Biography:Marsilio Ficino

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Short description: Italian philosopher and Catholic priest (1433–1499)
Marsilio Ficino
Marsilio Ficino - Angel Appearing to Zacharias (detail).jpg
Marsilio Ficino from a fresco painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Born19 October 1433
Figline Valdarno, Republic of Florence
Died1 October 1499(1499-10-01) (aged 65)
Careggi, Republic of Florence
Notable work
EraRenaissance philosophy
SchoolChristian humanism
Main interests
Immortality of the Soul

Theology of Love and Eros
Translation of Platonists
Commentary on the dialogues of Plato
Natural, medical use of Astrology and Theurgy

Catholic interfaith polemics
Notable ideas
Platonic love
First in a genus
Prisca theologia[1]

Marsilio Ficino (Italian: [marˈsiːljo fiˈtʃiːno]; Latin name: Marsilius Ficinus; 19 October 1433–1 October 1499) was an Italian scholar and Catholic priest who was one of the most influential humanist philosophers of the early Italian Renaissance. He was an astrologer, a reviver of Neoplatonism in touch with the major academics of his day, and the first translator of Plato's complete extant works into Latin.[2] His Florentine Academy, an attempt to revive Plato's Academy, influenced the direction and tenor of the Italian Renaissance and the development of European philosophy.

Early life

Ficino was born at Figline Valdarno. His father, Diotifeci d'Agnolo, was a physician under the patronage of Cosimo de' Medici, who took the young man into his household and became the lifelong patron of Marsilio, who was made tutor to his grandson, Lorenzo de' Medici. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, the Italian humanist philosopher and scholar, was another of his students.[citation needed]

Career and thought

Platonic Academy

During the sessions at Florence of the Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1438–1445, during the failed attempts to heal the schism of the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) churches, Cosimo de' Medici and his intellectual circle had made acquaintance with the Neoplatonic philosopher George Gemistos Plethon, whose discourses upon Plato and the Alexandrian mystics so fascinated the humanists of Florence that they named him the second Plato. In 1459 John Argyropoulos was lecturing on Greek language and literature at Florence, and Ficino became his pupil.[3]

Corpus Hermeticum: first Latin edition, by Marsilio Ficino, 1471, at the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam.

When Cosimo decided to refound Plato's Academy at Florence, he chose Ficino as its head. In 1462, Cosimo supplied Ficino with Greek manuscripts of Plato's work, whereupon Ficino started translating the entire corpus into Latin[4] (draft translation of the dialogues finished 1468–9;[5] published 1484). Ficino also produced a translation of a collection of Hellenistic Greek documents found by Leonardo da Pistoia later called Hermetica,[6] and the writings of many of the Neoplatonists, including Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Plotinus.

Among his many students were Niccolo Valori[7][8] and Francesco Cattani da Diacceto. The latter was considered by Ficino to be his successor as the head of the Florentine Platonic Academy.[9] Diacceto's student, Giovanni di Bardo Corsi, produced a short biography of Ficino in 1506.[10]

Theology, astrology, and the soul

Zachariah in the Temple (detail), a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1486–1490) in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence, showing (L-R): Marsilio Ficino, Cristoforo Landino, Angelo Poliziano and Gentile de' Becchi or Demetrios Chalkondyles

Though trained as a physician, Ficino became a priest in 1473.[11][12][13] In 1474 Ficino completed his treatise on the immortality of the soul, Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animae,[3] (Platonic Theology) and De Christiana Religione (On the Christian Religion), a history of religions and defense of Christianity.[14] In the rush of enthusiasm for every rediscovery from Antiquity, he exhibited some interest in the arts of astrology (despite denigrating it in relation to divine revelation), which landed him in trouble with the Catholic Church. In 1489 he was accused of heresy before Pope Innocent VIII[3] and was acquitted.

