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History of the Byzantine empire
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In political and economic respects the Empire under the Palaeologi was living through critical times, receding step by step before the Ottoman Turks, gradually reduced in territory until it was confined to Constantinople with its surroundings, and Morea. Apparently there would be neither place nor time nor suitable conditions for cultural development. In reality, however, the perishing Empire of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, especially the city of Constantinople, was a center of ardent culture, both intellectual and artistic. The schools of Constantinople flourished as they had in her most brilliant past, and students came not only from the far-off Greek regions, like Sparta or Trebizond, but even from Italy, at that time in the height of the Renaissance. Philosophers, headed by Gemistus Plethon, explained Aristotle and Plato. Rhetoricians and philologists, who had studied the best specimens of classical antiquity and endeavored to equal them in their style, attracted enthusiastic groups of auditors and disciples and in their activity and interests presented a striking analogy to the Italian humanists. A great number of historians described the last days of the Empire. An active ecclesiastical life marked by the Hesychast movement and the problem of the union with the Roman church left its trace in literature, dogmatic, ascetic, mystic, and polemic. A revival may also be noted in poetry. Finally, this literary renaissance was followed by an artistic renaissance which has left monuments of great value. Besides Constantinople, Mistra-Sparta was also remarkable for a vivid intellectual movement. The fourteenth century was the golden age of Thessalonica (Salonica) in art and letters.
In a word, at the time of its political and economic decay, Hellenism seemed to gather all its strength to show the viability of classical culture and to give grounds for hope for the future Hellenic renaissance of the nineteenth century. One historian said, “on the eve of her definite ruin, all Hellas was reassembling her intellectual energy to throw a last splendid glow.”
Many members of the imperial families, Palaeologus and Cantacuzene, were distinguished for their learning. Michael VIII was the author of some essays in favor of union and some canons dedicated to important martyrs; he has also left his interesting autobiography, the manuscript of which was found at the Synodal Library of Moscow, and he founded a grammar school at Constantinople. Andronicus the Elder admired letters and art and was a patron of scholars and artists. Some scholars assume that his protection developed the artistic atmosphere which produced such remarkable monuments of art as the mosaics of the monastery Chora (present-day mosque Qahriye-Jami) at Constantinople. Manuel II was particularly renowned for his education and literary talent. A fine theologian, an authority in the classics, a skillful dialectian, and an excellent stylist, he left many writings: a treatise on the Procession of the Holy Ghost, an attack against Islam, a number of orations on various subjects, the “Description of spring on a regal woven curtain,” in a rather jocose style, and, finally, a large collection of important letters to many prominent men of his epoch, written either during his forced stay at the Turkish court or on his journey through western Europe. Altogether there exist about 109 essays and letters from the pen of Manuel.
But from the point of view of literary activity, the first place among the emperors must be attributed to John VI Cantacuzene, who after his forced abdication ended his days as a monk under the name of Ioasaph and devoted the time of his solitude to scientific work and literature. His chief literary work is the Histories, in four books, or, perhaps, Memoirs, which covers the period from 1320 to 1356 and makes some references to later periods. The author announced in the introduction that he would write nothing but the truth, but he deviated, perhaps unconsciously, from his intention, in dealing with the events in which he took part. He endeavored to free himself from blame and to praise himself and his friends and partisans; at the same time he tried to abase, ridicule, and blacken his adversaries. Cantacuzene was the only Byzantine Emperor, to write detailed memoirs and, in spite of his prejudiced statements, they constitute a rich mine of very important information on the troubled history of the fourteenth century in the Balkan peninsula, and on the Slavs and the geography of the Balkan regions in particular. Cantacuzene also wrote some theological essays of which the greater part are not yet published. Examples of these are the polemic essays against Barlaam, the Jews, and the Muhammedans. John Cantacuzene transmitted his literary interests to his son Matthew who, after his father’s fall, was also forced to take refuge in the cowl. He wrote some theological and rhetorical treatises.
The epoch of the Palaeologi produced a group of important and gifted historians who endeavored to describe and to explain the tragic events of the time. The historian Pachymeres (1242-1310), who, after the expulsion of the Latins, had come from Nicaea to Constantinople, was a very well-educated man. Owing to his high official position, Pachymeres could supplement his own observation by reliable official documents. He was an earnest spokesman for national Greek spirit and therefore opposed to the idea of union. Besides some rhetorical and philosophical essays, his autobiography written in hexameter, and some letters, he was the author of a very important, historical work which embraces the period from 1261 to the beginning of the fourteenth century (1307-1308). This is the chief source for the reign of Michael VIII and for a part of the rule of Andronicus the Elder. Pachymeres was the first Byzantine historian whose main interest lay in the subtle and complicated dogmatic disputes of the time. “It seems,” Krumbacher wrote, “as if those men, turning with horror from the distressing events of the political life of the Empire, sought for consolation and relief in abstract investigation of the religious dogmatic problems which were then agitating all minds.” One of the most interesting portions of Pachymeres’ history is his narration of Roger de Flor’s Catalan expedition, which is important in comparison with the account of the Catalan chronicler Muntaner. Pachymeres’ writing, where Homeric phrases are intermingled with theological declamation and foreign and popular expressions, is permeated with pedantic imitation of antique style; with an evident loss of clearness, Pachymeres even used the little known Attic names for the months instead of the common Christian names. Some of Pachymeres’ writings are not yet published, and even his chief historical work needs a new critical edition.
In the beginning of the fourteenth century, Nicephorus Kallistus Xanthopulos compiled his Ecclesiastical History. His original plan may have been to bring the History up to his own time, but he stopped at the year 911. Only the part of his work which covers the time from the birth of Christ to the beginning of the seventh century exists today in full. He also wrote church poems, epigrams, and some other writings.
