martedì 12 giugno 2012

Athens and Florence: the Foundational Relation of Western Culture

Piazza della Signoria shines in the sun of June. The severe solidity of Palazzo Vecchio, the graceful and spacious arches of the Loggia de' Lanzi, the crowd of classical and Renaissance statues staring at the passersby with their eloquently silent gaze- all this conjures up a sense of harmony, lightness and luminosity as one could find only on the Acropolis, when the summer sun and its reflections on the Aegean immerse the Parthenon and the temple of Poseidon in a bath of light. Florence as the new Athens: the proofs of this equation are under the very eyes of the one who looks at the city on the Arno through that idea of beauty first incarnated on Greek soil. One would have no difficulty thinking that Plato would have found himself at ease under the porch of the Uffizi or strolling along the benches of the Arno: he would have admired here that same sense of equilibrium and profoundly discrete beauty that nourished his soul in his native Attica, where he spent his days walking out and about with Socrates through the Stoá Poekíle and the Agorá. We know for sure that his alleged reincarnation -if we want to agree with Cardinal Bessarion- enjoyed Florence very much. Georgios Gemistós, called the Plethon, lived here for four years during the period of the Council of Ferrara and Florenze (1437-39), teaching at the Studium on the differences between Aristotle and Plato and reintroducing to the West the texts of the latter. He was among those Greek scholars and prelates who came as the delegation from the fading Byzantine Empire to discuss the re-unification of the Eastern and Western churches. When he arrived, the power of the Medici had just begun and Florence was not yet very far from the violence and austerity of its Middle Ages. The city was not yet adorned with statues purposefully remindful of Classical Antiquity and the dome of Brunelleschi had still to gentrify the fierce skyline formed by the multitude of spear-like towers. Born in Greece and raised on the texts of divine Plato, Plethon is among those, who bringing Platonism back to the West contributed immensely to giving Umanesimo its form. Benozzo Gozzoli represented him in the center of his fresco in the Cappella de' Magi: the philosopher stands side by side to the artist, as if the latter wanted to underline a spiritual offspring from the former. Plethon stands out from the middle of the crowd for his intense look and his penetrating eyes that provoke the observer. He was indeed a father-like figure to many geniuses who populated that period: Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Poliziano, Lorenzo il Magnifico, Botticelli, Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo all fed and debated (sometimes harshly) on the rediscovered words of Plato and Plotinus, Proclus and Damascius opened up to them by Plethon: from this fermentation the idea of homo copula mundi finally came out as an unshakable cornerstone, on which Europe and the Western world founded its astonishing development. Maybe there is no more powerful symbol of this new spirit and its view on man and the world than Michelangelo's David: a miracle of beauty, balance and nobility incarnated in the decisive and strong gaze of a young boy, who stands in front of Palazzo Vecchio as an image of the daring attitude of this new Athens that is Florence. Constantinople was then agonizing, the whole of Greece was already under foreign yoke: yet, in its ultimate struggle the Greek world gave us its most delicate and fruitful flower. Without Greece there would have been no Renaissance, no Michelangelo, no Ficino, no Botticelli. Maybe, it is worth keeping this in mind, in this period in which Greece seems again caught in an agonizing struggle.

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