Renaissance Philosophy – Marsilio Ficino and Neoplatonism

Marsilio Ficino was a great thinker, musician, priest, doctor and translator who lived in Italy between 1433 and 1499. A friend of the powerful Medici family, Ficino was given a village in Florence where he could dedicate himself to teach Plato’s philosophy and translate the Corpus Hermeticum, the writings attributed to Hermes Trimegistus.

Ficino’s translation of the hermetic knowledge along with the revival of the Platonic thought had a very important role in the development of the Renaissance thinking. In fact, some scholars suggest that the outcome of the philosophy of the sixteenth century wouldn’t have been the same without Ficino’s effort to bring back the ancient wisdom that had almost disappeared during the middle ages.

Marsilio Ficino on the Immortality of the Soul

An admirer of the Pythagorean philosophy, Ficino instructed his followers to become vegetarians (like the Pythagoreans were) in order to elevate consciousness and transcend the limitations of the physical body.

The influence of the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato appears in Marsilio Ficino’s writings about the immortality of the soul. In accordance with the Platonic philosophy, Ficino argued that while the body is temporary, the soul is immortal and therefore, eternal. It was said that the ultimate goal of the soul is to reunite with the unity, or its source.

For Ficino, there was no contradiction between the Christian theology and the classical philosophy, as they referred to the same reality – the reality of the eternal part of every human which naturally seeks God in an attempt to recover the lost unity. This was the object of contemplation of the Greek mythology and also of the Christian faith.

Marsilio Ficino took great interest in Greek mythology, which he believed to hide precious philosophical revelations. Such was his interest that he translated the Orphic hymns, the music played the mythological character Orpheus. Interestingly, the myth of Orpheus gave birth to an ancient Greek cult which influenced Plato’s philosophy.

Read Orphism, an Ancient Greek Religion and a Philosophical Cult for more information about the Orphic tradition.

Marsilio Ficino and the Renaissance Art

Marsilio Ficino also had a great influence of the Renaissance art, which reflected the Neoplatonic world view and the hermetic teachings. He understood art as a tool to reach the divine.

Paintings, according to Ficino, should represent the ideal world so that those who appreciated the paintings could experience a bit of the archetypes of the divine realm through art and the spirit could be reminded of its original source.The metaphors found in many Renaissance paintings depict the fall of the soul into the physical manifestation. This symbolism appears in La Primavera, painted by Botticelli, who exchanged letters with Ficino.

Read Botticelli, the Philosophy Behind Primavera to learn more about the occult messages of this beautiful painting.

Marsilio Ficino on Platonic Love

Marsilio Ficino explained Plato’s philosophy brilliantly and brought back to Europe the concept of Platonic love. He argued that the love described by Plato refers to the force that brings organization to the chaos. Love is, then, the ability to contemplate the ideal world and the wish to project this world into the physical realm, in an attempt to recreate perfection in the matter.

Beauty is a vehicle to reach the divine, as beautiful things (and bodies) inspire people to contemplate the ideal realm. It’s said that problems arise when people start to believe that it’s the appearances of the bodies that should be loved and not what they represent. The object of love is beyond the appearances.

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