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Ficino's Platonic Theology

Platonic Theology by Marsilio Ficino, [Theologia Platonica. English & Latin]English translation by Michael J.B. Allen with John Warden; Latin text edited by James Hankins with William Bowen. Includes bibliographical references and index (The I Tatti Renaissance library; 2: Harvard University Press) Contents:
Volume 1. Books I–IV.
Volume 2.  Books V–VIII.
Volume 3. Books IX–XI.
Volume 4. Books XII–XIV.
Volume 5 Books XV–XVI.
Volume 6. Books XVII-XVIII.

This is six-volume edition and translation of Ficino's eighteen-book Platonic Theology. The final volume includes Ficino’s brief Introduction or argumentum which was probably written as a report about the work in progress (see Note on the Text). As in the previous volumes, Michael Allen is responsible for the English translation and notes, and James Hankins for editing the Latin text, though each has gone over the other's work. While some corrections to the first five volumes have come to their attention and are listed in the Corrigenda in the final vol­ume, it is predictable that other scholars will  eventually enrich our understand­ing of this monumental work's varied sources and debts, particu­larly, one suspects, to Aristotle, Augustine, Proclus, Averroes, and the Scholastics, as they look beyond the network of identifications attempted here.

They gave us the courage to begin what we knew would be a long and arduous climb up one of the loftiest peaks of Renaissance thought. The result for us at least has been an alpine view of horizons as far as Mt. Ventoux, of rea­soning's escarpments and faith's plunging ravines. Our hope now is that others will explore this whole magnificent terrain.

As the structure of the Platonic Theology is only partly reflected in its book and chapter divisions, so the translators provided an outline of the work's overall plan in the 6th final volume, following for the most part cues given in the text itself.

Review of volume one

This present volume of PLATONIC THEOLOGY is the first of five planned volumes: Volume 2 will contain books 5-8; Volume 3, books 9-12; Volume 4, books 13-15; and Volume 5, books 16-18, along with some attendant texts. Each volume will contain its own notes and index of names, and the final volume will include a comprehensive index of names and subjects, an index of sources, and a concordance to the Basel edition of 1576 and the edition of Marcel.

Platonic Theology: Books 1-4 is a visionary work of the Florentine scholar-­philosopher-magus, Marsilio Ficino, who was largely responsible for the Renaissance revival of Plato. A student of the Neoplatonic schools of Plotinus and Proclus, Ficino was committed to reconciling Platonism with Christianity, in the hope that such a reconciliation would initiate a spiritual revival and a return of the golden age. Of all of Ficino's writings, none had a greater impact than PLATONIC THEOLOGY, which contains Ficino's philosophy of the soul in its purest form.

The great philosopher and "doctor of souls" Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) was the most important intellectual figure in the circle of Lorenzo de'Medici during the apogee of the Florentine Renaissance. After studying medicine and philosophy and preparing for the priesthood, he undertook to learn Greek. With encouragement from the Italian banker and statesman Cosimo de'Medici, Lorenzo's grandfather, Ficino made the first complete translation of Plato's writings into Latin (1463-69) and translated as well other central works of ancient Platonism, including the works of Plotinus and Dionysius the Areopagite. Ficino devoted his life to reviving the philosophy of Plato and gathered around him a group of distinguished disciples and devotees sometimes referred to as the "Florentine Academy." He believed that study of the writings of Plato would lead to a renewal and transformation of Christianity, and would help individuals acquire greater awareness of the soul within them and a deeper connection to the world of nature without.

Of all of Ficino's writings, none had a greater impact than PLATONIC THEOLOGY. Written in the early 1470s, it was the first major system of theology in the Western tradition constructed primarily around the study of the soul. A product of its Renaissance Italian and, in particular, Florentine context, it is a bold, sophisticated attempt to appropriate the therapeutic tradition in ancient philosophy for the intellectuals, the forward wits of the Florentine Republic, and its governing elites. In forming an extended argument for the immortality of the human soul, Platonic Theology is a complex blend of medieval scholastic philosophy, Augustinianism, and late ancient Platonism, and draws as well upon more esoteric magical and astrological sources such as Hermes Trismegistus. Ficino considered Platonic Theology to be his magnum opus and it is considered by many modern scholars to be the most characteristic work of Renaissance philosophy. 

The turn to metaphysics thus made Florentine Platonism a phenomenon unique in the history of philosophy. Of the factors that led to this development, the weightiest was perhaps the need to formulate a religious creed which was broader than that of medieval Latin Christianity. This need was felt at Florence in a special way. From the time of Cosimo de' Medici the horizons of the city were no longer limited to the Italian peninsula. Her growing fleet and profitable Turkish trade made her increasingly a challenge to the interests of Venice in the Levant. The Council of Florence had made the city the meeting‑place of eastern and western religious convictions ‑ as Cosimo had foreseen when he brought ought the Council to the city. The sight ‑ in the streets and squares of the c it ‑of richly attired eastern dignitaries and bearded Byzantine prelates attended by by Moslem and Moorish servants gave the question of the agreement between philosophy and religion a new urgency.

The traditional scholastic metaphysics of being, which had experienced a rebirth because of the outcome of the Council of Basle, was incapable of meeting this challenge. The victory of the papacy over conciliarism was accompanied by a narrowing of the Catholic vision and a return to an official metaphysics meant to supply a guarantee for the Latin clergy, view of itself as the unique interpreter of revelation. On the other hand, the nominalism which flourished in northern universities, by denying the possibility of man's knowledge of universal concepts, rendered any port philosophical justification of revealed doctrines ‑ doctrines like that of t immortality of the human soul ‑impossible. At the same time, t Averroist Aristotelianism that had grown up in Italy had a secular character and tended to disregard the religious dimension in philosophical problems. Although the professors in the arts faculties had come increasingly to concern themselves with questions like that of man's immortality, the orientation of their teaching was towards the study of medicine and paid little attention to ecclesiastical concerns. Furthermore, their treatment of the problem of the soul was not able to meet the exalted demands of the Renaissance idea of man's transcendent dignity since the doctrine of the soul belonged, in accordance with the Aristotelian classification of the sciences, not to the science of immaterial reality but to physics.

