THE PHANARIOTS
AND THE EARLY
ENLIGHTENMENT

1680-1780

 

After successive movements that followed the Fall of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch settled at the Church of St. George in the Phanar in 1601. At that time, Christian Orthodox people gather around the Patriarchate and form the first nucleus of cultured Phanariots. In the late 17th century, this nucleus consisted of 19 families, which we know thanks to Sieur de la Croix (1695).

Among the exceptional citizens that offered their services to the Phanar, two are particularly prominent and are distinguished as advocates of the innovative spirit, contributing in a decisive way to the passage of the Modern Greek society from a traditional stagnation to a scientific modernization. Both had studied medicine and philosophy in Rome and Padua.

   

The first one was Theophilos Korydaleas. He was born in Athens in 1570 and after completing his doctoral dissertation, he taught in Venice, Zakynthos, and Constantinople. He became reputable in scholarly tradition for his courage to teach Aristotelian physics free of any Christian interpretation and any scholastic deviation. Korydaleas died in 1646; this means that he was a contemporary of Descartes (1596-1650). It may seem curious that the renewal of philosophical thought for the Greek people starts with a return to ancient Aristotelianism; however, it was characterized by a brave expression of free thought, encouraged by the Philosopher whose Church had preferred to adhere itself to the system in order to establish its doctrines and its apologetics. The teachings of Aristotle, along with the explanation of his original materialism, was an innovative concept that was unheard of by the Greeks of the 17th century, in the same way that Decartes' "cogito" was revolutionary for the West. Korydaleas was often accused. He was named a Calvinist, even an atheist. His work responded to a new sensitivity and mentality which -without criticizing the Church and without undermining its doctrines- was preparing people's spirit to receive the "Light" from the West.








Alexander Mavrokordatos  (1641-1709)

The second person that incarnates the business-oriented spirit and scholarly tradition of the Phanariots is Alexander Mavrokordatos, born in 1641 in Constantinople. After finishing his studies in medicine and philosophy in Italy, like the great teacher mentioned above, Alexander taught Aristotelian philosophy at the Patriarchal Academy. He was a distinguished language learner who achieved a notable career as a Chief Dragoman of the Sublime Porte (aka High Gate) and who became known for his role in the negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Carlowitz (1699). Alexander, secret consultant to the sultan, was given the original title of intimate secretary, possibly from the Latin word "secretarius", i.e. "insider to secrets". Among his works, a Sacred History or History of the Hebrews was published in 1716 in Bucharest. Later on, part of his correspondence is published, as well as his Frondismata (Vienna 1805) which we might translate as "Thoughts" or "Reflections", depending on whether the main influence to this work is attributed to Pascal or La Rochefoucauld.

   

Yet Alexander really marks the beginning of the Modern Greek Early Enlightenment with the publication of his doctoral dissertation -one that was pioneering for that day and age- on blood circulation and lung function. Originally published in Bologna in 1664, this work is published again in Latin a year later in Frankfurt and subsequently in Leipzig in 1682. The young doctor-philosopher refers to Aristotle and Galen, but relies mostly on the theory developed by William Harvey in 1628. It is the scientific empiricism, which appears then for the first time in Greek society. Mavrokordatos died on December 23, 1709, according to the Old Calendar, i.e. on January 3,1710, a year that was a landmark in the history of the Greek nation, as we will see below.

In the thirty years preceding the symbolic year of 1709-1710, the Church imposes itself as an indisputable power that acts in two directions. We could call this period "the age of the triumphant Church". Some Patriarchs act and use their abilities to defend faith from the attacks of the new philosophical and scientific concepts. Thus, the famous Patriarch of Jerusalem, Dositheos (1641-1707), who lives in Constantinople, remains alert and defends Orthodoxy as he understands it, he gives admonitions, attacks the Latin people with an anger that is anything but Christian, and excommunicates them on the slightest occasion. He represents an important current that opposes the nascent Enlightenment. His nephew, Chrysantbos Notaras (ca 1660-1731), also a Patriarch of Jerusalem after Dositheos' death, adopts a more lenient stance. He is an eternal wayfarer, but who always returns to Constantinople, where the Metochion of the All-Holy Sepulcher is located. He represents the progressive wing of the Church, but also submits to its originality. In 1716 in Paris he publishes a geography and cosmology manual, where he uses mathematical proof to explain the theories of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Descartes on the heliocentric system, but he finally conforms to the teachings of the Church and reaches the conclusion that the Earth is definitely the center of the world, because the Ancient Greeks said it and the Bible confirms it.

The emergence of the Modern Greek Enlightenment would not have achieved such success without the favorable conditions fostered by the Romanian hegemonies. Certainly the presence of Greek people and their language in the hegemonies is observed before the arrival of the Phanariots. The hegemonic academies of Bucharest and Iasi -genuine centers of Greek education- had been founded earlier by Romanian voivodes.















