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Pythagoras in The Renaissance: The Case of Marsilio Ficino.

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) is a familiar figure to students of Renaissance philosophy, well known as a transmitter of many aspects of the Platonic heritage.(1) This study will address a small part of the Platonic tradition by focusing on certain features of Ficino's use of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, with a view toward categorizing and describing Ficino's view of Pythagoreanism.(2) The first step will be an examination of Pythagoreanism, specifically in light of its later Greek, specifically Iamblichean, interpretation. Thereafter, I turn to Ficino's prisca theologia, or ancient theology, in order to come to an understanding of where Pythagoras was situated on Ficino's mental landscape. Finally, I shall discuss the place of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans for Ficino in various traditional areas of philosophy, including psychology, moral philosophy, and metaphysics and ontology, all of which often overlap, given Ficino's eclecticism.

One question to be addressed throughout is the following: to what extent is Pythagoras just another priscus theologus for Ficino, and to what extent does Ficino separate Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans out from the other "ancient theologians"? That Ficino - as I hope to show - did not see the ancient theologians before Plato as an undifferentiated unity will come as no surprise to historians of philosophy. Aristotle, Cicero, Diogenes Laertius, even Aquinas all saw Pythagoras and the Pythagorean tradition as responsible for certain discretely identifiable contributions to the history of philosophy. But what is unique in Ficino's case is the influence of Iamblichean Neoplatonism. This in turn is connected to larger concerns.

In addition to being a study in the history of philosophy, this article is part of what James Hankins has dubbed a "sources-and-influence" type of intellectual history.(3) On the most basic level this genre of historical writing is legitimate: thinkers in the past revered certain sources, and understanding the texts they privileged - what they were, how they were used - opens a window onto their world. However, one recognizes, as Hankins does, the pitfalls of stopping there. After the crucial and necessary step of identifying sources (without which intellectual history would recede too easily into nihilism), the task, in the case of Ficino as with other early modern thinkers, is to go one step beyond the identification of sources. One must imagine internally coherent modes of thinking into which a thinker could have tapped and sketch social contexts in which he could have functioned and in which he might have imagined himself.(4)

Along these lines, just as Hankins has argued that at times Ficino is closer to a follower of the pedagogically maieutic Socrates rather than of Plato alone,(5) one might suggest that Ficino also saw himself in a vatic way, as a follower of Pythagoras, that is, as a "wise man" (within a broad context of doctrinal orthodoxy- usually).(6) This vatic side of Ficino was heavily influenced by a late ancient mentality which privileged the prophetic side of Pythagoras and his nature as a religious figure. So if there is a larger resonance to this article, it is this: since Renaissance thinkers self-consciously searched for meaning in Greco-Roman antiquity, it is important to understand that antiquity is not monolithic - that there were different antiquities, all of which could at any given time in early modernity strike and affect a given thinker profoundly. Allen has recently uncovered a "patristic" side to Ficino, and Godman an "Alexandrian" turn in Poliziano's work.(7) Here I should like to document and understand a late ancient, Neopythagorean facet in Ficino's mindset.

It will be helpful to begin with a discussion of the Pythagorean tradition. From the earliest reports in Plato, there have always been two dimensions reported about the Pythagorean tradition: the religious and the scientific. The misstep of rationalist historiography has been to polarize these two aspects, to separate facets which were originally intimately linked.(8) On the "scientific" side, the principal source in reconstructing Pythagorean teachings is, unsurprisingly, Aristotle, who was interested in showing that Pythagoreanism was a fairly primitive form of thought; he was especially concerned to separate it from what he perceived to be its Platonized version.(9) The reports in his Metaphysics, his Physics, and his De coelo are crucial, as is his lost monograph on Pythagoreanism, some of which has been reconstructed.(10) Perhaps most important of all are the late ancient commentators on Aristotle, especially Themistius and Simplicius. Other important sources for the rationalist aspects of the Pythagorean tradition include the lives of Pythagoras by Diogenes Laertius, Porphyry, and Iamblichus, but these latter thinkers also present valuable information about the religious dimensions of Pythagoreanism; and to have a full picture of Pythagoreanism one must connect its religious and rational facets.

On the scientific side one learns that Pythagoras was the first to use the term philosophia - the love of wisdom; counterbalancing this, however, one must consider just what this "wisdom" was for Pythagoras and his followers. One can connect this with the notion of Pythagoras as a "wise man," a kind of shaman.(11) Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans considered number to be the first and most important principle of the universe. But they were not in the tradition of the material monists, like Thales, who were trying to find one basic physical element; rather (and closer to Orphic tradition) their number theory was cosmogonic.(12) Other such contrasts could be enunciated, but the main point is clear: the Pythagoreans philosophized to provide a basis for their religion, and the original figure of Pythagoras as prophet was central to that enterprise.(13) Post-Platonic Pythagoreanism, especially in its Iamblichean variety, as we shall see, only intensified Pythagoras's centrality.

The notion of Ficino as a self-styled prophetic, hierophantic figure fits not only within the world of active intellectuals in early modern Europe (Giovanni Mercurio da Correggio and Savonarola come to mind as do transalpine figures like Jan of Leiden), but more specifically in the context of millenarian Florence at the at the end of the Quattrocento. The community that gathered around Ficino and then around Savonarola (Giovanni Nesi, Domenico Benivieni, Pico della Mirandola, among numerous others) were looking for just such a figure, for one who would help them transcend the well-documented sense of constriction, finality, and intellectual sterility which plagued Florentine intellectuals as they approached the eschaton;(14) and recent scholarship has so amply demonstrated this prophetic side of Ficino's self-image that it is unnecessary to go into great detail here.(15) The Pythagorean tendencies in Ficino's thought contributed to the mixture of philosophy and religion (for which he is so well known) which he as vates believed it was his duty to promulgate. It is the intention of this piece to flesh those tendencies out.

On the one hand, one agrees thoroughly with Michael Allen when he writes "the concept of Renaissance Pythagoreanism begs many questions; and we are still entitled to doubt whether it can be usefully distinguished from Renaissance Neoplatonism."(16) On the other, one can note that Plotinian Neoplatonism itself became somewhat "Pythagoreanized" under the influence of Iamblichus and that this Pythagoreanized Neoplatonism was passed down to, among others, Syrianus and Proclus.(17) In addition, John Dillon's view regarding what he terms "Pythagorism" is useful. In using the term in his study of middle Platonism, he means

a more-than-objective interest in the thought and personality of Pythagoras, and a tendency to try to reconstruct his teachings, fathering the theories of later men, including even one's own, on him in the process. This tendency begins in Platonism with Speusippus, if not with Plato himself, and is observable in most later Platonists to a greater or lesser degree, the extremists in this regard being those who would term themselves "Pythagoreans" rather than Platonists . . . . (18)

Ficino is thus not an "extremist" but rather a Platonist who had a definable interest in the Pythagorean tradition and who occasionally separated that tradition out from other non-Platonic traditions in which he was interested. The question, then, is not whether there existed a coherent body of thought which we might term "Renaissance Pythagoreanism." Rather, the problem is twofold: first, to recognize the extent to which Plotinian Neoplatonism became self-consciously "Pythagoreanized" in later Greek philosophy, especially under Iamblichus; second, to map out Ficino's own view of Pythagoras and the Pythagorean tradition.

The image of Pythagoras underwent a twofold evolution in the interpretations of Iamblichus. First, in a multi-volume work which we can call On Pythagoreanism, Iamblichus (circa 245-circa 325) introduced the notion of Pythagoras as a "divine guide." Pythagoras was sent down by the gods with a soteriological mission: to save the souls of mankind.(19) Second, in the same work, Iamblichus set out to provide an account of Pythagoras and Pythagoreanism which would lead the soul from lower to higher things, from the material to the immaterial, from the mutable and inconstant to the constant and true: in short, from what Iamblichus clearly believed was "less" Pythagorean to what was "more" Pythagorean. For Iamblichus, to philosophize "in the Pythagorean manner" ([Greek Text Omitted]) meant one would "propound, not contradictions, but firm and unchanging truths strengthened by scientific demonstration through sciences ([Greek Text Omitted]) and contemplation (Greek Text Omitted)."(20) In other words, Iamblichus strengthened the post-Platonic notion, to which we shall later return, that the sciences which were concerned with immaterial reality were the most truly Pythagorean.(21)

The first four books of this (possibly) ten-volume work on Pythagoreanism have come down to us and were known to Ficino: On the Pythagorean Life, the Protreptic to Philosophy, On General Mathematical Science, and On Nicomachus' Arithmetical Introduction.(22) Books 5 through 7 (On Arithmetic in Physical Matters, On Arithmetic in Ethical Matters, and On Arithmetic in Theological Matters) were known to and excerpted by the Byzantine polymath Michael Psellos (1018-1078).(23) The rest of the books are lost.

We know that Ficino knew and produced lengthy paraphrases and partial translations of the first four books early in his career, by 1463 at the latest.(24) And the first four books are enough to have given Ficino the first facet of the twofold Iamblichean refurbishing of Pythagoras, i.e., the notion of Pythagoras as a divine guide sent by the gods (though, to be sure, not begotten by them). Pythagoras is spoken of as having been "sent down to men from Apollo's train," and we learn that the philosophy of the "divine Pythagoras . . . was originally handed down from the Gods"; indeed, thanks; to his projection of serenity and balance, all who met him in his youth and early travels were convinced that there was something of the divine in him; when his disciples wished to sleep, he could, using music, purify their minds and supply them with "pleasant, even prophetic, dreams"; but he himself was far beyond the need for any such aids: "through some unutterable, almost inconceivable likeness to the gods, his hearing and mind were intent upon the celestial harmonies of the cosmos."(25)

A few things stand out, including Iamblichus's report of Pythagoras's self-identification with divinity, the oneirically soothing use of music, and especially, Pythagoras's soteriological status. If one widens the discussion a bit, one sees that among later Platonists in general, especially after Iamblichus, philosophy itself is seen to have different sorts of soteriological resonances. In a text undoubtedly known to Ficino, Hierocles, in his commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses, stressed the revelatory nature of philosophy and the notion that higher, more naturally pure souls communicated philosophy's messages to souls more weighed down by materiality.(26) Syrianus (whose views in this regard are preserved in Hermias's commentary on Plato's Phaedrus) presents Socrates as the figure sent down to save.(27) And in Proclus one sees repeatedly the notion that philosophy is a revealed truth which "superior souls" - i.e., philosophers - are sent to reveal to the rest of humanity.(28)

It is important to recognize that the soteriological status which philosophy - and often "Pythagorean" philosophy - had for the later Greek philosophers is part of an eschatological, salvationist mentalite, which intellectuals removed from political power helped to create. The communities into which these intellectuals gathered depended for their existence on a central hierophantic figure? One would shy away from making a total analogy, but in the milieu in which Ficino lived, there was a perceived need for a divinely inspired earthly guide and there was a thinker, Ficino, who sincerely believed he was that person, and who, perhaps in a circular fashion, helped create and further the very eschatological environment which he needed, as hierophant, to have. One can hardly make large-scale programmatic statements about the group of intellectuals with which Ficino interacted; in two fundamental studies Hankins has shown the conceptual difficulties of the term Platonic "Academy."(30) But it is hardly stretching the bounds of historical imagination to suggest that Ficino, in crafting his own prophetic image, looked toward what he knew of Pythagoras, especially as this was mediated by his knowledge of post-Plotinian Pythagoreanizing Neoplatonism, to which he had had an early introduction and which, one might argue, had a formative influence on his intellectual outlook and self-perception.(31)


Ficino's conception of the prisca theologia, or "ancient theology" is the backbone of his own personal history of philosophy. Teleologically constructed to lend authority to his great love for Plato (who stood always at the end of the ancient Greek part of this succession of prisci theologi), the prisca theologia represented a divine wisdom which was given by God to humankind. This wisdom passed through a series of thinkers and found its fullest ancient expression in Plato. In its final form (which Ficino would hold for the rest of his life and which itself appears first in the initial redaction of his Philebus commentary of 1469), the succession of ancient figures was as follows: Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus (both of whom he considered to be near contemporaries of Moses), Orpheus, Aglaophemus, Pythagoras, and Plato.(32)

The texts Ficino used and privileged in constructing the prisca theologia were the same, more or less, as those used by Iamblichus, who in his De Mysteriis consciously went beyond the Platonic and Plotinian canon by including texts which represented a synthesis of elements which were "Egyptian" - by which he meant notions drawn from the Corpus hermeticum, "Chaldean" - by which he meant notions drawn from the Chaldean oracles, and "philosophical" - i.e., Platonic ideas.(33) Iamblichus and those in his wake believed in the notion of an "ancient theology" for essentially the same motives that Pletho, Ficino, and others would in the Renaissance. They were sincerely disillusioned with contemporary society, including contemporary religion and philosophy, and with their veneration of earliest antiquity they lamented the poor state of modern affairs and expressed their yearning for a Golden Age. Building upon their faith in this Golden Age, they lent auctoritas to their modern constructions and invested a body of literature with what amounts to religious faith.(34)

Pythagoras's place as Plato's teacher (through his students), as a believer in the immortality of souls, and as a transmitter of Orphic wisdom signals him as an important person in the chain of prisci theologi enumerated by Ficino. Although the ordering of the prisca theologia underwent a few changes in Ficino's early years (from the mid-1450s to 1469), Pythagoras never once fails to appear. In fact, the name of Pythagoras and the term "the Pythagoreans" recur often in Ficino's work - certainly more often than any other pre-Socratic philosopher(35) - and they are used as authorities to lend considerable rhetorical force to Ficino's work. But is Pythagoras for Ficino just another auctoritas, as so many pre-Socratics are for so many Renaissance thinkers? An examination of his works reveals that Ficino did on occasion use Pythagoras in a constructive philosophical manner.

