219. Marsilio Ficino: You are an earthly guest!

The great Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) was, among other things, an Italian renaissance scholar, Catholic priest, humanist philosopher, astrologer, doctor, musician, reviver of Platonism, and the first translator of Plato’s complete extant works into Latin. He was also the head of the Florentine Platonic Academy. His magnum opus is a six-volume work called Platonic Theology (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2001). The translator and editor of the whole set of volumes, Michael J. B. Allen, notes that the center of the works is, on the one hand, Ficino’s “spiritual search for reassurance and conviction that an afterlife awaits us and that death is not the termination of consciousness and accordingly of the self” and, on the other hand, “his concern to redefine and thus reconceive the constitution, the figura, of the human entity” (Platonic Theology Volume I, pp. ix-x). In Platonic Theology Volume 3 we encounter a passage that certainly expresses this reconception of the human entity:

“In justice, the rational soul should be called a kind of god, or a star ringed with cloud, or a daemon: not an inhabitant of the earth, but a guest. Guest, know yourself, know you are a citizen of a heavenly country, a citizen born to contemplate things celestial. Remember, if your end is contemplation, that you life should be enriched and perfected by contemplating. But since from this contemplating the body’s life in a way loosens its hold, it follows that in this very weakening and death of the corporal life, your life grows not fainter but stronger” (131).

Marsilio Ficino

One justification he gives for this remarkable claim comes in Volume I and reveals the above point about his preoccupation with the afterlife:

“Again, the universal rational principles are unchangeable, for they cannot be other than they are. But all corporeal are changeable. Knowledge, because it deals with such principles, is therefore incorporeal; therefore truth is incorporeal too. Consequently, judgments about the truth of things – what it is, how it comes about and is discovered, what is close to it or far from it – are made not by any of the senses but by reason alone, and particularly when it removes itself from the illusions of the senses and of bodies. So truth is incorporeal. And especially so is the truth and knowledge of things divine which gives the soul special delight and nourishment. So how can soul be corporeal when it rejects bodily food and feeds on the spiritual, and seeing that it draws delight, nourishment, and increase from all truth and especially from the truth of things divine? And how can it be mortal, if it feeds on immortal truth, since a corruptible belly has no appetite or stomach for food that is incorruptible, and incorruptible food does not transform itself into corruptible body? Indeed, if truth is immortal and the rational soul’s perpetual food (as it most surely is), then, whether it transforms itself into the soul or transforms the soul into itself, it makes the soul immortal” (284-285).

Go here for more on Ficino’s thoughts about God and soul.

Go here for Ficino’s thoughts on revenge. 

Go here for Ficino’s thoughts on life as wonderful.

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