which is very important as a source. This work may be called a special history of the epoch of the Nicene Empire and serves as a continuation of the work of Nicetas Choniates. As a contemporary of the events described, who in his official position had taken part in them, Acropolita gave a reasonable and reliable narration of the events of his epoch in clear language. Among the short writings of Acropolita, is the sensitive and beautiful funeral oration on John Vatatzes.
With the name of Blemmydes is also closely connected the name of Emperor Theodore II Lascaris. George Acropolita was the official teacher of Theodore, but Blemmydes had a very strong influence upon the future Emperor, who in his letters called him his teacher and who felt profound reverence for him. Both Blemmydes and Acropolita succeeded in instilling into the soul of their young pupil, during the lifetime of his father John Vatatzes, a real love for knowledge. The correspondence of Theodore published at the end of the last century by the Italian scholar, Festa, affords a new and fresh source of information on this interesting personality. Theodore studied the Greek writers, both ecclesiastical and secular, became acquainted with different sciences, and devoted his chief attention to philosophy, particularly Aristotle.
Trained in the ideas of Hellenism and classical literature, he beautifully described, in one of his letters, the profound impression produced upon him by the contemplation of the ancient monuments and ruins of Pergamum. This letter, as far as content and style are concerned, might have been written by an Italian humanist.
Favoring education, he was, like his father, interested in school matters. In one of his letters concerning the pupils who had finished school and been sent to the Emperor for examination, Theodore wrote: “Nothing else rejoices so much the soul of the gardener as to see his meadow in full blossom; if, from the beautiful and flourishing view, he may judge of the bloom of plants, he may, upon the same basis, conjecture that in proper time he will enjoy the fruits of charm and beauty… Although I was terribly oppressed with a great want of leisure on account of my duties as commander, while my mind was distracted by revolts, battles, oppositions, resistance, cunning, changes, menaces … nevertheless I have never withdrawn my chief thought from the beauty of the spiritual meadow.”
A circle of educated, literary, and scholarly men gathered around Theodore II, who himself was deeply interested in science, art, music, poetry, and the like. He opened many schools, and in one of his letters, he discusses the problem of school organization, programs, and purposes.
Theodore Lascaris wrote several treatises on philosophic and religious subjects, and some panegyrics, and left the large collection of letters mentioned above (over two hundred) addressed to various prominent people of his epoch, especially to his tutors, Nicephorus Blemmydes and George Acropolita. In Theodore’s writings may be also pointed out his vast knowledge of the natural and mathematical sciences. A more attentive and detailed study of the literary inheritance of Theodore Lascaris, published as well as unpublished, would undoubtedly provide the basis for appreciating the personality of the author — “a sort of Oriental parallel to his great contemporary Frederick II” — as well as for a more profound understanding of the cultural interests of the Christian East in the thirteenth century.
To the second half of the twelfth century and to the first period of the Empires of Nicaea and Constantinople belongs the activity of the two enlightened brothers, John and Nicholas Mesaritai, whose very existence came to light only at the beginning of the twentieth century, owing to A. Heisenberg. For this reason, these two names were not mentioned in Krumbacher’s famous History of Byzantine Literature. The funeral oration delivered by Nicholas Mesarites on the death of his elder brother shows that John had a careful education, held some office under the last two Comneni, and later, under the Angeli, became a professor of the exegesis of the Psalmbook. He wrote a commentary on the Psalms, the authoritative copy of which perished at the capture and sack of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204. John took an active part in the disputes with the papal representatives at Constantinople in the first years of the Latin Empire, and held firmly to the Orthodox standpoint. He died in 1207.
His younger brother, Nicholas, who also held some office about court under the Angeli and agreed with his brother concerning the papal pretensions, went to Nicaea after his brother’s death, where he was kindly received by the patriarch and afterwards made bishop of Ephesus. Later he took a leading part in the negotiations for a religious understanding between Nicaea and Rome, about which he left a detailed narrative. Some of the works of Nicholas, though far from all, have been published.