A leitmotif in Ficino's writing, both properly philosophical and otherwise, is unity and the superiority of unity. He saw the prisca theologia as the transmission of a unitary wisdom and often speaks of the Pythagoreans and the Platonists, not to mention Pythagoras and Plato, as a unity and as propounding the superiority of unity.(36) The Pythagoreans especially are almost always treated as a unity: there is no conception of an "early" or "late," a pre-Platonic or post-Platonic, Pythagoreanism, let alone an attempt to arrive at criteria by which one could judge things authentically Pythagorean. This reflects, ultimately, the influence which Neopythagorean, Neoplatonist philosophy, method, and overall mentalite' had on Ficino. These eclectic thinkers brought unity out of diversity when they approached the Platonic corpus as well as the Platonic tradition, which inevitably included the background of the shadowy Pythagoras.(37) And as a bona fide Neoplatonist, Ficino participates in this Neoplatonic approach as much as Iamblichus or Proclus ever did.(38)

Treating "the Pythagoreans" as a unity, however, need present no obstacles to separating out this unified Pythagorean tradition from other philosophical and religious authorities who had roots in the pre-Platonic history of thought. The Byzantine emigre and rival of Ficino, John Argyropoulos, did just that in his lectures on Aristotle's Physics at the Florentine studium generale (given from 1458-1460); and it is certainly not impossible that Ficino came in direct or indirect contact with these opinions.(39) Lecturing on the origins of the sciences, Argyropoulos argued:

So they [the gentiles] concede that the sciences were invented in a certain part of the world (like Greece, after the flood of Deucalion), but [they also concede] that there were always sciences in the world. They say the Egyptians did not have the flood of Deucalion, and so the Greeks had help from them. Thus, in that early period the sciences seemed immature. For there were many philosophers who handed down knowledge obscurely and by means of poems; still, they handed down many worthy and outstanding things. Thereafter came Pythagoras, who seems to have widened philosophy. Then came Plato, who set poetry aside and taught a very wide range of subjects, even if he did preserve some characteristics of the early period by naming the principles of things in a mathematical manner. Then Aristotle spoke about the principles of things as natural; and he doesn't seem to speak about the parts of the world: rather, he speaks as if the world never was, and understands not being in general but substance. Nevertheless, he retained obscurity.(40)

Based on this and a passage in Argyropoulos's lectures on the De anima, Field outlines Argyropoulos's periodization of the history of philosophy as follows: "the pre-Socratic or poetic, the Platonic, and the Aristotelian."(41) I would modify this to "the pre-Socratic or poetic, the Pythagorico-Platonic, and the Aristotelian," especially since in the just-cited passage the way Plato "reservavit antiqua" was speaking of principles "modo mathematico" - "in a mathematical way" - which as all knew was exactly what Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans had done. Moreover, the lexical connection between the words amplificasse and amplissime suggests that Argyropoulos considered both Pythagoras and Plato part of the same philosophical trend broadening philosophy's scope, so that philosophy would include not only the physical but also the metaphysical.

In Ficino's well-known letter to Janus Pannonius of the mid 1480s (which became the basis of his preface to his translation of Plotinus), Ficino offers a succession outlining the prisca theologia:

It happened once that a certain "pious philosophy" was born, among the Persians in the person of Zoroaster and among the Egyptians in the person of Mercury [i.e., Hermes Trismegistus]: both of these agreed with each other. Then, this philosophy was nourished among the Thracians under Orpheus and Aglaophemus. And soon thereafter it matured among the Greeks and Italians under Pythagoras. But it was at last brought to real perfection at Athens by divine Plato. Now it was the ancient custom of the Theologians to cover up divine mysteries, now with mathematical numbers and figures, now with poetic figments . . . . (42)

These two passages possess a number of notable facets, in addition to their similarity. First they both resemble a passage at the opening of the Platonic Theology of Proclus, a thinker whom O'Meara has shown to have followed in the footsteps of certain parts of Iamblichus's Pythagoreanizing program, though finally transcending it.(43) Ficino knew and translated parts of Proclus early in his career.(44) Second, both passages make use of an interesting, proto-formalist biological terminology when discussing the development of the history of thought: philosophy was "born," was "nourished," it "matured," and was brought to "perfection." The prisca theologia, that is, was a unitary wisdom; but it was not revealed all at once. Different figures contributed in various ways to the enterprise of its revelation.

Finally, there is by way of background the general point that, after the fashion of Aristotle, late-ancient, medieval, and early modern thinkers were accustomed to conceiving of the development of philosophy in terms of "successions," (the Latin successiones and the Greek [Greek Text Omitted]). The history of philosophy was formulated in terms of one philosopher "succeeding" another, having been taught by the former thinker and finally building on or changing the inherited tradition in some way to make it his own. An important source for Latin-reading Renaissance thinkers after 1433 was of course the Lives of Diogenes Laertius, perhaps the most fully developed source for a succession-based tradition. By 1433, it had been turned into Latin by Ambrogio Traversari.(45) But there was also much medieval precedent: a partial translation of Laertius by Henricus Aristippus (known to Aquinas) and the more well known - and widely disseminated - De vita et moribus philosophorum of Walter of Burley, written in the generation after Aquinas.(46) The latter work circulated not only among professional philosophers but also in the world of early humanism and was known to Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Salutati, among others.(47)

While the above-noted two passages are not exactly similar to the succession tradition, they were still produced in an environment where most thinkers considered the history of philosophy as a linear progression within the context of developing, individually discrete schools.(48) Accordingly, despite the originality of Ficino's use of this tradition in constructing his prisca theologia, and despite the unity possessed by the prisci theologi in his eyes, he still would have had in mind certain specific characteristics to be attached to the different traditions leading up to Plato. This is especially so in the case of the Pythagorean tradition as mediated by Ficino's preferred Neoplatonic sources.


In discussing the traditional areas of philosophy, there is no better place to begin than with psychology, the study of the soul, for it is doubtless here that Pythagoras is for Ficino most important. It was Pythagoras who introduced into Greek philosophical (as opposed to mythographic) speculation the idea of the immortality of the soul, passing it along to Plato;(49) and, as we shall see, it is in connection with Ficino's neo-Proclian project to protect the authority and safeguard the originality of Plato that Pythagoras is in this connection most useful for him.

The idea of the immortality of the soul was the subject of Ficino's capolavoro, the eighteen-book Theologia Platonica, subtitled De immortalitate animorum. The fifth book is full of reasons why "Omnis rationalis anima est immortalis" ("every rational [i.e., human] soul is immortal"). The reason in chapter 1? "Prima ratio: quia per se movetur et in circulum" ("because it is moved through itself, and in a circular fashion"). Here we get a glimpse of Ficino's view of Pythagoras through a praeteritio, a "passing-over":

For a circuit does not spill forth its power, but collects what powers it has into itself and when it is thought to be lacking, renews itself. I pass over for now that argument of Pythagoras, which shows that in a sphere there is no beginning or end, and therefore that that which moves in the pattern of a sphere [in sphaeram] has never begun to be moved, nor does it ever cease from moving. Moreover, [the argument goes] that rational souls are certain spiritual spheres, and they make a spiritual circuit in themselves; next, that the bodies which are their shadows have this sort of shape and movement [i.e., spherical]. The result is that the visible spheres and circuits are shadows of invisible spheres and circuits; and if the shadows are perpetual, so much the more will those substances be perpetual, which through unending power [per virtutem termino carentem] continue in act without end. Nor is there anything contrary to them, on account of which they might perish, just as there is no contrary motion to their motion, which is that of a circuit.(50)

Ficino claims to pass over Pythagoras's argument, but as often happens with praeteritiones, all is revealed. Since spheres, because of their shape, have no beginnings and no ends; since things that move ad sphaeram have no beginning of motion and no end of motion; since the human rational soul moves as a kind of spiritual sphere; and since souls (which are the "substances" he speaks of), per virtutem termino carentem, unendingly continue in act; it is clear that souls, on analogy with spheres, keep on in their unending motion, and are thus immortal. Or is it?

Ficino would have read in Diogenes Laertius(51) that Pythagoras considered the sphere the most perfect of solids, the circle the most perfect of plane figures.(52) He also would have known that Alcmaeon the Pythagorean thought that the soul was immortal and that it "held itself in [continuous] motion like the sun.(53) But that is all he would have known from Diogenes Laertius. In the

passage where Laertius discusses Pythagoras's opinions on the soul, the self-moving-spherical-motion argument for immortality is not mentioned? Nor could Aristotle's De anima have been his source. There only the opinion of Pythagoreioi is mentioned, not Pythagoras himself.(55) Aristotle reports that the Pythagoreans likened the soul to the [Greek Test Omitted] - pieces of dust, motes - in the air. In the Problemata Aristotle, in discussing how we can consider ourselves to be "before" others suggests that some have said there is a kind of cycle to affairs: there are those who are continually being horn and are the same "with regard to form" - [Greek Text Omitted]. He goes on to mention that Alcmaeon says that men die because they cannot connect the arche to the telos.(56)

The notion of the soul as a self-moving entity is found fatuously in Plato's Phaedrus, his Laws, and in other places;(57) but Ficino's attribution to Pythagoras of a coupling of the soul's propensity for self-motion with circular motion is puzzling. In fact, far from being Pythagorico-Platonic, Ficino's language here has much more of an Aristotelian flavor. When Ficino writes "that which moves in the pattern of a sphere [in sphaeram] has never begun to be moved, nor does it ever cease from moving," there are echoes of Aristotle's discussion of circular motion in his Physics, 8.8 and 8.9. At 8.8 (261627), for example, Aristotle set out to show that there is indeed "a certain [motion] which is infinite, uniform, and continuous; and this is circular motion."(58) As he continued his discussion the Philosopher used language with similar resonances. Other than circular motion there is no sort of movement which is "infinite, unitary, and continuous;" circular motion "alone has neither beginning nor end in itself- these come from without;" and circular motion is really the only kind of motion that can be perpetual?

How to solve the problem? Perhaps the section after the immediate praeteritio ("Moreover, [the argument goes] that rational souls are a certain sort of spiritual sphere, etc.") is Ficino's own interpretation, and his admixture of Platonic theory with Aristotelian language is an inevitable manifestation of the structure of contemporary philosophical language: to talk of motion meant to use Aristotelian terminology. However that may be, Ficino does not draw back from the notion that the sphere has no beginning and no end. If this analogy to the soul were pushed, then this would appear to resemble metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls), or at least palingenesis (the continual rebirth of souls), either of which would be a heresy in Christian terms, since souls were supposed to be created ex nihilo.(60)

When it came to an issue like metempsychosis in the larger Platonic tradition, what Ficino most sought was to protect Plato; and in the main he did this in two ways: by allegoresis and, failing that, by stressing that it was Pythagoras who had introduced metempsychosis into Greek philosophical speculation.(61) The tendency of Ficino's allegorical readings is to stress that in the doctrine of metempsychosis, the hidden truth to be drawn out by the exegete is the marvelous capacity of the soul to effect change in itself, to re-form itself.(62) The formulation is often of the sort found famously in the Hermetic Asclepius ("a human being is a great wonder, a living thing to be worshipped and honored: for he changes his nature into a god's, as if he were a god"), and of course in the Oratio of Ficino's friend Pico della Mirandola.(63) So metempsychosis, read allegorically, becomes simply a recognition of the soul's ability to become different things. These are, however, general observations. What about specifics?

The metempsychosis issue is brought into starkest relief in the early chapters of the seventeenth book of the Theologia Platonica. At the outset we find out that we shall be discussing the status of the soul before it gets to the body, and its status after it leaves the body.(64) The ancient theologians, Ficino says, including Plato, really all agreed on this problem, but in order not to let the secrets of divine matters fall into the wrong hands, they often covered them up using poetica umbracula. Because of this, their successors in the Platonic tradition have had to interpret.(65) Ficino then offers accounts of the interpretation of this problem in Platonic hermeneutics by the six ancient academies.(66) He argues that the last two, the Roman and the Lycian, have interpreted the problem wrongly, believing that the soul travels in "circuits" and is constantly being reborn, i.e., that they basically endorse one form or another of palingenesis.(67) It is rather the first four academies who interpret Plato more correctly, and of these, it is the academies of Xenocrates and Ammonius, the first and the fourth, who have done the best job:

We follow in the footsteps therefore of Xenocrates and Ammonius, and do not deny that Plato had affirmed certain things about the soul; however, many things which he treats concerning the "circuit" of the soul, we understand as poetic, i.e., otherwise than the words seem to mean. This is especially so, since he himself did not invent circuits of this sort, but told of the inventions of others. First, of course, the circuits were made up by Egyptian priests, as a figure of the souls to be purged; then the circuits were sung about by Orpheus, Empedocles, and Heraclitus in what were no more than poetic songs. I pass over that Pythagoras always inserted the transmigrations of souls into his usual discussions and symbols. And so we shall respond to the last Academies; but they lean on two principles of interpretation especially: right reason, and Platonic authority.(68)

And he goes on to show the misuse by the last two Academies of these two valid hermeneutic principles. Throughout the goal is to interpret Plato correctly, using "right reason" and "Platonic authority."

In his own interpretations Ficino has many ways of doing this. As Hankins has shown, Ficino stresses the notion that the Platonic dialogues are a treasury of wisdom precisely because they contain many philosophical positions, not all of them Platonic.(69) Given Ficino's large scale hermeneutic, then, there would be nothing wrong with an heretical position like metempsychosis appearing in the dialogues, so long as one understood that the position was not Platonic. Still, one of the appealing aspects of this chapter in the Thelogia Platonica is that we get a glimpse, perhaps, of Ficino at least by implication allowing for change over the course of Plato's career. One could not claim, of course, that Ficino is in any way prefiguring nineteenth-century Historismus; his was a different mindset altogether. But it is not impossible that Ficino at least came across this idea of evolution in the works of Plato.

