The establishment of the Platonic Academy in Florence
In many secondary literature works, mainly from the 19th century onwards, a narrative is reproduced, according to which while Pletho was visiting Florence, on the occasion of the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439), Cosimo de' Medici (1389-1464) conceived the idea of establishing a Platonic Academy in Florence, thus rendering his city a new Athens. Because it was difficult to find the right person to undertake such an important project, Cosimo had to wait for almost twenty years, until he saw in the young Marsilio Ficino the traits that would guarantee the plan’s success.
Recent studies have successfully challenged the accuracy of this narrative.
What Ficino, and a handful of other sources, describe as the Platonic Academy of Florence was in fact little more than an informal circle of scholars of the second half of the 15th century, where Ficino played a leading role. In this circle Ficino placed not his closest friends, but those of younger age, who could, broadly speaking, be described as his disciples. It is impressive that most of them exhibited no special interest not just for Plato’s philosophy, but for philosophy in general. The reason is that Ficino provided members of that circle with instruction on more general subjects, like rhetoric, literature, astrology, theology, without focusing on specific philosophical issues. The activities of the so-called Academy took place in Florence, for the Italian city, with its famous Studio, prided itself in a long tradition of open courses and lectures, not offered in the context of the Scholastic universities. Scholars in Ficino's circle sought to make the Florentines realize there was another, Platonic, model for education and intellectual development, which was more liberal and friendlier than the Scholastic Aristotelianism of Averroes’ Renaissance followers.