The Life of Marsilio Ficino by Giovanni Corsi

Translated by members of the Language Department of the School of Economic Science, London, in The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, Volume 3, © 1981 Fellowship of the School of Economic Science, London.

Introductory Note to Corsi's 'Life of Marsilio Ficino' by the translators.

Corsi's Life of Marsilio Ficino was written in 1506, some seven years after Ficino's death. Corsi was not one of Ficino's disciples and apparently never knew him personally, but he was acquainted with many of Ficino's former friends and followers, such as the Rucellai and the Ricasoli, from whom he could have acquired the material for this biography. The Life is valuable as a near contemporary document, but in places is inaccurate and unreliable as a source of information on Ficino's works and their dating. It does shed some light, however, on the early part of Ficino's life, about which rela-tively little is known. Some of Corsi's statements are confirmed by Ficino in his own writings, such as, for example, the anecdote concerning Cosimo's choice of Ficino when he was still a boy to be the head of the new Platonic Academy of Florence. But other epi-sodes, such as Ficino's supposed visit to Bologna to study medicine, remain conjectural since no independent evidence has been produced to corroborate Corsi's statements.

Corsi appears to have been only superficially acquainted with Ficino's writings. He relied, to some extent, on the catalogue of the Works appended to the 1493 edition of Ficino's De Sole et Lumine which, according to Kristeller, would account for some of his errors regarding titles.(1) Corsi's most questionable statement concerns the Letters; why he should have cast doubt on their authenticity remains unanswered. Kristeller puts forward the view that the reasons were political, since some letters are addressed to members of the Valori and Soderini families who belonged to the anti-Medici faction.(2) Marcel claims that Corsi was only questioning the authenticity of the titles and the names of addressees.(3) It is hard to draw any firm conclusion since the two passages in which Corsi refers to the letters are somewhat ambiguous. In only one instance was the name of an addressee intentionally deleted: the name of Bernardo Pulci was deleted in one letter (Opera, p. 661. I; Letters Vol 1. letter 114). The Letters were printed in Venice in 1495, some eleven years before Corsi wrote his Life, and their authenticity had never been in question. The nephew Corsi refers to was Ficino Ficini, who could have assisted in the editing of the Letters as he was close to Ficino in the last years of his life.
1: See P. O. Kristeller, 'Per La Biografia di Marsilio Ficino' in Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, p. 194.

2: Ibid, p. 194. See also P. O. Kristeller, 'Un Uomo di Stato e Umanista Fiorentino Giovanni Corsi' in Studies, pp. 176-7

3: Marcel, Marsile Ficin, pp. 24-25.

The translators have been induced to offer this translation of Corsi's Life of Marsilio Ficino because of the significant parallels to be drawn between it and Ficino's Life of Plato, such as Ficino's close imitation of Plato's way of life and the Platonic Academy itself.

The text which the translators have used is the one printed in Marcel, Marsile Ficin, Appendix I, pp. 68o-89, a version corrected by the author, and preserved in the Biblioteca Estense, Modena (MS Campori Appendice 310. yt VI. 16). Campori MS variants given by Kristeller in Studies, pp. 207-11, have also been consulted.

The Life of Marsilio Ficino by Giovanni Corsi

Giovanni Corsi to Bindaccio da Ricasoll: greetings.

I realized, Bindaccio, that you who normally bear things well, were trying in vain to restrain the grief which you recently suffered at the departure of our Bernardo Rucellai. It is in your nature to be deeply moved by the loss of the most delightful companionship of such a great man on his recent departure for France. I thought that I could remove your sorrow by recalling your spirit from its longing for a most beloved man, leading it to dwell once more on the memory of your Marsilio Ficino, since in this you have frequently been happy to find rest. For when I had decided to make a methodical description of all that is best and most memorable in his life and conduct, you above all seemed to me worthy of this gift, you who will be able not only to wipe away your vexation and bitterness of spirit, but also to render your solitude gentle and pleasing by the memory of that great man. For it very frequently happens that just as noble natures are inspired to glory and virtue by the examples of illustrious men - a fact noted by the ancients concerning Quintus Maximus and Publius Scipio(1) by frequently recalling our friends all trace of sickness and sadness of spirit is driven from us. Who indeed was dearer and sweeter to you than Marsilio while he lived? Who was more pleasing and welcome to Marsilio than you? But enough! Accept this work on the man. Farewell.
1: Quintus Fabius Maximus and Publius Scipio were Romans who distinguished themselves by their heroic conduct during the wars against Carthage. See Sallust, Jugurtha, Proem, IV, 5-6.

Florence, 19th April, 1506.