Throughout the chapter, Ficino is compelled to admit that there are places in Plato's works which might be interpreted as propounding metempsychosis. He says that for the sake of argument (disputationis gratia), he will admit the presence in Plato's works of the notion that in the course of their evolution the souls of men can be present at times in beasts.(70) Yet the chief way in which he protects Plato is to lay stress on Plato's later works, especially the often underappreciated Laws, a dialogue which Ficino saw as crucial for many issues of his own Platonic exegesis. More importantly for our purposes, in his privileging of Plato's later works, Ficino takes the opportunity to lay the blame for the metempsychosis problem squarely where it belongs: on Pythagoras. We have seen this idea above and we meet it again when Ficino argues that in later works like the Laws (as well as in the letters to king Dionysius and to the Syracusans) there is no trace of a Platonic endorsement of metempsychosis:

There seem to be three most evident signs, beyond other things, by which we can judge that Plato never affirmed those Pythagorean beliefs: first, that in the same work he presents interlocutors as arguing against such things as they were previously saying; second, he portrays Socrates as ambiguous in referring to the things which he had heard (Socrates, who used to preach that he knew nothing other than this: that he knew nothing); and third, that the things which he had written of this sort, he did not confirm in his old age. Certainly in the Laws - the only work in which the very person of Plato is speaking - he asserts no such thing.(71)

Ultimately, for Ficino, nothing can be affirmed about Plato's opinions on divine matters such as these. "But doesn't Plato," asks Ficino, "affirm anything at all about matters divine?" He answers his question: "Certain things, yes, without any doubt: Namely that God cares for human affairs, and that he gives rewards or punishments to the immortal soul, based on works. But otherwise he affirms nothing."(72) Referring to his Theologia Platonica, Ficino makes the same sorts of objections in his commentary on the Phaedrus. There Ficino argues that Socrates "uses poetic license and describes Pythagorean notions rather than his own" when he depicts the soul's descent from heaven through nine grades, once its two wings have been broken.(73) And when Ficino comes to the the suggestion in the Phaedo that human souls could transmigrate into beasts, it is clear where he stands: "That Plato tells of the transits of souls into beasts is Pythagorean."(74)

Perhaps here one sees Ficino writing his own life into his history.(75) In later life Ficino repented of some of the opinions he had held in his youthful "Lucretian" period. It is well known from a letter to Martin Prenninger (also known as Martinus Uranius) that he burned some of the works he had composed in his youth, perhaps most importantly what may have been a commentary on Lucretius.(76) It is not unreasonable to suppose that in this instance Ficino's opinions about possible shifts in Plato's attitude toward metempsychosis mirror the opinions Ficino expressed in later life about his own youthful explorations, and vice versa. In his letter to Prenninger, Ficino tells how he burned his "little comments" on Lucretius and some other things; then, in explaining away his possible youthful heterodoxy Ficino cites Plato: "As Plato says," Ficino writes, "maturer age and a more carefully thought out examination often condemns the things which youthful lightmindedness either rashly believed, or at least - what would be equal - did not know how to disapprove of."(77) Matters of this sort were being discussed in Ficino's circle toward the end of his career. After Ficino came to terms with Pico's attack on astrology and wrote to Poliziano concerning this (in 1494), Poliziano wrote to Ficino and argued that there is nothing shameful in a philosopher changing his opinions since he experiences more day by day.(78)

So Ficino saves Plato from the charge of metempsychosis in a number of ways: he argues for change in Plato's opinions as he got older; and, where certain things simply cannot be explained away, he allegorizes or blames Pythagoras.(79) Pythagoras becomes a scapegoat. Ficino was kind enough to save Plato from heresy. How can we save Ficino in this instance from philosophical inconsistency? We must only assume that, in our earlier passage when Ficino referred to the soul moving ad circuitum, he was speaking only of the proper, individual motion of the soul, and that he did not there have in mind the status of the soul before and after its incorporation.

Pythagoras, psychology, and moral philosophy often intersect when Ficino comes to the Pythagorean sayings, the so-called akousmata or symbola. Ascribed invariably in the Pythagorean tradition to Pythagoras, these enigmatic short sayings may have functioned as markers for initiates in ancient Pythagorean communites,(80) and are for later thinkers perforce in need of explication, since most would seem meaningless without some sort of interpretation.(81) They have a long and interesting textual history and, because of their relative textual malleability, reflect especially well the minds and goals of their interpreters. They come up in works by Aristotle, St. Jerome, John of Salisbury, Thomas Aquinas, and, in the Renaissance, Alberti, Antonio degli Agli, Ficino, Pico, Poliziano, Giovanni Nesi, Filippo Beroaldo, Erasmus, and Lelio Gregorio Giraldi, among others.(82) Ficino translated the akousmata (as well as the Pythagorean Aurea carmina) and his comments on them are present in marginalia to his renderings of Iamblichus's four-volume De sectapythagorica (where some akousmata are presented) and in a short commentary he wrote on them.(83) Ficino was enthusiastic about communicating doctrines of great sapiential moment with brevity, and he saw the akousmata as worthy examples of this. In his commentary on the Divine Names of pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Ficino avers: "Plato writes in the Protagoras that the doctrine of the ancients was nothing other than a kind of brevity, and that it is absolutely characteristic of a wise man to encompass many things with few [words]. This is why Hippocrates composed Aphorisms, Pythagoras composed Symbols, and Solomon, Proverbs."(84) In 1499 Ficino's disciple Giovanni Nesi would speak of the akousmata as possessing a latens energia, a "hidden energy."(85) In what follows Ficino's thoughts on the akousmata will play a prominent (but not exclusive) role.

The Ficinian and in general Neoplatonic and Hermetic appreciation for the power of the human soul to fashion itself was mentioned above. In many of Ficino's comments this emerges as one of the strongest Ficinian usages of the Pythagorean legacy. Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans are often close by when Ficino turns his attention to the purification and purgation of the soul and its self-preparation for spiritual ascent. Not atypical is the following statement, from Ficino's Argumentum to Plato's Second Letter: "Pythagoras, whom Plato honors in all things, used to begin the sacred mysteries of his doctrine with a most exacting expiation of the mind."(86) We see Ficino using for his own ends a Pythagoreanism which has been filtered and distilled not only through Neoplatonists, but also through their earlier counterparts, the Middle Platonists, such as Albinos.(87)

It is in this connection that we see the overlap not only of psychology and moral philosophy, but also of these two disciplines and practical religion. Here, guides for conduct, one of the proper provinces of moral philosophy, intersect with the capacity of the soul to move itself, one of the provinces of psychology. Yet the purgation of the soul is also part of practical religion, occupying a small corner of the answer to a very large question: How does one worship and come to know the divine? For Ficino, given his eclecticism, it is unavoidable that religious and ethical propaedeutic dovetail with the study of the soul.

Let us look at a few examples. Commenting on the Pythagorean akousma "the superfluities of your hair and nails must be cast away," Ficino uses Pythagoras as a catalyst to understanding divine truth. He argues: "There are two ways, especially, to understand the truth of divine things, namely, mathematics and the purity of the soul. Therefore, these two things which one must attend to Pythagoras understands as geometrical things through the figure, as arithmetical through the triobulum, and as divine worship (consisting in the purification of the soul) through the altar."(88)

The use of the "three obol" motif is probably an allusion to Iamblichus, Protrepticus, 125, 1-8, who there interprets the Pythagorean akousma "a figure and a stepping stone, not a figure and three obols." He takes it to mean that we should study geometry, since by it we can ascend to an ontologically higher plane.(89)

Even more illustrative is the following passage, from an open letter by Ficino to philosophers and sophists:

God approves and loves none more - as Aristotle argues - than those who cultivate first of all a mind which is most similar to God, who separate themselves far from the stain of the body, which is most unlike God, who desire not to cover up the divine light with the clouds of vice, but rather to perceive it with pure serenity of mind. This reason induced Socrates, I believe, to display moral discipline of the first rank to men, and it induced Pythagoras to propel the profane far away from his sacred schools . . . Learn from Pythagoras and Plato that wisdom of mind is nothing other than the light of the highest good itself, diffused everywhere through souls which are truly good, just as if they were the purest mirrors.(90)

When Ficino comes across the akousmata "Do not urinate against the sun" and "do not pare your fingernails during sacrifice," a discussion of purgation is inevitable: "Urinating is purging; cutting your fingernails, too, is removing worthless superfluities from yourself. Do not put off purgation and loosening(91) till that time when you must look at the sun and contemplate sacred, that is divine, things. For it is more important to purge oneself and get rid of superfluities than it is to tire your concentration in the matters to which you are attending."(92)

The real aim of purgation, of course, is to allow one to free the soul from the confines of the body and travel along the Neoplatonic [Greek Text Omitted], the way up on the great return to divinity. This takes discipline, and Ficino's interpretation of the following akousma makes this clear. The saying runs: "Nourish the cock, but do not sacrifice him, since he is sacred to the sun and the moon."(93) In his treatment Ficino argues that this akousma suggests the ability of the human mind to foresee future events in dreams,(94) and presents a comment on the powers of the soul. "There is a certain power of the soul," he writes, "which by a kind of affinity of celestial bodies and spirits is often summoned in such a fashion that it may predict the future." He goes on: "Still, it is a recognition which is sometimes so confused and ambiguous that one can scarcely affirm what it predicts. This is the source of auguries in dreams, of various sorts of visions, of mutations of souls. For sometimes the mind, foreknowing of evil, seems to instill grief, but foreknowledge of good seems to instill a certain happiness."(95)

Ficino goes on to give examples of foreknowledge, from Socrates' intuition that Plato would be a good student to the reputed instances of prescience of Pherecydes of Syros and the Severan emperor Aurelius Alexander. From these instances, Ficino continues, "one can easily gather that a certain power of the soul is present, a certain thinking about the heavens from which these matters must be thought to depend, by means of which thinking [the soul] may perceive all or at least most of those things which are either to come or which are far from it in the past."(96)

One does not always understand the things predicted and does not even always know one has this power. But "when the spirit is tranquil and removed from anxious cares and stimuli, which happens to a great extent during sleep, the spirit thoroughly senses certain movements of related causes." "And so," he goes on, "I think that this power of the soul is what is meant by the cock, for such is its nature. By it, it measures time and senses changes in the times themselves to such an extent that it is never wrong."(97)

Always concerned to traditional Christian sources into the picture, Ficino alludes to scriptural passages from the Book of Job and from Matthew, thus strengthening his case for the power of the cock.(98) "Therefore," Ficino says, "it is a good thing to nourish this power." One can do this by living "so that one's spirit is tranquil and removed from turbulent cares, so that it can finally sense the celestial motions." He integrates the injunction of the akousma not to sacrifice the cock by saying that the power represented by the cock "is not to be sacrificed, because it is a natural power and so sacrifice [i.e., religious ritual] would have no merit."(99) Ficino thus seems to separate the provinces of traditional religion and natural magic, at least at this presumably early stage in his career.(100) In the akousma it was said that the cock should not be sacrificed because it is sacred to the sun and the moon. Ficino says that the sun symbolizes "the divine power and fount of all other light and wisdom of which prophecy is characteristic." As for the moon, it "is the mind of the prophets which prophesies what it does all the more exactly and certainly, the more it is filled by the light of the sun itself."(101) Ficino uses the Pythagorean tradition here, then, to discuss oneiric prophecy and the seemingly prophetic, often confused inklings people have regarding the future. Along the way he engages in a discussion of the soul's power and urges moderation, which is itself achievable by Pythagorean purgation.

In addition to the just-mentioned akousmata, there is another akousma which stresses the dignity of the sun.(102) The veneration of the sun present in all three must reflect a corrupted version in the post-Platonic Pythagorean tradition of the cosmological importance which was attached to the "central fire" for the original, i.e., pre-Platonic, Pythagoreans. Basing his account probably on that of Philolaus,(103) Aristotle in the De caelo reports the notion of the Pythagoreans that "at the center, they say, there is fire, and the earth is one of the stars, creating night and day by its circular motion about the center."(104) It is clear that according to Aristotle the Pythagoreans viewed the earth as being in motion, although certain late-ancient, Neoplatonizing commentators on Aristotle sought to show otherwise.(105) Although, at least in the Philolaic tradition, the "central fire" is not the sun and the sun is in fact itself revolving around the central fire like the other heavenly bodies, misinterpretation was inevitable. And even when the sun is not seen at the cosmological center, in the post-Platonic Pythagorean tradition, veneration for it abounds. This is especially so in the case of the Hermetic writings so important to Ficino.(106)

One can thus also point to Ficino's veneration of the sun as in part a Pythagorean legacy, especially evident in the De vita coelitus comparanda.(107) He speaks there of charms shaped like the sun by which one can cure illnesses, of solar personalities, and of the salutary benefits of bringing in the sun (even after it goes down: one can do this with fire and/or a lyre).(108) In other works Ficino associates the sun with the familiar Platonic metaphysics of participation ([Greek Text Omitted]), arguing that things are resplendent in so far as they participate in light, the source of which is the sun.(109) And of course, the symbolic resonance of the sun as an analog to God is important. In the De sole, Ficino connects this to the Pythagoreans by describing as a "Pythagoricum praeceptum" the notion that one should not speak of divine matters without light.(110) Ficino believes that Pythagoras ("that wise man," ille sapiens) meant not only that we should not dare to say anything about divine matters unless our minds were illuminated by the light of God; Pythagoras also "seems to warn us not to approach either perceiving or saying anything about the hidden light of divine matters without having obtained this clear light."(111) Again there is a certain slippage: physics and metaphysics merge. The sun's centrality is not stated cosmologically, as a branch of physics, but rather to the end of preserving health - ad sanitatem tuendam; but the sun also takes an important symbolic place, being analogous to God, and an important metaphysical one as well, since it is central to understanding the notion of methexis, or participation.