Writing in 1492 Ficino proclaimed:

"This century, like a golden age, has restored to light the liberal arts, which were almost extinct: grammar, poetry, rhetoric, painting, sculpture, architecture, music ... this century appears to have perfected astrology."[This quote needs a citation]

Ficino's letters, extending over the years 1474–1494, survive and have been published.[3] He wrote De amore (Of Love) in 1484. De vita libri tres (Three books on life), or De triplici vita[15] (The Book of Life), published in 1489, provides a great deal of medical and astrological advice for maintaining health and vigor, as well as espousing the Neoplatonist view of the world's ensoulment and its integration with the human soul:

There will be some men or other, superstitious and blind, who see life plain in even the lowest animals and the meanest plants, but do not see life in the heavens or the world ... Now if those little men grant life to the smallest particles of the world, what folly! what envy! neither to know that the Whole, in which 'we live and move and have our being,' is itself alive, nor to wish this to be so.[16]

One metaphor for this integrated "aliveness" is Ficino's astrology. In the Book of Life, he details the interlinks between behavior and consequence. It talks about a list of things that hold sway over a man's destiny.

Medical works

Probably due to early influences from his father, Diotifeci, who was a doctor to Cosimo de' Medici, Ficino published Latin and Italian treatises on medical subjects such as Consiglio contro la pestilenza (Recommendations for the treatment of the plague) and De vita libri tres (Three books on life). His medical works exerted considerable influence on Renaissance physicians such as Paracelsus, with whom he shared the perception on the unity of the microcosmos and macrocosmos, and their interactions, through somatic and psychological manifestations, with the aim to investigate their signatures to cure diseases. Those works, which were very popular at the time, dealt with astrological and alchemical concepts. Thus Ficino came under the suspicion of heresy; especially after the publication of the third book in 1489, which contained specific instructions on healthful living in a world of demons and other spirits.[17]

Platonic love

Notably, Ficino coined the term Platonic love, which first appeared in his letter to Alamanno Donati in 1476. In 1492, Ficino published Epistulae (Epistles), which contained Platonic love letters, written in Latin, to his academic colleague and life-long friend, Giovanni Cavalcanti, concerning the nature of Platonic love. Because of this, some have alleged Ficino was a homosexual, but this finds little basis in his letters.[18] In his commentary on the Republic, too, he specifically denies to his readers that the homosexual references made in Plato's dialogue were anything more than jokes "spoken merely to relieve the feeling of heaviness".[19] Regardless, Ficino's letters to Cavalcanti resulted in the popularization of the term Platonic love in Western Europe.[citation needed]


Ficino died on 1 October 1499 at Careggi. In 1521 his memory was honored with a bust sculpted by Andrea Ferrucci, which is located in the south side of the nave in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.[citation needed]


File:Ficino - De triplici vita, 1560 - 3042759 V00227 00000002.tif

  • Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animae (Platonic Theology). Harvard U. P., Latin with English translation.
    • vol. 1, 2001, ISBN:0-674-00345-4
    • vol. 2, 2002, ISBN:0-674-00764-6
    • vol. 3, 2003, ISBN:0-674-01065-5
    • vol. 4, 2004, ISBN:0-674-01482-0
    • vol. 5, 2005, ISBN:0-674-01719-6
    • vol. 6 with index, 2006, ISBN:0-674-01986-5
  • The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, transl. by the Language Department of the School of Economic Science (Shepheard-Walwyn, 1975–2013). (With extensive endnotes.)

File:Delle divine lettere del gran Marsilio Ficino.tif

    • vol. I, 1975, ISBN:978-0-85683-010-5
    • vol. II, 1978, ISBN:978-0-85683-036-5
    • vol. III, 1981, ISBN:978-0-85683-045-7
    • vol. IV, 1988, ISBN:978-0-85683-070-9
    • vol. V, 1994, ISBN:978-0-85683-129-4
    • vol. VI, 1999, ISBN:978-0-85683-167-6
    • vol. VII, 2003, ISBN:978-0-85683-192-8
    • vol. VIII, 2010, ISBN:978-0-85683-242-0
    • vol. IX, 2013, ISBN:978-0-85683-289-5