Particularly interesting is the description by Nicholas Mesarites of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople with its beautiful mosaics. This church, hardly inferior to St. Sophia in luxury and beauty, was the burial place of the Byzantine emperors and the prototype of St. Mark’s at Venice, St. John at Ephesus, and St. Front at Périgueux in France. The Church of the Holy Apostles is known to have been destroyed by the Turks in 1453, and on its site the mosque of Muhammed II the Conqueror was constructed. Because of the loss of the important monument itself, the description of Nicholas based upon his personal observation has particular significance. A. Heisenberg, the first to acquaint the scholarly world with Nicholas Mesarites, said that his writings can, to a certain extent, throw new light upon the origin of the Empire of Nicaea and are an important source of information for the period. “Whoever has the courage to prepare an edition of Mesarites’ works will render a great service; this task is not easy, but exceedingly valuable, and merits thanks.”
One cannot ascribe eminent talents to the brothers Mesaritai, but they belong to those educated and book-loving men who, some in the quiet of monasteries, some at the court of Nicaea, promoted cultural work in the thirteenth century and prepared the way for the spiritual and political regeneration of the state which brought about the Byzantine Empire’s restoration in 1261.
The Byzantine chronicle of that period is represented by only one writer, Joel, who wrote, probably in the thirteenth century, a brief universal chronicle having no historical or literary value. It covered the period from Adam to the capture of Constantinople by the Latins in 1204.
All of these works were written in the conventional classic, literary, and artificial tongue that had entirely broken away from the popular spoken language. But there are some examples in the literature of the thirteenth century of the use of the spoken language and popular poetical meters which give interesting specimens of the new currents in literature.
Composed in popular (political) verses on the occasion of the marriage of John Vatatzes to the daughter of Frederick II, the epithalamium (nuptial poem) of Nicholas Irenikos (Eirenikos), was written in the style of the court ceremonial, closely related to the style of the epithalamia of Theodore Prodromus. Nicholas Irenikos’ poem gives new information on the splendid ceremonies of the Byzantine court, and therein lies its historical and cultural value. Krumbacher’s opinion that this poem resembles the nuptial songs of modern Greek poetry and that the author drew his inspiration directly from the popular poetry of that time, cannot be maintained.
To the epoch of the crusades, especially after the Fourth Crusade, when on the territory of the eastern Empire there were established a number of Latin feudal dominions, belong several poetical works written in the spoken language and presenting a sort of romance which, in a fantastic setting, describes mainly love and chivalrous adventures. One piece of work in the field of Byzantine epic poetry previous to the crusades, namely, the poem of Digenes Akrites, is particularly well known.
The epoch of the crusades created in Byzantium a more complex literary setting. The Frankish conquerors who brought into the East the definitely established institutions of western feudalism, of course made their new subjects acquainted with their western chivalrous literature of the twelfth century, with the Provençal romans d’aventures and other works which became widespread at the Latin courts in Greek lands. The medieval French romance which had proved its cosmopolitan character by the fact that it was adopted in Germany, Italy, and England, could certainly take root also in Greece, where the conditions at the beginning of the thirteenth century seemed to be particularly favorable for it. The question has therefore been raised whether the Byzantine romance in verse of the time was a mere imitation of western models, or whether the Byzantine romans d’aventures were original works created by Byzantine conditions of life, analogous to western conditions, only partly influenced by western literature. Bury suggested that perhaps “their acquaintance with Western romances move the Greeks to produce works impregnated with Western ideas in the same way as the Odes of Horace or the Eclogues and Aeneid of Virgil are charged with the influence of their Hellenic masters.” Various opinions of scholars on this problem are based upon the study of literary sources, often anonymous and not to be exactly dated, for style, meter, and literary and historical content.
An anonymous romance in verse, Belthandros and Chrysantza, the original version of which is to be dated, probably, in the thirteenth century, is an example of the Byzantine romance. The text bears some traces of a later remodeling and may belong to the fifteenth century.
