When Philosophers Rule: Ficino on Plato's Republic, Laws & Epinomis (Commentaries by Ficino on Plato's Writing) Translation by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn) due June 2009 Marsillio Ficino of Florence (1433-99) was one of the most influential thinkers of the Renaissance. He put before society a new ideal of human nature, emphasising its divine potential. As teacher and guide to a remarkable circle of men, he made a vital contribution to changes that were taking place in European thought. For Ficino, the writings of Plato provided the key to the most important knowledge for mankind, knowledge of God and the soul. It was the absorption of this knowledge that proved so important to Ficino, to his circle, and to later writers and artists. As a young man, Ficino had been directed by Cosimo de’ Medici towards the study of Plato in the original Greek. Later he formed a close connection with Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo de’ Medici, under whom Florence achieved its age of brilliance. Gathered round Ficino and Lorenzo were such men as Landino, Bembo, Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola. The ideas they discussed became central to the work of Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Dürer, and many other writers and artists. Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils, - no, nor the human race, as I believe, - and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.' Republic, Book V, 473D With these words Plato expressed his ideal form of government. Often dismissed as unrealisable, they have appealed down the ages to men of goodwill. Having translated all of the Dialogues from Greek into Latin, at the request of his Medici patrons, Ficino was asked to prepare summaries by Lorenzo de’ Medici, the de facto ruler of the republic of Florence, who aspired to be the kind of enlightened ruler Plato described. The title of this book, When Philosophers Rule, is a reference to what is perhaps the best known quotation from Plato on good government, and in the troubled times we now live, perhaps it is wise to turn again to what that great philosopher of the West had to say. This volume is not a translation of Plato’s Dialogues themselves, but rather commentaries to three of his dialogues by Marsilio Ficino, the philosopher-priest who was head of the Platonic Academy in Florence in the 15th century. As Kathleen Raine wrote in a review of The letters of Marsilio Ficino in The Times, ‘All that we regard as the norm of Western European art – Botticelli’s paintings, Monteverdi’s music, Shakespeare’s philosophical lovers, Browne and Lorenzo, Jacques and Portia – has flowered from Ficino’s Florence.’ An interesting feature of these commentaries is that they were written at the request of Lorenzo de’ Medici who was at the time virtual ruler of the Republic of Florence and who presided over that great flowering which is still a wonder to this day. So in this volume we see the wisdom of Plato mediated to a receptive ruler of a state by a philosopher in his midst. With the collapse of the global economy calling the wisdom of our political leaders into question, When Philosophers Rule is a timely reminder of those principles which have formed the basis of good government and inspired statesmen down the ages.
Excerpt: Freedom, as the medieval English lawyer Sir John Fortescue once observed, is a thing with which the nature of man has been endowed by God. Therefore, he said, wherever it is oppressed it strives of its own energy always to return.
Living as we do in an age in which freedom seems relatively secure for many people in democratic states, it is easy to lose sight of the foundations upon which lasting freedom is built. Such foundations have long antecedents as this volume demonstrates, it being a translation of commentaries written more than five hundred years ago on works that were written over two thousand five hundred years ago. Yet Plato's Republic and Laws, and these commentaries on them, remain as relevant today as they have ever been, examining as they do the necessary conditions for a successful society which offers civil freedom under the rule of law to all its citizens.
Central to Plato's view of civil society is arete, justice or righteousness. Our own age is full of calls for justice in all social and civil spheres, but what is common to these calls is an apparent view that justice is something that is dispensed by the state, its institutions and courts of law to otherwise deprived citizens. Justice has become a commodity which purports to right wrongs and compensate victims who have nothing to do themselves but register their complaint with the appropriate authorities.
Plato's view, endorsed by Ficino, is very different. For them justice is a state of the soul over which every man and woman has personal command. It is an orderly state of the inner being which is cultivated by good practice of other virtues: wisdom, temperance and courage, which combined in one person produce that state of being that is called just. There is nothing to be gained from looking for this from some external source.
The great value of Plato's works and these commentaries on them is that they require us to look again at the basis of the freedoms we enjoy in modern democratic societies. They warn us that democratic freedoms are not attained, or maintained, without effort and that those efforts involve every citizen coming to an understanding of their own role in securing justice in the state to which they belong. It is clear from this view that the best form of government is self-government, and that such government involves the citizen in taking command of his or her own inner life, developing the personal strength to control, direct and restrain their own appetites while bringing their soul under the rule of wisdom or reason so that it becomes a thing of order and beauty reflecting the goodness of God and showing itself to be such in their conduct towards others and towards the state.
It was this idea of inner, personal government that lay behind the English common lawyers' idea of the reasonable man, the free and lawful man of the English common law. Such a person was presumed to know the law because the law was nothing else but reason, and reasonable conduct was sufficient to keep the individual within the law. This conception, which still informs the many common law jurisdictions that followed the British around the globe, is the key to the successful development of free democratic states. The lessons reflected in the pages of this volume offer a guide for modern statesmen and citizens alike.
For Plato, democracy as described by him is a dangerous and delicate form of government amounting at its worst to little more than mob rule based on the primacy of the pleasure-loving appetites in the souls of the citizens. When this becomes dominant in the majority of citizens, the very foundations of participatory forms of government are destroyed as fewer and fewer people develop in themselves the virtues necessary for the government of themselves or of states. New laws are passed on a whim to demonstrate to electorates that their governors are dealing with the latest crisis, but without any real regard to the effect of such laws on the body politic. There is an inevitable tendency for citizens to become ever more dependent on the state for the regulation of every aspect of life; regulations multiply and the people, far from becoming free citizens, become instead ever more dependent on the ever-increasing bounty of the state to provide for every aspect of life. In the end this cannot be sustained because the state has to appropriate more and more of the wealth of its citizens in order to pay for the services which the citizens demand in exchange for their votes.
Plato sees descent into tyranny as the inevitable outcome of such a state of affairs. However, he also writes: 'Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes amongst men have the spirit and power of philosophy, cities will have no rest from their evils, or so I believe.'
This is the opening that offers hope that the otherwise inevitable descent of democratic societies first into ungovernableness and then into tyranny can be avoided. In a democratic age, the kings and princes amongst men are the people themselves. The turning to philosophy that avoids the descent into tyranny is a revolution in personal values and an acceptance of personal responsibility. The free and lawful person acts reasonably and governs him or her self, not only because it is necessary for the good of the state and their neighbours, but also because such self-command offers greater happiness and fulfilment to the individual. Understanding this and making it a practical reality is necessary to the establishment and continuance of democratic governance based on freedom under law
When the governors of a state understand this, following Plato, they are more likely to direct their lawmaking powers to establishing and maintaining virtue in the souls of the citizens and the citizens will appreciate and applaud their efforts to do so.
This volume is the first translation into English of Ficino's Commentaries on Plato's two greatest works on this topic. The Commentaries are themselves full of additional insights which expand and elucidate Plato's thought. They provide the modern reader with a route into an art and science of government which can offer both personal development and also the peace, freedom and stability to which modern democracies aspire. Perhaps the appearance of this translation at this time is a part of that volition described by Fortescue by which the real freedom of the human condition reasserts itself from age to age.
Commentaries on Plato, Volume 1, Phaedrus and Ion (The I Tatti Renaissance Library) by Marsilio Ficino and Michael J. B. Allen (Harvard University Press) Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), the Florentine scholar-philosopher-magus, was largely responsible for the Renaissance revival of Plato. The publication of his Latin translations of the dialogues in 1484 was an intellectual event of the first magnitude, making the Platonic canon accessible to western Europe after the passing of a millennium and establishing Plato as an authority for Renaissance thought. This volume contains Ficino’s extended analysis and commentary on the Phaedrus, which he explicates as a meditation on “beauty in all its forms” and a sublime work of theology. In the commentary on the Ion, Ficino explores a poetics of divine inspiration that leads to the Neoplatonist portrayal of the soul as a rhapsode whose song is an ascent into the mind of God. Both works bear witness to Ficino’s attempt to revive a Christian Platonism and what might be called an Orphic Christianity. This work is a revision of Marsilio Ficino and the Phaedran Charioteer by Michael J. B. Allen (Publications of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: University of California Press) and especially The Platonism of Marsilio Ficino: A Study of His Phaedrus Commentary, Its Sources and Genesis by Michael Allen (Publications of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: University of California Press). See below.
Review by Giorgio A. Pinton:
In my reviewing of this volume, I will mainly limit myself to the consideration of its structural organization, with fewer remarks about the content, and even less about its enormous importance for the study of the father of the Renaissance.
The book is volume 1 in the i Tatti Renaissance Library series that intends to make available to scholars all the writings of Marsilio Ficino on Plato. To this end, Michael J. B. Allen has written about the important presence and place of the Phaedrus within Plato’s and Ficino’s thought, method, and historiography and their textual encounter. In the introduction, Allen corrects the date given to Plato’s writing of Phaedrus and places it between 1466 and 1468. He also underlines the importance of handling this dialogue with “extreme delicacy and circumspection” (p. xxi) given the opinions expressed on its subject matter: the frenzy of love, physical and celestial. The notions expressed by Socrates often are those of his predecessors, the Pythagoreans, rather than his own or Plato’s. Socrates, says Allen, is speaking as the medium of an earlier wisdom. With Oscar P. Kristeller Allen claims that the eventual publication of Ficino’s Platonic works in 1484 far surpassed all other translations of the time and constituted “an intellectual event of the first magnitude, since they established Plato as a newly discovered authority for the Renaissance who could now take precedence over Aristotle” (p. xxiii). Eugenio Garin said that Ficino relied at first on Latin translations of Plato; that he studied Greek beginning in 1458-59 and that it was only in 1462 that Cosimo the Elder and Amerigo Benci gave Ficino the gift of a Platonic Codex that Ficino began to translate into Latin. As Allen says, the 1460s was “the most productive decade in an exceptionally productive life” (p. xxii).
The introduction, translation of the text, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index are due to the editor-translator. The rest is by the hand of Ficino, who translated from Greek the central part of the dialogue, which has traditionally been identified by the paragraphs and the sentences numbered 243E9-256A7, and named the "mythical hymn,” as Socrates refers to it at a different spot in the dialogue, at 265C (in the Stephanus pagination, known as the standard subdivision of Plato’s dialogues). As the serious student will read the full introduction, so must the general reader and the interested student because, from p. 1 on, this book at first glance may seem a muddle. Recognizing the problem, the editor has provided the map (p. xxviii). His personal evaluation of Ficino’s translation of the Phaedrus (part 1: from pp. 2-3 to pp. 36-37), Ficino’s commentary on Phaedrus (part 2: from pp. 38-39 to pp. 102-103), and Ficino’s own summaries of the chapters of the whole dialogue (part 3: from pp. 104-105 to pp. 192-193) is found at pp. xxix-xxxvii.
Part 1, or the mythical hymn, is the central core of the dialogue and is composed of twenty-one (from chapter 13 to 33) of the fifty-three chapters into which the dialogue is subdivided in Ficino and which are all presented in a kind of interpretative summa in part 3 (pp. xxxi-xxxii). It was natural for Ficino to concentrate his commentary (part 2) on the twenty-one chapters, or mythical hymn (part 1), since they were the ones that captured his inner soul and tormented him for many years thereafter with the anguish of finding the final interpretation and solution to the problems they raised, as one can see in part 2 (the palinode).
Part 2, or the commentary, unfortunately is at its own turn divided by Ficino into eleven chapters, the first three of which were once a unity for “the assessment of the Phaedrus in the 1460s” (p. xxix). It is a confirmation of the fact that he did not renege on or revise it, when he put it into the present format. The next eight chapters constitute the commentary proper. Chapter 4 begins with 245A and “deals exclusively with the divine frenzies, primarily the poetic” (p. xxx). Chapters 5 and 6 address the rigorously syllogistic section from 245C to 246A, which concerns the soul’s immortality. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 treat of the soul nature and powers, that is, the ramifications of the charioteer, horses, wings, wheels, and the chariot myth. Chapters 10 and 11 present the Jovian cavalcade (how the gods may be multiplied in four ways) and its cosmological flight (the four worlds, the supercelestial place, the twelve gods). Allen is diligent in providing some precious lines that show in brief the continuity in these sections concerning the drama of the soul in its ascent: “with the individual soul’s ascent through the four divine inspirations [see Ion, or part 4], then with the ascent to immortality, … and finally with the ascent of the Soul (Jupiter) and all the souls, as a cavalcade of gods and men, … beyond the arch of the intellectual heaven to gaze upon the supracelestial place, the portal of the transcendent One” (p. xxxi).
In part 3, Ficino reviews every chapter: briefly for chapters 1-12 (227A-243E) and chapters 34-53 (257A-279C); extensively for chapters 13-33, the palinode or mythical hymn (243E9-256A7), about which he could never feel unambiguously sure of having fully understood the meaning, the imagery, and Plato’s handling of it. “The Phaedrus was about the most august mysteries of inspiration, theogony, incarnation, soteriology, eschatology, and purification, as Jamblichus had long ago insisted by defining its genre as theological, not as logical, physical, or ethical” (p. xi).
Hermias and Theon of Smyrna had also compiled a commentary on Phaedrus, but Ficino, because of its complexity and multiple perspectives, returned often to meditate on it, always unable to express with definitive words the infinitely indefinitive. Several times, Ficino referred to this dialogue, mainly to the palinode (the mythical hymn and its commentary), and in some other writings and letters, approached it as the archaeologist of thought he had been, the philologist of ancient Greek he became, the priest of the Platonic temple of light and love, he wanted to be. He felt himself incapable of reaching the ultimate meaning of the Phaedran palinode, aware of the presence in it of the same idea of the eternal revelation he found in the Hermes Trismegistus.
Though always unsatisfied, uneasy, in regard to the Phaedrus, the Phaedrus “had supplied [Ficino] with some of his most haunting concepts and images, as it had the ancient Neoplatonists before him.” His characterization of the Phaedran charioteer became “one of the Renaissance’s most potent and expressive self-images.” We may affirm, “he was unquestionably the best equipped scholar-philosopher in the Latin West to rise to the challenge of interpreting its riches” (p. xxxv).
In part 4, with his interpretation and introduction to Ion, Ficino returns to the consideration of the positions taken in regard to the frenzy of love and other frenzies in the Phaedrus. The dialogue Ion is short; it is contained between paragraphs 530-542 in the Stephanus pagination. In itself, Ion is another ramification from the Phaedrus, at least the way Ficino reads it. Ficino's introduction to Ion consists of four chapters that he wrote for his commentary in Convivium (speech 7.13-7.14) and five more, in which Ficino’s interpretation “elevates the image of the rhapsode to the level of a universal condition: man as rhapsode is man in search of the divine gift” of inspiration (p. xxxvii). And it is the four kinds of inspiration from God that this introduction-commentary on Ion deals with: the poetic frenzy, or first step from the multiplicity of soul’s dispersions; the priestly frenzy, or expiation and ritualization of the worship from the gods to one god; the prophetic frenzy, or foresight of future events; finally, the frenzy of the love that converts into the One. The Ion returns to use the images of the charioteer and his horses, and this fact must have influenced Ficino to consider Ion the extension of Phaedrus.
Even those with little Latin would enjoy these splendid and uncommon texts of Ficino, thanks to the editor’s formatting and his captivating English narration. The profundity and expertise shown by Prof. Allen in the introduction should not remain unnoticed or disregarded. The only way to value and enjoy these sublime texts on the Platonism of the Renaissance is to read the pages of the introduction alternatively with the pages of the texts to which they refer.
The above revie is by Giorgio A. Pinton. Review of Ficino, Marsilio, Commentaries on Plato, Volume 1, Phaedrus and Ion. from H-Italy, H-Net Reviews. March, 2010
Marsilio Ficino and the Phaedran Charioteer by Michael J. B. Allen (Publications of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: University of California Press) Socrates's mythical hymn in the Phaedrus 243E-257A, with its charioteer struggling to master his stallions in flight with the gods, is, along with the flickering cave of the Republic and the Phaedo's hemlock death, one of Plato's most dazzling and memorable pieces. It is also the most self-consciously poetic in terms of its diction, gorgeous rhythms and figures, dramatic juxtapositions, elaborate allegory, and symphonic structure.' Socrates himself emerges, though through veils of irony, not as the gadfly at the cabbage ears of Athenian youth or the lips of their favorite Sophists, the choplogician with his tradesman's analogies archly analyzing terms, but as the ecstatic seer, the poet-prophet, singing to Corybantian measures of man's agonistic ascent to heaven, of the fall, of true knowledge, of immortality; singing, moreover, in an unfamiliar setting, aureoled by cicadas beside a river at noon, in a grove hallowed by the local deities, and 400 yards upstream from an altar dedicated to the rape of Oreithyia by the North Wind; his companion, the radiant Phaedrus, the initiator of the night's debate in the Symposium and the champion there of Love's divinity.
This mythical hymn—which Socrates so describes at 265BC —is beguilingly distanced and qualified, however, by various literary devices. Inaugurated by the analysis of two syllogisms and ended by a prayer, it offsets two previous speeches, one by
Lysias and another by Socrates, and is itself presented as a palinode to the god of Love. It is also orbited by satellite myths and invocations—themselves calling for sensitive interpretation—which underscore its mythic nature and simultaneously reinforce its concern with the kinds and degrees of divine inspiration, mania, madness. Though formally bracketed in this way, the hymn nevertheless exercizes dominion over the rest of the material and serves, in the opinion of both ancient and modern commentators, as the dialogue's prismatic centerpiece.
Allen has spoken of the hymn rather than of the dialogue as a whole, since it was this that also fascinated Marsilio Ficino, the fifteenth-century Florentine whose work was patronized by three generations of the Medici and who was one of the most interesting and exotic luminaries of the European Renaissance. Translator from the Greek and commentator; Christian apologist, theologian, teacher, exegete, priest; musical theorist and notable performer; mythologist, metaphysician, lapsed astrologer; belletrist, ethician, versifier, dialectician; medical theorist and practitioner and love theorist; psychiatrist, Thomist, demonologist; Hermetist, Orphic, Augustinian, Dantean, dietician; historian of poetry, religion, philosophy, and pleasure; quietist, mystic, mage, humanist, wit; devout son and timid sycophant; above all, Neoplatonist, Ficino was a highly derivative and original, conservative and bizarre, succinctly repetitive scholar-thinker, as difficult for us to assess in detail now as in entirety. Despite the research of several scholars this century, and preeminently that of Paul Oskar Kristeller, much remains to be discovered and understood about him, for his enormous influence, contemporary and posthumous, has been better charted than many of his guiding conceptions and motifs, including that of the Phaedran chariot and its charioteer.
A symbol of the sun's disk for many of the ancient Semitic and Indo-European peoples, in the West the chariot has long been associated with the world of Homer, where it bears Achaian and Trojan princes alike to victory and defeat on the windy plains.' It was, of course, the ultimate war machine of antiquity as well as an image of royalty, the embodiment of superhuman speed, awesome and ineluctable. In his career the charioteer united the strength and beauty of the stallion with the intelligence and courage of man and thereby became a being who transcended the limitations of both the human body and the brute mind. Within but not enslaved to the chariot—like his parodic counterpart, the lust-driven centaur—he was man at the height of terrible triumph, self-determining and free.' Sung by Pindar and later carved in the Arch of Titus, he thundered forward in an intensification of life towards a mastery of death; and he was the hero, in both ancient and Renaissance depictions and allegorizations of the triumph theme, who returned, bringing peace into his city with the spoils of conquest.' He was active man, that is, in his paradoxical struggle to achieve serenity through violence.