The best known aspect of Ficino's contributions to ontology is the manner in which he utilized ontological hierarchies, taking as a point of departure the ontological hypostases in Plotinus's Enneads, which vary in number.(112) For Plotinus the goal of life was in a philosophical fashion to reascend the hierarchy. By means of contemplative discipline one could travel from the inferior material aspects of the universe to the superior, immaterial, and divine. As Plotinus did not adhere consistently to any one ontological scheme, neither did Ficino; but, using an interpretation of Plato's Parmenides adopted by Proclus, Ficino discussed and schematized ontology in such a way that the dignity of humankind had a foundation in the very structure of being. Transcending the topos of human worth to which many of his humanist predecessors and contemporaries had vaguely adhered, he gave the notion of the dignity of humankind a greater level of philosophical legitimacy and cohesion.(113) Here I would like to address not ontology per se, but rather Ficino's conception of Pythagoras's place in the history of ontology. I shall argue that, thanks to influential misconceptions in the post-Platonic tradition, Ficino, like most others in the history of western philosophy, mistakenly interpreted Pythagorean number theory as ontological rather than cosmogonic. Paradoxically, this led him to attribute a contribution to the history of thought to the Pythagoreans, which more properly belonged to Plato.

Ficino's commentary on Plato's Sophist is of prime importance here.(114) Two places are notable. In the first (in chapter 22) Ficino comments on the section (242C) where the Xenos, the Stranger (whom Ficino identifies with the "Pythagorean" Melissus, pupil - again in Ficino's view - of the "Pythagoreans" Parmenides and Zeno(115)) is discussing with Theaetetus previous thinkers who had themselves discussed being. In his discussion the Stranger alludes to, without naming, different schools of pre-Socratic materialists who had placed the locus of being in matter, in one or more of the four elements. Ficino in his discussion ventures to name these philosophers, but then adds as a comment of his own: "Thus far the natural philosophers. The metaphysical philosophers, however, the Pythagoreans for instance, set these aside as not truly entities. Instead they contemplated the first being as the one being that includes the rest."(116)

In the other notable instance in the Sophist commentary, Ficino is commenting on the passage in the dialogue (245E) where the Xenos is discussing with Theaetetus those "who have treated of being and those who have not." Ficino cuts to the quick, arguing that here, "to be refuted are the natural philosophers, who thought that essence was corporeal mass alone, and who thought that there was nothing incorporeal."(117) He goes on,

The Pythagoreans and others like them were the opponents of these natural philosophers. With a necessary reason they conclude that only what is incorporeal and is the proper object of the intellect exists as true being. They confirm this mainly in disputing about the Ideas, as is shown in our Theology. But they call the corporeal mass, which is divided endlessly into smallest bits and is dissolvable and continuously flowing, not essence but generation. Finally, we can accept the true reason of essence from them alone.(118)

For Ficino, then, the contribution of the Pythagoreans was that they rejected the idea strongly present in the thought of the pre-Socratic materialists that essence had a fundamentally material base.

Ficino is convinced here as elsewhere of the primacy and superiority of incorporeal things. For Ficino (as for Plato, Aristotle, and many medieval philosophers such as Aquinas), being could be predicated only equivocally of changeable things (i.e., material things) while being could be predicated univocally only of the unchangeable, which for him was incorporeal.(119) Here, it is in the Pythagorean tradition that Ficino sees the big break in his own philosophical historiography. Ficino's tendency is to see the Pythagoreans, that is, as having been the first philosophical school to recognize the ontological superiority of the incorporeal, a superiority so profound that they were willing to take the truly revolutionary step and define the prime essence, [Greek Text Omitted] itself, as something without matter.(120) But there may be some problems in Ficino's view.

One of Aristotle's great criticisms of the Pythagoreans was that they allowed their theories to govern their interpretation of facts, i.e., of empirical, observable phenomena. There is the well-known passage in Aristotle's Metaphysics - and here he is speaking of number theory, specifically - where he tells that, because of their veneration of the number ten, the Pythagoreans added a tenth celestial body, the "counter-earth," to the observable heavenly bodies, which numbered nine.(121) Ficino, however, was really a metaphysician, and uses natural philosophy, physics, to buttress his opinions about ontology. But the Pythagoreans' fascination with number as the principle of all things was something that struck him to the core.(122)

In fact, as Ficino would have known from Aristotle's Metaphysics. it was the Pythagoreans who came up with the idea that [Greek Text Omitted], number, was the first principle of all things. However, Aristotle tells us that [Greek Text Omitted] was not only a cosmogonic principle for the Pythagoreans, but also an ontologically generative principle. This is to say that in Aristotle's view the Pythagoreans believed that things, entities, resulted from immaterial number, an account which, to Aristotle's way of thinking, was implausible:

Now the Pythagoreans also believe in one kind of number - the mathematical; only they say it is not separate, but sensible substances are formed out of it. For they construct the whole universe out of numbers - only not numbers consisting of abstract units; they suppose the units to have spatial magnitude. But how the first unit with magnitude was constructed, they' seem at a loss to describe.(123)

As Aristotle had explained earlier:

The Pythagoreans similarly posited two principles, but added something peculiar to themselves, not that the limited and the unlimited are distinct natures like fire or earth or something similar, but that the unlimited itself and the One itself are the substance of what they are predicated of. This is why they call number the substance of all things.(124)

So for Aristotle, Pythagorean number becomes [Greek Text Omitted], substance itself, which for Aristotle could only be predicated of the unchangeable. This is thus the locus of his criticism: the Pythagoreans treat number as if it were material. However, although number was the primary element for the Pythagoreans, they were not living in a hylomorphic world. The mistake, then, as Burkert has shown, is that Aristotle asks questions of the Pythagoreans using Aristotelian terminology, laden with Aristotelian assumptions (as even some late-ancient commentators realized).(125) Hence misunderstandings could arise. In the later doxographical tradition, owing to this Aristotelian confusion, this substance is then conflated with the cosmogonic function which numbers clearly did serve in Pythagorean cosmology (although Aristotle himself to a certain extent guards against this).(126)

The problem, then, is that the Pythagoreans of whom Aristotle speaks probably did not distinguish between corporeal and incorporeal principles, between corporeal and incorporeal existence. The Pythagorean [Greek Text Omitted], the Unlimited (opposed to [Greek Text Omitted], Limit), and the Platonic [Greek Text Omitted], the Unlimited Dyad, are two different things, but Aristotle makes them seem more similar than they are. The first is "principle and constituent of the universe," whereas the second is separated from matter and is thoroughly and unequivocally immaterial.(127) That is, for pre-Platonic Pythagoreans all existence was material existence; or better, all existence was existence, tout court. As was the case for other pre-Socratics, the distinction, essentially of material versus immaterial reality, simply was not there.(128) Aristotle is exactly right: the Pythagoreans did treat number as if it were material. For the Pythagoreans, the universe at the outset was One, and breathed in the two principles, Limit and Unlimited (essentially transcendental), which led to the separation of heaven and earth.(129) Despite the possibilities for misinterpretation present in Aristotle's account, then, the Pythagoreans' number theory was not ontological, but cosmogonic, an almost embryological reflection of the birthing of the universe.(130)

What distinguishes Plato from the Pythagoreans is the [Greek Text Omitted] - or separation of the numbers as ideas - from the perceptible world.(131) It was Plato, not the Pythagoreans, who came up with a strongly defined sense of immaterial reality, the notion, that is, that Being must be predicated of the immaterial.(132) But for Ficino, ironically, this notion was the contribution of the Pythagoreans. They were the ones with whom this dramatic break occurred. Had Ficino only known, he could have attributed even more of a powerful originality to his beloved "divine Plato." On the other hand Ficino's philosophia perennis did represent an unfolding of wisdom through a golden chain of thinkers. Perhaps his acceptance of this historiographically influential mistake in Aristotle's view of the Pythagorean tradition is not so surprising after all.(133)

To conclude, I have stressed certain areas in which the Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino took a special interest: psychology, moral philosophy, and practical religion, on the one hand, and ontology on the other; and I have tried to show the principal ways in which he employed the figure of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans when he approached these areas. In psychology, Pythagoras is praised as a believer in the immortality of souls. But when the orthodoxy of the Ficinian Plato is in question and metempsychosis rears its ugly head, Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans become scapegoats. In moral philosophy and practical religion, the Pythagorean tradition is used to further Ficino's Neoplatonically-conditioned belief in the necessity of psychological purgation as a prerequisite to divine ascent. Ontologically speaking, the Pythagoreans had a happier time of it with Ficino, and are seen as a watershed in the history of ontology, as the first philosophers to propound the incorporeality of essence. Of course in this latter instance Ficino's judgment, historically, was incorrect, but in the history of philosophy that is the way of things, especially when a thinker had as much at stake in a philosophia perennis as Ficino did.

Finally, a comment concerning the interaction of text and culture: the figure of Pythagoras as prophet was particularly appealing to a Ficino situated in late-fifteenth century Florence. Here, text, culture, and ideology interacted in a complex way: spurred on by his early appreciation of the Iamblichean Pythagoras, Ficino helped create an ideology in Florence which was receptive to a prophetic figure. Having translated and paraphrased Iamblichus, Ficino cast himself in the "Pythagorean" prophetic role for Florence and for a short time actually served that function. While he was never responsible for anything so organized as a formal "academy" with himself at its head, he functioned rather as a spiritual epicenter of a group of concerned Florentine intellectuals. But as Ficino's scholarly interest grew to embrace a wider variety of hermeneutical approaches to Plato, his Neoplatonism became more abstract and his theories less easily communicated, especially as, later in his career, he began to approach seriously the difficult and speculative work of Plotinus (205-269/70 CE). It is not that Ficino ever lost his "Iamblichean" interests - he was quite ready to father "magical" notions on Plotinus which the ancient Neoplatonist would have abjured, and many of Ficino's fundamental assumptions remained post-Plotinian.(134) But as Ficino's own personal quest grew more complicated, somehow he lost his self-fashioned hierophantic status as well as his followers to the fiery Dominican eschatologist Girolamo Savonarola, whose spiritual and political ascendency in the republic ended with his hanging and immolation of 1498. While some, like Giovanni Nesi, retained a tenous sort of double loyalty to both Ficino and Savonarola, for the most part Ficino was unable to bring his former followers back into the fold, even after the preacher's death in 1498.(135)


Abbreviations: DK = Diels and Kranz, 1951; Op. = Ficino, 1576. TP = Ficino, 1964-1970; Suppl. = Kristeller, 1937. Classical texts are abbreviated according to the abbreviations in Hornblower and Spawforth, xxix-liv. Unless otherwise noted, translations are my own. I would like to thank Michael J. B. Allen, Ken Gouwens, Stephane Toussaint, and especially the two readers for this journal, without whose criticisms and erudite suggestions this would be a much poorer piece. I began work on this study and first presented it as a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, 1993-1994; I gratefully acknowledge that institution's support.

1 For the most recent bibliographical survey, see Kristeller, 1987 (also contained in Garfagnini, 1986, 15-196).

2 Michael J. B. Allen has pointed recently to the relative lack of attention to "the Pythagorean dimension of Ficino's work and intellectual background" with respect to the character and quality of various numbers. See Allen, 1994, 48. For a general survey of aspects of Pythagoras and the Pythagorean tradition in the Renaissance, see Heninger.

3 See Hankins, 1990a, xv-xviii.

4 Just this is done in the case of late ancient hermetism in Fowden; for Tommaso Campanella in Headley; and, for Ficino, recently and brilliantly by Michael J. B. Allen, 1998, who situates Ficino in the ambient of his late ancient material and suggests (see esp. 51-92) that Ficino saw himself, in a way, as a new Augustine, albeit in an intellectualistic (as opposed to voluntaristic) sense.

5 Hankins, 1991, 443, and 461-63. Socrates' maeutic aspect, i.e., as a midwife of knowledge, is stressed by Plato in the Theaetetus, esp. 149-50.

6 It would be difficult to deny that Ficino is at least flirting with idolatry in book 3 of his De vita, despite his own protestations in his Apologia for that work; see Ficino, 1989, ed. Kaske and Clark. It is true of course that Ficino was a Catholic priest, but the spectrum of orthodoxy in early modern Europe was wider than is often assumed. Too often the question is asked whether a certain thinker was orthodox or heterodox: but the real conceptual difficulty is determining whether a meaningful definition of orthodoxy is possible within the crisis-ridden religious context of pre-Tridentine early modern Europe. For every Hus, there is a Valla; for every Savonarola, a Ficino; for every Luther, an Erasmus; for every Bruno, a Campanella. Whether a thinker colored just inside or just outside the lines is sometimes irresolvable; but the fact remains that quite a few figures often came close to those lines and thereby stretched the boundaries of orthodoxy. Ficino was just such a one.

7 See Allen, 1998, and Godman.

8 I rely here on Burkert and Kingsley.

9 Kirk, Raven, and Schofield, 215.

10 See Ross, which includes a reprinting of the fragments of Aristotle's book on the Pythagoreans which were first published in Rose; but see the criticisms in Burkert, 166 n. 4.