The plot of the romance is as follows: A certain emperor Rodophilos has two sons, Philarmos and Belthandros. Belthandros, the younger son, distinguished for beauty and courage, cannot bear the persecutions of his father and leaves his country to seek his fortune abroad. Passing by the land bordering on Turkey and entering Armenia (that is to say, lesser Armenia, Cilicia), he reaches Tarsus; near the city he comes to a small stream in the water of which a star is shining. The star leads Belthandros to a magnificent castle full of various miracles, named in the romance a Castle of Love (Ερωτοκαστρον). There, from the inscriptions on two statues, he learns of the predestined love between him and Chrysantza, “a daughter of the great king of great Antioch.” Deciding to see all “the bitter and sweet beauties of the Castle of Love,” Belthandros, on the invitation of the Lord of the castle, “the king of love who had on his head an imperial crown and held in his hand a huge scepter and a gold arrow,” approaches his throne. On learning the story of Belthandros’ life, the king directs him to select, of forty girls, the most beautiful and to give her a rod “of twisted iron, gold, and topaz.” Then, in the romance the interesting scene of the competition of beauty is described which resembles the judgment of Paris and reflects the well-known Byzantine custom of the choice of the worthiest bride for the basileus. When Belthandros gives the rod to the most beautiful girl, all that surrounds him, the king himself and the forty girls, suddenly disappear “like a dream.” Leaving the castle, Belthandros, after five days’ journey, comes to the outskirts of Antioch, where he meets the king of the city out hunting with his falcons and his court. The master of Antioch offers him a post at his court. Suddenly, in the daughter of the king, Chrysantza, Belthandros recognizes the girl to whom in the Castle of Love he handed the rod. The young couple are inflamed with love for each other and, in spite of all the strictness of women’s life in the Orient, a love meeting takes place at night in the royal garden. But the meeting ends badly for Belthandros: at dawn the guard discovers the couple, seizes Belthandros, and throws him into prison. Chrysantza persuades her faithful maidservant to say that Belthandros came to the garden to meet her. When Chrysantza’s father hears this he pardons Belthandros and, with the secret consent of Chrysantza, a fictitious marriage between Belthandros and the maidservant is performed. The clandestine meetings between Belthandros and Chrysantza continue. Ten months later the lovers, the maid, and some faithful servants flee from Antioch; while crossing a raging river the maid and the servants perish. The lovers, barely escaping death, reach the seacoast, where they find a Greek vessel sent by Belthandros’ father, Rodophilos, in search of his younger son; the beloved elder son has died. Recognizing the son of their emperor, the sailors immediately take Belthandros and Chrysantza on board the ship and bring them speedily to the capital, where Rodophilos, who has despaired of seeing his son again, welcomes them with great joy. The romance ends with a description of the solemn wedding of Belthandros and Chrysantza, at which the bishop performs the ceremony and puts the imperial crown upon the head of Belthandros.
The judgment of scholars on this anonymous romance gives an indication, of their general opinion of the Byzantine romance of the epoch of the crusades. One group of scholars thinks that a French romance of chivalry, still unknown or lost, served as a basis for the romance Belthandros and Chrysantza; in the Castle of Love, the Greek Erotocastron, they see the Chateau d’amour of Provençal poetry; in the proper names of Rodophilos and Belthandros they recognize the popular Hellenized western names of Rodolph and Bertrand; it has even been thought that the whole romance of Belthandros and Chrysantza is nothing but a Greek version of the French tale of a well-known French knight of the fourteenth century, Bertrand du Guesclin, who lived during The Hundred Years’ War. Krumbacher, who was inclined to refer to western European sources all that is found in medieval Greek popular poetry on the Castle of Love, Eros, and so on, wrote that the romance of Belthandros and Chrysantza was certainly written by a Greek, but in a land which had been familiar for a long time with Frankish culture; but the chief problem, whether the kernel of the plot is of Frankish or of Greco-Eastern origin, will remain unsolved till the real prototype of this romance is found. Finally, Bury said that the romance of Belthandros and Chrysantza is Greek from the beginning to the end in its construction, descriptions, and ideas; it has nothing that ought to be referred to western influence. A parallel literary development existed in both Frankish and Greek lands. Just as the French romances of the twelfth century were preceded by a great deal of epic poetry, so the Greek romances of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had also as their background an epic basis. In both cases the working out of romantic motives was affected by the influences flowing directly or indirectly from the Hellenistic world: in France, through Latin literature, particularly Ovid; in Greece by means of the literary tradition which was never dead there… The Greeks already possessed, owing to their own experiences, all the ideas, material, and setting for the romances of chivalry, when the western knights were establishing themselves in the East. Therefore the French literature of the twelfth century could exercise no such strong influence on Byzantium as it exercised, for example, on Germany. The romantic literature of the West did not appear as a new revelation to people who in their own literature had motives, ideals, and elements of phantasy similar to those of the West. Of course, some influence from French literature in the epoch of the crusades, through the contact and intermingling of the two cultures in the Christian West, is not to be denied. But, generally speaking, French and Byzantine romances have one common Hellenistic basis, and they developed along parallel lines, independent of each other. As Diehl said, the background of the romance of Belthandros and Chrysantza remains purely Byzantine, and Greek civilization seems to have given the Frankish barons who came as conquerors much more than it received from them. Another “love story” composed in political verses, the story of Callimachos and Chrysorroë, may also be referred to the thirteenth century.
