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Joannes ITALUS

78. ITALUS (Ἰταλὸς), philosopher and heresiarch in the reign of Alexis or Alexius I. Comnenus (A. D. 1081-1118) and his predecessors, derived his name from the country of his birth, Italy. He was the son of an Italian, who engaged as an auxiliary in an attempt of the Sicilians to withdraw from their subjection to the Byzantine emperor, and took with him his son, then a child, who thus spent his early years, not in the schools, but the camp. When the Byzantine commander, George Maniaces, revolted against Constantine X. [GEORGIUS, Historical, No. 15], A. D. 1042, the father of Italus fled back to Italy with his son, who after a time found his way to Constantinople. He had already made some attainments, especially in logic. At Constantinople he pursued his studies under several teachers, and last under Michael Psellus the younger; with whom, however, he soon quarrelled, not being able, according to Anna Comnena, to enter into the subtleties of his philosophy, and being remarkable for his arrogance and disputatious temper. He is described as having a commanding figure, being moderately tall and broad-chested, with a large head, a prominent forehead, an open nostril, and wellknit limbs. He knew the Greek language well, but spoke it with a foreign accent. He acquired the favour of the emperor Michael Ducas (A. D. 1071-1078) and his brothers; and the emperor, when he was contemplating the recovery of the Byzantine portion of Italy, counting on the attachment of Italus, and expecting to derive advantage from his knowledge of that country, sent him to Dyrrachium; but having detected him in some acts of treachery, he ordered him to be removed. Italus, aware of this, fled to Rome; from whence, by feigning repentance, he obtained the emperor's permission to return to Constantinople, where he fixed himself in the monastery of Pege. On the banishment of Psellus from the capital (A. D. 1077), and his enforced entrance on a monastic life, Italus obtained the dignity of Γ̔́πατος τῶμ Φιλοδόφων, or principal teacher of philosophy; and filled that office with great appearance of learning ; though he was better skilled in logic and in the Aristotelian philosophy than in other parts of science, and had little acquaintance with grammar and rhetoric. He was passionate, and ride in disputation, not abstaining even from personal violence ; but eager to acknowledge his impetuosity, and ask pardon for it, when the fit was over. His school was crowded with pupils, to whom he expounded the writings of Proclus and Plato, Iamblichus, Porphyry, and Aristotle. His turbulence and arrogance of spirit seem to have been infectious; for Anna Comnena declares that many seditious persons (τυραννούς) arose among his pupils; but their names she could not remember : they were, however, before the accession of Alexis. The disturbances which arose from the teachings of Italus attracted the emperor's attention apparently soon after his accession; and by his order, Italus, after a preliminary examination by Isaac, the sebastocrator, the brother of Alexis, was cited before an ecclesiastical court. Though protected by the patriarch Eustratius, whose favour lie had won, he narrowly escaped death from the violence of the mob of Constantinople; and he was forced publicly and bareheaded to retract and anathematize eleven propositions, embodying the obnoxious sentiments which he was charged with holding. Cave places these transactions in A. D. 1084. He was charged with teaching the transmigration of souls, with holding some erroneous opinions about ideas, and with ridiculing the use of images in worship; and he is said to have succeeded in diffusing his heresies among many of the nobles and officers of the palace, to the great grief of the orthodox emperor. Notwithstanding his enforced retractation, he still continued to inculcate his sentiments, until, after a vain attempt by the emperor to restrain him, he was himself sentenced to be anathematized; but as he professed repentance, the anathema was not pronounced publicly, nor in all its extent. He afterwards fully renounced his errors, and made the sincerity of his renunciation manifest. The above account rests on the authority of Anna Comnena (Alexias. 5.8, 9, pp. 143-149, ed. Paris, pp. 115-119, ed. Venice, vol. i. pp. 256-267, ed. Bonn), whose anxiety to exalt the reputation of her father, and her disposition to disparage the people of Western Europe, prevents our relying implicitly on her statements, which, however, Le Beau (Bas Empire, 54.81.49) has adopted to their full extent. The anathema pronounced on his opinions is published in the Greek ecclesiastical book Τριώδιον, Triodium (Cave, Hist. Litt. vol. ii. Dissertatio Secunda, p. 38), and from this it is inferred by Du Cange (Nota in Annae Comn. Alexiad.), that his views were not dissimilar to those of the western heretic Abailard.


Some works of Italus are extant in MS.

Further Information

Fabric. Bibl. Gr. vol. iii. pp. 213, 217, vol. vi. p. 131, vol. xi. pp. 646, 652; Cave, Hist. Litt. vol. ii. p. 154; Oudin, Commentar. de Scriptorib. et Scriptis Ecclesiasticis, vol. ii. col. 760; Lambecius, Commentar. de Biblioth. Caesar. ed. Kollar. lib. iii. col. 411, seq. note A.

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