European Pagan Memory Day

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George Gemistos Plethon (1355-1454) is a not very known character in Greek Humanism, but he nevertheless had a lot of influence on Western Renaissance. Among Humanists, he was one of the first neoplatonists, but while other neoplatonists tried to absorb Platoís dogmas inside a christian context, Gemistos Plethon invented a pagan neoplatonism. Sure, itís hard to define Plethonís philosophy a real paganism, even though Woodhouse, one of the rare scholars who dedicated works to him, calls him Ďthe last of the hellenes; this is because anyway, behind Plethonís idea of an omnipotent Zeus, creator of everything, we can see the monotheist god, and because of his absolutely original interpretation of classical Gods.

Plethon makes the hypothesis of a real philosophic-religious community, practicing the cult of the Gods, to honour in some old ways, like chanting hymns. Plethonís hymns are collected in the half-lost book Treatise about laws, which survived in consistent fragments in a manuscript of the Imperial Library collections, collected by Charles Alexandre in 1858 who also translated them in French. Like Alexandre wrote in the introduction to this work, at the very beginning the philologist Vincent who discovered the manuscript, believed to have found the description of an ancient, classical ritual; only later and working in pair with Alexandre, they understood what they actually found.

For translation of these hymns (at the present, without any comment), at the beginning I wanted to use the French text above all and less the original Greek text. Going on with translation, I saw that often the French translator didnít adhere to the original text but tried rather to explain it by translating a single word with two or more words so giving a slightly different meaning to the text. An example: in the first hymn, the Greek word for Ďfirstí or Ďmost ancientí is being translated with Ďfirst and universalí. I didnít want to translate everything by zero again, also because this is 14th century Greek, different from the classical one, so I compared Greek text with its French translation, trying to get a more adherent translation of the original. I also left in their Greek form the Godsí names translated in French text with their Roman corresponding. English translation is in turn based on the Italian translation I made first.

Reading these hymns, one may think theyíre not fit for this siteís section about "renewals" of paganism: actually we may think they are more an appropriation of classical mythology by an essentially monotheistic thought (for example, there is a creator, omnipotent god ruler). Anyway we must admit that Plethon tried in good faith to return to an ancient cult that was poorly known; then, neoplatonistsí conception of ancient religion continues to affect some modern reprisals of paganism. Therefore we must know this side, too, to fully understand what we are talking about.

According to what Plethon says in the Treatise about laws and according to monastic practices of his times, hymns must be chanted at wake up, at midday and at sunset. This must be preceded by an announcement made by a Ďsacred heraldí chosen among the venerable ones of the community: "Listen, you all who honour the divinity; itís time to address to the Gods the morning [or midday, or evening] prayer. Letís call the Gods with all our heart, all our spirit, all our soul; letís invoke them all, but above all Zeus who rules on them". What follows is a complex choreography in which all members kneel invoking the Gods, then put their right hand on the ground and lift a knee, continuing to recite invocations, then put the other hand on the ground and finally lay on the ground invoking "Zeus the king".

After invocation and before hymns, in this complicated ritual some Ďallocutionsí are also recited: these are some sort of prayers in which a divinity is thanked and the philosophic view of mythology is explained. They resemble a catechism that must be recited every day: thereís an allocution for the morning, three for midday and one for the evening. After the allocutions, hymns are chanted but not chosen randomly: first the monthly hymn, then the hymn that fits the celebration of the day and last but not least the all-year hymn to Zeus. In some particular days, they are preceded by the sacred hymn for the occasion.

Manuela Simeoni


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