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Marsilio Ficino


FICINO, MARSILIO Italian philosopher and writer, and recognized as the earliest Platonist of the Renais sance, was born on Oct. 19, 1433, at Figline, in the upper Arno valley. His father, a physician of some eminence, was attached to Cosimo de' Medici. Cosimo perceived the boy's ability in literature and the physical sciences, and took him into his house hold with the intention of using his gifts in the propagation of Platonism and in the replacement of Christianity by a semi pagan theosophy deduced from the writings of the later Pyth agoreans and Platonists. To resuscitate the once so famous Acad emy of Athens Cosimo assembled men of letters for the purpose of Platonic disputation at certain regular intervals, and appointed Marsilio as hierophant and official expositor of Platonic doctrine.

Before he had begun to learn Greek, Marsilio entered upon the task of studying Plato, and while yet a novice, he wrote voluminous treatises on the great philosopher, which he after wards burnt. In 1459 John Argyropoulos was lecturing on Greek language and literature at Florence, and Marsilio became his pupil. About 1482 he completed his translation of Plato, and published his Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animae, by which his rank as a philosopher must be estimated. This was followed by the translation of Plotinus into Latin (5486) and by a voluminous commentary (1491) . Marsilio next devoted his energies to the translation of Dionysius the Areopagite, who had supreme attrac tion for the mystic and uncritical intellect of Ficino.

It is not easy to evaluate the services of Marsilio Ficino. As a philosopher, he was not original, his laborious treatise on Pla tonic theology being little better than a mass of ill-digested erudition. As an exponent of Plato he, like his contemporaries, suffered from the error of confounding Plato with the later Platonists. The whole of antiquity seemed precious in his eyes. Ficino was, moreover, a firm believer in planetary influences, and could not separate his philosophical from his astrological studies. His superstition led to his being accused of magic in 1489, but the good offices of Francesco Soderini, Ermolao Barbaro, and the archbishop Rinaldo Orsini saved him. The value of Ficino's translations, however, gave an impulse to Platonic studies in Italy, and through them to the formation of the new philosophy in Europe. Ficino differed from the majority of his contemporaries in that while he felt the charm of antiquity he never lost his faith in Christianity, or contaminated his morals. For him, as for Petrarch, St. Augustine was the model of a Christian student. The cardinal point of his doctrine was the identity of religion and philosophy. Philosophy consists in the study of truth and wisdom, and God alone is truth and wisdom ; therefore philosophy is but religion, and true religion is genuine philosophy. Religion, indeed, is common to all men, but its pure form is that revealed through Christ. The Platonic doctrine was providentially made to har monize wit ' Christianity, in order that by it speculative intellects might be led to Christ.

Of Ficino's personal life there is but little to be said. Cosimo de' Medici gave him a house near S. Maria Nuova in Florence, and a little farm at Montevecchio, near his two friends, Pico at Querceto, and Poliziano at Fiesole. From his letters of published both separately and in his collected works, it may be gathered that nearly every living scholar of note was included among his friends. In 1473, Ficino took orders and received a canonry of S. Lorenzo. In spite of his weak health, he was assiduous in the performance of his duties, and in literary pursuits he was indefatigably industrious. His tastes were of the simplest; and while scholars like Filelfo were intent on extracting money from their patrons by flattery and threats, he remained so poor that he owed the publication of all his works to private munifi cence. For his Medici patrons Ficino always felt the liveliest grati tude. With Lorenzo he lived on terms of familiar, affectionate, almost parental intimacy, though in later years he did not shrink from uttering a word of warning and advice, when he thought that the master of the Florentine republic was too much inclined to pleasure. Ficino died at Florence in Besides the works already noticed, Ficino composed a treatise on the Christian religion (1476), a translation into Italian of Dante's De monarchia, a life of Plato, and numerous essays on ethical and semi-philosophical subjects. Vigour of reasoning and originality were not his characteristics as a writer. Only in familiar letters, prolegomena, and prefaces do we find the man Ficino, and learn to know his thoughts and sentiments unclouded by a mist of citations ; these minor compositions have therefore a value, inasmuch as they throw light upon the learned circle gathered round Lorenzo in the golden age of humanism.

See Marsilii Ficini opera (Basileae, 1576) ; Marsilii Ficini vita, auctore Corsio (ed. Bandini, Pisa, 17 71) ; Brie f e des Medicierkreises aus M. Ficino's Epistolarium, trans. by Karl Markgraf v. Montoriola (192 5) ; W. Roscoe, Life of Lorenzo de' Medici (1796, etc.) ; Pasquale Villari, La Storia di Girolamo Savonarola (1859 ; Eng. trans., 1889) ; Von Reumont, Lorenzo de' Medici (Leipzig, 1874) ; and G. Saitta, La Filosofia di M. Ficino (Messina, •

religion, plato, medici, philosophy, lorenzo, philosopher and cosimo