Just as the Bhagavad Gita has Arjuna turn to the charioteer, the god Krishna, on the very threshold of battle, however, to ascend the spiraling contradictions of being and nonbeing, so too many texts in the pre-Christian and the Christian West also recognized the value of the charioteer as a symbol of mystical ascent. Ficino knew the fragmentary Poema of Plato's most distinguished predecessor, Parmenides, the Eleatic monist, where the poet describes a visionary chariot ride up through the gates of Night and Day, accompanied by the daughters of the Sun, to be welcomed by an unnamed goddess whose instruction fails to inspire the rest of the plodding hexameters. He was even more familiar, though, with the fiery chariot in the second book of Kings which caught Elijah (Elias) up to heaven in a whirlwind;' with the apocalyptic four-wheeled "chariot" of the cherubim which Ezekiel witnessed in a vision by the river of Chebar in the land of the Chaldees; and with the four horses, the white one bearing a rider later called Faithful and True, which John sees at the opening of the seven seals in Revelation. In addition, and perhaps with Dante's description of the triumph of Beatrice also in mind, he was drawn to the enigmatic verses in 2 Corinthians where Paul speaks of being caught up to the third heaven, to paradise, for he interpreted it as taking place in the chariot of "upright faith, and steadfast hope, and burning charity." Though none of these classical or biblical chariots or charioteers is winged per se, they all translate the horizontal warrior's onslaught into a vertical flight: endowed with the power of wings, they might well have been endowed with actual wings, the archetypal symbols of transcendence. As precedents here Ficino could recall the god-given horses of Pelops; Pegasus, the symbol, for the Romans, of immortality itself; and Ezekiel's four-faced cherubim with the likeness of the hands of a man under their wings.
While these several associations, along with others undoubtedly derived from contemporary carnivals and trionfi, all had something to contribute, it was nevertheless the Phaedrus's palinode that supplied Ficino, as it had supplied the ancient Neoplatonists commencing with Plotinus and Iamblichus," with the paradigmatic symbol of the soul's struggle to ascend as a unified being to the vision of immutable reality. And not only the human soul: indebted perhaps to Orpheus and the Pythagoreans, Plato had ventured further than Homer or Parmenides and depicted the souls of the gods themselves as charioteers too, gazing upwards at the supracelestial place of the Ideas beyond the bounds of their intellectual heaven. He had transformed the Homeric charioteer into a symbol not only of the human soul in divine ecstasy, but of Jove as the world-soul, the progenitor of motion and of life, leading the cosmic cavalcade of all the souls and gods back to their metaphysical source. The old symbol of war and triumph, even of spiritual triumph, had thus become a theological type prefiguring, for Ficino, the ascension of men and angels under Christ as the first, last, and sovereign charioteer at the head of the hosts of the saved returning to God.
Also associated with the image of the charioteer, though less obviously, were Plato's intriguing references in the Phaedrus to a mysterious but supremely important entity, the soul's "aethereal vehicle," the spiritual body or envelope that had been the concern of much ancient theosophical and theurgical speculation but was also the object of considerable fascination for Ficino and his Renaissance contemporaries, philosophers, mages, and astrologers alike.
In short, the Phaedrus was fundamentally about the mysteries at the heart of theogony, incarnation, soteriology, eschatology, and purification, as Iamblichus had long ago insisted by defining its genre as theological, not logical, physical, or ethical." Indeed, for the Florentine, as for the Neoplatonists, the Phaedrus seemed to be one of Plato's most explicit works of theology (second only to the Parmenides and, possibly, the Timaeus), and its charioteer, therefore, one of his premier myths for truly liberated man, man as a peer of the angelic orders, of the gods themselves.
With the major exceptions of the Meno and Phaedo, and parts of the Parmenides and Timaeus, Plato's dialogues were completely lost to the West during the Middle Age—the Byzantine East is a different matter—though Platonism continued to flourish under various guises, and particularly Augustinianism. Not until Ficino himself translated it did the entire canon become accessible again after the passing of a millennium and Plato move into his European own. The Phaedrus, however, was one of several dialogues that had already captured the notice of humanists. A year after Aurispa and Traversari had brought over a complete Plato manuscript from Byzantium in 1423, Leonardo Bruni finished a partial Latin translation of the Phaedrus (up to 257C), the only attempt to precede Ficino's. Occasionally, the dialogue figured in Plethora's reconstruction of ancient pagan theology and in the uproar that swirled around him as a consequence even after his death in 1458. By that year it was also at the storm center of bitter debate between other Byzantine Plato enthusiasts (and their Italian admirers) and a Cretan Aristotelian lecturing in Italy, the great polemicist and anti-Plethonian, George of Trebizond, who charged it with advocating the "Socratic vice" of pederasty. In 1459, not long before Ficino embarked on his own Plato translations, Cardinal Bessarion, George's distinguished antagonist, defended the dia‑
Logue on the grounds that it portrayed love as a cathartic, not as a sexual, force and should be interpreted in the light of Diotima's ladder in the Symposium. Controversy smouldered during the 1460s until, after a final flare with the publication of Bessarion's magnum opus in 1469, it died away with the deaths of both George and the cardinal in 1472.18 Thus, unlike most of the other dialogues, the Phaedrus had made an impact before Ficino began to translate and elucidate its secrets. After him it became one of the age's most treasured texts, whether read in the Greek, in Ficino's Latin—which quickly superseded Bruni's —or in Felice Figliucci's sixteenth-century Italian translation of Ficino's Latin.
Apart from the manifest appeal and difficulty of the work and his contemporaries' ambivalent attraction to it, three external reasons must have influenced Ficino's decision to single it out, with a handful of other dialogues, for extended analysis and commentary—the first since antiquity. First would be his understanding of the status of the Phaedrus in the eyes of the ancient Neoplatonists. Attacked on various grounds by critics prior to Plotinus, the Phaedrus was radically upgraded by those who followed him. Plotinus himself was partially responsible for this turnabout, for he frequently lauds the Phaedrus's myth along with sundry of its arguments and at one point argues that the "heaven" of 246E must be deemed, not the celestial heaven, but intelligible reality." According to Bielmeier and, more recently, Dillon and Larsen, however, the real revolution came with Iamblichus. He not only promulgated what came to be, at least for a while, definitive answers to the complicated questions of the dialogue's genre, principal theme (skopos), and structure, but also insisted, apparently for the first time, on interpreting the Phaedran Zeus, not as a cosmic deity, as the celestial world-soul, but as the supramundane, supracelestial demiurgic leader from the intelligible realm." While Plotinus had argued for the intelligibility of the heaven at 246E, he had accepted Zeus as the world-soul; and Ficino thought this the preferable interpretation, as he says in chapter 11. Nevertheless, it was Iamblichus's supramundanist, uncompromisingly the ological interpretation that prevailed in late antiquity, and was, in essence, the one expounded and elaborated by Syrianus and his two pupils, Hermias and the brilliant Proclus—at least insofar as we can ascertain from Hermias's Phaedrus commentary, our primary source of evidence on this matter and the only extant Phaedrus commentary of the several we have references to." Even if he rejected Iamblichus's views on the Phaedrus, Ficino was certainly aware of them, having drafted a Latin translation of Hermias's entire commentary.24 This mediated knowledge of lamblichus together with long years of working firsthand with Plotinus's extensive but often rather elusive and enigmatic references to the Phaedrus would be quite sufficient to furnish him with a good understanding of the ancient significance of the dialogue. Additionally, from as early as the 1460s he seems to have known Proclus's long masterpiece, the Platonic Theology, for we have his autograph notes and glosses in a manuscript containing the full extant Greek text of this and two other Proclan works, the Elements of Theology and the Elements of Physics. H. D. Saffrey has discovered that these notes seem to have been jotted down at various times during Ficino's career, though most of them probably date from the 1490s.25 They cover all six books of the Platonic Theology, and therefore books 1 and 4, where Proclus had most to say on the Phaedrus and particularly on its various categories of gods, their ascent, and their gazing upward at "the supracelestial place." Though Ficino disagreed with many points in Proclus's reading, still, the area of Proclus's explicit concentration, his conviction of the work's theological importance, and his emphasis throughout on the inspired nature of Socrates's vision, must have all reinforced Ficino's own sense of the dialogue's structure and meaning and alerted him to the kinds of problems it posed. Indeed, of the three ancient Phaedrus interpreters Ficino had access to, I suspect that it was Proclus who most influenced his general approach to the mythical hymn, even though he barely mentioned him and though he rejected his supramundanist interpretation of Zeus, preferring Plotinus as his guide."
The second reason for Ficino's interest in the Phaedrus would be its appearance as the fourth member of the third tetralogy in Thrasyllus's arrangement of the dialogues as reported by Diogenes Laertius (to whom we often give little credence, but whom Ficino constantly used as an authority)." The other members of this tetralogy are the Parmenides, the Philebus, and the Symposium. Each we now assign to Plato's middle or late middle periods, when he was at the height of his powers, but the ancient Neoplatonists also acknowledged these works as the cornerstones of Plato's philosophy, even though they differed among themselves on the correct chronology. For Ficino the members of the tetralogy had as their themes the One, the Good, Love, and Beauty, respectively; that is, Ideas that transcended other Ideas in Plato's general theory and had thus become meta-Ideas, the ultimate abstract realities. Though Ficino subsequently paired off the members, the Symposium and the Phaedrus constituting the subordinate pair," the four taken together formed a very special group—as the numerologically significant position of being the third tetralogy in a series of nine would also seem to testify. Ficino managed to write three long commentaries on the tetralogy's first three members, though one he never finished," and clearly he intended an equivalent for the Phaedrus, in part, I surmise, to do justice to the Thrasyllean arrangement and its putative logic.
The third reason would be the outcome of one of those scholarly errors that very occasionally, as in the case of the Areopagite, give rise to speculation with its own enduring worth and fascination. Now usually placed between the Republic and the Symposium on the one hand and the Theaetetus and the Parmenides on the other," the Phaedrus, so both Bruni and Ficino believed, was composed in Plato's youth along with the Meno and the Phaedo. Indeed, but for the epigrams, elegies, and incinerated tragedies, it was the very first of Plato's writings and the product therefore of poetic inspiration (Plato's inspiration being, by Diogenes's influential account, initially poetic)." The original introduction Ficino wrote for his Latin translation of the Phaedrus, an introduction that afterwards also did duty as the opening three chapters of the Phaedrus commentary, orients us as follows: "Our Plato was pregnant with the madness of the poetic Muse, whom he followed from a tender age or rather from his Apollonian generation. In his radiance, Plato gave birth to his first child, and it was itself almost entirely poetical and radiant." The themes of youth, beauty, love, and poetry are, as they are for the company in the Symposium, intertwined for Ficino, and they seem to be those he initially selected for mention, before the theological aspects came to dominate his attention. Their presence in the dialogue surely reinforced his conviction of its youthfulness.
This conviction was not uniquely his and Bruni's. Both were adhering to ancient doxographical tradition as transmitted by Diogenes Laertius, Olympiodorus, and others," and which in turn they helped to transmit through to the first half of the nineteenth century. The Phaedrus, Diogenes claimed on anonymously reported testimony, had a youthful theme (echein meirakiõdes ti to problèma);" but the nature of this theme had always been a matter of debate, and particularly after lamblichus had declared, on the basis of the Phaedrus's own argument at 264C that a speech should be put together organically, that "everything in the dialogue [indeed in any dialogue] must relate to some one end, that the dialogue may be, so to speak, one living being."" While Thrasyllus had simply assigned a dominant theme to each dialogue, the Symposium being on the Good, the Phaedrus on Love, and so forth, the post-Iamblichean Neoplatonists insisted that each dialogue had a unique, all-embracing theme, called the skopos, which other subordinate themes had as their end and goal and to which absolutely everything else, however minor or incidental, was tied.' Thus the Par-men ides was on the One, the Philebus on the Highest Good, the Symposium on Love, the Lysis on Friendship. Since this was too rigid a schema for the multifariousness of what Plato had actually written, disagreement continued, even among orthodox Neoplatonists, over the skopoi of many dialogues: Was the Philebus on pleasure, the good for man, the highest good, and so on?" Still, to look for the skopos was to look for a dialogue's inner unity and, at the same time, for its special contribution to the edifice of Platonic doctrine, its role in the greater whole of the canon. To rest content with the variegated play of ideas and their dramatic juxtapositions, with the experimental, experiential, paradoxical testing of theories and definitions, would have seemed to them, as to Ficino, rather the overingenious appreciation of a dramatist than the genuine understanding of a philosopher and theologian. The Phaedrus, though, presented peculiar problems.
Hermias spends a number of his opening pages reviewing—twice, in fact—the various skopological possibilities that had already been proposed—love, rhetoric, the soul, the good, prime beauty, each of these but none with absolute primacy. Eventually he justifies Iamblichus's view that the skopos was beauty in all its forms (peri tou pantodapou kalou) on the grounds that it includes the other possibilities: we pass from the physical beauty inspiring love to the beauty of rhetoric, to the beauty of soul, to the beauty of the cosmic gods, to the beauty of intellect, to the Beautiful itself. Subsequently, in a corresponding descent, we pass, via the art of division (diairesis), to the beauty of soul, to the beauty of rhetoric, to the physical beauty inspiring love, and thus arrive at our point of departure." Consideration of the skopos therefore provided an insight into the structure of the Phaedrus and reinforced Iamblichus's view of its genre as theological; for Plato's concern with other kinds of beauty was clearly subordinated here to that of the beauty of the soul, of the gods, and of the Beautiful itself.
While evincing some hesitation and without committing himself to the structural extension of Hermias's argument, Ficino accepted this "beauty in all its forms" as the dialogue's theme. Simultaneously, when penning the introduction if not later, he felt the Phaedrus naturally complemented the Symposium. Not only did Phaedrus figure prominently in both dialogues, but both treated the same inspirational themes, with the possible exception of rhetoric, and in both the ascent motif predominated. We must reverse our sense of the mutual relationship, however: for Ficino, Phaedrus's conversation with Socrates by the murmuring Ilissus preceded his passionate defense of Love's antiquity at Agathon's celebration banquet; that is, Plato's consideration of love grew naturally out of a consideration of beauty. This is logical when we recall that beauty is traditionally both the most accessible of divine attributes and the mark of youth. By being beautiful, youth inspires in others the desire for beauty, which is love. In reciprocating love, youth then takes its first step on the road to wisdom, which is inner beauty (Phaedrus 279B).4°
Phaedrus, to whom Plato had addressed a lovesick epigram," whom Socrates and Lysias had also loved, and whose very name means youthful and radiant and inspiring love," is therefore Plato's archetypal youth at the foot of the Diotiman ladder of ascent to ideal Beauty, waiting to become the godlike charioteer. By the same token he is the archetypal pupil inspiring the teacher to his heuristic task. Hence, Ficino observes, though devoted to beauty in all its forms, the dialogue is especially concerned with beauty as we perceive it via our three cognitive powers: intelligence, sight, and hearing." Appropriately, therefore, the theme of Plato's first dialogue is beauty, since it is the trigger theme for all others. Appropriate, too, is the personal dimension, since Phaedrus had inspired both Socrates and Plato to their subsequent work: from him, his beauty, and his dialogue had come their desire to teach the mysteries. This unexpected angle was dramatically reinforced by Ficino's decision to entrust Phaedrus's Symposium speech to the aristocratic Cavalcanti, his own Platonic friend, the etymology of whose name, I believe, signified for Ficino in this context a mastery of the unruly Phaedran steeds."
Whereas Diogenes Laertius referred in the first instance to the youthfulness of the Phaedrus's theme, others, such as Dicaearchus, had censured its youthful style, characterizing it as "turgid" and "overwrought" (phortikos), or, more positively, with Olympiodorus, as "dithyrambic"' (following Socrates himself at 238D!). According to Hermias, these stylistic strictures were widespread in antiquity, though he himself defended Plato on the grounds that he had utilized a variety of styles in the Phaedrus in order to deal with its variety of subject matter." While Ficino accepted the style as further proof of the dialogue's youthfulness, he was struck by its "radiance" and "loveliness", by its being demon endowed even with a "poetic" vision,' a vision that, as he forcefully points out on a number of occasions, reveals itself in virtually all the dialogues but is absolutely primary here. In the proem accompanying the 1484 edition, Ficino draws Lorenzo's attention to Plato's amphibian style:
Plato's style does not so much resemble human speech as a divine oracle, often thundering from on high, often dripping with the sweetness of nectar, but always comprehending heavenly secrets . . . . The Platonic style, in containing all things, has three principal gifts in abundance: the philosophic usefulness of its opinions, the oratorical order of its arrangement and expression, and the ornament of its poetical flowers."
Again, in a letter of 1476-1477 to the humanist Bartolomeo della Fonte, Ficino writes:
If you hear the celestial Plato you immediately recognize that his style, as Aristotle says, flows midway between prose and poetry. You recognize that Plato's language, as Quintilian says, rises far above the pedestrian and prosaic, so that our Plato seems inspired not by human genius but by a Delphic oracle. Indeed the mixing or tempering of prose and poetry in Plato so delighted Cicero that he declared: "If Jupiter wished to speak in human language, he would speak only in the language of Plato.""
If this is true of Plato's style in general, it is eminently so for that of the Phaedrus, where Ficino sees Socrates inspired by a number of deities and subject to an ascending series of divine madnesses, beginning with the poetic. Thus as the first great poem by Plato—whom Ficino believed to be the last and greatest of the prisci theologi, the tradition of ancient poets, prophets, priests, and philosopher—the Phaedrus establishes poetry as the philosophic mode par excellence and the poetical style as the authentically Platonic style.
Whatever the nature of the thematic and stylistic evidence from Diogenes, Olympiodorus, Hermias, and others, the fact of the priority of the Phaedrus was especially meaningful to Ficino, despite his lack of interest otherwise in chronological or developmental questions." Given a syncretistic approach to the canon and a commitment to the notion of its internal consistency and unity, each dialogue will necessarily reflect in varying degrees, if not monadically contain, the whole; but none to a greater degree than the first. It will be the seminal work from which later works take their origin and in which they are potentially contained—the protodialogue. If the tradition had fastened upon apprentice work, juvenilia in the pejorative sense, then Ficino might have decided to ignore it, despite its priority. But since tradition had assigned priority to a piece so consummately conceived and executed, it became inevitable and even logical, given a Neoplatonic perspective and values, that Ficino approach the Phaedrus as a cipher to Plato's subsequent mysteries. Ironically, this line of argument supplied the grounds for Schleiermacher's acceptance of the tradition of the priority of the Phaedrus as late as the nineteenth century," and the manifest quality of the piece merely served to reinforce the tradition. In other words, the priority amounted to a kind of primacy," at least with regard to those matters touched upon in the mythical hymn.
The Platonism of Marsilio Ficino: A Study of His Phaedrus Commentary, Its Sources and Genesis by Michael Allen (Publications of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: University of California Press) Michael Allen gave us in 1981 the first critical edition and translation of a commentary by the enormously influential Florentine Neoplatonist, Marsilio Ficino (1439-1499), on the Phaedrus's memorable if complex myth of man's soul as a winged charioteer. Now he uses this commentary as a springboard for an extended study of many aspects of Ficino's philosophy, poetics, and mythology. Though his specific aim has been to deepen our understanding of Ficino's genius as a Platonic commentator, he has also succeeded in enhancing our appreciation of Ficino's ideas in general and of his independent relationship to the ancient Neoplatonic tradition in which as a scholar he was so thoroughly and luminously immersed.
To do justice to both these particular and larger aims, Allen has organized his first eight chapters around certain dominant themes: the demonic inspiration of Socrates; the poetic and the other divine madnesses; the soul's descent, ascent, and immortality; the cavalcade of souls under Jove and its journey across the intellectual heaven; and the ideas of beauty and love. In two final chapters he provides a detailed examination of Ficino's attempts in other works to analyze the charioteer myth and also looks at the nature and extent of Ficino's recondite sources.
