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Florence, 1492: the reappearance of Plotinus.

In the western world, Plotinus was only a name until 1492.(1) None of his treatises had been translated during the Middle Ages, and the translations dating back to antiquity had been lost. He was not totally unknown, however, thanks to scholars like Firmicus Maternus, Saint Augustine, Macrobius, and to those parts of the works of Proclus translated in the thirteenth century by William of Moerbeke. But Plotinus's own writings remained completely unknown, and as Vespasiano da Bisticci observed in his Vite, "senza i libri non si poteva fare nulla" ("without the books, nothing can be done").(2) This fact was to change completely only with the publication by Marsilio Ficino of his Latin translation of the Enneads.

The colophon of Ficino's folio volume, which contains 442 folios, reads as follows: "Magnifico sumptu Laurentii Medicis Patriae Servatoris impressit ex archetypo Antonius Miscominus Florentiae anno 1492 Nonis Maii" ("Antonio Miscomini printed this book in Florence from the original on the seventh of May 1492 thanks to the lavish generosity of Lorenzo de' Medici, Saviour of the Country"). Unfortunately, Lorenzo had died a month earlier, on 8 April, and never could hold in his hands the wished-for volume. The book took two years to be printed, but is it mere coincidence that we find a portrait of Marsilio Ficino in the newly finished decoration of the Cappella Maggiore in Santa Maria Novella, completed just a couple of years earlier?(3) The frescoes of Domenico Ghirlandaio commissioned by Lorenzo de' Medici's uncle, Giovanni Tornabuoni, portrayed various scenes from the life of John the Baptist, scenes that Bernard Berenson called "tableaux vivants."(4) In one of them, among other humanists, stands Marsilio himself, who at the age of 57 had just finished translating Plotinus after translating Plato. An inscription dates the picture to 1490, "a year in which the city, embellished by its riches, its victories, its arts and its buildings, was flourishing in honor, plenty, health and peace" -- a splendid proclamation of the glory of Florence.(5)

It goes without saying that this first edition had been only possible through the arrival in the west of some documents from the east. Luckily, two manuscripts of Plotinus's Enneads first made their appearance in Florence at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Lovers of antiquity were then living along the Arno, and among them were the first two collectors of Greek manuscripts -- Giovanni Aurispa and Palla Strozzi. We know that in 1423, Aurispa had returned from Constantinople with a batch of 238 Greek books containing, among other things, a manuscript of Plotinus, now registered as Laurentianus 87,3. In 1431 Palla Strozzi also entered in the inventory of his books another manuscript of Plotinus, now registered as Parisinus graecus 1976.

Let us begin with the latter.(6) It is very likely that Palla Strozzi (1372-1462) was given this Plotinus manuscript by his Greek master, Manuel Chrysoloras, whom Coluccio Salutati had called to Florence in 1397 in order to appoint him as the first teacher of Greek. Leonardo Bruni, Pier Paolo Vergerio and Palla Strozzi immediately became his students. When Chrysoloras died in 1415, most of his books went into Strozzi's library. In 1434 Strozzi was banished from Florence by the Medici who had recently come into power, and he settled in Padua. Before he died in 1462, he bequeathed his books to the Benedictine monastery of St. Justina.(7) This collection of manuscripts was kept by the monks and forgotten until it entered the library of cardinal Nicolas Ridolfi, a nephew of Pope Leo X, in the first half of the sixteenth century. We know that the cardinal's books went to his relative Piero Strozzi and then, when the latter died during the siege of Thionville in 1558, to Catherine de Medicis, queen of France. This last episode accounts for the presence of the Plotinus manuscript in the collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, which has held it since 1559, and where it is to be found under shelfmark Paris. gr. 1976. However, at no stage of its history did it fall into the hands of a philosopher whom it might have interested. This is why it never played a part in the history of Plotinus's text until the modern era. The learned public got to know it only through the contemporary editions--those of Emile Brehier and Henry-Schwyzer.

The history of the other manuscript, the Laurentianus 87,3, is radically different.(8) After Giovanni Aurispa had brought it from Constantinople to Florence, it was purchased by the great Florentine collector and man of letters, Niccolo Niccoli (1364-1437). But Niccoli had the same relationship with his book as Petrarch had with his Homer manuscript: he was unable to read it, he could only kiss it.(9) Niccoli died in 1437, and, as is well known, the council of union between the Greeks and the Latins moved from Ferrara to Florence two years later, in 1439. As a result, the interest of a few people for Greek books turned into a widespread enthusiasm for the Greek heritage. The last of the Greek philosophers, Georgios Gemistos Plethon, started teaching Strabo's geography to the western public, together with Platonic philosophy. The archbishop of Nicaea, Bessarion, who was to become a cardinal, kept telling everybody that ever since Plotinus had died, Greece had not had a greater scholar than Plethon.(10) This was in fact a way to make Plotinus known to the fifteenth-century audience. Cosimo de' Medici was then the ruler of Florence, and he was so eager to collect books that in 1441 he bought all of Niccolo Niccoli's volumes, including the Plotinus manuscript, in order to endow the library of the Dominican priory of San Marco with good books and to open it to the public, according to the wish expressed by Niccoli.(11) At the time, Marsilio Ficino was only eight years old.

Twenty-two years later, in April 1463, Cosimo established Ficino in Careggi, where he was able to devote himself to the study of Plato. As early as September 1462, Cosimo had placed the Platonic books from San Marco at his entire disposal, especially a Plato manuscript, now registered as Laurentianus 85,9, and a Plotinus manuscript, which could have been Laurentianus 87,3--or, more probably still, its copy--now known as Parisinus graecus 1816.