An approach was needed which avoided the fideism of the nominalists, the secularism of the Averroists and the clericalism behind the Christian Aristotelianism of the Thomists. Because of the notion that the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle were opposed, Ficino sought an alternative to these Aristotelianisms in Platonic metaphysics, he proposed a very subtle reading of Plato, a reading that not only insisted ‑ as Pletho and Bessarion had done ‑ on the basic agreement between Christian theology and the philosophical tradition to which Plato belonged, but also stressed in accord with the Hermetica ‑ the harmony of cosmic processes and the animate nature of the universe. For Ficino God is the One beyond being. He is the perfect Truth who collects into the ineffable simplicity of his own nature the endless multiplicity of the ideal archetypes of things. He is the infinite Good who diffuses himself in all things and remains present, more interior to them than they are to themselves. The universe that emanates from God constitutes a hierarchy in which each being has its place according to its degree of perfection, a hierarchy descending through the orders of angelic minds and rational souls to corporeal forms and unformed matter. God pours the ideas of all things into the angelic mind. Mind generates the reasons for governing things in soul. Soul generates forms in matter. The entire cosmos is an active, living being. Its Soul possesses as many seminal reasons as there are ideas in Mind. By way of these reasons Soul generates the forms of material things. The world‑soul is united to the body of the world by spirit, a fifth, ethereal essence, containing all the qualities of the four elements. Through spirit the divine power passes from the celestial spheres to the sublunar world. The human soul, thus situated between time and eternity, participates in the nature of the universal soul. Like the world‑soul, it is joined to a corruptible body by the unifying power of spirit, the soul's ethereal vehicle and immortal garment, the seat of imagination and the instrument of perception and bodily movement. Man is a microcosm, imitating God with unity, the angels with mind, soul with reason, brute animals with sensation, plants with nutrition and inanimate things simple being. He is the true bond of all things, the knot tying the world together, who can ascend in thought from the forms evident to the senses to the world‑soul, from the seminal reasons in Soul to Mind and from the ideas in Mind to the Good itself. 

Ficino's attempt to formulate a Platonic metaphysics which would support the Christian doctrine of God ran counter to the Thomistic apologetics which the papacy had made its own after the Council of Basle, Ficino's diffidence saved him from condemnation. In spite ‑ or perhaps because ‑ of the originality of his project, Ficino seems to have been very hesitant about the reception his ideas would find. Not only did he take a great deal of time to complete his translations and commentaries, but the publication of his works was often long delayed after their completion. He seems especially to have wanted to have his project seen not as something new, but rather as continuing a long tradition of Platonism. Towards the end of his life, in a letter to a friend who had requested instruction about Platonic philosophy, he sought to relate his writings to a distinguished line of Latin Platonists: Augustine, Boethius, Chalcidius and Macrobius in the patristic period; Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus among the medievals. He presented his versions of Plato and Platonist authors as supplementing the medieval translations of Pseudo-Dionysius, the Liber de causis, Avicebron and Avicenna, as well as the translations of Proclus made by Moerbeke in the thirteenth century. In his list of Platonic works he included both Bessarion's In calumniatorem and `quaedam speculationes' of Nicholas of Cusa, wanting apparently to have these two cardinals appear as underwriting the orthodoxy of his own approach. The omissions he makes in the letter lead to the same conclusion. No mention is made of Origen or Pletho, of Lull or the writers of the School of Chartres, no doubt because of scholastic reservations about their teaching.

It was certainly for a different reason that Ficino made no reference to Thomas Aquinas in this history. In his Theologia platonica he had used Thomas' Contra gentiles extensively and extended, as Thomas had done, the Aristotelian notions of act and potency to explain the finitude of participated being. Both he and Thomas wanted to show the fundamental agreement between philosophy and Christian doctrine, but their approaches differed radically. Although Thomas had made much use of Neoplatonic sources, he tended increasingly to distance himself from the platonici as the incompatibility between Platonic philosophy and the apologetics he had based on Aristotle became clear to him. He had sought to show that revelation was necessary because, although philosophy could demonstrate the existence of God and man's immortality, knowledge of God's essence and man's true destiny was beyond its comprehension and belonged to the realm of supernatural theology. It was this separation of philosophy from theology that had made scholasticism abstract and intellectualistic and led to the introduction‑so repugnant to the Byzantines at the Council of Florence‑of `cosmic' or worldly questions into the salvific science of theology.

Ficino's intention was to substitute `Platonic theology' for this `Christian philosophy'. Against the Thomists of the period following the Council of Basle, whose Aristotelianism was aimed at supplying reasons for submission to papal authority, he sought to provide `Platonic reasons' supporting Christianity, for those‑not only Latin and Byzantine Christians, but also Turkish Moslems ‑ who could not accept a religion on authority alone .59 He saw the Platonic theology he proposed as a pre‑Christian adumbration of supernatural revelation. Just as God had granted to the Hebrews the wisdom which Moses brought down from Sinai, so also he raised up among the pagans philosophers like Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Zoroaster and Pythagoras who had anticipated‑however partially‑the truths of the Christian faith. Plato was the Attic Moses who inherited this pristine theology. Far from separating philosophy and religion, Plato brought together in his own person both the philosopher and the priest. Although he remained on the level of the Mosaic law, his teaching foreshadowed Christian revelation. He was able, moreover, to support his teaching with Pythagorean and Socratic reasons accessible to all men. The Platonic theology was therefore a religious doctrine inherent in man's nature. Although it had ‑ like Judaism ‑ been irrevocably superseded by Christianity, it offered the best introduction to the religion which had been supernaturally revealed to man in Christ. Its true heirs were John the Evangelist, Dionysius the Areopagite and Augustine. The later platonici Plotinus in a pre­eminent way ‑had penetrated into many of the secrets of Plato's text, but, in the final analysis, they represented a heretical current in Platonism that left the main stream after it had become Christian. Because they did not recognize the equality of the word with God, they were unable to understand the myth of the Phaedrus. Behind Plato's charioteer was Christ himself, leading angels and men to God. Christ is the world‑soul in whom all individual human souls participate. It is his Incarnation that makes man the knot, the link, holding the world together. Ficino concluded with a new dynamic understanding of the idea that man is the imago Dei: God became man so that man might become God.

The Neoplatonic inspiration of this world‑view is evident. Following Plotinus’ division of reality into a hierarchical series of realms or spheres of being emanating from a transcendent One, Ficino proposed a set of five ontological hypostases: the One, Mind, Soul, Quality (forms in matter) and Body. As in Plotinus, Ficino's metaphysics centred on the relationship of man to the divine, that is, of Soul to the One, a relationship mediated by the intelligible‑intellectual world of the ideal archetypes of things, that is, by Mind. Nevertheless, Ficino made profound changes in this Platonic theology. His God is not the absolutely impersonal One, who, blessed in his solitude, cares not for the world which proceeds from him. Ficino's God is a personal God who knows himself and all things in himself as their first cause. Although he saw an anticipation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to Plato's triad of unity, truth and goodness in the act of creation, Ficino rejected any attempt to assimilate Plotinus' first three hypostases to the Father, Son and Spirit of Christian theology. Because Mind, which is the corner‑stone of Plotinus' metaphysics, is not of the same substance as the One, but rather subordinate to it‑as is also Soul to Mind ‑Ficino broke with the Plotinian concept, assigning some of Mind's attributes to God, others to the angels. In his view, the status of Mind as supreme thinker and supreme thought and as creator of the universe belongs to the One. Moreover, Ficino does not devaluate finite being as Neoplatonic metaphysics does. Although he speaks of things as emanating from God, he thinks of emanation as an act that has its roots in God's free goodness. God has created the world not by necessity of nature, but in accordance with a certain purpose of his will. God's relationship to things is not subject to the determinism implied by emanation, but is contingent on his love of the world. Love not only ascends from man to God, but also descends from on high. God loves the world as his creature and, as such, the world is worthy of love. Ficino's hierarchy of being is, accordingly, not static in the sense that an ontological gulf separates its spheres. For the philosopher of the Florentine Academy, all things are interrelated. The universe has a dynamic unity and its various degrees and parts are bound together by active affinities.

