There is an interesting web site called Mathematical Genealogy http://genealogy.math.ndsu.nodak.edu/ which lists about 140000 mathematicians with their student-advisor relations. I think that this site can be useful for historian of sciences in many respects. Of course, extension of the modern student-advisor relation to the past is anachronistic, and many people listed there can be hardly called mathematicians, but nevertheless the site contains a lot of interesting information.

According to it, the genealogy of most modern mathematicians can be traced back to 14-th century, to several people who apparently moved to Western Europe from Constantinopole when it was conquered by the Turks. Their names are Manuel Bryennios, Demetrios Kydones, Elissaeus Judaeus and few others. 119K (of the total 142K) of modern mathematicians have this Elissaeus as their ancestor. I am trying to find out

What exactly is known about these people ?

And where the information comes from? Internet search did not give much, though they are frequently mentioned in mathematicians web sites with the reference on this Genealogy. But where the data of this Genealogy for 14-th century come from, from what sources?

EDIT. On the answer of Mauro ALLEGRANZA. I understand that the "sources" he cites is Wikipedia. Of course I looked into Wikipedia BEFORE asking this question:-) A "totally unknown" teacher of Gemistos I did not find in Wikipedia. So I wonder: where the information about him comes from? On what grounds was it included to Math Genealogy?

I also understand all that these people were not mathematicians but rather clerics or philosophers. The real question is: what is the source of the information in Math Genealogy, and how reliable this source is.

EDIT2. I check my "genealogy" periodically (once a year in the average) and it expands:-) Now I see some ancestors which lived at the same time but look independent (according to the Math Genealogy) from those who came from Constantinopole. For example, Johannes Stoffler, who was born a year before the fall of Constantinopole, and has no known "PhD adviser".

  • $\begingroup$ I think the genealogy welcomes submissions from anyone and everyone on the web. So perhaps one or two of those submissions are unreliable? $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2014 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ That I know, and I submitted many entries myself. They are not "automatically submitted" but somehow verified. I am not sure however how exactly the old entries are verified. $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2014 at 20:15

1 Answer 1


From Polymnia Athanassiadi, Byzantine Commentators on the Chaldaean Oracles : Psellos and Plethon, in Katerina Ierodiakonou (editor), Byzantine Philosophy and its Ancient Sources (2004), page 237-on.

Page 248 :

In a letter to Theodora Palaeologina, Gennadios Scholarios offers the following information on [Georgius Gemistos] Plethon's spiritual grounding:

the sum total of his apostasy was consummated by a certain Jew with whom he studied because he was an expert on Aristotle. He was a follower of Averroes and of the other Arab and Persian commentators of Aristotle's works, which have been translated by the Jews into their own language. He is also the man who acquainted him with Zoroaster and the rest. With this man, who was ostensibly a Jew but in reality a Hellene, he stayed for a long time not only as his pupil but also in his service being supported by him. He was one of the most influential men at the Court of these barbarians; his name was Elissaeus. [footnote : George Scholarios Gennadios, Oeuvres complètes, iv, ed. L.Petit, M.Jugie, and X.A. Siderides (Paris, 1935), 152; Bidez and Cumont (1938: O 115, II 260).]

Page 249 :

Elissaeus - a mysterious figure who seems to have been burnt at the stake - appears to have accepted George as his murid, that is as a pupil who had to live with him and serve him on a daily basis, thus slowly progressing along the stations of the spiritual way not least through the virtue of obedience. His teaching would have been heterodox by the standards of any official dogma, since it was an eclectic synthesis borrowing elements and figures from all traditions and reorganizing them according to his own judgement.

Scholarios' information that Elissaeus was eventually burnt alive would tally with the overall picture: spiritual masters who proved too original were condemned by the Islamic establishment to exemplary deaths. Such was indeed the fate of Shihaboddin Yahya Sohrawardi (1155-91), the Iranian mystic, whose influence Henry Corbin detects behind Plethon's theories.

Sohrawardi was an Azerbaidjani, that is a native of the Zoroastrian holy land of Atropatene.

Page 250 :

[...] I do not believe in a direct influence of Sohrawardi on Plethon, though an indirect knowledge of his writings through oral channels seems to me very probable. Sohrawardi's renown was vast and Elissaeus sounds exactly the type of man to be fascinated by the synthesis of Zarathustra and Plato attempted by the Iranian scholar.

In conclusion, it seems highly implausible that Elissaeus has been a mathematician at all ...

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, thanks! On your last sentence: yes, of course. Many people listed in Genealogy for 14-18 centuries are not mathematicians in any sense of this word. I cannot name a single Byzantine mathematician of the later period. Do you know any, say after 10 century? $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2014 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexandreEremenko - I think that the "intrusion" into the Geneaology of too many Renaissance Humanists (see Marsilio Ficino, etc.) his due to an effort to bridge the gap between Renaissance rediscovery of Greek math and ancient Greek math. This is impossible : we cannot find a path of "physical" connections up to Euclid (or Phytagors) : we have to start from somewhere. Thus, I think can be better to start with Ramus, Regiomontanus, Pacioli, Petrus Apianus (it seems to me he is missing; we have his son Philipp) and "live with" the fact that they learnt mainly studying ... 1/2 $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2014 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ ... Greek manuscripts nfound in the collections of Italian humanists filled with medieval manuscripts with latin translations of arabic transaltions of ... and byzantine copies coming with Gemistos, Beassarion and friends; and this was the enormous contribution of these guys to the european renaissance of science, irrespective of the fact that they were not mathematicians at all. 2/2 $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2014 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ I would be very interested to know more detail about this. Which books came to Europe with these guys, how does this compare with European-Islamic interaction, etc. Can you suggest any serious literature on this? $\endgroup$ Nov 11, 2014 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexandreEremenko - I strongly suggest to you : Paul Lawrence Rose, The Italian Renaissance of mathematics: studies on humanists and mathematicians from Petrarch to Galileo (1976). I've read it about 30 years ago ... unfortunately I do not own a copy of it and I cannot check; but I've a very very good memory of it. $\endgroup$ Nov 12, 2014 at 7:24

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