Indeed, in 1453 Cosimo had seen to it that his Plotinus manuscript should be bound by the bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci, and in August 1460 he had it copied by the Greek scholar Johannes Scutariotes. We may assume that he wanted to have this copy for himself so that the original manuscript could remain in the San Marco library. Perhaps he was also already planning to give it to Marsilio. In any case, it appears that the second manuscript was never owned by the San Marco library. It now belongs to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, which received it together with the Ridolfi collection and where it is registered as Parisinus graecus 1816. As for the original Laurentianus volume, it is said to contain a few sparse corrections in the hand of Ficino, from which we can deduce that Ficino had already started reading Plotinus in that volume before 1460. However, at various stages in his life Ficino went on studying Plotinus in the Parisinus manuscript, which he used as a basis for his translation, a fact that Paul Henry has established beyond all question.(12)

Henry and Kristeller have also proved that other manuscripts were used by Ficino. We know that he copied a selection of texts by Plato and Plotinus for his own use. This manuscript, registered as Ambrosianus cod. F. 19 sup., is now in Milan.(13) It is a small-sized volume with 239 folios, which Ficino regarded as his bedside book. It contains excerpts from Plato (Phaedo, Timaeus, Phaedrus, etc.) and four extracts from Plotinus, which he copied in his own hand. Each of the Plotinus extracts is in fact an exegesis of one of the Plato extracts, namely, treatises IV 2 and IV 1 on the essence of the soul, IV 7 on the immortality of the soul, and IV 8 on the descent of the soul. This manuscript is similar to another one, kept in the Biblioteca Riccardiana in Florence and identified as Riccardianus 92, in which Ficino gathered another collection of texts by Plato dealing with beauty and love, together with texts by Plotinus, which are Latin summaries of treatise I 6 on beauty, and treatise III 5 on love.(14) A link has been rightly established between this manuscript and the writing of the Commentarium in Convivium, de Amore, which dates from 1469, and it seems that a similar parallel can be drawn between the first collection and the Theologia platonica, de immortalitate animorum, written between 1470 and 1474.

At this stage three main conclusions may be drawn from all these documents. First, the manuscripts are all derived from a single one, Laurentianus 87,3, which thus always remained the only source through which Marsilio Ficino had access to Plotinus's text. Then, we can establish as a fact that Ficino never stopped reading and studying Plotinus throughout his life, especially before he began working on his complete translation of the Enneads.(15) Finally, he was already reading Plotinus when he was translating Plato and writing his major works because he always regarded Plotinus as an expounder of Plato. In doing so, he was merely taking Plotinus's very words literally: "Plato often calls Being and Intellect Idea: so he knew that Intellect comes from the Good and Soul from Intellect. And it follows that these statements of ours are not new; they do not belong to the present time, but were made long ago, if not explicitly, and what we have said in this discussion has been an interpretation of them, relying on Plato's own writings for evidence that these views are ancient."(16)

That Plotinus was first and foremost Plato's summus interpres is also what Marsilio Ficino wants to make us understand when, in the preface to his translation of Plotinus, he tells of the circumstances that led him to undertake this huge work. This preface is a long text with various parts, for each of which I will make a presentation; yet, because the story that it relates is greatly magnified by its author, each of these parts requires an appropriate commentary. The preface is an address to Lorenzo de' Medici, his patron, and begins of course with praise of the Medici family. As he gives an account of his relationship with his distinguished benefactors, Ficino also gives a rough sketch of his own life.(17) The text begins thus:

Great Cosimo, the Father of his Country by senatorial decree, at the time when a council was being negotiated among the Greeks and Latins in Florence under Eugenius IV, frequently heard a Greek philosopher by the name of Gemistus Plethon disputing like another Plato on the Platonic theology. From his fervid lips Cosimo was straightway so inspirited, so ensouled, that from that time forth he conceived deep in his mind a kind of Academy, to give birth to it at the first opportune moment. Then, while that great Medici was intending in some sense to give birth to the great thing he had conceived, he destined me, the son of his favorite doctor Ficino, while still a boy, to undertake the labor, educating me from that day forth to this very thing. Moreover, he labored that I should not only have all the books of Plato in Greek, but also the books of Plotinus. After this, in the year 1463, in the thirtieth year of my life, he commissioned me to translate first Thrice-Great Hermes, and thereafter Plato. Hermes I finished in a few months while Cosimo was still alive; Plato I had also begun at that time. Although he was also eager for Plotinus, he said nothing to me about translating it, lest he should appear to be weighing me down with too great a burden all at once. Such was Cosimo's kindness to his household, such was his discretion towards all, that I myself could hardly divine that he wished me to undertake Plotinus. However, as long as he was alive, Cosimo kept his desire to himself, but from heaven he expressed or rather inspired it. At the moment when I was giving Plato to the Latin world to read, Cosimo's heroic soul incited the heroic mind of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in some unknown way -- Pico himself almost did not know how -- to come to Florence. Pico, born in the very year I was starting on Plato, and coming to Florence the same day -- almost the same hour -- I was publishing him, after greeting me asked me immediately about Plato. To him I said, our Plato has today emerged onto our thresholds. Then he heartily congratulated me on this, and straightway -- and neither I nor he knows whence the words came -- he led, or rather impelled, me to translate Plotinus. Surely a divine cause brought it to pass that the hero Pico should be born while Plato was being, as it were, reborn -- Saturn being then in the house of Aquarius as it was when I was born thirty years previously -- and that he should come to Florence on the very day our Plato was published, and that he should inspire me in a marvelous fashion with Cosimo's vow about Plotinus which had been quite hidden from me, but which was revealed by heavenly means to him.(18)

