Category: Persons

Marsilio Ficino

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) was an Italian philosopher, and the most prominent advocate of Florentine Platonism. He pulled off a Latin translation and commentary of the biggest part of platonic and Neoplatonic literature. On top of that, he advanced Platonism by pursuing an innovative interpretation of platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy.

1. Life and Work

Ficino was born in Figline Valdaro a small community at the outskirts of Florence. His father was a physician in the service of Cosimo de' Medici. By the end of 1450s, he had outlined his philosophical programme. Specifically, he intended to study every known aspect of ancient Greek philosophy -taking a particular interest in epicureanism- in order to reappropriate the way philosophy was understood in his time. Ficino quickly turned to the platonic tradition, and considered himself a member of the line of ancient theologians (prisci theologi), who aimed at revealing and interpreting the divine truth contained in the text of Plato and other ancient sages.

According to Ficino, in the beginning of 1460s, Cosimo de' Medici trusted him with the lead of a group of erudite Florentines, who set up the so-called Platonic Academy of Florence. Current research has proved that the Academy never acquired the status of an official institute; much more, it was a loose group of versed people taking an interest in ancient platonic, and broader, tradition.

In parallel with his leading role in the Academy, Ficino delivered lectures on Plato and Neoplatonists, and also arranged discussions between himself and younger people. At any rate, Ficino believed that induction in philosophy should start with the study of Aristotle and the Aristotelians as prerequisites for the understanding of Plato and Platonists.

Under Cosimo de Medici's motivation, Ficino started (in early 1460s) the translation and commentary of the platonic dialogues, and ofmany more works in the platonic tradition.In 1484 the Platonis Opera Omnia were published: a collection of the 36 platonic works that were at the time considered authentic. In 1496 Ficino published the Commentaria in Platonis, where he included comments on several of the most popular platonic dialogues. Next year (1497) saw the publication of his work on the Neoplatonists (Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Synesius, Pselluset. al.). In the interim, Ficino had written and published his most significant original work: Platonic Theology. On the Immortality of Souls (Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animae), in which he criticized those who separated theology from philosophy. In Ficino's perspective, the platonic work, for all its polysemy, has but one aim: to grasp the divine. His aspiration was for his work to become the Christian rejoinder to the Platonic Theology (Theologia Platonica) by Proclus, whom he held in admiration.

2. Ficino's Platonism

Ficino deemed the platonic philosophy as the most significant point in a line of thought that started with the Chaldean Oracles and the Corpus Hermeticum. Their wisdom was carried by the Orphics to Greece, and found its apogee in the philosophy of Plato and the Neoplatonists. This tradition corroborated the indivisible link between philosophy and theology - the former being the servant of the latter.

Expanding on Plotinus' ontology, Ficino lays out a five-part ontological scheme: God, Angelic Mind, Rational Soul, Quality, and Matter. The soul receives a central position for it is the element that, on the one hand, controls the level of its accumulation with matter, and, on the other hand,the return unto God - and it achieves all that through the connections of "sympathy" that permeate the world. With regards to the immortality of the soul, Ficino promoted it by giving platonic philosophy a Christian spin. Thus, he rejected, for example, the doctrine of reincarnation by attributing it entirely on Pythagoras. Ficino made large use of the notion of spirit (spiritus), which renders the immaterial soul to have an effect on the material world. Love occurs through the spirit. Love is the desire of the beautiful, and leads, ultimately, unto God, that is, unto the fulfilment of human nature.

Author: Goergios Steiris
  • Hankins, J. , Allen, M.J.B. eds. Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology . Cambridge, Mass., 2001-2006.
  • Rees, V., Allen, M.J.B. eds. Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, his Philosophy, his Legacy . Leiden, 2002.
  • Kristeller, P.Ο. The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino. New York, 1943.
  • Vasoli, C. Quasi sit Deus: Studi su Marsilio Ficino. Lecce, 1999.
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