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21. BESSARION or BESSARIO, sometimes BESARION, BISSARION, BISARION, or BIZARION (Βησσαρίων or Βησαρίων, or Βισσαρίων), in Italian BESSARIONE. The first name of this eminent ecclesiastic has been the subject of dispute : he is commonly mentioned by the name Bessarion only : some have prefixed the name of Basilius, others (as Panzer, Annales Typog. Indices) that of Nicolaus; but it has been shown by Bandini (Commentarius de Vita Bessarionis, 100.2) upon the authority of the cardinal himself, that his name was Joannes or John. He was born at Trapezus, or Trebizond, A. D. 1395, whether of an obscure or noble, or even royal family, is much disputed. He studied at Constantinople, and attended the school of Georgius Chrysococces [CHRYSOCOCCES], and had for his fellow-student Francesco Filelfo (Franciscus Philelphus), as appears from a letter of Filelfo dated x. Cal. Feb. 1448. (Philelphus, Epistolae, lib. vi. fol. 84, ed. Basil. 1506.) Having embraced a monastic life in the order of St. Basil, he turned his attention from poetry and oratory, in which he had already become eminent, to theology, which he studied under two of the most learned metropolitans of the Greek church. He also studied the Platonic philosophy under Georgius Pletho or Gemistus [GEMISTUS], for whom he ever retained the greatest reverence, and under whom he became a zealous Platonist. To study under Gemistus he withdrew (apparently about A. D. 1416 or 1417) into the Morea, and remained 21 years in a monastery there, except when engaged in diplomatic missions for the emperors of Constantinople and Trebizond.

Bessarion was an advocate for the proposed union of the two churches, the Latin and the Greek, and was one of those who urged upon the emperor Joannes Palaeologus the convocation of the general council for the purpose, which met A. D. 1438 at Ferrara, and from thence adjourned to Florence. He had, just before the meeting of the council, been appointed archbishop of Nicaea, and appeared as one of the managers of the conference on the side of the Greeks, Mark, archbishop of Ephesus [M. EUGENICUS], being the other. He at first advocated, on the points of difference between the two churches, the opinions generally entertained by the Greeks, but was soon converted to the Latin side, either from honest conviction, as he himself affirmed, or, as his enemies intimated, in the hope of receiving honours and emoluments from the pope. He was possibly influenced by a feeling of jealousy against Mark of Ephesus, his coadjutor. Phranza asserts (2.17) that on the death of Joseph, patriarch of Constantinople [JOSEPHUS, No. 7], during the sitting of the council, the emperor Joannes Palaeologus and the council elected Bessarion to succeed him; but Bessarion probably thought that his Latinist predilections, however acceptable to the emperor, would not recommend him to his countrymen in general, and declined the appointment. He did not, however, remain in Italy, as Phranza incorrectly states, but returned to Constantinople soon after the breaking up of the council. He was, however, almost immediately induced to return to Italy by the intelligence that the pope had conferred on him (Dec. 1439) a cardinal's hat. This honour, following so close upon his embracing the side of the Latins, and the fact that the pope had previously granted him an annuity, gave colour to the report that his change had not been wholly disinterested. Hody rejects the story of his election to the patriarchate, but his arguments are not convincing: the facts urged by him only show that the patriarchate was vacant at the dissolution of the council, which it would be in consequence of Bessarion's declining it.

From this time he resided ordinarily at Rome, where his house became the resort and asylum of men of letters. Filelfo (Philelphus), Poggio Fiorentino, Lorenzo or Laurentius Valla, Platina, and others, were among his intimate friends, and he was the patron of the Greek exiles, Theodore Gaza, George of Trebizond, Argyropulus, and others. In A. D. 1449 he was appointed by Nicolas V. bishop of Savina, and shortly afterwards of Frascati, the ancient Tusculum. About the same time he was appointed legate of Bologna: he retained this office about five years, and succeeded, by his prudence and moderation, in restoring the tranquillity of the district. He exerted himself also to revive the former splendour of the university, which had much decayed. On the death of Nicolas V. (A. D. 1455), he returned to Rome, to the great grief of the Bolognese; and would probably have been chosen to the vacant papacy but for jealousy of his Greek origin entertained by a few of the cardinals. Cardinal Alfonso Borgia was therefore chosen, and assumed the name of Callistus or Calixtus III. During the papacy of Callistus, and of his successor, Pius II., Bessarion was very earnest in rousing the princes and states of Italy to defend what remained of the Greek empire after the fall of Constantinople. He visited Naples, where he was honourably received by the king, Alfonso; and attended the congress of Mantua, held A. D. 1458 or 1459, soon after the election of pope Pius II., for the purpose of forming a league against the Turks. He shortly after visited Germany as papal legate, to unite, if possible, the Germans and Hungarians in a league against the same enemy; but his efforts on all these occasions failed of their purpose, and he returned to Rome before the end of 1461. In 1463 he was appointed by the pope bishop of Chalcis, in Negroponte (Euboea), and soon after titular patriarch of Constantinople, in which character he addressed an encyclical letter to the clergy of his patriarchate, in which he exhorted them to union with the Latin church, and submission to the papal authority. It is remarkable that in this letter, according to the version of Arcudio, he styled himself " oecumenical patriarch," notwithstanding the umbrage which that ambitious title had formerly given (See Nos. 27, 28, JOANNES CAPPADOX, 1, 2) to the Roman see, under subjection to which he was now living. During the pontificate of Pius he was made dean of the College of Cardinals. In the same year, 1463, Bessarion was sent as legate to Venice, to prevail on the Venetians to unite in a league with the pope against the Turks. His efforts on this occasion were successful, and lie induced the Venetians to fit out a fleet, in which he returned to Ancona, just in time to attend the dying bed of the pope, Pius II., and the election of his successor, Paul II., A. D. 1464. During the papacy of the latter (1464-1471) Bessarion mingled little in public affairs, and devoted himself to literary pursuits. About the end of 1468 he took part in the solemn reception of the emperor Frederic III. at Rome.