In the fourteenth century also lived one of the greatest scholars and writers of the two last centuries of Byzantium, Nicephorus Gregoras, who participated in the Hesychast quarrel. In variety and extent of knowledge, in skill in dialectic, and in strength of character he was superior to almost all the eminent men in Byzantium of the Palaeologian epoch and may be freely compared with the best representatives of the western Renaissance. He received an excellent education, was familiar with classic literature, and was so enthusiastic about astronomy that he even proposed to the Emperor a calendar reform. Gregoras, after several years of successful teaching, took an active part in the stormy theological quarrels of the epoch and wrote many works, of which a considerable part are not yet published. He began as a violent opponent of the Calabrian monk Barlaam, but gradually came over to the side of union; for this he was severely persecuted by the authorities and even confined in prison. Gregoras ended his stormy life, in all probability, about 1360. He wrote in almost all fields of Byzantine scholarship — theology, philosophy, astronomy, history, rhetoric, and grammar. The most important is his large Roman history in thirty-seven books, covering the period from 1204 to 1359, the epoch of the Nicene and Latin Empires and the time of the first four Palaeologi and John Cantacuzene. The events previous to 1204 are sketched briefly, and the detailed account, especially of the dogmatic quarrel of his epoch, begins with this year. Gregoras could not help giving full details of the religious disputes in which he was one of the leading participants; therefore his history clearly reflects his sympathies and is not free from prejudice. Perhaps it is better classed as a sort of memoir than as a history. It may be called “a subjectively painted picture of an imposing ecclesiastical process of fermentation.” Scholars vary in their estimation of Gregoras’ importance. Krumbacher called him “the greatest polyhistor of the last two centuries of Byzantium;” Montelatici described him as “the greatest scholar of his time.” The most recent biographer of Gregoras, Guilland, disagreed with Krumbacher. He wrote: “Is Gregoras the greatest polyhistor of the time of the Palaeologi, as Krumbacher likes to call him? No. He is one of the most eminent writers of Byzantium in the fourteenth century, but he is not the greatest … Gregoras is not the greatest, but one of the greatest writers of the century, which is still too little known though very important in the history of Byzantine civilization and even of European civilization.” In any event, the universality of Gregoras’ knowledge is amazing, and it is difficult to find in Byzantium an adequate parallel to this brilliant representative of the Byzantine renaissance.
The important political events of the fifteenth century left considerable trace in the historical literature of the time. John Cananus wrote a special essay on the unsuccessful siege of Constantinople by the Turks in 1422. Cananus, who wrote in language very close to the spoken tongue, attributed the rescue of the capital to the miraculous intercession of the Holy Virgin. Perhaps John Cananus was also the author of a very brief account usually ascribed to Cananus Lascaris, on his voyage to Germany, Sweden, Norway, Livonia, and even to the far-off island of Iceland.
John Anagnostes is the author of a trustworthy account of the capture of Thessalonica by the Turks in 1430. Unlike Cananus, Anagnostes followed strictly the rules of literary art and was very anxious to maintain the purity of his Greek.
Finally, the historians of the fatal event of 1453, which so deeply and painfully struck its contemporaries, are represented by four men whose works differ in point of view and value. They have already been discussed. But these four — George Phrantzes, Ducas, Laonikos Chalcocondyles (or Chalcocandyles), and Critobulus — are sources not only for the fall of Constantinople but also for the Palaeologian epoch in general.
The Chronicle of Phrantzes has been preserved in two forms, one abridged, the other more detailed. The briefer, which is often called minus, deals with the years 1413-78 only, whereas the longer (maius), or Phrantzes’ History, covers the time from 1258 to 1478; it begins with the last years of the Empire of Nicaea and ends in the time of the Turkish sway at Constantinople. He was within the capital during the siege, so that his detailed account is that of an eyewitness. After the fall of Constantinople he was captured by the Turks. Later he was ransomed and escaped for a time to Mistra, which the Turks had not then taken. Before they conquered the Peloponnesus, Phrantzes fled to the island of Corfù, which at that time belonged to Venice. There in a monastery where he took holy orders under the name of Gregorius, he wrote his history at the request of some noble Corfiotes. Wholly indebted for his official career to the Palaeologi, with whom his relations were close, Phrantzes was their special historian and he often exaggerated their merits and suppressed their defects. Hatred of the Turks, faithfulness and devotion to Orthodoxy, and loyalty to the Palaeologi are the distinctive traits of Phrantzes’ work. In spite of his prejudices, his work, written by an eyewitness close to the events, is of great importance, especially from the reign of John VIII on. Phrantzes’ style is simple and easy; it contains a number of Turkish and a few Italian words. A biographer of Phrantzes remarked: “Essentially a man of affairs — and this constitutes the value of his history — he yet, like most Byzantine historians, had a good knowledge of literature.” “A man of affairs” means that Phrantzes was closely connected with the state and personal affairs of Constantine XI and the real situation of the empire.
Ducas (Doukas), a Greek of Asia Minor, wrote “in slightly polished spoken Greek” a history from 1341 to 1462, i.e., from the accession of John V to the conquest of the island of Lesbos by the Turks. In the opening pages of his work he gave a brief chronological introduction beginning with Adam; the reigns of the last three Palaeologi are treated in great detail. Inwardly Orthodox, he accepted the compromise with Rome as the only way to save the perishing Empire. Ducas spent almost all his life in the service of a Genoese ruler of Lesbos, but he did not break with the Greek people. He looked with deep sorrow upon their fatal destiny, and his account of the fall of Constantinople ends with the “lament,” from which a fragment already has been quoted. Ducas’ history has been preserved not only in its original Greek text, but also in an old Italian version, which in some places supplements passages lacking in the original Greek. One of Ducas’ biographers said: “Sober, modest, well-educated, truthful, and, in spite of all his patriotism, comparatively impartial, Ducas serves as an excellent guide for understanding the real situation of persons and events.” A more recent biographer of Ducas remarked: “Ducas is an author worthy of study; for he was truthful and in several instances an eyewitness — qualities which, in the opinion of historians, far outweigh the barbarism of his style, which so much offended his supercilious editor in the defective Bonn edition.”
Laonikos Chalcocondyles (or Chalcocandyles), or in its abbreviated form, Chalcondyles, Athenian by origin, centered his work, not in Constantinople or at the court of the Palaeologi, but in the young and vigorous Ottoman Empire. He wrote a History in ten books, from 1298 to 1463 or, to be more exact, early in 1464; he related not the history of the Palaeologian dynasty but the history of the Ottomans and their rulers. Laonikos was forced to flee from Athens, spent the time up to the Turkish conquest in the Peloponnesus, and then went to Italy, or more probably to Crete, where he composed his work. Following Herodotus and Thucydides, Laonikos was a good example of how a Greek could study the ancient language in the letter, without being able to grasp the spirit. Like Thucydides, he put speeches into the mouths of his characters, which were, of course, works of pure imagination. A good deal of information, often not very exact, is given by Laonikos on the peoples and countries of western Europe. His recent biographer declared, “With, an impartiality rare in a part of the world where racial hatred burns so fiercely, he describes the origin, organization, and triumph of his nation’s great enemy, while he extends his narrative beyond the borders of the Greek Empire, to the Serbs, the Bosniaks, the Bulgarians and the Roumanians, with interesting and curious digressions, quite in the style of Herodotus, about the manners and customs of countries beyond southeastern Europe — Hungary, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and England. This great variety justifies the remark of a critic, that ‘he has the gift of arousing our attention, by inspiring us with curiosity, and of not letting us fall asleep over his book.’”
