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Gemistus, Geo'rgius

Γεώργιος Γεμιστός), or GEO'RGIUS PLETHO ( Πλήθων). one of the later and most celebrated Byzantine writers, lived in the latter part of the fourteenth and in the beginning of the fifteenth century. He was probably a native of Constantinople, but passed most of his life in the Peloponnesus. In 1426 he held a high office, under the emperor Manuel Palaeologus. He was called Γεμιστός, or Πλήθων, on account of the extraordinary amount of knowledge which he possessed in nearly all the branches of science; and the great number of writings which he left prove that his surname was by no means mere flattery. Gemistus was one of the deputies of the Greek church that were present at the council of Florence, held in 1438, under pope Eugenius IV., for the purpose of effecting a union between the Latin and Greek churches. Gemistus at first was rather opposed to that union, since his opinion on the nature of the Holy Ghost differed greatly from the belief of the Romish church, but he afterwards gave way, and, without changing his opinion on that subject, was active in promoting the great object of the council. The union, however, was not accomplished. Gemistus was still more renowned as a philosopher than as a divine. In those times the philosophy of Aristotle was prevalent, but it had degenerated into a mere science of words. Disgusted with scholastic philosophy, Gemistus made Plato the subject of long and deep study, and the propagation of the Platonic philosophy became henceforth his principal aim: the celebrated cardinal Bessarion was one of his numerous disciples. During his stay at Florence he was introduced to Cosmo de Medici; and having succeeded in persuading this distinguished man of the superiority of the system of Plato over that of Aristotle, he became the leader of a new school of philosophy in the West. Plato's philosophy became fashionable at Florence, and had soon gained so much popularity in Italy as to overshadow entirely the philosophy of Aristotle. But Gemistus and his disciples went too far: it was even said that he had attempted to substitute Platonism for Christianism; and before the end of the century Plato had ceased to be the model of Italian philosophers. Gemistus is, nevertheless, justly considered as the restorer of Platonic philosophy in Europe. He was, of course, involved in numberless controversies with the Aristotelians, in the West as well as in the East, among whom Georgius, of Trebizond, held a high rank, and much bitterness and violence were displayed on each side. In 1441 Gemistus was again in the Peloponnesus as an officer of the emperor: he was then advanced in years. He is said to have lived one hundred years, but we do not know when he died.


Gemistus wrote a surprising number of scientific works, dissertations, treatises, compilations, &c. concerning divinity, history, geography, philosophy, and miscellaneous subjects. Several of them have been printed. The principal are:--

1. Ἐκ τῶν Διοδώρου καὶ Πλουτάρχου, περὶ τῶν μετὰ τὴν ἐν Μαντινείᾳ μάχην, ἐν κεφαλαίοις διάληψις (

Ἐκ τῶν Διοδώρου καὶ Πλουτάρχου, περὶ τῶν μετὰ τὴν ἐν Μαντινείᾳ μάχην, ἐν κεφαλαίοις διάληψις, being extracts of Diodorus Siculus and Plutarchus, which are better known under their Latin title, De Gestis Graecorum post pugnam ad Mantineam Duobus Libris Digesta.


The Greek text, Venice, 1503, fol.; a Latin translation, by Marcus Antonius Antimachus, Basel, 1540, 4to.; the Greek text, together with Herodotus. Basel, 1541; the Greek text, by Zacharias Orthus, professor at the university of Greifswald, Rostock, 1575, 8vo.; the same by professor Reichard, under the title Γεωργίου Γεμίστου τοῦ καὶ Πληθωνος Ἑλληνικῶν Βιβλία B, Leipzig, 1770, 8vo.


There are French, Italian, and Spanish translations of this book.

2. Περὶ Εἱμαρμένης (


With a Latin translation, and Bessarion's epistle on the same subject, by H. S. Reimarus, Leiden, 1722, 8vo.

3. Περὶ Ἀρετῶν (


The text, together with some of the minor works of the author, Antwerp, 1552, fol.; with a Latin translation, by Adolphus Orcanus, Basel, 1552, 8vo.; by H. Wolphius, Jena, 1590, 8vo.


Orationes duae de Rebus Peloponnesiacis constituendis, one addressed to the emperor Manuel Palaeologus, and the other to the despot Theodorus.


Ed. with a Latin translation, together with the Editio Princeps of the Eclogae of Stobaeus, by G. Canterns, Antwerp, 1575, fol.

5. Περὶ ὧν Ἀριστοτέλης πρὸς Πλάτωνα διαφέρεται (


The Greek text, with a Latin paraphrase, by Bernardinus Donatus, Venice, 1532, 8vo.; the same, with a dissertation of Donatus on the same subject, ib. 1540, 8vo.; the same, with the same dissertation, Paris, 1541, 8vo.; a Latin translation, by G. Chariandrus, Basel, 1574, 4to. This is one of his most remarkable works.

5. Μαγικὰ λογία τῶν ἀπὸ Ζωροάστρου ἐξηγηθέντα.

The Greek title differs in the MSS.: the work is best known under its Latin title, Oracula Magica Zoroastris, and is an essay on the religion of the ancient Persians.


The text, with a Latin translation, by T. Opsopoeus, Paris, 1599, 8vo.; by Thryllitsch, Leipzig, 1719, 4to.

Other Works

Besides these works, Gemistus made extracts of Appian's Syriaca, his object being to elucidate the history of the Macedonian kings of Syria : of Theophrastus (History of Plants); Aristotle (History of Animals, &c.); Diodorus Siculus (with regard to the kingdoms of Assyria and Media); Xenophon, Dionysius Halicarnasseus, and several other writers, whose works are either partly or entirely lost. He further wrote Prolegomena Artis Rhetoricae, Funeral Orations (G. Gemistii sive Plethonis et Michaelis Apostolii Orationes Funebres Duae, in quibus de Immortalitate Animae exponitur, nunc primum ex MSS. editae, by Professor Fülleborn, Leipzig, 1793, 8vo.); Essays on Music, Letters to Cardinal Bessarion, and other celebrated contemporaries, &c. &c., which are extant in MS. in different libraries of Europe. His geographical labours deserve particular notice. The Royal Library at Munich has a MS. of Gemistus, entitled Διαγραφὴ ἁπάσης Πελοποννήσου παραλίου καὶ μεσογείου, being a description of the Peloponnesus, in which he fixes the positions according to the system of Ptolemy, with the writer's own corrections and additions. Gemistus wrote also a Topography of Thessaly, and two small treatises, the one on the form and size of the globe, and the other on some geographical errors of Strabo, which are contained in the Anecdota of Siebenkees. Laporte Dutheil, the translator of Strabo, derived considerable advantage from extracts of Gemistus, from the 7th, 8th, and 1 th book of Strabo; and the celebrated Latin edition of Ptolemy, published in 1478, and dedicated to pope Sixtus IV., by Calderino, was revised after an ancient Greek MS. of Ptolemy, in which Gemistus had written his corrections. A publication of all the different inedited MSS. of Gemistus extant in various libraries in Europe would be most desirable: the classical no less than the Oriental scholar would derive equal advantage from such an undertaking.

Further Information

Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. viii. p. 79, not. dd, xii. p. 85, &c.; Leo Allatius, De Georgiis, No. 55; Wharton in Appendix to Cave, Hist. Lit. p. 141; Boivin, Académie des Belles Lettres, vol. ii. p. 716; Hamberger, Nachrichten von den vornehmsten Schriftstellern, vol. iv. p. 712, &c.


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