The specifically humanistic character of Ficino's approach‑setting it off from that of the ancient Neoplatonists‑appears most clearly in his doctrine of Soul. Whereas in Plotinus the world‑soul is simply the prime individual instance in the generic category of soul, Ficino identified Soul with the world‑soul and maintained that individual human souls participated in its nature. As the universal bond of things, Soul has the role of mediating between the ideal and material worlds. The world‑soul impresses the seminal reasons which it possesses as forms on the corporeal world. The forms are conveyed from the celestial spheres to the sublunar world by the spirit of the world. The seminal reasons in things are conceived as active powers, as individual spirits or deities ruling the celestial signs. The signs are the reservoirs in which these powers are stored . Man's task ‑ the task of the human soul ‑ is to perfect himself and the world in which he lives. To this purpose, he can make use of the seminal powers in things. The arts he has invented are founded on the universal harmony that exists in the world. They seek to exploit the natural affinities and occult qualities in things. The physician, for example, seeks to bring together celestial influences in the medicines he prescribes in order to effect favorable physical dispositions in the human body. The influences transmitted by the signs and planets can Also work on man's imagination and enable him to produce poetry, music and works of art. The arts thus give man magical power over nature. They have been bestowed on him by the spirits ruling the heavens. By listening to God's voice in the seminal powers of things, man is able to transform the world. This type of magic works through the spirit of the world and is good. There is another magic that is illicit, because it seeks to operate through the soul of the world and involves demons. But natural magic ministers to the powers of nature and wants to assist the world in its tendency to perfection. It is, therefore, the most sublime part of natural philosophy.5 n

Ficino's conception of the power of Soul over nature enabled him to give a systematic place to the Renaissance theme of man's dignity. Like that of Nicholas of Cusa, his praise of man is founded on human creativity. But whereas Nicholas stressed man's intellectual inventiveness, Ficino appealed to the miracles man has worked in the arts and in government. Man does not only use nature, but adorns, beautifies and transforms it. The great cities, the wonders of sculpture, painting and architecture, the endless tools and instruments that man has brought forth prove that he is not the subject of nature, but rather its master. Man is not like the animals dominated by the one element in which they live; he uses all the things of the world, as lord of all. He is able to unfold his potentialities in all the spheres that that make up reality. He lives the life of plants by cultivating his body, that of animals by sharpening his senses, that of man by living in accord with reason, t that of the t of the angels by his penetration into the divine mysteries.  Referring to the planetarium of Archimedes, Ficino exclaimed that man's genius approaches that of the creator of the heavens because, having observed the regularity and order reigning in the spheres, he could, given the necessary materials, bring them forth himself. Man's creativity situates him at the center of the universe, between spiritual and sensible reality. In spite of his corporeality, his mind is divine. It is because‑as a god on earth‑he cares for all things that he is the knot holding the parts of the world together.

Ficino thus anticipated a concept ‑ that of genius ‑ which would gain increasing importance in the late sixteenth century. But this positive vision of man was, at the same time, tempered by art opposed concept which he could have found in Augustine and the medieval mystics ‑ that of alienation. For Ficino, there is a latent absurdity in man's condition. Immutable like higher things, but subject to change like inferior ones, he is at once the most and least perfect of creatures. Through his intelligence, he is able to dominate temporal things and is open to eternal realities. Not satisfied by dominion over the world, he sees restlessly the reasons for things. Compelled ceaselessly to pursue potentialities, he is the most wanting and the most unhappy of creatures. His constant struggle to transcend himself situates him on the horizon between eternity and time and makes his nature a historical one, always projected into the future. In this inguietudo animi Ficino finds the proof of the divinity of man's soul. It is because he possesses the divine fire that man is ‑‑like Prometheus‑unable to find repose. His longing to be united with all reality can be stilled only by God's own infinity. But if man is destined for the infinite, his desire can only find definitive fulfilment beyond death. If man were not immortal, he would be an incomplete nature ‑ which would be contrary to God's wisdom and goodness and to the place he has assigned to man at the center of creation.

The human soul is an immaterial reality, using a body. As such, it is not confined to a determined sphere of being. Man. has no fixed essence, but can descend to the level of the beasts or ascend in thought to the sphere of the angels or even to that of God himself. Ficino used Neoplatonic terminology, but gave it a dynamic turn by emphasizing the circularity in Plotinus' scheme. The One goes out to Mind and Soul, but Soul returns to Mind and Mind to the One. Soul seeks to become the plenitude of all the species, by turning back to the one act of mind. Mind seeks to become all things in act, to comprehend the highest One in all the species, by turning back to their one act. In speaking of ascending in thought to the One, Ficino distinguished ‑ in a way similar to that of Lull and Nicholas of Cusa between logical understanding and dialectical contemplation. The thought by which the human soul is able to transcend itself is not the process of discursive reasoning based on the abstraction of universal ideas, but rather an intuitive vision of intelligible reality that ascends in stages from forms in things and innate ideas to the eternal ideas and ultimately to the idea of the Good itself. Ficino regarded the contemplation of immaterial things to be the proper task of the metaphysician. The soul is led to this science by ascending from moral to natural philosophy and thence to mathematics before arriving at this supreme form of contemplation.

The dignity of man is founded on his innate desire for this highest degree of contemplation. This desire is not purely intellectual, but has also a voluntary component. Turning to Augustine and the Christian tradition, Ficino went beyond the Platonic notion of eros. Just as the act of creation requires the union of the divine intellect with the divine liberality, so also man's innate desire to comprehend the One forms one act with his free choice of the One. The contemplation to which Ficino refers involves not only the thought that actively constitutes its objects, but also the love which actively binds them together. The innate attraction and occult qualities that were encountered on the level of natural philosophy become, in metaphysics, the desire for transcendence, the intellectual love of God. In the highest act of contemplation, the knowledge of the divine truth coincides with the enjoyment of the divine goodness. In one of his last works, Ficino interpreted the myth of the Phaedrus in accordance with this vision. Plato's charioteer is the youth at the foot of Diotima's ladder, intent on leading the individual soul by divine inspirations to the notion of Soul's immortality, so that Jove, the celestial world‑soul, might conduct it thence together with all human souls as a company of gods beyond the intellectual heaven, to the gates of the transcendent One, to God himself.