Andre Chastel in his fine book Marsile Ficin et l'art,(19) and more recently James Hankins in a brilliant paper,(20) have been able to show that this narrative is actually a fiction based on a few real facts. Here is what really happened. Sebastiano Gentile has demonstrated that the Plato manuscript that Cosimo gave to Ficino was brought to Italy by Plethon, and it was subsequently purchased by Cosimo on the occasion of the council held in Ferrara-Florence in 1438-39. This was the only Greek manuscript of Plato containing the whole series of dialogues to be found in Italy.(21) Some humanists had already produced isolated translations from a few dialogues, but for want of an original and complete copy in Greek, none of them had contemplated the translation of Plato's whole work. The manuscript that Cosimo had just bought paved the way for a translation that would also be complete. As a matter of fact, conceiving of such a possibility amounted to laying the basis for an "Academy," that is for a Plato latinus. When Cosimo in the last days of his life came to know Marsilio's early translations, he thought he had found the providential man for the achievement of this wonderful scheme: he gave him the Plato manuscript and commissioned him to translate the whole of it. But I think we should add to the facts pointed out by Hankins that together with the Plato manuscript Cosimo gave Ficino a manuscript of Plotinus as a useful tool for the translation of Plato. Long afterwards, this could be construed as the sign that to Cosimo's mind both authors had to be translated so' that a true "Academy" could be achieved. Thus, the fact that Pico had arrived in Florence just as the Divus Plato had emerged, and the words he had used to express the general conviction that Plotinus and Plato should go hand in hand, might indeed have been interpreted by Ficino as clear evidence that Cosimo had had a specific purpose in mind, of which he had hitherto remained unaware. In any case, this fictitious story could only flatter Lorenzo's pride.

As we will see, Ficino expresses the same idea, in a more forceful way, in an exhortation to one of his lessons about Plotinus. We can be almost certain that Ficino delivered part of his commentaries on Plotinus in the form of lectures that he gave in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Two documents substantiate this fact: the first one is a letter dated 7 December 1487 and addressed by the general abbot of the Camaldolese to the prior of Santa Maria degli Angeli in which he says how shocked he was to find out that the church had been turned into a classroom;(22) the second is a letter of dispensation by the chapter of the cathedral, allowing Canon Marsilio Ficino to miss Evensong on the days when he gives his lectures at the Camaldolese.(23) Now, at the beginning of his translation from Plotinus, Ficino had this exhortation printed for his readers:

To start with, all of you who came to hear the divine Plotinus, I beg you to believe that it is Plato himself, talking through the mouth of Plotinus, that you are going to hear. For either Plato was reincarnated in Plotinus (something the Pythagoreans will easily grant us), or the same daimon was given first to Plato and then to Plotinus (something the Platonists will not refuse), anyhow it is the same spirit which breathes both in the mouth of Plato and in that of Plotinus. But, breathing in Plato, it pours forth a more fruitful spirit, whereas in Plotinus it produces a spirit more dignified, and if no more dignified, at any rate no less dignified, and sometimes even deeper. Hence the same divinity, through the mouth of both, poured out divine oracles for the human race, oracles worthy in both cases of a most sagacious interpreter who in Plato's case must devote his efforts to unveiling what is hidden, and in Plotinus's case must labor more carefully at once to express everywhere his most secret meanings as well as to explain his most gnomic expressions. Remember, moreover, that you will by no means penetrate to the exalted mind of Plotinus using merely sense or human reason; you must employ a certain more sublime intuitive understanding. For, to speak in Plato's manner, we call other men reasonable souls, whereas we do not call Plotinus a soul, but an intellect. All the contemporary philosophers called him that way, especially the Platonists. And to fathom the theology of that author, how happy we would be to take advantage of the assistance of Porphyry or Eustochius or Proclus, who could read and comment upon Plotinus's treatises. Anyhow I hope -- and this is even better -- that God's help will not fail Marsilio Ficino, when he translates and comments upon the divine treatises of Plotinus. Now, with the protection of heaven, let us first begin to translate the first treatise of Plotinus and briefly comment upon it with a summary, and then turn to the other treatises, one by one. As for you, you must believe that Plato himself is talking about Plotinus when he exclaims: "This is my Son, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests, listen to him."(24)

No doubt you will have noticed that this last sentence is a quotation from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, reporting the words of God the Father during the episode of the Transfiguration.(25) Ficino transposes it to express the connection between Plato and Plotinus. This device seemed too much for Friedrich Creuzer, a worthy Lutheran who in his 1835 edition of Plotinus reproduced this text while substituting for the last sentence another quotation that is to be found at least twice in the work of Ficino; it comes from the Odyssey when Homer, introducing Tiresias, says of him that "He alone is wise, the others hover like shades."(26) In doing so, it seems to me that the great Creuzer failed to see something essential, namely that by translating Plato and Plotinus, Ficino was convinced he had undertaken a task of Christian spiritual renovation.(27) For him Plato and Plotinus were a Praeparatio evangelica. This is what he clearly says in the rest of the preface to the translation of Plotinus. Just as Plato and Plotinus were inspired by a daimon that made them utter oracles, so it is only with "the help of God" and "under the protection of heaven" that Ficino can undertake his translation. As regards Plato he will apply himself to disclosing what he kept secret in the myths, and as regards Plotinus he will attempt to solve the meaning of the ideas and decipher the condensed expressions. In other words, Ficino saw full well that in Plato the difficulty lay in the allegorical myths, whereas in Plotinus it lay in the difficulty of his style.

Let us now resume the reading of the second paragraph of Marsilio Ficino's preface to Plotinus. He has just shown that divine providence has guided all his enterprise, and he is going to give a reason for it:

But since we have called upon divine providence in our philosophical task, it is worth examining it at greater length. In truth, we should not deem it possible by any other means than philosophy to appeal to men with a keen and somewhat philosophical turn of mind and to lead them towards perfect religion. Indeed, most people with a keen mind only accept the guidance of reason, and when it has been infused into them by a religious philosopher, they readily and promptly admit that there is such a thing as religiousness. And once they have had a taste of it, they pass on more easily to a better form of religion, which is common to all men. Consequently, it did not go against the design of providence, which was to appeal most wonderfully to all men according to their skills, that, in days of old, a certain type of religious philosophy should have come to life both among the Persians, thanks to Zoroaster, and among the Egyptians, thanks to Hermes, and that both should have shared the same ideas; then that it should have been put in the care of the Thracians, thanks to Orpheus and Aglaophemus; then that it should have grown up as an adolescent among the Greeks and the Italians, thanks to Pythagoras; and that, at last, it should have come of age in Athens, thanks to the divine Plato. It was common practice among the ancient Theologians to mask the divine mysteries either with mathematical numbers' and figures or with poetic fictions, so that there was no chance that it should be understood by just anybody. At last Plotinus unveiled theology; as testified by Porphyry and Proclus, he was the first and only one to probe most divinely into the secrets of the ancients, but owing to the incredible terseness of his style, the richness and depth of his meaning, his work requires, not only a translation, but also some commentary.(28)

