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Marsilio Ficino

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Marsilio T. Ficino
Marsilio T. Ficino from a fresco painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Born19 October 1433
Died1 October 1499(1499-10-01) (aged 65)
Careggi, Republic of Florence
Notable work
Diotifeci d'Agnolo
Alessandra di Nanoccio (parents)
EraRenaissance philosophy
SchoolChristian humanism
Main interests
Theology, astrology, metaphysics
Notable ideas
Platonic love
Prisca theologia[1]

Marsilio T. 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[edit]

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.[3]

Career and thought[edit]

Platonic Academy[edit]

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.[4]

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[5] (draft translation of the dialogues finished 1468–9;[6] published 1484). Ficino also produced a translation of a collection of Hellenistic Greek documents found by Leonardo da Pistoia later called Hermetica,[7] and the writings of many of the Neoplatonists, including Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Plotinus.

Among his many students were Niccolo Valori[8][9] and Francesco Cattani da Diacceto. The latter was considered by Ficino to be his successor as the head of the Florentine Platonic Academy.[10] Diacceto's student, Giovanni di Bardo Corsi, produced a short biography of Ficino in 1506.[11]

Theology, astrology, and the soul[edit]

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.[12][13][14] In 1474 Ficino completed his treatise on the immortality of the soul, Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animae[4] (Platonic Theology) and De Christiana Religione (On the Christian Religion), a history of religions and defense of Christianity.[15] 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[4] 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."

— Marcilio Ficino, A letter to a friend (1492)

Ficino's letters, extending over the years 1474–1494, survive and have been published.[4] He wrote De amore (Of Love) in 1484. De vita libri tres (Three books on life), or De triplici vita[16] (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.[17]

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[edit]

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.[18]

Platonic love[edit]

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.[19] 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".[20] 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]


De triplici vita, 1560
  • 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.)
Delle divine lettere del gran Marsilio Ficino (1563)


  • Gardens of Philosophy: Ficino on Plato, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2006). ISBN 978-0-85683-240-6 This, the first volume in a five-volume series, provides the first English translation of the 25 short commentaries on the dialogues and the 12 letters traditionally ascribed to Plato. The volume contains the following:
  • Evermore Shall Be So: Ficino on Plato's Parmenides, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard Walwyn, 2008). (Does not include Latin text.) ISBN 978-0-85683-256-7
  • When Philosophers Rule: Ficino on Plato's Republic, Laws, and Epinomis, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2009). ISBN 978-0-85683-257-4 (Unabridged except for the commentary on Republic, bk. 8; see Nuptial Arithmetic, below.)
  • All Things Natural: Ficino on Plato's Timaeus, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2010). ISBN 978-0-85683-258-1
  • On the Nature of Love: Ficino on Plato's Symposium, ed. and transl. by Arthur Farndell (Shepheard-Walwyn, 2016). ISBN 978-0-85683-509-4

Other translations of commentaries[edit]

  • Commentaries on Plato. I Tatti Renaissance Library. Bilingual, annotated English/Latin editions of Ficino's commentaries on the works of Plato.
  • 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

Other works[edit]

  • 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).
  • Icastes. Marsilio Ficino's Interpretation of Plato's Sophist, ed. and tranl. by Michael J. B. Allen (Berkeley: U. of California P., 1989).
  • 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 triplici vita". World Digital Library (in Latin). 16 September 1489. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  • 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[edit]


  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.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ Field, Arthur (1 January 2002), "The Platonic Academy of Florence", Marsilio Ficino, BRILL, pp. 359–376, ISBN 978-90-474-0054-7, retrieved 23 May 2024
  4. ^ a b c d  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 (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 317–319.
  5. ^ Bartlett, K. R., ed. (2011). The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance: A Sourcebook. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1442604858.
  6. ^ Hankins, J. (1990). Plato in the Italian Renaissance. BRILL. p. 300. ISBN 9004091610.
  7. ^ Yates, Frances A. (1964) Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. University of Chicago Press 1991 edition: ISBN 0-226-95007-7
  8. ^ Nuovo Dizionario Istorico, Va = Uz, vol. 21, transl. from French, Remondini of Venice (1796); p. 51.
  9. ^ Niccolo Valori (died 1527) wrote a biography of Lorenzo de' Medici the elder and published posthumously in 1568.
  10. ^ Marsilio Ficino, entry by Christopher Celenza in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  11. ^ Annotated English translation of Corsi's biography of Ficino Archived 15 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier, Pythagoras and Renaissance Europe: Finding Heaven, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  13. ^ Oskar, Kristeller Paul. Studies in Renaissance thought and letters. IV. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e letteratura, 1996: 565.
  14. ^ "Three Books on Life". World Digital Library. 26 February 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  15. ^ Deitz, Luc; Kraye, Jill (1997). "Marsilio Ficino". Cambridge Translations of Renaissance Philosophical Texts. pp. 147–155. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511803048.014. ISBN 9780511803048.
  16. ^ Daniel Pickering Walker (January 2000). Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella. Penn State Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-271-02045-8.
  17. ^ 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.)
  18. ^ Marsilio Ficino. Biography and introduction to The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, Volume 1 Archived 22 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine 1975 Fellowship of the School of Economic Science, London. Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  19. ^ Kaske, Carol (2006). "Review: Marsilio Ficino. The Letters of Marsilio Ficino". Renaissance Quarterly. 59 (3): 829. doi:10.1353/ren.2008.0389. JSTOR 10.1353/ren.2008.0389. S2CID 164146779 – via JSTOR. 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.
  20. ^ 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[edit]

  • 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. Archived from the original on 5 October 2016. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  • Thomas Gilbhard, Stéphane Toussaint, Bibliographie ficinienne 2000-2010, Paris 2024 («Accademia. Revue de la Société Marsile Ficin» XXIV, 2022), 127 p.
  • 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[edit]