He was the most learned of the Greeks, and his writing was so that it was impossible to distinguish it from that of the best classical time. He was steeped in eastern mysticism, and really knew more of Zoroaster and Pythagoras than of Plato, for whom he had the most profound reverence. He despised western scholasticism, and regarded the Latins as barbarians.
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Gemistos inaugurated the dispute between the rival systems of Plato and Aristotle. He inspired Cosimo de' Medici with such zeal for philosophy as it resulted in the foundation of the Platonic Academy, and the Florentines' minds were turned to a branch of study hitherto neglected by them.
Cosimo de' Medici requested that Gemistos writes a treatise on the subject of the rival systems of Plato and Aristotle, which ended emphasizing the superiority of the former. The resulting discussions roused a perfect storm of contention and invective, which Bessarion, the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople, eventually succeeded in calming down, leaving Plato victor in the fray. Gemistos, who was occupied with the idea of founding a mystic religion of his own, did not wait for the termination of the controversy, but returned to Mistra, where he established his religion with its own liturgy; he died in extreme old age.
His name was always revered in Italy, and in , when Sigismundo Malatesta captured Mistra, he brought back the ashes of Gemistos to Rimini to be placed in a sarcophagus outside the church of San Francesco, which Alberti had just built. Cosimo de' Medici's initiative led to religion, art and literature taking a peculiar color from the Neo-Platonic ideas, and their influence was felt through all succeeding centuries.
So did his generous gifts to churches, the religious orders and other good causes. He gained the support of the majority of the Signoria, who considered him the most influential figure in helping them to retain their privileged position in the city. He lavished money on the Neoplatonist philosopher Marsilio Ficino and financed his translation of the entire works of Plato. They became close friends and enjoyed discussing philosophy together. He also backed the scholar Poggio Bracciolino, who travelled about rediscovering long-lost classical manuscripts, and Cosimo built up his own library of books and Greek, Latin and Hebrew documents, which he had translated.
The Medici Palace, where he lived with his wife Contessina and his slave-mistress Maddalena he bought her in Venice , was designed by Michelozzo de Bartolozzi and built in Florence from the s. Cosimo had already paid Michelozzo to rebuild the monastery of San Marco, where he had his own private cell and held deep theological discussions with the prior, the future St Antonio Pierozzi.
He is on record as saying that his two supreme pleasures in life were making and spending money and that spending it was even more satisfying than making it. In his later years Cosimo suffered badly from gout, arthritis and bladder problems. He was 74 when he died at his country house at Careggi.
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