Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ficino's Praise of Georgios Gemistos Plethon

Paul Richard Blum

Et nuper Plethon – Ficino's Praise of Georgios Gemistos Plethon and His Rational Religion

For the published version see: 
Laus Platonici Philosophi
Marsilio Ficino and his Influence

Edited by
Stephen Clucas
Peter J. Forshaw
Valery Rees
Brill: Leiden and Boston
Most authors who refer to Marsilio Ficino's famous Prooemium to his translation of Plotinus' works, addressed to Lorenzo de'Medici, discuss the alleged foundation of the Platonic Academy in Florence, but rarely continue reading down the same page, where – for a second time – Georgios Gemistos Plethon is mentioned. The passage reads as follows:
Nowadays, few have interpreted his [sc. Aristotle's] thought – apart from our complatonicus Pico – with the same faithfulness (pietate) as once did Theophrastus and Themistius, Porphyrius, Simplicius, Avicenna, and recently Plethon.[1]
This statement contains more than one surprising claim:
- Plethon is a reliable interpreter of Aristotle.
- Plethon and Pico are the most recent Aristotelians; more precisely, they are the latest candle-bearers of true Aristotelian tradition.
- Plethon, along with the other authors mentioned, is religiously orthodox.
The three claims are surprising because they are outright wrong. So the question is: Whom or what is Ficino praising in eulogizing Plethon? I propose to examine the three statements in reverse order.
Plethon's religious orthodoxy is suggested by the fact that the sentence quoted was copied and pasted by Ficino into the Plotinus preface from his letter to Johannes Pannonius (de Varadino[2]) of 1484/85. Then and later, Ficino chastised the Alexandrist and Averroist schools for destroying religion at large, negating divine providence, and for misrepresenting Aristotle anyway. Consequently, these good Aristotelians succor true religion. Because, as Ficino continues, "whoever thinks that an impiety so widely diffused … can be vanquished by mere simple preaching of faith will be immediately and manifestly proved wrong and terribly mistaken. For this task requires much greater power. It entails … at least that philosophers, after they have listened gladly to a philosophic religion at some point will be persuaded by it."[3] No doubt Ficino suggests that Pico and Plethon are representatives of such "philosophic religion" that eventually might convert – but convert to what? Well, to the same piety that unites Pico, Plethon, and the Platonizing interpreters of Aristotle.
Plethon qualifies as an Aristotelian for having criticized Aristotle, and Averroes and Alexander on matters of philosophic theology in his famous treatise De differentiis (i.e. On where Aristotle is at variance with Plato). Specifically he suggested that Aristotle's concept of the Prime Mover was located in one celestial sphere among others, which would contradict a divinity that transcends all finite beings.[4] Plethon maintained, in matters of nature, that Aristotle was too much influenced by Anaxagoras, a philosopher who seemed to advocate some logos beyond all things, but ultimately tended to atheism. Aristotle had the same tendency: talking about various divinities, but eventually fostering atheism. [5] Plethon concluded his pamphlet with an extended refutation of Aristotle's refutation of the Platonic theory of Forms/Ideas, which all comes down to the fact that Aristotle missed the most important doctrine because he denied the creation of eternal substances and the wellspring of all things in one source of being. On the other side are Plato and the Platonists, who understand God as "the universal sovereign over all existing things, and assume him to be the originator of originators, the creator of creators, and refer everything without exception to him".[6]
This all sounds pretty orthodox, and we would be happy to incorporate Plethon in the Patrologia Graeca (as Migne actually did), had not Plethon started his defense of Plato and attack on Aristotle by saying: "Our, both the Greeks' and the Romans', ancestors esteemed Plato much more highly than Aristotle." [7] The message of this exordium is not that some distant people preferred Plato, but that we all, Greek and Romans alike, should do so, because our common ancestors did it. As is well known, Plethon wrote this pamphlet during the Council of Florence in 1439 and the Greek and Romans were not the ancients but the audience present: Eastern and Western scholars. Behind this captivating address stands Plethon's agenda of restoring ancient pagan wisdom in order not to enhance Christianity, east or west, but to supplant it. This casts a twilight on Ficino's protest against unreligious Aristotelianism and his call for a "religion that pleases philosophers", i.e. a "religionis genus" fostered by divine providence, when he employs Plethon as his ally. I am not intending to prove Plethon's heterodoxy here because it is well known, even to Ficino himself, as Monfasani has shown from the marginalia to De fato, [8] but I want to take up the motive of ancestry because this leads us to the second claim in Ficino's remark about Plethon.
