Category: Persons

George Pachymeres

Byzantine scholar and philosopher, senior official of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. He copied philosophical manuscripts of Platonic works and completed Proclus’ commentary on the Parmenides. He wrote exegetical works and commentaries, mainly on Aristotle, contributing decisively to the development of philosophical studies in the first decades of the Palaeologian Period (1261-1453).

Life and works

Pachymeres was born at Nicaea in 1242 into a family hailing from Constantinople, which returned to the Basileuousa after its recovery by Michael VIII Palaiologos (1258-1282) in 1261. At a young age he was ordained a deacon in the Hagia Sophia and began his career as an employee of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (as notary of the Patriarchate, he was a member of the delegation which, in 1265, informed the Patriarch Arsenios Autoreianos, who had previously excommunicated Michael VIII, of the decision to have him deposed). Early on, he also assumed teaching duties in the Patriarchate: before 1275/1276 he had written comments on the Iliad of Homer for teaching purposes, while from the same period date his numerous Progumnasmata and Meletai which served the teaching of rhetoric. Having probably taken the office of didaskalos tou Psaltêros, he wrote comments on the Psalms, while as didaskalos tou Apostolou he signed in 1277 the document which ratified the decisions of the Council of Lyon (1274) in favour of the reunification of the Eastern and the Western Churches. However, after the change in ecclesiastical policy brought on by Andronicos II Palaeologos (1282-1328), Pachymeres signed in 1285 the Synodical Tome condemning the unionist Patriarch John XI Bekkos. During the same period, he produced a brief but comprehensive treatise against the western doctrine on the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pachymeres received progressively higher ecclesiastical offices. As hieromnêmôn, he published a paraphrase of the works by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, which he dedicated to the Patriarch Athanasius II of Alexandria, and probably before 1296 he had been appointed prôtekdikos, an office which he combined with the imperial function of dikaiophylax.

As “prôtekdikos and dikaiophylax” Pachymeres wrote an extensive historical work in 13 books (Sungraphikai historiai), which deals with the period between the year 1255 and the ‘present,’ i.e. July 1307. At the end of his history, Pachymeres records the ongoing conflict between the higher clergy of Hagia Sophia and the Patriarch Athanasius I of Constantinople (1303-1309) in the context of the reform of the Church attempted by the latter. The conflict culminated in the cutting of the wages the Church’s archons, judged by the ascetic Patriarch as luxurious and too versed in secular literature. In his work Philosophia, which is a synopsis of Aristotelian philosophy in 12 books and dates from 1307/1308, Pachymeres attempts to defend the value of philosophy against the hostile attitude towards Greek education held by Athanasius, whom he characterises as an agent of “secular disorder and confusion.” Pachymeres engaged subsequently in the writing of individual Commentaries on various treatises by Aristotle (Organon, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics and On the Parts of Animals).

The exact date of Pachymeres’ death remains unknown; but it must fall within the years 1310-1315.

Pachymeres’ Platonism

Despite his extensive involvement with Aristotelian philosophy and the fact that he characterises himself in his historical work as a follower of chiefly Aristotle, Pachymeres was very well acquainted with the philosophy of Plato and with his Neoplatonic commentators. In his history he uses extensively the Laws, while in the paraphrase of the works by Pseudo-Dionysius he shows great familiarity with the work of Proclus, whom he accuses, reversing the historical events (as we are in a position to know today), of usurping Dionysius’ words (see Primary sources). It is worth noting that the epitaph in verse composed in honour of his teacher, Pachymeres’ student Manuel Philes says characteristically that “now you have also died (that is, with Pachymeres), old Plato”.

Pachymeres derives from Plato mainly the belief according to which he thinks the value and usefulness of philosophy must be determined. In the preamble of the first book of the Philosophy, he declares that “philosophy was sent to us by some divine destiny as a divine gift, such that has never been given and will never be given to humans by God” (cf. Timaeus, 47b1-2), and paraphrasing the Phaedrus (cf. 246b7-c2) he appeals in the general preamble of the same work for “the feather of soul” that is fed “on the prairie … where the divine is”, which is called, like the Platonic Forms, “beauty in itself and wisdom in itself and good in itself”. Pachymeres is not a Platonist in the strictest sense, but develops Byzantine eclecticism so as to include both Plato and Aristotle as beneficial originators of the theoretical life and as sufficient exponents of the truth such as it was possible before the Christian Revelation. It is characteristic that, in his Commentary on the Physics, Pachymeres identifies Aristotle’s “prime unmoved mover” with the “blessed and only Potentate” of the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 6, 15), and that he closes this work with a poem of 33 hexameters inspired by the epilogical prayers of the pagan Simplicius; the poem is introduced as a praise of Aristotle and transforms into Pachymeres’ personal hymn to God.

Pachymeres wrote two manuscript codices with Platonic content: the Neapolitanus gr. 339 (containing Proclus’ commentary on the Alcibiades I, the Phaedo, the Charmides and the Laches) and the Parisinus gr. 1810 (containing the Euthyphro, the Crito, the Apology of Socrates, Hermias’ commentary on the Phaedrus, Proclus’ commentary on the Parmenides, the Republic and the Symposium). For Hermias’ commentary on the Phaedrus and Proclus’ commentary on the Alcibiades I, Pachymeres’ codices constitute the archetypes of the surviving manuscript tradition. In the cod. Par. gr. 1810, Pachymeres also completed Proclus’ commentary on the Parmenides, which is interrupted at the end of the First Hypothesis of the Platonic dialogue. Pachymeres circumvents Proclus’ division of the dialogue into nine hypotheses resulting in different polytheistic structures, but adopts the basic exegetical approach of the Neoplatonist philosopher, according to which, for each of the two basic hypotheses (if it is, if it is not) for a given object, he examines three consequences (what follows, what does not follow, what follows and does not follow) involving four relations (the thing towards itself, the thing towards its opposites, the opposites towards themselves, the opposites towards the thing), in order to interpret the dialogue as a dialectical exercise.

PRIMARY SOURCES

George Pachymeres, In Opera S. Dionysii Areopagitae, in J.-P. Migne (ed.), Patrologia Graeca, vol. 3, column 116 Α:

“We must know that some of the outer philosophers, above all Proclus, use frequently the doctrines of the blessed Dionysius, and this in the very same wording. And we can suspect from that that the oldest of the philosophers of Athens withheld the fact that they usurped Dionysius’ treatises, wishing to present themselves as fathers of his divine words”.
Author: Pantelis Golitsis
  • Golitsis, P. "Georges Pachymère comme didascale. Essai pour une reconstitution de sa carrière et de son enseignement philosophique." JÖB 58 (2008)
  • Westerink, L. G. Γεώργιος Παχυμέρης, Ὑπόμνημα εἰς τὸν Παρμενίδην Πλάτωνος: George Pachymeres, Commentary on Plato's Parmenides [Anonymous Sequel to Proclus’ Commentary]. Αθήνα, 1989.
  • Couloubaritsis, L. "Georges Pachymère et le Parménide de Platon." Romano, F. , Barbanti, M. eds. Il Parmenide di Platone e la sua tradizione. Catania: Catania, 2002.
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