Nicholas Mavrokordatos (1670-1730)

However, following certain founded suspicions of the Porte about the activities of the local princes, the sultan decided to assign the governing of hegemonic states to citizens that served the Empire with greater loyalty: the Phanariot Greeks. Thus, Ahmed III appoints Nicholas Mavrokordatos, son of Alexander, to the throne of Moldova on November 6, 1709. Nicholas arrives in Iasi in January 1710. In 1715 he is transferred to the throne of Bucharest. With his first appointment starts the Phanariot regime in the Para-Danubian hegemonies. Nicholas attempts a thorough reorganization of the subordinate states entrusted to him by the sultan. As a worthy contemporary of King Louis XIV and sultan Ahmed III, he implements politics based on reason, and we could call that period "the age of rational autocracy", i.e. from 1710 to 1730 when he died.

In Ottoman historiography, this period -which is characterized by celebrations and an expansion towards the West- is referred to as the "Tulip era".

At the monastery of Vacaresti, near Bucharest, Nicholas builds a library that is unique for its riches in Southeastern Europe. He invites scholars to the Court, who make up a real rural academy like those of the West. He corresponds with foreign scholars and politicians, even with the archbishop of Cambridge. He invites distinguished professors -Greek in their majority- to the hegemonies. One of them, Markos Porfyropoulos, who lived in Bucharest, writes the following: "The entire Phanar is here, I no longer remember Constantinople." Nicholas takes to writing: letters, small dissertations on reading books, against tobacco, dialogs similar to those of Loukianos, but also to those of Fenelon and Montesquieu. He also wrote the first innovative novel of Modern Greek literature, which is interesting for reasons beyond the strict framework of literature: Philotheos' Minor Works. Here one realizes how informed the author is: Machiavelli, Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, the debate between archaists and modernists, quietism, Francis Bacon, Hobbes, Aristotelianism and Platonism, Western and Ottoman politics, and many other topics. While he was held prisoner for a short time in Transylvania, he wrote a dissertation titled On Duties, which was first published in Bucharest in 1719 and then in Leipzig, London, and Amsterdam, translated in Latin: it was a code of conduct for the good citizen subdued to the power of God and the Prince.

   

The Romanian chronicles mention that Nicholas sometimes disappointed the indigenous Boyars because he would implement measures in favor of the people but which were not advantageous to the rulers. That is why he was obliged to face seditious movements of noblemen who were suspicious of the appointment of a newcomer to the throne. But Nicholas' most impressive decision remains his surrendering Anthimos, the Eparch of Bucharest who had resisted him, to the Ottoman authorities. From then on, the Church had to submit to worldly power. One of the enemies of Nicholas spread the rumor that the Ottomans had appointed him voivode in the hegemonies because they considered him a "muserin", i.e. an atheist.

For a short time in the late 1710s, Nicholas lost the throne of lasi, and the Ottomans replaced him with Dimitrie Cantemir, whom we could characterize as a Moldovan Phanariot. He had spent the best part of his life in Constantinople, studying in the Phanar environment. He too appears as an absolute ruler but his hegemony didn't last but a few months after he betrayed the sultan in the battle of Stanilesti (July 1711) between Russians and Ottomans, and he was obliged to leave for Russia. Many of his contemporaries called him "Greek by nation", as Voltaire wrote in his book Charles XII.

Ahmed III is overthrown in early October 1730, one month after the death of Nicholas Mavrokordatos. Despite the obstacles that the Phanariots faced, they maintain their privileges. Many of them serve the Empire in various sectors, always in occupations where their educational, language-learning and diplomacy skills are appreciated. They were active contributors to the modernization of the Greek Nation, as well as other nations where they had administrative duties. To return to the Romanian hegemonies, one must admit that they transformed fundamentally the Moldovan and Vlach society by implementing innovative measures. Thus, Constantine, son of Nicholas Mavrokordatos, who occupied ten consecutive times the thrones of lasi and Bucharest, was able to implement fundamental changes which show that he was one of the great reformers of the Romanian countries: he publishes a "Constitution" in Mercure de France in 1742, he abolishes serfdom in both hegemonies, he restructures the public system and rationalizes the tax system.

Between 1730 and 1780, the ParaDanubian hegemonic states become fertile sites where princes, scholars, clergymen, and traders collaborate with the spirit of "enlightened despotism". The Phanariots Mavrokordatos, Ypsilantis, Gikas, as well as hellenized indigenous people such as the Racovita and Callimachi, foster education, develop printing and commerce, and strengthen relations with the West. It is worth noting that in a period where no print shops existed in Greece, many books were printed in press shops of Romanian countries, both in Greek and other languages.

The Greek and hellenized clergy played an important role in the dissemination of the nascent Lights. A great example is Evgenios Voulgaris from Corfu, who taught at the Athoniada Academy and subsequently at the Academy of the Phanar: he was the first to translate Voltaire's works in Greek, printed a work titled Logic, which referred to Ancient and newer scholars, and left innumerable unpublished translations of the period's scientific works.

