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The Magic Squares of Manuel Moschopoulos - Biographical Details

Peter G. Brown

Manuel Moschopoulos is generally thought of as a writer and philologist, whose main interests were in drama and poetry. As a student of Maximus Planudes, whose learning and interests were very wide ranging indeed, he appears to have also taken an interest in some aspects of science as well as letters. He seems to have taken both his scholarship and his teaching very seriously, and is praised in both areas in a letter written to his uncle by Planudes.

Moschopoulos was probably born about 1265 (see [17], p. 244 n.1), and was the nephew of the bibliophile, Nicephoros Moschopoulos, who became bishop of Crete during the reign of Andronikos II. He tells us in one of his letters ([13], p. 134) that his uncle required four horses to transport his library, thus indicating its size, and its quality may be inferred from the fact that there was an attempt made to steal it. Manuel was obviously influenced and encouraged by his uncle in his studies.

In 1305 or 1306 Moschopoulos was involved in some kind of political plot resulting in his incarceration and disgrace. Several letters survive written by him from the jail, in which he complains about his treatment and the lack of food. He admits that he has acted incorrectly, but claims to have acted naively rather than with malicious intent. Byzantium had, at this time, entered a period of turmoil and slow decline. Internal strifes combined with external pressures made it a place wherein criticism of the hierarchy could be looked upon with great suspicion if not as an act of disloyalty, and Moschopoulos appears to have been at best imprudent in his public remarks. He may also have been held responsible for the behaviour of his student Matarangides, a foreigner (possibly Albanian), for whom he had staked personal responsibility. The exact details are not known. (See [13].)

Moschopoulos' work on magic squares was probably written after this difficult period of his life, perhaps about 1315.