New reviews of volumes one- six with outline:

I. Volume 1. Books I–IV.
Ficino's Platonic Theology: A Renaissance humanist and leader of the Florentine Platonic Academy whose wide-ranging interests encompassed philosophy, music, medicine, astrology, and magic, Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) is best known for having initiated the Renaissance revival of Plato. The Platonic Theology, in which Ficino reconciles Platonism with Christianity, was written during the early 1470s when he was completing his translation of Plato's works, during which time he was also preparing for the priesthood, which he entered in 1473. In their introduction to the volume, Michael Allen and James Hankins provide compelling commentary on the philosophical and political contexts of the Platonic Theology, together with incisive analyses of the text's structural and rhetorical features. The work, they argue, represents Ficino's 'mature attempt to sketch out a unitary theological tradition, and particularly a theological metaphysics' that he firmly believed could be traced from Orpheus to Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster, 'even as it had culminated in the Christian revelation most luminously articulated for him by the Areopagite, Augustine, and Aquinas.' Ficino thought of the Platonic Theology as his most inspired and independent work. At the heart of it lies not only his affirmation of the soul's immortality, but also his redefinition and reconceptualization of 'the figura, of the human entity.' A text of deeply 'personal if not autobiographical apologetics,' the Platonic Theology is also the product of its 'Renaissance Italian, specifically Medicean, context' in that it represents 'a bold, albeit problematic, attempt to appropriate' late classical philosophy 'for the ingeniosi, the intellectuals, the forward wits of the republic and its governing elites.' The work's dense philosophical and political orchestrations may account for the complexity of Ficino's style, which on one hand conceptualizes sublimity, after Plotinus, 'in an unadorned and apparently artless way' at the same time as it is 'rhetorically challenging, with its frequent asyndeton (making the reader work it out), its unbalanced periods (drawing the reader into the mazes of the argument) ... and its intermittent flights of poetic imagery contributing to a sense of allocutionary trance.'
Modelled after the Harvard Loeb Classical Library series, the I Tatti translations are in dual-language format (with the Latin text on the left page and the translation on the right), facilitating comparison. Michael Allen's translation of the Ficino volume is careful and meticulous, as is the editorial apparatus. In addition to the critical introduction, the volume includes two sets of explanatory notes (to the text and to the translation respectively), a selected bibliography of secondary sources, and a valuable author and subject index. The volume promises to become indispensable to Renaissance scholarship in general.

Ficino's immortality proofs and answers to questions in the later books of the Theology presuppose and are founded upon his gen­eral systematic account in these first four books of God, creation and the place of the soul within creation. These reverse the usual order of the medieval summa, itself founded on Neoplatonic models. The medieval summa generally deals in hierarchical order beginning with God and moving down through creation in general, angelic and human nature; it then follows the flow of the divine creative act back to its source by treat­ing the redemption of human nature, understood as that nature's return via reason, love, and grace to the source of its being. Ficino begins instead with what is known quoad nos, i.e. with the material world known to the senses, and ascends through the five grades of reality to God. He then descends again to the level of soul and discusses its nature and species. His system thus follows a psychological or heuristic rather than an onto­logical or generative order.
Volume 1. Books I–IV.