  • Commentaries on Plato. I Tatti Renaissance Library. Bilingual, annotated English/Latin editions of Ficino's commentaries on the works of Plato.
    • vol. 1, 2008, Phaedrus, and Ion, transl. by Michael J. B. Allen, ISBN:0-674-03119-9 (For an alternative translation of the Ion commentary, see Gardens of Philosophy, below.)
    • vol. 2, 2012, Parmenides, pt. 1, transl. by Maude Vanhaelen, ISBN:0-674-06471-2
    • vol. 3, 2012, Parmenides, pt. 2, transl. by Maude Vanhaelen, ISBN:0-674-06472-0 (For an alternative translation of the Parmenides commentary, see below.)
  • Evermore Shall Be So: Ficino on Plato's Parmenides, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard Walwyn, 2008). (Does not include Latin text.)
  • Gardens of Philosophy: Ficino on Plato, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2006). Contains the following:
    • Ficino's Preface to his Commentaries on Plato [addressed to Lorenzo de' Medici].
    • Hipparchus: The Desire for Gain
    • Philosophy or The Lover
    • Theages: Wisdom
    • Meno: Virtue
    • Alcibiades I: Nature of Man
    • Alcibiades II: Prayer
    • Minos: Law
    • Euthyphro: Holiness
    • Hippias: The Beautiful and Noble
    • Lysis: Friendship
    • Theatetus: Knowledge
    • Ion: Poetic Inspiration
    • Statesman: Kingship
    • Protagoras: Virtue
    • Euthydemus: The Views of the Sophists
    • Lesser Hippias: Truthfulness
    • Charmides: Temperance
    • Laches: Courage
    • Cratylus: Names
    • Gorgias: Rhetoric
    • Apology: Socrates' Defense
    • Crito: Socrates' Way of Life
    • Phaedo: Nature of the Soul
    • Menexenus: Love for One's Country
    • Critias: Story of Atlantis
    • Discussions of Plato's twelve letters
    • Two of Ficino's other prefaces to the dialogues and their commentaries
  • When Philosophers Rule: Ficino on Plato's Republic, Laws, and Epinomis, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2009). (Unabridged except for the commentary on Republic, bk. 8; see Nuptial Arithmetic, below.)
  • Nuptial Arithmetic: Marsilio Ficino's Commentary on the Fatal Number in Book VIII of Plato's Republic, ed. and transl. by Michael J. B. Allen (U. of California P., 1994).
  • Commentary on Plato's Symposium on Love, transl. with an introduction and notes by Sears Jayne (Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications, 1985), 2nd edn., 2000, ISBN:0-88214-601-7 (For an alternative translation, see On the Nature of Love, below.)
  • On the Nature of Love: Ficino on Plato's Symposium, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2016).
  • Icastes. Marsilio Ficino's Interpretation of Plato's Sophist, ed. and tranl. by Michael J. B. Allen (Berkeley: U. of California P., 1989).
  • All Things Natural: Ficino on Plato's Timaeus, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2010).

Other works

  • The Book of Life, transl. with an introduction by Charles Boer, Dallas: Spring Publications, 1980. ISBN 0-88214-212-7
  • De vita libri tres (Three Books on Life, 1489) transl. by Carol V. Kaske and John R. Clarke, Tempe, Arizona: The Renaissance Society of America, 2002. With notes, commentaries, and Latin text on facing pages. ISBN:0-86698-041-5
  • De religione Christiana et fidei pietate (1475–6), dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici. (English translation below.)
  • On the Christian Religion, ed. and transl. by Dan Attrell, Brett Bartlett, and David Porreca (U. of Toronto P., 2022). (With extensive notes, indexes, etc.)
  • In Epistolas Pauli commentaria, Marsilii Ficini Epistolae (Venice, 1491; Florence, 1497).
  • Meditations on the Soul: Selected letters of Marsilio Ficino, transl. by the Language Department of the School of Economic Science, London. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1996. ISBN:0-89281-658-9.
  • Collected works: Opera (Florence,1491, Venice, 1516, Basel, 1561).

