Bessarion, John

, one of the revivers of literature in the fifteenth century, was born, not at Constantinople, as some writers assert, but at Trebisond, in 1389, a date which is ascertained by his epitaph written by himself, but as all the copies of this epitaph do not agree, Bandini, one of his biographers, gives 1395, as the time of his birth. He entered into the order of St. Basil, and passed twentyone years in a monastery of Peloponnesus, employed in the study of divinity and polite literature. The philosopher Gemistus Pletho was one of his masters. In 1438, when the emperor John Paleologus formed the design of going to the council of Ferrara, to re-unite the Greek with the Latin church, he drew Bessarion from his retirement, made him bishop of Nice, and engaged him to accompany him into Italy with Pletho, Marcus Eugenius, archbishop of Ephesus, the patriarch of Constantinople, and several other Greeks eminent for talents or rank. In the sittings of this council, the archbishop of Ephesus distinguished himself by his powers of reasoning, and Bessarion by the charms of his eloquence, but unfortunately from being rivals in talents, they soon became enemies. Eugenius | was not favourable to the scheme of uniting the Greek and Latin churches; and Bessarioii, after having been of a contrary opinion, declared for the Latins, which was the side the emperor took. The union was accordingly announced, and in December 1439, pope Eugenius IV. to reward the zeal of Bessarion, created him a cardinal priest. ‘ Being now, in consequence of his new dignity, fixed in, Italy, a step which was at the same time rendered necessary by the commotions in Greece, where he was very unpopular, and the union universally rejected, Bessarion returned to the studious and simple life he had led in his convent in the Peloponnesus. His house became the resort of the learned, and when he appeared abroad, his train was composed of such men as Argyropulus, Philelphus, Valla, Theodore Gaza, George of Trebisonde, and Calderino. He obtained the confidence and friendship of several popes. Nicholas V. appointed him archbishop of S’ponto, and cardinal-bishop; and Pius II. in 1463, conferred upon him the title of Patriarch of Constantinople. On the death of Nicholas V. the college of cardinals would have elected him his successor, but this purpose was defeated by the intrigues of cardinal Alain. Some years after, Bessarion, was likely to have succeeded Paul II. but to accomplish this, it was necessary to secure the vote of the cardinal Orsini by an act of injustice, which he refused. Orsini, however, tendered his vote on the same terms to the cardinal de Rovere, who had none of Bessarion’s scruples, and was elected. Paul Jovius tells a foolish story of Bessarion’s having lost this election, by the blundering reply of his servant; and Gibbon, credulous enough when the object of belief is worth nothing, has repeated it after him, nor knowing that our countryman Hody had amply refuted it.

Bessarion was employed on four embassies of a delicate and difficult kind. Three of them he conducted with success, but the fourth was less fortunate. Being sent into France by Sixtus IV. to reconcile Louis XI. with the duke of Burgundy, and obtain assistance against the Turks, he not only failed in these undertakings, but it is said that the king, in full court, offered him the grossest personal indignities. Bessarion on this set out on his way to Rome, and died at Ravenna, Nov. 19, 1472, of chagrin, according to some authors, but more probably from age and infirmity, being now eighty-three years old, or at least, | according to Bandini’s calculation, seventy-seven. His body was brought to Rome, and the pope attended the funeral, an honour never bestowed before on any cardinal. He was celebrated in Latin by Platiua, and in Greek by Michael Apostoiius. Of PJatina’s eloge there have been many editions, but that of Aposiolius was not published until 1793, by M. Fulleborn. Bessarion bequeathed his library to the senate of Venice. It was particularly rich in manuscripts, which he collected at a great expence from all parts of Greece. Tomasini drew up a catalogue of the whole.

Bessarion’s writings are numerous. Almost all those on theological subjects remain in manuscript, except some that are inserted in the acts of the council of Florence, in vol. XIII. of Labbe’s collection, and in vol. IX. of Hardouin’s. Complete catalogues of his philosophical treatises, discourses, an,d letters, may be consulted inFabricius’sBibl. Grace, and in Body. His most celebrated works were his Latin translations of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and his treatise “Contra calumniatorem Platonis.” That calumniator was George of Trebisond, and Bessarion composed the work during the heat of the violent contest supported about the middle of the fifteenth century, between the followers of Plato and those of Aristotle, of wHich Boivin wrote the history in the second volume of the Academy of Belles Lettres. Gemistus Pletho, an enthusiastic admirer of Plato, wrote a small tract in which he attacked the Peripatetic philosophy with virulent invective. Three learned Greeks of the age, Gennadius, George of Trebisond, and Theodore Gaza, had taken up their pens in vindication of Aristotle. Bessarion endeavoured to reconcile the parties by shewing that Plato and Aristotle were not so far removed from each other in opinion as was usually thought and having a great respect for these two sages, he rebuked, in strong terms, the inconsiderate zeal of young Apostoiius, who, without understanding the question, had written a violent and unreasonable declamation against Aristotle. George, however, far from following the example of this moderation, published, in Latin, under the title of “Comparatio Platonis et Aristotelis,” a long dissertation, in which he endeavoured to demonstrate the vast superiority of Aristotle, and inveighed, with great violence, against Plato and his followers. Bessarion then wrote the treatise above-mentioned against this | calumniator of Plato, in which he endeavours to prove that the doctrine of Plato is conformable to that of the Scriptures, and that his morals were as pure and irreproachable as his doctrine. Having thus defended Plato, he attacks George of Trebisond, proving that he had mistaken the sense of a great many passages, and that he had no right to give his opinion of a philosopher whose works he did not understand. Of this book there have been three editions, all of which are scarce the first was printed at Rome in 1469, and the others at Venice by Aldus, 1503 and 1516. 1


Biog. Univ.—Moreri.—Dupin.—But above all, Hodius de Græcis illustribus. Saxii Onomasticon.