A. Book I. Ascent to God through the four created substances: body (inert extended matter), form divided in body or quality (an active principle of change), rational soul (active, both divided in body and undivided, mobile), and angel (active, undivided and immobile). See i.i.z. The ascent is also a philosophical itinerary, from pure corpuscularism (as in the Democriteans, Cyrenaics and Epicu­reans), to a higher awareness of an active shaping power in bodily nature (as in, for Ficino, the Stoics and Cynics), to recognition of the existence of a more excellent form beyond body which is the seat of the rational soul (as in Heraclitus, Varro, Manilius), to real­ization of an unchangeable mind beyond changeable soul (as inAnaxagoras and Hermotimus), and finally to the light of truth it­self, God (as in Plato and the Platonists).
B. Book II. God. i. The divine essence: God is unity, truth, and goodness.
2. What God is not. Why there is not an infinity of equal gods on the same metaphysical level; why there is not an infinity of gods ar­ranged hierarchically.
3. The divine attributes: God's power is infinite; He is everlasting; omnipresent; the source of motion and the immediate cause of all change; God acts by His being; He understands infinite things; His understanding is infinite; He has will and acts through will; His will reconciles freedom and necessity; God is loving and provident.
C. Book III. Descent through the grades of being and comparison of the grades among themselves. Ficino establishes the soul's status as the third and middle essence, "the link that holds all nature to­gether," giving life to things below it, and knowing itself and things both above and below it.
D. Book IV. The three species of soul: the world soul; the souls of the twelve spheres, including planetary and elemental spheres; the souls of living creatures within and distinct from those spheres. The souls of the spheres cause circular motion in accordance with the laws of fate.
II. Volume 2.  Books V–VIII.
This second volume of edition and English translation of Marsilio Ficino's Platonic Theology contains books five to eight. Five volumes are expected, so as to cover the whole Ficino's work. Principles of edition and general introduction are to be found in the first volume. This edition, made by James Hankins, with William Bowen, depends on that of Raymond Marcel (Paris, 1964-1970). As the authors explain in the introduction to the first volume, there are only two independant witnesses to the text: the editio princeps, published in Florence in 1482 (= A), which Ficino himself corrected, and the manuscript dedication copy written for Lorenzo de Medici (Florence, Laurenz., Plut. LXXXIII, 10) (= L). These two witnesses have been entirely collated again by Hankins and Bowen. Marcel's edition is mostly reliable, yet the authors suppressed most of Marcel's conjectures, for they were not necessary to the comprehension of the text. These conjectures are not to be found in the apparatus of the new edition, and the authors are right doing so, because most of Marcel's conjectures consisted in additions of several "ergo" or "autem" into the Latin text, often even not translated into French. For example, in Book V, 1, 3, in the sentence "non secundum, quia spontaneus motus assiduus comes est eius", Marcel adds "non" before "assiduus", yet he does not translate it: "ni la seconde, parce que le mouvement spontane/ est le compagnon assidu de..." In Book V, 14, 4, Marcel omits "non", as Allen-Hankins's apparatus shows, in the sentence "ut calor non suscipit frigus", yet he does translate it: "par exemple, la chaleur ne rec,oit pas le froid."
Latin text and English translation lie on opposite pages, and all the notes are relegated to the end of the volume. In both Latin and English texts, each chapter is divided into paragraphs, which make the text easier to read and refer to. The "notes to the text" are readings or conjectures which have been rejected by the editors, indicated by reference marks within the text. The "notes to the translation" are other possible translations, needed explanations of the text, sources of quotations or allusions. Those notes are always short, precise and clear. Although a general index of sources will come only with the last volume, there is an useful index of names, after the bibliography.
Although fewer witnesses were used for this edition, the Allen-Hankins apparatus is more complete (notably giving variants of A before correction) and more precise than that of Marcel. Here are a few examples.
Book V, 1, 2: ... numquam desinit vivere. Si enim quod movetur... moveri desinit numquam.
Allen-Hankins, Book V, n. 3: "A omits Si enim -- numquam before correction".
Marcel, p. 174, n. 1: "A: Ubi scribitur: desinit vivere, subiunge haec Si enim... desinit numquam. Sequitur: Praeterea..." By these unclear words, Marcel means that A (but he omits to say "before correction") made a "saut du me^me au me^me", but we would have understood this without help.
2) Book V, 4, 2 (last line): ...et, si humiditas, quomodo siccitatem?
Allen-Hankins, Book V, n. 7: "A omits si before correction". Marcel, p. 177, n. 2: "si add. A. " I must say that I don't understand what Marcel means here.
3) Book V, 7, 3:
Allen-Hankins, p. 38-39: "atque illas in esse perducit" (translated:
"and brings them forth into existence"), and n. 19: Marcel corrects
silently to producit, perhaps correctly.
Marcel, p. 186: " atque illas in esse producit" (translated: "et les ame\ne a\ l'existence"), but the correction is not silent, since he writes n. 1: "perducit LHABC". From that we must understand that
"perducit" is the reading of A and L, of the second manuscript of the
text, Haleianus 3482 (H), and of the two Venice editions (published in 1491 and 1524) (B and C). So, it is not necessarily a correction either, but, if the apparatus is correct, "producit" might be the reading of four more recent editions, published in Paris and Bale, between 1559 and 1650 (D, E, F and G). This is doubtful though, and I would rather believe that "producit" is a conjecture of Marcel, as Allen-Hankins think.
It was necessary to have a revised edition and English translation of Ficino's Platonic Theology in a more accessible publication. This work is important not only to those who are working on Ficino and Italian Humanism, but also to anyone dealing with Platonic revival in the middle ages and renaissance. The translation has been made by probably the most competent specialist of Ficino nowadays, Michael Allen, with the collaboration of John Warden. The translation is absolutely necessary to give to those who don't know Latin an access to this very important text, and also it helps those who know some Latin, for the text is sometimes difficult and elliptic. To sum up, it is quite rare nowadays to see such a fine, accurate and ascetic piece of philology.
 Immortality proofs. See 1.1.3: After describing the nature of soul and its place in creation, Ficino says that he is going to seek to establish that the condition and nature of the soul is such as he has described, "firstly by general arguments (rationes communes), secondly by specific proofs (argumentationes propriae), thirdly by signs (signa), and lastly by resolving questions (solutiones quaestionum)."
Volume 2.  Books V–VIII
A. Book V. The rational soul's immortality is shown from rationes communes—i.e., the general metaphysical principles and characteris­tics of soul as third essence. These include: the fact that it is capable of self-induced circular motion but is unchanging in its substance; its natural attraction both to divine and material things; its ability to rule matter while remaining independent of it; its indivisibility; the relation of essence and existence in soul; the nature of soul as pure form; the self-subsistence of soul; its dependence on and re­semblance to its divine cause; the fact that the soul is not potential with respect to existence and is directly dependent on God for its existence; the fact that it is the principle of life, and a power inher­ently superior to body.
B. Books VI-XII. The rational soul's immortality shown from rationes propriae, i.e. particular arguments. These rationes propriae consist of more detailed demonstrations of some of the rationes com­munes in II.A.
Book VI.i Introductory interlude. This takes the form of a dialogic intervention by Giovanni Cavalcanti, the only one in the Theology, revealing for the first time that the previous five books had been a disputation held at the country home of Giovanni Cavalcanti in the presence of Cavalcanti, Cristoforo Landino, Bernardo Nuzzi and Giorgio Antonio Vespucci. Cavalcanti lays out five possible views of the nature of soul and demands that Ficino explain why the Platonic one is correct. These views include various Presocratic and Stoic views, i.e., that the soul is a pneumatic or a fine-material substance or that the soul is a quality dependent on material poten­cies. The fifth and highest view is that of Plato and the ancient theologians, "in whose footsteps Aristotle, the natural philosopher, for the most part follows" : namely that the soul is divine, i.e. "something indivisible, wholly present to every part of the body and produced by an incorporeal creator such that it depends only on the power of that agent," and not on any material potency. Ficino is challenged to refute the four materialists and prove the view of Plato.
2. Book VI.2. Ficino's response: Refutation of the materialists by analysis of the soul's three officio or roles: acting in the body (the vegetative power), acting through the body (the sensitive power) and acting through itself (the intellective power). Ficino argues that the "vulgar philosophers" who hold to materialism have been misled by "perverse custom" and the influence of the body, and he devises educational thought-experiments drawn from Avicenna, Plato's analogy of the Cave in Republic 7 and other sources to reveal the true nature of the soul as "invisible, life-giving, sentient, intelligible, in­telligent, independent of body, active of its own accord, heat-giving, life-giving, sentient, capable of attaining things above, a substantial unity." The argument in II.B.2 is described as a "first foray, a sort of prelude" or protreptic to purge the mind of the vulgar of their "wretched lack of trust" which keeps them from acknowledging the realm of immaterial spirit.
3. Books VI.3-VIII. Return to the main argument of the Theol­ogy. Ficino takes up in turn the rationes propriae which will demon­strate the rationes communes in greater detail, beginning with the ratio communis of the soul's indivisibility in body. Other rationes are then ad­dressed in ascending hierarchical order. The soul's indivisibility in body (and therefore its immortality) is demonstrated from its three officio (or virtutes, powers) as described in II.B.2, arranged hierarchi­cally from lowest to highest.
a. Book VI.4–13. The soul's lowest or vegetative powers, of nutrition, locomotion and growth, already show why the soul cannot be material or be form-in-matter: soul is a principle of activity that applies to all bodily parts; it is not spatially di­vided.
b. Book VII. Proofs that the soul is not divisible from the power of sensation: general proofs from the nature of sensation itself and specific proofs from the soul's complexions and the harmony of its humors.
c. Book VIII. Proofs that the soul is not indivisible as in­ferred from the nature of intellection. Topics include the intel­lect's relation to truth; the nature of the intellective power in itself; its instruments (i.e., intelligible species); its operations; the objects of intellection (i.e., universals); the possibility of communication as such; the incorporeal way the mind is modi­fied by form; the goals of intellection; the infinite force of the intellective power.

