All Scholars

FICINO, Marsilio

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  • Date of Birth: October 19, 1433
  • Born City: Figline Valdarno, Republic of Florence
  • Born State/Country: Italy
  • Parents: Diotifeci d'Agnolo F., physician to Cosimo de’ Medici, & wife.
  • Date of Death: October 1, 1499
  • Death City: Careggi, Republic of Florence
  • Death State/Country: Italy
  • Education:

    Study medicine, at Florence 1448-9; philosophy & arts, 1451; Bologna, 1457. 

  • Professional Experience:

    Holy orders, 1473; Canonicus, Florence Cathedral 1487-99.

  • Publications:

    Consiglio contro la pestilenza, De vita libri tres Institutiones ad Platonicam philosophiam 4-vols. (1481; 1556); "De religione Christiana et fidei pietate", dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici; "In Epistolas Pauli commentaria", Marsilii Ficini Epistolae (Venice, 1491; Florence, 1497)Opera omnia, 2 vols. (Florence, 1491; Venice, 1491; Basel, 1561; repr. 1983); Supplementum Ficinianum, 2 vols., ed. P. O. Kristeller, 2 vols. (1937; repr. 1973); Theologie platonicienne, ed. R. Marcel, 1964-1970 3 vols. (1964-70; English trans. as Platonic Theology, ed. J. Hankins et al., trans. M. J. B. Allen et al., 6 vols., 2001-2006); Marsilio Ficino: The Philebus Commentary, ed. M. J. B. Allen, 1975; Marsilio Ficino and the Phaedran Charioteer, ed. and trans. M. J. B. Allen, (1981); Icastes. Marsilio Ficino’s Interpretation of Plato’s Sophist (Latin-English), ed. M. J. B. Allen, (1989); Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love, trans. S. Jayne (2nd rev.ed., Dallas: Spring, 1985).

  • Notes:

    As a young man, Ficino was encouraged by his physician father to study medicine. Taken by Epicureanism at Bologna, he wrote at age 21 a treatise on De rerum natura (which he later destroyed), but readily abandoned Lucretius for Plato under the influence of Cristoforo Landino (1424-98) and in spite of the opposition of the bishop of Florence, Antoninus Pierozzi (1389-1459). Impressed with the young scholar’s ability and no doubt helped by Diotifeci’s connections to the court of the Medicis, Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464) welcomed Ficino into his circle and kept him under Medici patronage (giving him his own villa) for the remainder of his career. He tutored Cosimo’s son Lorenzo de’ Medici (1469-92) and, among others, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-91) and the young Angelo Poliziano (1454-94).

    Working at second-hand from the versions and interpretations of Plato by Latin sources like Apuleius and Augustine, Ficino composed at age 23 a massive study of Plato’s philosophy. Since Ficino could not work from Plato’s original text, Cosimo encouraged him to learn Greek so that he could translate the whole of Plato for the first time into Latin. The Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-45), which attempted to heal the schism between the Eastern and Western churches, drew a large number of Greek speakers and scholars and inspired a new interest in learning Greek. Ficino learned the language and was able to read excerpts from ten dialogues to Cosimo on his death bed. His completed translation of all of Plato’s works appeared in 1484, dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-92). His translation was published before the first text of Plato in Greek was published in Italy. At Cosimo’s suggestion Ficino founded an academy based on the old Athenian Academy of Plato (destroyed by Sulla in 86 BCE) in 1452, and even gave him a villa at Careggi in which to conduct its business. 

    Ficino’s admiration for Plato led him to Neoplatonism and from there to the belief that Plato was a Christ-like figure who should be studied in churches. He translated Plotinus and other Neoplatonists like Alcinous He kept a bust of Plato in his room at the Academy. In 1482 he wrote Theologia Platonica de animarum lmmortalitate. The soul was the image of God, given to man and returned at the death of the body back to God. Any belief such as Christianity must have a philosophy at its core and while Egyptian, Babylonian, and Pre-Socratic philosophers looked to immediate causes, it was Plato who set out to penetrate the enduring questions about the nature of religion. Interest in Plato is a gift from God, according to Ficino, because Plato finds God the author of all things, the highest cause. Plato’s views were refined by the Neoplatonists into clear language that could be perceived and adopted by practicing Christians. As Ficino’s teachings began to edge into heresy, Savonarola (1452-98) directed him back to the Gospels. 

    Since very few Italians knew Greek, the only way to bring the substance of Greek thought to the Romans was through translation into Latin. Ficino was not a master of either Greek or Latin, but in addition to his Plato, by which he is chiefly remembered, and his translations of a number of Neoplatonists, chiefly Alcinous, Porphyry, and Iamblichus, but he also translated several important translations of Greek literature, including Apollonius Rhodius’s Argonautica, the Homeric Hymns, and the Theogony.

  • Sources:

    J. Festugière, La philosophie de l’amour de Marsile Ficin et son influence sur la litterature frangaise au XVP siecle, (Paris: Librairie philosophique, 1941); R. Marcel, Marsile Ficin, (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1958); P. O. Kristeller, Die Philosophie des Marsilio Ficino, (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1972); P. O. Kristeller, Marsilio Ficino and His Work after Five Hundred Years (Florence: L.S. Olschki, 1987); U. Oehlig, Die philosophische Begründung der Kunst bei Ficino (Leipzig: Teubner, 1992); J. Hankins, Plato in the Italian Renaissance (Leiden: Brill, 1994) 265-366; Marsilio Ficino, Index nominum et index geographicus, ed. D. Gall., P. Riemer, et al., 2 vols. (Hildesheim, Olms, 2003); W. Beierwaltes, “Marsilio Ficinos Theorie des Schönen im Kontext des Platonismus,” in Fussnoten zu Plato, ed. W. Beierwaltes (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2011)  231-278; Clement Zintzen, Brill, 195-8.

  • Author: Ward Briggs