In thus focusing on a work where the preoccupations of Ficino's later years as a magus and an exegete of the Platonic mysteries—as well as an apologist and metaphysician—have come to the fore, Allen has written the first sustained and wide-ranging account of Ficino's thought since Paul Kristeller's magisterial study of 1943, a work to which it may serve indeed as a fitting complement.
In 1496 the great Florentine Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) published, along with some other Plato commentaries, an incomplete commentary on Plato's Phaedrus. The culminating attempt in a series of analyses, and written as late probably as 1493, it focused on one of the most memorable episodes in all of Greek literature, the myth of the charioteer's ascent in the gods' company to gaze upwards at the Ideas in the "supercelestial place." Bar occasional citation, and a few appreciative but wholly passing remarks by Giuseppe Saitta and Raymond Marcel,' the Commentary has been almost completely neglected, however—unhappily if not unaccountably so, given its difficulties, for it contains some of Ficino's latest and most speculative thought on Platonic theogony, mythology, and cosmology, on the metaphysics as well as the psychology and epistemology of beauty, on the soul's flight, descent, and immortality, and on the origins and nature of the four divine madnesses, preeminently the poetic and the amatory.
The Commentary also betrays some fascinating misconceptions of the Phaedrus, already a controversial text among Byzantine scholars in quattrocento Italy. On ancient authority not discounted till the nineteenth century, Ficino assumed it was Plato's first dialogue, oriented towards the themes of youth, beauty, and love, and also his most lyrical work. Like Solomon's Canticle (which is at one point invoked), it was the song of a poet-theologian rather than the measured discourse of a philosopher. Conveying religious mysteries in the dithyrambic language of possession, it portrayed a demon-rapt and visionary Socrates caught up in an enchanted grove by the spirits of noon and the river Ilissus, and by the beauty of Phaedrus, the beloved also of Lysias and Plato. As Plato's first and most poetic work, it also anticipated his subsequent dialogues while bearing witness to his indebtedness to the ancient sages and particularly to his chosen teachers, the Pythagoreans.
In immediately obvious ways, naturally, Ficino's sense of responsibility to this text was different from a modern scholar's, since less attuned to the historical limitations of its language, theses, and underlying attitudes. But he was no less committed to an understanding of Platonic values, and to meeting and transmitting the challenge of one of the ancient world's most evocative and complex works of literary and philosophical art. In the process he exercised considerable originality.
Some, who have narrow criteria for defining a thinker, or who deem all Neoplatonists essentially the same,' dispute Ficino's claim to originality, though prepared perhaps to grant him special skills as a translator and academician. In this they fail, I believe, to appreciate his remarkable accomplishments as a builder of myth and symbol rather than of language or logic—his ability to deploy abstract ideas culled from a variety of sources, many of them arcane, as if they were metaphors, and to deploy them for paraphilosophical ends: apology, conversion, intellectual sublimity, and spiritual ecstasy. His peers, if we consider their impact on the thought and culture of their respective ages, are Petrarch and Erasmus, Rousseau and Johnson, Sartre and Jung, rather than the conventional philosophers. Like theirs, his originality is impossible to define in terms of a single intellectual discipline. It depends not so much on achieving advances internal to that discipline as on articulating a profoundly compelling orientation—what Eugenio Garin has called a forma mentis—towards both the objective and the subjective worlds, an orientation akin to the obviously unacademic, deeply emotional Platonism of a Piero della Francesca, a Michelangelo, or a Spenser, though presented in the philosophical cast and formulations of late Scholasticism.' Specifically it derived from the thoroughgoing syncretism of pagan and Christian elements he effected under the impulse of Plato, Plotinus, Proclus, the Hermetica, the Areopagite, Augustine, and Aquinas, to name only his primary wells of inspiration. But this was allied with scholarly energy, acumen, and subtlety, an unusual breadth and profundity of learning, an abiding interest in magic, music, medicine, poetry, and mythology, as well as in philosophy and theology, and a continual inwardness, contemplativeness, and spirituality of gaze that make much of what he wrote peculiarly his own, imaginatively and aesthetically so if not always philosophically." In the case of the Phaedrus Commentary he succeeded, almost single-handedly and after a series of meditations and analyses, in fashioning the response of an entire European epoch to the agonistic image of the Platonic charioteer.
Allen wrote his book so it will serve in a minor way to complement Paul Oskar Kristeller's major study, The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino (Columbia Studies in Philosophy) by Paul Oskar Kristeller, translated by Virginia Conant (Columbia University Press). While this surveyed Ficino's thought and work in its entirety, it was especially concerned with the more purely philosophical issues of the Platonic Theology and with the theses and argumentation of that huge and systematic masterpiece. By contrast Allen has concentrated on a single very different work where the preoccupations of Ficino's later years as a magus and an exegete of the highest Platonic mysteries (as well as a metaphysician and apologist) have come to the fore, and where a number of peculiar interpretational problems require elucidation.
However, though his specific aim has been to deepen our appreciation of one difficult if suggestive commentary and its attendant motifs and themes, Allen has attempted in the process to enhance our understanding in general of Ficino's Platonism, and of his indebtedness to the ancient Neoplatonic commentary tradition in which as a scholar he was so thoroughly and luminously immersed.
To do justice to these particular and larger aims, Allen has therefore approached Ficino's eight chapters of formal commentary from the viewpoint of certain primary themes. Thus my second chapter deals with Ficino's chapter 4 and the poetic madness; my third chapter with his chapters 5 and 6 and the soul's immortality; my fourth chapter with his chapters 7, 8, and 9 and the soul's ascent; my fifth chapter with his chapter 10 and the jovian cavalcade; and my sixth chapter with his chapter 11 and the cosmology of the Phaedrus. Consideration of Ficino's opening three chapters (which had served, incidentally, as an argumentum for his Latin translation of the dialogue) I have postponed until my ninth chapter, since they embodied, I discovered, an earlier and preliminary response to the charioteer myth, one that dated to the 1460s."
Similarly, Allen had certain topics in mind as when he cut a swath through the fifty-three summae which Ficino appended to his eleven chapters and which form an integral part of the Phaedrus Commentary in the first and all subsequent editions." Some of the most interesting enabled me to explore in my first chapter the initiatory theme of Socrates' inspiration. Summae 23, 24, and 25, long enough to be commentary chapters in their own right, impelled me to take up in my seventh chapter some of Ficino's ideas on the soul's descent; and summae 26 to 33 led me to examine in my eighth chapter aspects of his philosophy of beauty and of love. Other summae, of course, Allen could treat as if they were additions to his chapters of commentary proper, while the more perfunctory Allen could altogether ignore.
This strategy would surely have appealed to Iamblichus in that it effectively credits Ficino's Commentary with an implicit design. Starting with the setting and the numinous forces at work on Socrates, we move to the theory of the divine madnesses; to the nature of the soul's immortality; to its ascent to and participation in the jovian cavalcade; to its further ascent to the very summit of the intellectual realm; and thence to its subsequent descent, concluding with the overriding theme of beauty. At first glance, this might appear an overly logical arrangement for the seemingly disparate if elaborate material Ficino assembled on the Phaedrus for his 1496 volume. But Allen does not think it is. Not only does it do justice to Ficino's sense of the Phaedrus's drama, the brilliant plotting of its scenes and sequences, the entrances and exits of its arguments and images, a drama to which his work on other dialogues had already made him sensitive; but we also have the evidence of a correspondingly systematic treatment of the dialogue by the ancient Neoplatonists familiar to Ficino from his translation of Hermias and from Proclus's Theologia Platonica." For all its incompleteness, that is, Ficino's Commentary has a structure that reflects the structure of the Phaedrus itself Neoplatonically conceived.
Allen kept two historical surveys until last. Thus Allen treats of Ficino's attempts to allegorize the charioteer myth prior to his Commentary in ninth chapter, and in tenth of the nature of his indebtedness to various ancient commentators and to other authorities. These chapters could have appeared as prologues rather than as epilogues to the main study; but it seemed that an account of Ficino's earlier attempts and likewise of his departures from his predecessors' work could only come properly into focus after we had fully comprehended the scope of his authoritative achievement in the 1490s.
Marsillio Ficino: The Philebus Commentary (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies) by Michael J. B. Allen (University of California Press) The Philebus commentary has received some notice from modern scholars. Giuseppe Saitta talks of "the extremely beautiful commentary on the Philebus in which the superiority of the good over the beautiful is vigorously affirmed. All beauty is good, but not all good is beautiful: this is the Platonic concept that Ficino is continually attempting to illustrate in his own way. However, a common bond exists between the good and the beautiful, and this is supplied by the appetite . . . etc." Later he talks of the "magnificent commentary on the Philebus" in which Ficino "had explicitly identified the universal act with the good."" Paul Kristeller has frequently referred to it and Michele Schiavone has used it as a whipping boy while devoting careful attention to certain theses. It would be interesting to speculate on the influence the commentary has had in subsequent centuries; but, as Saitta says, Ficino was often robbed but rarely acknowledged." Much more work has to be done on specific ideas and theories in Ficino and Renaissance philosophy in general before anything can be said with accuracy about the influence of a particular commentary and this is true even of the Symposium commentary."
What we do know, however, is that the Philebus, more perhaps than any other Platonic dialogue, including the Symposium, seems to have dominated the early days of the Platonic revival, and it is important we take note of its popularity if we want to understand the genesis of Florentine Platonism. It was through the Philebus that the newly revived interest in Plato began to broaden into what was later to become a European movement. The commentary translated here is our chief witness to the crucial point of transition.
Aristotle's Ethics had long been the classical source for ethical studies. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries we find not only the great editions and translations of Grosseteste, William of Moerbeke and Gerard of Cremona but also the extended commentaries of such eminent scholastics as St. Albertus Magnus, Giles of Rome, St. Thomas Aquinas and many others. But in the fifteenth century, after Bruni's new, controversial translation and Argyropoulos' lectures too had again stimulated interest in the Ethics, the commentaries began to shift their emphasis. In Eugenio Garin's words: "They .. . ceased to interpret this work in the narrow terms of social and political problems and of man seen as a political animal. They interpreted the Nicomachean Ethics as a final exaltation of the contemplative and separated intellect." There is much resulting controversy over the nature of the separation and the relationship between the soul's natural and supernatural powers, and the book becomes a touchstone in the battle with Latin
Averroism. Many eminent thinkers were, therefore, involved in restating and reassessing the Ethics' arguments throughout the period, including Bruni, Donato Acciaiuoli, Ermolao Barbaro, Filelfo, Lefèvre D'Etaples, and Philip Melanchthon. But, since the principal Aristotelians were primarily interested in their master's ethical writings,'" their opponents were forced to become familiar with them too. Ficino himself had studied under a dedicated Aristotelian (Nicolò Tignosi, who had taught theoretical medicine and natural philosophy at the Studio in Florence) and he knew his Aristotle well, valuing him in particular for his work in logic and physics." In the May of 1455 he had copied out Bruni's translation of the Ethics and written his own notes in the margin; and, according to Eugenio Garin, his notes are even to be found in a copy of the first edition of Acciaiuoli's commentary on the Ethics (which was based on Argyropoulos' earlier lectures).
When Ficino started to write on the Philebus, he aimed to do three things: first, to counter the naturalist and activist ethics that had stemmed from the Ethics' commentators with new arguments drawn from Plato's counterpart to the Ethics; second, to reconcile and synthesize the two masters like the Neoplatonists before him. The first meant proving Aristotle had been betrayed by his commentators, the Alexandrists and Averroists; the second that he and Plato were not in real conflict, but concerned, rather, with different levels of moral experience (hence the Philebus was to subsume not supersede the Ethics—the appearance of the theory of the mean in both works was merely the most obvious instance of what Ficino saw as the absence of any "real conflict"). Third, apart from the two ethical aims there was a metaphysical aim. Ficino's own city had seen a prolonged controversy, in which the Ethics had played a central role, between the Aristotelians and the Platonists on the subject of Plato's Ideas. The Philebus lectures were Ficino's own initial contribution to the controversy, so he obviously felt the dialogue was specially suited to combat Aristotle's attack on Plato's metaphysics.
It is significant Ficino initially chose the Philebus in his own attempt to defeat the more militant Aristotelians and to make Florence into a Platonic city. He obviously felt it ideally adapted to the general defense of the Ideas and their ultimate reality. To us this is ironic, since the only reference to the Ideas in the Philebus is at 15A-B where Plato seems to be referring directly to problems enumerated in the Parmenides, a dialogue which A.E. Taylor says is "clearly presupposed" by the Philebus." Instead of the Ideas Plato is concerned with the four classes and with conceptual forms and unities alone. Consequently, scholars dealing with the unity of Plato's thought have found it difficult to reconcile the Ideas with the classes," and it is interesting Ficino simply avoids the problem of reconciling the two.
Apart from such external considerations, the Ethics' Platonic predecessor clearly had an intrinsic fascination for Ficino just as it did for the ancient Neoplatonists, Proclus and Damascius, who commented on it.' Modern scholars have been somewhat more hesitant or tentative in assessing the Philebus. Benjamin Jowett adverted to its "degree of confusion and incompleteness in the general design . . . [in which] the multiplication of ideas seems to interfere with the power of expression," while at the same time he admitted it "contains, perhaps, more metaphysical truth more obscurely expressed than any other Platonic dialogue." R.G. Bury thought it indisputable it was "jagged and distorted in composition," though "beneath the difficulties of expression and the peculiarity of form" he found "a sound core of true Platonic thought." J. Gould talks of its "fundamental tension between two opposed concepts, those of purity and mixture" in which Plato was fighting against his "sense of reality," in turn accepting and fleeing from the "inextricable and everpresent mixture of opposites" in human life. The result in Gould's view is eccentricity of form and structure, a concern with the concrete rather than the abstract and an "aggressive allegiance" to a contemplative ideal which Plato knows is impractical." However, others have recently demurred. R. Hackforth says "the formlessness of the work has been often exaggerated," and the more he has studied it "the clearer has its structure become, and the more understandable its transitions, digressions, and postponements. "75 Auguste Dies talks at first simply of "a singularity of construction" and the "scholastic character of the discussion," and he divides the Philebus into three parts: 11A-23B where it is proposed that the good life consists neither in pleasure or wisdom alone but in a mixture of the two (this part is Ficino's first book); 23C-59C where it is proposed that intelligence predominates in the mixture; 59D-end where Plato establishes the hierarchy of goods. Part two, however, contains long sections on the types of pleasure and wisdom, the section on the types of pleasure (31A-55C) constituting more than half the dialogue. Dies calls these two sections a "mass in the interior of the dialogue" and the analysis of pleasure "a block" inside the mass." Close consideration leads Dies eventually to talk of the "perfect logical continuity of development" in the Philebus, of its "abundance," of its "freedom" and "variety."
Ficino was obviously drawn to the dialogue in part because of the extensive pleasure "block"; although, ironically, his commentary stops just before the block begins. He was well into the digression on the divisions of reality (23C-27C) and the chapter summaries he affixed to the first edition indicate he was intending to deal at length with true and false pleasures, with pleasure and pain, with the pleasures in rest and in motion, etc. However, as we have seen, Ficino believed the true theme of the discussion was not pleasure but "man's highest good" and he says all the arguments in the dialogue are introduced for the good's sake (p. 127). Accordingly, the dialogue has a twelve part structure, designed with the express intention of making it particularly clear what man's highest good is. We only need examine chapter nine to discover how Ficino thought of the structure: a simple ascent to the highest good effected by contrast and comparison. Patently, Ficino had a coherent theory about the transitions and digressions in the Philebus and was convinced of the dialogue's essential unity of purpose. The fact he felt it needed such extensive commentary suggests, however, he was well aware of its difficulties for the ordinary reader.
What would have presented itself to Ficino as a thematic question tends to be complicated for us by other considerations. Although he was not completely oblivious to chronological problems (he was convinced for instance that the Phaedrus was Plato's first dialogue), he did not concern himself with the modern concept of an evolving or changing Plato.79 Consequently, he was not cognizant of the fact the Philebus is a middle or late dialogue in which Plato, if not actually abandoning, is moving away from his earlier concern with the Ideas and ethical intellectualism towards a new interest in logical, taxonomical and even psychological problems." Rather, Ficino, like the ancient Neoplatonists, assumed the unity not only of Plato's thought, but of the whole Platonic tradition; and his life's work was to make the whole unified tradition available in translation and in commentary—hence his work on the Areopagite, on Plotinus, on Iamblichus, on the Pimander, on the Orphic Hymns, on the Symbola of Pythagoras, etc. The Platonic tradition, and again this is a Neoplatonic assumption, not only embraced Plato and his successors but also those enigmatic figures who were thought to precede Plato: Philolaus, Pythagoras, Aglaophemus, Orpheus, Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster. These collectively Ficino referred to as the prisci theologi, the ancient theologians,' the interpreters of a perennial wisdom stretching back long before Plato.
Such an approach does away with the need to decide on the authorship of particular concepts or to differentiate the peculiarities of individual dialogues (hence the ease with which apocryphal works were accepted as part of the canon). So, wherever possible, Ficino attempted to syncretize and reconcile the positions adopted in Plato's various works. In examining the Philebus commentary, one is gradually made aware of the other dialogues which were constantly in the forefront of Ficino's mind, dictating the structure of his proofs and providing further authentication for his conclusions. They were drawn in the main from Plato's middle and late periods—they are notably the Sophist, the Timaeus, the Parmenides, the Republic, the Laws and the Phaedrus—and they constituted for Ficino a unified body of metaphysical "doctrine," a word he himself used." Hence the wholly philosophical nature of the Philebus commentary. As Roberto Weiss observes, Ficino was not a philologist or a grammarian; he was untouched by the philological zeal of humanists like Valla and Politian, and was concerned solely with exposition, not with textual problems" —which was as well perhaps considering the notorious difficulties the Philebus presents to the textual scholar.
In elucidating the "secret" Platonism he assumed Socrates imparting mparting to the assembled adolescents, Ficino was quick to perceive the local dramatic ironies, and he took an obvious delight in imagining the personal aspects of the crossfire between Socrates, Protarchus and Philebus. But he was not oriented towards the modern concern with the ambiguities created by the dialogues' dramatic structure. Because he believed in their collective wisdom and the power of allegoresis to "explain" intractable or figurative passages, he refused to acknowledge the exploratory or interrogatory nature of many of the propositions. Hence his anticipation of Plato's conclusions in the Philebus: the idea, for example, that there is a tertium quid is indeed mentioned briefly at the beginning (11D-12A); but it is essentially something Plato arrives at in the course of the argument. Ficino, however, used it throughout his commentary as an established principle. For him the Philebus was obviously a normative work, concerned with Plato's unchanging conception of the unitary good; and he must have felt, therefore, it was an ideal text for educating his peers into the true secrets of philosophy, as well as for combating the Aristotelians.
Initially the commentary confronts us as a medieval work. Kristeller says of Ficino, "the strongly medieval, scholastic character which we notice in his works . . . consists not so much in specific philosophical ideas, but rather in the terminology and in the general method of arguing." But he goes on to say this scholastic element "was not due to an extensive reading of the scholastic authors of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but rather to the training which Ficino must have had in the current Aristotelianism of the schools as a student in the University of Florence.” Kristeller maintains Ficino did not have any extensive firsthand knowledge of the medieval philosophers with the notable exception of Aquinas, but was able "to build his Platonism on the method and terminology of late medieval Aristotelianism. The result is daunting: the reader is confronted with chains of syllogistic reasoning which have the appearance of being tightly organized and utterly logical. But the logic frequently begs the very questions it is attempting to answer; in this it is reminiscent of much medieval philosophy, the texture of which more nearly resembles a row of mental walnuts than it does a series of Euclidean proofs.