Light has recently been thrown on some eminent personalities of the thirteenth century in the west of the Balkan peninsula connected with the history of the Despotat of Epirus, the second Hellenic center organized on the ruins of the Byzantine Empire. Among the prominent men of this region were: John Apocaucus, metropolitan of Naupactus (the city of Naupactus, in Italian Lepanto, at the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth or Lepanto); George Bardanes, metropolitan of Corcyra (the island of Corcyra, Italian Corfù); and Demetrius Chomatenos (Chomatianos), archbishop of Ochrida (the city of Ochrida or Achrida in western Macedonia, which in the first half of the thirteenth century belonged to the Despotat of Epirus).
In 1897 Krumbacher could only mention John of Naupactus as a polemist against the Latins and as the supposed author of the letters preserved in one of the manuscripts of Oxford which at that time had not been published. But the publication of the correspondence of John, from a manuscript in St. Petersburg, by V. G. Vasilievsky, and the later publication of a portion of John’s writings by the French scholar Pétridès, on the basis of the Oxford manuscript, enables students to become acquainted with the interesting personality of this writer. The publication of all the manuscripts referring to John of Naupactus is far from complete.
John Apocaucus, metropolitan of Naupactus, who lived until the thirties of the thirteenth century, received an excellent classical and theological education. He spent some time in Constantinople, perhaps, in his youth, and then as metropolitan of Naupactus, took an active part in the political, public, and ecclesiastical life of the Despotat of Epirus. John appears as a leader of the patriotic portion of the Orthodox Greek clergy, both in independent Epirus and in the regions temporarily conquered, also, perhaps, as a political leader, and finally as the supporter of the Despots in their conflicts with the highest ecclesiastical authority, the patriarch, who was backed by the rival Emperor of Nicaea. E. A. Chernousov wrote: John was “not a gloomy monk confined in, his cell, interested only in ecclesiastical affairs, far from the world and men. On the contrary, in his conception and character, in disclosing his own ‘Ego,’ in the methods of his literary activity, may be noticed the features which, to a certain extent, relate him to the later Italian humanists.” In the works of John Apocaucus are evident his love and taste for writing, which has produced his vast correspondence, his love and feeling for nature and, finally, his attitude toward ancient literature, the authority of which, in the persons of the most celebrated writers of antiquity, Homer, Aristophanes, Euripides, Thucydides, Aristotle, and others, he estimated very highly, and which, along with the Bible, gave him a rich mine for parallels and analogies. At present there are in print more than forty of his writings — letters, various canonical works, and epigrams. Among his correspondents were Theodore Comnenus, despot of Epirus, and the famous metropolitan of Athens, Michael Acominatus. As not all the writings of John Apocaucus have been published, a more complete and definite judgment on him as a writer and statesman belongs to the future.