Ficino is arguing that philosophy -- and more precisely pia philosophia, i.e. religious philosophy -- is useful, and even necessary insofar as it paves the way for the Gospel. He therefore resorts to the Neoplatonic notion of primum in aliquo genere. According to this theory, the genus is made up of species that belong to a series. At the top of this hierarchy is a primum, both the cause and the principle from which the various degrees are derived.(29) By applying the same structure to the notion of religion, one reaches the conclusion that the Christian religion is at the crown of the genus of religion, and that philosophical minds can be led to ascend from this general concept of religion, or religiosity, to the supreme Christian religion through pia philosophia, also called prisca philosophia, the philosophy of the ancients, embodied in turns in such figures as Zoroaster, Hermes, Orpheus, Pythagoras, and Plato. Divine providence is responsible for this line of philosophers, whose latest representative is Plotinus: he was "the first and the only one" to unveil the secrets of the religious mysteries with which this pia philosophia was concerned.(30) In this sense the Platonic philosophy is for Ficino the only real preparation for the Gospel. Hence he believes he is entitled to place the words from the Gospel in Plato's own mouth.

In the next paragraph of his preface, Ficino applies this general theorem to the situation of his own time:

As for us, we have tried to reveal and to explain the impact of the above mentioned Theologians in the works of Plato and Plotinus, so that the poets may cease in an impious manner to introduce the events and mysteries of religion into their fables and so that the horde of Peripatetics -- that is to say nearly all philosophers -- may be warned that they should not mistake this religiousness for an old wives' tale. Indeed, nearly all the world is inhabited by the Peripatetics and divided into two schools, the Alexandrists and the Averroists. The first ones believe that our intellect is mortal, whereas the others think it is unique: both groups alike destroy the basis of all religion, especially because they seem to deny that there is such a thing as divine providence towards men, and in both cases they are traitors to Aristotle. Nowadays, few people, except the great Pico, our companion in Platonism, interpret the spirit of Aristotle with the same reverence as was shown in the past by Theophrastus, Themistius, Porphyry, Simplicius, Avicenna, and more recently Plethon. If there be some who believe that an impiety so common and upheld by such sharp minds can be erased from the hearts of men merely by preaching faith to them, there is no doubt that the facts themselves will prove that they are very far from the truth: a much greater power is needed, namely some divine miracles, acknowledged as such everywhere, or at least some sort of philosophical religion that will convince the philosophers open to its teachings. Today, the will of divine providence is that this genus of religion should be confirmed by the authority and the reasoning of philosophy, whereas at an appointed time the truest species of religion will be confirmed by miracles acknowledged by all nations, as was once the case in the past.(31)

In writing those words, Ficino plunges us into the situation that was then prevailing in Florence. The poets were misusing the mysteries of religion, the Peripatetics -- read "the Paduan Academics," be they the followers of Alexander of Aphrodisias or of Averroes -- were ruining religion by denying the possibility of individual survival, and even by betraying Aristotle whose religious meaning had just been revealed to the learned world through the Latin translation of Themistius's paraphrases made by Ermolao Barbaro in 1481. The pia philosophia was to overcome the poets and the Peripatetics. And the few, ignorant priests who believed that preaching in the churches was enough to reach the exacting free-thinkers, were in fact mistaken. They only had to open their eyes to see that atheism was still alive and that philosophical reasoning had to play a part in fighting against it. Should God want it, miracles could be achieved through the reading of Plato and Plotinus. Ficino can thus conclude his preface with the following, cheerful lines:

So, under the guidance of divine providence, we have interpreted the divine Plato and the great Plotinus. As regards Plato [he is addressing Lorenzo de' Medici] we sent him to you a long time ago, so that, in a way, he could live again in your person, in whom Cosimo is also alive; and being born again, he grew up as we had hoped he would, and now he is happily thriving as an adult. As for Plotinus, even though it would be only natural that I should send him to you, it so happens that I do not need to do so, for I can see him hurrying towards your palace of his own will, as if he were attracted by Plato himself, just as iron is attracted by a magnet, in order to lead a happy life with his Plato and close to you, Lorenzo il Magnifico, the only patron of belles-lettres. You will listen to Plotinus as he discusses the mysteries of philosophy with Plato in your own home, but before you hear him, you will have to listen to Porphyry, his faithful disciple, who relates his life, all the habits and manners of his master, in a condensed yet authentic manner. Our dear Poliziano, your friend, a man of acuity, believes that this Life of Plotinus is as literary as it is philosophical, and that consequently you will enjoy it. Finally, do not only listen to them with a happy ear, but be perfectly happy all through your life. And, dearest Lorenzo, I entreat you to love, as much as you love me, our dear Valori, by whom I mean Filippo, a remarkable man who studies the wisdom of Plato and loves you dearly.(32)

The fact that Valori loved Lorenzo and Marsilio is corroborated by his paying for the magnificent manuscript that he ordered himself and gave to the great Medici.(33) Once again Ficino shows us in those last lines an image of Plato and Plotinus perfectly united, unwilling to lose each other's company, and still engrossed in their never-ending conversation.

