Historical Background |  Introducing the New Scientific Ideas  |  Publications |  Project Team el

antliaHellinomnimon is a digital library which consists of all the philosophical and scientific books and manuscripts written in Greek from 1600 to 1821. The totality of the philosophical and scientific corpus written in the Greek language from 1600 to 1821 consists of two large categories. The first category consists of books which have been mainly published in Vienna, Venice, Paris, Constantinople, and Leipzig. These comprise 204 volumes of 53,000 pages in total. The second category contains the manuscripts of published and unpublished works. These consist of over 500,000 pages. Among other places, these manuscripts are to be found in the various National and private libraries in Greece, England, France, Austria, Germany, the Balkan countries and Russia, in the Library of the Patriarchates in Istanbul, Jerusalem and Alexandria, in various libraries of Turkey, as well as in libraries of monasteries in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Russia. The whole project of cataloguing, photographing and digitizing will also result in a unique collection of hitherto unknown Greek works. So far, only a limited number of Greek scientific and philosophical manuscripts have been digitized.

Hellinomnimon is being realized at the Laboratory for the Electronic Processing of Historical Archives of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science of the University of Athens. The aim of the Laboratory is to support research and teaching by the development and application of modern technologies in photography, cataloguing, archiving and digital image processing for historical archives and digital libraries. Such a collection of documents will be decisive in the study of the issues related to the introduction of the new sciences to the Greek speaking world during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The books in the digital library Hellinomnimon are divided into four main categories.

  1. The first category consists of books in history and geography. During the earlier part of the 18th century the content of these books was related to the events and the topography of ancient Greece; during the later period of the century their contents started to change and were adapted to the needs of the commercial activities of the Greek merchants.
  2. The second category includes mathematical books. Initially, most of them were geometries based on Euclid' s Elements; after the middle of the 18th century many books of algebra and trigonometry were written, while some of them contained extended chapters of analytical geometry and infinitesimal calculus. At the beginning of the 19th century a number of handbooks in practical arithmetic appeared and were extensively used by the merchants in their dealings.
  3. The third category includes the philosophical books which are mainly treatises in Metaphysics and Logic. These books have a special interest for the history of science in the Greek speaking regions of the Ottoman Empire because they reflect the attempts to form the philosophical context in which the new scientific ideas were to be elaborated. In these books one can witness the encounter of the traditional Aristotelian and patristic approaches with the new trends in philosophy emerging out of some of the Western European philosophical accounts.
  4. The fourth category consists of books in physics and natural philosophy. During the earlier period these books presented the new physical ideas within a theologically biased Aristotelian context. In the later period the new ideas started to be discussed in a manner which increasingly reflected the developments of European natural philosophy and aimed at the alignment of Greek philosophy with the scientific attainments of the Enlightenment.

Historical Background

The history of ideas of the Greek speaking regions in the Ottoman Empire from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Greek Revolution of 1821 is invariably linked with the educational policies articulated by the Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Immediately after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Sultan Mohammed II recognised the Patriarch the religious leader of Eastern Christendom-- as the legal head of the Orthodox Christian millet (nation) and the Patriarchate was granted full jurisdiction over the education of the Orthodox Christian populations in the Ottoman Empire.

The Sultan appointed as the new Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios (1400-1460). Gennadios Scholarios was a well-known jurist, rhetor and philosopher, and played an important role in political life during the last years of the Byzantine era. As a philosopher, he was of Aristotelian orientation, a follower of Aquinas and an opponent of Pletho's Platonism. Gennadios undertook the task of reviving the intellectual life of the city. He founded the first official school, the Patriarchal Academy, which was the continuation of the Pandidakterion of the Byzantine era, and appointed Matthaios Kamariotis as its first director. There is no reliable data concerning the initial curriculum of the Academy.

By the end of the 16th century and within the context of counter-reformation after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Rome defined a new policy towards the Orthodox Christian population of the Ottoman Empire, designed to prevent any rapprochement between them and the Protestants. During the early years of the seventeenth century the Patriarchates, of both Constantinople and Jerusalem, became fields of contention between the Catholics and the Protestants while the latter were trying to increase their influence in the eastern Mediterranean. Not unexpectedly, the Protestants offered support to the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Jerusalem. Their shared hostility to Catholicism brought the Protestants and the Greek Orthodox close to each other. In 1620 Kyrillos Loukaris (1572-1638) became Patriarch of Constantinople. He had studied at the Greek school of Venice, under Maximos Margunios, from 1584 until 1588 and he had completed his studies at the University of Padua in 1593. During the early stages of the 30-year war, Loukaris planned a series of political moves to consolidate the survival of the Orthodox Church. He felt that there were unmistakable signs of an impending alliance between Catholic France and the Ottomans. He saw such an alliance as the main danger against the Orthodox Church, and he sought supporters among the Protestants, especially the Dutch. Loukaris, also, proceeded to write an infamous leaflet arguing for the common theological grounds between Calvinism and Orthodoxy. Many serious theologians - and not only his adversaries - accused him of adopting Protestantism.