In his Nomon syggraphe, which obviously drew upon the book of "Nomoi" by Plato, Plethon invoked a pageant of pagan sages and legislators – mythical and real alike – that connected Zoroaster with Plato, Plutarch, Plotinus, Porphyry, and Jamblichus.[9] In doing this he certainly bestowed a classic formula and apparent logic on a form of thought, effective in humanism ever since Francesco Petrarch and Coluccio Salutati, namely that of a consistent and continuous genealogy of wisdom, the spell of which binds all well thinking men up to and including the present speaker, known as prisca theologia. As for Plethon, his basic creed draws its legitimacy from eternal (aei) succession of divine men.[10] Ficino's device to counter corrupt Aristotelianism is exactly to create a counter-tradition that parallels Platonism, namely the pious reading of Aristotle in a genealogy that runs from Theophrastus through "nuper Plethon" to Giovanni Pico. For this argument to be valid, one should demonstrate
- that Pico and Plethon deliberately followed Theophrastus, Themistius, Porphyrius, Simplicius, and Avicenna
- that these in point of fact form something like a prisca philosophia peripatetica, and
- that these can be seen as serious defenders of a religious philosophy.
If we say, well, Ficino used a makeshift genealogy for the sake of argument and rhetoric, his argument collapses. And at any rate, the question arises: What genus of religion are these authors apt to defend?
Now, there is no evidence that Ficino ever read the full Nomoi, except for its part, De fato, nevertheless a look at Plethon's philosophy of religion is revealing. There, Gemistos discussed the basic tenets of what he suggested to be a theology that may have political and moral meaning.[11] In a move that tastes of humanism, the book starts with stating that a variety of opinions haunts humanity as to what are the most important issues in life. No doubt, beatitude is what all men are seeking, but the means and meaning of it seem to be controversial: pleasure, wealth, glory, and virtue are the favorites. Of course we recognize a plethora of ethical treatises which are repeated with this assessment, and once for all, I will take no pride in mentioning Gemistos' sources. The consequence Gemistos draws from this diversity is notable: we need to know the nature of man, and in order to do this, we need to study the nature of things, which leads directly to the nature of the Divine.[12] After this initial chapter follows a chapter on the major authorities in theological matters, which are a key to Plethon's lasting influence and, perhaps, his intentions and shall be discussed more extensively later. After a refusal of skepticism the main treatment of the subject initiates with a prayer:
Come to us, O gods of learning, whoever and however many ye be; ye who are guardians of scientific knowledge and true belief; ye who distribute them to whomsoever you wish, in accordance with the dictates of the great father of all things, Zeus the King. For without you we should not be able to complete so great a task. But do you be our leader in our reasonings, and grant that this book may have all success, to be set as a possession for ever before those of mankind who wish to pass their lives, both in private and in public, established in the best noble fashion.[13]
This is quite remarkable a confession of a philosopher: his gods are the gods of learning, theoi logioi. Logios can have the meaning of: logical, reason-guided, erudite and eloquent, or oracular. The choice is ours. However, Plethon is evidently praying to those who control both science and opinion (episteme and doxa) that they may guide the rational discourse of this book, which is, by its title, a syggraphe, a covenant of general Law.
Chapter I 5 informs the reader about the general dogmas (dogmata, nomoi) of Plethon's theology:
- The Gods are more blessed than men.
- They provide (pronoein) for any good and no evil.
- There is a plurality of Gods that admits for degrees.
- Zeus is the highest and mightiest of the Gods.
- He is unbegotten (agenetos) and self-engendered (autopatros).
- Poseidon is his first son and head of all other Gods.
- There is a hierarchy among the lower gods, manifest in the importance of their actions.
- There is even bisection among the Gods, those who stem from Zeus, and illegitimate ones; the former living on Olympus, the latter dwelling as Titans in Tartarus.
- The Gods of Olympus and of Tartarus form a grand and holy One.
- On the lowest level there are demons that operate on earth.
