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.