Finally, Critobulus, unsuccessfully imitating Thucydides, composed a eulogistic history of Muhammed II, in the years from 1451 to 1467.
The epoch of the Palaeologi, represented by a number of historians, produced almost no chroniclers. In the fourteenth century there was only one, a certain Ephraim, who wrote a chronicle in verse (about 10,000 lines) embracing the time from Julius Caesar to the restoration of the Empire by Michael Palaeologus in 1261. It is quite useless from the historical point of view.
The problem of union, which became especially pressing in the epoch of the Palaeologi and led twice to the formal achievement of union, as well as the long and stormy Hesychast quarrel, evoked intense activity in dogmatic and polemic literature. The latter produced a number of writers among both partisans and opponents of the union and the Hesychasts; some of these writers have already been discussed.
Three writers and men of affairs may be mentioned among the most eminent partisans of the union: John Beccus who died at the end of the thirteenth century, Demetrius Cydones who lived in the fourteenth century, and the famous learned theologian of the fifteenth century, Bessarion of Nicaea.
John Beccus, a contemporary of Michael Palaeologus, was originally opposed to the reconciliation with Rome and resisted Michael’s union policy. He therefore incurred the Emperor’s anger and in spite of his high church office was put in prison. According to the sources, Beccus was a man of conspicuous intellect and education. According to a Greek historian, he was distinguished “by scholarship, long experience, and eloquence which could put an end to schism.” Another historian of the fourteenth century called him “a clever man, master of eloquence and learning, endowed with such gifts of nature as no one of his contemporaries possessed … In sharpness of mind, fluency of speech, and knowledge of church dogmas, all others, compared with him, seemed children.” The writings of Nicephorus Blemmydes, of the epoch of Nicaea, made him change his religious ideas and sympathies. He became a partisan of the union. Michael VIII elevated him to the patriarchal throne, which he occupied up to the beginning of the reign of Andronicus II. The latter broke the union, deposed Beccus, and confined him in prison, where he died. The longest work of Beccus is a treatise, On the Union and Peace Between the Churches of Old and New Rome, in which the author attempted to prove that the Greek Church Fathers already recognized the Latin dogma, but that the later Greek theologians, with Photius at their head, corrupted their doctrine. Beccus similarly treated the subject of the Procession of the Holy Ghost. He wrote some other theological essays of the same character. For the partisans of union who succeeded him, Beccus’ works were a rich source from which they were able to draw needed material.
Demetrius Cydones belongs among the talented writers in theology and rhetoric of the Palaeologian epoch. He was born at Thessalonica at the very beginning of the fourteenth century and died at the beginning of the fifteenth century, so that his life lasted an entire century. At Milan he became thoroughly acquainted with Latin language and literature. He lived successively in Thessalonica, Constantinople, and Crete, was granted citizenship of Venice, and ended his days in a monastery. Cydones took an active part in the religious disputes of his time, favoring reconciliation with Rome. In his literary works he had the great advantage over the majority of his contemporaries of knowing Latin, and could make use of the most eminent western writers and scholars. He was the author of numerous essays on different problems in theology, rhetoric, and philosophy. A treatise on The Procession of the Holy Ghost, published among Cydones’ works, apparently does not belong to him, but to one of his disciples, Manuel Calecas. Cydones translated from Latin into Greek, among other things, the famous work of Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae. This translation has not yet been published. A Catholic writer remarked: “These laborious translations which make St. Thomas speak in the tongue of St. Jean Damascene have been buried for four centuries in the dust of libraries. Is this their destiny for the future? Will there not be found somewhere a theologian, an apostle, both Thomist and Hellenist, to spread and circulate in the Greek Church the doctrinal riches that Cydones has preserved for future times?” May this translation not be “the doctrinal guide to union”?
Among Cydones’ orations may be noted two “deliberative” orations (συμβουλευτικοι) which picture the depressed mood of the people of Constantinople before the Turkish danger, speak of the emigration to western Europe, and urge the Greeks and Latins to unite their forces against the common enemy.
But of greatest importance for the cultural history of the fourteenth century is Cydones’ voluminous correspondence. Most of his letters are as yet unpublished; of 447 only 51 have been printed. Among his correspondents may be noted Manuel II (32 letters), John Cantacuzene, with whom he was on very friendly terms (11 letters), and a great many other eminent persons of his epoch.
Until all his letters are available for study neither Cydones’ biography nor a full list of his works can be attempted. Moreover, without attentive and detailed study of this new material the history of Greek civilization during the last centuries of Byzantium cannot be fully known or adequately appreciated. This study would not only concern Greek civilization, but also throw new light on the cultural relations between Byzantium and the Italian Renaissance, with which Cydones was so closely associated. One of the best representatives of the Italian Renaissance at the end of the fourteenth century, Coluccio Salutati, wrote Cydones a long and eulogistic letter.
The unpublished correspondence of the patriarch of Constantinople, Athanasius I, who under Andronicus II Palaeologus twice occupied the patriarchal throne (1289-1293 and 1304-1310), apparently may supply much interesting material for the political, religious, and social conditions of the Empire of his day. This may be deduced from some specimens of his letters already published.
To the partisans of union belonged also the famous Bessarion of Nicaea, member of the Council of Florence and later cardinal of the Roman church. But the significance of his activity and personality goes far beyond theological literature, where he is represented by some dogmatic treatises, written from the Latin point of view, and therefore will be discussed and estimated in the section on the problem of Byzantium and the Renaissance.
The opponents of the union had their writers too, but they cannot be compared with such eminent partisans of the union as Cydones or Bessarion. Gregory of Cyprus (his secular name was George), patriarch under Andronicus II, the chief although not always a successful adversary of John Beccus, a man, to quote a contemporary source, “known by his scholarship,” left some writings of dogmatic character, in which he attempted to solve from the Greek point of view the problem of the Procession of the Holy Ghost. Gregory’s rhetorical essays are of great importance. Marcus (Mark) Eugenicus, metropolitan of Ephesus, who refused to sign the act of the union at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, wrote some small compilations of polemic character, for example an essay against Bessarion, which justify including him among the spokesmen for the Greek national standpoint concerning the union.
