Theodore Metochites or Theodoros Metochites (1270 – 1332) was a Byzantine statesman, author, gentleman philosopher, and patron of the arts. From c. 1305 to 1328 he held the position as personal adviser (mesazon) to the emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus. When the situation of the Byzantine empire deteriorated, Andronicus II was overthrown by his grandson and Metochites was blamed for many of the emperor’s failures. He was deprived of his possessions and his house was burned before he was forced into exile. In 1330, he was allowed to return to Constantinople. He withdrew to the monastery at Chora, which he had helped to restore and died there on March 13, 1332, having adopted the monastic name Theoleptos.
Metochites was a man of great learning and political acumen, with a wide variety of interests. He studied astronomy, and sought to restore Attic purity to the Greek language. He was a devoted student of Plato and Aristotle; his most significant work, Semeioseis gnomikai, contains the most extensive commentary on Aristotle from the late Byzantine period, as well as original work.
Metochites was born in Constantinople in 1270, as the son of the archdeacon George Metochites, a fervent supporter of the union of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches (the object of the Second Council of Lyons). After the Second Council of Blachernae, his father was condemned and exiled, and Metochites seems to have spent his adolescence in the monastic milieux of Bithynia in Asia Minor. He devoted himself to studies of both secular and religious authors.
When Andronicus II visited Nicaea in 1290/1291, Metochites made such an impression on him that he was immediately called to the court and made Logothete of the Herds. Little more than a year later, he was appointed a Senator. Besides carrying out his political duties (embassies to Cilicia in 1295 and to Serbia in 1299), Metochites continued to study and to write. In 1312/1313, he started learning astronomy from Manuel Bryennios; later he himself became the teacher of Nicephorus Gregoras. He was married with five sons and one daughter, Irene (spouse of John Palaeologus).
During the reign of Andronicus II, son of Michael VIII Palaeologus (1282–1328), the great Byzantine Empire declined to the status of a minor state, at the mercy of the Ottoman Turks in Anatolia and the Serbs in the Balkans. Andronicus, who was an intellectual and a theologian rather than a statesman or soldier, weakened Byzantium by reducing its armies to a few thousand cavalry and infantry. He eliminated the navy altogether, relying solely on a Genoese mercenary fleet. By 1300 the Ottoman Turks had gained control of nearly all of Anatolia; the Catalan mercenaries whom Andronicus employed in 1304 to fight them pillaged Byzantine cities instead. He unwisely took the side of the Italian city-state of Genoa in its war against Venice, and suffered the onslaught of the greatly superior Venetian navy. Internally, Andronicus' reign was marked by a steady disintegration of centralized authority and increasing economic difficulties, in spite of which he sponsored a revival of Byzantine art and culture, and championed the independence of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The monastery complex at Mt. Athos in Greece enjoyed its golden age during his reign.
Metochites’ political career reached its height in 1321, when he was invested as Grand Logothete and chief adviser to Andronicus II. He was one of the richest and most powerful men of his age. At his own expense he restored and decorated the Church of the Chora monastery in the northwest of Constantinople, where Metochites’ donor portrait can still be seen in a famous mosaic in the narthex, above the entrance to the nave.
Metochites’ fortunes were, however, linked with the emperor Andronicus II, whom he served devotedly. The decline of the Empire continued, and after a few years of intermittent civil war, Andronicus II was overthrown in 1328 by his own grandson, Andronicus III Palaeologus, after quarreling with him and excluding him from the succession. Andronicus II signed a deed of abdication and was allowed to keep his title and his palace at Blachernae, where he remained for two years before entering a monastery.
Metochites was blamed for many of the failures of his master, Andronicus II. He was deprived of his possessions and his house was burned before he was forced into exile in Didymoteichon. In 1330, he was allowed to return to Constantinople. He withdrew to the monastery at Chora, which he had helped to restore. He died there one month after the death of Andronicus II, on March 13, 1332, having adopted the monastic name Theoleptos.
Metochites’ extant works comprise twenty Poems in dactylic hexameter, eighteen orations (Logoi), Commentaries on Aristotle’s writings on natural philosophy, an introduction to the study of Ptolemaic astronomy (Stoicheiosis astronomike), and 120 essays on various subjects, the Semeioseis gnomikai. Many of these works are still unedited. The best known is Miscellanea philosophica et historica (ed. CG Muller and T Kiessling, 1821) containing some 120 essays; for a list of them see Fabricius, Bibliotheca grueca (ed. Harles), x. 417; in these he chiefly made use of Synesius. Two rhetorical pieces have been published by CN Sathas, and two poems on religious subjects by M Treu (1895).
Metochites was described as a man of very great learning, only surpassed by Photius and Michael Psellus. His pupil Gregoras Nicephorus, who delivered his funeral oration, called him a "living library." He was a scholar of Plato and Aristotle, and Semeioseis gnomikai contains the most extensive commentary on Aristotle from the late Byzantine period, as well as original work. He became the chief astronomer of his time; his student Gregoras Nicephorus proposed a correction of the Julian calendar three hundred years before it was actually decreed by Pope Gregory XIII. Metochites was also interested in philology, and sought to restore Attic purity to the Greek language which had been modified by exposure to Latin.
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