This instructive preface, dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici, is dated 1490. We know that Ficino's work was done very quickly. The first draft of the translation from Plotinus, which he had started in September or October 1484, was completed 16 January 1486, as we read in a letter he wrote to Pier Leoni da Spoleto the following day.(34) Such rapidity is stupendous, and we can only wonder that Ficino managed to bung such a difficult task to a close in so little time, a year and three or four months at the most! Such an achievement can only be explained, as Prof. Wolters has argued,(35) by the fact that Ficino had a thorough knowledge of the whole of Plotinus's work even before he started translating it. What must be the earliest evidence for his work is still in existence, a manuscript, registered as codex Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, Conv. soppr. E. 1. 2562, which was copied by Ficino's secretary, Luca Fabiani. This was perhaps a fair copy, but with scribe's marginalia, of Ficino's autograph (probably dictated to Luca),(36) and Pico della Mirandola must have owned it at some point, since he annotated it.(37) This copy gives us the year in which the Life of Plotinus and the first treatise were translated, i.e., 1484. If we compare this state of the text with that of the final edition, we find that in the following years Ficino went on revising and improving his translation and that he wrote his commentaries and annotations at the same time.(38) Each of the treatises is now headed by an analysis of the arguments together with commentaries on each chapter. However, Ficino stops short in the middle of his commentary on IV.3.13 and exclaims: "We cannot go on introducing the treatises as we have done so far. Indeed, if we write long analyses and furthermore commentaries preceding the chapters of Plotinus, we shall grow out of proportion. We have dwelt on it long enough. We have already said much. Thus, from now on, we shall only insert a few, brief annotations between the chapters of Plotinus."(39) Ficino had thus already written on one-third of the Enneads, which in the 1492 edition corresponds to folio 248. It is followed by 192 folios constituting the rest of the volume. If Ficino had not reduced the scale of his work, the volume would have made up over 700 folios as compared with the current 440. As a result, it appears that Ficino wrote commentaries on Enneads I to III, whereas he only wrote annotations on Enneads IV to VI.(40)

As is often the case, I think that Ficino is not telling the whole truth here. Indeed, we know that at that same time he had started translating a few other Neoplatonic texts and writing his De vita, or at least the third book of that work. He was therefore abandoning Plotinus for a while in order to gather more material. In 1488 Ficino wrote a kind of paraphrase of Iamblichus's De mysteriis.(41) He was the one who gave the book that title, which since then has been universally adopted. Yet it is rather misleading, firstly because it is not the title which Iamblichus gave to his book, and secondly because no one has really noticed that in Ficino's language the word mysteria does not exactly mean "mysteries" but rather "heathen theology," since he himself defines the purpose of the book in his preface with the words "quid Aegyptii et Assyrii sacerdotes de religione rebusque divinis senserint" ("what the Egyptian and Assyrian priests have thought about religion and matters divine"). He also translated two extracts from Proclus. The first is an excerpt from the commentary on the Alcibiades and deals with the soul and demons. The second is entitled De sacrificio et magia and is a fragment from a treatise on theurgy, which is known today only through the manuscript used by Ficino, registered as Vallicellianus F. 20 and kept in Rome and edited by Joseph Bidez for the first time in 1928.(42) During the same period, Ficino was also working on a translation of Porphyry's Sententiae.(43) Then followed the translation of Synesius's De somniis and that of Psellus's De daemonibus,(44) as well as an edition of Priscianus Lydus's commentaries on Theophrastus. All of this was completed by 15 April 1488, when he sent the whole pile to Lorenzo de' Medici and his son Piero. Iamblichus's De mysteriis was subsequently sent to Lorenzo's other son, Giovanni (who was to become Pope Leo X), on the occasion of his being created a cardinal on 9 March 1489. All these treatises, together with a few other translations from Plato, were published in a superb Aldine edition in 1497. It is quite evident that Ficino's avidity for Neoplatonic themes originated in the questions raised by Plotinus.

But this inspiration is even more apparent in book three of his De vita entitled "On obtaining Life from the Heavens."(45) Ficino quoted all the Neoplatonic authors that he had just translated in this third book for which chapter 13 of Ennead IV 3 was a starting point -- and, as we saw earlier, this is precisely where he had stopped writing his commentaries on Plotinus. Treatises 3 to 5 of the fourth Ennead by Plotinus, which Porphyry artificially divided into three parts, are in fact a very long study of the difficulties related to the soul. Chapters 12 and 13 of treatise IV 3 deal with the descent of the souls into the bodies that the universal Soul has prepared for them.(46) It is quite understandable that this theory should have attracted Ficino's attention and driven him to read new authors and analyze the problem by himself. In De vita 3 he uses all his former knowledge of the prisca theologia, and Hermes' influence too can be felt, which is why Frances Yates maintained that this treatise was as much a commentary on Hermes' Asclepius, as on Plotinus.(47) As for Andre Chastel, he writes that "Ficin decrit puissamment [`unite pneumatique du monde sous le ruissellement des influences planetaires, avec les correspondences et les coincidences harmonieuses qui en resultent partout."(48) Chastel's somewhat lyrical language effectively conveys the feverish exaltation in which the De vita was written, since we learn from the preface dedicated to Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary, that it was completed on 10 July 1489. Five months later the book came out of Antonio Miscomini's press. It was to become Ficino's most frequently reprinted, and consequently most widely circulated, work apart from his Hermes and Plato translations.

In short, the translation of Plotinus's Enneads was for Marsilio Ficino a complex achievement. Indeed, not only did he produce this Latin translation, which was to be reprinted eight times up to 1855-from 1580 onward it was printed together with the Greek text, and this was always the case until Emile Brehier published a modern edition in 1924, which alongside the Greek text gives a French translation instead of the one by Ficino -- but he also wrote a commentary and annotations and assembled a small selection of Neoplatonic texts that were to have a great influence in the sixteenth century. In addition, he wrote his book De vita, which was to be reprinted thirty times. So when we celebrate the reappearance of Plotinus in 1492, we should take into account not only the translation but also these other works.