About the second eminent personality of the epoch of the Despotat of Epirus, George Bardanes, metropolitan of Corcyra, there existed for a long time an important misunderstanding. At the end of the sixteenth century, the author of the Ecclesiastical Annals, Cardinal Baronius, placed him in the twelfth century on the basis of George’s letters to Emperors Frederick and Manual Ducas. Cardinal Baronius thought these letters were addressed to Frederick I Barbarossa and Manuel I Comnenus. Later scholars, realizing that several polemic pieces given under the name of George could not be associated in subject matter with the events of the twelfth century, came to the conclusion that there were two Georges of Corcyra, one who lived in the twelfth century, the other in the thirteenth. This erroneous opinion was accepted in the History of Byzantine Literature by Krumbacher, published in 1897. But in 1885 this problem was definitely solved by V. G. Vasilievsky, who proved irrefutably that there was only one George, metropolitan of Corcyra; that he lived in the thirteenth century; and that the two emperors to whom he wrote were Frederick II and Manuel, Despot of Thessalonica, brother of the Emperor of Thessalonica, Theodore Ducas Angelus, who had been captured by the Bulgars. Thus George Bardanes belongs to the thirteenth century.
George was born, probably, at Athens, and was first a pupil and later a friend and correspondent of Michael Acominatus, whose letters give much information about his life. George spent some time at the imperial court of Nicaea, and then returned to the West, where he was ordained bishop of Corcyra by John of Naupactus. The Despot of Epirus, Theodore Angelus, was favorably disposed towards him. George’s interesting letters have reached us, and Michael Acominatus on reading them felt the elegance of their style and clearness of their exposition; this, however, did not prevent Michael Acominatus, in his letters, from teaching George and correcting various failures of his style. Besides the letters, George was the author of polemic pieces against the Latins and several iambic poems.
The famous Greek hierarch and canonist of the first half of the thirteenth century, the archbishop of Ochrida (Achrida), ordained by John of Naupactus, Demetrius Chomatenus (Chomatianos), who crowned Theodore of Epirus Emperor of Thessalonica, has left more than 150 writings, letters in which various juridical and ecclesiastical questions were discussed, various canonical messages and replies, judicial decisions, the acts of councils, and so on. These writings are of very great importance for the history of Byzantine law in general and canonic law in particular, and give an interesting source of information on the history of the church, the customs and manners, and the international relations of the first half of the thirteenth century in Epirus, Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and the Latin states.
John Apocaucus, metropolitan of Naupactus, George Bardanes, metropolitan of Corcyra, and Demetrius Chomatenus, archbishop of Ochrida, are the most prominent representatives of the cultural movement in the Despotat of Epirus and in the short-lived Empire of Thessalonica.
As far as Byzantine art was concerned, the new Frankish principalities established on the territory of the Byzantine Empire induced many artists from Constantinople and Thessalonica (Salonika) to seek new fields in the now powerful Serbian kingdom, or to join the artists already settled in Venice; “there was a diaspora [dispersion] of the painters. These missionaries of Byzantine art gave direction to the Slav schools, the full achievement of which at a rather later time we are now only beginning to understand.” But artistic traditions did not die out, and the artistic renaissance under the Palaeologi was, to a certain extent, due to these traditions and achievements of an earlier time which were preserved in the thirteenth century.
The literary movement of the epoch of the Nicene Empire has great importance for the general history of Byzantine culture. The center which had been created at the court of the Emperors of Nicaea became a nursery of culture, which, amid political division, violent international struggle, and internal troubles, saved, protected, and continued the achievements of the first Hellenic renaissance under the Comneni in order to make possible later the appearance of the second cultural Hellenic renaissance under the Palaeologi. Nicaea serves as a bridge from the first renaissance to the second.
The cultural center formed in the thirteenth century in the western part of the Balkan peninsula, in the territory of Epirus, was the link which related the Christian East to western Europe, and to Italy in particular, in the cultural movement of the time. The rise of the culture of Italy in the thirteenth century at the time of Frederick II Hohenstaufen, this “prologue of the Renaissance,” although it has not yet been thoroughly studied, has been and is being generally emphasized, discussed, and acknowledged. But the rise of the culture of Nicaea during the same century, and especially the movement in neglected Epirus, have not been taken into consideration. As a matter of fact, these three movements, in Italy, Nicaea, and Epirus, developed more or less actively along parallel lines, and perhaps with some reciprocal influences. Even a phenomenon so modest at first sight as the cultural rise of Epirus in the thirteenth century must lose its exclusively local significance and take its place in the history of general European culture of the thirteenth century.