Marsilio Ficino

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Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499 CE) - Ficino is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, fi-CHEE-no, IPA: /fi'tʃiːno/ - was perhaps the most influential philosopher of the Italian Renaissance, best known for his Latin translation of the works of the Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BCE) and for his Theologia Platonica (Platonic Theology).

Marsilio Ficino's father was a doctor who enjoyed the patronage of the Medici, at the time the most powerful family in Florence and the de facto rulers of the city. Ficino himself studied medicine, but was chiefly interested in philosophy and theology and was particularly attracted by the Neoplatonist teaching of a number of Greek-speaking philosophers who had come to Florence after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks. While still a young man, Ficino was adopted by Cosimo de' Medici (1389-1464) and installed in one of the family's villas near Florence at Montevecchio. He remained under the patronage of the Medici for the rest of his life: he was one of the tutors, and later a close friend, of Cosimo's grandson Lorenzo de' Medici (Lorenzo il magnifico (1449-1492)), and was appointed head of the so-called Florentine Academy, the institution established by Cosimo as a revival of the Academy founded by Plato in Athens in the fourth century BCE. Though rarely leaving Montevecchio Ficino, who became a priest in 1473, exercised an influence which extended far beyond Italy. He corresponded with most of the leading European thinkers of his time, and at Montevecchio his many pupils included Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) and Poliziano (Angelo Ambrogini, 1454-1494), who themselves became influential figures in the Italian Renaissance. Ficino died at Careggi, another Medici villa not far from Montevecchio.

Much of Ficino's activity was devoted to making the thought of Plato and the Neoplatonists accessible to his contemporaries. In addition to his Latin translation of the works of Plato (published in 1484) he translated the works of the Neoplatonists Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus, as well as writing commentaries on some of Plato's dialogues and on Plotinus and Dionysius the Areopagite. The De amore (On Love), his commentary on Plato's Symposium, introduced into modern European thought the concept of Platonic love, i.e., a form of love which is not sexual: the term 'Platonic love' (amor Platonicus) was coined by Ficino and first occurs in the De amore.

Ficino's greatest work, the Theologia Platonica {Platonic Theology ), which was dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici, takes its title from a famous work by the pagan Neoplatonist philosopher Proclus (412-487 CE), and in its scale and scope resembles the two great works of the Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the Summa Theologiae and the Summa contra Gentiles. Drawing on both Neoplatonist and Christian thought, the Theologia Platonica is an attempt to synthesise Christianity and Neoplatonism, with at its centre the Platonic ideal of the soul's ascent to an ideal realm in search of illumination and spiritual transformation.

Like many Renaissance figures, Ficino had a wide range of interests, among them medicine, music, mathematics, and astrology. His De vita libri tres (Three Books on Life) contains advice about ways of preserving one's health, some of it medical, some of it based on astrological considerations - though his attitude to astrology was not uncritical. In 1489 he was accused by the ecclesiastical authorities of engaging in magical practices but was eventually acquitted.