The quantity, quality, and rapidity of Marsilio Ficino's output in the years 1488 to 1492 is amazing. The secret of this extraordinary fertility lies in Ficino's exceptional gifts as a philologist. We learn from the critical edition of Plotinus by Henry-Schwyzer that like nearly all ancient texts Plotinus's text was not handed down very faithfully to posterity. The oldest manuscripts still in existence date from the thirteenth century, and the textual tradition is divided into three branches. However, Ficino only knew one manuscript from one of these branches. All his information came, as we have seen, from Laurentianus 87,3, a valuable witness from the first branch but still a witness whose full potential only emerges when it is juxtaposed with another manuscript, namely Parisinus graecus 1976, which he did not have at his disposal. Consequently, Ficino could not undertake a critical comparison of texts. In order to solve the tricky points in the text of his Greek manuscript, all he could do was resort to divinatio, i.e. conjectures. His perfect knowledge of Plato's use of Greek very often enabled him to offer excellent conjectures. In the pocket edition of the Philosophische Bibliothek, by Harder, Theiler and Beutler, which may be regarded as an editio variorum, Ficino's name recurs over a hundred and twenty times; that is to say, each time Ficino suggested a valuable reading that should be taken into account for establishing what the Greek text was. For instance, one of Ficino's conjectures, later perfected by Kirchhoff, helped to prove that in Ennead VI 9 [9], 9. 9, Plotinus means to say that, "we breathe," [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], in the divine world, rather than "we breathe out unity," [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII],(49) in which case the world would be upside down! A specific study of all that Plotinus's text owes to Ficino still remains to be done. Father Festugiere once produced a limited assessment of it, which demonstrated the great quality of Ficino's readings and translations.(50) The quality of his comprehension is also exemplified by his division of the text into chapters, with titles or headings expressing the progression of ideas. We still use Ficino's division. We are indebted to him for his understanding of Plotinus's thought, which from the outset was almost perfect.

This success was the result of the profound communion between Ficino and his favorite authors. As an academic institution, the Florentine Academy may have been a myth, as James Hankins has suggested, but Ficino's way of life and the objects of his "inner experience," in the words of Kristeller,(51) were the same as Plato's and Plotinus's. He led a philosophical life, and he was imbued with the doctrines and the values which the Platonists have handed down to us One only has to read his correspondence to be convinced of that Ficino shared the beliefs of Erasmus, who was to write some fifty years later: "Although in the first place the authority belongs to the Scriptures, I sometimes find in the works of the Ancients or the Heathen words or writings that are so pure, so holy and so divine, that I cannot help thinking that, as they wrote, some benevolent power was guiding their souls. And the Spirit of Christ may well have spread more widely than it is generally believed to have done. Many men who do not belong to the lists of our saints should be ranked among them."(52)

Although Marsilio Ficino's disposition has often been assumed to be that of a melancholy man, I believe that, because of his communion with Plato and Plotinus, he was in fact an optimistic philosopher.(53) In this respect, the maxims that he asked to be inscribed on the walls of his study are quite revealing: "From happiness to happiness, such is the course of the world. Be content with the present. Do not attach importance to money. Do not crave honors. Avoid excesses. Avoid the cares of business. Be content with the present." Laetus in praesens, a clear reminiscence from Horace.(54)

Because they shared the same spirit, Ficino became a contemporary of Plato and Plotinus. We know that he celebrated Plato's birthday, just as Plotinus had done before him, thus reviving a tradition that had been abandoned for twelve centuries. In fact, in dealing with Ficino's translation and work on Plotinus, we celebrate a birth, or rather a rebirth, a Renaissance: in 1492 Plotinus reappeared in Florence like a major star in the philosophical sky. This was Marsilio Ficino's achievement, and it happened five hundred years ago.

(*) A first draft of this paper was read as a lecture to the Warburg Institute, 10 February 1993. I wane to thank Professors P.O. Kristeller and M.J.B. Allen, Dr. Helene Bonafous-Murat Murat, and M. Armand Mettraux for their help in many ways. Many thanks also to the readers of Renaissance Quarterly for the English version.

(1) O'Meara.

(2) Bisticci, 140.

(3) Marchini, and pl., p. 172.

(4) Berenson, 105.

(5) "An. MCCCCLXXXX quo pulcherrima ciuitas opibus victoriis artibus aedificiisque nobili copia salubritate pace perfruebatur."

(6) Henry; Diller; Gregory.

(7) Fiocco.

(8) Henry, 16-36; Gentile, Niccoli and Viti, 31-32 and pl. 8.

(9) Nolhac, 133: "Homerus tuus apud me mutus, imo uero ego apud ilium surdus sum. Gaudeo tamen uel aspectu solo, et saepe ilium amplexus ac suspirans dico: O magne uir, quam cupide te audirem."

(10) Mercati, 139, n. 2; Masai, 385-86; and Woodhouse, 34. Plethon's influence must not be exaggerated, as Hankins, 1990(1), 2:436-40, has shown.

(11) Ullman and Stadter, 64, 83, 84, and no. 1143 of the Catalogue of San Marco; and De La Mare.

(12) Henry, 45-62; Wolters, 1986, 192; and Kristeller, 1986, 112.

(13) Henry, 37-43; and Kristeller, 1986, 107.

(14) Kristeller, 1986, 98.

(15) Wolters, [1986.sub.2], 187-97.

(16) Plotinus, 1984, V1 (10), 8.8-14.

(17) Bullard.

