Pound, Pletho, Nicholas Cusanus

Have been reading about late Byzantine culture (1300s, 1400s) & its influence on western Renaissance. Came upon discussion of Byzantine neo-Platonist (& neo-pagan?) Georgius Gemistus, or "Pletho"... & discovered a connection with another neo-pagan, Ezra Pound. History or legend has it that the late Pletho's body was removed from its tomb by his followers & re-buried in Sigismundo Malatesta's "Tempio", in Rimini (a Renaissance architectural testament to pagan revivalism). & it turns out Pletho indeed pops up in various allusions in the Cantos of Pound.

Furthermore, I discovered this morning that there is a connection between Pletho & the Renaissance Catholic philosopher Nicholas of Cusa, whose writings have fascinated me for a long time. Cusa attributed his most famous work, De Docta Ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance) to a vision he was granted while on a tempestuous sea-voyage from Constantinople back to Italy (as part of a delegation attempting to resolve the endemic conflict between Catholic & Orthodox Christianity). Well... it turns out that Gemistus Pletho was ON THAT SAME SEA-VOYAGE, and may very well have engaged in conversation with Nicholas of Cusa.

One of the deep impulses of my own long-poem efforts has been to shape a response (& challenge) to Pound's great epic (The Cantos) - driven in part by a basic disagreement I have with him over the "shape" of history itself. So this nexus of people & events - Pletho, Malatesta, Nicholas Cusanus, Byzantium, Renaissance - is really grabbing my attention... in that (as some previous blog-posts here detail) Nicholas of Cusa is an historical & philosophical figure who is, for me, a kind of equivalent, maybe, to what Pletho was for Pound...


Never suppose an inventing mind as source
Of this idea nor for that mind compose
A voluminous master folded in his fire.

He was on board ship, sailing from Byzantium
when the moment of illumination came, a flash
of light that staggered him (as happened to Paul
on the Damascus road): when he understood
there can be no ratio, no means of comparison,
no middle term, between the finite and the infinite
Thus, since God is infinite, we have no means
of knowing Him (invisible, incommensurate); so,
as Paul says, If any man thinks he knows anything,
he has not yet known as he ought to know
It follows then, for Nicholas (De Docta Ignorantia)
our proper study is, to understand our ignorance.

I think of him in Constantinople, looking up
into that limpid sphere, that massive cupola,
Hagia Sophia: gazing back at those gigantic eyes:
Christos Pantokrator, hovering there, magnificent
in lapis lazuli, translucent marble. He would
have known that, even then, all-conquering armies
of the Pasha were encroaching on the city gates;
had swept away, already, the last flimsy shreds
of once-almighty Christian Rome – history itself
grown incompatible with that triumphant
image glaring down.

I cannot know You
as You are
. But when I think of you
I think of Bruegel panoramas: there’s Mankind
(a little, furry, muddy, peasant thing – yet
at home upon the earth – its caretaker – self-
conscious, quick – inventive builder, gardener –
blind governor – your tarnished mirror);
and, as he painted in The Road to Calvary,
you hide amongst us, suffering servant, near
the center of our troubles: buried in the crowd:
one of the roughs (disguised, in camouflage,

No comments: