Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts : Tract against the objections of Theodore Gazes against Plethon regarding Aristotle's De substantia

Michael Apostolis (c. 1422-c. 1480)Apostolius, Michael, approximately 1422-approximately 1480

Medieval and Early Modern Greek Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript is a working autograph, first written in Crete by its author Michael Apostolis, or Apostolios (c. 1422-c. 1480), probably in 1462. It contains a tract produced as part of an intellectual controversy over the relative merits of Plato and Aristotle, partiuclarly with regard to the compatibility of their theories with Christianity. The debate involved most of the leading Greek-speaking scholars of the mid-15th century, many of whom had settled in Italy. The manuscript contains numerous alterations and expansions of the initial draft.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The author was a native of Constantinople who had received an advanced education there under the famous teacher John Argyropoulos (c. 1416-1486). Apostolis was also a follower of the zealous Platonist and alleged neo-pagan George Gemistos Plethon (c. 1360-1452), and around 1449 he had felt compelled to address an oration to the emperor defending himself against accusations that he had become a worshipper of the ancient Greek gods.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, Apostolis was captured and held prisoner for some months. Having secured his freedom, he sought the patronage of Cardinal Bessarion (1403-1472), the most distinguished of the Byzantine exiles in Italy. Failing to secure the teaching work he sought in Italy, Apostolis settled in Venetian-ruled Crete, where he was commissioned by Bessarion to acquire manuscripts for him, as part of the cardinal's efforts to preserve Greek learning in the face of the Ottoman conquests. He also worked as a scribe and apparently commissioned others to copy manuscripts for Bessarion and other patrons. Throughout his life he continued to petition the cardinal with complaints of poverty and unsuccessful requests to help him establish a school on Crete, or preferably to find a teaching position elsewhere.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The controversy over Plato and Aristotle originated with arguments for the superiority of Plato and the deficiencies of Aristotle put forward by Plethon, summed up in a work he released in about 1448. This line of argument arose out of Plethon's participation in the Byzantine delegation to the Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1437-1438, where Union had been concluded between the Eastern and Western Churches. Confronted at close quarters by the dominant position of Aristotle in western European scholarship, Plethon reacted vehemently. The dispute burst fully into life in the later 1450s, with a flurry of interventions on one side or the other. These included a criticism of Plato's views on the prior existence of universals to individuals which was written in 1459 by Theodore Gazes (c. 1400-c. 1475), a Byzantine exile teaching in Italy, structured as a dialogue between himself and Plethon. It was to this text that Apostolis responded with the far more polemical refutation contained in this manuscript, laced with personal invective against Gazes, including allegations of homosexuality and prostitution. Apostolis not only affirms the superiority of Plato over Aristotle, but asserts that Plethon too was superior to Aristotle and his contemporaries.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The text begins with a preface addressed to Bessarion, himself a former student of Plethon and an enthusiast for the philosophy of Plato. Gazes's tract was written in response to an essay by Bessarion regarding Aristotle's Περὶ οὐσίας (De substantia), in which the cardinal had sought an accommodation between Aristotle's views and Plethon's arguments against them. Apostolis presumably hoped that his intervention against Gazes would win him favour with his patron. He does not, however, seem to have presented the text to Bessarion, who became aware of it only indirectly. Apostolis sent a copy to a friend in Rome, a Cypriot monk named Isaias, who circulated it at his request in the scholarly community. One of those who read it was Andronikos Kallistos (d. 1478), another Constantinopolitan exile and a cousin of Gazes, who wrote a response defending Gazes and Aristotle and then sent both texts to Bessarion.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Whatever hopes Apostolis had entertained of pleasing Bessarion with this work, his effort backfired. The extreme nature of his polemic prompted a letter from Bessarion to Apostolis, dated 19 May 1462, in which the cardinal reprimanded Apostolis for his attacks on Gazes and Aristotle, and proclaimed his own great respect for both of the ancient philosophers. Gazes was himself one of Bessarion's protégés, while the cardinal, for all his own Platonist leanings, was committed to upholding the reputation of Aristotle, the chief philosophical authority of the Catholic Church.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Despite this blunder, Bessarion continued to employ Apostolis as before, and the incident failed to deter the author from being drawn back into the controversy. Another refutation of his tract was produced by another Byzantine exile, the Professor of Greek at Padua Demetrios Chalkokondyles (c. 1423-1511), prompting Apostolis in 1467 to write another vituperative response, featuring mockery of Chalkokondyles's surname and aspersions on the sexual propriety of his mother.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The relationship between this manuscript and the surviving copies of the text is unclear. Its text differs greatly from that found across the rest of the textual tradition. Many passages found here are absent from the other manuscripts, including the many additions to the text which Apostolis made in the margins, but also much of the original content. Thus its seems likely that the copies derive from some other archetype, probably the manuscript sent to Isaias for circulation. It appears that Apostolis continued to rework the tract after he had first made it public, expanding on his first recension in the writing of the original text here and then expanding further in his revisions. He perhaps intended to improve on his first attempt before presenting the amended version to his patron. While for the most part the text of this manuscript is fuller than that of the copies, it lacks their last passage, which draws the argument to a conclusion, and ends rather abruptly. Hence it seems likely that the text here was left unfinished. It may be that Apostolis abandoned it on the arrival of Bessarion's letter, with its negative verdict on the whole undertaking.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>


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