Finally, the last great polemist of the Byzantine church and the first patriarch of Constantinople under the Turkish power, Gennadius Scholarius (his secular name was George), was a good scholar in theology and philosophy. He also took part in the Council of Ferrara-Florence, where he first advocated union but eventually, particularly influenced by Marcus of Ephesus, went over to the antiunionists. He was a very productive writer, a versatile theologian and scholar whose numerous works embraced almost all branches of literature. He wrote a number of polemic essays. His philosophical works, which originated from his dispute with Gemistus Plethon on Aristotelianism and Platonism, relate him to the humanists and caused a Greek scholar, Sathas, to call him “the last Byzantine and the first Hellene.” His Lament on the Misfortunes of My Life contains historical details on the life and works of the author and the situation of the Greek Church in the first years of the Muhammedan domination. He wrote also a brief historical essay, a Chronography, published for the first time in 1935 from his own autograph manuscript. Though the Chronography occupies only nine pages of printed text, it covers all the years from the time of Adam to the year 1472.
The Hesychast movement also produced a number of writers on both sides, beginning with its founder, Gregorius of Sinai. The leading spirit of the Hesychasts, Gregorius Palamas, was also the author of some dogmatic essays and many orations, sixty-six of which were found in one of the Meteora monasteries in Thessaly. The literary activity of Nicephorus Gregoras, a violent opponent of the Hesychasts, has already been discussed. Another opponent of Palamas, John Cyparissiotes, who lived in the second half of the fourteenth century, may be mentioned as the author of Εκθεσις στοιχειωδης ρησεων θεολογικων, or Expostio materiaria eorum quae de Deo a theologis dicuntur, the first attempt at dogmatics according to the pattern of western Scholasticism.
One of the great theologians, one of the best Byzantine writers of the fourteenth century, and one of the very talented mystics of the eastern church, Nicholas Cabasilas, also belongs to the fourteenth century. The basts of Cabasilas’ ideas was, as in western European mysticism, the works of the so-called Dionysius Pseudo-Areopagite, who wrote probably at the end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century. Byzantine mysticism passed through an important evolution in the seventh century, thanks to Maximus Confessor, who freed the mysticism of the Pseudo-Areopagite from its neo-Platonic elements and reconciled it with the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox church. Maximus’ influence was still felt by the mystic writers of the fourteenth century, with Nicholas Cabasilas at their head.
Nicholas Cabasilas belongs to the writers who are very little known and unsatisfactorily studied, for many of his writings are unpublished. Quite a number of these, especially orations and letters, are preserved in several manuscripts of the National Library of Paris, one of which has been used by the Roumanian historian Tafrali in his monograph on Thessalonica. In a study of Cabasilas’ doctrine two essays are important: “Seven words on the Life in Christ” (De vita in Christo), and “The Interpretation of the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrae liturgiae interpretatio). A discussion of Cabasilas’ doctrine with its thesis “To live in Christ is the very union with Christ” would go far afield; but one may certainly say that Cabasilas’ literary work in Byzantine mysticism, on its own merits as well as in connection with the Hesychast movement and the western European mystic movements, deserves an honorable place in the cultural history of Byzantium in the fourteenth century, and should attract the attention of scholars, who have hitherto quite wrongly neglected this interesting writer. Scholars vary in their definition of Cabasilas’ mysticism, and some of them even declare that he cannot be recognized as a mystic at all. Cabasilas’ correspondence deserves publication. According to the French scholar Guilland his letters are written in an easy and elegant, though sometimes over-refined, style, and contain new and interesting data.
Philosophy is represented in the Palaeologian epoch by the famous George Gemistus Plethon. Filled with enthusiasm for ancient Hellenism, an admirer of Plato, whom he knew thoroughly through neo-Platonism, a dreamer who thought to create a new religion by means of the gods of ancient mythology, Plethon was a real humanist and intimately connected with Italy. Interest in ancient philosophy, especially in Aristotle and, beginning with the eleventh century, in Plato, had never been discontinued in Byzantium. In the eleventh century Michael Psellus, in the twelfth John Italus, in the thirteenth Nicephorus Blemmydes had devoted a considerable part of their time to philosophy, Psellus particularly to Plato, the others to Aristotle. The struggle between the two philosophical movements, Aristotelian and Platonic, which is so characteristic of the Middle Ages in general, was strongly felt in Byzantium during the Hesychast quarrel. Therefore the way was well prepared for the extremely interesting personality of Gemistus Plethon.
Plethon received his elementary education at Constantinople and spent the greater part of his life, almost a century long, at Mistra, the cultural center of the Despotat of Morea. He accompanied Emperor John VIII to the Council of Ferrara-Florence. Plethon died at Mistra, probably in 1450. In 1465 an Italian general and patron of letters, of the famous family of Malatesta, captured Sparta from the Turks and transported Plethon’s ashes to the small Italian city of Rimini, where they now repose in the church of San Francisco.
The aim of Plethon’s philosophical works was to explain the significance of Platonic philosophy as compared with Aristotelian. Plethon opened a new phase in the struggle between Aristotelianism and Platonism. He brought to Italy his knowledge of Plato and his enthusiasm and produced a striking impression upon Cosimo Medici and other Italian humanists. Indeed he initiated the idea of founding the Platonic Academy at Florence.
In this city Plethon wrote the treatise “On the difference between Aristotle and Plato,” in which he endeavored to prove the superiority of his favorite philosopher over Aristotle. The stay of the Byzantine philosopher at Florence is one of the most important episodes in the history of the transplantation of Greek classical learning to Italy and especially of the revival of Platonic philosophy in the West. Plethon’s chief piece of work was a kind of Utopia, “A Treatise on the Laws” (Νομων συγγραφη), which unfortunately does not exist in full. On the one hand, it was an attempt, interesting as indicating a tendency of the epoch but of course doomed to failure, to restore paganism on the ruins of Christianity by establishing neo-Platonic philosophy; on the other hand, it was designed to give mankind ideal living conditions. In order to find in what men’s happiness consists, Plethon judged it necessary to understand as thoroughly the nature of man himself as the system of the universe of which man forms part. Plethon also submitted plans to Manuel II for the restoration of the Peloponnesus.
In his significance and influence Plethon goes far beyond the confines of the cultural history of Byzantium, and if only for this reason deserves the deepest attention. As his activity and importance have not yet been fully estimated, the significance of Gemistus Plethon is one of the most fascinating themes for the historian interested in the cultural history of the later Byzantine Empire.