The commentary is eclectic in its approach. This is typical not only of the Renaissance but of most medieval philosophy and, indeed, of patristic and Neoplatonic thinking." Ficino was not trying to be original; he was trying to synthesize, as Charles Trinkaus has recently reemphasized." Besides the many quotations and references to other Platonic dialogues in the commentary, there are references to other ancient authors, real and fictive, and to a few medieval ones; but Ficino rarely cites the specific works he is referring to. In addition to the acknowledged references, there are some which are unacknowledged. Most notable are the extensive borrowings from Aquinas in several of the chapters, which are in paraphrasis rather than direct quotation. Marcel suggests in his new edition of the Platonic Theology that Ficino habitually reduced his quotations to the essential meaning and adapted them to his own context. Perhaps Ficino assumed some of his allusions were too familiar to need acknowledgment, but at times it seems as if he were deliberately concealing his authorities. Marcel observes: "It is almost as if he wanted to appropriate their thinking or [wanted] to constrain his readers to admit principles or arguments which they would have refused to examine on principle [a priori] if they had known the source." Ficino often groups his references by school and these group references are frequently taken en masse from later authorities: the list of ancient physicists and moralists, for example, he could have derived from Diogenes Laertius or Aristotle or Cicero or Augustine or Lactantius or Aquinas or from half a dozen medieval or contemporary sources.
Synopsis of the Commentary
(The numbers in parentheses refer to the pagination of the Basle 1576 edition of the Opera Omnia.)
Chapter 1, p. 73 (1207): The need to establish an end for life. Everything acts for some end including the body, the reason, the intelligence; this proves there is a universal end cause.
Chapter 2, p. 81 (1208): Various proofs arguing for the necessity of an ultimate end and the impossibility of an infinite series. The end for the natural appetite, and the ends of execution and intention.
Chapter 3, p. 87 (1209): Various proofs establishing that the ultimate end has to be the good.
Chapter 4, p. 89 (1209): What the good is. The necessity for cosmic unity. The primacy of the one over multiplicity and over being. Above bodies is the soul; above souls is the intelligence; above intelligences is the one itself. Various proofs for this drawn from motion. The identity of the one and the good.
Chapter 5, p. 103 (1211): The reasons why everything seeks for the one and the good. The primacy of the good over being. The relationship of the good and the beautiful and the analogy with light.
Chapter 6, p. 111 (1213): The need to refer man's good to the absolute good. The other unsatisfactory ethical systems. The good is best apprehended and enjoyed by the intelligence.
Chapter 7, p. 115 (1213): Ficino returns to the text of the Philebus and, in the process of defining different sorts of wisdom and pleasure, he explains why Plato had chosen to compare these two terms.
Chapter 8, p. 121 (1214): The different sorts of good things. The contribution of wisdom to felicity. The two sorts of knowledge: the morning and evening knowledge. The distinctions that must be made between what leads to happiness, happiness itself and God. The relationship of all three to wisdom.
Chapter 9, p. 127 (1215): The real subject of the dialogue is man's highest good; other suggestions are dismissed. The dialogue's twelve part structure.
Chapter 10, p. 131 (1216): Socrates proposes initially that he and Protarchus should each champion wisdom and pleasure respectively, but be prepared to abandon their positions should some third alternative appear. Socrates refuses to accept that Venus can be identified with pleasure.
Chapter 11, p. 135 (1216): The divine names. The iconology of Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter and the two Venuses. The reason why divine names ought to be venerated. The power and origin of divine names.
Chapter 12, p. 143 (1217): The power inherent in the divine name and its various forms.
Chapter 13, p. 145 (1218): The importance of the species as opposed to the genus or the individual. The method for establishing a definition. The genus of pleasure. Socrates refutes Protarchus' argument that all pleasures must be alike because they are pleasurable, and maintains that some of Protarchus' pleasures are actually opposed to each other. Socrates differentiates between being good and being pleasurable. The good does not embrace opposites.
Chapter 14, p. 157 (1220): Socrates again emphasizes the difference between the genus and the species and warns us against verbal sophistry. The two protagonists agree there are dissimilar pleasures and dissimilar types of knowledge. Ficino warns us against self-deception.
Chapter 15, p. 165 (1221): The nature of the intelligence. The nature of truth and the theory that knowledge consists of the correspondence between the thing and the intelligence. The correspondence takes place in the human intelligence and in the divine intelligence. The light of truth that comes from the good. The one and the many and the psychology of perception.
Chapter 16, p. 171 (1222): The nature of the relationship between the one and the many and the paradoxes it originates. Three ways the one can be many. The Platonic Idea really exists and exists prior to and more absolutely than the sensible object.
Chapter 17, p. 177 (1223): Three problems raised by the Ideas: one, whether they are merely mental concepts; two, if they actually exist, whether they are unitary and immutable; three, if they are unitary and immutable, how do they impart themselves to things which are many and mutable. Why the species are called unities or Ideas. The pagan and Christian writers who have testified to their existence.
Chapter 18, p. 181 (1223): The existence of the Ideas in God's intelligence. The testimony of Augustine, Averroes and others. The contingent nature of the world and its dependence on the incorporeal species. Arguments from change, operation, movement, etc., to prove the existence of a higher cause which is self-sufficient, self-activating and contains all the Ideas.
Chapter 19, p. 191 (1225): More arguments to prove the reality of the Ideas and the unreality of bodily objects. To some extent the soul possesses the true species; but above the soul is the first intelligence which contains the first and truest species. These species are identified with the intelligence itself.
Chapter 20, p. 199 (1226): More arguments drawn from reproduction, etc., to prove the reality of the Ideas. The world is contained in the first intelligence.
Chapter 21, p. 205 (1227): The argument from the world's design is taken to prove the existence of the prime intelligence and to prove that it contains the Ideas. The coincidence of the intelligence and its Ideas. The eternal contemplation of the Ideas is independent of the intelligence's need actually to create them.
Chapter 22, p. 209 (1227): More proofs for the existence of the Ideas drawn from the fact of corruption, etc. The shadowy existence of everyday things. The need to believe in the Ideas, even if we do not understand exactly how things participate in them.
Chapter 23, p. 215 (1228): To establish truth, dialectic is necessary because of its concern with the species. Ficino returns to the Philebus and inveighs against obstinacy in debating. The three cautions that must be observed with regard to dialectic: one, adolescents should not be allowed to use it; two, those who do use it must guard against the illusions which derive from the senses and the phantasy, and proceed via the intelligence; three, you must not go from one extreme to another without going through the intermediary points. The distinction between logic and dialectic. Dialectic is the instrument of philosophy par excellence. In the processes of uniting and dividing upwards and downwards, dialectic is constantly concerned with the one and the many. By using the one and the many, dialectic resolves, defines and demonstrates.
Chapter 24, p. 225 (1230): The relationship between definition and demonstration and the process of reasoning syllogistically. On resolving, dividing and compounding.
Chapter 25, p. 231 (1230): Socrates again inveighs against adolescents, sophists and Cyrenaics, and their ethical relativism and scepticism (i.e., the first caution). Ficino returns to the Philebus. Altercation between Protarchus and Socrates. Socrates insists on the crucial importance of dialectic.
Chapter 26, p. 239 (1231): The illumination theory. The three angelic motions. The triple intelligence as personified in Saturn, Jupiter and Prometheus. The triple powers of the soul. The Epimetheus/Prometheus parable. The iconology of Minerva, Vulcan and Mercury and their various gifts. The Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter triad and what they symbolize. Prometheus' gift of fire symbolizes the illumination that comes from God; so dialectic must be practised by the intelligence (i.e., the second caution).
Chapter 27, p. 249 (1233): The three arguments transmitted by the ancient theologians: one, everything subsequent to the one is compounded from the one and the many; two, the species are finite, but individuals are infinite; three, mediation is necessary to pass from one extreme to another. Various supporting proofs. On emanation from the one to the finite many to the infinite many. On the types of division (i.e., the third caution).
Chapter 28, p. 261 (1234): Dialectic and the enemy discipline (which proceeds too quickly or too slowly from the one to the many). Various instances of the enemy discipline furnished from the ancients who ignored the importance of the intermediary stage between the one and the many — a stage involving the species. Ficino introduces the examples of music and dancing to illustrate the importance of the species in effecting the transition from the one to the many.
Chapter 29, p. 271 (1236): Grammar is used as an example of going from the many to the one. The history of letters and their introduction by Hermes Trismegistus. The need to draw things out of the one into the infinite many via the finite many which exist between them; and the reverse. Protarchus urges Socrates to proceed at once to instruct them all in dialectic.
Chapter 30, p. 283 (1238): The need to define the good and the positive and negative ways to do this. The negative way is to say that neither pleasure nor wisdom is the good itself. The good is above being and above the intelligence. It is the absolute act. The god of love is the divinity inspiring Socrates when he talks about the good. The relationship between love, beauty and the good, where the good is prime. Various proofs establishing that the good is sufficient, perfect and desirable.
Chapter 31, p. 299 (1240): The two acts: form and operation. The identity of the good and act. Act consists in unity. The good is compared to the sun. God as the good is all acts and all potentialities. The reflection of the one in everything is what unites everything. The emanation from the one and conversion to the one. The participation of the intelligence, the soul and matter in unity and goodness. The one is present in everything. The creativeness of the one and the resulting beauty. The good is prior to the beautiful and desired by the natural appetite. The difference between rational and irrational pursuit of the good.
Chapter 32, p. 315 (1242): In order to prove that neither is the good Socrates divides wisdom from pleasure, by dividing all mental activity whatsoever from it. The jelly-fish is a model for the life of pure sensation devoid of mental activity. The reason why such "deprived" organisms exist in nature. The great chain-of-being. Pleasure is insufficient in itself; likewise wisdom. The psychology of perception involves both wisdom and pleasure. In the case of both physical and mental events total act is pleasure. There are two sorts of pleasure: that in knowing and that which is the assent of the appetite. The mixture of the two makes for sufficiency in human and indeed all animate life. The life that does not have this mixture is chosen through ignorance or coercion.
Chapter 33, p. 333 (1245): Socrates differentiates between the prime intelligence (which is unitary and unites pleasure and wisdom in itself) and the human intelligence. The prime intelligence is not the good itself, but next to and inferior to it. After the prime intelligence are the derivative intelligences; and next to them is the soul which becomes its intelligence when purified from all other associations. The soul's happiness consists of wisdom and pleasure. The morning and evening visions of the good. Socrates prepares to define the good positively having already defined it negatively: this consists in finding out whether wisdom or pleasure is nearer to the good (since it has already been established that neither is the good itself). He intends to maintain that wisdom is nearer to the good. The hierarchy of goods with pleasure at the bottom. The company agrees that neither wisdom nor pleasure is the good. Socrates procrastinates in order to make the group docile. He must now define wisdom and pleasure and proceed very cautiously.
Chapter 34, p. 347 (1247): The need for there to be one end. Man's end must be one and compounded from wisdom and pleasure. Wisdom and pleasure are made one by the one which is above. We apprehend the highest good by the unity in ourselves, which is like the charioteer in the Phaedrus who has two horses: the intellect and the will. The unity in ourselves converts these two into the one. So there are three happinesses: the human happiness when the charioteer controls the horses and directs them towards the heavens; the divine happiness when the soul becomes its intelligence; the happiness when we are made one by the one and so become one with God, that is, become gods.
Chapter 35, p. 355 (1248): To obtain the right mixture of wisdom and pleasure you must have truth, proportion and beauty.
Chapter 36, p. 359 (1249): The highest good is the measure that gives truth, the moderator that gives proportion, the suitable that gives beauty. Various ways in which God is the measure, the moderator and the suitable. As the one He is all three. Things which share in Him share in all three. The one and the unity the one bestows are both acts. Therefore the highest good is the one act of the mixed life. This act occurs when the intelligence and the will have been directed to the one through wisdom and pleasure (when these in turn have been joined in accordance with three attributes deriving from the power of the one, namely, truth, proportion and beauty). The one act of the one soul, which is from the one, for the one and in the one, is man's highest good.
Chapter 37, p. 369 (1250): The subordination of the will to the intellect and their respective relationships to things. Various proofs to establish the primacy of the intellect. The ultimate end concerns the intellect more than the will. The need for something to be the first intelligible object. Pleasure's nature and use. God is our end: our understanding reaches Him first and our will follows the understanding. Ficino admits he has argued that the opposite is true in an epistle on happiness. Perhaps the best solution is to consider the will as part of the intellect rather than a separate faculty, and pleasure as something in the intellect. Ficino concludes man's end is one. Thus he claims to have resolved the doubts raised by his great friend, Michael from S. Miniato, who had wondered why Plato posited a mixed end for man.
Chapter 1, p. 385 (1253): Socrates introduces two concepts, the limit and the infinite, and attributes wisdom and pleasure to them respectively. There are two sorts of infinity: the first excludes the limit, the second is in need of the limit. The first is the infinite limit of everything and is God, the second needs to be limited by something else. The Philebus is concerned with God as things' limit, not as the infinite. In the Philebus, therefore, the infinite means matter. As the infinite, God transcends creation; but as the limit, He embraces it. The hierarchy which proceeds from nothingness to matter to form and is the result of varying degrees of participation in the limit and the infinite. On the nature of potentiality. The passive potentiality characteristic of matter precedes all else. On the nature of matter. All things subsequent to God are compounded from act and potentiality, being and essence. The existence of the being whose essence is being itself. Arguments derived from the fact that nature is subject to possibility and limitation and made from the mixture of essence and being prove that all contingent things are compounded from potentiality and act. On matter as the receptacle of all the forms.
Chapter 2, p. 403 (1255): The hierarchy among the principles of being is headed by the one. The general character of an entity incorporates the idea of being; so, apart from being, there are five other elements: essence, rest, motion, identity and difference. There are also the two principles of the limit and the infinite. Depending on our approach, the full hierarchy can therefore consist of six, seven or nine members.
Chapter 3, p. 409 (1256): Six elements derive from the limit and the infinite. These six are equally divided between the limit and the infinite, since each is universally present in the intelligence, the soul, bodies, quantity and quality. Their presence creates a hierarchy that descends towards the infinite.
Chapter 4, p. 415 (1257): How the limit and the infinite are disposed under God. The distinctions between creating, forming and generating. What is mixed from the limit and the infinite. The fourth principle, namely the cause of the mixture, is above the universe. The possibility that a fifth principle exists, namely the cause that subsumes all mixture, is not denied but put aside by Socrates. On the sublimity of God, i.e., His transcendence, and on His countenance, i.e., His immanent presence. The hierarchy existing among the principles and the right way to deal with it. The need to examine the limit and the infinite first.
p. 425 (1259): In the height of the understanding pleasure and understanding are identical. The usual differences between them.
II, p. 427 (1259): The good is the end. The reasons why pleasure and wisdom are not the end. The uses of pleasure.
III, p. 431 (1259): The relationship between the one, the many, the limit, the infinite, and their compounds, that is, rest, motion, identity and difference.
IV, p. 433 (1260): The art of dialectic, which is concerned with uniting and dividing. The nature of dialectic and its transmission. Its preoccupation with the species. The various steps in the dialectical method.
Nuptial Arithmetic: Marsilio Ficino's Commentary on the Fatal Number in Book VIII of Plato's Republic by Michael J. B. Allen (University of California Press) a distinguished study of the leading Renaissance Neoplatonist, Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), presents for the first time a difficult and fascinating text. Very late in his career Ficino wrote a commentary on the mathematical passage in Book VIII of Plato's Republic that concerns, the mysterious geometric or "fatal" number. Since antiquity no one had interpreted this famous enigma; in doing so, Ficino addressed a variety of wide-ranging philosophical, psychological, numerological, astrological, and prophetic themes that are central to our understanding of his thought and of the mentalité of his age.
In the first part of Nuptial Arithmetic, Allen introduces the Florentine's commentary and explores its context, sources, and difficulties, especially its debts to Plato's Timaeus and to Theon of Smyrna. He then analyzes
Ficino's Pythagorean approach to figured numbers and 'their progressions and Ficino's determination of the fatal and the nuptial numbers. Allen next turns to Ficino's arresting speculations on eugenics, man's habitus, man's spirit, and the daemons, and to the roles Ficino assigns to astrology and prophecy, to Jupiter and to Saturn, in the instauration of a golden age. The second part of the book provides a critical edition and translation of the commentary, with accompanying notes. Nuptial Arithmetic is a welcome presentation of this rich and interesting text by one of the most influential luminaries of the European Renaissance.
This book is concerned with a treatise written late in the career of Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), the influential philosopher-magus of Medicean Florence and the presiding genius of Renaissance Neoplatonism. The treatise is an arcane and hitherto unexplored commentary focusing on a notoriously intractable mathematical passage in the eighth book of Plato's Republic.
The first part deals in general with the commentary's features, themes, and difficulties, and in particular with its composition, sources, and context; with Ficino's analyses of the role in Plato of figured numbers including fatal numbers; with his treatment of the interwoven motifs of eugenics, the habitus, the spirit, and the daemons; and with the ambivalent roles he assigns to astrology in the instauration of a golden age under a Jupiter reunited with his father, Saturn.
For historians of the transmission and interpretation of classical texts, the evidence marshaled here should be persuasive enough to ensure the recognition for the first time of Ficino's rightful place at the head of the long line of modern exegetes of the Platonic passage. For students of Ficino and of Quattrocento cultural and intellectual history, however, the last two chapters particularly cast fresh light on a number of challenging philosophical and mythological issues, and suggest some elusive linkages between Ficino's reaction to Plato's political dialogue and his premonitory sense of an imminent star-governed change in the destiny of Florence, a city already in the grip of the tumultuous millenarian passions of the 1490s.
The second part presents the first critical edition and translation of the De Numero Fatali and its related texts, with accompanying notes.
Allen embarked on this study in the anticipation that he could sharpen his appreciation of one of the age's seminal thinkers by grinding and polishing the lens of a new and fascinating text. Allen was also convinced that further progress in our understanding of Ficino's manifold contributions to Renaissance thought will depend on scholars embarking on similarly detailed analyses of a number of his other treatises, many of which have been barely skimmed in modern times, and then only by a handful of Ficinians in search of a particular reference or a complementary argument.
Icastes: Marsilio Ficino's Interpretation of Plato's Sophist, Five studies, with a critical edition and translation by Michael J. B. Allen (University of California Press) Allen’s latest studies of the profoundly influential Florentine thinker of the fifteenth century, Marcio Ficino, should be welcomed by philosophers, literary scholars, and historians of the Renaissance, as well as by classicists. Ficino was responsible for inaugurating, shaping, and disseminating the wide-ranging philosophico-cultural movement known as Renaissance Platonism, and his views on the Sophist, which he saw as Plato's preeminent ontological dialogue, are of signal interest. This dialogue also served Ficino as a vehicle exploring a number of other humanist, philosophical, and magical reoccupations, including the theme of the human as artist and creator and of the soul's ascent to the divine by way of magic, music, philosophy, and love.
Along with other Plato commentaries, Ficino’s unfinished Sophist Commentary was first published in Florence in 1496 in a volume entitled Commentaria in Platonem. It is the best guide, as we might predict, to his interpretation of the Sophist, one of Plato's most difficult dialogues but, according to a distinguished modern interpreter, an "unusually constructive" one.' However, it is also a vital source, though hitherto neglected, for a full understanding of Ficino's ontology, demonology, and magic, and of his theories of art, imitation, and the imagination. As such, it offers us an intriguing perspective on the Florentine's profound and enduring impact on Renaissance thought and culture.