Volume 3. Books IX–XI.
4. Book IX. Immortality proofs based on a second ratio com­munis: the soul's independence of body.
5. Book X. Immortality proofs based on general structural or aes­thetic principles, i.e. the fitness of immortality, given the soul's rela­tionship to the things below and above it in the order of nature. Answers are given to objections from Epicurus, Lucretius, and the Stoic Panaetius.
6. Book XI. Immortality proofs based on the soul's eternal and immaterial objects, i.e., the Ideas. The nature of the Ideas. Con­firmation of their nature by signs. Answers to Epicureans, Skeptics, and Peripatetics.
Volume 4. Books XII–XIV. This is the fourth volume of the I Tatti Renaissance Library project of reediting Marsilio Ficino's Platonic Theology, thus superseding Raymond Marcel's pioneering edition and French translation published in 1964-1970. In addition, this new edition provides for the first time an English translation facing the Latin text, making Ficino's Platonic Theology available to a wide readership. It also includes, at the end of the volume, two sets of explanatory notes (to the text and to the translation), a selected bibliography of secondary sources, and an author and subject index.
Volume IV of the I Tatti edition contains Books XII-XIV of Ficino's Platonic Theology. It includes some of the most important Renaissance texts on the immortality of the soul and on the concepts of theurgy, phantasy and vacatio. Book XII demonstrates that the soul is immortal because it is formed by the Divine Mind, and deals with the soul's ascent to the divine ideas. Book XIII demonstrates the soul's immortality by four signs : phantasy, reason and prophecy, arts, and miracles. Book XIV demonstrates the soul's immortality from the fact that the soul strives to become God.
1) The text:
The text incorporates several significant improvements to Marcel's edition, avoiding numerous misprints and unnecessary conjectural emendations. At the end of the volume the "notes to the translation" include the variant readings of the different witnesses and indicate departures from Marcel's edition.
As previously shown by Marcel (Marsile Ficin. Théologie Platonicienne. Tome I. Livres I-VIII, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1964, pp. 17-30), the text of Platonic Theology is preserved in two manuscripts, the London manuscript Harleianus 3482 (the personal copy written for King Fernando the First), and the Florence manuscript Pluteus 83.10 (the dedication copy written for Lorenzo de' Medici). Harleianus 3482 derives from the second edition printed in Venice in 1491 and can therefore be eliminated from the apparatus. Laurentianus Pluteus 83.10, however, contains a text that is independent of the editio princeps (Florence 1482). There are therefore two primary witnesses, which probably derive independently from the same archetype: the editio princeps, printed in Florence in 1482, which Ficino saw through the press and probably corrected himself (= A), and the Florence manuscript Pluteus 83.10 (= L). The text is also preserved in five early modern editions, including the famous Basle edition of 1576 of Ficino's complete works. Excerpts of the text are to be found in other works by Ficino: the Disputatio contra iudicium astrologicum (preserved in the codex unicus Magliabechiano XX, 58), as well as his Letters, his Compendium Platonicae Theologiae, and his De Christianae Religione.
As stated in the first volume of the edition (p. 315), the I Tatti editors have drawn from Marcel's edition, which is based upon the collation of the two manuscripts (H and L), the first two editions printed during Ficino's lifetime (A and B), and the five other early modern editions. However, they have completely re-collated the text's two primary witnesses and, as a result, they have been able to emend Marcel's collation, which was not always accurate. They also tend to adopt, when possible, the text as it is preserved in the manuscripts/editions and sensibly delete Marcel's sometimes unnecessary corrections and conjectural additions. For example, in XIII, 4, section 16, the editors have avoided Marcel's conjecture illa, preferring AL's reading ille (si quando anima hominis ita fingat aciem suam in deum divinoque lumine impleatur rapiaturque ut ILLE tunc aeque coruscat, ...). In one place (XIV, 10, § 11), however, the editors follow Marcel's excellent conjecture delebit instead of A's debebit and L's habebit (itaque si deum colere cogit certa quaedam positio siderum, brevi positio contraria e memoria hominum divinos DELEBIT honores).
Hankins' re-collation of the two primary witnesses (A and L) also indicates that Marcel's text followed sometimes too readily that of the Basle edition (which had itself been unnecessarily corrected by its editor) in places where A and L offer a better reading (e.g. converso : e converso Marcel, Op; suppliciter : simpliciter Marcel, Op; appetant : appetent Marcel, Op; quid mirum : quid mirum est Marcel, Op; appetit : petit Marcel, Op.).
2) The translation:
The I Tatti Renaissance Library also provides for the first time an English translation of Ficino's Platonic Theology, facing the Latin text. It is divided into chapters and paragraphs and annotated. Michael J. B. Allen, who has already edited, translated and commented upon several works of Ficino (including Ficino's commentaries on Plato's Sophist, Philebus, Phaedrus), provides here an altogether elegant and readable translation.
The "notes to the translation" include Ficino's sources for quotations and allusions. Although they follow closely Marcel's references, Allen's notes are more complete and accurate (e.g. the reference in XII, 1 is to Psalm 4, 6 and 36, 9 and not, as indicated by Marcel, Psalm 4, 7 and 25, 10). One will also find useful explanations to the text and alternative translations of difficult passages, as well as some basic information concerning the sources used by Ficino and the broader context in which these sources are used.
A very short bibliography at the end of the volume lists secondary sources on Ficino and Renaissance humanism, including two bibliographies (Kristeller's Marsilio Ficino and His Work after Five Hundred Years and the bibliography updated annually in the journal Accademia). To the works mentioned, however, the editors ought to have added major contributions by scholars in other languages than English, and in particular the seminal works of Eugenio Garin and Cesare Vasoli.

Volume 4. Books XII–XIV.

7. Book XII.1-4. Immortality proof based on relationship of the mind to God; its being formed by God. The general structure of the argument is as follows: if the mind is formed by the Divine Mind, it is immortal; but it is in fact formed by the Divine Mind for such­and-such a reason, therefore etc. Ficino then answers a possible ob­jection: why are we nor ordinarily conscious of being formed by the Divine Mind?
8. Book XII.5-7. Three confirmations of the arguments in II.B.1-7 derived from a consideration of sight, hearing, and the mind. These confirmations take the form of extensive quotations from Augustine. This provides a bridge to the next section on signs.
C. Books XIII-XIV. Immortality shown by 'signs' (rather than rea­sons)
1. Book XIII. The soul shown to be immortal by signs of the soul's power over things beneath it and its own body, for example in psychosomatic phenomena, in phantasy, prophecy, the arts, and in the performance of miracles. The magical powers of the soul.
a. Book XIV. Twelve signs from the soul's imitation of what is above it: i.e. the soul's desire to be like God. Remarks on the nature and universality of religion. Answer to the Lucretians.
Volume 5 Books XV–XVI.