WHEN I considered writing about the life and character of Marsilio Ficino, who as guide penetrated the innermost sanctuary of the divine Plato, sealed for so many centuries, and thoroughly explored the whole of his Academy, the first noteworthy thing which came to mind and encouraged me to write about this man was that he himself not only investigated its precepts and mysteries but also penetrated, laid open, and then expounded them to others. This was something which no one else for the previous thousand years so much as attempted, let alone accomplished. This was made possible by the astonishing fecundity of his mind, his burning zeal, and his extraordinary indifference to all pleasure and, above all, to material wealth. No less important was the gracious generosity of the princes under whom he lived, without which these qualities would have been in vain: in this way that saying came to be more readily understood: 'Lovers of wisdom cannot achieve much without good princes, nor again can those princes govern the state without wise men.'(2) But I come to the life of Marsilio.
2 : Plato, Republic, V, 473D.

Marsilio was a native of Florence, of stock that was neither very humble nor particularly distinguished. His father, Ficino, was an eminent doctor especially skilled in surgery, in which he far surpassed all others of his time. For this reason many men of the highest nobility were indebted to him. And above all he was beloved by the Medici, who then held the first place in the Republic.

He was born on the 19th October, 1433, at the time when Cosimo de' Medici was driven into exile to Venice by a faction of hostile citizens. Of his early childhood little is known. His first schooling was under extremely petty and dull tutors a situation which arose from straitened family circumstances rather than from a lack of better tutors, for we have gathered that Ficino's father worked without care for reward. In fact, before the turn of the year, a short time after the Republic had been established, Cosimo was recalled home.

Cosimo made up his mind to omit nothing which would provide immortality for himself and his country. He was the one man en-tirely devoted to giving everything its true praise. For this reason he had the highest regard for the study of fine literature, almost extinct at the time, which he did his utmost to revive. Those who showed the mark of genius he favoured with that remarkable generosity of his, raised them up, and advanced them to riches and honours; judging, and rightly so, that all tokens of praise soon perish unless there is a faithful and permanent written record.

Meanwhile the Council of Florence (3) was convened at which, with Pope Eugene presiding, the heresy of the Greeks was thoroughly discussed. With the Greek Emperor came a great many men, highly distinguished in both intellect and learning. Amongst these were Nicholas of Euboea, very learned in both Greek and Latin, and the famous Gemistos Plethon, called by Marsilio a second Plato, and acclaimed equally for his eloquence and his scholarship. When Cosimo heard him frequently discoursing before the scholars and winning their highest applause and admiration, it is said that he was set ablaze with an extraordinary desire to recall to Italy as soon as possible the philosophy of Plato, as of ancient right.
3: The chief object of the Council of Florence (1438-45) was reunion with the Greek Church, under threat from the Turks. It commenced in Ferrara, but Cosimo de' Medici was instrumental in having it moved to Florence. The main obstacle was the 'Filioque' clause in the Creed of Nicea, which refers to the Holy Spirit as 'proceeding from the Father and the Son'. The Greeks held this addition unlawful, while allowing that it was doctrinally unexceptionable. After much argument a measure of union was achieved, but it was always unstable, and ceased altogether after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Council did, however, establish that Unity of Faith with Diversity of Rite was the basic principle on which the unity of the Christian Church should be pursued. The Council also provided a unique opportunity for Italian humanists and scholars to meet their Greek counterparts, many of whom now settled in Italy and contributed greatly to the revival of learning.

Not many years later, as if by divine fate, he was able to accom-plish this through Marsilio, (4) who in his youth had been widely instructed in the humanities and was so kindled with a love of Plato, having been won over to him through Cicero, that, laying all else aside, he pondered this one thing: how, in entering within the portals of the Academy, he might be able to see Plato at closer quarters and speak face to face with him and all his family; that very Plato whom almost all call divine, or even the god of philosophers. Thus, ever--watchful and alert, Ficino gathered extracts from a wide selection of Latin authors; in short, he left nothing undone which he believed would be beneficial to the work undertaken. On this account he always had to hand all the Latin Platonists, namely Cicero, Macrobius, Apuleius, Boethius, St. Augustine, Calcidius, and other like-minded writers, about whom at that time he wrote a great deal which has never been published. Soon afterwards he left these writings in the care of Filippo Valori, a nobleman and one of his foremost pupils.
4 : Cosimo's choice of Ficino when he was still a boy (adhuc puer) to be the head of the new Platonic Academy is described in the proem to Ficino's epitomes of Plotinus, Opera, II, p. 1537.

While Marsilio was considering these things, he was at last driven quite unwillingly to Bologna, by his father's insistence and by dire financial straits. Here, having left the Academy (5) behind, he studied the Aristotelians and even the modern writers, from whom he had for a long time shrunk both by nature and inclination, in order that he too might soon practise his father's art of medicine. But clearly by divine grace, on one occasion when he visited Florence and was taken by his father to pay his respects to Cosimo, it is said that Cosimo, perceiving the genius of the young man and recognizing in him the extraordinary desire for study which set him afire, re-joiced greatly as if he had now fully understood that, beyond any doubt, this would be the man whom he had long since chosen to shed light on the philosophy of Plato. And presently summoning Ficino, he exhorted him to take especial care over Marsilio's studies so that he should not go against his natural disposition. He said that there was no reason to take account of domestic hardship, for he would never neglect him in any matter but would supply everything most generously. 'You, Ficino,' he said, 'have been sent to us to heal bodies, but your Marsilio here has been sent down from heaven to heal souls.' (6)
5: Ficino's Academy had not yet been established. The reference is to the academic or Platonic philosophers.