- Nevertheless all of the Gods are outside of time and space.
- They are begotten (genetoi) from the one cause of all, and in duration without beginning and end.
- In Zeus, essence and existence (ousia, praxis) are identical.
If this system were found in some middle Platonic fragment, we would be tempted to relate it to Plato, Plotinus, Proklos and similar sources, together with ancient Greek theogonies. But Plethon wrote this around the year 1400 or in the first half of the 15th century. We also recognize Peripatetic, if not scholastic, rationality, such as the identification of essence and existence, and the differentiation of time and duration, not to speak of the intricacies of the unbegottenness of the Father and the generation of a preferred Son of God.
As is well known, Plethon's Nomoi was in part destroyed posthumously by his friend and former student, Georgios Gennadios Scholarios, now Patriarch of Byzantium, who believed the whole theology to be a reinstating of ancient polytheism. But Scholarios was also one of the Byzantine scholars who introduced scholastic philosophy into the Greek world: in 1435/36 he had translated Petrus Hispanus' Logic.[14] As Arnold Toynbee convincingly argued, Plethon's work marks an interesting option within the tribulations of the Byzantine Church, which was about to dissipate between the millstones of the pressing Ottoman empire and the Roman Church. It seems Plethon suggested to save Greek identity by restoring the ancient, unique Greek culture. Scholarios' solution was, as actually happened, to preserve the Eastern Orthodox Church at the mercy of the Turks, and, indeed, he had been appointed Patriarch of Constantinople, after 1453, by Mehmet the Conquerer. Kardinal Bessarion, another student of Plethon's, opted for the Roman Church, in which he made his career as a Cardinal.[15]
But this scenario leaves open the question of whether or not Gemistos Plethon actually believed what he was teaching. This question had been raised by Scholarios himself. Bessarion, in a letter of condolence, did not hesitate to assume that Plethon would "join the Olympian gods" and – supposing the Pythogorean doctrine was acceptable – that Plato's soul had been reborn in Plethon.[16] If we take Bessarion's witness as an indication that Gemistos' Nomoi were to be taken metaphorically we may absolve him easily of heresy, against Scholarios' rage. Still, one has to ask: what is the purpose of such metaphors? From the perspective of Greek national identity, Bessarion would take sides with the sage of Mistra, and conveniently so, since his letter was addressed to the defunct's sons. On the other hand, if we believe that in the eyes of the Roman Cardinal there was nothing wrong with Olympic gods, then he must have reconciled such parlance with Roman Christian dogmatics. The humanist Janus Pannonius, for example, had no qualms to see Plato reincarnated in Marsilio Ficino, as confirmed by Pythagoras.[17] This interpretation leaves us with the task to understand Gemistos's intentions when he incorporated recognizable Christian theology in a theogony of pre-Christian outlook.
I am not giving into the temptation to compare Plethon's or Bessarion's words with Marsilio Ficino, who also never hesitated to refer to Greek mythology in order to promote his Platonizing theology, because Ficino might have depended on Gemistos' inspiration, and referring to Ficino would be begging the question. Rather, I hope that a clearer understanding of Plethon might afford a key to understanding Ficino and other Renaissance Platonists of the West.
Three things should be addressed, here. First, Plethon's theogony, in drawing upon Greek gods, is only remotely in concordance with ancient mythology as known from Homer and the other sources. Second, it appears to be a treatise that can be labeled as systematic, not much different from Christian scholasticism. And third, it is presented not as a quaestio, nor as an apology or as an exhortation, but clearly as a work of instruction, as an outline of social, political, and moral order, as Laws.