III. Books XV-XVIII. Resolution of five questions relating to the soul's immortality.
A. Book XV. Question Is there one soul for all mankind? This book contains an exhaustive refutation of Averroes, and is in a sense the centerpiece of the entire work, in that it draws extensively on Ficino's prior exposition and argumentation.
B. Book XVI.1-6. Question 2: Why then did God put souls in bod­ies at all? Answers to Epicureans.
C. Book XVI.7. Question 3: Why do rational souls experience tu­multuous emotions?
D. Book XVI.8. Question 4: Why do rational souls depart unwill­ingly from bodies? I.e., why is there fear of death if souls are just re­turning to their true home, and departing from the miseries of this life?
Volume 6. Books XVII-XVIII.
E. Books XVII-XVIII. Question 5: What is the status of soul be­fore entering the body and after leaving it? The creation and com­position of souls; their kinds and their circuits (i.e., their descents and ascents).
I. Book XVII. Excursus on issues of interpretation: what is the true Platonic position on transmigration?
a. Book XVII.2-3. The interpretation of the last two ancient Platonic academies.
b. Book XVII.4. The interpretation of Plato of the first four academies, and the two better academies. The doctrine of the transmigration of souls is condemned.
2. Book Excursus on the nature of creation in gen­eral, presenting and defending "the theology common to the He­brews, Christians, and Arabs," i.e. (a) that the world was created at a certain moment of time; (b) that angels were created from the be­ginning; (c) that new immortal souls are continuously created in time. Ficino's goal is to establish a wider theological framework, cre­ation in general, for his discussion of point (c): the continuous or sequential creation of individual souls in time.
XVIII.1. Arguments that the world was created in time. XVIII.2. Arguments for the creation of angels and souls in time.
3. Book XVIII.3. The creation of human souls in time. Argu­ments for the continuous, sequential creation of souls by God. The creation of souls is regulated by Providence, not by chance sexual unions. Why souls had to be created successively rather than all at once.
4. Book XVIII.4-7. The descent of souls.
a. Book XVIII.4. The descent of the soul into the body. The aethereal vehicle of the soul. The theory that the soul has three vehicles, celestial, aerial, and elemental.
b. Book XVIII.5. In what part of heaven souls are created. The influence of the stars and their configurations on the soul in its descent.
c. Book XVIII.6. Physical generation in the body; the soul's attendant genius; our souls' need for the protection of higher powers.
d. Book XVIII.7. Infusion of the soul into the mid-point of the body, the heart, and the soul's relation with the body's heat, its spirit, its humors and heavier members.
5. Book XVIII.8-12. The ascent of souls, or more broadly, what happens to the soul and its body after death.
a. Book XVIII.8. The state of pure souls after separation from the body, i.e., the souls of the blessed. The capacity of the rational soul to see the light of God; capacity of the soul to love God's light. The ninefold degrees of blessedness; the changelessness of the pure soul; the nature of its union with God; that even the lowest species of soul—the human rational soul — is capable of union with God; ranking of souls in heaven; rest of reason in the vision of God; rest of the will in the love of God.
b. Book XVIII.9. On the bodies of pure souls after death, i.e. the resurrection of the body, prefigured in pagan religion and confirmed by the three modern religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Four proofs of the Resurrection from "Christian theologians", i.e. Thomas Aquinas. Further arguments from the order of nature.
c. Book XVIII.10. The state of the impure soul. Platonic and Christian doctrines of rewards and punishments compared; the four ways of living life; the possibility that impure souls without fixed habits of evil can attain blessedness after death; the doctrine of the afterlife and hell in the ancient theologians.
d. The middle state of rational souls that are neither pure nor impure. What happens to children who die before they are ca­pable of making a choice of life; what happens to persons who are mentally defective.
e. Concluding exhortation to live for eternity, not for this life.

Other Studies

Plato's Third Eye: Studies in Marsilio Ficino's Metaphysics and Its Sources (Collected Studies, No CS483) by Michael J. B. Allen (Variorum) A collection of essays by Michael J. B. Allen before 1995.

Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy (Brill's Studies in Intellectual History) by Michael J. B. Allen, Valery Rees, and Martin Davies (Brill Academic) This volume consists of 21 essays on Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), the great Florentine scholar, philosopher and priest who was the architect of Renaissance Platonism and whose long-lasting influence on philosophy, love and music theory, medicine and magic extended across Europe. Grouped into three sections, they cover such topics as priesthood, the influence of Hermetic monism, Plotinus and Augustine, Jewish transmission of the prisca theologia, the 15th c. Plato-Aristotle controversy, the soul and its afterlife, the primacy of the will, theriac and musical therapy, the notions of matter, seeds, mirrors and clocks, and other fascinating philosophical and theological issues. Also considered are Ficino’s critics, his relationship to the Camaldolese Order, his letters to princes, his influence on art, on Copernicus, on Chapman, and the nature of the Platonic Academy. All those interested in intellectual history, the Renaissance, Platonism; history and philosophy of religion (Christian and Jewish), history of art, political theory, literature, early science, medicine and music.
Introduction, Michael J. B. Allen
PART I: 1. Ficino the Priest, Peter Serracino-Inglott 2. The Camaldolese Academy: Ambrogio Traversari, Marsilio Ficino and the Christian Platonic Tradition, Dennis F. Lackner 3. Marsilio Ficino as a Christian Thinker: Theological Aspects of his Platonism, Jörg Lauster 4. Late Antiquity and Florentine Platonism: The ‘Post-Plotinian’ Ficino, Christopher S. Celenza 5. Ficino, Augustine and the Pagans, Anthony Levi 6. Echoes of Egypt in Hermes and Ficino, Clement Salaman 7. Prisca Theologia in Marsilio Ficino and in Some Jewish Treatments, Moshe Idel 8. Life as a Dead Platonist, Michael J. B. Allen
PART II: 9. Marsilio Ficino and the Plato-Aristotle Controversy, John Monfasani 10. Intellect and Will in Marsilio Ficino: Two Correlatives of a Renaissance Concept of the Mind, Tamara Albertini 11. Orpheus redivivus: The Musical Magic of Marsilio Ficino, Angela Voss 12. Ficino, Theriaca and the Stars, Donald Beecher 13. Concepts of Seeds and Nature in the Work of Marsilio Ficino, Hiroshi Hirai 14. Narcissus, Divine Gazes and Bloody Mirrors: the Concept of Matter in Ficino, Sergius Kodera 15. Ficino, Archimedes and the Celestial Arts, Stéphane Toussaint
PART III: 16. Neoplatonism and the Visual Arts at the Time of Marsilio Ficino, Francis Ames-Lewis
17. Ficino’s Advice to Princes, Valery Rees 18. The Platonic Academy of Florence, Arthur Field 19. Ficino in the Firing Line: A Renaissance Neoplatonist and His Critics, Jill Kraye 20. Ficino and Copernicus, Dilwyn Knox; 21. ‘To rauish and refine an earthly soule’: Ficino and the Poetry of George Chapman, Stephen Clucas Illustrations, Bibliography, List of Contributors, Index
Contributors include: Tamara Albertini, Michael J. B. Allen, Francis Ames-Lewis, Donald Beecher, Christopher S. Celenza, Stephen Clucas, Arthur Field, Hiroshi Hirai, Moshe Idel, Dilwyn Knox, Sergius Kodera, Jill Kraye, Dennis F. Lackner, Jörg Lauster, Anthony Levi, John Monfasani, Valery Rees, Clement Salaman, Peter Serracino-Inglott, M. Stéphane Toussaint, and Angela Voss.