In rhetoric, which is often connected with philosophy, several writers may be specially remembered. Gregorius (George) of Cyprus, a patriarch under Andronicus the Elder, composed an interesting and beautifully written autobiography. Nicephorus Chumnos, a contemporary and disciple of Gregorius of Cyprus, wrote a number of theological, philosophical, and rhetorical essays and left a collection of 172 letters. In his philosophical essays he is one of the most ardent and skillful defenders of Aristotle. Chumnos was in correspondence with almost all the personalities of his epoch who were known in politics, religion, or literature. Though inferior in intelligence, originality, and knowledge to his master, Gregorius of Cyprus, Chumnos is not without distinct significance for the Byzantine and Italian Renaissance of his epoch. “By his love of antiquity, passionate, though a little servile, and by the variety of his knowledge Chumnos heralds Italian humanism and the western Renaissance.”
Finally, the works of Mazaris — the imitation of Lucian, The Sojourn of Mazaris in Hades, and A Dream After the Return to Life, as well as his letters on Peloponnesian affairs of the early fifteenth century — afford, in spite of the small literary talent of their author, important material on the problem of the imitation of Lucian in Byzantine literature, and give interesting details on the Byzantine culture of the time.
In philology the Palaeologian epoch produced not a few interesting writers who, in their tendencies and ideas, are forerunners of a new intellectual era and are, as Krumbacher said, less closely connected with their Byzantine predecessors, for example Photius or Eustathius of Thessalonica, than they are with the first representatives of the classic renaissance in the west. But here is one side of the work of the philologists of the Palaeologian epoch for which they are reproached, and not without reason, by classical scholars. This is their treatment of classical texts. While the commentators and copyists of the eleventh and twelfth centuries preserved the manuscript tradition of the Alexandrian and Roman time almost intact, the philologists of the Palaeologian epoch began to remodel the text of ancient authors according to their preconceived ideas of the “purity” of Hellenic language or sometimes in the style of new meters. This tendency has caused classical scholars to refer, when it was possible, to manuscripts of the pre-Palaeologian epoch. However vexatious this practice may have been, it must be judged by the conditions of the time. The philologists were beginning to be dissatisfied with the purely mechanical methods of their predecessors and were seeking, though rudely and awkwardly, to express their own creative tendencies.
Among the philologists was the monk Maximus Planudes (his secular name was Manuel), a contemporary of the two first Palaeologi, who devoted his leisure to science and teaching. He visited Venice as a Byzantine envoy, and was closely related to the cultural movement then rising in the West, especially owing to his knowledge of the Latin language and literature. An assiduous teacher, Planudes was the author of some grammatical essays, and the collection of more than 100 of his letters portrays his intellectual personality as well as his scholarly interests and occupations. Besides historical and geographical extracts compiled from the works of ancient writers, Planudes left translations of Latin authors such as Cato the Elder, Ovid, Cicero, and Caesar. He is perhaps best known in western Europe for his edition of selections from Greek authors. The vast number of existing manuscripts of his translations shows that, in the earlier days of humanism, they often served as texts for the teaching of Greek in the West. At the same time, his numerous translations from Latin into Greek greatly contributed to the cultural rapprochement between East and West in the Renaissance epoch.[390a]
Planudes’ disciple and friend, Manuel Moschopulus (Moschopulos), a contemporary of Andronicus II, is, like his teacher, of great significance in determining the characteristics of Byzantine learning at the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries as well as for the transmission of classical studies in the West. His Grammatical Questions and Greek Dictionary were, along with Planudes’ translations, favorite textbooks for the study of Greek in the West; in addition, his commentaries on a number of classical writers and his collected letters afford interesting material, which has not yet been adequately studied or estimated.
A contemporary of Andronicus II, Theodore Metochites, is sometimes remembered in the history of Byzantine literature in connection with philology. But his wide and many-sided activities go far beyond the modest confines of philology. In the section on the Empire of Nicaea he has been mentioned as the author of a panegyric on Nicaea. Well-educated, an authority on the classical authors, an admirer of Plutarch and Aristotle and especially of Plato, whom he called “Olympus of wisdom,” “a living library,” and “Helicon of the Muses,” a talented statesman, and first minister under Andronicus II, Theodore Metochites is an exceedingly interesting type of Byzantine humanist of the first half of the fourteenth century. This man of learning and distinguished statesman had exceptional influence in state affairs, and he enjoyed the complete confidence of the Emperor. His contemporary Nicephorus Gregoras wrote: “From morning to evening he was wholly and most eagerly devoted to public affairs, as if scholarship were absolutely irrelevant to him; but late in the evening, after having left the palace, he became absorbed in science to as high a degree as if he were a scholar with absolutely no connection with any other affairs.” On the basis of his political opinions, which he sometimes expressed in his works, Sathas drew an interesting conclusion: inclined neither to democracy nor aristocracy, he had a political ideal of his own, a sort of constitutional monarchy. Diehl remarked; “It is not the least mark of originality in this Byzantine of the fourteenth century that he cherished such dreams under the absolute regime of the basileus pledged to the theory of divine right.” Of course the history of Byzantine political theory has not yet been told. But this example plainly shows that “the history of political ideas in Byzantium is not a tedious repetition of the same things. It had life and it had development.” More recent investigation, however, makes it probable that Metochites’ statement was not a practical political theory but an interpretation of a Platonic idea in the spirit of neo-Platonism.
During the revolution which dethroned Andronicus II, Theodore lost position, money, and home, and was confined in prison. On account of a dangerous illness he was allowed to end his days in the Constantinopolitan monastery of the Chora (the present-day mosque Qahriye-jami). When he was still in power, he had restored the monastery, which was old and in a state of decay, supplied it with a library, and adorned it with mosaics. Today, among other beautiful mosaics preserved in the mosque, one may see, over the main door from the inner narthex to the church, a representation of the enthroned Christ and at His feet the kneeling figure of Theodore Metochites in the gorgeous dress of one of the highest Byzantine dignitaries holding a model of the church in his hand; his name is on the mosaic. He died there in 1332.
