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Marsilio Ficino, Pietro Bembo, Baldassare Castiglione: Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Political Approaches in Renaissance Platonism.

Christine Raffini, (Renaissance and Baroque: Studies and Texts, 21.) New York and Washington, D.C.: Peter Lang, 1998. xii + 174 pp. $41.95. ISBN: 0-8204-3023-4.

These two books present examinations of two different facets of Renaissance philosophical speculation, the Platonic and the Aristotelian. Raffini offers a study of Marsilio Ficino's use of the Platonic heritage and its Nachleben as manifested in the work of Pietro Bembo and Baldassare Castiglione. The author contends that (1): "Taken together, the writings of Marsilio Ficino, Pietro Bembo and Baldassare Castiglione reveal the philosophical, aesthetic, political and practical ramifications of Renaissance Platonism." The author correctly attributes great influence to Ficino's thought; and throughout she attempts to present her theses in a manner satisfactory to scholars but addressed to the educated general reader. The author's aims are laudable and the general intuition about Ficino's importance is correct, but there are some concerns which must be noted. First, the analysis of Ficino is somewhat lacking in scholarly depth. When the author writes, "Indeed, the most celebrated thinkers of the fifteenth-century Renaissance - individuals like Cristoforo Landino, Angelo Poliziano, and Lorenzo de' Medici - were members of his newly founded Platonic Academy at Careggi," (9-10) it is clear that she has not realized the importance of Hankins's work on the difficulty of coming to a meaningful definition of the Florentine Platonic "Academy." And when she writes, "Ficino was one of the first in the context of Christianity to emphasize belief in the immortality of the soul, a doctrine which, curiously, had been neglected during the Middle Ages," (11) it is clear that she lacks familiarity with medieval thought, since many medieval thinkers were very concerned with the problem of the soul's immortality.

In addition, occasionally it seems that the complexity of Ficino's thought has not been fully worked through; hence the extent to which Ficino's ideas might have permeated the work of Bembo and Castiglione is glimpsed only superficially. Concerning Bembo's use of Petrarch, e.g., the author writes that he combines "two essentially incompatible traditions: the Petrarchan and the Platonic. Normally Petrarch's languor, melancholy and eternally unrequited love would tend to contradict Neoplatonic confidence and aspiration, yet by juxtaposing them Bembo seems to cast Petrarch's lyrics in a new light" (74). While it is true that in the Neoplatonic tradition great weight is given to the human ability to ascend ontologically and that this is largely voluntaristic (and thus perhaps reflective of a kind of optimism), it would be difficult to argue that the melancholic Ficino was filled with "Neoplatonic confidence." In his famous use of the Prometheus myth (in the Five Questions on the Mind), where reason functions as a metaphoric stand-in for fire, Ficino suggests that on earth our longing for God is unrequited and can only be satisfied when we finally, permanently, and eternally are united with God: on earth, we are meant to be melancholic. When the author comes to a discussion of an s-shaped symbol worn by Duchess Elisabetta in the Courtier, Castiglione is quoted as saying that "Fortune . . . has led her to reveal by this little sign and in spite of herself, her secret desire to kill and burn alive in calamities anyone who looks upon her or serves her" (109). One would think this an ideal place to bring out Ficinian resonances, especially concerning the power of possibly talismanic symbols. Instead it is said that Castiglione wrote as he did only to "exalt Elisabetta, placing her on equal footing with Petrarch's Laura." Finally, it must be said that the author leaves out much recent fundamental scholarship. Roman humanism is discussed without taking account of D'Amico's monograph on the subject, and Venetian humanism is discussed without the work of Margaret King, etc. While a general, synthetic, modern work on Ficino and his influence is a major desideratum, the work of Raffini unfortunately cannot be said to have fulfilled that need.

