Demetrios Kydones (1324, Thessalonica-1398, Crete), Byzantine humanist scholar,
statesman, and theologian who introduced the study of the Greek language and
culture to the Italian Renaissance. From a very early age he started studying the classical
writers, especially Plato and Demosthenes.
Cydones was a student of the Greek classical scholar and philosopher Nilus
Cabasilas. In 1354 he went to Italy, where he studied the writings of the
leading medieval philosophical theologians. Attracted to Latin
Scholasticism, he made Greek translations of the major works of Western
writers, including tracts by Augustine of Hippo (5th century) and Thomas
Aquinas' ("Compendium of Theology").
By 1365 he had made a profession of faith in the Latin church.
Returning to Constantinople, Cydones was named prime minister by Emperor John
V Palaeologus (1369). With the weakening of Byzantine resistance to the Arabs,
he retired to private life about 1383. In 1390 Cydones returned to Italy and
opened an academy of Greek culture in Venice. Attracting Venetian and Florentine
students, he effected a cultural exchange that diffused Greek language and
thought throughout Italy and served as a stimulus for the Italian Renaissance.
He formed, moreover, the nucleus of a group of Byzantine intellectuals that
strove for Christian unity between East and West.
His admiration of Western thought at a time when the Latins were
considered "barbarians" led to his involvement in the ecclesiastical
and political conflicts of the period.
Recalled to Constantinople in
1391 by his former pupil Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, Cydones resumed his
ministerial post, resigning in 1396, when hostility to his Latin Catholicism
ultimately compelled him to retire permanently to the island of Crete.
With the support of his brother Prochorus, Demetrius opposed Hesychasm, the
belief in a life of contemplation and uninterrupted prayer taught by the Eastern
Orthodox monks of Mount Athos and articulated by the 14th-century
ascetic-theologian Gregory Palamas. Applying Aristotelian logic to the
Neoplatonic character of Hesychasm, the Cydones brothers accused Palamas of
pantheism, only to be condemned themselves by the Orthodox Synod of 1368 that
Considered the most brilliant Byzantine writer of the 14th century, Cydones
is the author of the moral philosophical essay De contemnenda morte ("On Despising Death"),
an apology for his conversion to
Latin Catholicism, and a voluminous collection of 447 letters, valuable for the
history of Byzantine relations with the West. The principal documentary sources
for Byzantium's gradual submission to the Turks are his
Symbouleutikoi ("Exhortations"), vainly urging the
Byzantine people to unite with the Latins in order to resist the Turkish
onslaught; these fervent appeals give a clear picture of the hopeless position
of the Byzantine Empire in about the year 1370.