This book is an attempt to explore Ficino's views on the Sophist and to assess his Sophist Commentary as an independent treatise. The ancillary second part presents a critical edition and a translation of the text, based on the editio princeps of 1496. The first part, consisting of five studies, explores major topics that the dialogue raised for Ficino and tries to unravel his complicated responses to them.
Allen begins with Ficino's perspective on the dialogue and its position in the Platonic canon, and with the unexpectedly pivotal role it played in an interesting controversy in the 1490s with Pico della Mirandola, the other philosophical star in the Medicean circle who is traditionally regarded as Ficino's complatonicus. This controversy concerned the all-important question of the primacy of the One over Being, the metaphysical issue that lay at the heart of the centuries-old quarrel between the Neoplatonists, the standard-bearers of Platonism, and the radical Aristotelians, a quarrel which Pico entered, to Ficino's regret and surprise, on the Aristotelian side, albeit with the irenic aim of reconciling Plato with Aristotle.
Allen’s second study examines Ficino's encounter with the greatest interpreter of the Sophist in antiquity, the third-century Alexandrian-Roman founder of Neoplatonism, Plotinus, whose Enneads he translated and commented on throughout the 1480s, having been urged to do so by the exhortations of Pico himself. Plotinus he regarded as another Plato and on occasions as more profound, if that were possible, than his master, even admiring the density and difficulty of Plotinus's style. For Plotinus the Sophist was Plato's masterpiece of ontology and second only, in its strictly metaphysical insights, to the Parmenides. Ficino was deeply committed to Plotinus's vision of being and embraced it in large part as his own, though his Christian faith compelled him to make some signal modifications, many of which we can see adumbrated in the various chapters of his Commentary. Had he completed this, it would have necessarily been the most developed expression of his ontology; even in its skeletal form, it is a revealing treatise.
Another more elusive and more speculative debt is the subject of third study. This is devoted to the Neoplatonists who succeeded Plotinus, and notably to Iamblichus and Proclus, thinkers who shared his ontological preoccupations with the dialogue but who turned their attention also to other questions in their attempt to define its major theme and to understand its composite structure. My primary concern here is with the scholion that Ficino found accompanying the Greek text of the dialogue in the manuscripts he consulted and that he attributed to Proclus. The scholion provided him, ironically, with a very un-Plotinian perspective, redefining the role and nature of the sophist in terms of the arcane and intricate motif of the sub-lunar demiurge.
The fourth study turns to a theme which literary scholars particularly associate with the Sophist: Plato's involved discussion of icastic and phantastic art and their mutual relationship. Directly or indirectly this discussion made an impact on a number of Renaissance theorists of art, particularly later in the sixteenth century, and Mazzoni and Sidney are only the most obvious figures that spring to mind. Ficino's understanding of this theme is best revealed in certain key passages from his Platonic Theology, his magnum opus written in 1469-1474 but first published in 1482 in Florence. There we see him also addressing the cognate issues of the hierarchy of the arts and skills, the relationship of the artist to the Creator and to Nature, and the relationship of objects to images, human and divine.
The question of images also preoccupies Allen’s fifth study, which focusses on a long and remarkable analysis at the end of Ficino's Sophist Commentary. There Ficino examines what he sees as the implications of Plato's knotty passage at 266B ff. on eidôla, which, like objects themselves, are the creation of "a wonderful skill" or "divine contrivance," a phrase which Ficino renders more literally as "the skill of the demons." The implications of this interpretation, particularly for an understanding of the Ficinian view of the imagination, take us far from the world of modern Plato scholarship into one reflecting characteristically Renaissance attitudes and themes and predicated on the assumption that Plato was also a theorist of magic and demonology, two areas of inquiry which Ficino predictably regarded as intrinsic to, and legitimately part of, Platonic philosophy. It enables us to glimpse a very different Ficino from the thinker whose primary allegiance was to Plotinus's austere ontological preoccupations.
Treating as they do of ontology, of the figure of the sophist in its manifold senses, of man as icastes and phantastes, of the phantastic art of the demons, and of the demons' rule over the imagination, my five studies cover the principal sources of Ficino's attraction to the Sophist. They also present us with a largely unfamiliar, essentially Neoplatonic interpretation that is at the same time peculiarly Ficinian. Deeply indebted to the ancient commentators, it is nevertheless the product of the Florentine Quattrocento and articulates some of the special features of its Platonism. In this independent relationship to the past, the Ficinian Sophist replicates the situation that obtains, as I have suggested elsewhere, with the Ficinian Philebus, Phaedrus, Parmenides, and Timaeus, and, it is generally acknowledged, with the Ficinian Symposium.' In interpreting all six dialogues Ficino turned at various times to Plotinus and to the later Platonici principally to seek support for, or elaboration of, his own views, which were nicely sensitive to the difficulties the Platonici presented for a Christian apologist. The Renaissance Sophist was not entirely Ficino's, as the dramatic case of Pico will demonstrate, but he put his stamp indelibly upon it. The full-scale, detailed commentary he had first intended was never written; but the substance of his interpretation, together with its unexpected extensions, emerges quite clearly from the materials he mustered for the 1496 volume and from earlier, cognate passages in his Platonic Theology to enhance our understanding of his philosophy and of its extraordinary impact on the intellectual and cultural life of an entire epoch.
Ficino's interpretation thus constitutes a signal moment in the historical fortune of a dialogue that scholars have generally regarded in the past as a rewarding but technical treatise lacking the irony, the drama, and the imaginative inventiveness of such literary masterpieces in the Platonic canon as the Symposium, the Protagoras, and the Apology.' For the Ficinian Sophist emerges from this study as itself a luminous and sublime work in that canon and as one of the repositories of Plato's deepest theological mysteries. As such, Allen believes we should henceforth set it beside other major dialogues that Ficino reinterpreted as a revealing guide to some of the salient characteristics of Renaissance Platonism and to its complex, creative relationship to the Platonism of late antiquity from which it ultimately derived, however alien both Platonisms might seem to our current perceptions of what Plato himself had originally intended and achieved.
When Philosophers Rule: Ficino on Plato's Republic, Laws & Epinomis (Commentaries by Ficino on Plato's Writing) Translation by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn) due June 2009
Searching for a definition of good government, this commentary from Marsilio Ficino examines three Platonic dialogues that have had a profound effect on Western statesmen and jurists. A leading scholar of the Italian Renaissance—who translated all the works of Plato into Latin—Ficino prepared these notes for Lorenzo de' Medici, ruler of the republic of Florence, who aspired to be the kind of enlightened ruler Plato described.
All Things Natural (9780856832581 – due 2010), will contain the Timaeus.
Gardens of Philosophy: Ficino on Plato (Commentaries by Ficino on Plato's Writing) Translation by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn)
Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) made a vital contribution to the change in European Society that took place in the Renaissance. Men of influence throughout Europe drew intellectual and spiritual inspiration from him and his Academy. He conducted an extensive correspondence and during his life 12 volumes of his letters were published. With the exception of a few individual letters, these have not been translated into English before. The ongoing translations are the work of a group of scholars at the School of Economic Science in London.
With the publication of Arthur Farndell’s Gardens of Philosophy
(Shepheard-Walwyn), there remained only four of Ficino’s
commentaries on Plato’s dialogues which had not yet been translated
into English. With the publication of this volume there remain only
three. Farndell’s translation of the commentaries on the Republic
and the Laws will comprise the third volume under the title When
Philosophers Rule (9780856832574 – due 2009) and the fourth, All
Things Natural (9780856832581 – due 2010), will contain the Timaeus.
As Carol Kaske of Cornell University wrote when reviewing Gardens of Philosophy in Renaissance Quarterly, these translations fill ‘a need. Even those Anglophone scholars who know Latin still need a translation in order to read quickly through a large body of material’
The bronze relief on the front depicts Philosophy welcoming us to the gardens of the Platonic Academy. It was inspired by the words of Marsilio Ficino in the preface to his commentaries on Plato's dialogues.
The Gardens of Philosophy begins with this preface, which introduces short commentaries or summaries relating to twenty-five of the Platonic dialogues and to the twelve letters thought to have been written by Plato.
By the middle of the fifteenth century the works of Plato had been carefully gathered together under the watchful eye of Cosimo de' Medici. Cosimo had been attracted to the philosophy of Plato by the words of Gemistos Plethon during the Council of Florence in 1439.
In 1462 Cosimo commissioned Marsilio Ficino to translate Plato's works from Greek into Latin. Ficino's biographer, Giovanni Corsi, tells us that this undertaking was completed within five years.
For each dialogue, Ficino supplied an interpretative work in the form of a commentary or summary. These interpretations are presented here as philosophical and spiritual works in their own right.
Arthur Farndell was born and lives in London. He studied at King's College, Cambridge, where he took his BA degree in French and Italian, with additional papers in linguistics and the history of Ithe Romance languages. He later received his MA degree from Cambridge. He has been a member of the School of Economic Science since 1960, concentrating on Philosophy, Sanskrit, and Renaissance Studies. For more than thirty years he has been a member of the team of translators who have produced, to date, seven volumes of The Letters of Marsilio Ficino. He is also the author of Succeed in Maths and A Mahâbhârata Companion. He is happily married, and he and his wife have five children and six grandchildren.
PLATO HAS EXERTED a major influence on Western civilisation for nearly two and a half millennia. He and his master Socrates were chiefly concerned with what constitutes the real happiness for human beings and with the communication of this to others. For them, the Good did not consist in wealth, power and the gratification of the senses, but in the knowledge of the very principle of goodness of which all those things that seem good are merely transitory reflections. In Plato's view, the path to the Good lies in the contemplation of the Good and the practice of the virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.
Marsilio Ficino, a Florentine priest of the fifteenth century, was the last of a long line of philosophers to re-introduce Plato's teaching into society as a living commitment rather than an abstract theory. In addition to writing books to show that the works of Plato were in perfect harmony with the Christian religion, Ficino translated all the works of Plato from Greek into Latin. He also wrote illuminating commentaries on Plato's dialogues.
This volume consists of Ficino's shorter commentaries or summaries. They all have as their focus Plato's primary concern with the Good but the treatment of the theme is refreshingly varied. Neither Plato nor Ficino was an ivory-tower philosopher: they both believed that the virtues found within could be practised in the government of the State. The qualities of the good householder are also the qualities of the good ruler writ large. In these commentaries the reader will find an insight into the text of Plato's dialogues which leads to a much greater understanding of the original master.
No one is better equipped than Arthur Farndell to translate these commentaries. He has a comprehensive knowledge of the Latin language and a thorough knowledge not only of Plato but also of Ficino, since he has worked continuously on the translation of Ficino's letters from Latin into English, of which seven volumes have now been published.
THE GARDENS of Philosophy are ever open to all who would like to enter. Philosophy herself extends a hand in gracious welcome, inviting us to walk in the company of Plato and find peace and inspiration in an atmosphere of reflective inquiry.
Loving hands have tended these grounds throughout millennia. Our present guide is Marsilio Ficino, sometimes known as a second Plato. More than five hundred years ago his work in the philosophical gardens re-invigorated Europe through Latin translations of Plato's dialogues. The translations themselves were freshened by the streams of commentaries flowing from Ficino's heart and mind.
During the last hundred years new blooms have appeared in the gardens, as Ficino's own writings and translations have been rendered into modern European languages. The present floral offering consists of Ficino's shorter commentaries to Plato's dialogues, together with his commentaries to the twelve letters attributed to Plato.
There is no doubt that Ficino regarded Plato as one of the head gardeners, and himself as one who was privileged to work the same soil. Nevertheless, the ground tilled anew by Ficino has produced flowers attractive in their own right. Here is a welcoming posy, plucked here and there from the abundant beds:
`Man is a rational soul, partaking of mind and using a body.'
`Law is eternal, absolutely unchangeable, and among all nations it is the same.'
`The philosopher's function is to know the divine and govern the human.'
`Bodily beauty is not to be loved for its own sake but is to be thought of as an image of divine beauty.'
`Prayer is the ardent disposition of the pure soul, a disposition devoted to God and desirous of what is seen to be good.'
`The function of man is not to perceive, but to consider what he has perceived.'
May your visit be restful and restorative.
PART ONE: Summaries of Twenty-five Dialogues of Plato
Translator's Notes to Part One
Ficino's Preface to his Commentaries on Plato
Hipparchus: the Desire for Gain
Philosophy or The Lover
Theages: Wisdom Meno: Virtue
Alcibiades I: Nature of Man
Alcibiades II: Prayer Minos: Law
Hippias: the Beautiful and Noble
Ion: Poetic Inspiration
Euthydemus: the Views of the Sophists
Lesser Hippias: Truthfulness
Apology: Socrates' defence
Crito: Socrates' way of life
Phaedo: Nature of the soul
Menexenus: Love for one's country,
Critias: Story of Atlantis,
PART TWO: Discussions of the Twelve 'Letters of Plato'
Translator's Notes to Part Two
First Letter: from Dion to Dionysius
Second Letter: from Plato to Dionysius
Third Letter: from Plato to Dionysius
Fourth Letter: from Plato to Dion
Fifth Letter: from Dion to Perdiccas
Sixth Letter: from Plato to Hermias, Erastus, and Coriscus
Seventh Letter: from Plato to Dion's relatives and friends
Eighth Letter: from Plato to Dion's relatives and friends
Ninth Letter: from Plato to Archytas
Tenth Letter: from Plato to Aristodemus
Eleventh Letter: from Plato to Laodoman
Twelfth Letter: from Plato to Archytas
PART THREE: Appendices, Translator's Notes to Part Three, Ficino's Introduction to ten of Plato's dialogues Ficino's Preface to his commentaries on Plato, Index
Evermore Shall Be So: Ficino on Plato’s Parmenides translated by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn) Having translated the works of Plato and the major Neo-Platonists from Greek into Latin, Ficino was in a unique position to provide commentaries on Plato’s dialogues, explaining the substance of the dialogue in the context of the whole corpus of Platonic thought and Renaissance Florence.
To Ficino, however, philosophy was much more than an intellectual
exercise. As a canon of Florence Cathedral, he recognised the
spiritual significance of Plato’s dialogues, of which Parmenides is
perhaps the most profound, dealing as it does with the ultimate
reality and how the individual soul may ascend to the presence of
the eternal One.
The central message of Parmenides, that everything depends on the One, resonates with the growing awareness around the world of the inter-relatedness of all things, be it in the biosphere, the intellectual or spiritual realms. Philosophers in ancient Greece appreciated this unity and employed reason and dialectic to draw the mind away from its preoccupation with the material world and attract it towards contemplation of the soul, and ultimately of that Oneness which embraces, but is distinct from, the multifarious forms of creation.
Thus Parmenides carefully instructed the young Socrates, and Plato recorded their dialogue in this work which he named after the elderly philosopher. Nearly 2000 years later, Marsilio Ficino made Parmenides available to the West by translating it into Latin, the language of scholars in his time. Ficino added a lengthy commentary to this translation, a commentary which Evermore Shall Be So puts into English for the first time, more than 500 years after its original composition.
Ficino’s crucial influence upon the unfolding of the Renaissance and his presentation of Plato’s understanding of the One and the so-called Platonic Ideas or Forms make Evermore Shall Be So an important work in the history of thought. Though it will be an essential buy for Renaissance scholars and historians, its freshness of thought and wisdom are as relevant today as they ever were to inspire a new generation seeking spiritual and philosophical direction in their lives.
MULTIFARIOUS are the introductions that could be written to the commentary made by Marsilio Ficino to Plato's Parmenides. The translator has chosen to focus on the two themes that particularly struck him as he read and re-read Ficino's text. The first is the care shown by Parmenides in the training he imparts to Socrates. The second is Ficino's presentation of Plato's text as a work of practical spirituality.
The care shown by Parmenides
IN HIS DEDICATION of the commentary to Niccolò Valori, Ficino remarks that Parmenides, though older, does not contradict Socrates'. In Chapter 15 some correction does occur in dealing with the doubts expressed by Socrates: Parmenides does not correct the first doubt, but he does correct the second.' It is the next chapter that clearly depicts the care evinced by the elder philosopher, whom Ficino here presents in the likeness of a midwife:
Just as Socrates, the son of a midwife, performs the office of a midwife in different places towards boys and youths and proclaims this before others, so the aged Parmenides, like a dutiful midwife, exhorts and helps the youthful Socrates to give birth to the wonderful, almost divine, opinions with which he is pregnant and which he is trying to bring forth.
Moreover, he does not reject or destroy the children that are born lacking beauty, but rather he takes them up and cherishes them in a wonderful way. He strengthens the weak, straightens the crooked, gives shape to the shapeless, and perfects the imperfect. No one, therefore, will think that Parmenides the Pythagorean, the friend of Ideas in the manner of his fellows, and the pursuer of Being, which is detached from sensory perception, and of the One Itself, which is above Being, condemns opinions of this kind; but every follower of Plato will remember that Socrates is being very carefully trained by Parmenides in dialectic, in order that he may be much more heedful when considering the divine mysteries, that he may proceed with greater care, and that he may reach the end of his journey in greater safety.
The portrayal of Parmenides as a midwife appears again in Chapter 26, where he is also compared to a teacher:
That Parmenides does not pursue Socrates at every point like a disputant and rebuke him, but in the manner of a midwife encourages, assists, cherishes, guides and corrects him, is plain to observe, because this young man does not gradually wane but gains strength at every step, being led towards better things ... Therefore, being now guided by Parmenides as by a teacher, he puts forward a true and definite view of Ideas.
The third comparison of Parmenides to a midwife occurs in Chapter 34, where Ficino says:
When Parmenides pursues, in relation to Socrates, the dedicated function of midwife which he introduced at the beginning, stimulating the inner powers of the young man to a most precise consideration of Ideas and showing on numerous occasions that very serious errors arise from imprecise answers and responses, and that it is a difficult task, and one that requires an excellent mind, to prove that Ideas exist, to show how they exist, to truly resolve doubts as they arise, and to teach with clear reason the person who is listening, all of these things make Socrates very careful and precise.
In Chapter 18 Ficino portrays Parmenides as being a particularly careful tutor when Ideas are being considered:
When Parmenides, therefore, is going to instruct Socrates, or rather encourage him, to contemplate that true way of participation by which Ideas are perceived by what is below them, he rejects, one by one, the ways which are not lawful ... Thus Socrates is advised to consider a nonphysical, indeed divine, way of understanding, for we are considering either the power of an Idea or the property of an Idea ... Moreover, in comparing an Idea to the light of day he speaks rightly, but in thinking that light spreads through air like heat and is like a sail spread over the heads of many men, and in thinking that this is how an Idea is present is many objects, he is refuted by Parmenides, who says that, if this were the case, an Idea would not be totally present in anything but would be present in some parts of the objects through some of its own parts; and in this way he compels the young man to answer with greater care.
In the following chapter Ficino indicates that Socrates, for his part, is a ready student:
Step by step Socrates is instructed in these matters so that he may consider a partaking of the Ideas which is higher than any physical principle. To this instruction Socrates readily assents, being inclined towards it by nature.
The measured restraint practised by Parmenides throughout the training imparted to Socrates is clearly in evidence in Chapter 21 of Ficino's commentary:
As a Pythagorean with due regard for Ideas, Parmenides does not cross Socrates when the latter supposes that, on account of assemblages of items coming together within something definite in response to a cause related to form, type, nature, and perfection, there is a single Idea for each and every assemblage within a type.
He does, however, temper Socrates' enthusiasm, in order to avoid the possible inference that any collection of items has to be related to a specific Idea, even if these items seem to come together by some accidental or passing circumstance, by some deficiency, artificiality, or name; for if this were the case, there would be an unnatural number of causes for many of the occurrences within nature, and the number of Ideas would be infinite ... This is how Socrates is advised not to imagine a new Idea for every apparent combination.
