John or Basil Bessarion, a Greek scholar, born in Trebizond in 1389 or 1395, died in Ravenna, Nov. 19, 1472. He passed many years in a monastery, became a prominent reviver of literature, and was titular patriarch of Constantinople and archbishop of Nice. Having forfeited the good will of his countrymen by exerting himself with John Palseologus at the council of Ferrara over-zealously, as they thought, for a union of the Roman and Greek churches, he remained in Italy, where Pope Eugenius IV. made him cardinal, and Nicholas V. bishop of Sabina and afterward of Frascati, and gate of Bologna. But for one adverse vote he would have been raised to the papal see, his Greek birth being the chief objection. Sixtus IV. sent him on a mission to Louis XI. to reconcile the latter with the duke of Burgundy; but the French monarch is said to have taken offence at his having visited first the duke, and called him a barbarous Greek, which according to some accounts affected the health of the envoy and accelerated his death. In France and in Germany he instigated crusades against the Turks, after whose capture of Constantinople he was very useful to his fugitive countrymen. His house in Rome became a species of academy, attended by Argyropulos, Poggio, and others, whom he aided in their studies.
He bequeathed his books to the Venetian senate, and his valuable collection of Greek MSS. laid the foundation of the library of St. Mark's in that city. He left various writings, chiefly translations of Aristotle and in vindication of Plato, of whom he was a distinguished exponent. He wrote in reply to George of Trebizond Adversus Calumniato-rem Platonis (1470), which was one of the first books issued from the Roman press.