   

Another example is losipos Misiodakas, born in Cernavoda, who translated the Moral Philosophy of Abba Muratori, taught in the Para-Danubian hegemonies, was persecuted for his innovative ideas and narrates his hopes and pains in his famous Apology, printed in Vienna in 1780: his Apology constitutes the first literary text that undoubtedly belongs to Modern Greek Enlightenment.

The event that symbolically marks the passage from the Early Enlightenment to the actual Enlightenment in Greek society occurs in 1780: it is the publication of a legislation in Greek and Romanian, under the title Legal Compilation, by the Phanariot Alexander Ypsilantis, voivode of Ungro-Vlachia. In the introduction of this work, the legislator likens the need for a state to have laws to the need for someone walking in the dark to find light; in his own words: "like one who walks in the dark needs light, this is how indispensable it is for a state to have laws". The legislator was familiar with the works of Montesquieu and Beccaria, as well as the directives of Catherine the Great. When we compare On Duties by Nicholas Mavrokordatos (1719) to the Compilation of Alexander Ypsilantis (1780), we cannot but accept the view of Paul Hazard, who wrote in his book The Crisis of the European Conscience (1680-1715) that the Enlightenment replaces a culture based on the idea of duty, of duties towards God, of duties towards the prince,... by a culture based on the idea of people's rights.

Today we celebrate 300 years from the occurrence of two significant events in the history of the Phanariots: the first one was the initial appointment of Nicholas Mavrokordatos to the throne of Moldova in 1710.

And the second event that we commemorate this year is the death of the founder of the Mavrokordatos dynasty, Alexander the intimate secretary, on December 23,1709, i.e. January 3, 1710.

Let us hope that the specialists will seize the opportunity and mention these two anniversaries and focus on the substantial contribution of the Phanariots to the modernization of societies and the institutional organization of states in Southeastern Europe.

Dr. Jacques Bouchard is Professor of Modern Greek Literature and Director of the Interuniversity Center for Neohellenic Studies of Montreal (Université de Montréal). He also holds the Phrixos B. Papachristidis Chair of Modern Greek and Greek-Canadian Studies at McGill University. He teaches the courses on modern Greek literature. His areas of specialization are: Greek Enlightenment, Greek Surrealism, Greek-Roumanian Relationship in the 18th century and Literary Translation.

Some of his publications are: Georgios Tertsétis: Biographike kai philologike melete (1800-1843), Athens 1970, Nicolas Mavrocordatos, Les Loisirs de Philothée / Philothéou Parerga, texte établi, traduit et commenté par Jacques Bouchard. Avant-propos de C. Th. Dimaras, Athènes-Montréal, Association pour l΄étude des Lumières en Grèce / Les Presses de l΄Université de Montréal, 1989, Miltos Sachtouris, Face au mur (50 poems, bilingual edition) Fata Morgana / Institut Français d΄Athènes, 1990, “He erotike syntaxe tou Andréa Embeirikou”, in Syntéleia, Athens, no 2-3 (Autumn 1990-Winter 1991), p. 50-52, Translations (Embiricos, Calas, Engonopoulos, Sachtouris, Valaoritis, Kaknavatos) in Syntéleia, Athens, no 4-5 (Spring-Summer 1991), Articles and translations (Embiricos, Calas, Elytis, Engonopoulos, Sachtouris, Valaoritis) in Surréalistes grecs, Paris, Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 1991, Andréas Embiricos, Haut Fourneau (= Hypsikaminos), Actes Sud / Institut Français d΄Athènes, 1991, “Le son, le sens et le silence en traduction poètique: le cas Embiricos”, Revue des Études Néo-Helléniques, Paris-Athènes, 1992/1, 2, p. 215-224, Pavlos Matessis, L΄enfant de chienne (=He metéra tou skylou), Paris, Gallimard, 1993, Marguerite Karapanou, Rien ne va plus, Paris, Gallimard, 1994, “He “poiesis” tou Andréa Embeirikou”, Athens, Grammata kai Technes, no 74, June-September 1995, p. 9-12, Poétes Montréalais de langue grecque, introduction de J. Bouchard, Groupe de la Traduction Littéraire, Études néo-helléniques de l΄Université de Montréal, Montréal, Association des Écrivains grecs de Montréal, 1995, Jan de Groot, Homeriko Lexilogio ton lexematon pou apantoun apo 10000 eos 10 phores sta duo epe, anatheoremeno kai sympleromeno apo tous Jacques Bouchard kai Lise Cloutier, apodose sta nea ellenika Jacques Bouchard, Athens, Typothito Giorgos Dardanos, 1996, Pavlos Matessis, Lʼancien des jours (=Ho Palaios ton Hemeron), Actes Sud / Institut Francais d΄Athènes, 1997.

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