The restraint continues to be evident in the following chapter, where Ficino, after comparing Socrates to 'a young man without sufficient training', says:
Finally, Parmenides does not in fact reprove Socrates for seeking refuge in such notions, but he does reprove him for appearing to stay there. He therefore takes pains, through this reference to new notions which relates to the naturally implanted types, to call him back next not only to these types but also to the divine types.
However, from this point onwards the training of the young man's mind does seem to become somewhat stricter:
For this reason Parmenides, intending to lead Socrates on to a
fuller explanation of these things, will henceforth insist upon many
... when Socrates was being tested by Parmenides. (Chapter 27)
Parmenides advises the young man ... to proceed more carefully hence‑forth. (Chapter 27)
Parmenides therefore advises Socrates, in relation to the divine Ideas, to acknowledge both the pre-eminence of their nature and their ability to impart their power. (Chapter 28)
In brief, Socrates had to answer Parmenides by saying that the ideal lordship and the ideal service are not related to us but to each other, I mean through their first indissoluble relationship. (Chapter 30)
For this reason Socrates is now carefully trained, so that he learns to resolve doubts about Ideas, which, if unresolved, would detract from divine providence. (Chapter 32)
Even in the later chapters of the commentary Ficino reminds us of the unremitting dedication shown by Parmenides in his instruction of Socrates. In Chapter 87 he says that Parmenides hones the young man's mind ever more keenly', and in Chapter 90 we find:
Parmenides, when preparing to train the mind of the noble young man along these lines, obliges him repeatedly, by means of the tightest constraints, either to withdraw from the false or else to make use of these abstractions, in which, as the man whom you know also says, there is no falsehood ... Parmenides tacitly reminds us of these things, partly instructing the mind of the young man by means of some logical stratagem and partly sowing some hidden teaching here and there.
Finally, in Chapter 93, Ficino again draws our attention to the same theme:
Notice how Parmenides, at times when philosophic tenets are being torn to shreds, trains the young man to be careful in his replies and judicious in his discrimination.
What effect did this training at the hands of Parmenides have
upon Socrates? Ficino gives the answer in Chapter 37 by referring to
a response given by Socrates in the Theaetetus:
In the Theaetetus, when Socrates was asked to refute those who posited a single motionless being, he did not undertake to do so himself but gave this answer: Although I honour Melissus and others, who say that there is one self-consistent totality, for it may seem immodest of me to cross them, yet I honour them less than I do Parmenides alone, for Parmenides, to use Homer's words, strikes me as one who is sagacious and worthy of great honour. I once conversed with him when he was advanced in years and I was but a youth, and he struck me as having a wisdom that was profound and noble in all respects. This is why I fear that we do not have the slightest understanding of his sayings and expressions, and what he himself implied by his words is, I fear, even more of a closed book to us.
AN OVERVIEW of Ficino's Parmenides Commentary
Dedication to Niccolò Valori
`Plato ... has embraced all theology within Parmenides [Plato ... universam in Parmenide complexus est theologiam].'
`He seems to have drawn this celestial work, in a divine way, from the deep recesses of the divine mind and from the innermost sanctuary of philosophy [videtur et ex divinae mentis adytis intimoque Philosophiae sacrario caeleste hoc opus divinitus deprompsisse]. Anyone approaching his sacred writings [Ad cuius sacram lectionem quisque accedet] should prepare himself with sobriety of soul and freedom of mind before daring to handle the mysteries of the celestial work [prius sobrietate animi mentisque libertate se preparet, quam attrectare mysteria caelestis operis audeat]. For here the divine Plato [Hic enim divinus Plato], speaking of the One Itself, discusses with great subtlety how the One Itself is the principle of all things [de ipso uno subtilissime disputat quemadmodum ipsum unum rerum omnium principium est]: how it is above all [super omnia], and all things come from it [omniaque ab illo]; how it is outside all and within all [Quo pacto ipsum extra omnia sit, et in omnibus]; and how all come out of it [omniaque ex illo], through it, and to it [per illud atque ad illud].'
`Parmenides ... unfolds the whole principle of Ideas [Parmenides integram idearum explicat rationem].'
Parmenides 'introduces nine hypotheses [suppositiones] ..., five on the basis that the One exists and four on the basis that the One does not exist.'
Ficino gives a brief statement on the nature of each hypothesis, and he points out that Parmenides' main intention is to affirm that 'there is a single principle [principium] of all things, end if that is in place everything is in place, but if it be removed everything perishes.'
The first hypothesis 'discusses the one supreme God [de uno
supremoque Deo disserit].'
The second 'discusses the individual orders of the divinities [de singulis Deorum ordinibus].'
The third 'discusses divine souls [de divinis animis].'
The fourth 'discusses those which come into being in the region which surrounds matter [de iis, quae circa materiam fiunt].'
The fifth 'discusses primal matter [de materia prima].'
The Preface of Marsilio Ficino to his Commentary on Parmenides
`Under the guise of a dialectical and, as it were, logical game aimed at training the intelligence [sub ludo quodam dialectico et quasi logico exercitaturo videlicet ingenium], Plato points towards divine teachings and many aspects of theology [ad diving dogmata passim theologica multa significat.]'
`The subject matter of this Parmenides is particularly theological [Materia Parmenidis huius potissimum theologica est] and its form particularly logical [forma vero praecipue logica].'
Chapter 1: Setting the scene for the dialogue
A request is made for a previous discussion involving Parmenides, Zeno, and Socrates to be recounted.
Chapter 2: How the whole of being is one, but the One Itself is above being [Quomodo omne ens sit unum, ipsum vero unum super ens]
`The universe, or the all [universum sive omne] is appreciated in these three ways [tribus his modis accipitur]: individually, collectively, as a whole [singulatim, congregatim, summatim].'
`Beyond that unity which partakes perfectly of the intelligible world [praeter unitatem illam intelligibili mundo perfecte participatam] he (Parmenides) postulates a supreme unity [eminentissimam excogitat unitatem] higher than the one universal being [universo ente uno excelsiorem], for the nature of being is different from the nature of unity [alia enim ipsius entis, alia unitatis ipsius ratio est].'
`Therefore the one being [Unum igitur ens] is not the simple One Itself [non est ipsum simpliciter unum] but is in all respects a composite [sed quoquomodo compositum] mixed with multiplicity [multitudinique permixtum].'
Chapter 3: All multiplicity partakes of Unity [Omnis multitudo est particeps unitatis]
Zeno, Parmenides' disciple, confirms his master's proposition with another, 'whereby he shows that beings are not many [ens non esse multa], that is, not only many [id est, solum multa], but beyond their multiplicity [sed praeter multitudinem] they partake of unity [esse partecipes unitatis].'
Chapter 4: The Existence and Nature of Ideas [Ideas esse, et quales]
`Human nature depends on the Idea of man [ab idea hominis humana natura (dependet)].'
`Now the cause which is unmoving and universal at the same time [Causa vero immobilis simul universalisque] is necessarily the intellect [necessario est intellectus] and the intellectual Idea [et intellectualis idea].'
Again, there are many Ideas [Ideae rursus multae sunt], as least as many as the types of natural phenomena [quod saltem rerum species naturalium], and each one is called a unity [et unaquaeque unitas appellatur], I mean, not simply unity [unitas inquam non simpliciter], but a unity [imo quaedam].'
For this reason [quamobrem] there exists above ideal unities [super ideales unitates extat] the One that is simply itself [ipsum simpliciter unum], governing the full expansion of all species [per quaslibet multitudines latissime regnans].'
Chapter 5: In what respects Ideas differ among themselves and in what respects they agree [Quomodo ideae inter se differant et convenient]
`Since Ideas are eternal and intellectual in their extreme purity [Ideae cum sint aeternae et ad puritatis summum intellectuales], they produce within the same sequence beneath them unmoving and pure effects prior to moving and impure effects [effectus procreant in eadem sub ipsis serie stabiles atque puros, priusquam mobiles et impuros].'
Chapter 6: For what there are Ideas, and for what there are no Ideas: there are as many Ideas as there are rational souls [Quorum sint ideae. Quorum non sint. Quot sunt rationales animae, totidem earum sunt ideae]
`There is a single Idea for the whole of a single type [unius communiter speciei una est idea].'
Chapter 7: There is no Idea for matter [Nulla est idea materiae]
Chapter 8: There are no Ideas for individual items [Singularium non sunt ideae]
Chapter 9: There are no Ideas for parts [Partium non sunt ideae]
`One is prior to multiplicity [unum antecedit multitudinem].'
Chapter 10: How there are Ideas for the Accidental [Quomodo accidentium sint ideae]
Chapter 11: There are no Ideas for Skills [Artificiorum non sunt ideae]
Chapter 12: There are Ideas for only the Speculative Branches of Knowledge [Scientiarum solum speculativarum sunt ideae]
Chapter 13: There are no Ideas for Evils [Non sunt ideae malorum]
`God Himself is every Idea [quaelibet ... idea est ipse Deus].'
Chapter 14: There are no Ideas for vile things [Sordium non sunt ideae]
`There is no Idea for mud [Non est idea luti], but there is an Idea for water and for earth [sed aquae terraeque idea].'
Chapter 15: Even those things which are not expressed through Ideas are related to Providence and to a divine cause [Etiam quae per ideas ipsas non exprimuntur, ad providentiam pertinent causamque divinam]
Chapter 16: Parmenides corrects or modifies the replies of Socrates, but does not destroy them [Parmenides responsiones Socratis corrigit vel dirigit, non disperdit]
Chapter 17: How the things of our world partake of Ideas, being the images of Ideas, without their having any identical or common cause [Quomodo res nostrae participant ideas, tanquam imagines idearum. Neque his atque illis est ulla ratio eadem vel natura communis]
`The ideal causes [Ideales rationes] are in the intellect of the Maker [in conditore sunt intellectu] and also in the world-soul [et in ipsa mundi anima] and in universal nature [et in universali natura].'
Chapter 18: An Idea is not partaken of in a physical way, so that neither the whole nor any part of it is received [Idea non participatur corporeo more: ita ut vel tots vel pars eius aliqua capiatur]
`Nothing in our world [Nulla quidem rerum nostrarum] apprehends the whole power of an Idea [totam capit ideae virtutem]: that eternal, effective, and totally indivisible essence, perfect life, and perfect intelligence [scilicet aeternam illam efficaciam individuam prorsus essentiam, vitam intelligentiamque perfectam].'
Chapter 19: Ideal largeness, ideal equality, and ideal smallness are not partaken of by any nature divisible into parts [Ipsa magnitudo aequalitas, parvitas ideales non participantur conditione quadam in partes divisibili]
`Let us consider ideal equality [consideramus idealem aequalitatem]: an intellectual ratio [scilicet rationem quandam intellectualem] which is both a model and a unifier [tam exemplarem, quam conciliatricem] of universal harmony [universae congruitatis] and of harmonic proportion [et proportionis harmonicae] and of any kind of equality [aequalitatisque cuiuslibet]
Chapter 20: Neither by nature nor by circumstance do Ideas meet with material things [Ideas non convenire cum materialibus neque natura neque conditione]
`It is clearly the case [plane constat] that Ideas are remote from [illas procul ab] all differentiation, all place, all movement, and all time [omni divisione, loco, motu, tempore esse], being indivisible, unmoving, eternal, and present everywhere [impartibiles, immobiles, aeternas, ubique praesentes]: so present [ita praesentes] that each quality of an Idea [ut cuiuslibet ideae proprietas quaedam] extends to the uttermost ends of creation [ad ultimas perveniat mundi formas].'
`However, it is important now to remember [Meminisse vero nunc oportet] that forms in the physical world [formas in materia] are not produced directly from Ideas, but are made through the seed-powers of nature derived from Ideas [non proxime ab ideis, sed per vires seminales naturae illinc infusas effici].'
Chapter 21: We should not suppose that every assemblage of multifarious items suggests that there is a single Idea for those items [Non debemus ex qualibet multorum communion, unam illorum ideam excogitare]
Chapter 22: From types which are created by the soul we must rise to types which are naturally present in the soul, and then rise from those to types which are divine [Oportet a speciebus quae fiunt ab anima ad species ascendere quae naturaliter insunt animae. Ab his insuper ad divinas]
We use reason aright to take physical things back to their non-physical causes [resque corporeas ad incorporeal causas recta ratione reducimus].'
Chapter 23: The first types of creation, which are also the principal subjects of the intellect, are prior to the intelligences [Primae rerum species, quae etiam sunt principalia intellectus obiecta intelligentias antecedunt]
`Just as true sense [quemadmodum verus sensus] focuses on something perceptible [circa sensibile quiddam versatur] which actually exists [quod et revera existit], which is prior to sense [et antecedit sensum], and which is united with sense at the time of perception [ac denique cum sensu iam sentiente coniungitur], so true intelligence [sic intelligentia vera], which he now calls notion [quam nunc nominat notionem], is directed towards something that is intelligible to it [ad intelligibile suum dirigitur], that really exists and is prior to it [revera existens atque praecedens], and is more united with notion [et magis cum notione coniunctum] than the perceptible is with sense [quam cum sensu sensibile].'
Chapter 24: Ideas are intelligible things rather than intelligences, and these intelligible things are prior to intelligences [Ideae non tam intelligentiae quam intelligibilia sunt. Atque haec intelligentias antecedunt]
`This universe has taken its rise not so much from the intellect or the intelligence as from intelligible things, namely, the first essence, which is full of intelligible types and powers [universum hoc non tam ab intellectu vel intelligentia quam ab intelligibilibus, id est, ab essentia prima intelligibilium specierum virtutumque plena].'
Chapter 25: The quality of an Idea somehow remains one throughout an entire sequence, while the power of an Idea varies [Proprietas idealis una quodammodo est in tota serie. Virtus autem varia]
Chapter 26: Ideas are not simple notions but natural types which possess model power and effective power [Ideae non sunt simplices notiones quaedam, sed species naturales, vim exemplarem efficientemque habentes]
`The nature of the Idea is not conveyed to our world [neque ipsa ideae natura ad haec nostra transfertur], nor, conversely, do the things of our world in any way meet Ideas [neque haec igitur in re ulla conveniunt cum ideis], but merely reflect them [sed solum illas referunt], just as the image in a mirror reflects the face [quemadmodum specularis imago vultum].'
Chapter 27: Natural forms are rightly said to be similar to Ideas, but Ideas must not be described as similar to natural forms [Naturales formae dicuntur quidem ideis similes. Ideae vero harum similes appellari non debent]
Chapter 28: Contrary to the opinion of the Stoics and the Aristotelians, Ideas and all things divine are separate from nature and have a power that can be imparted to everything [Contra stoicos atque peripateticos, quod ideae divinaque omnia et natura segregata sunt et virtutem habent cunctis communicabilem]
`The first Good acts and cares with the greatest possible providence [primum denique ipsumque bonum quam maxime Tacit et providet].'
Chapter 29: The ways in which Ideas cannot be known by us, and the ways in which they can be known [Quomodo ideae a nobis cognosci non possint. Item quomodo possint]
`But when we say in this discussion that the first types are within themselves, you should understand [Tu vero inter haec ubi primas species esse dicimus in seipsis, intellige] that they are not within the first intellect [non esse in primo intellectu] like parts within a whole [velut partes in toto], or like qualities within an object [vel qualitates aliquas in subiecto], but like numbers within unity [sed quemadmodum in unitate numeri], like the beginnings of lines within a centre [in centro capita linearum], like the rays and colours within the light of the sun [in solis lute, radii, vel colores].'
Chapter 30: The ways in which Ideas are not related, or may be related, to the things of our world, and vice versa. Also concerning lordship and service and relationships in the realm of Ideas [Quomodo ideae non referantur vel referantur ad nostra, et haec ad illas. Ac de dominatione illic et servitute, et relationibus idearum]
Chapter 31: How pure knowledge relates to pure truth, while human knowledge relates to human truth. How Ideas may be unknown or known [Quomodo ipsa simpliciter scientia ad ipsam simpliciter veritatem refertur. Scientia humana, ad humanam. Quomodo ideae ignotae vel notae]
Chapter 32: Concerning the way of divine consideration and providence [De modo divinae cognitionis atque providentiae]
`By being aware that He Himself is the origin of all [cognoscendo se ipsum principium omnium], He immediately cognises all and makes all [omnia statim et cognoscit et facit] .'
Chapter 33: On divine lordship and consciousness, and on the six orders of Ideas or forms [De dominatione et cognitione divina, atque de sex ordinibus idearum vel formarum]
Tor it is not by intelligence [Non enim intelligential but by some more mysterious act [sed occultiore quodam actu] that we are able to appreciate the first principle of the universe [frui primo universi principio pos- sumus].'
Chapter 34: If there be no Ideas in the presence of God and no ideal patterns within us, then Dialectic will perish, and so will all Philosophy. There will be no proof, definition, division, or explanation [Nisi sint et ideae penes deum et ideales in nobis formulae, peribit dialectica omnisque philosophia. Non erit demonstratio vel definitio, vel divisio, vel resolutio]
`We have shown conclusively [confirmavimus] that the patterns and models of all things [formulas regulasque rerum] are naturally implanted within our mind [esse menti etiam nostrae naturaliter insitas].'
Chapter 35: On the practice of Dialectic through the intellectual forms and with the intelligible types as the aim [De dialectica exercitatione per formas intellectuales, ad species intelligibiles]
Parmenides 'will begin [exordietur] from the One [ab uno] as the cause of Ideas and of divine matters [tanquam causa idearum atque divinorum], showing throughout the debate [significans in toto disputationis cursu] that this One [ipsum unum] produces all beings step by step [producere entia omnia gradatim].'
In this way Ideas [Illas igitur] are finally attained [attingit tandem] by the simple gaze of steady intelligence [stabilis intelligentiae simplex intuitus], a gaze utterly dissociated from all considerations of material things [ab omnibus materialium cogitationibus penitus segregatus].'
Chapter 36: The rules of Dialectic which pre-suppose being or non-being, and the number of ways in which non-being is described [Regulae dialecticae supponentes esse vel non esse, et quot modis dicitur non ens]
Parmenides maintains that the most powerful form of reasoning is [Potissimam argumentandi formam esse vult] that which proceeds from hypothesis [quae ex suppositione procedit] and examines carefully [perpendens], with many steps [multis gradibus] what follows [quid sequatur] if something is affirmed and what follows if it is denied [affirmato quolibet vel negato], for this form of reasoning [forma enim eiusmodi] does not depend on any human contrivances [non machinis quibusdam confidit humanis], but relies on a rational succession of natural and divine things [sed ipsa rerum naturalium divinarumque consequenti serie nititur] and has the hierarchy of the universe as its teacher of truth [praeceptoremque veritatis habet ipsum ordinem universi].'
Chapter 37: The subsequent discussion is said to be difficult, because it is not only logical but also theological [Futura disputatio dicitur ardua, quia non solum logica est sed etiam theological
Chapter 38: On the hypotheses of Parmenides; and on the Good, which, according to the words of Plato, is higher than being and higher than intellect [De suppositionibus Parmenidis. Et de uno bonoque quod ente et intellectu superius, per verba Platonis]
`It is shown in the Philebus [In Philebo probatur] that from the One [ab ipso uno], which is the beginning of creation [rerum principio], two are immediately produced [statim produci binarium]: the principles of beings [scilicet principia entium], or the two elements known as limit and limitlessness [vel elementa duo, terminum scilicet infinitatemque]
From these two [ex quibus] all beings are directly compounded [omnia prorsus entia componantur], but before the compounding of other beings [sed ante aliorum entium compositionem] the first to be compounded and mixed from these two [primum ex his confici mixtum] is the first being [scilicet ens primum], which contains universal being within itself [in se continens ens universum].'
