He also received the standard education of the times in Aristotelian philosophy and humanistic disciplines, attending the universities at Pisa and Florence the Studio. Ficino abandoned the study of medicine without taking his degree, realising that his natural talents lay in theology and philosophy. Attracted as he was to the pagan Greek philosophers, Ficino seems to have been drawn further and further away from Christian orthodoxy, so much so that he suffered a crisis of conscience. In later years he told his friends that the Chancellor of the Studio, St. Antoninus canonized , providentially intervened and brought back his pupil to Christianity by ordering him to read Aquinas' Summa contra Gentiles.
In this tale we can see the beginning of Ficino's life work: to reconcile the philosophy of the ancient world Plato representing its highest achievement with the Christian religion. We also catch a glimpse of his conviction that Divine Providence had chosen him for this momentous task.
As Ficino's reading widened and his understanding developed, his task grew as well, until he conceived the idea of a single ancient theology or prisca theologia passed down a 'golden chain' aurea catena of ancient sages and culminating in the revelations of Christianity. The chain comprised both real and mythical characters: Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus who was believed to be a contemporary of Moses , Orpheus, Aglaophemus, Pythagoras and Plato. The young Ficino was clearly cut out for intellectual pursuits.
At the age of only eighteen he was supporting his studies by tutoring the thirty-five year old patrician Piero de' Pazzi. By he was receiving a small salary for lecturing on philosophy at the Studio. Given these facts together with his father's close link to Cosimo de' Medici, it is perhaps not surprising that when Cosimo came into possession of a rare manuscript containing virtually the complete works of Plato several of which had been lost to western Europe , he turned to Ficino to translate them.
Ficino had to learn Greek for the purpose, and he translated into Latin, the language of educated men of the time.
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He started work in and did not finish until about seven years later. The complete translation was published in , some of the Platonic Dialogues being supplemented by full-scale commentaries. This is perhaps Ficino's greatest achievement, and was certainly seen as such at the time. Ficino wrote that while his father Diotifeci had taught him the cure of bodies, Cosimo had brought him to Plato, who taught him the cure of souls.
His recovery of Platonic philosophy has reverberated through European culture and education ever since. However, before Ficino could finish his massive work of translation, Cosimo received a manuscript of most of the Corpus Hermeticum. Believing this work to pre-date Plato, and aware that his own death was near, Cosimo ordered Ficino to break off and translate the Corpus instead. This Ficino did, going on to tackle many more obscure and esoteric texts, largely by Neoplatonists including Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry, Synesius and Michael Psellus.
Many of Ficino's translations remained as standard until the nineteenth century. Cosimo and his successors supported Ficino financially during his labours. Cosimo gave Ficino a small farmhouse near the Medici villa at Careggi, to which he retired regularly to write. After Cosimo's death in , his son Piero arranged Ficino's appointment as lecturer at the Studio.
Marsilio Ficino casts his horoscope
Following Ficino's ordination in , Piero's son Lorenzo il Magnifico gave him two small ecclesiastical benefices. In Ficino was created a canon of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, and Lorenzo recommended him unsuccessfully for the bishopric of Cortona. However, Ficino's relationship with Cosimo's descendants was not always easy. In he was implicated in the Pazzi conspiracy against Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano, in which Giuliano was murdered.
Ficino had been a regular correspondent of some of the conspirators and for a while his position in Florence was uncomfortable. His close friends, the Valori family, increasingly took over the responsibilities of patronage, financing the publication of Ficino's books and offering powerful protection. The fact that Ficino cultivated friendships across political boundaries indicates how wide his circle of friends was.
Indeed, his voluminous correspondence published in twelve volumes in has been called the finest introduction to the intellectual life of fifteenth century Western Europe. The Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus twice invited Ficino to join his court, in and again in In Florence, Ficino was at the centre of a circle of intellectuals and he was once thought to have set up an Academy in emulation of his hero Plato.
In recent years the existence of the Academy has been questioned, with suggestions that it refers not to a group of Platonists but to Ficino's volumes of Plato. What is certain is that Ficino and his friends annually held a celebratory banquet to honour Plato on 7 November, which they believed to be Plato's birthday. One of these banquets is given fictional form in Ficino's De Amore , in which he depicts some of his friends giving speeches about love that form a commentary on Plato's Symposium.
Ficino stated that he wrote this extended meditation on love at the suggestion of his beloved Giovanni Cavalcanti, who hoped it might help Ficino come to terms with his deep feelings for his younger friend. The result is that Ficino introduced the idea of Platonic love into Western thought, although his original meaning is far more profound than the way the term is now used.
His amor platonicus binds two souls together spiritually in a mutual search for union with God, the ultimate destination of the soul that alone will fully satisfy it. This concept proved immensely influential in Western culture, and following its publication in De Amore inspired a flood of imitative handbooks on love. The other area of thought in which Ficino's influence is extremely important is that of theology, since he is largely responsible for the Christian church adopting the doctrine of the soul's immortality.
In his major work Theologia platonica, de immortalitate animorum published , Ficino not only presents his arguments for the reconciliation of Platonic thought with Christianity, but also offers proofs drawn from Plato and other sources for the immortality of the soul. First circulated in manuscript form, then published on December 3, It was constantly in print through the middle of the 17th century. However, Ficino's position as a Christian priest who advocated pagan philosophy, used magic and practised astrology caused some to doubt the orthodoxy of his beliefs.
In he published — not without some anxiety — a compendium of advice on physical and spiritual health, the Liber de Vita in Tres Libros or Three Books on Life. This included instructions on making talismans, identifying one's daemon and using planetary influences. Despite several assurances in the text that Ficino advocated nothing that the Church would not approve, the Roman Curia looked unfavourably on the work.
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However, Ficino's influential friends came to his aid. Although Ficino was circumspect about his magical activities, he was proud of his powers of exorcism and believed himself to have prophetic ability.
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Ficino used the Orphic Hymns, considered to be immensely potent for magic, and was known amongst his friends as the Second Orpheus. He was accomplished on the lyre, and composed astrological songs for therapeutic use. Ficino also revived or invented Orphic dancing, a whirling movement intended to draw down benefic planetary influence. All Ficino's work — philosophical, religious, magical and astrological — had one single aim: to bring the soul close to God. Ficino's influence on the development of magic was considerable, passing into popular practice through Cornelius Agrippa , who based much of his writing on Ficino's work.
Vasoli — offers an excellent introduction to the life and works of Ficino. The standard biography, rich and detailed, remains Marcel , with Howlett offering a less nuanced account in English. Howlett, Sophia. Marsilio Ficino and His World. Critical Political Theory and Radical Practice.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, DOI: An overview aimed toward the general educated reader, focused on Ficino as the key figure who crafted a vision of a Platonic revival that would inaugurate a new Golden Age.
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Howlett acknowledges that Ficino did not succeed in his immediate mission, but she details how he developed a philosophy that made his version of the Platonic revival the one that dominated in the Renaissance. Katinis, Teodoro. Bibliografia ficiniana: Studi ed edizioni delle opere di Marsilio Ficino dal.
Kristeller, Paul Oskar. Il pensiero filosofico di Marsilio Ficino.
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Florence: Casa Editrice Le Lettere, Thorough, extensive bibliography, including works in press, by the foremost expert on Ficino in the 20th century. See pp. Marcel, Raymond.
Marsile Ficin, — Paris: Les Belles Lettres, Vasoli, Cesare. Edited by Colette Nativel, — Geneva, Switzerland: Librairie Droz, — Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page.