11 Cf. Burkert, 120-65.

12 Distinguishing between materialist pre-Socratics and the Pythagoreans, Burkett puts it well: "whereas Anaximander asks, 'what is the sun? . . . How big is it?' and answers, 'a circle of fire . . . the same size as the earth'

[Anaximander A11, 21], the Pythagoreans ask, 'What are the Isles of the Blest?' and are satisfied with the answer, 'sun and moon'" (186).

13 This is one of the reasons why the Pythagoreans attributed all doctrines and opinions to Pythagoras himself - the words [Greek Text Omitted] himself said" - the ipse dixit so strongly criticized by Cicero [at Nat. D., 1.10-11]) thus acquired a very specific significance when used by Pythagoreans. Guthrie, 149-50, discusses the interesting anecdote about the Pythagorean Hippasus, who, depending on the account, either revealed a geometrical idea to the world or discovered it but did not attribute it to Pythagoras, claiming credit instead for himself. Again, depending on the account, Hippasus was either drowned or expelled whereafter a tomb was raised to him as if he were dead. As far as the ipse dixit goes, in the final chapter of the De christiana religione Ficino would go so far as to argue that one could profitably employ the phrase ipse dixit "in the manner of the Pythagoreans" when talking about Christ (Op. 1: 77): "Nihil autem opus est ut longa disputationem confirmem quae Christus eiusque discipuli credenda, speranda, agenda proposuerunt. Satis enim veritatis authoritatisque habent, cum a divina veritate procedere iam probaverimus. Maximam igitur Chistianorum institutionum, promissionumque rationem assignaverimus, cum Pythagoricorum ritu dixerimus, ille [sic] dixit."

14 On the piagnoni see the excellent study of Polizzotto.

15 See Allen, 1994, 26-27, and passim; Garin, 1976; Vasoli. esp. 379-83; Weinstein, 1970; Toussaint. 173-77, and passsim; and Hankins, 1990a, 1: 277-78, who argues there that Ficino's Christian sensibility was that "of the ecstatic, the prophet, the seer with a vision who strove to impress that vision powerfully on other souls."

16 See Allen, 1980, 127.

17 See O'Meara, 1989, 4, and passim.

18 Dillon. 1977, 37-38. Dillon introduces the term in a discussion of Xenocrates.

19 Iamblichus effected this new interpretation of Pythagoras perhaps to go one step beyond Porphyry (234-circa 305), the successor and devoted student of Plotinus (205269/70), perhaps even to suggest Pythagoras as a pagan counterpoint to the figure of Christ. See O'Meara, 1989, 213-15. O'Meara (ibid. 30-35) also presents a learned discussion of the title of On Pythagoreanism and offers persuasive reasons for its adoption.

20 O'Meara, 1989, 42; Iamblichus, 1888, 118, lines 10-13.

21 Ibid., 44-52. For the manifestation of this second facet in Ficino, see the section below on ontology.

22 Edited in Iamblichus 1937, 1888, 1891, and 1894, respectively.

23 On these see O'Meara, 1981; and 1989, 53-85.

24 See Gentile, 1990.

25 See Iamblichus, 1937 (and compare trans. Clark), 1; 2-3; and 15. For Ficino's view of the curative power of music in the Pythagorean tradition see his Epistolarum familiarum liber I, letter 81 (Gentile ed.): "Hinc Pythagoras, Empedocles, Apollonius Theanus non tam herbis quam carminibus morbos curasse traduntur." Cf. also letter 92 on music, esp. lines 38-40: "Mitto Pythagore Empedoclisque miracula, qui lasciviam, iram, furorem graviore musica subito cohibebant, rursus aliis modulis torpentes animos excitabant." Ficino also addresses this in his De vita at 3.21 among other places; see Ficino, 1989, ed. Kaske and Clark.

26 See Hierocles and O'Meara, 1989, 109-18. Hierocles' commentary was introduced to Quattrocento thinkers by the Sicilian born humanist Giovanni Aurispa (1376-1459), who after his 1441 voyage to the Byzantine east translated and wrote a preface to the work, dedicating it to Pope Nicholas V (Tommaso Parentucelli, who had sponsored the voyage). There are a number of manuscripts of the work, for which see Kristeller, 1963-1991, ad indicem; printed editions known to me include: Pannartz edition, Rome, 1475; Padua, 1484; Besicken edition, Rome, 1493; Antonius edition, Venice, 1523; and the Mittarelli edition, Venice, 1779 (taken from MS Venice Bib. San. Mur. 65 now MS Venice Bib. Marc. Lat. 14. 130).

27 See Hermias and O'Meara, 1989, 119-41.

28 See O'Meara, 1989, 142-55, esp. 155, where he cites Proclus, 1903, esp.

29 There is a penetrating discussion of the late-ancient environment in Fowden, esp. 186-95; following Max Weber, 1: 500-06, Fowden, 189, stresses the intellectuality of these movements: they taught salvation through knowledge, so that they were not religions of the masses; and, however acquired, this knowledge "was always the possession of an elite. Hence the tendency within these milieux towards the emergence of a two-tier structure, with a small group of teachers, the 'elect' or the 'zealots,' taking responsibility for the instruction of a much larger group of what the Platonists and Manichaeans appropriately called 'listeners.'" This of course was undeniably similar to the distinction in ancient Pythagoreanism between the mathematikoi, the learned, and the akousmatikoi, the listeners. Fowden argues that, except for the Manichaeans, "the others were completely dependent for their coming into being, their validation and their coherence on the powerful personalities of individual holy men. This we see most clearly among the Platonists, in Porphyry's biography of Plotinus and in Eunapius's lives of Iamblichus and his followers." Also see 190: "One of the reasons for this late antique obsession with the holy man was the wide acceptance of the Pythagorean view of philosophy as a religion and a way of life as much as an intellectual system . . . . In the biographies of Pythagoras written by Porphyry and Iamblichus we see the ideal which these last Platonists strove towards, a life of worship, prayer and discussion shared among like-minded men in what was almost the atmosphere of a religious community."

30 Hankins, 1990b and 1991.

31 Hankins, 1991 (esp. 443) has shown that Ficino was wary of calling people whom he respected highly or who had risen to prominence his "students" - auditores. One recalls that the ancient Pythagoreans were divided into two groups, the akousmatikoi, or "listeners," who had to remain in that silent status for five years, and the mathematikoi, or the "learned." The Latin equivalent of akousmatikoi would of course be auditores (i.e., the word's primary meaning is "listener"); Hankins argues (ibid.) that Ficino uses this term to refer to "those with whom Ficino had once stood in some sort of pedagogic relationship," while reserving the term confabulatores ("conversation partners," loosely) for those who were older or to whom he wished to show especial respect. It is tempting to speculate that Ficino uses the term auditor in the Pythagorean manner, to refer to those who are still at a lower doctrinal level.

32 See for example, Ficino's Philebus Commentary, in Ficino, 1975, 181,247. On the prisca theologia see at least Hankins, 1990a, 2: 460-64, esp. 464; Klutstein; Walker. 1972, chap. 1; Kristeller, 1988, chap. 1; Dannenfeldt, 1957, 13, n.34; Dannenfeldt, 1952, esp. 438-39; and Malusa, 14-19 (the essay originally appeared in Santinello).

33 See Dillon, "Iamblichus," 1988, 879: "We see the Neoplatonist philosophers, then, working on the basis of a number of sacred, 'inspired' books. The dialogues of Plato, the 'Theogony' of Hesiod, the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey,' the Orphic Poems (probably), the '[Greek Text Omitted] of Pythagoras, and the 'Chaldaean Oracles.' Within the framework of the consensus of the corpus, one might manoeuver at will, interpreting, reinterpreting, refining concepts, and refuting one's predecessors. The most damning accusation was that of being un-Platonic." See also Dillon, 1992, 131-40; here the argument is made that Plotinus had some knowledge of the so-called Chaldean Oracles, which must be consigned however not to the realm of philosophical but to purely literary/rhetorical influence (140). For the purposes of this study, this latter article does show that there are quite a few instances in the Enneads where the language is reminiscent of the Oracles, and could spur someone like an already credulous Ficino to believe even more strongly in the unity of the corpus he had brought together under the name of prisca theologia. See also Iamblichus, 1989, 1.1 (p.40), and Fowden, 1982, 37.

34 See Yates, 1-10; Fowden, 1993; and compare with the observations above, at the end of the last section.

35 This can be ascertained by a brief glance at the index of authorities cited by Ficino in Kristeller, 1988, 479-91; in addition to the mentions of Pythagoras and the Pythagorici, 489, I have come across some others. They are, from Op. 1: 432, 470, 535,866, and from Op. 2: 1045, 1055, 1134, 1285, 1310, 1385, 1438, 1453, 1466, 1500, 1501, 1502, 1529, 1533, 1534, 1537, and 1591.

36 For two examples of Ficino's view that the Pythagoreans propounded the superiority of unity, see first Ficino's letter to Antonio Calderini on the definition of virtue (Op. 1: 657): "Certainly the power of virtue consists in union rather than in division. Therefore the Pythagoreans used to think that unity pertained to the good, multitude to the bad" ("Nempe virtutis vis in unione potius, quam in divisione consistit. Ideo Pythagorici unitatem ad bonum, multitudinem ad malum pertinere arbitrabantur"). Second, sec his letter of 10 Dec. 1474 to Carolus Vagulius Brisciensis: ("Qui sequitur omnia, nihil assequitur") (Op. 1:735 [misnumbered as 635]): "Pythagoras teaches us that unity looks toward the good, diversity toward the bad" ("Docet nos Pythagoras, unitatem ad bonum spectare, ad malum vero diversitatem").

37 Cf. Tigerstedt, 1977, 65-66. I use the term "eclectic" keeping in mind the cautions pointed out in Donini, which center mainly around the notion that there are very few ancient attestations to this word and that in those there are "traces of a distinction between a good and bad mixture of doctrines emanating from divergent origins." While eclecticism as an anti-dogmatic ideal (if not the term itself) was highly respected in the Renaissance (probably thanks to its place in the Christian apologetic tradition), nevertheless, after the contributions of Enlightenment-era historians of philosophy, some modern writers have been inconsistent and have often employed the term negatively to later Greek thought; and naturally, after Kant, eclecticism could have no chance as a positively considered ideal (cf. 18, 22, and throughout. In very recent times more positive uses of eclecticism have appeared (30-31). One of the ancient writers who did use the term [Greek Text Omitted] (in a positive sense) was Clement of Alexandria in his Stromateis (1.37.6; cited in Donini, 16 and 20), a work known to Ficino (cf. the locations cited in Kristeller, 1988, 482). In using the term positively (or at least in a value-neutral manner) one must simply guard against implying that an "eclectic" is one unaware of the real foundations which separate the varied philosophical approaches on which the eclectic philosopher draws. See Dillon's remarks in Dillon, 1988, 104.

38 Cf. Tigerstedt, 1974, 18-20, 24-25.

39 On Argyropoulos see Field, 1987 and Field, 1988 (107-26 in the latter is a revised version of Field, 1987, but without a number of Latin quotations present in the first); see also the literature cited in Field, 1988, 56-57 n. 5, to which can now be added Monfasani, 1993.

40 MS Florence Biblioteca Nazionale II. I. 103, fols. 9v-10 (cited in Field, 1987, at 314 n. 41. I have examined this manuscript in person): "Concedunt igitur inventas scientias in aliqua parte mundi (ut in Grecia post Deucalionis diluvium), sed in mundo semper fuisse scientias. Egiptios dicunt non habuisse Deucalionis diluvium et ideo Greci habuerunt adiumentum ab illis. Itaque crude videbantur in illo principio esse scientie. Fuerunt enim//10//multi philosophi qui obscure et carminibus tradiderunt scientiam, tamen multa digna ac preclara. Postea venit Pythagoras qui amplificasse philosophiam videtur. Postea Plato, qui omissis carminibus amplissime dedit doctrinam, etsi reservavit antiqua nonnulla, apellando principia rerum modo mathematico. Aristoteles postea adeo loquutus est de principiis rerum ut naturalia sunt, nec videtur loqui de partibus mundi sed ac si mundus numquam fuisset, non accipiendo existentiam ullam sed quidditatem. Tamen obscuritatem retinuit."

41 Field, 1987, 315. Lecturing on Aristotle's De anima in 1460-1461, Argyropoulos discusses the early history of philosophy (MS Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, Magi. V, 42, f. 2v, also cited in Field, 1987, 316 n. 44; my translation. I have personally examined this manuscript): "For there were three great geniuses. I pass over Zoroaster and many others right up until Anaxagoras, who handed down philosophy obscurely and by means of poems. Therefore, there were three, namely, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle . . ." ("Fuerint [?] enim tria preclara ingenia. Omitto Zorostrem [sic] et multos alios usque ad Anaxagoram, qui obscure et carminibus tradiderunt philosophiam. Fuerunt igitur tres, scilicet Socrates, Plato, Aristoteles.") He goes on to describe the contributions of each of the three: Socrates impelled the people of his day to turn away from the study of"forensic eloquence" and on to the study of "wisdom and self-perfection"; Plato was perfect in facultates, especially as a speculativus; finally, there was Aristotle "who studied with Plato for twenty-one years and imparted the highest order to the sciences."

42 Op. 1: 871:" . . factum est ut pia 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 Pythagora apud Graecos et Italos. Tandem vero a divo Platone consummaretur Athenis. Vetus autem Theologorum mos erat divina mysteria rum mathematicis numeris et figuris, rum poeticis figmentis obtegere." (Op. 1: 871). This is the eighth book of Ficino's letters, which dates from summer, 1484 to October, 1488, according to Kristeller (Suppl. 1: CII). For the passage in the Plotinus preface (which appeared in 1492) see Op. 2:1537. On the identity of Janus Pannonius, see Allen, 1998, 1 n. 1 and the literature cited there. In 1451, the great opponent of Plato, George of Trebizond, had argued that much of Plato's teaching was cloaked in obscurity, transmitted "per integumenta quaedam et enigmata." See his preface to his translation of Plato's Laws and Epinomis, edited in Monfasani, 1976, 360-64.