6: See letter of dedication to Ficino's De Vita Libri Tres, Opera, p. 493: 'I had two fathers, Ficino the physician and Cosimo de' Medici. I was born from the first and reborn from the second. The first pledged me to Galen, the physician and Platonist, the second dedicated me to the divine Plato; whilst Galen is the physician of the body, Plato is the physician of souls.' Cf. Diog. Laert., III, 45 (Life of Plato): 'Phoebus gave to mortals Asclepius and Plato, the one to save their bodies, the other to save their souls.'

Having this advice from such a great man, Marsilio was filled with hope and turned his mind and spirit wholly to the study of Plato, being now in his twenty-sixth year. Thus in a short time, when he was thoroughly versed in Greek literature, having had Platina (7) as his tutor, so I have heard, he expounded the hymns of Orpheus, and it is said that he sang them to the lyre in the ancient style with remarkable sweetness.

7: Platina is mentioned in Ficino's list of friends (Catalogus familiarium) Opera, p. 937. Platina spent a period of time in Florence from 1457 to 1462, but nothing is known about his supposed friendship with Ficino.

A little later, at Cosimo's instigation, he translated into Latin the book of Hermes Trismegistus On Divine Wisdom and the Creation of the World. (8) For this purpose he was endowed by Cosimo with the most generous gift of a family estate at Careggi near the outskirts of the town, as well as with a house in town, and even with beautifully written Greek books of Plato and Plotinus which were very costly, especially in those times.
8: Opera, p. 1836. This translation was made in 1463.

Not long afterwards, prompted by Cosimo's encouragement and authority, he turned his attention to translating the whole of Plato into Latin, which he completed in the next five years. (9) By this time he was thirty-five years old. Cosimo had already died, but his son Piero succeeded to his estate and to the charge of governing the Republic. (10) Piero was a man of the gentlest disposition, who for humanity and forebearance, not to mention his other virtues, may be compared with any of the greatest princes. At those times when he was seized with gout, he governed the Republic through the aristocratic party. Owing to his health he was allowed to govern for no more than five years, being the period by which he survived his father Cosimo.
9: Ficino worked on these translations from 1463 to 1468 but continued to revise them after this date, right up to 1484, when the first printed edition appeared.

10: Cosimo de' Medici died in August, 1464. Ficino dedicated his translation of Xenocrates' De Morte to Piero de' Medici, addressing him as 'Pillar of the Academy': see Ficino, Opera, p. 1965.

Whenever Marsilio visited him, which was frequently, and un-folded the teachings of Platonic philosophy, they had a marvellous effect on Piero. He urged Marsilio to publish his translations of Plato and to interpret and expound them in public, so that his citizens might also be enlightened by the new-found splendour of such sublime doctrine and such fine philosophy. And he personally supplied Marsilio with many volumes of great value, in both Greek and Latin, which greatly helped in setting out and explaining the teachings of Plato. And so at that time Marsilio gave public lectures on Plato's Philebus to a large audience. (11) Some lectures of this period are still extant, as well as four volumes of Platonic commentaries.

11 : According to Kristeller, Studies, p. 111, and Marcel, p. 309, the Church in Florence where these lectures were held, could have been the old Santa Maria degli Angeli. See also Michael Allen, Marsilio Ficino: The Philebus Commentary, p. 8, and footnote 31.

Marsilio intended at this time to develop fully the book of Platonic Theology almost as a model of the pagan religion, and also to publish the Orphic Hymns and Sacrifices; (12) but a divine miracle directly hin-dered him more and more every day, so that he daily accomplished less, being distracted, as he said, by a certain bitterness of spirit. St. Jerome has recorded that the same befell him over the writings of Cicero. (13) Indeed, it was to lighten his anguish of spirit, if at all possible, that at that time Ficino wrote the Commentary on Love. (14) He was persuaded to write this book by Giovanni Cavalcanti, a nobleman especially dear to Marsilio, with the aim of countering his anguish and at the same time calling the lovers of empty beauty back to immortal beauty. He attempted, moreover, to refresh his mind in many other ways, but all to no purpose. At length he came fully to realize that he was suffering these things through some divine influence because he had strayed too far from the Christian thinkers. (15) For this reason, with a change of heart, he interpreted the Platonic Theology (16) itself according to the Christian tradition, pro-ducing eighteen books on this subject. Besides this, he wrote his book On the Christian Religion (17) and undoubtedly obtained peace and consolation through these studies, completely dispelling all that bit-terness of spirit. (18) But now, whilst he was still in his forty-second year from being a pagan he became a soldier of Christ. (19) He left the whole of his patrimony to his brothers, for he received an adequate living from the two parishes whose care he had assumed through Lorenzo de' Medici.

