Meliteniotes, Theodore

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(b. Constantinople, c. 1320; d. Constantinople, 8 March 1393),


A product of the Senatorial class, Meliteniotes was born around 1320 in Constantinople. A high ecclesiastical official, he was Great Sacellarius (Treasurer), and around 1360, he became Didascalos ton didascalon; that is, director of the Patriarchal School. His religious bent was Palamite and anti-Latin. He died 8 March 1393. His output was voluminous. He composed an exegetical work on the Gospels in three sections, and an Astronomical Tribiblos in three books. He may be the author of an allegorical poem on Sôphrosynè (Temperance), attributed to a certain Meliteniotes. In this pedantic and heterogeneous poem are found many descriptions and digressions, including a catalog of precious stones, a veritable dictionary of mineralogy.

The Astronomical Tribiblos is a treatise on astronomy in three books, according to a tripartite division dear to the author, probably in homage to the Holy Trinity. The autograph manuscript is preserved, Vaticanus gr. 792. According to its examples it was evidently composed around 1352.

Book 1 contains an introduction, a small treatise of arithmetic, and a treatise on the construction and use of the plane astrolabe with detailed drawings. The introduction develops a history of astronomical science, seen by the author as having biblical origins, and drawing inspiration from Flavius Josephus and Strabo. He strenuously condemned astrology, but affirmed that astronomy may be of service to the faith, citing the miraculous eclipse at the Passion of Christ. The arithmetical part explains the arithmetical operations in the sexagesimal system: multiplication, division, square root, fractions, addition and subtraction, and proportional interpolation. Meliteniotes drew on the ancient authors whose names he cited (Theon, Pappus, Syrianus, and John Philoponus), but especially his Byzantine predecessors, whom he did not name, George Pachymeres and Theodore Metochites, as well as making his own personal contribution. The treatise on the astrolabe explained, to begin with, the construction of the instrument and then its use. He mentioned seventeen stars to be placed on the spider, but without giving their coordinates. In order to ensure that the instrument would not become useless after a period, because of the precession of the equinoxes, Meliteniotes explained how to draw a spider without stars. This is the only Greek treatise to develop this possibility.

Book 2 is devoted to the astronomy of Ptolemy, whose calculations he explained in the manner of Theon of Alexandria, both according to the Almagest and the Handy Tables. The calculations were illustrated by detailed examples for 25 December 1352 (except for a lunar eclipse, 23 October 1352, and a solar eclipse, 7 August 1347). No theoretical explanation is provided. At the end of Book 2 the author mentioned the need to correct Ptolemy’s tables, both because of copyists’ errors which entered the tables, and because of the defects in the instruments of observation. These produced errors imperceptible at the time of Ptolemy, but accrued over the centuries. The author promised to correct the tables when he might find the time, away from the ecclesiastical business that absorbed him and the headaches that left him prostrate.

Book 3 was devoted to Persian astronomy, that is the tables used by George Chrysococces in his Persian Syn-taxis, the Zij i-Ilkhani of Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. Meliteniotes certainly used the work of Chrysococces, but he differed at a number of points: the transcriptions of Persian words were different, and several errors of Chrysococces were corrected. For example, the longitude of Constantinople is correctly put at 49°50' (in place of the Ptolemaic value of 56° used by Chrysococces). Meliteniotes, who copied in his own hand the Laurentianus 28/17, containing the teaching of Shams Bukhari, also had access to sources earlier than Chrysococces. In this book Meliteniotes uses the same examples as in Book 2, but he made no explicit comparison between the results obtained from Ptolemy’s tables and those from the Persian tables. Book 3 was a great success and was widely copied with many variations under the title Paradosis ton Persikon kanonon.

It is not known whether Meliteniotes actually taught astronomy, but the pedagogical character of his work is evident. The Tribiblos introduced no scientific innovation, yet it played apparently an important role. By his personality and by the important offices that he held in the church, Theodore Meliteniotes seems to have prescribed the study of astronomy as part of the training of the senior Byzantine clergy. By his strenuous condemnation of astrology he dissociated the Persian tables from any astrological application, contrarily to the Persian Syntaxis of Chrysococces, whose avowed aim was the practice of astrology. Finally, he led the way to an improved understanding of the Persian methods, even if he did not eliminate all the errors that disturbed the work of Chrysococces.


Astruc, Charles. “Le livre III retrouvé du commentaire de Théodore Méliténiotès sur les Evangiles (Paris. gr. 180).” Travaux et mémoires 4 (1970): 411–429. Commentary of the Gospels.

Dölger, Franz. “Die Abfassungzeit des Gedichtes des Meliteniotes auf die Enthaltsamkeit.” Annuaire de l’Institut de philologie et d’histoire orientales 2 (1934): 315–330. On the poem Sôphrosynè.

Leurquin, Régine. “La Tribiblos astronomique de Théodore Méliténiote (Vat. gr. 792).” Janus 72, no. 4 (1985): 257–282.

_____. Théodore Méliténiote. Tribiblos Astronomique. livre 1,Corpus des Astronomes Byzantins 4. Amsterdam, Gieben, 1990. livre 2, Corpus des Astronomes Byzantins 5–6, Amsterdam, Hakkert, 1993. Greek text with French translation and commentary.

Miller, E. “Poëme allégorique de Méliténiote.” Notices et Extraits des manuscrits de la bibliothèque impériale 19, no. 2 (1858): 1–138. Greek text.

Tihon, Anne. “L’astronomie byzantine à l’aube de la Renaissance (de 1352 à la fin du XVe siècle).” Byzantion 66 (1996): 244–280.

Anne Tihon