43 Cf. Proclus, Platonic Theology, 1.5.25 (trans. O'Meara, 1989, 146): "But we must show that each of these doctrines is in harmony with the first principles of Plato and with the secret revelations of the theologians. For all Greek theology derives from Orphic mystagogy, Pythagoras first learning from Aglaophemus the secrets concerning the gods, Plato after him receiving the complete science of the gods from Pythagorean and Orphic writings. For in attributing in the Philebus the doctrine of the two kinds of principles to the Pythagoreans, he calls them 'dwellers with the gods' (16c8) and blessed. Indeed Philolaus the Pythagorean has written many wonderful things about these <first principles>." For O'Meara (1989: 146-47) this quotation shows that Proclus followed in Iamblichus's (and Syrianus's) Pythagoreanizing footsteps in the realm of theology, in that Proclus suggests that "Plato's theology, or science of the divine, is then Pythagorean in inspiration." For an authority for this claim Proclus uses the same text "used for the same purpose by Iamblichus and Syrianus, namely the (pseudo-) Pythagorean Sacred Discourse." Finally, however, it is important to note that in Proclus, Plato "emerges from the shadow of Pythagoras and even dominates him," since Proclus ultimately argues that Plato's science of dialectic is superior to Pythagorean mathematics in theological matters. See O'Meara, 1989, 142-211, esp. 148: "While indicating briefly that Platonic philosophy had a long and changing life, Proclus insists that it was one man, Plato, who revealed the secrets of theology to men [citing Proclus, 1968: 5, 6-6, 7]."

44 Cf. Saffrey; and Gentile, in Ficino, Epistolarum familiarum liber I, at XXV (see also the literature cited there in n. 31).

45 See Stinger, esp. 70-79, and the collected studies in Garfagnini, 1988.

46 The number of manuscripts of Burley's Lives is in the hundreds and there are a dozen incunabula; see Prelog on the manuscript tradition. See also Stigall. For Burley's fortune, see Piaia. On Aristippus's partial version of Laertius see Kordeuter and Labowsky, 6 and 15.

47 On Petrarch and Boccaccio see Billanovich and on Salutati see Witt.

48 There is an interesting exception to the successio tradition in MS Florence Biblioteca Nazionale, Conv. Soppr. G4, 1111, which I have examined in person. The manuscript is of late Trecento origin, containing a series of lives of philosophers from antiquity to roughly contemporary times, in alphabetical order: so its very form violates the successio tradition (fols. 9r-123v). There is a short treatise "De divisione et laude philosophiae," largely a simple compilation, which serves as a preface to the work (fols. 1r-8v). The manuscript also contains a copy of Boccaccio's De casibus virorum illustrium, which occupies approximately its second half (fols. 125-203v). The lives themselves are similar at many points to those written by Walter of Burley, although it is not simply a rearrangement or a paraphrasing of Burley. It is noteworthy that if the given dating is correct, the author completed this compilation well before the translation from Greek to Latin of Diogenes Laertius, which Ambrogio Traversari undertook in the late 1420s. In addition to being written in alphabetical order, the text has the beginnings of an index, complete with page numbers, perhaps allowing us to believe that it was to be used as a reference work by its owner, Zanobio Guasconi (on whom see Garfagnini, 1980, 203-04). The Lives in the manuscript have been noticed by scholars, although the only piece I have found specifically dedicated to them is the article of Gian Carlo Garfagnini, which introduces his edition of the introductory treatise as well as of the lives of Aristotle, Epicurus, Plato, and Plotinus (Garfagnini, 1980). The MS has been well described and catalogued in Pomari and is noted in Kristeller, 1963-1991, I.

49 Even Ficino recognised that Orpheus - his Orpheus, i.e., the one who to us is a second-or-third century Neoplatonist but was for Ficino of earliest antiquity and the 'go-between in the liaison between Hebrew and Greek" (in the words of Warden, 1982, 91) - was a mythographos. For Ficino's translations of the Orphic hymns (along with the "Chaldean Oracles" and the hymns of Proclus) see Klutstein and Allen, 1992, 73-84. On the connection between the very intangible Orphism and Pythagoras and Pythagoreanism, especially regarding the difficult issue of metempsychosis, see Burkett, 125-33, esp. 132: "the supposed clear differentiation of Pythagoreanism from Orphism is simply not attested to in the oldest sources." Metempsychosis for Burkert becomes (133) "an innovation on a general Orphic background." He goes on: "for its introduction, Pythagoras is the only obvious candidate."

50 Ficino. TP, 5, 1: "Circuitus enim non effundit vires, sed sua quaeque recolligit in seipsum et cum deficere putatur, se renovat, ut rationem illam Pythagorae ad praesens praeteream, quae ostendit nullum esse in sphaera principium aut finem, ideoque ilium qui movetur in sphaeram neque coepisse moveri umquam neque desinere. Esse autem rationales animas sphaeras quasdam spiritales, et circuitum in seipsis facere spiritalem, postquam corpora ipsa quae illarum umbrae sunt, figuram talem habent et motum. Ira ut sphaerae circuitusque visibiles sphaerarum et circuitum invisibilium umbrae sint, ac si umbrae sint perpetuae, multo magis substantias illas fore perpetuas, quae per virtutem termino carentem motionis actum peragunt sine termino. Nec est illis contrarium aliquid a quo perimantur, sicut et motui illarum, qui circuitus est, nullus est motus contrarius."

51 Ficino made use of Diogenes Laertius in Latin in his early works and may even have annotated a manuscript of the Traversari translation, i.e., MS Florence, Biblioteca edicea Laurenziana, LXXXIX inf. 48. See Gentile, Niccoli, and Viti, 11-12.

52 Diogenes Laertius, 8, 35.

53 Ibid., 8.83: [Greek Text Omitted].

54 Ibid., 8, 28-32.

55 Aristotle, De an., 1, 2.

56 Aristotle, Pt., XVII, 3.

57 See Plato, Phdr., 245c5-246a1 and Leg., 896a1-2.

58 I cite from the edition of the translatio vetus established by Bossier and Brains (Aristotle, 1990): "Quod autem contingit quendam infinitum unum esse et continuum, et hic est circularis, dicemus nunc."

59 Ibid., 330 (265a8-11): "Ratio autem nunc dixit universaliter de omni motu quod secundum neque unum motum contingit moveri continue extra qui est circulo, quare eque secundum alterationem neque secundum augmentum. Quod quidem igitur neque infinita sit mutatio neque una neque continua extra circulo motum, sint hec nobis dicta"; 65b15-16: "circulariter autem solius neque principium neque finis in ipso aptum natum est, sed extra"; and 266a6-9: "Quod quidem igitur semperque motus erat et <erit> omni tempore, et quod est principium perpetui motus, adhuc autem quis motus primus, et quem motum perpetuum contingat solum esse et primum movens quod inmobile sit, dictum est." See also 26469, 264b19 et seq., and in 8.9, 265a28 et seq.

60 In Platonic terms - and perhaps in Ficino's perception of what Christian Platonic terms could represent - this was of course not the case: transmigration was rather part of the system itself. The difference between metempsychosis and palingenesis is slight. The salient point is a question of time. Metempsychosis implies that souls pass upon death immediately to another body; this could make Hades unnecessary. Palingenesis on the other hand could allow for a time of repose between rebirths, allowing then the possibility of a netherworld. The distinction is important in evaluating Pythagorean notions regarding these two possibilities, since one of the Pythagorean akousmata as reported in Aristotle (An. post. II, 11) makes mention of Tartarus, saying that one of the reasons for thunder is to make the people in Tartarus afraid, and to threaten them. See Burkett, 134 and 134 n. 81.

61 On Ficino and metempsychosis see Allen, 1984, 173-80, 226, 241-42. For Ficino's general project see Hankins, 1990a, 1: 265-359, esp. 358-59 on this point.

62 See Kristeller, 1988, 115, 121.

63 From the Hermetica in the translation of Copenhaver, 1992, 69. For Pico's citation see the text in Pico, 1942, 102-65.

64 See Ficino, TP, 17.1.

65 Ibid.: "In rebus his, quae ad Theologiam pertinent, sex olim summi Theologi consenserunt, quorum primus fuisse traditur Zoroaster, Magorum caput, secundus Mercurius Trismegistus, princeps sacerdotum Aegyptiorum. Mercurio successit Orpheus. Orphei sacris initiatus fuit Aglaophemus. Aglaophemo successit in Theologia Pythagoras, Pythagorae Plato, qui universam eorum sapientiam suis literis comprehendit, auxit, illustravit. Quoniam vero ii omnes sacra divinorum mysteria, ne prophanis communia fierent, poeticis umbraculis obtegebant, factum est ut successores eorum alii aliter Theologiam interpretarentur."

66 I.e., the three Attic academies: the Old under Xenocrates, the Middle under Archesilaus, and the Late under Carneades; and the three peregrinae: the Egyptian under Ammonius, the Roman under Plotinus, and the Lycian under Proclus; see Ficino, TP, 17. I.

67 The word circuitus is used here in a different sense from before. The idea before was that the soul's proper motion is circular; here the interpreters are saying that the soul makes circuitus, or in a sense is involved in an eternal one, going from body to body Cf. Ficino's account of the opinion of the academiae duae ultimae in TP, 17.3: "Semper quidem erit hominis anima, quoniam inhiat sempiternis [this obviously Ficino would have agreed with]. Semper et fuji, ut aiunt, quoniam haberet quandoque finem nisi initio car-eat. Pythagorae anima ante ortum Pythagorae fuit quandoque a terreno corpore libera, post, inclusa est nascente Pythagora. Duae hic vitae sunt, una libera [i.e., from matter], altera corporalis. Vita ilia quae fuit libera, finem accepit in vitae corporalis initio, ergo et initium aliquando prius habuerat. Quod enim cessat, incepit, itaque non fuit ante Pythagoram semper extra corpus, licet quandoque. Et postquam coepit esse in corpore, non erit in iis corporibus semper, quia quod incipit, desinit. Unde sequitur, ut innumerabiliter ante Pythagoram anima eius in corpore terreno fuerit, atque extra, rursusque post Pythagoram extra corpus futura sit vicissim atque in corpore. Et sicut omnes mundi sphaerae per animas suas variant formas ac tandem recursus proprios repetunt (quod in quatuor anni temporibus, et quatuor Lunae alternis vicibus intuemur), sic animae nostrae animorum coelestium similes varias formas corporum induuntur, certisque curriculis temporum, iisdem quibus antea corporibus involvuntur. Quam [Greek Text Omitted], id est, regenerationem Zoroaster appellat, de qua multa Mercurius cum filio suo Tatio disputat. Et Plato in libro De regno, resurrectionem hanc describit futuram in fine mundanae revolutionis, iubente Deo, ac daemonibus ministrantibus . . . ." The word circuitus is also an astrological and astronomical term; cf. Allen, 1994, 119 and Allen, 1984, ad indicem.

68 Ficino, TP, 17.4: "Nos ergo Xenocratis et Ammonii vestigia sequentes, Platonem affirmavisse quaedam de anima non negamus, sed multa quae de circuitu eius ab ipso tractantur, tanquam poetica aliter intelligimus, quam verba videantur significare, praesertim quum circuitus huiusmodi haud ipse invenerit, sed narraverit alienos. Primum quidem ab Aegyptiis sacerdotibus sub purgandarum animarum figura confictos, deinde ab Orpheo, Empedocle, Heraclito, poeticis duntaxat carminibus decantatos. Mitto quod Pythagoras animarum transmigrationes consuetis illis semper confabulationibus suis symbolisque inseruit. Quamobrem ita Academias ultimas respondebimus. Nituntur autem duobus praecipue fundamentis: ratione propria, et autoritate Platonica."

69 See Hankins, 1990a, 1:339-40 and 353-54.

70 This is one of the horrible consequences of metempsychosis, and one especially repugnant to Ficino, given his general stress on the dignity of humankind, as well as his specific argument for the immortality of the soul which has to do with humankind's ontological superiority to animals. The argument is as follows: 1. Because of their intimate relationship with God, humans are superior to animals; but 2. Human life on earth, because of spiritual unrest and bodily weakness, is harsher than that of animals; so 3. If there were no eternal life, then the overall life of humans would be sadder than that of beasts, which would be absurd, given the ontological superiority of humankind. The argument is expressed most famously in the opening words of the Theologia Platonica: "Cum genus humanum propter inquietudinem animi imbecillitatemque corporis et rerum omnium indigentiam duriorem quam bestiae vitam agat in terris, si terminum vivendi natura illi eundem penitus atque ceteris animantibus tribuisset, nullum animal esset infelicius homine. Quoniam vero fieri nequit ut homo, qui Dei cultu propius cunctis mortalibus accedit ad Deum, beatitudinis authorem, omnino sit omnium infelicissimus, solum autem post mortem corporis beatior effici potest, necessarium esse videtur animis nostris ab hoc carcere discedentibus lucem aliquam superesse." The argument and other relevant Ficinian passages are treated in Kristeller, 1988, 373-74.