Antonino Poppi's work is a collection of essays, all of which touch in one way or another on the theme of Renaissance Aristotelianism. The book's centerpiece is the long monographic essay with which it begins. Here Poppi examines the teaching of moral philosophy in the faculty of arts at the University of Padua, the methodological choices that various professors made, and significant themes they debated (13). The mature fruit of years of work in the field, Poppi's presentation, rich and textured, never oversimplifies, as he shows repeatedly and well the diverse tendencies within the culture of Paduan Aristotelianism. Even as those who possessed the sixteenth-century chairs of moral philosophy at the studio patavino taught Aristotle, they did not lose sight of the benefit of mastering Plato. Indeed, it is university culture which is central here - when it came to moral philosophy, Aristotle was more suitable to be taught, clearer, more methodical. And political culture is important too. In educating the future leaders of la Serenissima, those concerned with moral philosophy believed it best to have at the core of instruction something not only teachable and systematic, but also something which dealt with the world as it is: in short, Aristotle. But as Poppi's incisive discussion of Francesco Piccolomini's Universa philosophia de moribus shows, there were those (despite their pedagogically peripatetic leanings) who believed strongly that the two philosophers were complementary. For Piccolomini it was not a matter of "reconciling" the thought of the two great philosophers: indeed, "quique omni ex parte conciliare nituntur," according to Piccolomini, "cum eorum viae sint distinctae, omnia evertunt, confundunt" (67). Although one of the questions

preoccupying some philosophers was whom to prefer, Plato or Aristotle, for Piccolomini the danger in comparing the two is not understanding either (64). He essentially transcends the question of comparison and observes in the two thinkers a basic methodological difference which highlights, as Poppi points out, Piccolomini's understanding of two fundamentally different methods of acquiring knowledge: "unum per doctrinam, disciplinam et auscultationem" (the Aristotelian method) and "alterum per inventionem, excitationera et reminiscentiam" (the Platonic). For Piccolomini, only God can know which of the two methods is more valid and closer to the truth ("Horum duorum generum, quod firmius et verius sit, Deus scit") (65).

Piccolomini also busied himself with the ever-present moral philosophical problem of human liberty. It is the capacity to make decisions among different alternatives and especially the power to resist inclinations and impulses which concerns Piccolomini (73). Humans, created in the image of God, are essentially left to themselves. Thus for Piccolomini an essential condition of human liberty is that the soul must be essentially free of materiality to be able to control corporeal impulses: "Propterea dicamus primam ac veram originem libertatis esse solutionem a materie" (74). According to Piccolomini the mistake of Alexander of Aphrodisias and Galen was that they did not fully realize this. The problem then becomes one of location. If liberty of decision-making is located in the soul, where in the soul is it? Is it in reason or in the will? To provide a context for this problem, Piccolomini suggests that the faculties of the soul are, in Poppi's words, "not distinguished realiter from the essence of the soul nor among themselves" (75). Rather, will is understood widely to refer to all forms of appetitio, "given that the root of liberty is independence from matter." Logically this leads to the notion that man must be considered in his integrity, "quia homo est integrum agendi principium" (76). Piccolomini's solution, then, is that freedom of choice is located essentially in reason but in its applied sense in the will, a position which, in its integrative sense at least, meshes well with other (dare one say Cartesian) tendencies in early modern thought.

There is much else of great value in this book. Poppi's essay on liberty and fate, familiar to readers of the Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, is presented here in Italian. There is a stimulating analysis of Filippo Beroaldo and Codro. An essay on the theme of the active life has as its focus a student of Pomponazzi, the Paduan philosopher and essayist Sperone Speroni (the piece also includes examinations of Alessandro and Francesco Piccolomini). All in all, the book is an excellent introduction to a number of fundamental problems in the culture of Renaissance Aristotelianism, broadly conceived.

CHRISTOPHER S. CELENZA Michigan State University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Celenza, Christopher S.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1999
Words:1378
Previous Article:Authorizing Petrarch.
Next Article:L'etica del Rinascimento tra Platone e Aristotele.
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