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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 


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After having founded a monastery of his own, Blemmydes established himself there. He participated in the religious discussions of his epoch, came near being elected patriarch, devoted most of his time to his literary studies, survived the restoration of the Byzantine Empire by Michael Palaeologus, and peacefully passed away in his monastery about the year 1272. Blemmydes' contemporaries unanimously pay to him the highest tributes.

Numerous and varied works of Blemmydes have been preserved. The two autobiographies of Blemmydes give much valuable information about both the life and personality of the author and the ecclesiastical history and the political and social conditions of his epoch; in fact, the second is one of the very important sources for the history of Byzantium in the thirteenth century. Blemmydes was the author of a very great number of theological writings in the field of dogmatics, polemics, asceticism, exegetics, liturgies, ecclesiastical poetry, sermons, and lives of the saints. His version of some psalms, designed for the church service, became later a prescribed part of vespers in the Greek church, appeared afterwards in the south Slavonic churches, and finally reached Russia.

Blemmydes' secular works are also of great interest. His political treatise The Imperial Statue (Βασιλικὸς Ἀνδριάς), dedicated to his pupil, Emperor Theodore II Lascaris, depicts an ideal ruler who is to serve as an example of various dignities and virtues; this emperor is a model of all good, and shines brighter than the celebrated Polycleitus; in his life Theodore must follow such a model. In the opinion of Blemmydes, the ruler is the highest official ordained by God to care for the people subject to him and to lead them to the highest good. The emperor as the prop and stay of the people should have in view the welfare of his subjects, should not give vent to anger, should avoid flatterers, and should care for the army and navy. During peace he must prepare for war, because strong weapons are the best protection; it is necessary for him to care for the internal organization of the state, for religion, and for justice. May the emperor, Blemmydes said at the end of the treatise, accept favorably this word of mine, and may he listen to better advice from wiser men which he will collect and keep carefully in the depth of his soul. The starting point of all the speculations of the author on the ideal ruler is this statement: First of all, the emperor must control himself, and then govern all his people. The exact sources which Blemmydes used for his treatise are not known. The opinions of scholars vary as to the significance of this treatise. This work of Blemmydes, a special writer on his life and works said, has a particular value and significance, chiefly because it perfectly answered the needs and requirements of the Greek people of that time. They had lost Constantinople, found refuge at Nicaea, and they dreamt, through an experienced, strong, energetic, and enlightened monarch, of driving out the foreigners from the shores of the Bosporus and returning to their fatherland. Such an ideal monarch was portrayed by Blemmydes.

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