Georgius Gemistos Plethon (~1355 - ~1452)
Not much is known about his early life. He was born in Constantinople around 1355, where he spent most of his life. At some point, he went to Adrianople or Bursa, where he became a student of Elissaeus; it is possible that this Elissaeus was in fact a Persian dervish, who taught Gemistos the teachings of the Persian and Arab scholars of Aristotle, and the heretic dogmas of various Persian thinkers.
In 1400, he settled in Mystras, which was the capital of the Morias despotate, and he established a philosophical school there. Among his students were many important people, including Bessario, Gennadios Scholarios, Ioannis Argyropoulos, Demetrios Chalkokondylis etc. The despots of the Area Theodore I, Theodore II and Constantine (later Emperor Constantine XI) often asked for Gemistos’ opinion for various matters. He was also a consultant of the last emperors of the Byzantine Empire, while at some point he received a high administrative rank called magistratura, but very little information is available on this.
In 1437, he followed Emperor Ioannis VIII at the Ferrara – Florence Meeting, along with his student Bessario, who was a humanist scholar and later became a cardinal of the Catholic Church. During his stay in Florence, the Italian humanists and the ruler of Florence Cosimo di Giovanni de’ Medici were awed by Gemistos’ personality, education and eloquence. In 1452, Gemistos died of natural causes and old age in Lakedaemona; because of the Ottoman attacks a few years later, most of his students, including Bessario, went to Italy, where they played a major role in the Renaissance. In 1466, Italian admirers of Gemistos, led by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, went to Lakedaemona, took his remains and moved them to Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, where they still are today.
Georgius Gemistos was a fierce supporter of the natural and cultural continuation of Hellenism and a deep connoisseur of Platonism. Moreover, he wrote many hymns to the Greek Gods, he established the philosophical – worshipping circle of Mystras and wrote two great works, the first revolving around the differences in thought between Aristotle and Plato, and the other called “Concerning laws”. In the latter work, he started a discussion with Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios, who was an Aristotelian supporter, while Pletho combined a number of Platonic beliefs with those of other Stoics, Zoroaster and his own. In this way, he proposed a political and social reformation, after which the society would be based upon a reformed version of Ancient Greek polytheism, where people would have a great and joyful life.
After his death, the despots of Peloponnese gave the manuscript to Gennadios Scholarios, who after reading it, did not simply oppose to it, but preferred to publicly burn it, as it was considered pagan and satanistic. In fact, he urged people to burn any copies they had. Nevertheless, many excerpts have been found and published.