Being convinced that the Catholic propaganda was effective because of its emphasis on education, Loukaris upgraded the Patriarchal Academy and introduced what came to be known as religious humanism . Religious humanism was an attempt to synthesise the teachings of ancient Greeks with the teachings of the orthodox church fathers, considering the intellectual traditions originating in Greek antiquity and those of Christianity as a unity. Religious humanism became the means for moulding a kind of national consciousness by reclaiming Hellenistic roots through Greek Orthodox Christian teaching. In the prevailing conditions of intense national reorientations and regroupings in Europe, such a strategy aimed at upgrading the political role of the Patriarchate by providing an institutional expression to the ties between orthodoxy and Hellenism. Such initiatives led not only to the establishment of new educational institutions, but, eventually, to the furthering of the church s dominance through the articulation of a new ideological and political agenda.

In 1622 Kyrillos Loukaris appointed a renowned neo-Aristotelian, Theophilos Korydaleus (1570-1646), to the directorship of the Patriarchal Academy. Korydaleus had studied in Italy during the first decade of the seventeenth century. In 1604 he at-tended classes at the Greek College in Rome. He went on to study at the University of Padua, at a time when Cesare Cremonini was the dominant figure and the articulate de-fender of Aristotelianism, especially against the new science of his colleague there, Galileo Galilei. Korydaleas received his doctorate in Philosophy and Medicine, around 1608. In the Patriarchal Academy Korydaleas reorganised teaching along the ways practised in Padua. A central place was assigned to philosophy - as distinct from theology - and to the interpretation of the commentaries on the main works of Aristotle. Korydaleas' humanistic brand of philosophy contained the potential for a rupture with a strictly theological approach to nature and to human affairs. But at the same time, there was a conscious policy to contain and develop this new approach exclusively within the framework of neo-Aristotelianism, during a period when such a framework was being undermined and redefined elsewhere in Europe.

Introducing the New Scientific Ideas

At the outset of the 18th century representatives of the Phanariots the name given to the Greeks living in Constantinople were appointed by the Sublime Porte as governors and hospodars in Wallachia and Moldavia. The Phanariots would soon take the lead among all the other Greeks dispersed in the Balkans; their political dominance would reinforce the already strong influence of the Greeks in the economic as well as cultural spheres in these regions, while at the same time as administrators and as diplomats they would take the line commonly referred to as enlightened despotism.

Politically and socially, the first three quarters of the 18th century was characterised by three interdependent developments. First, the increasing involvement of this group of Greeks in the administrative affairs of the Ottoman Empire undermined the almost exclusive role of the clergy in mediating the relations of the Christians with the Court. The second characteristic of this period was the increasing receptivity for the new ideas coming from Europe by the Phanariots, whose relative autonomy from the Patriarchate was further strengthened by an agenda of Europeanization . The third characteristic was related to the rise of a new social group. In addition to the Phanariots, a new class of merchants started to assert themselves socially and played a rather significant role in the intellectual orientations of the period. The symbiotic relationship between the merchants and the quasi-administrative group of Phanariots was not always without conflict. Often, for example, they were at odds concerning the exertion of influence on the Patriarchate. The social and economic prominence of these groups slowly led to the weakening of the absolute control the Church had on the schools and in determining their curricula.

At the same time, Greek scholars started moving all over Europe. Italy ceased to be the almost exclusive place for their studies. Greek scholars started travelling to the Ger-manic countries, Holland, and, Paris. They were, thus, intellectually influenced by a multitude of traditions and schools and that was true for their training in the natural sciences as well. Interestingly, it was during that period that we witness a strong tendency of the scholars to return back after the completion of their studies abroad.