Marsilio Ficino: The Book of Life (Dunquin Series) by Marsilio Ficino, Charles Boer (Spring Publications) Charles Boer obviously put considerable effort into trying to make sense of a famous but difficult work, which had yet to be properly edited in its Renaissance Latin original. His translation is quite pleasant reading. Unfortunately, the problems begin as soon as the reader tries to understand Ficino, instead of Boer. The "Three Books of Life" contain a mixture of medicine, astrology, neo-Platonic philosophy, and more or less concealed magic, and Boer makes little effort to explain any of these; it is not clear how much of any of them he recognized in the text he was translating.

To anyone familiar with the discussions of the book in, for example, Walker's "Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella," or Yates' "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition," the translation could only be a source of frustration.

Basically, there seem to have been two sets of problems. First, the translation was based on unreliable versions of the Latin. The lack of a proper edition was not Boer's fault; professional scholars of Renaissance Latin writings (Humanist Latin is a subject in itself) had never published one. But it should have made him very cautious about trying to puzzle it out for himself. Second, Boer seems to have paid little, if any, attention to the vast scholarship needed to understand Ficino, which was available, if somewhat scattered through books and journals.

Since Boer was dismissive of the existing Ficino scholarship, hostile reviews from scorned specialists were perhaps to be expected. But I am not one of them, and I can testify from experience that Boer's work was more frustrating than useful.

Fortunately, not too long after the appearance of Boer's version, Carole V. Kaske and John R. Clark's "Three Books on Life" was announced for publication. It has since appeared, and, with several reprintings behind it, is, at this writing, available. It has a full edition of the Latin text facing the translation, an excellent introduction, and elaborate notes and index / glossaries. It is not as fun to read as Boer sometimes is, but, despite the slightly higher price, it is a better bargain. You get useful historical contexts, advice on whether Ficino is making a pun, or is completely serious, even alternative explanations -- all the things I wondered about when trying to read Boer's version.

Three Books on Life by Marsilio Ficino, translated and edited by Carol V. Kaske, John R. Clark (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies) In the second half of the twentieth century, readers of English who were interested in the Renaissance had their attention drawn to Ficino's "Three Books on Life" (known by various titles, such as "Liber de Vita" and "De Vita Triplici") by several influential books. Chief among them were D.P. Walker's "Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella" and Frances A. Yates' "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition." The many readers of Robert Burton's seventeenth-century masterpiece "The Anatomy of Melancholy" had already encountered frequent citations of "Ficinus" on melancholy, its causes and cure. Any attempt to find an English translation, or even a good text of the Latin original, however, came up with nothing.

For a moment it seemed that Charles Boer had provided one with "The Book of Life," originally published in 1980, and currently in print. It was an attractively printed and extremely readable translation. Unfortunately, it was not only based on unreliable versions of the Latin, but it paid little if any attention to the vast scholarship needed to understand Ficino. Since Boer was dismissive of the existing Ficino scholarship, hostile reviews were perhaps to be expected, but I can testify from experience that Boer's work was more frustrating than useful.

Fortunately, a far superior translation, along with a carefully edited Latin text, useful introduction and helpful notes, and glossarial indexes, was already in progress. It appeared about a decade later, and, like Boer's, has been reprinted several times. It is an impressive accomplishment, providing a rich source of information on Ficino's theological, philosophical, medical, astrological, and magical readings and world-view, and how they interact.

Ficino, famous in his day and in histories of philosophy as the pioneering translator of Plato and the Neo-Platonists (a distinction made long after his time), was the son of a physician, which in those days meant an astrologer. He was trained in his father's profession, but also as a priest, and read the Aristotle of the late Scholastics as well as Plato and his followers, and his supposed source, the books attributed to the Egyptian sage, Hermes Trismegistus. Bits and pieces of all of these interests, and others, appear in the "Books on Life," which are in large measure an attempt to avoid the negative implications of Ficino's own horoscope, which was dominated by the influence of Saturn, seeming to doom him to lethargy and sickness.

In the process, he worked a minor revolution in European thought, which is still with us today. He did this by finding good aspects to melancholy, which in the tradition he had inherited was a disease, combining aspects of depression and mania. He argued that it was also a producer of scholarship and wisdom, helping to launch both the modern idea of "genius" and the suspicion that it has some connection with insanity.

Ficino also argued for special diets to control the negative aspects (lots of sugar and cinnamon), and, in a controversial final section, for astrological talismans to concentrate good forces and repel bad ones. This was dangerous ground, obviously shading into magic, and protesting that he was vindicating Free Will against astrological determinism was not much of a cover.

Although a very high proportion of the thousands of websites mentioning Ficino seem interested mainly in Ficino the Great Astrologer or Ficino the Renaissance Platonist, he was a lot more complicated, as Kaske and Clark make clear. Nothing will make " "Three Books on Life" easy reading, but they have done everything possible to make it intelligible to modern readers.

see Ficino

Other reviews of Ficino

Platonic Theology


Platonic Commentaries

Platonic Theology: Books 1-4 (The I Tatti Renaissance Library, 2) by Marsilio Ficino, translated by Michael J. B. Allen and John Warden, edited byJames Hankins, William Bowen (I Tatti Renaissance Library, 2: Harvard University Press)

Platonic Theology: Books 5-8 by Marsilio Ficino, translated by Michael J. B. Allen and John Warden, edited byJames Hankins, William Bowen (I Tatti Renaissance Library, 4: Harvard University Press)

Platonic Theology Volume 3. Books IX–XI.  by Marsilio Ficino, [Theologia Platonica. English & Latin]English translation by Michael J.B. Allen with John Warden; Latin text edited by James Hankins with William Bowen. Includes bibliographical references and index (The I Tatti Renaissance library; 2: Harvard University Press)

Platonic Theology Volume 4. Books XII–XIV. by Marsilio Ficino, [Theologia Platonica. English & Latin]English translation by Michael J.B. Allen with John Warden; Latin text edited by James Hankins with William Bowen. Includes bibliographical references and index (The I Tatti Renaissance library; 2: Harvard University Press)

Platonic Theology Volume 5 Books XV–XVI by Marsilio Ficino, [Theologia Platonica. English & Latin]English translation by Michael J.B. Allen with John Warden; Latin text edited by James Hankins with William Bowen. Includes bibliographical references and index (The I Tatti Renaissance library; 2: Harvard University Press)

Platonic Theology Volume 6. Books XVII-XVIII by Marsilio Ficino, [Theologia Platonica. English & Latin]English translation by Michael J.B. Allen with John Warden; Latin text edited by James Hankins with William Bowen. Includes bibliographical references and index (The I Tatti Renaissance library; 2: Harvard University Press)

Plato's Third Eye: Studies in Marsilio Ficino's Metaphysics and Its Sources (Collected Studies, No CS483) by Michael J. B. Allen (Variorum) A collection of essays by Michael J. B. Allen before 1995.

Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy (Brill's Studies in Intellectual History) by Michael J. B. Allen, Valery Rees, and Martin Davies (Brill Academic) This volume consists of 21 essays on Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), the great Florentine scholar, philosopher and priest who was the architect of Renaissance Platonism and whose long-lasting influence on philosophy, love and music theory, medicine and magic extended across Europe.