12 : An anonymous Latin version of the Orphic hymns is found in two manuscripts, Laur. 36, 35 and Ottob. Lat. 2966. The Sacrifices refers possibly to Proclus, De Sacrificio et Magia. See Opera, p. 1928, and Marcel, p. 347.

13: See Jerome, Epistles XXII, 30 (to Eustochius). Jerome fell ill with a fever and in a vision was admonished for being a follower of Cicero rather than of Christ. On awaking from the dream, his conscience so tormented him that henceforth he read the books of God with more devotion than he had previously given to the books of men.

14: De Amore, a commentary on Plato's Symposium (Opera, p. 1320) written about 1469.

15: Ficino, in a letter to Francesco Marescalchi written in 1474 (Opera, p. 644.3) speaks of not yet having finished writing the book On The Christian Religion because of a severe illness from which he despaired of recovering. Prayer brought immediate relief and Ficino concluded that this was a sign from God that in future he should declare the Christian teaching with greater zeal. See Letters, Vol. 1, p. 126.

16: Theologia Platonica sive de Immortalitate Animarum, Opera 1, p. 78, et seq., written between 1469 and 1474.

17: De Christiana Religione, Opera, p. 1 et seq., written c. 1474.

18: Ficino suffered from attacks of melancholy at different times during his life. On one occasion (in 1476) Cavalcanti wrote to him, lightheartedly accusing him of attaching excessive importance to the influence upon him of the stars, especially Saturn. See Letters, Vol. 2, P. 31. See also note 46 below.

19 : In fact, Ficino was ordained a priest in 1473 (at the age of 40). See a letter addressed to Lorenzo de' Medici in which Ficino thanks him for bestowing on him the parish church of San Cristoforo in Novoli, near Florence. See Letters, Vol. 1, p. 63.

This was that great Lorenzo, son of Piero and grandson of Cosimo, both of whom we have mentioned before. To the Florentine Re-public he was Augustus, to the liberal arts Maecenas. For while he was alive there was no branch of learning, however obscure, which did not flower or was not given its due; and at that time the city of Florence was universally called a second Athens on account of the gathering of such learned men. Hence, with good reason, one of the learned men has written thus: 'Indeed the studies of letters owed most to the Florentines; amongst the Florentines, most to the Medici; amongst the Medici, most to Lorenzo.'(20) It is therefore the calamity of our times, and utterly deplorable, that in our State, in place of instruction and the liberal arts, ignorance and lack of know-ledge prevail; in place of modesty and restraint, ambition and excess; in place of generosity, greed. And so much so that nothing at all is done for the Republic, nothing for the laws, but all things are done for pleasure; thus it is that all the best men are assailed by the people as objects of derision. Bernardo Rucellai, detesting the Republic as a most barbaric stepmother, considered he would rather go into exile than remain any longer in that city, from which the disciplines of all the liberal arts and the best institutions of our ancestors, together with the Medici, were banished.
20: Poliziano, Epistolae, XII, 32.

But I return to Marsilio who, besides those things which he had written so far, produced a book entitled Remedy for the Plague,(21) and another on the beliefs of all philosophers (that is, what their opinions were on God and the soul)(22) and then Three Books On Life.(23) He then devoted himself entirely to those summaries of all Plato's works,(24) which he had long wanted to produce. In a short time he published these, divided into fixty-six parts for everyone to read, and with these also the Platonic Theology about which we spoke a little earlier, which he then expounded at his home over a period of nearly three years to most of his friends, and also afterwards in public, with Pico della Mirandola and the foremost of the nobility in the audience. At the same time he wrote On Pleasure(25) as well.

21: Consiglio Contra la Pestilentia, written in Italian during the Plague Of 1478-9. It was translated into Latin by Girolamo Ricci in 1516 and included in the Basle edition of Ficino's works (Opera, p. 576).

22: Di Dio et Anima, addressed to Francesco Capponi (1457); see Sup. Fic., II, p. 128 et seq.

23: De Vita Libri Tres, Opera, p. 493. Completed in 1489.

24 : The epitomes or summaries contain the main arguments of each dialogue. Kristeller believes Ficino wrote the argumentum to each dialogue at the same time as he translated it. See Sup. Fic., I, pp. xi, cxvi.

25 : De Voluptate, addressed to Antonio Canigiani; in fact written much earlier, in 1457; Opera, p. 986.

