Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Hellenism as paganism was a living reality for Laonikos, his Platonist teacher Plethon, and their circle of intellectuals in the fifteenth century."

Yet another young Byzantine scholar has entered the lists against those who deny the reality of 15th century Platonic Paganism. And yet another prominent Renaissance-era intellectual can now be added to the list of Suspected Crypto-Pagans.

The scholar's name is Aslihan Akisik (PhD, Harvard, 2013). The 15th century intellectual's name is Laonikos Chalkokondyles (c. 1423 – 1490). The title of Akisik's PhD thesis is Self and Other in the Renaissance, Laonikos Chalkokondyles and Late Byzantine Intellectuals.

Here is an excerpt from her thesis, in which she provides a synopsis of the first (of four) chapters:

Chapter 1, “Apollo, Artemis, and Hellenic Philosophy in the Renaissance” is devoted to the ways in which Plethon and his circle of intellectuals, redefined Byzantine/Roman/Hellenic identity, reviving late antique debates between Christians and pagans. The Mistra Circle redefined Hellenism as belief in the philosophical Gods of Apollo and Artemis and applied their findings from classical and late antique history to arrive at unchanging truth. Plethon, Judge General of the Byzantine State, and his students lived at a time and place when there was relative freedom of thought. Admired in the court of the Despots in Mistra, Plethon’s life project was to present a durable constitution, fixing what he considered to be the blatant errors of the current Christian state. In order to support the thesis that Plethon was a Hellene, that is a pagan, rather than Christian, I present new evidence in the guise of a fourteenth-century Herodotos manuscript that was owned by both Plethon and Laonikos Chalkokondyles. Plethon and Laonikos left their mark on the manuscript, literally as well as figuratively. Laonikos inserted an inscription on the last folio as well as astronomical signs throughout the manuscript that point to divination with text. Plethon, a polymath, was a philosopher, historian, and astronomer and did not distinguish between the celestial and sub-lunar spheres in either his philosophy or in the range of his interests. Subscribing to Stoic philosophy, Plethon envisaged the universe, the celestial spheres, the human souls, nature, and ethics as one undivided whole. Laonikos, too, followed his teacher. However, Laonikos was not as forthcoming as Plethon, possibly due to the status of Plethon’s philosophy after 1453 when Plethon’s culminating work, the Laws, was proclaimed as anathema by the Ottoman Patriarch of Constantinople, Gennadios Scholarios.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"In reality, Christian theology is the antithesis of Platonic theology." (Niketas Siniossoglou on essentialism, anti-essentialistm, Hellenism and Christianity)

This post concerns a 2011 paper by Byzantine scholar Niketas Siniossoglou: Plato Christianus: The Colonization of Plato and Identity Formation in Late Antiquity. Of course you should read the paper for yourself and draw your own conclusions (it is available freely via here). For my part I found the following eight essential themes in the paper especially noteworthy:

1. Philosophy in general and Platonic philosophy in particular are incompatible with Christianity.

2. Philosophy and Christianity are more than mere social constructs, for each has it's own essential nature, and it is these essential natures that are mutually incompatible with one another. Therefore the incompatibility itself is also something essential (that is, not merely an adventitious social construction).

3. Hellenism, as a religious designation, is synonymous with the Pagan Platonic philosophy.

4. In late antiquity, when Hellenism and Christianity first came into contact with each other, Hellenes (that is, Pagan intellectuals) and Christian intellectuals unproblematically recognized this mutual incompatibility.

5. While still recognizing this intrinsic mutual incompatibility, early Christian apologists tried to turn Plato against himself by claiming that bits and pieces of his philosophy were redeemable becuase they anticipated their "gospel", and that this was all part of their god's master plan for "preparing the way" for the Incarnation.

6. The resulting Christianized version of Plato ("Plato Christianus") has been recognized by many, at least until recent times, for the intellectual fraud that it is.

7. More recently, however, western intellectual culture has fallen under the spell of anti-essenitialism (or "postmodernism", or "cultural history", or whatever else one wishes to call it), which requires modern historians to absolutely deny that Hellenism and Christianity possess distinct essences. Because they are lacking in any distinct essence, are are merely social constructions, there is no sense in which Hellenism and Christianity could be said to be essentially incompatible with one another.

8. Although he diplomatically refrains from driving home this point, it is quite clearly implied by Siniossoglou that modern historians who obfuscate the essential incompatibility of Platonism and Christianism are simply acting as crypto-apologists, to the extent that they are aware of the agenda they are serving, or as naive dupes, to the extent that they are unaware of the agenda they are serving.