Zygomalas, John and Theodosius
John Zygomalas and his son Theodosius were sixteenth-century Greek scholars. They resided in Constantinople and were active in the contacts between Protestants and Greek Orthodox Church. Their contribution to the preservation and further development of ancient Greek and Byzantine thought was crucial, since they held key positions in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.
KeywordsSixteenth Century Productive Translator Elementary Education Educational Plan Personal Correspondence
John Zygomalas was born in Nafplio, a small city in Southern Greece, which at times was occupied by the Venetians. Stavrakios Malaxos and Arsenios Apostolis took care of his elementary education and taught him ancient Greek. He continued his studies at the University of Padua, where he learned Latin and Italian. He rejected, despite offers, to stay in Italy and work for the Greek community in Venice. After spending several years in Italy he returned in Nafplion and worked as ecclesiastical orator and teacher. John was esteemed by the authorities of the Greek Patriarchate and accompanied the future Patriarch Metrophanes III in his trip to Italy. Around 1550 he moved to Adrianople and 5 years (1555) later to Constantinople, upon an invitation from the Patriarch Ioasaph II, who was Zygomalas’ former student, in order to assist the educational plans of the Patriarch. There Zygomalas was proclaimed “Great Orator” of the Patriarchate. Until his death he lived and taught in Constantinople, possibly at the Patriarchical Academy. In 1576 Patriarch Ieremias II proclaimed him “Great Interpreter of the Scriptures.” The same year John traveled to Vienna in order to convert the emperor Maximilian II to the Orthodox dogma. John’s son, Theodosius, was also born in Nafplio and moved to Constantinople with the rest of his family. He quickly ascended the hierarchy and became chief secretary of the Patriarchate (protonotarios). He played a significant role in the correspondence between German Lutherans and the Patriarchate. His personal correspondence with Martin Crusius, the famous professor of ancient Greek and Latin philology at the University of Tübingen, is important since he encouraged German intellectuals to study and appreciate post-Byzantine culture.
Innovative and Original Aspects
Since his arrival in Constantinople John Zygomalas started to teach Ethics, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. Patriach Ioasaph II referred to Zygomalas when he wrote that “we engaged a master of philosophy.” According to Crusius, Zygomalas’ teaching was of poor quality and his philosophical and philological background mediocre, although he had studied at Padua. Despite Crusius’ bitter comments, John Zygomalas was very influential. The vast majority of the ecclesiastical authorities and scholars in various fields were his students. Theodosius Zygomalas was a productive translator. He rendered in Modern Greek several works of ancient and Byzantine literature.
Impact and Legacy
John Zygomalas was a leading figure in the Patriarchical Academy, the only notable educational institute in the Greek-speaking territories during the sixteenth century. The vast majority of the ecclesiastical authorities and scholars in various fields were his students. Theodosius’ work gave to Western Europeans, through his correspondence with Crusius, the opportunity to know and appreciate Modern Greek language. Their work and the letter exchange with German Protestants contributed in the dissemination of post-Byzantine Greek thought in Western Europe and inflamed philhellenism.
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