Being then fifty-one years old, he undertook the translation of Plotinus, in response to the entreaties of Pico della Mirandola. He had just begun this when, through the agency of Lorenzo de' Medici, he was received into the Florentine Chapter of Canons.(26) This was no small honour and gave very great joy to his colleagues and to all the citizens. At that time he expounded the divine gospels(27) in public before a crowded assembly to the great gratitude of all. In the next five years he presented the whole of Plotinus in Latin, and produced annotated commentaries (28) on each of the fifty four books. For such excellent work he earned universal acclaim, since this is that Plotinus whom Platonists themselves scarcely understand even after much toil, so concise his language, so deep his teaching! Consequently Marsilio is justly praised, for he was the first of all the Latin writers to uncover and elucidate the most obscure enigmas (I will not say doctrines) of such a great philosopher.

26 : He was made a canon in 1487, at the age of 54.

27: A collection of sermons (Praedicationes) are printed in Opera, p. 473. See also Sup. Fic., I, lxxxii.

28 : The summaries are printed in Opera, p. 1538 et seq. The translation and commentary were completed in 1490 and published in 1492.

After these works he translated Synesius On Dreams,(29) Psellus On Daemons, Iamblichus On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Priscian of Lydia On Theophrastus Concerning the Soul (with additions by the same Priscian), on which he also wrote commentaries. At the same time he translated Porphyry's On Fasting and Means for Reaching the Divine, also much from Hermias On the Phaedrus, from Iamblichus On the Pythagorean School and from Theon of Smyrna On Mathematics. He also translated Alcinous's Summary of Plato, together with the Definitions of Speusippus, the Sayings of Pythagoras, and Xenocrates' On Consolation, as well as the extracts from Athenagoras' On Resurrection. Furthermore he translated from Greek into Latin several works of Proclus, namely, On Alcibiades, On The Republic, and On Priesthood. He was then in his fifty-eighth year.

29: The works referred to in this Section are as follows:

Synesii de Somniis (Opera, p. 1968), c. 1488. See Sup. Fic. I, cxxxvii.

Pselli de Demonibus (Opera, p. 1939), c. 1488, excerpts.

Iamblichi de Mysteriis (Opera, p. 1873), 1488.

Prisciani Lydii super Theophrastum (Opera, p. 1801) et seq.

Porphyrii de Abstinentia (Opera, p. 1932) excerpts.

Porphyrii de Occasionibus (Opera, p. 1929), c. 1488.

Hermiae Commentarium in Phaedrum Platonis (MS Vat. Lat. 5953); not included in Opera; see Sup. Fic. I, xlvi.

Iamblichi de Secta Pythagorica Libri IV (MS Vat. Lat. 5953), written before 1474.

Theonis Smyrnei de Locis Mathematicis (MS Vat. Lat. 4530); see Sup. Fic. I, cxlvi.

Alcinoi de Doctrina Platonis (Opera, p. 1945), 1464.

Speusippi Definitiones (Opera, p. 1962), written before 1464.

Pythagorae Aurea Verba (Opera, p. 1978), written before 1464.

Xenocratis de Morte (Opera, p. 1965), c. 1464.

Athenagorae de Resurrectione (Opera, p. 1871), excerpts written before 1493.

Ex Proculi Commentariis in Alcibiadem Platonis Primum (Opera, p. 1908), 1488, excerpts.

Procli de Sacrificio et Magia (Opera, p. 1928), 1488.

Having published Plotinus, he devoted himself completely to translating the books of Dionysius the Areopagite(30) into Latin, since they especially supported the Christian religion and in no way departed from the Platonic discipline. In addition, twelve volumes of the letters of Marsilio to many of his friends were circulated, with fabricated headings,(31) wrongly addressed, except for a very few letters concerning speculative philosophy, scattered throughout the volumes, namely: On the Five Keys to Platonic Theology(32) and in the same group: On the Rapture of Paul into the Third Heaven,(33) On Light, (34) On the Star of the Magi,(35) and some others of this kind, written with the greatest learning and skill. All the others should be ascribed to Ficino,(36) his brother's son.

30: De Mystica Theologia, De Divinis Nominibus (Opera, p. 1013), translation and commentary 1492, dedicated to Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici.

31: See Introductory Note to Corsi's Life of Marsilio Ficino.

32: Quinque Platonicae Sapientiae Claves, Opera, p. 682, et seq. (an earlier redaction of some of the shorter treatises later included in the second book of Letters) 1476. For a corrected text see Marcel, Theologie Platonicienne, Vol. III, Opuscula Theologica, pp. 301-43.

33: De Raptu Pauli (Opera, p. 697), 1476.

34: De Lumine, which forms part of the second book of Letters (Opera, p. 7I7) written in 1476; a later enlarged version written in 1492 is also printed in the Opera, p. 976 et seq.

35: Divina lex fieri a coelo non potest, Opera, p. 849 (from the seventh book of Letters); 'Divine law cannot arise from the stars'. De Stella Magorum, Opera, p. 489.

