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Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Philhellene91 on Thu Apr 24, 2014 5:40 am

I've read that hellenism or olympianism was never completely eradicated from Hellas. Instead Hellenists had to keep it a secret, is there any truth to this? If there is can some inform me about this secret history of "medieval" hellenism?

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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Erodius on Thu Apr 24, 2014 11:54 am

Philhellene91 wrote:I've read that hellenism or olympianism was never completely eradicated from Hellas. Instead Hellenists had to keep it a secret, is there any truth to this? If there is can some inform me about this secret history of "medieval" hellenism?

Per the accounts of Byzantine missionaries sent from Constantinople, rural areas of the Peloponnesus, then a part of the Byzantine Empire, continued to openly and strongly refuse to admit Christian missionaries up through around 1000 CE/AD, over 600 years after Christianity officially became the only legal religion. Christianity had been adopted all the way out in Britain and Ireland before the last Greek villages were 'officially' converted. At the same time, Platonists still held certain public and government positions, although they were frequently targeted for slander and periodically imprisoned as heretics, or ordered to recant their Platonism and sign declarations of allegiance to the state church.

The next historical evidence we have is from the life of a Byzantine court scholar named Georgius Plethon. He was also a Platonist, and lived in the first half of the 1400's in the Byzantine Empire, a time when the Byzantine Empire was in its dying days, its territory had shrunk to little more than Greece and the area around the city of Constantinople itself, and the Muslim Ottoman Turks had their armies within a few miles of the capital. He believed that the centuries of decline and misfortune that had struck the Byzantine Empire were the result of the people's having abandoned the Gods, and he worked to try to convince the Byzantine Imperial government (unsuccessfully) to restore Olympianism as the state religion. In order to do this, he moved from Constantinople to a city called Mystra in the remote central Peloponnesus. No official reason for this move was given, however, during this period, he composed a variety of works about the form of Olympianism he wanted to present to the government to be the new state religion. That precise place was also in the region (Arcadia/Laconia) where the Byzantine missionaries had complained that the local villages were still openly and unabashedly practicing the traditional religion and festivals only a few centuries before.

What's more, the Orphic movement (of which I and Icarus here are τελεσταί) has been centered in the Arcadia/Laconia prefecture of Greece for as long as anyone keeping track can recall or confirm. Finally, although the exact details are more elaborate than I can really explain here, the religious system that Plethon devised at Mystra is extremely odd if you look at it from the usual Homeric/Hesiodic perspective. He was very clearly not using either Homer or Hesiod as the basis for his mythology or religion, which is striking, because both would have been readily available to him, and, even then, were, as now, considered the central scholarly sources on Classical religion and mythology. Plethon's theology is dramatically unorthodox from the Homeric/Hesiodic standpoint, and, being the scholar he was, it would be illogical to believe he would blatantly ignore the most scholarly sources available to him — unless he felt he had a better source to go on.

However, Plethon's odd unorthodoxies and otherwise bizarre departures from typical Classical religion, and the idiosyncratic roles and titles he ascribes to the gods in his Hymns have almost total concordance with the Orphic usage. Either we the Orphic brotherhood were founded by Plethon, which is unlikely, given that Plethon's writings were not even widely available until recently, and even then are difficult to come by, and most remain only in their literary Greek/Katharevousa form (which to modern Greeks is sort of like trying to read Chaucer's English for anglophones), and that he fled the Byzantine Empire altogether for Florence, Italy just before the final Ottoman conquest, or, else, a related or even ancestral Orphic congregation was present in Mystra in Plethon's time, from which he acquired his idiosyncrasies, and which remains rooted in the same area today, teaching the same tenets.

There are also, as I mentioned in another thread, a scattering of other living lineages in Greece of varying theological alignment, and some familial lines (whose age it is probably impossible to ever confirm or even guess). I know only little about these.

Yes, there is a secret history of medieval Hellenism, and no, the religion was never completely eradicated. A variety of necessary changes and restructurings occurred, both as a result of the zeitgeist of the last days of 'free Olympianism' in the 4th century CE, and as necessary to ensure survival in the radically different world of the Greek middle ages, but, though battered and numerically decimated, having lost much of what once was, like the Zoroastrians of Iran, some have held out.