71 Ficino, TP, 17, 4: "Tria vero prae ceteris signa videntur evidentissima quibus iudicare possimus eum pythagorica ilia nequaquam affirmavisse. Primum quod eodem disputantes inducit, qui quondam talia dixerant; sec., quod fingit Socratem ambiguum, quae audiverat, referentem qui nihil aliud scire se praedicebat, quam hoc ipsum, quod nihil sciret. Tertium, quod quae de rebus huiusmodi scripserat, non confirmavit in senectute. Siquidem in libris de Legibus, quos scripsit in senio, in quibus soils ipsa platonis persona loquitur, nihil asseruit tale." Parenthetically, not only here, but also in his argumentum to the Laws, Ficino argues that the mysterious xenos of the Laws is Plato speaking propria persona. See Ficino's argumentum to Laws, bk. 1 (in Op., 2: 1488): "Ut meminerimus praesentum Legum dispositionem, quoniam ab ipso Platone, non per Pythagoricam personam, vel Socratem, ut solent caetera, immo vero per propriam Platonis ipsius personam nobis traditur, non iniuria vitam quandam inter divina et humana mediam obtinere, neque nos per abdita, et invia quaedam trahere, neque tamen ad interiora deducere. Quamobrem decem illi De republica libri Pythagorici magis sint atque Socratici. Praesentes vero Leges magis Platonicae iudicentur." This is noted in the excellent article of Allen, 1982, 174-75. At least part of the reason that Ficino here judges the Republic more Pythagorean has to do with the sharing of all property in that dialogue. Ficino knew as a Pythagorean akousma the precept "among friends all things are held in common." "Here [i.e., in the Laws] therefore," Ficino writes, "he does not compel men to make all things common among themselves, if they do not wish to do so; [rather] he permits - as usually happens - individuals to possess their own things." ("Hic ergo non coget homines, si noluerint [voluerint cod.], inter se facere cuncta communia; permittet, ut fieri solet, propria singulos possidere.") Ficino goes on: "Quod autem personam hic Platonis sub ipso Atheniensis hospitis nomine, et id quidem modestiae gratia lateat, legenti deinceps ex multis perspicue apparebit, ex eo praecipue, quod affirmabit se geminas tractavisse respublicas."

72 Ficino, TP, 17, 3: "Num ergo nihil de divinis affirmat Plato? Quaedam proculdubio: Deum scilicet humana curare, atque animae immortali operum praemia reddere vel supplicia. Aliud vero affirmat nihil." This passage can be compared to his letter to Francesco Bandino De vita Platonis, in the section titled "Quae Plato affirmavit, et qui eum confirmaverunt," where Ficino writes (Op. 1: 769): "Moreover, in those things which pertain to intelligence Plato used to aqcuiesce mostly to Pythagoras. In civil matters he widened the ideas of his Socrates. The things he affirmed everywhere are as follows: that God provides for all; that the souls of men are immortal; and that there will be rewards for the Good, and punishments for the bad." ("Porro in his quae ad intelligentiam pertinent Pythagorae maxime acquiescebat. In rebus autem civilibus Socratem suum amplectebatur. Quae ubique asseverabat haec sunt: Deum omnibus providere; animas hominum immortales esse; bonorum praemia, malorum supplicia fore.") Much earlier in the century (1411), in his dedication of his translation of Plato's Gorgias to Pope John XXIII, Leonardo Bruni had commented on Plato's compatibility with Christianity: "For the creation of the world by the one true God, rewards and punishments of the pious and impious after death, and other matters our faith most correctly teaches, Plato himself asserts and proves in such fashion as to seem imbued with our teachings." Trans. Hankins, 1990a, 1:54 (Latin text in Bertalot, 2: 269).

73 For the myth, see Phaedr., 246-57. For Ficino see his Commentarium in Phedrum in Allen, 1981, 77. See also Allen, 1980, 127.

74 Ficino goes on: "Understand this: namely that our souls do not so much vivify the bodies of beasts; rather, thanks to a purgation through the animal's own imagination, they are mixed in with the imagination of brutes, just as they say that impure demons are often mixed in with the imagination of the insane. Just about all of the Platonists expound it this way, with the exception of Plotinus." (Op. 2:1392: "Quod animarum transitus narrat in bestias, Pythagoricum est. Idque intellige, videlicet animas nostras non tam vivificare corpora bestiarum, quam purgatorii gratia per brutam imaginationem suam quodammodo brutorum imaginationi misceri, quemadmodum impuros aiunt daemones insanorum imaginationi saepe permixtos. Sic utique excepto Plotino plerique exponunt Platonicorum.") Earlier in the same work on the Phaedo, Ficino made sure to clarify the familiar Platonic epistemological notion of recollection: "Then Plato approaches the argument about reminiscence [i.e., recollection, [Greek Text Omitted], the same that (also a little bit earlier) proves that the soul lives both before and after the body. But you must understand these sorts of arguments as Pythagorean. Choose from them those that are more conducive to truth." (Op. 2:1391: "Aggreditur deinde rationem de reminiscentia, idem quod et paulo ante probantem animam et ante corpus vivere, et post corpus. Tu vero eiusmodi rationes esse intellige Pythagoricas. Atque ex illis quod ad veritatem magis conducat, eligito.") Even here, one can sense Iamblichean resonances in the attempt to shift seemingly improper doctrine away from the respected figure. In On the Pythagorean Life, Iamblichus is concerned to protect, not Plato, but Pythagoras; when improper interpretations are suggested of Pythagorean sayings, Iamblichus argues that "attempts to explain such things [specifically, sayings which need an extra saying to explain them] are not Pythagorean, but were made by ingenious outsiders trying to give a plausible reason" (VP, 18.86, trans. Clark).

75 Hankins has commented on this tendency in Ficino's work; see Hankins, 1990a, 1: 328. Parenthetically, Hankins argues there that "Ficino does make one truly original contribution to the history of Platonic scholarship: he was the first scholar, Greek or Latin, to treat the dialogues as a real corpus, as an organically related group of writings intended to achieve a unified educational and religious purpose." The extent to which Ficino focussed on the dialogues as a corpus is certainly original in its breadth; but it is important to note that the middle Platonist Albinos, who flourished in the mid-second century AD, also discussed the dialogues as a unified instrument of learning in his Eisagoge; as Dillon has noted, this very short work discusses, in a drastic rearrangement of the Thrasyllan order of the Platonic dialogues (Dillon, 1977, 304): "first the nature of the dialogue form in general (chaps. 1-2), then the various types of Platonic dialogue (chap. 3) and lastly the order in which the dialogues should be read in order to provide a coherent course in Platonic philosophy."

76 The nature of the "commentary" is not fully known; in his letter to Martin Preninger (in Op., 1: 933), Ficino refers to "commentariolis in Lucretium meis." See Kristeller, 1938 (= Kristeller, 1956, 191-211); see 202-05 in the latter version; Marcel, 1958, 354-55; and esp. Hankins, 1990a, 2: 454-59, and the literature cited there. On Prenninger, see Zeller, also cited in Gentile, 1990, 70 n. 52.

77 Ficino, Op., 1: 933: "Maturior enim aetas exquisitiusque examen (ut inquit Plato) saepe damnat quae levitas iuvenilis vel ternere credidit, vel saltem (ut par erat) reprobare nescivit."

78 See the letter in Suppl., 2: 279: "Nam nec mutare sententiam turpe philosopho, qui cotidie plus videt et ad opinionem vulgi saepe se non inutiliter accomodat, . . .." Cf. also Walker, 1986, 342 and Kaske, 1986, 373-4. One must remember, of course, that it is not Ficino speaking in this letter, but Poliziano, whose historical sensibility was quite different; still, the fact remains that Ficino in defending Plato lays stress on a work, the Laws, which Ficino believed was written late in Plato's career.

79 Cf. Allen, 1984, 179-80,213-16, and 241-43; Hankins, 1990a, 1: 312.

80 One of the meanings of the word [Greek Text Omitted] is "password," especially in military contexts. Cf. LSJ, sub voce.

81 As Iamblichus (who of course ascribed all the akousmata he knew to Pythagcrus himself) put it: "His practice was to use the very briefest speech to spark off in his disciples, by the method of symbols, infinitely varied interpretations; just as Apollo Pythios with a few easily handled words, or nature herself with seeds which are small in size, manifests an endless and almost inconceivable multitude of ideas and their fruition" (De vita pythagorica, 29. Trans. Clark, 72). It is important to note, though, that the akousmata present a perfect example of the difficulties attendant upon understanding Pythagoreanism. For in the ancient Pythagorean communities to which they owed their origin the Akousmata functioned as fairly typical cultic taboo-precepts. Pythagoras was the "holy man" and the precepts had to be followed at the time of festivals, when they served a purgative, purificatory function. For the akousmata to make sense they must appear in an environment with a hierophantic figure leading the cult (such as Pythagoras was and, perhaps, such as Ficino imagined himself to be); through the hierophant's suprahuman wisdom he commands in a vatic fashion what is prohibited, what is allowed. The precepts serve the function of binding the community together, creating insiders (those who know the requisite practices of purification and, under the guidance of the vatic figure, follow them) and outsiders (those who stand apart from the community's prescribed ritual unity). Cf. Burkert, 178: These sorts of precepts "were not supposed to be understood but merely obeyed."

82 See the excellent edition of Poliziano's Lamia by Wesseling in Poliziano, 1986, xxv-xxviii; see also the discussions in the commentary to 4, 26-37, ad loc. Agli's treatment is not mentioned there: it is contained in MS Naples BN VIII. F. 9, fols. 1-47 (which I have seen in person). Cf. Kristeller, Iter 1: 426. There is a critical edition of the text along with an English translation in Swogger. Nesi's treatment, the Symbolum nesianum, is contained in MS Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale II. I. 158, fols. 270v-280r. I am presently preparing a critical edition of this text.

83 These are edited by Kristeller in Suppl., 2:98-103 from MS Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 4530 fols. 43v-48r (for the annotations to Iamblichus) and the famous Vat. Lat. 5953, fols. 316v-318v (for the Commentariolus in symbola Pythagorae). For Ficino's translations of the Akousmata and the Aurea carmina see Op., 2: 1978-1979. His paraphrases and partial translations of the De secta pythagorica by Iamblichus are still unedited. (The four treatises which make up the De secta represent an incomplete version of what was at least a nine-, possibly a ten-volume compendium of Pythagorean philosophy; see O'Meara, 32-34, and passim, and the discussion above). It has been convincingly argued that the renderings of the treatises of the De secta pythagorica was done fairly early, probably before 1464. See Genthe, 1990 and cf. Allen, 1994, 32-33.

84 Op. 2: 1049-50: "Plato in Protagora scribit antiquorum doctrinam nihil aliud fuisse quam breviloquium quoddam, idque esse viri absolute sapientis, paucis videlicet multa complecti. Hac ratione Hippocrates composuit Aphorismos, Pythagoras quoque symbola, et Proverbia Salomon."

85 See the Symbolum nesianum, MS Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale II. I. 158, fols. 270v-280, esp. fol. 270v: "Sumus autem exposituri apophthegmata Pythagorae, dicta profecto quaedam, quibus Samius ipse vates ac si principiis quibusdam utebatur in schola sua, non tamen in scriptis, sed oraculo vivae vocis quae habet nescio quid latentis energiae, ut ait Hieronymus."

86 Op. 2:1531: ". . . Pythagoras, quem Plato noster in omnibus veneratur [venerantur cod.], sacra doctrinarum mysteria ab exactissima expiatione mentis exordiebatur . . .."

87 On whom see Dillon, 1977.

88 Suppl., 2: 100: (ad verba: Superflua capillorum et unguium tuorum pessunda). "Due sunt vie precipue ad cognitionem veritatis divinorum, scilicet mathematica et puritas anime. Haec ergo duo curanda Pythagoras per figuram intellegit geometrica, per triobolon arithmetica, per aram cultum divinum, qui consistit in anime purificatione." In a letter to Giovanni Cavalcanti, Ficino uses a similar akousma to elucidate the notion of the human appetitus naturalis for the infinite (Op. 1: 785): "Quid ergo dicemus, o amice? Deum velle sacerdotes suos esse omniurn severissimos, neque levia inter sacra tractart, sed gravia. Hac forsitan ratlone Pythagoras discipulis suis praecepit in symbolis ne iuxta sacrificium ungues inciderent [my italics]. Non creavit ad parva quaedam Deus homines, sed ad magna, qui non implentur parvis ac magna noverunt, immo vero solum ad infinita creavit eos, qui soli in terris infinitam reperere naturam, quibus finitum nihil quamvis maximum penitus satisfacit." It is important to note that some of Ficino's treatments of Pythagorean symbola overlap with Antonio degli Agli's to such an extent that it cannot be mere coincidence. While Swogger argues for the priority of Agli (see Swogger), in the introduction to my edition of the Symbolum nesianum (in preparation, mentioned above, n.82), I have argued for the priority of Ficino.

89 In the second prologue (dealing with geometry) of his Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements (see Proclus, 1873, 84, 11-20), Proclus interprets the akousma similarly. "By it," he writes, "[the Pythagoreans] mean that we must cultivate that science of geometry which with each theorem lays the basis for a step upward and draws the soul to a higher world." Trans. in O'Meara, 174. There is an English translation of the entire work in Proclus, 1970.

90 Ficino, Op., 1: 786: "Nullos Deus reprobat magis, quam eos qui sordidis vitiorum vasculis nectar, et ambrosiam haurire confidunt. Nullos probat amatque magis (ut disputat Aristoteles) quam qui mentem Deo simillimam imprimis colunt, et a corporis labe longe dissimili segregant, divinumque lumen non nebulis obruere vitiorum, sed pura student mentis serenitate percipere. Haec ratio et Socratem (ut opinamur) induxit ut moralem imprimis disciplinam hominibus exhiberet, et Pythagoram ut a sacris gymnasiis suis profanos longe propelleret . . . Discite rursus a Pythagora et Platone sapientiam mentis nihil aliud esse quam summi ipsius boni lumen per animos vere bonos tanquam specula quaedam purissima ubique diffusum . . ."

