Ficinus, Marsilius

Ficinus, Marsilius

(Marsiglio Ficino)-the principal restorer of the Platonic philosophy and the most enthusiastic of its modern advocates-was born at Florence Oct. 19, 1433, and died at his villa of Careggi, in the neighborhood, Oct. 1, 1499. He was the son of the chief physician of Cosmo di Medici, and was designed for the same profession; but his youthful intelligence attracted the great Florentine, and induced his selection as the prospective head of the projected Medicean Academy. During the sessions of the Council of Florence, the conversations of Gemistus Pletho had inspired Cosmo with profound admiration for the Platonic doctrine, and with a desire to disseminate it in Tuscany. The excessive refinements and logomachies of the later schoolmen had discredited the system of Aristotle; the disturbance and alarms preceding the capture of Constantinople had driven many a educated Greeks into Italy, and introduced the works and the followers of Plato and the Neo-Platonists; and the acrimonious controversy of Pletho and Gennadius attracted attention to the sublime reveries and eloquent expositions of the Platonic school.

Marsilius Ficinus devoted himself with ardor-to the acquisition and illustration of the Platonic doctrines, and w as abundantly supplied by the Medici with MSS., and with the other requirements for the successful prosecution of his task. At the age of 23 he presented to his patron a synopsis of the tenets of the academy, but was recommended to suppress it, as his knowledge was obtained at second-hand, and he had not yet attained an adequate acquaintance with the Greek language. Ficinus Continued his studies, and devoted his whole life to the translation and interpretation of the academic texts, inclining strongly to the views of the later Platonists. He rendered into Latin the whole works of Plato and of Plotinus, and parts of the. writings of Proclus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, etc. The translation of Plotinus was undertaken at -the suggestion of Pico di Mirandola, and was published in 1492. His whole heart seems to have been thrown into this labor of love. In part he transforms himself into Plotinus; in a greater degree he constrains Plotinus to give utterance to his own preconceptions. To each chapter of the work is prefixed a copious summary, which presents rather Ficino's scheme of transcendentalism than an accurate abbreviation of the text. It however affords something like an intelligible and coherent exposition, in place of the dark, oracular, and loosely. connected pantheism of his author, which baffled even the penetration of Longinus. The intricacy, the opacity, and the mysticism of the doctrine expounded, and the ruggedness of its original exposition, are not relieved by any literary graces on the part of the summarist and translator. His style is inconceivably harsh, angular, and obscure; yet it is impossible to withhold admiration from the vigor, and skill, and grasp with which he compels the reluctant Latin to lend itself to the demands of the subject-to twist, and wind, and adapt itself to the sinuosities of the most plastic of all languages, applied to the most perplexed and attenuated of all speculations-and to interpret a style and a system totally foreign to the air of Latium. Lucretius apologized in the Golden Age for the stubbornness of his native tongue in the treatment of the simple and perspicuous doctrines of Epicurus; and a much more wonderful power is exhibited by Ficinus in constraining the dead and stiffened tongue of Rome to conform itself to all the convolutions of Greek thought and fantasy in their most bewildering license. Nor is it just to leave unnoticed the frequency with which Ficinus catches and reflects the splendors of his original, and reproduces the magnificences of their expression.

Attempts had often been made. and were renewed in the 15th century, to conciliate the, teachings of Plato and Aristotle, and the evident aim of Ficinus was to impose upon Plato and the Neo-Platonists a significance which might identify, or at least harmonize, their doctrines with the Christian creed. It was a preposterous revival of a design fruitlessly attempted at Alexandria in the age of Origen and his successors. Pantheism is wholly antipathetic to Christianity, whether presented as Neo-Platonism, as Spinozism, or as German transcendentalism. But it was a natural effort in that era of confusion and hopeful anticipation which witnessed the Renaissance. Moreover, the doctrines of Plotinus himself are manifestly moulded and modified by the contemporaneous influences of Christianity; and it is a curious taste to detect the Christian impress which marks so much of his abstruse metaphysics, especially in the closing books of the last AEneids. It is scarcely possible to read the concluding capitulum, or summary, without feeling that the hallucination of Ficinus was an honest as well as an earnest delusion; and that, if he misrepresented both Plato and the Alexandrian school by Christianizing their doctrine. he did not suffer himself to be seduced from a recognition of tile personality of the Supreme Being, or into any position consciously at variance .with' the Christian creed.

Ficinus was liberally maintained throughout his life by his generous patrons of the house of the Medici, retaining their favor for three generations-- μετὰ δὲ τριτάτοισιν ἄνασσεν. He was equally countenanced by Cosmo, Pietro, and Lorenzo. He took holy orders in the forty-third year of his age, having, according to some accounts, had his thoughts earnestly directed to religion by the preaching of the celebrated Savonarola.

He was placed in charge of two churches in Florence by Lorenzo di Medici, and promoted to a canonry in the cathedral by the future pope Leo X. Lorenzo made him a present of the villa of Careggi, where he died, seven years after the death of the donor, and five years after the expulsion of his patrons from Florence. His constitution was always very feeble, his health uncertain, and his temperament melancholy. His frail body--for he scarcely attained half the ordinary stature of man-required constant care and nursing, and it is surprising that he was not worn out by continual study long before reaching his climacteric. His character was singularly pure and amiable; his attachments were strong and enduring; his tastes, simple, and his desires moderate. He refused to profit by his powerful connections to enrich either himself or his family. He partook largely of the popular superstitions of the time, which were accordant with the later Platonism which he professed; and is said to have reappeared after death to his friend Michele Mercati, according to promise, to assure him of the immortality of the soul.

The Medicean Academy was extinguished by the invasion of Charles VIII; but Ficinus had disseminated his influence and renown through the chair of philosophy in the University of Florence, to which he had been appointed by the Cardinal di Medici, afterwards Leo X. Here he acquired many distinguished pupils and friends, among them Giovanni Pico di Mirandola, Cavalcanto, Politian, etc. Enthusiasts came from the depths of Germany to profit by his instructions. Reuchlin regarded him with reverence, and among other illustrious admirers he numbered Matthias Corvinus, the accomplished king of Hungary, and pope Sixtus IV.

The numerous productions of Ficinus are enumerated by Moreri, and a more correct list is given in the Biographie Universelle. A life of him was written by Domenico Mellini, but it was never published, and it disappeared. Another life, composed by Giovanni Corsi .in 1506, was published by Bandini (Pisa, 1771). .The best account of the philosophy of Ficinus is given by .Buhle, Geschichte der Philosophie; but the following authorities may be consulted: Schelhorn, Amaenitatis Lit. tom. i; Niceron, Mem. des Hommes Illustres, Negri, Ist. Scritt. Florentini; J. A. Fabricius, Biblioth. Med. et Inf. Latin. lib. vi, p. 496-7; Morhofius, Polyhistor. II, i, vii; § 15; Tiraboschi, Storia della Lett. Ital. tom. 6:lib. ii, c. ii, § xix-xxi; Brucker, Hist. Crit. Phil. per. iii, pt. i, lib. i, c. ii, § iii; Roscoe, Life of Lorenzo di Medici; Hallam, Hist. Lit. i, ch. iii, § 85-7, 115. (G. F.H.)

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