The famous Nicephorus Gregoras, who was among his pupils, in his writings has portrayed the personality of his master in a detailed and enthusiastic fashion. His numerous and various works of which many are unpublished and very little studied — philosophical and historical essays, rhetorical and astronomical writings, poetry and numerous letters to eminent contemporaries — place Theodore Metochites along with Nicephorus Gregoras and Demetrius Cydones as one of the most brilliant Byzantine humanists of the fourteenth century. The most recent investigator defined the work of Metochites as prodigious and various, and styles him “probably the greatest writer of the fourteenth century and one of the greatest writers of Byzantine literature.” His philosophical studies cause some scholars (for example, Sathas and later Th. Uspensky) to consider Metochites a forerunner of the Byzantine Platonists of the fifteenth century in general and of Gemistus Plethon in particular.
Of all his works, the best known is Commentaries and Moral Judgments, usually known as Miscellanies (Miscellanea philosophies et historica). It is a sort of encyclopedia, “an inestimable mine of Metochites’ ideas,” which gives the reader grounds to admire his vast and profound erudition. Metochites cited and, in all probability, had read over seventy Greek writers. Synesius seems to have been his principal source and his favorite author. In his works are scattered many very important historical records on the history not only of Byzantium, but also of neighboring peoples; an example is his detailed account of his embassy to the tsar of Serbia in 1298 to negotiate for the marriage of one of the daughters of Andronicus II.
Metochites wrote twenty poems, of which only two are published. The first one, of 1355 lines, is a long description of his own life and of the monastery of Chora; the second poem is another description of that monastery; the other eighteen poems, which are not yet published, have been analyzed, and they contain a great deal of information on the author’s life and on the historical events of his time. In the nineteenth poem Metochites gave a detailed description of his palace with its riches, comfort, and beauty, which he lost during the revolution of 1328. His poems are written in a polished style which is sometimes not easy to understand. But this was not his peculiarity alone; many Byzantine writers, both of prose and poetry, wrote in a style which lacked clarity and needed commentaries. From their point of view the subtlest style had most value.
Metochites also left some letters; only four of them exist, and they are of no great importance. In all likelihood his other letters were destroyed by his enemies. Metochites’ role in art is also very important; this importance is due particularly to the mosaics of the Chora. He was right when he expressed the hope that his work in the field of art would secure to him “a glorious memory among posterity until the end of the world.”
Without doubt, one of the most important problems for research in the history of the Palaeologian renaissance is the whole work of Theodore Metochites. There is still much to be done. His greatness as a man and his importance in the cultural movement of the fourteenth century is just beginning to be recognized. His writings must first be completely published and studied, and only then will it be possible to estimate adequately a great man in a great cultural epoch.
Among the philologists under Andronicus II may be mentioned Thomas Magister, who came from the literary circle of Moschopulus, Theodore Metochites, and Gregoras, and was the author of many scholia on ancient writers, orations, and letters, and whose literary work deserves to be better known than it is now. Another philologist of the same time was Demetrius Triklinius, an excellent text critic, who, as Krumbacher said, may be placed on a level with some modern editors, and a high authority on ancient authors, such as Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Theocritus.
In jurisprudence there belongs to the epoch of the Palaeologi the last important juridical work which has preserved its vital significance to the present. It is a great compilation written by a jurist and Judge of Thessalonica in the fourteenth century, Constantine Harmenopulus, known by the title of Hexabiblos (εξαβιβλος), for it is divided into six books, or “Promptuarium” (προχειρον νομων, manuale legum). This compilation contains civil and criminal law with some supplements, for example, the very well-known Rural Code. The author used the earlier legislative works, the Prochiron, the Basilics, the Novels, as well as the Ecloga, Epanagoge, and some others. In connection with the question of the sources of the Hexabiblos, there has been pointed out a very important problem which has not yet been satisfactorily elucidated. It was shown that Harmenopulus used several sources in very old versions, without the additions and alterations that were made by the legislative commission of Justinian the Great; in other words, the Hexabiblos offers valuable material for critical study on the sources of the Justinian Code, the original form of altered texts, and the traces of the so-called classical Roman Law in the juridical works of Byzantium. After 1453 the Hexabiblos of Harmenopulus became widespread in the West, and the humanists studied attentively and carefully that juridical work of fallen Byzantium. The compilation of Harmenopulus is still in use in judicial practice in present-day Greece and Bessarabia.
Several medical treatises showing Arabic influence belong to the period of the Palaeologi. A medical manual of the end of the thirteenth century had considerable influence even on western medicine and was used as a textbook by the faculty of medicine in Paris until the seventeenth century. The complete lack of originality in Byzantine medicine, however, has been repeatedly pointed out. A French professor of medicine who was particularly interested in Byzantine times remarked: “If one wished to deal with original works [on medicine], he would have nothing to record, and the page devoted to this more than millenarian period would remain blank.” The study of mathematics and astronomy also flourished under the Palaeologi, and many of the versatile and encyclopaedic men already mentioned devoted part of their time to the exact sciences, drawing their material from the ancient works of Euclides and Ptolemy as well as from Persian and Arabic writings, the greater part of which, in their turn, were based upon Greek sources.
Poetry was represented under the Palaeologi by Manuel Holobolus and Manuel Philes. Holobolus’ poetry has usually been estimated as artificial and unoriginal, seeking its subjects in the sphere of court interests, and therefore conventional and sometimes unpardonably fulsome and subservient. But more recent investigation shows that this judgment is erroneous; the poems, it is true, describe the magnificence and brilliance of court ceremonies, but show no personal flattery or subservience towards the emperor. Holobolus was also the author of an encomium of the Emperor Michael VIII. Manuel Philes, whose life was one of extreme misery, was forced to use his literary talent to get daily bread; sometimes, accordingly, he stooped to every kind of flattery and sycophancy. In this respect he may be compared with Theodore Prodrome of the twelfth century.
The last great literary figure of the fourteenth century is Theodore Meliteniotes. Several persons of this name are known who lived at the end of the thirteenth and at the beginning of the fourteenth century; therefore it is rather difficult to distinguish who among them wrote a work ascribed only to Meliteniotes. However, it is certain that Theodore Meliteniotes, who lived in the fourteenth century, was the author of an astronomical work, the most vast and most scientific of the entire Byzantine epoch, as well as of a long allegorical poem in 3062 “political” verses, entitled Concerning Prudence (Εις την σωφροσυνην). A very interesting question has recently been raised as to whether or not Meliteniotes’ poem was composed under the direct influence of Boccaccio’s L’Amorosa Visione. This example may illustrate once more the importance of cultural exchanges between Byzantium and Italy in the epoch of the Palaeologi. Some parallels between Concerning Prudence and the famous legendary Pèlerinage de Charlemagne have recently been pointed out.
