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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)

Education, learning, literature, and art 


The Original Greek New Testament
Page 2

As in the epoch of the Comneni, the educated people of the thirteenth century wrote, with very few exceptions, in the artificial school-Greek tongue. This had broken away from the spoken language, which was not admitted in literature. The Greek classical writers and the Church Fathers were the models under whose yoke the medieval educated Greeks in general, and the Greeks of the thirteenth century in particular, lived and thought.

The most eminent figure in the cultural life of the Nicene Empire was, undoubtedly, Nicephorus Blemmydes. Besides many works of various kinds, he left two interesting autobiographies published in 1896 by the German scholar, A. Heisenberg. These give a picture not only of the life of the author, but also of the events and men of his epoch.

Blemmydes was born in Constantinople at the very end of the twelfth century. After the taking of the capital by the Latins the boy Blemmydes and his parents emigrated to Asia Minor, in the dominions of Theodore I Lascaris. There he started his education in the elementary school. Passing from city to city, Blemmydes became gradually acquainted, through various teachers, with poetics, rhetoric, logic, philosophy, natural sciences, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, physics, and astronomy. Then he settled in a monastery and, for the first time, devoted himself entirely to the active study of the Scriptures and the works of the Fathers.

In Vatatzes' reign, Patriarch Germanus had a feeling of affection for Blemmydes, kept him at his court, and made him familiar with the broad interests of the Church. But Blemmydes had a tendency to solitary life, abandoned the court in spite of the persuasions of the patriarch, and retired to a monastery on the mountain of Latros, close to Miletus, in Caria, famous for its strict monastic rule, where he devoted himself to the spiritual life. On his return from the monastery, during the negotiations of Vatatzes and the patriarch with the papal legates concerning union, Blemmydes was a strict defender of the Orthodox doctrine; finally, he took refuge in the cowl and established himself in a monastery, where he occupied himself with his scientific works, founded a school, and became a teacher of philosophy.

Among other young men entrusted to Blemmydes by the Emperor was the future historian and statesman George Acropolita. Vatatzes, attentive to the progress of learning and art in his Empire, sent Blemmydes on a scientific mission through Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, Mount Athos, and other places, to purchase valuable manuscripts of the Scriptures and other works, or, if purchase were impossible, to read them and make extracts and notes. This commission successfully fulfilled, enriched Blemmydes' mind with new knowledge that greatly astonished his contemporaries. The Emperor confided to his care the education of his son and heir, Theodore Lascaris, who later became an enlightened ruler and writer.

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