On the death of Paul II., A. D. 1471, Bessarion was again near being elected pope, but jealousy or accident prevented it, and Francesco della Rovere was chosen, and took the title of Sixtus IV. Sixtus, anxious to remove Bessarion from Rome, entrusted to him the legation to Louis XI. of France, that he might effect a reconciliation between Louis and the Duke of Burgundy, and induce them to join the leagueagainst the Turks. Bessarion, who was now far advanced in age, and afflicted with a disease of the bladder, was anxious to decline the appointment, but the pope was pressing; and early in the spring of 1472 he set out for the Netherlands, to confer with the Duke of Burgundy. His making the first application to the Duke excited the jealousy of Louis, and Bessarion failed in his object. Bessarion died at Ravenna 18th Nov. 1472, in the 77th year of his age, on his return from France. His body was conveyed to Rome, and buried there in a tomb which he had prepared in his lifetime, in a chapel of the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles, the pope himself attending his funeral obsequies. The year of Bessarion's death has been variously stated, but the date given above is correct.

Bessarion was held in great respect by his contemporaries, and deservedly so. With the exception of his opportune conversion at Florence, in which, after all, nothing can be urged against him but the suspiciousness which attaches to every conversion occurring at a convenient time, his career was exempt from reproach. He supported, by every exertion that his position allowed, the cause of his falling country, and was a generous patron to his exiled fellow-countrymen. His literary labours and his important services in the revival of classical literature, entitle him to the gratitude of subsequent ages. His valuable library he gave in his lifetime (A. D. 1468) to the library of St. Mark, belonging to the republic of Venice; and it was deposited first in the ducal palace, and then in a building erected for the library, of which the Latin and Greek MSS. of Bessarion are among the most precious treasures.


The works of Bessarion are numerous : they comprehend original works and translations from Greek into Latin. Of the original works several exist only in MS. in various libraries, especially in that of St. Mark at Venice. We give only his published works: the others are enumerated by Bandini, Hody, Cave, and Fabricius.

I. Theological Works

1. Λόγος

Λόγος, Sermo; a discourse in honour of the Council of Ferrara, delivered at the opening of the council, A. D. 1438


Printed in the Concilia (vol. xiii. col. 35, &c., ed. Labbe; vol. ix. col. 27, ed. Hardouin; vol. 31, col. 495, &c., ed. Mansi).

2. Δογματικὸς περὶ ἑνώσεως λόγος (

Called also De Compunctione (Panzer, vol. viii. p. 271 ); delivered at the same council (col. 391, &c., Labbe; col. 983, &c., Mansi).


Declaratio aliquorum quae in dicta Oratione Dogmatica continentur, quae Graecis notissima, Latinis ignota sunt, written in Latin and subjoined to the preceding oration.



The Greek original, with two Latin versions, one by Bessarion himself, and one by Pietro Arcudio, was published in the Opuscula Aurea Theologica of the latter, Rome, 1649: a Latin version appears in the Concilia (col. 1227, &c., Labbe).


This letter, noticed in our biographical sketch, was also published by Arcudio with a double version, one by himself, and one by Bessarion.


A Latin version, apparently of this letter, as it is entitled Epistola ad Graecos, was printed with a version of the work on the eucharist mentioned below at Strasburg, 4to. A. D. 1513. (Panzer, vol. vi. p. 62.)

A Latin version also is given by Raynald, Annal. Ecclesiast. ad ann. 1463, c. lviii. &c.



This work, with a Latin version, was published by Arcudio.



Published, with a Latin version, by Arcudio.