Some very interesting literary documents written m the spoken language of the Palaeologian epoch have been preserved. The Greek version of the Chronicle of Morea, more than nine thousand verses in length, which has already been evaluated from the historical point of view in connection with the conquest of the Peloponnesus by the Latins, gives an interesting specimen of the Greek spoken language of the time, which had already absorbed a number of words and phrases from the tongues of the Roman conquerors. The problem of the original language of the Chronicle is still under debate: some scholars hold to the French version as the original, others to the Greek; more recently the opinion has been expressed that the original text was Italian, probably in the Venetian dialect. In my own opinion, the original text is Greek. The author of the Greek version is usually regarded as a Hellenized Frank who lived at about the time of the events described and who was well acquainted with Peloponnesian affairs.
To the same epoch belongs a romance in verse (about four thousand verses) “Lybistros and Rhodamne,” which strongly resembles, in plot and ideas, the romance, “Belthandros and Chrysantza.” The plot is briefly: Lybistros learns in a dream that Rhodamne is his predestined wife; he finds her in the person of an Indian princess, seeks for her love, and finally, victorious in single combat over his rival, wins her as his wife. Thanks to magic charms, the rival carries off Rhodamne, who at last, after many adventures, is safely reunited to Lybistros. In this romance the blending of Frankish culture with Eastern living conditions is to be emphasized. While in “Belthandros and Chrysantza” the Frankish culture is still quite distinct from the Greek, in “Lybistros” the Frankish culture has deeply penetrated the Byzantine soil; but, in turn, it is beginning to yield to Greek influence. Nevertheless, despite the Latin influence, this poem is much more than an imitation of a Western model. Diehl said: “If the society described seems to be penetrated with certain Latin elements, it keeps, as a whole, a clearly Byzantine color.” The original version of the romance belongs to the fourteenth century. The romance “Lybistros and Rhodamne” exists in a later revised version.
Probably to the fifteenth century belongs the Greek version of a Tuscan poem The Romance of Fiorio and Biancifiore (Il cantare di Fiorio e Biancifiore), dating from the fourteenth century. The Greek version contains about 2000 lines in popular Greek and in “political” meter. The Greek text does not give any indication as to the Greek poet. Krumbacher thought that the author of the version was a Hellenized Frank, that is to say, a member of the Catholic religion. But this statement is now regarded as erroneous, and probably the anonymous author of the Greek version was an Orthodox Greek. The Greek version of the “Romance of Phlorias and Platzia Phlore” (Φλωριου και Πλατζια Φλωρης) is of great interest as far as the popular Greek of the Palaeologian epoch is concerned.
Probably at the beginning of the fifteenth century originated the poem, The Byzantine Achilleid, also written in political meter. In spite of the classical title calling to mind the Trojan war and Homer, the poem has very little to do with Homer. The scene is laid in a setting of Frankish feudalism. The personality of the hero of the poem, Achilles, is influenced by another Byzantine epic hero, Digenes Akrites. “Achilles is Digenes baptised under a classical name.” It is not clear whether the author of the Achilleid was acquainted with one of the versions of the Byzantine epic, or whether he drew his similar episodes from the sources common to both poems, i.e. popular songs. The question cannot be definitely decided; but some parallels in both texts make the first assumption more probable. The poem ends with the death of Achilles in Troy at the hands of Paris and Deiphobos, and the sack of the city by the Hellenes in revenge for his death.
A striking rise in art, at first sight rather unexpected considering the general situation of the Empire under the Palaeologi, must also be emphasized. The revival of Byzantine art under the Palaeologi, which produced such work as the mosaics of Qahriye-jami, Mistra, Athos, and Serbia, was so sudden and incomprehensible that scholars have advanced various hypotheses to explain the sources of the new forms of art. The followers of the so-called “western” hypothesis, taking into consideration western influence on Byzantine life in all its aspects since the Fourth Crusade, compared the Byzantine monuments with the Italian frescoes of trecento in general and with those of Giotto and some other artists in particular, who were living in Italy when the first productions of art of the eastern renaissance under the Palaeologi appeared. They came to the conclusion that the Italian masters of trecento might have influenced Byzantine art, and that this was the explanation of the new forms in the East. The western hypothesis, however, cannot be accepted, because an exactly opposite situation, that is, Byzantine influence upon Italian art, rather than Italian influence upon the art of the Byzantine Empire, has now been proved to exist.
The second or “Syrian” hypothesis, advanced at the beginning of the twentieth century by Strzygowski and Th. Schmidt, consists of the assumption that the best achievements of Byzantine art under the Palaeologi were mere copies of old Syrian originals, i.e. of originals which, in truth, from the fourth century to the seventh, furnished not a few new forms adopted by Byzantine art. If one accepts this theory, there is no renaissance of Byzantine art in the fourteenth century, or any originality, or any creative power of Byzantine masters of that epoch; in this case all is reduced to good copies from some good old models very unsatisfactorily known. This theory, which N. Kondakov called “archaeological sport,” has found a few adherents.
In the first edition of his Manual of Byzantine Art, published in 1910, Ch. Diehl rejected both these theories and saw the roots of the renaissance of art under the Palaeologi in the general cultural rise so characteristic of their epoch, and in the awakening of a very vivid feeling of Hellenic patriotism, as well as in the gradual rising of new currents in Byzantine art which had appeared in Byzantium as early as the eleventh century, i.e. beginning with the time of the Comnenian dynasty. Therefore, “for him who examines the matter attentively, the great artistic movement of the fourteenth century is no sudden and unexpected phenomenon; it owed its being to the natural evolution of art in conditions particularly favorable and vigorous; and if foreign influences partially contributed to its brilliant flowering, it drew from itself, from the deep roots embedded in the past, its strong and original qualities.”
In 1917 D. Aïnalov criticized Diehl’s solution from the point of view of method. Diehl did not base his conclusions upon direct analysis of the works of art, but drew it indirectly from data on the development of literature, science, and so on. Aïnalov believed that the problem of the origin of the new forms of Byzantine painting in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries could be solved only by the comparative method. Examination of the geographical and architectural peculiarities of the mosaics of Qahriye-jami at Constantinople and of the Church of St. Mark at Venice caused Aïnalov to emphasize a remarkable relationship between these forms and those of the landscape painting of the primitive Italian Renaissance. He came to the conclusion that Byzantine painting of the fourteenth century cannot be considered a genuine phenomenon of Byzantine art; it is only the reflection of a new development in Italian painting, which in its turn was based on earlier Byzantine art. “Venice is one of the intermediary centers of this retro-action of the art of the earlier Renaissance upon the later Byzantine art.”