If Gemistos had intended to spread belief in the Ancient Olympic deities, he might have set to work like a 19th or 20th century classicist by harmonizing and ordering the ancient upper- and underworld, and he would have tried to make his readers believe that Zeus had quite a powerful command over the affairs of this world, etc. Let us just recall the legend that Wolfgang Schadewaldt used to pray to the Greek Gods, or the fact that Werner Jaeger sincerely hoped to restore ancient "Paideia" in Weimar Germany. The Byzantine sage also probably should have established a system of virtues, identified with any of these deities, like Giordano Bruno would do in his Spaccio de la bestia trionfante. Plethon's work would have been to some extent a restoration and Renaissance of Ancient creed, but since he only picked part of the mythologies of the Ancients and rearranged them around a theological system that cares much about systematic issues like the ontological status of the gods, he effectively closed the door to the historical past by pretending to reopen it. In the same way as it can be argued that Petrarch rediscovered antiquity when he was writing personal letters to ancient authorities like Cicero and Livy, but that he – at the same time – created the awareness that they were really past, in the same way we have to acknowledge that Gemistos' message to any learned reader of his Nomoi must have been that they were done with the ancients and should brace for a new religion, contrived from the spoils of the Greeks. The question is: what kind of religion? This becomes clear by a subordinate question to the puzzlement over his mythology, namely the authorities he evokes for his work.
As already mentioned, the variety of understanding of the meaning of life was the initial question that opened the Nomoi. This lead to the question: which were the best possible guides in the quest for the divine? In chapter 2 of book 1, Plethon dismisses the poets and the sophists: the poets aim at pleasing their readers, while the sophists don't care about truth but strive to elevate themselves above the humans. "Both drag the divine down to the more human level and elevate the human to the more divine level according to the human measure." Better than any man, the legislators (nomothetoi) and philosophers are able to pronounce soundly (pythoit' an tis ti hygies) on these matters, because they deal with the common good and with truth as basis of well-being.[18] Therefore, Plethon adduces as his authorities Zoroaster in the first place, followed by Eumolpos[19], because he had introduced the Eleusinian mysteries to Athens, which taught the immortality of the soul. To this follow the legislators Minos, Lycurgus, the Argonaut Iphitus, and Numa. Then Plethon refers summarily to the Brahmans of India, the Mages of Medians, i.e., Persians, and the Curetes, who distinguished themselves for having taught some of the major tenets listed above, namely the ranking of second and third order deities and the immortality of the creation and offspring of Zeus. Plethon mentions further sources, among others the priests of Dodone as interpreters of the oracles, one prophet Polyeidos, then Teiresias, who taught metempsychosis, Chiron, and the Seven Sages: Chilon, Solon, Bias, Thales, Cleobulus, Pittacus, and Myson. This list is rounded up by some more familiar authorities, namely, Pythagoras, Plato, Parmenides, Timaeus, Plutarchus, Plotinus, Porphyry, and Jamblichus.[20]
How should one read this list? Gemistos hastens to affirm that he is not at all intending to say anything new (oud' …neoterioumen), as the sophists do,[21] a claim that will be one of the points of criticism for Scholarios who insistently reproached Plethon's inventive innovations. What distinguishes these sages from the sophists, according to Plethon, is their universal concordance to the effect that "never their truth was newer than what has wrongly been stated".[22] Innovation, indeed, is the ambition of the Sophists, and ambition leads to innovation. A brief look at Plethon's more famous writing, his dissection of Aristotle's dissent from Plato, reveals who the sophists might have been: the Aristotelians, because vanity was the major cause responsible for Aristotle's apostasy from Platonism.
Plethon's authorities also exclude the poets, as has been said. He does not dwell upon them in this place, but the very title page of his Nomoi gives an important clue. He announces:
This work comprises: Theology according to Zoroaster and Plato, using for the gods recognized by philosophy the traditional names of the gods known to the Hellenes, but restoring them from the sense given them by the distortions of poets, which do not precisely conform with philosophy, to a sense which does […] conform to the greatest possible degree [with philosophy]…[23]
This is a clear rejection of the mythological theology of these ancients. From this point of view, the prayer quoted above is even more revealing. It is not addressed to the Muses, as any classicizing writer would have emulated, but to the philosophical gods. Ancient Greek mythology is restored to rational philosophy. And this restoration is remarkable by some blatant absences: not only the Muses, but also Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, and many other gods that inhabited the Olympus seem to have moved out.