A Latin version of this, by Niccolo Sagundino, is contained in the Museum Italicum of Mabillon, vol. i. part ii. p. 243, &c.

9. Or,


A Latin version of this was published, as we have noticed above, at Strasburg, A. D. 1513; and also at Nuremburg, A. D. 1527. (Panzer, vol. vii. p. 473). One appears in the Bibliotheca Patrum (vol. xxvi. p. 787, &c. ed. Lyon. 1677).



printed with the Dialoge of Salonius, of Vienna, 4to. Haguenau, 1532, Panzer, vol. vii. p. 109.

11. and, 12.


These two letters are inserted in the Latina et Italica D. Marci Bibliotheca Codd. MStorum per Titulos Digesta, of Zanetti. Fol. Venice, 1741, pp. 76, 196.

II. Philosophical and Miscellaneous Works


A reply in Latin to the Comparationes Philosophorum Platonis et Aristotelis of George of Trebizond. [GEORGIUS, No. 48, TRAPEZUNTIUS.]


Bessarion's work was first printed at Rome by Sweynheym and Pannartz, A. D. 1469.



This work, written some time before the preceding, was printed with it as a sixth book.



written in Greek, and printed with a Latin version by Reimar, Leyden, A. D. 1722, from a MS. in the Bodleian Library.


In these letters he severely reprehends Apostolius for the violent attack which he had made on Theodore Gaza, and commends Callistus, who had replied in a moderate and decent manner to the attack of Apostolius.


The letters of Bessarion were published by Boivin in his Historia Academiae Regiae Inscriptionum, vol. ii. p. 456.


This letter was written to the sons of George Gemistus after their fit.ther's death.


It was published by Allatius (Diatriba de Georgiis, p. 392, and De Consensu Ecclesiae, Occident. et Orient., lib. iii. c. iii. p. 937.)


Thomas Palaeologus, despot of the Morea, and brother of the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XIII., when driven out of the Morea by the Turks, fled with his wife and children to Rome, where he was much indebted to the good offices of Bessarion, who, upon his death, continued his friendly care towards his orphan children.


The letter of Bessarion was printed by Meursius, with the Opuscula of Hesychius of Miletus [HESYCHIUS, No. 9.], Leyden, A. D. 1613.



This Latin letter is printed in the Historia Rerum Venetiarum of Justiniani, at the end of the eighth book.



A Latin version of this Monody by Niccolo Perotti is given in the Annales Ecclesiastici of Bzovius, vol. xviii. p. 72, &c.


These orations were designed to rouse the states and princes of Western Europe against the Turks.


Three of these were published at Paris, A. D. 1471, and apparently a second time in A. D. 1500 (Panzer, vol. ii. p. 332), and the whole four in the second volume of the Consultationes atque Orationes Turcicae of Nicolas Reusner.


An Italian version, we know not whether of the three or four, was printed, probably at Venice, A. D. 1471. (Panzer, vol. iii. p. 80.)



published in the Spicilegium of D'Achéry, vol. iv. Paris, 1661.

23. Various and


Including apparently some of those already noticed, in 1 vol. 4to., without note of place or year of publication, but known to have been printed by (Guil. Fitchet, Paris, about 1470 or 1472. (Panzer, vol. ii. p. 271.)

Versions into Latin

His versions into Latin were of the following works:



printed in various editions of Xenophon, and separately in 4to, at Louvain, A. D. 1533.



Repeatedly printed.



Repeatedly printed, subjoined to his version of the Metaphysica of Aristotle.


These homilies are extant only in MS.

Versions of Aristotle and Theophrastus


The versions of Aristotle and Theophrastus are contained, with the work In Calumniatorem Platonis, in a volume published by Aldus, Venice, 1516.

Further Information

Aloysius Bandinius, De Vita et Rebus Gestis Bessarionis Cardinalis Nicaeni Commentarius, 4to, Rome, 1777 ; Hody, De Graecis Illustribus Linguae Graecae, &c. Instauratoribus ; Boerner, De Doctis Hominibus Graecis; Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. xi. p. 422, &c.; Cave, Hist. Litt. vol. ii. Appendix by Gery and Wharton, pp. 138, 139; Oudin, Commentar. de Scriptor. Eccles. vol. iii. col. 2411, &c.; Niceron, Mémoires, vol. xxi. p. 129; Ducas, Hist. Byzant. c. xxxi.; Phranza, Philelphus Epistolae, Labbe Concilia, Mansi Concilia, ll. cc.; Panzer, Annales Typographici (ll. cc. and vol. ii. p. 411, vol. viii. pp. 363, 434); Laonicus Chalcocondyles, Historia Turcarum, vol. vi. viii. pp. 155, 228, ed. Paris, pp. 121, 178, ed. Venice; Nic. Comnenus Papadopoli, Hist. Gymnas. Patavini, vol. ii. lib. 2. c.8, p. 171.

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