I hope that is helpful.

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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Philhellene91 on Fri Apr 25, 2014 1:05 am

Yeah I noticed that the Peloponnesus was a stronghold of olympianism. Unless if there was other areas, which aren't mentioned.

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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Linda on Fri Apr 25, 2014 3:14 pm

I think it's impossible to tell how many there was who kept the old way all trough all those years. I know that in Greece modern Hellenist tend to play up the numbers quite a bit, but that's nothing uncommon in indigenous movements. They play up the numbers, they play up the harsness of the persecution, all to paint their own heroic glory a bit brighter and to make their stories a bit more exciting. Because it always makes up for the good story, about the little people standing up for their belief against some all encompassign state movement, whatever it's a 'party', a 'church', a 'philosophy' or something entirely different. The Guy Fawkes masks have their allure after all. My Greek friends made an educated guess a few years back, that there has always been some 10 - 12 000 believers out there in the ancient faith. Mostly in the rurals, but also in the cities. Like backalley movements and anarchistic cells, but also among the top notch upperclass, among people who have always regarded themselves a bit 'above' a christianity they have interpreted being for the uneducated rabble - something foreign, 'un-greek' and to look down the nose at.
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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  J_Agathokles on Fri May 09, 2014 7:23 am

Erodius wrote:and that he fled the Byzantine Empire altogether for Florence, Italy just before the final Ottoman conquest

I thought his presence in Florence was because the Empreor had invited him on a council between the Byantine Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church in an (unsuccessful) attempt to re-unite the two Churches, to secure Western help for the defense of Constantinopoli. He also used his time in Florence to teach interested people about Platonism (which had long since been forgotten and unknown in the Latin West). I also seem to remember that he went back to Mistra, and died about a year before the fall of Constantinopoli in Mistra (at the age of 98 or something), where he was buried, but later exhumed by Italians followers and reburied in Italy.

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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Erodius on Fri May 09, 2014 8:19 am

Yes, that was his ostensible purpose, being, technically, an employee of the Byzantine court. He does not seem to have done much in the way of his official mission, however, for a variety of reasons, which are fairly obvious. Then, on a personal level, he would have certainly been aware that it was beneficial to his own personal safety to be elsewhere. The Ottomans had already taken the lower Balkans, and even northern Greece itself, down through to the isthmus of Corinth, before the capital was finally taken. It was clear that the remains of the Eastern Roman Empire could not hold out much further.

Likewise, his relationship with the imperial government was shaky, and part of the reason he seems to have gone away from the capital, eventually settling on the Peloponnesus, was to keep a distance from the court and avoid harassment for charges of heresy.

He likely returned to Mystra in advanced old age, possibly simply out of a human desire to spend his last days in a familiar country. The Peloponnesus held out for a short time after Constantinople fell, but was taken as well a short time later.

_________________
"O Best of Gods, blest daimon crown'd with fire . . . hear, and from punishment my soul absolve, the punishment incurr'd by pristine guilt, thro' Lethe's darkness and terrene desire: and if for long-extended years I'm doom'd in these drear realms Heav'n's exile to remain, O grant me soon the necessary means to gain that good which solitude confers on souls emerging from the bitter waves of fraudful Hyle's black, impetuous flood!"
-Iulianic Hymn to Apollon-Helios, ll. 65-106

"Having come for punishment, one must be punished. One must not pull apart the god within oneself."
-Iamblichus, Vita Pythagorica

"Truth would you teach, or save a sinking land,
All hear, none aid you, and few understand."
-Alexander Pope


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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Vadzhij on Wed Mar 11, 2015 9:40 pm