Ficino draws support also from the sixth book of the Republic: 'The Good Itself [ipsum bonum] is not the intellect or the intelligible [neque tamen est intellectus vel intelligibile] or the truth or essence [vel veritas vel essential, but is higher than all these in excellence and power [sed his omnibus dignitate et potentate superius].'
Further support is taken from the Sophist: 'It is clear that in the first being [probatur in primo ente] there are all those things [omnia esse] which are necessarily required for the perfection of being [quae ad perfectionem entis necessario requiruntur].'
`Finally, he shows in the Sophist [probatur denique in Sophiste] ... that the first universal being [ipsum primum et universum ens] is subject to the One [patitur unum], both in its parts [turn in partibus suis] and as a whole [turn in toto].'
Chapter 39: Next, how Plato proceeds to the First. Its name. The Idea of the Good [Item quomodo Plato procedit ad primum. De nomine eius. De idea boni]
`Throughout his writings Plato reduces perceptible multiplicities to intelligible unities, that is, to Ideas [Plato ... ubique sensibiles passim multitudines ad intelligibiles redigit unitates, id est, ideas]: for his intention is to relate each single multiplicity [scilicet unamquamque multitudinem invicem cognaturum] to a single Idea [ad ideam unam], and then to relate the intelligible unities to the simple One Itself [ad ipsum simpliciter unum], which excels the intelligible world by at least as much [quod ita saltem intelligibilia superat] as the intelligible world excels the perceptible world [quemadmodum ab his sensibilia superantur].'
Chapter 40: Next, Plato's two paths to the First; and the two names of the First [Rursus duae Platonis ad primum vise. Duo nomina primi]
`Plato rises to the Supreme by two paths [Plato per duas ad summum vias ascendit]: by the path of analogies in the Republic [per comparationes quidem in Republica] and by the path of negations in Parmenides [per negationes autem in Parmenide]. Both the analogies and the negations [Utraeque pariter tarn comparationes quam negationes] affirm that God is set apart from all beings and from all intelligibles [declarant Deum esse tum ab omnibus entibus et intelligibilibus segregatum], and that He is also the beginning of creation [turn etiam principium universi].'
`He defines God as the sole beginning of everything, totally simple and totally supreme [Deum principium omnium unicum, simplicissimum, eminentissimum esse designat].'
Chapter 41: Some Platonic discussions follow which show that the One is the beginning of all things, and that the One Itself, the Good, is above being. The First Discussion [Secuntur discursus Platonici probantes unum esse principium omnium, et esse ipsum unum bonumque superius ente. Primus discursus]
Chapter 42: The Second Discussion on the same subject [Secundus ad idem discursus]
The One indwells all things both individually and collectively [omnibus et singulatim et summatim inest unum]; and with the very multitude [et in ipsa multitudine] which seems opposed to the One [quae uni videtur opposita], the One Itself makes the multitude [unum ipsum conficit multitudinem], for what is a multitude but one repeated over and over again [quid enim aliud multitude est nisi aliquod saepius repetitum]?'
`This One, therefore [Hoc igitur unum], which is absolutely common to all [omnibus communissimum], derives its existence from the simple One which is the most common of all [ab ipso tandem existit simpliciter uno omnium communissimo].'
Chapter 43: The Third Discussion on the same subject. Also on the simplicity of the first and the last [Tertius ad idem discursus. Ac de simplicitate primi et ultimi]
`In the hierarchy of the universe [In ordine universi] there is the first and there is the last [ad primum pervenitur et ultimum], and each of these is of necessity [utrumque necessario est] one and simple [unum atque simplex], devoid of multiplicity [multitudinis expers].'
`Certainly matter is in the highest degree one in its ability to receive form [Est certe materia maximum unum scilicet formabile], just as the first being [sicut ens primum] is in the highest degree one in its power to impart form [maxime unum est formale]. But neither of these is the simple One Itself [Neutrum vero est ipsum simpliciter unum].'
Chapter 44: The Fourth Discussion on the same subject; and on the contemplation of the Good [Quartus ad idem discursus, et de contemplatione boni]
Tor these reasons [Propterea] we consider the One Itself and the Good to be absolutely identical [ipsum unum bonumque idem prorsus esse coniicimus].'
Chapter 45: The Fifth Discussion on the same subject; and on the naming of the First [Quintus ad idem discursus, et de appellatione primi]
Chapter 46: The Sixth Discussion on the same subject; and what is chosen is not simply being, but well-being and the Good [Sextus ad idem discursus. Et quod non eligitur simpliciter esse, sed bene esse atque bonum]
Chapter 47: The Seventh Discussion on the same subject; and how the cause of being differs from the cause of the Good [Septimus ad idem discursus. Et quae differens ratio entis atque boni]
`The Good is therefore higher than being [bonum igitur ente superius].'
Chapter 48: The first principle of the universe is the simple One Itself, the first in every rank, and most truly One. On the sun, on nature, on intellect [Principium universi est ipsum simpliciter unum principium in quolibet ordine quod ibi est maxime unum. De sole, natura, intellectu]
`Just as division is the worst condition for all things [Sicut pessimum omnibus est divisio], dragging everything to ruin [ad exitium singulal, trahens], so union is the best condition [sic optimum est unio]: union o the parts with each other [et partium invicem] and with the whole [et ad totum], and of the whole with its cause [et totius ad causam suam], which is its origin and nature [et originem atque naturam].'
Chapter 49: The first principle of creation is unity and goodness, above intellect, life, and essence [Primum rerum principium est unitas bonitasque super intellectum, vitam, essentiam]
Chapter 50: The unity above essence; the unities within essences; the gods; the general aim of Parmenides in his hypotheses [De unitate super essentiam. De unitatibus in essentiis. De diis. De communi intentione Parmenidis in suppositionibus suis]
`Just as simple unity itself is above universal being [Sicut ipsa simpliciter unitas est super ens universum], so in the hierarchy of creation [ita in ordine rerum] the unity of every being [sua cuiusque entis unitas] is to some extent higher than its essence [quodammodo est essentia sua superior].'
Chapter 51: Plutarch's analysis of the hypotheses of Parmenides [Dispositio propositionum Parmenidis apud Plutarchum]
`That this dialogue was held to be divine among the ancients is attested by Plutarch [Dialogum hunt divinum apud veteres iudicatum, testis est Plutarchus].'
Chapter 52: The meaning of the negations and of the affirmations within the hypotheses. Which ones are dealt with and in which order [Quid significent in suppositionibus negationes. Quid affirmationes. Quae et quo ordine tractentur in eis]
`Since the first hypothesis [Quoniam vero suppositio prima] focuses attention upon the simple One Itself [colit ipsum simpliciter unum], which is higher than being [ente superius], it negates all the conditions of beings with respect to the One [ideo omnes ab eo entium conditiones negat], which is detached from all things [est enim ab omnibus absolutum], being their final principle [tanquam principium finale], a principle which is especially — even predominantly — efficient [praecipue et eminenter efficiens].'
`The first hypothesis [suppositio prima], if we are allowed to believe the ancients [si antiquis licet credere], deals with the way in which the first God creates and orders the respective hierarchies of gods [tractat quomodo primus Deus singulos deorum ordines procreat atque disponit]; the second hypothesis treats of the divine hierarchies [Secunda vero de divinis ordinibus], how they have come forth from the One [quomodo processerunt ab uno], and of each essence [et de qualibet essentia] that is conjoined by God to every unity [unicuique Deo unitati videlicet coniugata]; the third hypothesis [Tertia] deals with those souls [de animabus] which do not possess substantial divinity [Deitatem quidem ipsam substantialem non habentibus] but do have a manifest likeness to the gods [sed similitudinem ad deos expressam]; the fourth hypothesis treats of material forms [Quarta deformis materialibus], how they proceed from the gods [quomodo pro- ficiscuntur a diis], and which ones depend on which respective order of gods [et quae proprie ab unoquoque deorum ordine pendent]; the fifth hypothesis deals with primal matter [Quinta de materia prima], how it is not composed of formal unities [quomodo formalium unitatum non est compos] but depends on the unity that is above essence [sed desuper ab unitate superessentiali dependet], for the action of the first One extends right through to final materialisation [nam usque ad materiam ultimam unius primi actio provenit], which in all manner of ways sets limits to the unlimited nature of the One through particular participation in unity [interminatam illius naturam, per quandam unitatis participationem quoquomodo determinans].'
The First Hypothesis (Chapters 53-79)
Chapter 53: The Aim, the Truth, and the Arrangement of the First Hypothesis [Intentio, veritas, ordo suppositionis primae]
Chapter 54: When the characteristics of beings are negated 1 with respect to the One, this indicates that the One surpasses and creates all these [Ubi entium proprietates de uno negantur, significatur ipsum haec omnia antecellere atque procreare]
Affirmations concerning almighty God [Affirmationes circa summu Deum] are very misleading and dangerous [fallaces admodum peri- culosaeque sunt], for in our everyday affirmations we usually think of a particular type and characteristic to name and define something [solemus enim in quotidianis affirmationibus nostris certam quandam speciem proprietatemque concipere, et appellare aliquid alteri atque definire]. But to do this in relation to the First is unlawful [Hoc autem agere circl primum, nefas].
Chapter 55: On the one being. On the simple One Itself.
On the aim of Parmenides both here and in his verses.The aim and conclusion of his negations [De uno ente. De ipso simpliciter uno. De intentione Parmenidis hic et in poemate. Intentio et Epilogus negationum]
`Perhaps it would now be useful to repeat briefly [Operaepretium forte fuerit repetere breviter in praesentia] what we have said many times before [quod saepe iam diximus]: the principle of unity [rationem unitatis] is different from the principle of being [a ratione entis esse diversam].'
Chapter 56: On the universal being and its properties; and why these are negated with respect to the First. Which multiplicity is negated, and why it is negated [De universo ente et proprietatibus eius. Et quomodo negantur de primo. Et quae multitudo negatur et quare negatur]
Chapter 57: Through the negation of all multiplicity, parts and totality are negated with respect to the One: number is prior to essence, and all multiplicity partakes of unity. The first essence, life, and mind are identical [Per negationem multitudinis negantur de uno partes et totum. Numerus est ante essentiam. Omnis multitudo particeps unitatis. Idem est prima essentia, vita, mens]
Chapter 58: An opinion affirming the abstracts of abstracts with respect to God. Again, negations and relations about God are safer [Opinio affirmans abstractorum abstracta de deo. Item tutiores sunt negationes relationesque circa deum]
Chapter 59: If the One has no parts, it follows that it has no beginning, no end, no middle [Si unum non habet partes consequenter nec habet principium vel finem aut medium]
Chapter 60: In what way the One Itself is called the limitless and the limit of all [Quomodo ipsum unum dicatur infinitum, omniumque finis]
Chapter 61: How shape is negated with respect to the One, as well as straight lines and circular lines [Quomodo negatur de uno figura et rectum atque rotundum]
`Indeed, movement is the beginning of differentiation [Processus quidem discretionis principium est].'
Chapter 62: The One Itself is nowhere, because it is neither within itself nor within something else. How discrete things are said to exist of themselves or to be produced from themselves [Ipsum unum nusquam est. Quia nec est in se ipso nec in alio. Item quomodo separata dicuntur ex se
ipsis existere vel produci]
Chapter 63: How the One is said to neither move nor rest; and how movement and rest are in everything except the First [Quomodo unum neque moveri neque stare dicatur et quomodo sit motus et status in omnibus praeter primum]
`In our Theology [In Theologia nostra] we have shown [probavimus] that in everything after the First [in omni re post primum] there is a differentiation of these four [quatuor haec inter se differre]: essence, being, power, and action [essentiam, et esse, et virtutem, et actionem].'
And so the Good Itself, the One Itself [Ipsum itaque bonum unumque], creates and perfects all things, not through something else, but by its own unity and goodness [non per aliud, sed ipsa unitate bonitateque facit et perficit omnia].'
Chapter 64: The One moves neither in a circle nor in a straight line [Unum neque circulo movetur nec in rectum]
Chapter 65: How stillness is negated with respect to the One [Quomodo negatur de uno status]
Chapter 66: The five kinds of being; the three levels of negations; the ten predicates negated; a few words on the same and the different [Quinque genera entis. Tres negationum gradus. Decem praedicamenta negata. De eodem alteroque nonnihil]
Chapter 67: The One is neither different from itself nor the same as the different, but is completely free of all conditions [Unum nec a seipso alterum est, nec idem alteri, et ab omnibus conditionibus est absolutum]
Chapter 68: The One is not different from other things [Unum non est ab aliis alterum]
Chapter 69: The One is not the same as itself [Unum non est sibi ipsi idem]
Chapter 70: The One is neither similar nor dissimilar to itself or to anything [Unum nec est simile neque dissimile vel sibi vel cuique]
Chapter 71: The One is neither equal nor unequal to itself or to others [Unum nec sibi nec aliis est aequale vel inaequale]
Chapter 72: Confirmation of the above [Confirmatio superiorum]
`The principle of equality is different from the principle of the One [Alia aequalitatis alia unius ratio est], for the One is absolute [unum enim est absolutum], while equality is relative [Aequalitas relativa], since equal is related to equal [aequale enim ad aequale refertur].'
Chapter 73: In relation to itself and to other things, the One cannot be younger or older or of the same age [Unum neque iunius neque senius neque coetaneum vel ad se vel ad alia esse potest]
Chapter 74: The One Itself is above eternity and time and movement. It cannot, on any basis, be said to be within time [Ipsum unum super aeternitatem et tempus et motum est. Nec ulla ratione esse in tempore dici potest]
Chapter 75: A rule for relatives, with some confirmation of what has gone before [Relativorum regula cum confirmatione quadam superiorum]
Chapter 76: Since the One is above time, it transcends the conditions of time and of things temporal [Cum unum sit supra tempus, consequenter conditiones temporis temporaliumque excedit]
Chapter 77: The One Itself does not partake of essence; it is neither essence itself nor being itself, but is far higher [Ipsum unum nec est essentiae particeps, nec ipsa essentia nec ipsum esse. Sed longe superius]
Chapter 78: How essence, or being, is negated with respect to the One; and why the One cannot be known or named [Qua conditione negatur essentia vel esse de uno. Item quare cognosci vel nominari non possit]
Chapter 79: On the unshakeable nature of the first hypothesis. The One is higher than being [De firmitate suppositionis primae. Et quod unum ente superius]
The Second Hypothesis (Chapters 80-95)
Chapter 80: The aim of the second hypothesis [Secundae suppositionis intentio]
Chapter 81: In the same being there is the principle of the One and there is also the principle of being. The whole has parts and infmite multiplicity [Quomodo in uno ente alia sit ratio unius alia entis sit, totum panes habeat et multitudinem infmitam]
Chapter 82: Within the one being all the numbers are held by means of two and three. The numbers are prior to the development of the one being into many beings [In uno ente per binarium et ternarium omnes numeri continentur. Qui numeri distributionem entis unius in entia multa praecedunt]
Chapter 83: How essence, together with the One, is distributed in the intelligible world, and how multiplicity is either limited or unlimited [Quomodo in mundo intelligibili dividatur
essentia simul et unum, multitudoque finita vel infinita sit]
Chapter 84: Within the intelligible world the multiplicity of parts is subsumed in a double form of the whole; it has limits and a mean, as well as forms [Quomodo in mundo intelligibili partium multitudo sub gemina totius forma concluditur. Quomodo terminos mediumque habet atque figuras]
Chapter 85: The one being is within itself and within something other than itself [Quomodo unum ens in se ipso sit et in alio]
Chapter 86: The one being is always unmoving, and yet it moves [Quomodo unum ens stet semper atque moveatur]
Chapter 87: The one being is the same as itself and different from itself. Again, it is the same as other things and different from them [Unum ens est sibimet idem atque alterum. Item caeteris idem atque alterum]
Chapter 88: The one being is similar to itself and to others; it is also dissimilar to itself and to others [Unum ens et ad se ipsum et ad alia simile est atque dissimile]
`In the Philebus it is shown [In Philebo probatur] that within all things subsequent to the First [in omnibus post primum] there are simultaneously the One and multiplicity [esse unum simul atque multitudinem]. It follows that within all things [Igitur in omnibus] there are the same and the different [est idem et alterum], the convergent and the divergent [convenientia atque differentia], and therefore similarity together with dissimilarity [igitur similitudo simul et dissimilitudo quaedam].'
Chapter 89: How the one being touches and is touched; but it neither touches nor is touched insofar as it belongs to itself and to other things [Quomodo unum ens tangit et tangitur. Neque tangit, neque tangitur, quantum ad se et ad alia pertinet]
Chapter 90: The one being is both equal to itself and unequal to itself; it is also equal to others and unequal to others [Quomodo unum ens sit aequale, vel inaequale sibi, vel aliis]
`Now anyone who does not know how to make use of such rigorous exercises [Qui autem discretiones eiusmodi uti nescit] is not a Platonist [non est Platonicus] and never uses the intellect [nec unquam utitur intellectu].'
`Moreover, as we have indicated from the outset [Praeterea quemadmodum significavimus ab initio], he (Parmenides) conducts the whole discussion [totam disputationem agit] as an exercise in logic [ut logicam exercitationem quandam]. But in this form of dialectic [ Sub hac vero Dialectica forma] he often commingles mystical teachings too [mistica quoque dogmata frequenter admiscet], not in a continuous unbroken sequence [non ubique prorsus continuata], but sporadically [sed alicubi sparsa], as befits an exercise in logic [quatenus admittit exercitatio logical.'
Chapter 91: The one being, in relation to itself and to all else, is numerically the same. It is also both more and less [Quomodo unum ens sit numero par: et plus et minus ad se ipsum atque caetera]
Chapter 92: How the one being, in relation both to itself and to everything else, may be described as older and younger and of the same age [Quomodo unum ens dicatur senius et iunius atque coetaneum ad se ipsum atque caetera] `Remember, too [Memento rursus], as we have advised you to do from the beginning [quemadmodum admonuimus ab initio], that Parmenides is here taking up the divine soul, in addition to the intellectual nature and the animate nature [Parmenidem hic ultra naturam intellectualem, animalem, iam assumere animamque divinam].'
Chapter 93: How older becoming is distinguished from younger becoming, and also how older being is distinguished from younger being. Concluding words on the one being [Quomodo distinguitur senius iuniusve fieri, rursus senius iuniusve esse. Ac de uno ente conclusio]
Chapter 94: A summary or review of the second hypothesis. On distinguishing the divinities [Summa vel Epilogus suppositionis secundae. De distinctionibus divinorum]
Chapter 95: The distinctions made in the summary or review. On the one being; on multiplicity; on limitless number; and on the orders of the divinities [Summae huius vel Epilogi distinctiones. De uno ente multitudine, numero, infinito, ordinibus deorum]
The Third Hypothesis
Chapter 1: The aim of the hypothesis. How the soul may be called being and also non-being. On movement and time within the soul. On its eternal quality. How it manifests all things through some change in itself [Tertia suppositio. Intentio suppositionis. Quomodo anima ens dicatur atque non ens. De motu et tempore in anima. Item de quodam eius aeterno. Rursus quomodo commutatione quadam sui ipsius omnia repraesentet]
`Just as the soul consists of opposites [quemadmodum anima componitur oppositis], as we have shown in the Timaeus [ut probavimus in Timaeo], so the third hypothesis [ita suppositio tertia], which examines the soul [tractans animam], is a mixture of affirmations and negations [ex affirmationibus negationibusque miscetur].'
