- Bessarion, Johannes
- (ca. 1403-1472)Greek clergyman and humanist, born at Trebizond in Anatolia. He became a monk at Constantinople in 1423 and a priest in 1430, winning a reputation for erudition. In the following decade he moved to a monastery at Mistra in the Peloponnesus and was educated in Platonic philosophy by Georgios Gemistos Pletho. He also became fluent in Latin and in 1438, after becoming bishop of Nicaea, was a member of the Greek delegation that attended the Council of Ferrara-Florence. He strongly favored the union of the churches proclaimed there and in 1439 returned to Constantinople in a vain effort to persuade other leaders of the Greek church to accept the union. Pope Eugenius IV named him a cardinal in order to strengthen his claim to be a mediator between the eastern and western churches.After the Byzantines repudiated the union in 1440, Bessarion returned to Italy and spent the rest of his life in the West. His theological writings upheld the validity and orthodoxy of the agreements reached at Florence. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, he campaigned for a crusade to recapture the city. Proud of his Greek heritage, the pagan part as well as the Christian, he bequeathed his library to the republic of Venice, the Italian city most closely linked to the Byzantine past.Bessarion's household at Rome became a major center of humanistic scholarship by both refugee Greeks and Italians. The cardinal himself made a fresh translation of Aristotle's Metaphysics and other Aristotelian works. In the conflict that broke out between philosophical followers of Plato and followers of Aristotle, he upheld a mediating position, arguing that the two philosophers agreed on most important issues. He criticized his own mentor, Pletho, for exaggerating their disagreements and promoting Plato's authority above Aristotle's, but in response to a work by another exiled Greek scholar, George of Trebizond, which denounced Plato, he published a rebuttal, In calumniatorem Platonis / Against a Slanderer of Plato (1469), in which he expounded Plato's philosophy in a way that showed its compatibility with Christianity. This book was an important influence on the rise of Neoplatonism and had particularly strong influence on the Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino and his disciples at Florence.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.