- (common name, Georgios Gemistos, ca. 1355-1452)a Byzantine philosopher and teacher who did much to promote the in-fluence of Plato and the ancient Neoplatonists among both Greeks and Latins. He deplored the dominance of Aristotle in Western schools, denouncing him as a materialist whose thought was incom-patible with Christianity. Nevertheless, modern students of Pletho's thought regard Pletho himself as anti-Christian and neo-pagan, com-mitted to a spiritual and moral religion based on a version of Neo-platonism that revered the ancient Greek gods as symbolic represen-tations of Platonic ideas. He began his career as a teacher in Constantinople, but in 1409 he moved to Mistra in the Peloponnesus peninsula, which had become the center of a revival of interest in an-cient Greek civilization. He spent the rest of his life there except for his trip to Italy in 1437-1440 as one of the Byzantine delegation to the Council of Ferrara-Florence. His erudition and especially his harsh criticism of Aristotle and his fervent devotion to Plato made a great impression on the Italian humanists whom he met.The ancient conflict between Aristotelians and Platonists, which had survived in Byzantine civilization, was transplanted into Italian Renaissance thought by Pletho and other Greek delegates, such as Johannes Bessarion, a more moderate Platonist, and George of Tre-bizond, a convinced Aristotelian and anti-Platonist. In memoranda written for the ruler of Mistra in 1415 and for the Byzantine emperor in 1418, Pletho called for a radical reorganization of Byzantine soci-ety along lines presented in Plato's Republic in order to save the im-periled empire from the Ottoman Turks. The new society, like Plato's imaginary ancient one, would be divided into three castes-peasants, merchants, and soldiers/rulers. Pletho wanted to abolish the use of mercenary soldiers and to create an army of citizens. He also wanted his reorganized society to enact strict sumptuary laws and to rely on barter rather than money. He regarded the numerous Christian monks as social parasites and urged abolition of all public support for them. While in Florence he wrote A Comparison of Plato and Aristo-tle for his Latin friends. His Laws, of which only fragments survive, was even more radical, proposing the abolition of the alien cult of Christianity and its replacement by a revived pagan religion, in which the traditional Greek deities functioned as symbols for Platonic ideas. Few if any of his Italian admirers were aware of these opinions.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.
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