The Third Hypothesis
Chapter 2: Why the celestial soul moves and makes an orbit around the steadfast mind. How many movements of the soul there are. The number of movements and the stillness within time. Concerning the mean between movements [Qua ratione caelestis anima circa mentem stabilem moveatur, agatque circuitum. Quot sint motus animae. Quod motus et quies in tempore; et de medio inter motus]
The Third Hypothesis
Chapter 3: A summary of the third hypothesis: or concluding words on the One, multiplicity, being, non-being, movement, stillness, moment, time, and oppositeness. The movement towards movement and towards stillness [Summa suppositionis tertiae vel Epilogus. De uno, multitudine, ente, non ente, motu, statu, momento, tempore, oppositione. Motus ad motum atque statum]
The Fourth Hypothesis
Chapter 1: The aim of the fourth hypothesis. The whole before the parts. The whole after the parts. Divine matters. Natural matters. The relation of the parts to the whole [Suppositio quarta. Quartae suppositionis intentio. Totum ante partes. Totum post partes. Res divinae. Res naturales. Relatio partium ad totum]
`The three previous hypotheses, as we have said elsewhere [Tres, ut alibi diximus, praecedentes suppositiones], contemplate the One Itself rather than all else [unum ipsum potius quam alia contemplare], and they relate the One to itself first of all, and then relate it to all else [illud ad se in primis, deinde ad caetera quoque comparaverunt].'
The Fourth Hypothesis
Chapter 2: On multiplicity and its relation to the One.
On the unlimited and on limit. On the elements of beings. On other things that are mutually opposed [De multitudine, quomodo se habeat ad unum. De infinito et termino entium elementis. De caeteris inter se oppositis]
The Fifth Hypothesis
Chapter 1: The aim of the fifth hypothesis. On the One. On things separate from the One. Whether the One is in accord with them. On omniform being. On formless matter [Suppositio quinta. Quintae suppositionis intentio. De uno. De aliis ab uno. Utrum unum cum his conveniat. De omniformi ente. De informi material
The Fifth Hypothesis
Chapter 2: Confirmation of the above, and how matter has no formal conditions within itself. Also, where it comes from, how it is formed, and how it moves [Confirmatio superiorum, et quomodo materia formales in se conditioner nullas habeat. Item unde sit, vel formetur vel moveatur]
The Sixth Hypothesis
Chapter 1: The aim of the sixth hypothesis. In what way Parmenides is poetical. More on being and non-being [Sexta suppositio. Sextae suppositionis intentio. Et quomodo Parmenides poeticus. Item de ente atque non ente]
Parmenides not only expounded the mysteries of philosophy as a philosopher but also sang them in verse as a divine poet [Parmenides non philosophus tantum, sed etiam poeta divinus, carminibus philosophica mysteria cecinit]. And in this dialogue, too, he plays the part of the poet [Atque in hoc dialogo agit quoque poetam]. For, like a poet, he cultivates the number nine [Novenarium enim quasi poeta colit numerum], which, as it is said, is sacred to the Muses [musis (ut dicitur) consecratum]. By means of nine hypotheses [Per novem sane suppositiones], which are like the nine Muses [quasi per novem musas], the guides to knowledge [scientiae duces], he leads us to truth and to Apollo [ad veritatem Apollinemque nos ducit]; for while he is moving towards the simple One Itself [dum enim ad ipsum provehit simpliciter unum] he seems to be advancing I towards Apollo [ad Apollinem promovere videtur], the name by which the followers of Pythagoras mystically designate the simple One Itself [Quo nomine Pythagorici sui solent ipsum simpliciter unum mystice designate]; for Apollo, as Plato and his followers teach, signifies the simple Absolute devoid of multiplicity [Quippe cum Apollon (ut Platonici quoque cum Platone docent) absolutorem significat simplicem a multitudine segregatum].'
`So far he has gone through five hypotheses that assume the One to be [Hactenus quinque suppositiones si unum sit peregit]. But from this point onwards [Deinceps vero] he adds four hypotheses that assume the One not to be [quattuor si unum non sit adiunget].'
`Finally, in this sixth hypothesis, he imagines the one being, the intellectual , nature, not to be [Fingit denique in hac suppositione sexta unum ens, id est naturam intellectualem ita non esse]; but in such a way that it partly is and partly is not [ut partim quidem sit, partim vero non sit]. But in the seventh hypothesis [In septima vero] he is more at liberty to imagine that it absolutely is not [ licentius fingit omnino non esse], for he is clearly in a position to understand the absurd conclusions that arise from both propositions [quid utrumque sequatur absurdi facile deprensurus].'
The Sixth Hypothesis
Chapter 2: How the One, which is called non-being, may also in some way be understood as being. How this kind of non-being is recognised. Concerning the soul [Quomodo unum dum dicitur non ens, possit etiam quodammodo ut ens intelligi. Et quomodo non ens eiusmodi cognoscatur, et de anima]
The Sixth Hypothesis
Chapter 3: How the One which is called non-being is the nature of the soul; why it is subject to movement; knowledge concerns this non-being; to it belong change, multiplicity, and characteristic features [Quomodo unum quod dicitur non ens sit natura animae, qua ratione mobilis est, de hoc non ente est scientia, huic competunt alteritas et multitudo, et signa significativa]
The Sixth Hypothesis
Chapter 4: Around this non-being One stand dissimilarity, similarity, inequality, equality, largeness, smallness, and, in some measure, essence. Also concerning the soul [Circa hoc unum non ens existunt dissimilitudo, similitudo, inaequalitas, aequalitas, magnitudo, parvitas. Essentia quodammodo et de anima]
The Sixth Hypothesis
Chapter 5: Around this non-being One exist being and not-being, movement, change, and annihilation, together with their opposites. More on the soul [Circa hoc unum non ens existunt esse atque non esse, motus, alteratio, interitus atque horum opposita et de anima]
The Seventh Hypothesis
The aim of the seventh hypothesis. Concerning the levels of the One, of being, and of non-being. How all things are negated with respect to the One and with respect to non-being [Suppositio septima. Septimae suppositionis intentio. De gradibus unius et entis atque non entis. Quomodo negantur omnia, de uno atque de non ente]
`In the seventh hypothesis [in suppositione septima] we consider the one being not only to have fallen of itself into a soul subject to movement [unum ens non solum in animam per se mobilem degeneratum excogitamus], and not only to have been cast into a flux that is dependent on something external [nec solum in fluxum ab alio dependentem praecipitatum], but also to have been finally released into total non-being [sed in ipsum omnino non ens denique resolutum]; strictly speaking, to have fallen into nothingness [Proprie forsan in nihilum iam prolapsum], but metaphorically to have been restored, as I might say, to the simple One Itself [metaphorice vero in ipsum simpliciter unum (ut ita dixerim) restitutum].'
Tor my part [Ego equidem], I strive as far as I can to harmonise individual items and to deduce possibilities [singula ferme pro viribus accommodare studeo, et probabilia facere], so that, when he makes suppositions, his suppositions do not seem rash [saltem ne ubi fingit, temere fingere videatur]. For your part [Tu vero], learn to understand the reasonings on both sides in any subject [disce in materia qualibet et utrinque arguments captare] and to distinguish the two meanings [et utrobique distinguere sensus], and thus avoid being obliged to admit impossibilities [ne impossibilia cogaris admittere].'
The Eighth Hypothesis
Chapter 1: The aim of the eighth hypothesis. If mind is removed and soul remains, soul will be deceptive and will abide in the realm of shadows [Octava suppositio. Octavae suppositionis intentio. Si mens auferatur supersitque anima, haec erit mendax et versabitur circa umbras]
The Eighth Hypothesis
Chapter 2: If you remove the One, all things will cease; they will be shadowy multitudes; the inconceivably infinite will merge with their opposites about the same; and faltering imagination will be ever deceitful [Si substuleris unum, res ipsae desinent. Umbratiles erunt turbae, innumerabiliter infinitae, contingent apposita circa idem. Imaginatio ambigua semper erit mendax]
The Ninth Hypothesis: The aim of the ninth hypothesis [Suppositio nona. Nonae suppositionis intentio]
After such words [Post haec eiusmodi] the conclusion of the whole book is reached [affertur totius libri conclusio]. If the simple One Itself [Si ipsum simpliciter unum], from which arises the one being and from which comes each particular everywhere [a quo est ens unum. Ex quo tandem est ubique quodlibet unum], be removed from the universe [ex universo tollatur], there will be absolutely nothing anywhere [nihil penitus usquam erit].'
Commentary on Plato's Symposium on Love by Marsilio Ficino,
translated by Sears Jayne (Spring Publications) Second
Revised edition, with an extraordinarily rich bibliographical
appendix covering the literature in many languages pertaining to
this work and its influence.
This great treatise is considered the most influential philosophical work coming out of the Italian Rennaissance. Edward S. Casey writes, "Ficino argues for the divinity of love while being equally alert to its daemonic dimentions. Along the way, he offers delightful insights into the actual practice of love. Sears Jayne's lucid translation brings into elegant English the tenor of the amazing opus on the soul and spirit and body of love."
One of the most accurate assessments of Ficino's De amore ever written is a statement by one of Ficino's contemporaries, a professor of Aristotelean philosophy named Agostino Nifo (c. 1473-1546), who says of it: "Amplifying Plato's views on love partly by allegorizing Plato and partly by adding to him, Ficino made a not unskillful compilation of many different ideas about love.") The best way to go about a first reading of the De amore is to think of it exactly as Nifo suggests, not as a commentary on the Symposium, but as a compilation of ideas about love.
The main argument of the De amore as a treatise on love may be paraphrased as follows: the cosmos consists of a hierarchy of being extending from God (unity) to the physical world (multiplicity). In this hierarchy every level evolves from the level above it in a descending emanation from God and desires to rise to the level above it in an ascending return to God. This desire to return to one's source is called love, and the quality in the source which attracts this desire is called beauty. The human soul, as a part of the hierarchy of being, is involved in this same process of descent from God and return to God; in human beings the desire to procreate inferior beings is called earthly love, and the desire to rise to higher levels of being is called heavenly love. Human love is therefore a good thing because in both of its phases, descending and ascending, it is part of a natural cosmic process in which all creatures share.
Ficino decided to use the Symposium of Plato as his vehicle to express the arc of human and divine love. It was an appropriate vehicle because it was on his subject and because it was new; his was the first complete translation of the dialogue ever written. It was because of the convention of the commentary as a substitute for the discursive treatise that Ficino wrote his treatise on love in the form of a commentary, and it was because of the relevance of the Symposium to his own subject, Socratic love, that he chose to attach his commentary to the Symposium. But, as in the case of the banquet fiction, Ficino does not carry out the commentary fiction systematically because both fictions are there only for the sake of the argument which he wanted to advance, his defense of human love.
By cosmic love Ficino means the cycle of emanation and reversion in the cosmos as described by Proclus, the Pseudo-Dionysius, and the author of the Liber de causis. This cosmos is a series of concentric circles, with the highest form of being, the abstract One, at the center, and successively lower forms emanating outward to the physical world which forms the outermost circle. Though Ficino had doubtless read and probably used all three of these authors, I think it very likely that his immediate model was the Convivio (or Symposium) of Dante. Ficino had begun his Platonic studies in 1456 at the behest of a leading Dantist, Cristoforo Landino, and it is likely that Landino suggested the Convivio to him as a model. Dante's Convivio, like Ficino's De amore, is a banquet, a philosophical feast in which Dante celebrates as his key idea the cosmic nature of love. He describes the universe as a hierarchy in which every level of being is united in a desire to ascend to God.
The highest desire of everything, given to it by nature in the beginning, is to return to its own source. Since God is the source of our souls and made them in his image, our souls desire above all to return to God. (4.12.14-19)
The universe is made coherent by the cosmic love for God which pervades all creation:
Love is the heartbeat of the whole universe. Everything participates in it according to its own special love, from simple bodies, to composite bodies, to plants, to animals, to man. (3.3.2-11)
Dante's immediate source for this vision may have been the PseudoDionysius's Divine Names, but the same conception also appears in the Liber de causis, which Dante cites by name:
Every substantial form proceeds from its own first cause, which is God, as the Liber de causis says. Therefore its being derives from God, it is preserved by God, and it naturally desires to be united to God, to strengthen its own being. (3.2.4-7)
Dante's stress on the personality of God as the source of the outpouring of being and the object of every creature's search for being is certainly Christian rather than Proclean. Ficino, too, can sound very Christian (e.g., the chapter heading of VII. 1 7), but in places he sounds neither Christian nor Proclean, but Plotinian, as where he stresses the point that the One is above being (e.g., 1.3). In VI.1 6 we are told that the stages of love are: World Body, World Soul, Angelic Mind, and God; but in VII. 1 3 that the levels are Nature, Opinion, Reason, and Intellect. In still other places (e.g., IV.3-4), Ficino speaks as if man were not a participant in the ebb and flow of cosmic love at all, but only a spectator who stands apart and tries to make up his mind whether to love God or himself. In still other places, we hear that not all creatures are involved in the process of cosmic love after all: the artist, for example, loves not God but the idea of order (III.3); the wolf loves not God but himself; and on that account hates lambs (III.4), which are presumably beneath him in the hierarchy of being and thus constitute an exception to the Proclean rule that higher orders desire to create lower orders, not to destroy them. In short, the concept of cosmic love in the De amore is not based on any single authority and indeed is not any one concept. What Ficino is trying to do in the De amore is to defend the propriety of personal love by showing that it is merely a natural part of a perfectly respectable cosmic process; he is simply trying to persuade the reader, by celebrating the universality of love in the world, that love is a good thing: "So my friends, I urge and beg you to give yourselves to love without reservation, for it is not base but divine" (11.8).
As we have seen, Ficino had at his disposal in writing the De amore three principal groups of authorities, the "Latin" Platonists, the Scholastic theologians, and the "Greek" Platonists whom he had just translated. In writing about the human soul, Ficino skips eclectically from one to another among these three sources.
On the history of the soul, for example, he states both the heretical Platonic view that the soul descends from a previous existence (IV.4) and the orthodox Christian view that the soul is created by God directly on earth and rises toward bliss in heaven (IV.5). In several places he reviews the whole history of the soul in Platonic terms, covering its descent and its ascent (e.g., VII. 1 3-14), but he also gives a Thomistic account of the soul's pursuit of divine virtues (IV.5-6) which is no less vivid than his Plotinian account of the soul's "upward way" through the hypostases (VI. 1 8-1 9). On the question of the soul's faculties, he is usually Aristotelean: thus in VI.6 he discusses the process of perception in terms of the Aristotelean outer and inner senses, and his conception of the imagination10 accords loosely with those of Avicenna and Albert. Elsewhere (e.g., VI.1 5) he says that "Intellect is not a natural and inherent faculty of the soul." Still elsewhere (VII. 1 3) he distinguishes Intellect from Reason as parts of the soul, in the usual Platonic way. At the critical point in the description of the soul's functions, where he must say whether the soul constructs its universals by abstraction, or rather merely compares particulars with universals which are innate, he says, "there immediately appears in the Intellect another species of this image" (VII. 1).
In Ficino's earlier defenses of love (the De divino furore and De voluptate), he had not found it necessary to discuss beauty at all, because his major sources there, Proclus and his heirs, had defined love as a desire to return to the cause, to recover the more perfect being from which all creatures have degenerated in the process of being created. But both of the Greek authors whom Ficino had been reading more recently, Plato and Plotinus, define love as the desire for beauty)! Thus in the De amore, beauty becomes an important subject. Unfortunately, as soon as Ficino tried to define beauty, he found himself once more confronting a disagreement between the Platonists and the Aristoteleans. The Platonists defined beauty as an abstract universal existing separately in the mind of God, whereas the Aristoteleans defined beauty as an abstraction generated by the individual human mind from many particular sense experiences. Moreover, most medieval and renaissance theorists,12 from Bonaventure to Alberti, believed that beauty was a form which was given to matter, an order or arrangement imposed upon objects of experience, whereas the Platonists held that beauty was an abstract quality in which physical objects participated in various degrees.
Ficino's solution to these differences of opinion is, as usual, to present them all and let the reader take his choice. Thus in the opening section of the De amore (1.3-4), he gives as the basic working definition of beauty simply the commonsense definition which he knew that his artist friends would approve, the pragmatic Aristotelean definition employed by Alberti, that beauty is a way of ordering experience. Elsewhere, however (V.5), he also gives the Platonic definition of beauty as participation in an undefinable Ideal. In still another place (V.6), he tries to combine the two concepts by drawing an analogy with the concept of infused virtue in Aquinas: it is true, he says, that beauty is a quality or grace infused into a thing by God, by an act of grace, but a thing can be prepared to receive this grace by arranging its parts, by imposing arrangement, order, or harmony upon it; though the virtue of beauty is actually an infused virtue, it will be given only to objects which have acquired the natural virtue of order and harmony. Just as the idea of qualities infused by grace is not original with Ficino, so his application of the idea to the particular problem of the nature of beauty is not his own either. It may be found in the same work which we have already cited as one of his sources for the concept of cosmic love, the Convivio of Dante.
In the Platonic theology of the school of Proclus, love is conceived of as a cosmic force in which individual human beings participate willy-nilly, along with all other creatures, falling and rising, emanating from and reverting to the One, just as all the rest of the universe does. The Proclus school sees man as merely one of the participants in the universal two-stage cosmic process, following first the urge to be a cause oneself and then the urge to return to one's own cause. Human love is in effect indistinguishable from its cosmic matrix, and the individual will is not really free. The human soul is merely a spark of light emanating from the divine sun. In some places the De amore appears to endorse this view:
. . . the ray of beauty which is both Plenty and the father of love, has the power to be reflected back to what it came from, and it draws the lover with it. But it descends first from God, and passes through the Angel and the Soul, as if they were made of glass; and from the Soul it easily emanates into the body prepared to receive it. Then from that body of a younger man it shines out, especially through the eyes, the transparent windows of the soul. It flies onward through the air, and penetrating the eyes of an older man, pierces his soul, kindles his appetite, then leads the wounded soul and the kindled appetite to their healing and cooling, respectively, while it carries them with it to the same place from which it had itself descended, step-by-step, indeed, first to the body of the beloved, second to the Soul, third, to the Angel, and finally to God, the first origin of this splendor. (VI.10)
In other places, however, Ficino appears to endorse a view more like that of Plato and Plotinus: the soul begins in heaven, falls into the body, and then reascends to heaven, but the individual soul is free to eschew the desire for the body which causes it to fall and free also to decide when, or if, it will turn to the desire for ideal beauty, which causes it to rise. That is, once born into the flesh, man is free to choose between earthly love and heavenly love:
He who uses love properly certainly praises the beauty of the body, but through that contemplates the higher beauty of the soul, the Mind, and God, and admires and loves that more strongly. (11.7)
In still other places Ficino appears to be thinking in terms of Aquinas's view of love as a matter of choosing between love of self and love of God:
so that we shall seem to have first worshipped God in things, in order later to worship things in God, and to worship things in God for this reason, in order to recover ourselves in Him above all, and in loving God we shall seem to have loved ourselves. (VI.19)
Thus the section on human love in the De amore follows the same method as the other four sections: it presents different views of human love without trying to argue out their relative merits or to resolve the obvious contradictions among them. Here, as elsewhere, Ficino prefers to say, "We think that both of these opinions are true, but each for a different reason" (VI.1).
Of the three main kinds of love, the last kind, "simple" (i.e., physical) love, is given the most emphatic position, and it is also described in the least ambiguous way, giving a mainly traditional physiological account of the causes and cures of love considered as a disease of the spirits and blood.14 But even here Ficino introduces one new authority, namely Lucretius. Able at last to make some public use of the Lucretian studies of his youth, he cites Lucretius six times in support of the argument that physical love must be a good thing because it is physiologically natural.