Marsilio Ficino

Marsilio Ficino (also known by his Latin name, Marsilius Ficinus (1433 1499) was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance, astrologer, and a reviver of Neoplatonism who was in touch with every major academic thinker and writer of his day.

During the sessions at Florence of the Council of Siena in 1439, during the failed attempts to heal the schism of the Latin and Greek churches, Cosimo and his intellectual circle had made acquaintance with the Neoplatonic philosopher George Gemistos Plethon, whose discourses upon Plato and the Alexandrian mystics so fascinated the learned society of Florence that they named him the second Plato. In 1459 John Argyropoulos was lecturing on Greek language and literature at Florence, and Marsilio became his pupil. When Cosimo decided to refound Plato's Academy at Florence, his choice to head it was Marsilio, who made the classic translation of Plato from Greek to Latin (published in 1482), as well as of the Hermetic Corpus, and the writings of many of the Neoplatonists, for example Porphyry, Iamblichus, Plotinus, et al. Following suggestions laid out by Gemistos Plethon, Ficino tried to synthesize Christianity and Platonism.

Marsilio Ficino's main work was his treatise on the immortality of the soul (Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animae). In the rush of enthusiasm for every rediscovery from Antiquity, Marsilio exhibited a great interest in the arts of astrology, which landed him in trouble with the Roman Church. In 1489 he was accused of magic before Pope Innocent VIII and needed strong defense to preserve him from the rigors of heresy.

His father was a physician connected to patron was Cosimo de' Medici, who took the young man into his household and became the lifelong patron of Marsilio, who was made tutor to his grandson, Lorenzo de' Medici. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, the Italian humanist philosopher and scholar, was another of his students.

Marsilio Ficino, writing in 1492, proclaimed, "This century, like a golden age, has restored to light the liberal arts, which were almost extinct: grammar, poetry, rhetoric, painting, sculpture, architecture, music...this century appears to have perfected astrology."

His letters, extending over the years 1474 1494, survive and have been published. He also authored a book titled De amore.



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Marsilio Ficino

Marsilio Ficino (also known by his Latin name, Marsilius Ficinus (1433 - 1499) was a humanist philosopher and a Renaissance Italian reviver of Neoplatonism.

He translated Plato from Greek to Latin, the Hermetic Corpus, and the writings of many of the Neoplatonists, for example Porphyry, Plotinus et al. His patron was Cosimo de' Medici and he was also tutor to Lorenzo de' Medici.

He also authored a book titled De amore.

Giovanni Corsi, in his 1506 biography of Ficino says that,

"In stature he was very short, of slender build, and somewhat hunched in both shoulders. He was a little hesitant of speech and stuttered, but only in pronouncing the letter 's'; yet in his speech and appearance he was not without grace. His legs and arms, and particularly his hands, were rather long. His face was drawn forward and presented a mild and pleasing aspect; his complexion was ruddy. His hair was golden and curly and stood up above his forehead. His bodily constitution contained excessive blood which was mixed with a thin subtle red bile. His health was not at all settled, for he suffered very much from a weakness of the stomach, and although he always appeared cheerful and festive in company, yet it was thought that he sat long in solitude and became as if numb with melancholy."

Marsilio Ficino, one of the greatest figures of the Italian Renaissance, was born in Florence, on October 19, 1433. He died in October of 1499. He was a priest, a doctor and musician, but is best known for his work as a translator of classic works, author and philosopher. Ficino, in contrast to Cornelius Agrippa, was fortunate in finding such exemplary patrons as the Medici family of Florence.
Ficino's precocious talent was recognized by Cosimo de Medici, the leading citizen of Florence, who selected Ficino as a boy to lead the Florentine Platonic Academy. Cosimo encouraged Ficino to study Greek and then to provide the first Latin translations of On the Divine Wisdom and the Creation of the World, part of the Corpus Hermeticum attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, and then the first Latin translation of the whole of Plato's works. Cosimo's son Piero and grandson Lorenzo continued to encourage and support Ficino.

Ficino played a major role in the rediscovery of classical learning in the Renaissance by translating a large number of other ancient texts into Latin including the works of Synesius, Psellus, Iamblichus' On the Mysteries of the Egyptians , Porphyry and Theon of Smyrna.
Ficino also had a great interest in music, translating the
The Hymns of Orpheus and gaining renown as a musician. Here is a link to Angela Voss' interesting essay on Ficino and Harmony.
A very beautiful and useful CD, entitled
Secrets of the Heavens, based on Ficino's writings can be obtained from River Run Records. This CD combines a recording of the Hymns of Orpheus to the seven planets with readings from Ficino. Ficino had a similarly regard for the visual arts, consulting with Botticelli on his famous Primavera.
One of the most striking features of Ficino's work was his insistence that there was no contradiction between true philosophy and revelation and his belief in the inherent unity of classical and Christian teaching. As well as translating and commenting on Platonic and Hermetic works, he wrote On Christian Religion and translated the works attributed to Dionysius the Aeropagite. In Platonic Theology or On the Immortality of Souls Ficino traces the common classical and Christian ideas concerning the soul and shows their true unity.

Since he saw that there was no inherent contradiction between classical and Christian teaching Ficino felt free to pursue his interest in astrological magic and astrological talismans. His most famous work on this subject was De triplici vita, "Three Books on Life" In the third book of De triplici vita, entitled De vita coelitus comparanda "On Obtaining Life from the Heavens" Ficino discusses the theory and practice of astrological magic.
While careful to focus on benefic talismans, particularly for improving health, it is clear that many of the talismans that Ficino discusses have their source in Picatrix, a medieval book of Arabic astral magic. Unlike Pico della Mirandolla or Giordano Bruno, however, Ficino's cautious approach to astrological magic allowed him to escape any serious consequences from the Inquisition.
Two, more detailed essays, Marsilio Ficino: Magic, Astrology & the Planetary Hours and Ficino: Astrological Magic Theory, provide more information on the theory and philosophy behind Ficino's use of astrology and magic. In addition, Ficino's Venus Talisman Example explains how an actual talisman was made using the techniques of Renaissance electional astrology and Ficino's instructions in De vita coelitus comparanda.