36: This was Ficino Ficini, who was executed in 1530 for his Medici sympathies. He was a disciple of Diacceto. See Sup. Fic., II, p. 334.

In the last seven years of his life, after he had published what he had written on Plato's Fatal Number(37) from the eighth book of The Republic, and then On the Sun and Light,(38) he began new commentaries on the whole of Plato and then a most useful division of Plato's work into separate books,(39) so that the mind of the writer might be more easily and clearly understood. In that year, when he had finished highly learned commentaries on Parmenides(40) and Timaeus,(41) he also wrote and completed commentaries on The Mystical Theology of Dionysius and then on Divine Names.(42) Indeed in this last period he published commentaries not only on Parmenides, Timaeus and on Theaetetus but also on Philebus, Phaedrus and The Sophist.(43) And at this time, in addition he publicly expounded to a great gathering the epistles of St. Paul.(44) He began commentaries on these, but he was overtaken by death and left them unfinished.

37: Commentarius in Loco Platonis ex Octavo Libro de Republica de Mutatione Reipublicae per Numerum Fatalem (Opera, p. 1413), written c. 1496. See Republic, VIII, 546-7. This section deals with the manner in which the ideal state ruled by the guardians begins to decline through lack of knowledge concerning the law of number relating to human birth.

38: De Sole et Lumine (Opera, p. 965), 1493.

39: Ficino did not start new commentaries on the whole of Plato at this time. Between 1490 and 1496 he completed his revisions of the commentaries, putting them together and dividing them into separate chapter headings and summaries of contents. The only new commentaries written at this period were the Parmenides and Sophist commentaries (1494) and a commentary on a section of book VIII of the Republic (1496) (See note 37 above). The final collected commentaries on Plato were published in 1496.

40: Commentarius in Parmenidem (Opera, p. 1136 seq.) written c. 1494.

41: In Timaeum Commentarius (Opera, p. 1438 seq.). This contains the second version, written about 1484. An earlier version, written possibly before 1452, is not extant. According to Kristeller the earlier version may be identical with the lost work entitled Principles of Platonic Discipline, mentioned by Ficino in two letters (Opera, p. 619.3 and p. 929.2). See Sup. Fic., I, cxx, clxiii.

42: See note 30, above.

43: Commentarii in Philebum (Opera, p. 1207) Commentarius in Phaedrum (Opera, p. 1363) Commentarius in Sophistam (Opera, p. 1285). There is no commentary on Theaetetus.

44: In Epistolas Divi Pauli (Opera, p. 425).

So much for Marsilio's writings, as they are at present known to us. It remains to recount something of the life and character of the man.

In stature he was very short, of slender build, and somewhat hunched in both shoulders. He was a little hesitant of speech and stuttered, but only in pronouncing the letter 's'; yet in his speech and appearance he was not without grace. His legs and arms, and particularly his hands, were rather long. His face was drawn forward and presented a mild and pleasing aspect; his complexion was ruddy. His hair was golden and curly and stood up above his forehead. His bodily constitution contained excessive blood which was mixed with a thin subtle red bile. His health was not at all settled, for he suffered very much from a weakness of the stomach, and although he always appeared cheerful and festive in company, yet it was thought that he sat long in solitude and became as if numb with melancholy. This came about either from black bile produced by the excessive burning of bile through continual night study,(45) or, as he himself said, from Saturn, which at his birth was in the ascendant in Aquarius and nearly square to Mars in Scorpio.(46)
45: Black bile (melaina colh) was one of the four bodily humours recognised by medieval physicians. It is associated with the element earth and the qualities cold and dry. It gives rise to men of melancholy temperament who are influenced by the planet Saturn. When of pure quality and present in correct quantity it is responsible for the fine work of men of outstanding intellect and wisdom. When impure, in excess, or produced by burning of any of the humours it causes excitement and frenzy, followed by dullness, foolishness, depression and madness. Ficino, himself subject to melancholy, describes these states and their prevention and cure in De Vita Libri Tres I, 3-7 and 10-18. See also Hippocrates, The Nature of Man; Galen, On the Natural Faculties, II, ix.

46: In a letter to Cavalcanti (Opera, p. 733. 1) Ficino discusses his horoscope: 'Saturn seems to have impressed the seal of melancholy on me from the beginning, set as it is, almost in the midst of my ascendant Aquarius. It is influenced by Mars . . .it is in square aspect to the Sun and Mercury in Scorpio.' See Letters, Vol. 2, letter 24. See also note 18 above.