From the middle of the 18th century, the economic well being of the Greek communities within the Ottoman Empire with the accompanying social transformations brought about a number of changes in the educational system. The reception and appropriation of the new scientific ideas was being realized within an environment of social unrest and ideological confrontations. One cannot talk about educational reform, since the attempts were local initiatives rather than a centrally dictated policy to be applied to a homogeneous educational system. While in the seventeenth and at the beginning of the eighteenth centuries all schools were religiously oriented, the coming years saw the emergence of schools whose curriculum could cater for the social and political agendas of the merchants or the Greeks involved in the administration of the Ottoman state. The systematic introduction of the sciences was reinforced by renewed faith in man's ability to ac-quire knowledge of the world with his own means, and all these found support in the expectations of the assertive merchants and in the political ambitions of the Greek officers of the Danube region.

But the French Revolution did not sit well with the Phanariots' political agenda. Many of them considered the Revolution and its consequences as endangering their prospects of increasing influence within the Ottoman Empire. As the French Revolution was more and more projected as the realisation of the political and social ideas of the Enlightenment, the Phanariots' belief in and attachment to the ideas of the Enlightenment started to weaken. Also, as the anticlericalist positions of the Revolution were associated with the spirit of the Enlightenment, many scholars who, on the whole, were men of the Church became less and less willing to be identified with the ideas of Enlightenment. There was, of course, no radical change which was adopted by all concerned: quite a few scholars, especially teachers, continued to remain strong adherents of the new scientific ideas. But, at the same time, there was a change of heart among many scholars in their strong backing of the ideas of the Enlightenment something which allowed a greater leverage to those in the Church who were strong opponents of these ideas from the very beginning.

Ideological and political contingencies of Christian societies under Ottoman rule during the Enlightenment, together with the dominance of the Greek scholars in the Balkans, called for an emphasis not on the break with the ancient modes of thought, but rather, on establishing the continuity with ancient Greece. The Greek scholars saw the new developments in the sciences in Europe as evidence of the triumph of the programmatic declarations of ancient Greek thought with its emphasis on the supremacy of mathematics and rationality, rather than a break with the ancient mode of thinking and the legitimization of a new way of dealing with nature. The developments in the sciences were not viewed as an intricate process which among other things involved a break with Aristotle, but rather, as developments which came to verify the truth of the pronouncements of the ancients.

The introduction of the new scientific ideas in the Greek speaking world was a process almost exclusively directed to their appropriation for educational purposes. The apparent aim was to modernise the school curricula, but this did not mean a neutral attitude as to the possible ideological uses of these new ideas especially the need to establish contact with the heritage of ancient Greece. Thus the predominantly productive role of the scholars in the thriving communities of natural philosophers in Europe has to be contrasted with the predominantly educational role of the scholars in the Greek speaking regions. The educational agenda of the scholars played a rather decisive role since the discussion and the dissemination of the sciences was being exclusively realised within the educational institutions and many a times in reference to issues pertaining to education.

The jurisdiction of the Church over educational matters, its initiatives for sending scholars to Europe to be educated and the kind of dynamics created as the intended and, most interestingly, the unintended result of their scholarly work whether by writing books or teaching all need to be assessed within the overall particularities of the Greek case. The content, though, of what was taught was not solely determined by the Church. It was, rather, the confluence of largely similar but at times conflicting aims of the religious hierarchy, of the social groups with significant economic activity and of the scholars themselves. There appeared many different trends, each claiming ideological or political leadership of this process aimed at preserving religious identity and inspiring national consciousness. These trends were at times in conflict with each other and at times they were complementary. Scholars following the scholastic Aristotelian tradition co-existed with neo-Aristotelians. Scholars adopting the ideas of the Enlightenment came into conflict with those who viewed these ideas as undermining the conditions for religious and ideological survival. The introduction of the sciences and their subsequent teaching necessarily reflected a confluence of all these trends. The developments of the new sciences in western Europe became an interesting but expected corroboration of the programmatic declarations of Aristotle.



See also:
  • Raphael Demos: The Neo-Hellenic Enlightenment 1750-1821: A General Survey, Journal of the History of Ideas, 19, no 4, 1958, pp. 523-541.

    • PROJECT PROMETHEUS: The Spreading of the Ideas of the Scientific Revolution from the Countries Where they Originated to the Countries in the Periphery of Europe (Iberian Peninsula, Balkans, Scandinavian) during 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

    • PROJECT SPHINX: A Database for Terrestrial and Celestial Phenomena recorded in Greek sources from the 6th Century BC to the 2nd Century AD.


    • WWW HELLINOMNIMON received a selection award from STARTPOINT.

    • WWW HELLINOMNIMON received for Depth, Content and Design.