See also


  1. Heiser, James D., Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century, Repristination Press, 2011. ISBN:978-1-4610-9382-4
  2. Marsilio Ficino. Voss, Angela.. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books. 2006. pp. ix–x. ISBN 1556435606. OCLC 65407018. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSymonds, John Addington (1911). "Ficino, Marsilio". in Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 317–319. 
  4. Bartlett, K. R., ed (2011). The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance: A Sourcebook. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1442604858. 
  5. Hankins, J. (1990). Plato in the Italian Renaissance. BRILL. pp. 300. ISBN 9004091610. 
  6. Yates, Frances A. (1964) Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. University of Chicago Press 1991 edition: ISBN:0-226-95007-7
  7. Nuovo Dizionario Istorico, Va = Uz, vol. 21, transl. from French, Remondini of Venice (1796); p. 51.
  8. Niccolo Valori (died 1527) wrote a biography of Lorenzo de' Medici the elder and published posthumously in 1568.
  9. Marsilio Ficino, entry by Christopher Celenza in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  10. Annotated English translation of Corsi's biography of Ficino
  11. Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier, Pythagoras and Renaissance Europe: Finding Heaven, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  12. Oskar, Kristeller Paul. Studies in Renaissance thought and letters. IV. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e letteratura, 1996: 565.
  13. "Three Books on Life". World Digital Library. 26 February 2014. 
  14. Deitz, Luc; Kraye, Jill (1997). "Marsilio Ficino". Cambridge Translations of Renaissance Philosophical Texts. pp. 147–155. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511803048.014. ISBN 9780511803048. 
  15. Daniel Pickering Walker (January 2000). Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella. Penn State Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-271-02045-8. 
  16. Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, translated by Carol V. Kaske and John R. Clark, Tempe AZ: The Renaissance Society of America, 2002. From the Apologia, p. 399. (The internal quote is from Acts 17:28.)
  17. Marsilio Ficino. Biography and introduction to The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, Volume 1 1975 Fellowship of the School of Economic Science, London. Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  18. Kaske, Carol (2006). "Review: Marsilio Ficino. The Letters of Marsilio Ficino.". Renaissance Quarterly 59 (3): 829. doi:10.1353/ren.2008.0389. ""I find no evidence in his letters of the homosexuality of which some contemporaries and some scholars over the last fifty years have suspected him."". 
  19. Ficino, Marsilio, "The Commentary of Marsilio Ficino to Plato's Republic", in Arthur Farndell, ed. and transl., When Philosophers Rule: Ficino on Plato's Republic, Laws, and Epinomis (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2009), p. 24.

Further reading

  • Allen, Michael J.B.; Rees, V.; Davies, Martin (2002). Marsilio Ficino: his theology, his philosophy, his legacy. BRILL. ISBN 9789004118553. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  • Ernst Cassirer, Paul Oskar Kristeller, John Herman Randall, Jr., The Renaissance Philosophy of Man. The University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 1948.) Marsilio Ficino, Five Questions Concerning the Mind, pp. 193–214.
  • Clucas, Stephen; Forshaw, Peter J.; Rees, Valery (2011). Laus Platonici Philosophi: Marsilio Ficino and his Influence. BRILL. ISBN 9789004188976. Retrieved 8 September 2014. 
  • Anthony Gottlieb, The Dream of Reason: A History of Western Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance (Penguin, London, 2001) ISBN:0-14-025274-6
  • James Heiser, Prisci Theologi and the Hermetic Reformation in the Fifteenth Century (Repristination Press, Malone, Texas, 2011) ISBN:978-1-4610-9382-4
  • Paul Oskar Kristeller, Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance. Stanford University Press (Stanford California, 1964) ch. 3, "Ficino," pp. 37–53.
  • Raffini, Christine, "Marsilio Ficino, Pietro Bembo, Baldassare Castiglione: Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Political Approaches in Renaissance Platonism", Renaissance and Baroque Studies and Texts, v.21, Peter Lang Publishing, 1998. ISBN:0-8204-3023-4
  • Robb, Nesca A., Neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance, New York: Octagon Books, Inc., 1968.
  • Reeser, Todd W. Setting Plato Straight: Translating Ancient Sexuality in the Renaissance. Chicago: UChicagoP, 2016.
  • Field, Arthur, The Origins of the Platonic Academy of Florence, New Jersey: Princeton, 1988.
  • Allen, Michael J.B., and Valery Rees, with Martin Davies, eds. Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy. Leiden: E.J.Brill, 2002. A wide range of new essays. ISBN:9004118551
  • Voss, Angela, Marsilio Ficino, Western Esoteric Masters series. North Atlantic Books, 2006. ISBN:978-1-5564-35607

External links