Marsilio Ficino

1433-1499. Florentine humanist. He was the son of Cosimo de' Medici's physician, and his early life is little known, but by 1456 he began the study of Greek which resulted in his translation of the complete works of Plato (1463- 73), Plotinus (1482-92), and Pseudo-Dionysius (1492). Cosimo had given him the use of a villa (1462), and here the Platonic Academy was founded. Later, while teaching at this famous school Ficino wrote his major work, Theologia platonia (1469-72). In 1473 he became a priest, later writing De Christiana religioni (1476). When the Medici were forced from Florence, he retired to the country.

Ficino believed that Neoplatonism could be used to win intellectuals to Christ. His outlook presupposed that truth was found only in poetry and faith and was transmitted through a long line of ancient philosophers, the most important of whom were Plato and his followers. He thought there was no difference between divine revelation and the teachings of the ancient philosophers. In fact, the Platonic works contained all that man could know of truth, beauty, and goodness. The world of the Platonist was a hierarchy of emanations from the original essence. In this stepladder of bodies, qualities, souls, and intelligences, man occupied an intermediary role, related to the world of matter by his body and to the world of the spirit by his soul. Christ is identified as the mediator who leads man to love God and to emulate his perfection. Ficino exercised an enormous influence not only on the Renaissance, but on later European thought also. His editions of Plato were standard for several centuries, and scholars such as Colet Spenser and the Cambridge Platonists* owe much to him.

P.O. Kristeller, The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino (tr. V. Conant, 1943); E. Cassirer et al. (eds.), The Renaissance Philosophy of Man (1948), pp. 193-212; J.C. Nelson, Renaissance Theory of Love (1958).