After his forty-fifth year he enjoyed somewhat better health, although during the whole of his life, as I have said, he was never fully healthy. Though he was often sick, and gravely so, and there were fears for his life, his health was restored through the prayers of many friends on his behalf and he reached his sixty-sixth year. By nature he was mild, refined and gentle, although sometimes he was quick to break out into anger when driven by bile, yet like a flash of lightning he instantly became calm again. He easily forgot injury, but was never forgetful of obligations. He was not at all inclined to excessive desire; yet he was enraptured by love just as Socrates was, and he used to discuss and debate the subject of love in the Socratic manner with young men. When he was engaged with them in this way, the more he cherished them, the more they honoured and respected him. Throughout his life he was content with simple clothes and possessions. He was neat rather than elegant and was strongly averse to all extravagance. He obtained the ne-cessities of life readily enough; otherwise he was sparing in food, but he did select the most excellent wines. For he was rather disposed towards wine, yet he never went away from parties drunk or fuddled, though often more cheerful.

There were frequent but well-ordered feasts at his own or his friends' houses, and especially at those of the Medici,(47) by whom he was often invited. As I have said, he was as mild and gentle in discussion as in everything else, ever cheerful and an excellent conversationalist, second to none in refinement and wit. Many of his sayings survive, as they were uttered, in the Tuscan language. Every day these sayings, full of wit, jests and laughter, are commonly on the lips of his friends. Even now, from time to time, the cunning man, as the poet says, may play with these upon the heart.(48) But to repeat them individually, besides taking too long, would sound out of place: a consequence of the limitations of the language, the novelty of the subject and the particular qualities of his native tongue.
47: One feast of this kind, described in De Amore and in a letter to Jacopo Bracciolini, was celebrated by Lorenzo de' Medici in his villa at Careggi in honour of Plato's birthday on the 7th November 1468. Another feast was held by Francesco Bandini at his house in Florence, probably in November 1473. See Letters, Vol. 1, letter 107. The nature of the Platonic convivium is described by Ficino in a letter to Bembo. See Letters, Vol. 2, letter 42.

48: Persius, Satires, I, 116-7.

In inventiveness he was always fluent and resourceful; in debate he was not so effective or ready: thus he remained essentially a poet. His style was appropriate and becoming to philosophy. He was always content with his lot, so that at no time was he moved by the desire to squander or accumulate. Indeed, as befits a philosopher, he was rather indifferent to business matters.

He attended carefully not only to his own health but to that of all his friends as well, for he shared the fruits of his not inconsiderable study of medicine, effecting remarkable cures always free of charge.

It was wonderful to see the healing skill with which he cured some afflicted by black bile, restoring them to perfect health. The Medici would summon him first whenever the need arose and he worked for this family with untiring dedication to restore the health of many of its members. He also paid attention to many aspects of physiognomy,(49) in which, through considerable study undertaken in early manhood, he had become an excellent practitioner. Astronomy, too, he studied with unusual care and earned much praise in this subject, particularly in his reputations of the astrologers.(50) He shunned as being worse than dogs and serpents(51) all casters of horoscopes, charlatans and disputatious scholastics, Aristotelians, and those addicted to the modern school.
49: A lost work on physiognomy is mentioned by Ficino in one letter (Opera, p. 619.3). See Sup. Fic., I, clxiii.

50: See Ficino's Disputatio Contra Iudicium Astrologorum, Sup. Fic. II p. 11 et seq.; also letter 37 in this volume.

51: 'Cane pejus et angue', Horace, Epistles, I, XVII, 30.

Here is something not to be left out: he had a unique and divine skill in magic, driving out evil demons and spirits from very many places and putting them to flight. Always a very keen defender of religion, he was extremely hostile to superstition. Although very eager to encourage the fine arts, he always had an especial inclination towards the Platonic teachings. He would take great pains to reconcile friends. He was a model of dutiful conduct towards parents, relatives, friends and the dead, but particularly towards his mother, Alessandra,(52) whose life he prolonged, by remarkable care and at-tention, to her eighty-fourth year, even though she was an invalid. He lived frequently in the countryside near the city.
52: Alessandra di Nannocio Diotifeci, who died about 1498, one year before Ficino.

On serious matters he always responded instantly to the entreaties of his friends, helping them if necessary with the strong authority and influence which he wielded with all the Medici. He was swift to comfort those afflicted by misfortune; indeed, he exercised more gentleness in comforting those in distress than severity in reproving wrongdoers. In short, he showed humanity, gentleness, and love to all alike.

It is easy to appreciate how many friends he had and the kind of people they were from the dedications of his books, and also from the volumes of letters which, as I have stated earlier, were mostly brought together and put in order by Ficino's nephew. But among others who kept him intimate company almost daily were Bernardo Rucellai, Giovanni Canacci and Bindaccio Ricasoli. These were men of unimpeachable integrity and learning; in the words of the poet, 'the Earth has borne none more fair.'(53)
53: Horace, Satires, I, V, 41.

Bernardo was outstanding for his lofty spirit and his authority so that in the conduct of affairs his skill was second to none of his age. He was preeminent as a man of letters, and pure in speech. His was a free spirit, a slave to none. His respect for antiquity was remarkable. In short, there was nothing in the man that did not befit a patrician and a senator; but more of him elsewhere.