91 Of the bowels - Ficino is nothing if not holistic.

92 Suppl., 2:100-01: "Ad Solem conversus ne mingas. Iuxta sacrificium ne incidas ungues. Mingere est purgari, incidere ungues etiam est abmovere abs te superflua et vilia. Ne differas purgationem et solutionem ad id ternpus, quo sol inspiciendus est et sacra contemplanda idest divina. Prius enim oportet se purgasse et incidisse superflua, quam ad ea tendas et in illis intentionem fatiges."

93 Ficino's translation (from MS Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 5953, fol. 48): "Gallum nutrias quidem, non tamen sacrifices. Lune enim ac soli dedicatus est." Ficino does not reproduce this akousma in its entirety in the Commentariolus, i.e., at fols. 317r-318r, which Kristeller edits (Suppl., 2:101-02). On cocks as solar birds, see Ficino, 1989, 3:13 and 14, cit. in Allen, 1992, 85 n. 52; see also the literature cited there. On the antiquity of the symbolic use of the white cock, see Cumont, 1942.

94 Thus Ficino's treatment of this akousma is also a small part of the largely unexplored oneiric literature of the Italian Renaissance. There are number of excellent pieces on Renaissance oneirology, especially as this pertains to Ficino and his relationship to late antiquity, in Accademia 1 (1999), the first number of the new journal devoted to Ficino studies, published by the Societe Marsile Ficin.

95 Suppl., 2:101: "Est vis quedam anime que cognatione quadam celestium corporum et spirituum sepe ita cietur ut futura presagiat. Est tamen agnitio ilia interdum ita confusa atque ambigua ut vix quid presagiat affirmare quis possit. Inde somniorum auguria, inde visionum species, inde animorum mutationes. Nam interdum mali mens presaga merorem, boni autem prescientia [presentia cod.] letitiam quandam infundere videtur." I have translated in accordance with Kristeller's suggestion of "prescientia" for "presentia" at Suppl., 2:103 n. 2.

96 Suppl., 2: 101: "Ex his facile colligi potest vim quandam inesse anime ex celestium unde hec dependere putanda sunt cogitatione aliqua, qua vel omnia vel saltem pleraque eorum sentiat que vel futura sunt vel ab ea longe remota . . .."

97 Ibid.: "Cum tamen animus tranquillus est curis anxiis stimulisque solutus, quod in somnis plerumque contingit, motus quosdam causarum cognatarum persentit. Hanc anime vim per gallum significari ideo arbitror, quia galli ea natura est, qua et tempora metiatur et ipsorum temporum mutationes ita sentiat, ut nunquam fallatur."

98 These are: Job 38, 36 (Vulgate): "quis posuit in visceribus hominis sapientiam vel quis dedit gallo intelligentiam." Mt 26, 34 (where Jesus makes the prediction) and 26, 74-75 (speaking of Peter): "tunc coepit detestari et iurare quia non novisset hominem et continuo gallus cantavit. Et recordatus est Petrus verbi Iesu quod dixerat, 'priusquam gallus cantet ter me negabis,' et egressus foras ploravit amare."

99 Suppl., 2:102: "Hanc igitur vim nutrire bonum est. Nutritur autem si ita vivamus ut sit tranquillus et a turbulentis curis solutus animus, adeo ut motus sentire celestes denique valeat. Non tamen sacrificandus est, quia naturalis est hec vis, quapropter nullum meritum habiturum [habitura cod.] est sacrificium." I have translated in accordance with Kristeller's suggested emendation of "habitura" to "habiturum," at Suppl., 2:103 n. 8.

100 The line is blurred somewhat in the 1489 De vita; see the edition and translation of Kaske and Clark, 1989, esp. bk. 3.

101 Suppl., 2: 102: "Soli quoque et lune dicatus dicitur, quia per Solem divina vis alternique luminis ac sapientie [finis] fons designatur, cuius proptie est vaticinium. Luna vero mens vatum est que tanto exactius certiusque vaticinatur, quanto solis ipsius h,mine plenior est." I have translated in accordance with Kristeller's suggested deletion of 'finis" at Suppl., 2:103 n. 9.

102 "Do not speak in the face of the sun." It would be difficult to determine whether all three of these akousmata go back to pre-Platonic or even Philolaic Pythagoreanism.

103 Burkert, but see the objections in Kirk, Raven, and Schofield, 330.

104 Cael. 2. 13,293a18 (=DK 58B37) trans, in Kirk, Raven, and Schofield, 343.

105 In other words, since Aristotle had demonstrated convincingly that the earth was at rest, Pythagoras and his followers had to be reinterpreted to have been saying the right thing: not that the sun was central but rather that "central fire," [Greek Text Omitted], was not the sun, but rather, as Simplicius put it, the "creative force which, from its mid position, produces life over the whole earth, and keeps warm the parts of it that teed to cool off." Burkert, 232; see Simplicius, 1894, 512, line 9 and sequential lines; and Aetius 2, 7, 7 (=DK44A16).

106 As Yates and Garin have emphasized. See Yates, esp. 151-56, and Garin, 1976.

107 See De vita (ed. Kaske and Clark), bk. 3. On Ficino and the sun, see Castelli, esp. 11-23.

108 Ibid., 3, 18, 24, and passim.

109 TP, VI: 12 (1: 254); passage cited in Kristeller, 1988, 131-32.

110 Op., 1: 965. For this akousma see Iamblichus, 1937, 23.

111 Op., 1: 965: "In quibus (ut arbitror) verbis, non id solum saplens ille significat nihil in rebus divinis audendum nisi quatenus ipsa Dei lux illinc afflatis mentibus patefecerit, sed etiam admonere videtur, ne sine huius manifestae lucis comparatione ad occultam divinorum lucem vel percipiendum vel declarandam proficiscamur." In a letter to Niccolb degli Albizzi (Op. 1: 620), Ficino related that "Pythagoras ordered his disciples to look at themselves in the mirror not by the light of a lamp, but by the light of the sun." ("Mandavit discipulis suis Pythagoras ut se in speculo non ad lucernae sed ad soils lumen specularentur.")

112 This paragraph follows Allen, 1982.

113 This in turn makes his general allegorical interpretation of Platonic metempsychosis alluded to above a lot more understandable: humans possess rational souls and are therefore ontologically superior to things with no rational soul. How, then, could the soul of man, anthropos, be present in a beast? See Kristeller, 1988, 116.

114 See Ficino, Commentaria in Platonis Sophistam, ed. and trans, in Allen, 1989, 211-81.

115 Allen, 1989, 79.

116 Ibid., 234-35 (trans. Allen): "Hactenus physici. Metaphysici vero, ut Pythago rici, haec quidem dimiserunt ut non vere entia. Primum vero ens, ut unum caetera comprehendens, consideraverunt."

117 Ibid., 242-43. In this instance I have departed from Allen's translation, because I believe that this way, it reflects more the position of the pre-Socratic materialists, who believed that essence had its fundament in either one material principle (the material monists) or in more than one material principle; molem then would not have to be interpreted as the "mass [of the world]," rather just as "mass." The Latin is: "physicos confutandos, qui videlicet solam corpoream molem esse essentiam putaverunt, rem nullam incorpoream cogitantes."

118 Ibid., 242-43 (trans. Allen): "Quorum qui adversarii Pythagorici similesque necessaria ratlone concludunt solum quod est incorporeum propriumque intellectus obiectum verum ens existere, quod maxime de ideis disputando confirmant, ut in nostra Theologia patet. Rem vero corpoream, quae in minima sine fine dividitur solubilisque est et continue fluens, non essentiara sed generationem vocant. Rationem denique essentiae veram ab his solis accipere possumus."

119 Allen, 1989, makes this point, 67-68.

120 Of course, nowhere is Ficino perfectly consistent. In the just-mentioned quotation, Ficino does refer to "the Pythagoreans and others like them." But just who these might be is not specified here or elsewhere. In other words, for the honor of having been the first to propound the ontological superiority of the immaterial - the first "realists," as it were - one might suppose that Ficino has in mind not only Pythagoreans but also others in the chain of prisci theologi, figures such as Hermes and Zoroaster. But I have been unable to find any passages other than these in the Sophist commentary where Ficino is so explicit about stating this fundamental contribution in the history of ontology.

121 Arist., Metaph., 1.5,986a2-12 (=DK 58B4-5); cf. also Cael., II. 13 293a18-b8 (=DK 58B36). The Metaphysics passage was of lively interest to the post-1487 Pico, who was then beginning to move in directions quite different from Ficino; cf. Grafton, 93-134, 125-26 (there is a typo on 125 reporting the passage as coming from Metaph. bk. 10, rather than bk. 1).

122 In discussing Ficino's treatment of the "fatal number" mentioned in Plato's Republic, bk. 8 (546a and sequential lines), Allen, 1994, fleshes out many aspects of Ficino's understanding of the place of number in the Pythagorico-Platonic tradition.

123 Arist., Metaph., M. 6, 1080b16 (=DK 58B9); trans. Ross, quoted in Kirk, Raven, and Schofield, 332.

124 Arist., Metaph., 1.5,987a13-19 (=DK 58B8); passage trans, in McKirahan, 96.

125 Especially amusing is Syrianus: "Aristotle has no reliable or adequate objection to the [Greek Text Omitted] of the Pythagoreans. For the most part, if I am to speak the truth frankly, he does not even hit them, but launches his objections against hypotheses he has invented himself." From Syrianus, 1902, 80 (trans. Burkert, 32). In his In Platonis Timaeum commentaria, Proclus raises objections (Proclus, 1903-6, 1:16, 1.29), as does Asclepius, 1888 (In Aristotelis Metaphysicorum libros A-Z commentaria) 34, 11. 15 et seq., and to a certain extent Simplicius, in his In Aristotelis De caelo commentaria, in Simplicius, 1894, 386, 1.8. See Burkert, 32.

126 So (as Diogenes Laertius would also later report), there were points (not to be confused with Democritean atoms), and points became lines, and lines became plane figures, plane figures became solids, and these became perceivable bodies, a theory of which Ficino was certainly aware; see Diogenes Laertius 8.25 (citing Alexander Polyhistor) (=DK 58B1a); passage cited in McKirahan, 101. These sorts of misconceptions were certainly due to Pythagoreanism as practised and elaborated in the Hellenistic period. Cf. Burkerr, 53-83. For Hellenistic Pythagoreanism see Thesleff, 1961 and Thesleff, 1965. Much of the debate surrounding Aristotle's view of the place of number in Pythagoreanism has surrounded the question whether Aristotle actually had a Pythagorean source which stated unequivocally that all things are numbers (for no pre-Socratic source known to us actually does); recently Huffman has argued that Aristotle in his presentation may not have been actually citing a source but rather reformulating in his own terms what he believed the Pythagoreans meant. Cf. Huffman, 57-64, esp. 59: Aristotle "is saying that what Pythagorean philosophy amounts to is the doctrine that all things are numbers [Huffman's italics]."

127 For the quotation, see Burkert, 35. Speaking about the Platonic Unlimited Dyad, Burkert goes on: "it belongs to the theory of ideas, just as the cosmic Unlimited of the Pythagoreans fits consistently into a world without a conception of incorporeal being."

128 Ibid., 32.

129 Ibid., 36-37. When discussing the Limit in his Philebus Commentary, Ficino interposes a kind of prime matter; this is (Ficino, 1975,400-03, trans. Allen.): "potentiality itself which is shared by all things and is in itself indifferent to being and non-being alike; it is midway between nothingness and being and is unformed and equally receptive to all the individual forms. Matter is the first infinity in need of the limit. Because it is indifferent to being and non-being, it is therefore indeterminate as regards both, and is said to be indefinite and limited by another . . .. All things are made from it and from the limit according to the Pythagorean Philolaus." But positing "matter" as Ficino does would have been unnecessary and foreign for the pre-Platonic Pythagoreans, since they would not have conceived of such a substrate intervening between material and non-material reality. In doing this, Ficino was probably influenced by slippery concept of a [Greek Text Omitted], an "intelligible" matter in Plotinus (Enn. 2.4); there is an interesting discussion of this aspect of Plotinus in Merlan, 134-38.

130 Indeed, Pythagorean cosmogony is more similar to Orphic mythological cosmogonic accounts than to anything Platonic. See Burkett, 38-40.

131 Burkett, 31-32, 230.

132 Despite the troublesome passage at Metaphysics 987b 10, where Aristotle asserts that Plato only "changed the name" and said that things exist by "participation" [Greek Text Omitted] in numbers rather than in "imitation" [Greek Text Omitted] of them. See Burkett, 43-44. Naturally, one could also tag Parmenides as a key figure in the story of how and of what Being may be predicated; but one can say with certainty that in Plato this sense is most strongly articulated.

133 That Aristotle's biased historiographies have been the source of confusion in the interpretation of the pre-Socratics is developed not only in Burkert, but also in the well-known work of Cherniss, and in the recent study of Kingsley.

134 Cf. the comments of Kaske in Ficino, 1989, 24-31; Copenhaver, 1988,274-85; and Allen, 1998, 146-7. I have developed certain of Ficino's non-Plotinian Neoplatonic aspects in Celenza, forthcoming. One should also note that Hankins, 1994, shows with great acumen that for much of the last two decades of his career Ficino became one among a number of intellectuals and academics of all different philosophical and humanistic stripes under the broad wing of Medici patronage. Cf. also the important contributions of Fubini, 1984 and Fubini, 1987, now contained in Fubini, 1996, 235-301.

135 For Nesi see Polizzotto, 102-08; on the rejection of Ficino: ibid., 108 n. 20.


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Date:Sep 22, 1999
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