(18) This preface is to be found in any edition of Ficino's translation until the one by F. Creuzer, Plotinus, 1835, xvii-xviii. "Magnus Cosmus, Senatusconsulto patriae peter, quo tempore Concilium inter Graecos atque Latinos sub Eugenio pontifice Florentiae tractabatur, philosophum Graecum, nomine Gemistum, cognomine Plethonem, quasi Platonem alterum, de mysteriis Platonicis disputantem frequenter audivit. E cujus ore ferventi sic afflatus est protinus, sic animatus, ut inde Academiam quandam alta mente conceperit, hanc opportuno primum tempore pariturus. Deinde dum conceptum tantum magnus ille Medices quodammodo parturiret, me electissimi medici sui Ficini filium, adhuc puerum, tanto operi destinavit, ad hoc ipsum educavit in dies. Operam praeterea dedit, ut omnes non solum Platonis, sed etiam Plotini libros Graecos haberem. Post haec autem anno millesimo quadringentesimo sexagesimo tertio, quo ego trigesimum agebam aetatis annum, mihi Mercurium primo Termaximum, mox Platonem mandavit interpretandum. Mercurium paucis mensibus eo vivente peregi, Platonem tune etiam sum aggressus. Etsi Plotinum quoque desiderabat, nullum tamen de hoc interpretando fecit verbum, ne graviore me pondere semel premere videretur. Tanta erat viri tanti erga suos clementia, in omnes tanta modestia. Itaque nec ego quidem quasi nec vases aggredi Plotinum aliquando cogitavi. Verum interea Cosmus, quod vivens olim in terra reticuit, tandem expressit, vel potius impressit ex alto. Quo enim tempore Platonem Latinis dedi legendum, heroicus ille Cosmi animus heroicam Joannis Pici Mirandulae mentem nescio quomodo instigavit, ut Florentiam, et ipse quasi nesciens quomodo, perveniret. Hic sane quo anno Platonem aggressus fueram natus, deinde quo die, et ferme qua hora Platonem edidi, Florentiam veniens, me statim post primam salutationem de Platone rogat, huic Equidem Plato noster, inquam, hodie liminibus nostris est egressus. Tunc ille, et hoc ipso vehementer congratulatus est, et mox nescio quibus verbis, ac ille nescit quibus, ad Plotinum interpretandum me non adduxit quidem, sed potius concitavit. Divinitus profecto videtur effectum, ut, dum Plato quasi renasceretur, natus Picus heros sub Saturno suo Aquarium possidente, sub quo et ego similiter anno prius trigesimo natus fueram, ac perveniens Florentiam, quo die Plato noster est editus, antiquum illud de Plotino herois cosmi votum mihi prorsus occultum, sed sibi coelitus inspiratum, idem et mihi mirabiliter inspiraverit."

(19) Chastel, 7-15.

(20) Hankins, [1990.sub.2].

(21) Gentile, [1987.sub.1].

(22) Kristeller, 1937, 233-34

(23) Gentile, Niccoli and Viti, 187. These lectures were considered by the canons as a preaching duty, as the letter begins with the words "Viso quam laudabile sit predicare Verbum Dei et quam dominus Marsilius Ficinus singulis diebus in ecclesia angelorum predicat."

(24) Plotinus, 1835, xi: "Principio vos omnes admoneo, qui divinum audituri Plotinum huc acceditis, ut Platonem ipsum, sub Plotini persona loquentem, vos audituros existimetis. Sive enim Plato quondam in Plotino revixit (quod facile nobis Pythagorici dabunt) sive demon idem Platonem quidem prius afflavit, deinde vero Plotinum (quod Platonici nulli negabunt), omnino aspirator idem os Platonicum afflat atque Plotinicum. Sed in Platone quidem afflando spiritum effundit uberiorem, in Plotino autem flatum augustiorem, ac ne augustiorem dixerim, saltem non minus augustum, nonnunquam ferme profundiorem. Idem itaque numen per os utrumque humano generi divine fundit oracula, utrobique sagacissimo quodam interprete digna, qui ibi quidem in evolvendis figmentorum incumbat involucris; hic vero tum in exprimendis secretissimis ubique sensibus, tum in explanandis verbis quam brevissimis diligentius elaborer. Mementote praeterea vos haudquaquam vel sensu comite, vel humane ratione duce, sed mente quadam sublimiore excelsam Plotini mentem penetraturos. Profecto (ut Platonice loquar) caeteros homines rationales animos appellamus, Plotinum vero non animum, sed intellectum. Sic omnes eum philosophi, suo seculo, praesertim Platonici, nominabant. Atque utinam in mysteriis hujus interpretandis, adminiculum Porphyrii, aut Eustochii, aut Proculi, qui Plotini libros disposuerunt, atque exposuerunt, nobis adesset. Spero tamen id, quod admodum felicius est, divinum auxilium in traducendis explicandisque divinis Plotini libris Marsilio Ficino non defuturum. Sed jam coelestibus hinc auspiciis et nos ad transferendum primum Plotini librum, et argumento breviter exponendum, reliquosque deinceps, feliciter accedamus. Et vos Platonem ipsum exclamare sic erga Plotinum existimetis Hic est filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi undique placeo, ipsum audite."

(25) Matt. 17:5, itself echoing the divine words at Christ's baptism, Matt. 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 8:22.

(26) Odyssey X:495, and Creuzer, in Plotinus, 1835, xi: [GREEK TEXT EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

(27) Allen, 1989, 52-53; and idem, 1992, 86.

(28) Plotinus, 1835, xvii-xviii: "Quoniam vero nunc circa philosophandi officium divinam attigimus providentiam, operae pretium videtur, ut eam paulo latius prosequamur. Non est profecto putandum, acute, et quodammodo philosophica hominum ingenia unquam alla quadam esca, praaerquam philosophica, ad perfectam religionem allici posse paulatim, atque perduci. Acuta enim ingenia plerumque sold se rationi committunt, cumque a religioso quodam philosopho hanc accipiunt, religionem subito communem libenter admittunt, qua quidem imbuti, ad meliorem religionis speciem sub genere comprehensam facilius traduntur. Itaque non absque divine providentia, volente videlicet, omnes pro singulorum ingenio ad se mirabiliter revocare, factum est, ut pie quaedam philosophia quondam et apud Persas sub Zoroastre, et apud Aegyptios sub Mercurio nasceretur, utrobique sibimet consona, nutriretur deinde apud Thraces sub Orpheo atque Aglaophemo, adolesceret quoque mox sub Pythagora apud Graecos et Italos, tandem vero a divo Platone consummaretur Athenis. Vetus autem Theologorum mos erat, divine mysteria cum mathematicis numeris et figuris, tum poeticis figmentis obtegere, ne temere cuilibet communia forent. Plotinus tandem his theologiam velaminibus enudavit, primusque et solus, ut Porphyrius Proclusque testantur, arcane veterum divinitus penetravit, sed ob incredibilem cum verborum brevitatem, tum sententiarum copiam, sensusque profunditatem, non translatione tantum linguae, sed commentariis indiget."