I encourage everyone to read the book Radical Platonism in Byzantium by Niketas Siniossoglou, it's very illuminating as regards the survival of the Hellenic world view as an intellectual option. By Hellenic though I mean Platonic, Plethon's theology is unorthodox from the reconstructionist perspective but it's a valid interpretation of Platonism. Plethon identifies Zeus with Being and the other gods as subdivisions or categories of Being. In Plethon's system Zeus has no parents simply because that would mean there was a prior principle which to Plethon was an impossibility because, following Parmenides, nothing is beyond being, not even Zeus. Zeus has no siblings because being a monist Plethon could not accept any other principle of equal rank to Being. Zeus fathers Poseidon (the limit/form of eternals), the Son is like the Father, but less perfect. The third principle is Hera (the unlimited/intelligible matter) who in Plethon's system is Poseidon's wife, again due to Plethon's monism. Zeus, with the help of Poseidon and Hera create the gods and the world. The gods are categories of being pure and simple: Apollo (identity); Artemis (difference); Hephaestus (rest); Dionysus (self-motion); Athena (movement by external things); Cronus (form of sensibles), and his wife Aphrodite (sensible matter) create all that is mortal much like Poseidon and Hera create all that is immortal. Other gods are likewise rationalized as lower categories, for example, Pan is animal life, Demeter is vegetative life, etc. So while Plethon's ontology differs from Homeric and Hesiodic traditions his system is fully compatible with Platonic ontology.

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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Valencia2014 on Sat May 09, 2015 8:16 pm

Vadzhij wrote:I encourage everyone to read the book Radical Platonism in Byzantium by Niketas Siniossoglou, it's very illuminating as regards the survival of the Hellenic world view as an intellectual option. By Hellenic though I mean Platonic, Plethon's theology is unorthodox from the reconstructionist perspective but it's a valid interpretation of Platonism. Plethon identifies Zeus with Being and the other gods as subdivisions or categories of Being. In Plethon's system Zeus has no parents simply because that would mean there was a prior principle which to Plethon was an impossibility because, following Parmenides, nothing is beyond being, not even Zeus. Zeus has no siblings because being a monist Plethon could not accept any other principle of equal rank to Being. Zeus fathers Poseidon (the limit/form of eternals), the Son is like the Father, but less perfect. The third principle is Hera (the unlimited/intelligible matter) who in Plethon's system is Poseidon's wife, again due to Plethon's monism. Zeus, with the help of Poseidon and Hera create the gods and the world. The gods are categories of being pure and simple: Apollo (identity); Artemis (difference); Hephaestus (rest); Dionysus (self-motion); Athena (movement by external things); Cronus (form of sensibles), and his wife Aphrodite (sensible matter) create all that is mortal much like Poseidon and Hera create all that is immortal. Other gods are likewise rationalized as lower categories, for example, Pan is animal life, Demeter is vegetative life, etc. So while Plethon's ontology differs from Homeric and Hesiodic traditions his system is fully compatible with Platonic ontology.

It seems like they, Byzantine Hellenists, wanted to purify Platonism from its Middle and Late heritages especially the last one.

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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Αγαμέμνων on Sat Jul 11, 2015 3:11 am

Valencia2014 wrote:It seems like they, Byzantine Hellenists, wanted to purify Platonism from its Middle and Late heritages especially the last one.

Πλήθων, Ψελλός, Μιχαήλ Ἐφέσιος were not Hellenist — they were proud Έλληνες. They were the good few men who decided not to forsake their Hellenic heritage for the new Ρωμιοί identity peddled by the Byzantine establishment. Please do not mistake the terminology,  Valencia.

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Re: Hellenism in medieval times

Post  Valencia2014 on Wed Jul 15, 2015 11:51 pm

Αγαμέμνων wrote:
Valencia2014 wrote:It seems like they, Byzantine Hellenists, wanted to purify Platonism from its Middle and Late heritages especially the last one.

Πλήθων, Ψελλός, Μιχαήλ Ἐφέσιος were not Hellenist — they were proud Έλληνες. They were the good few men who decided not to forsake their Hellenic heritage for the new Ρωμιοί identity peddled by the Byzantine establishment. Please do not mistake the terminology,  Valencia.

You're right. I think that Hellenism is just the culture of that certain ethno-linguistic group we call Greeks. Like I say religions and ideologies come and go but that basic ethnic group and it's characteristics remains.

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