The almighty Zeus of Plethon: Henology, polytheism, monarchy


  • Γιώργος Ζωγραφίδης University of Crete



The aim of this study is to reconstruct the inner development of Georgios Gemistos Pletho's work in regard to three crucial levels of his thought: mythology / religion, political theory and metaphysics. Three fundamental notions correspond to these levels: Zeus, the monarch and the Οne. Pletho held an ambitious project for national, political and social rennaissance of the Greek nation as an answer to what he conceived as the historical necessity of his time, just before the Fall of Constantinople. He attempted to ground his program nοt merely in a political theory or a philosoρhy of history but in metaphysics (via ethics).
The genesis and the development of Pletho's philosophy can b e partly explained by various internal factors, such as his understanding of historical circumstances, his critique of Christianism, and his urgent quest for a new political ideology for the Greeks. The philosophical setting is also to be considered: the controversy between aristotelians and platonists, Pletho's idiosyngratic neoplatonism and his unavoidable dialogue with christian dogma. Without underestimating the above mentioned factors Ι focuse οn the theoretical principles that sustain the development of Pletho's provocative philosophical-religious program.
My concern is to investigate the inner neccessity of Pletho's thoιιght against the background of his explicit or implicit dispute with the christian worldview οn issues such as the interpretation of the doctrine of the Trinity, the sensible-intelligible distinction, the ontological distance between transcendental and immanent reality, and the use of reason in the elaboration of metaphysics. Pletho asserts that the validity of his metaphysics is warranted by reason itself (in a normative sense; in terms of production of rules) and by ancient Greek wisdon, in a way that combines rationality with traditionalism. 
Using a "practice of myth" Pletho establishes a correlation between a cosmological / ontological scheme -which is hierarchically structured and is producing ideas and levels of reality (Οne, Soul, World, etc.) -, and a new mythology, where concepts find their counterparts in the names of the traditional Greek gods ( Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, etc.). This new mythology is a re-interpretation of earlier neoplatonic beliefs, and it is used as a vehicle for the popularisation of Pletho's philosophical ideas.
Plethon's religion can be considered as monotheistic in so much as all other deities, except Zeus, are a kind of manit.estation of the essence of the one God (who is identical with Being). Both on the metaphysical and the socio-political level Pletho harmonizes the supremacy of the One (Zeus - monarch) with the hierarchical activation of the intermediates (deities - upper social classes). In that way Pletho establishes the communication between all ranks (in the fϊelds of politics, theology and metίlphysics) while, at the same time, ensures the unity of the Universe. Therefore he has no need for a neoplatonic or a christian dialectic to obtain knowledge of the ultimate reality or to achieve a mystical union with the transcendental, which is reproachable by reason. The One is the final justification of the many, the others (τα άλλα) . That is the core of Pletho's henological thought.

Author Biography

Γιώργος Ζωγραφίδης, University of Crete

Τμήμα Φιλοσοφικών και Κοινωνικών Σπουδών
Πανεπιστήμιο Κρήτης



How to Cite

Ζωγραφίδης Γ. (2004). The almighty Zeus of Plethon: Henology, polytheism, monarchy. Ariadne, 10, 101–134.