Canacci was serious in his ways, grave of speech, agreeably refined and very quick-witted; his character and way of life call to mind the Cincinnati and the ancient Serrani.(54)
54: Cincinnatus was the surname of L. Quintius, who was summoned by the Senate from his modest farm to assume the office of Dictator when Rome was threatened by hostile forces. He returned to his farm when the danger had passed. Serranus was the surname of Attilius Regulus who was also summoned from his farm to public office during a period of crisis.

Bindaccio had a calm and mild disposition, a very gentle manner and a most generous heart.

With these men Marsilio often used to discuss serious matters of philosophy, and sometimes he would jest and converse with them.

In the last five years of his life he took great delight in the friendship of Bishop Cosimo Pazzi of Arezzo, a man of great virtue, who was outstanding in academic learning and many other skills, 'for far from his home he contended with fortune for a long time, observing the ways of many men; and enduring much on the outward journey but even more on the return.'(55)
55: Homer, Odyssey, I, 1-5.

Many people advanced to the summit of philosophy under Mar-silio, but first among them all were Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and Francesco da Diacceto, who came from a noble Florentine family. They were two glorious lights of the Academy, two models of virtue. They were an exceptional pair on this earth, but different in character. In Pico could be seen illustrious fortune, remarkable in-genuity, powers which were almost divine, and a wide variety of learning. But in Diacceto fortune was less abundant and nature less versatile. Yet so profound was this man's intellect, so vigorous and absorbed in the study of wisdom, that he was the only person in our time, it seems, to be admitted to the secret mysteries of the Academy. And when Pico openly disagreed with Marsilio, Diacceto always defended and praised his master. But far be it from me to pass judgement on such great men.

I hope that some of Diacceto's commentaries on Plato(56) will soon be published in the common tongue, for they will show to all what a great man he is in every branch of philosophy.
56: Corsi may be referring to Diacceto's treatise on love, De Amore. An Italian version of this work was also prepared by Diacceto. The Panegyricus in Amorem, which is dedicated to Corsi, was also translated into Italian.

While he was still alive the fame of Marsilio spread throughout almost the whole world. Thus it was that Pope Sixtus IV,(57) a man of magnanimity and great learning, and many fathers of the distinguished Roman Curia strove with lavish promises to persuade Mar-silio to come to Rome. Furthermore, Matthias, King of Hungary, a man of the highest spirit and renown, vied with other princes in offering large rewards for Marsilio to leave Florence and come to spread Plato's teachings.(58) But he was always content with his pre-sent circumstances and was not to be enticed by any reasons, prayers or gifts to accept any other situation, however fine and rewarding, at the cost of abandoning the Medici, to whom he owed all that he had been given, together with those friends who were most dear to him, his mother who was now in her old age, and the Academy which was flourishing so well.

57: There is no evidence that Pope Sixtus IV ever invited Ficino to Rome, but see a letter to Ficino from Ermolao Barbaro (Opera, p. 912.3), stating that the Pope (Innocent VIII) had spoken very highly of Ficino and wished to see him in Rome.

58: See letter 39 in this volume. See also a letter to Nicolaus Bathory, written in 1482 (Opera, p. 884.2), in which Ficino declined an invitation from King Matthias to go to Hungary to teach Plato's philosophy.

So he was content with a quiet life, and could not be separated from his native city. Every day men of outstanding intellect and learning used to come from many different places to see and hear him. Pico della Mirandola, that miracle of nature of whom I have spoken above, was one of these. When he came to Florence, he took quite modest rooms near Marsilio and occupied them for almost three years. Furthermore, he sought the gift of Florentine citizenship. There was also Pier Leone,(59) who was easily the leading physician of his time as well as a passionate investigator of nature's secrets; he devoted himself assiduously to the Platonists and to Marsilio, whom he always held in the highest honour.
59: See Notes on Ficino's Correspondents under Pier Leone.

This is almost all that I have learned about Marsilio until now. He died on 1st October, 1499, on the very day that Paolo Vitelli,(60) commanding the Florentine army, was enticed out of the Pisan camp and into the city, where he was opposed by a large number of the nobility and lost his life.
60: Paolo Vitelli and his brother Vitelozzo were suspected by the anti-Medici fac-tion, who were then in control of Florence, of being in league with the Medici. Paolo was led into a trap and hung by a hostile crowd.

Whether death came to Marsilio from old age or, as some main-tain, from his stomach ailment, I have not been able to discover. All his friends attended the funeral as well as many of the nobility. Marcello Virgilio(61) made the funeral speech away from the general gathering. Marsilio was buried in the Church of the Santa Reparata in the sepulchre reserved for canons. The people of Florence attended, with grief and tears.
61: See Notes on Ficino's Correspondents under Marcello Virgilio Adriani.
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