(29) Kristeller, 1943, chap. 9; also Hankins, [1990.sup.1], 1:285-87.

(30)Hankins, [1990.sup.1], 2:460-64.

(31)Plotinus, 1835, xviii "Nos ergo in Theologis superioribus apud Platonem atque Plotinum traducendis et explanandis elaboravimus, ut hac Theologia in lucem prodeunte, et poetae desinant gesta mysteriaque pietatis impie fabulis suis annumerare et Peripatetici quam plurimi, id est Philosophi pene omnes admoneantur, non esse de religione saltem communi, tanquam de anilibus fabulis sentiendum. Totus enim ferme terrarum orbis a Peripateticis occupatus in duas plurimum sectas divisus est, Alexandrinam et Averroicam. Illi quidem intellectum nostrum esse mortalem existimant, hi vero unicum esse contendunt, utrique religionem omnem funditus aeque tollunt, praesertim quia divinam circa homines providentiam negare videntur, et utrobique a suo etiam Aristotele defecisse. Cujus mentem hodie pauci praeter sublimem Picum complatonicum nostrum ea pietate, qua Theophrastus olim et Themistius, Porphyrius, Simplicius, Avicenna, et nuper Plethon interpretantur. Si quis autem putet tam divulgatam impietatem, tamque acribus munitam ingeniis sola quadam simplici praedicatione fidei apud homines posse deleri, is a vero longius aberrare palam re ipsa procul dubio convincetur, majore admodum hic opus est potestate, id autem est vel divinis miraculis unique patentibus vel saltem philosophica quadam religione philosophic eam libentius audituris, quandoque persuasura. Placet autem divinae providentiae his saeculis ipsum religionis suae genus autoritate rationeque philosophica confirmare, quoad statuto quodam tempore verissimam religionis speciem, ut olim quandoque fecit, manifestis per omnes gentes confirmet miraculis."

(32) Plotinus, 1835, xviii: "Divine igitur providentia ducti divinum Platonem et magnum Plotinum interpretati sumus. Platonem quidem ipsum misimus ad te jamdiu, ut apud eum aliquando revivisceret, in quo revixit Cosmus, atque renatus adolevit ad votum, et feliciter floret adultus. Plotinum vero nunc et si jure missuri sumus, non tam mittimus quidem, quam spectamus ad tuas aedes ultro et alacriter properantem tamquam ab ipso Platone, velut ferrum a lapide quadam Herculeo raptum, ut penes te, Magnanime Laurenti, unice literatorum patrone, una cum Platone suo felicissime vivat. Audi ergo feliciter Plotinum de omnibus philosophiae mysteriis apud te cum Platone loquentem, sed antequam hunc auscultes, Porphyrius plus ejus discipulus tibi auscultandus erit, vitam, mores, gesta magistri, et brevissime simul et verissime narrans. Cujus historiam Angelus Politianus noster alumnus tuus, acerrimo vir judicio, tam oratoriam quam philosophicam esse censet, propterea tibi admodum placituram. Denique non solum audi feliciter, sed etiam felicissime vive. Et quantum nos amas, dilectlssime Laurenti, tantum precor nostrum ama Valorem, Philippum, inquam egregium virum, et Platonicae sapientiae studiosum, et te ardenter amantem."

(33) Gentile, Niccoli and Viti, 147-50.

(34) Ficino, 1561, 1:874: "Accipe nonnullos quos hic expectabas Plotini libros. Heri omnibus transferendis finem imposui. Reliquum est et recognoscere verba et obscurum saepe sensum argumentis quibusdam reddere clariorem."

(35) Wolters, [1986.sup.2], 192; and idem, [1986.sup.1].

(36) Wolters, [1986.sup.1], 326-29; on the copyist Luca Fabiani, see Gentile, [1987.sup.2], esp. 361-89

(37) Gentile, Niccoli and Viti, 146-47. Wolters, 1986, 306.

(39) Fol. [247.sup.v], ed. 1492: "Sea non licet ulterius in praesentia digredi. Immo neque licet tenorem ab initio librorum exponendorum hactenus continuatum ultra servare. Si enim longa similiter argumenta, immo et commentaria seorsumque ab ipsis Plotini capitibus disposita prosequamur, et confuse continget interpretatio, et opus excrescet immensum. Satis evagati sumus. Satis multa iam diximus. sat igitur erit deinceps breves quasdam annotationes, ut Theophrasto fecimus, Plotini capitibus interserere."

(40) Wolters, [1986.sup.1], 323.

(41) Kristeller, 1937, 1:cxxxii-cxxxiv; Sicherl, 182-88.

(42) Kristeller, 1937, 1:cxxxiv-cxxxv; Bidez, 137-51; Copenhaver, 1988, 79-110.

(43) Kristeller, 1937, 1:cxxxv.

(44) Ibid., 1:cxxxvi-cxxxviii and cxxxv.

(45) Ficino, 1989.

(46) Plotinus, 1984, 26-31. See also Copenhaver, 1986.

(47) Yates, 66.

(48) Chastel, 42.

(49) Plotinus, 1973, 322.

(50) See Festugiere, 149-52, on the translation by Ficino of Enneads IV 7, and Wolters, [1986.sup.2], on Ennead III 5.

(51) Kristeller, 1953, 218-45.

(52) Erasmus, 251.

(53) Allen, 1984, 181-84; and idem, 1993, 133 ff.

(54) Horace, Odes, II. 16, 25.
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Title Annotation:the publication of Plotinus's manuscripts in the 15th century
Author:Saffrey, Henri D.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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