Th. Schmidt maintained that amid the general economic and political decay of the Empire under the Palaeologi a real renaissance of art in the fourteenth century was impossible. In this connection Diehl justly remarked; “This hypothesis may seem ingenious; but it is a matter of affirmation rather than of proof.” In 1925 Dalton, independently of Aïnalov, wrote of the fourteenth century: “The new things out of Italy which appear in Serbia, at Mistra, or in Constantinople are very largely old Greek things returning home, superficially enhanced by a Sienese attractiveness. This being so, we cannot properly regard the painting either of the Slavs or of the Byzantine Greeks in the fourteenth century as dominated by Western influence. Italy had touched with animation and grace an art essentially unchanged.” Finally, taking into consideration the recent works of Millet, Bréhier, and Aïnalov, Diehl in the second edition of his Manual of Byzantine Art summed up the matter by calling the fourteenth century a true renaissance. It developed with magnificent fullness and complete continuity the trends of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, so that between the past and the fourteenth century there is no break. At this point Diehl repeated the passage of his first edition already quoted.
In 1930 L. Bréhier wrote; “The Byzantine art of the epoch of the Palaeologi appears as a synthesis between the two spiritual forces which dominate the history of Byzantium: classicism and mysticism.” In 1938 A. Grabar stated that the progress (l’essor) of Byzantine art under the Palaeologi was particularly remarkable; under them the last renaissance of arts, specifically of painting, manifested itself both within the Empire which was finally reduced to Constantinople and its suburbs, and in the autonomous Greek principalities (Sparta, Trebizond) and the Slavonic kingdoms which followed the example of Byzantium. After all that has been said, the following statement seems incomprehensible: “The story of Byzantine art really ends with the sack of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204.” On the contrary, the Byzantine Renaissance is a rich, fruitful field, worthy of more investigation.
Many monuments of the renaissance of Byzantine art under the Palaeologi survive. Among the buildings, the churches are most notable, in particular seven in Peloponnesian Mistra, several on Mount Athos, many in Macedonia, which in the fourteenth century was under the power of Serbia, and a number in Serbia itself. The brilliant flowering of mosaic work and fresco painting under the Palaeologi resulted in a remarkable legacy: the mosaics of Qahriye-jami in Constantinople, already referred to, and many frescoes of Mistra, Macedonia, and Serbia. On Mount Athos are mosaics and frescoes of the late thirteenth, the fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, but the full flower of Athenian art belongs to the sixteenth century. The famous Byzantine painter Manuel Panselinos of Thessalonica (Salonika), the “Raphael” or “Giotto of Byzantine painting,” probably lived in the first half of the sixteenth century; some of his work is perhaps still to be seen on Mount Athos, but on this point some uncertainty exists.”
Many icons and illuminated manuscripts dating from the epoch of the Palaeoiogi have also been preserved. An example is a famous manuscript of Madrid of the fourteenth century containing the chronicle of John Scylitzes with about 600 interesting miniatures reflecting the history of Byzantium from 811 to the middle of the eleventh century — the period Scylitzes covered. Two Parisian manuscripts, one belonging to the fourteenth century with a miniature of John Cantacuzene presiding at the Hesychast council, and the other to the beginning of the fifteenth century with a miniature of Manuel II, have already been mentioned.
The art of the Palaeologian epoch and its reflections in the Slavonic countries in general and Russia in particular have not yet been thoroughly studied; the evidence on this period has not yet been completely collected or studied, and in some cases not even discovered. Discussing the study of icon painting of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries N. P. Kondakov wrote in 1909; “To speak generally, we enter a dark forest in which the paths are unexplored.” A more recent scholar of Byzantine painting of the fourteenth century, D. V. Aïnalov, added: “In this forest, however, some pioneers have already beaten paths in various directions and made some important positive observations.” In 1919 G. Millet, in his book on the medieval Serbian churches, endeavored to refute the common opinion that Serbian art was nothing but a branch of Byzantine art and to prove that Serbian art had an original character of its own.
Summarizing what has been said of the cultural movement under the Palaeologi, one must first of all certify to a great strength, activity, and variety not present in earlier times, when the general situation of the Empire seemed much more favorable to cultural achievement. This rise, of course, must not be considered sudden, without roots in the past. These roots are to be seen in the cultural rise of Byzantium in the epoch of the Comneni; and the connecting link between these two periods, separated from each other by the fatal Latin domination, is the cultural life of the Empire of Nicaea with Nicephorus Blemmydes and the enlightened emperors of the Lascarid dynasty. In spite of all the difficulties of the political situation the Nicaean emperors succeeded in sheltering and developing the best intellectual spirit of the epoch to transmit it to the restored Empire of the Palaeologi. Under the latter the cultural life flowered abundantly, especially at the end of the thirteenth and in the fourteenth century. Thereafter, under the pressure of Turkish danger, it began to decline in Constantinople, and the best minds of the fifteenth century, such as Bessarion of Nicaea and Gemistus Plethon, transferred their activity to the Peloponnesus, to Mistra, the center resembling some of the smaller Italian centers of the Renaissance and apparently less exposed to Turkish conquest than Constantinople or Thessalonica.
Several times Byzantine cultural interests and problems have been compared with analogous interests and problems of the epoch of the earlier Italian Renaissance. Both Italy and Byzantium were living through a time of intense cultural activity with many common traits and a common origin arising from the economic and intellectual revolution achieved by the crusades. This was not the epoch of an Italian Renaissance or a Byzantine Renaissance but, to use the word in its broad sense and not to limit it to a single nation, the epoch of the Greco-Italian or, generally speaking, southern European Renaissance. Later, in the fifteenth century, in southeastern Europe this rise was ended by the Turkish conquest; in the west, in Italy, general conditions shaped themselves in such a way that the cultural life could develop further and spread to other countries.
Of course, Byzantium had no Dante. The Byzantine Renaissance was bound by the traditions of its past, in which creative spirit and independence had been, subdued by the strict authority of church and state. Formalism and conventionalism were the characteristics of the Byzantine past. Taking into consideration these conditions of Byzantine life, one is amazed by the intensive cultural activity of the Palaeologian period and by the energetic efforts of its best minds to enter the new way of free and independent investigation in literature and art. But the fatal destiny of the Eastern Empire prematurely crushed this literary, scientific, and artistic ardor.