Nevertheless, some Hellenic gods – namely Zeus, Poseidon, and Hera – are reinstated, and Plethon justifies his claim with the list of authorities just mentioned. Not surprisingly, antiquity is the measure of truth. Unfortunately, some of these ancient authorities are legendary at best. Therefore, Scholarios had an easy time mockingly suspecting that Plethon certainly never read all of them. Also, this lack of authenticity necessarily jeopardized their teachings. Every scholar as learned as Scholarios could detect this. Plethon, however, put enormous effort in affirming the harmony of the ancient teachers and their status. The capstone of his construction of ancient wisdom was certainly Zoroaster, the most ancient of all sages, who – in Plethon's narrative – revealed the truth about the gods to the Persians and other Asian peoples.[24]
In order to boost Zoroaster's authority, Plethon even edited the Chaldaean Oracles from Michael Psellos and published them as Zoroaster's oracles. And again, every scholar of his time could easily verify this maneuver.
Therefore, the past was for Plethon a means to an end. He appears to have been dependent on construing a strong claim of antiquity for a philosophical theology, which exactly did not originate among the Ancients. This brings us to the second question, which I will treat only briefly.
As we already observed in the initial prayer, Plethon's gods are ambiguous: they are connected with logos, and as such they are both reasonable and oracular, and they guide knowledge based on science and opinion. This becomes even more evident in a summary of his doctrines. It starts by exhorting: "These are the main chapters that anyone who wants to be prudent or right-minded (phronimos) has to know: First this about the gods that they exist…"[25] The startling word, here, is phronimos. The most common usage of this word refers to practical knowledge, right-mindedness in this world, nothing close to wisdom and sanctity.[26] In Plato's book Nomoi there is only one passage that suggests some sapiential meaning of this word,[27] but even there this property is dependent on logos, and on the whole, the context belongs to ethics more than to theology. It should also be noted that in Plethon's system of virtues, phronesis exercises reason in humans, in as much as they are gifted with reason (logikon ti zoon).[28] This virtue, then, is divided into piety, natural knowledge, and soundness of judgment (theosebeia, physike, euboulia).[29] This piety can do well without revelation. The absence of the muses and the poetical deities indicates that there is no room for mystical inspiration from the Gods, and certainly no grace familiar to Christians. Plethon's mythology is Greek or Hellenic only in appearance. Most probably he endeavors to meet the expectations of an audience filled with humanist classicism, but in point of fact he brings this phase of emulation to an end. Plethon's Zoroaster, then, has less likeness with the legendary founder of a still existing religion of venerable age than with Nietzsche's Zarathustra.
Now we are prepared to address the other two riddles of Ficino's praise: is it legitimate to lump Pico and Plethon together into one Aristotelianism, to which the latter does not belong in the first place? Argumentative "misery acquaints a man with strange bed-fellows".[30] Pico quotes Plethon, indeed, one time, but in a context that makes their association by Ficino's pen even more surprising, because it is in Pico's "Commentary on a Song of Love", which is known to be a harsh criticism of Ficino's appropriation of ancient mythology. Specifically Pico refers to the technique of the ancients to hide truth behind metaphors, so dear to his Florentine colleague. Here Pico betrays that he is familiar with Gemistos' work and offers his own hermeneutics of mythology: Oceanus, "father of gods and of men", he claims, is an image to signify the Angelic Mind, "the cause and source of every other creature which comes after it."[31] His authority is Georgios Gemistos, "a much approved Platonist" – approved by whom? So Pico hastens to add: "These are the waters, this is the living fountain, from which he who drinks never thirsts anymore: these are the waters or the seas upon which, as David says, God founded the whole world." Pico's artifice, here, is to channel ancient and Gemistian mythology back into clear waters of Christianity. This does not mean that Plethon is Christian, but that Pico at best has learned from him how to translate pagan wisdom philosophically, while he does not advocate this very paganism, but turns it into biblical correctness. If there is any canopy that covers Plethon and Pico, they stick their heads out at opposite ends.[32]
We may conclude from this that the Aristotelianism allegedly represented by Plethon and Pico is actually anti-Aristotelianism, and the defense of religion is of dubitable Christianity. With this collapses the first claim proffered in the quoted statement. The association of Pico and Plethon is even more questionable because Plethon had endeavored to prove that Aristotle is at variance with Plato, and with Christianity, whereas Pico just recently had wielded an attack on the distinction between Platonic and Peripatetic conceptions of the One and of Being. Already in 1484, Pico announced to Ermolao Barbaro that he was about to divert from Platonic studies in order to show that Plato and Aristotle contradict only in words while in the matters they were most concordant.[33] The De ente et uno was to become a sample of this project. This is justified, according to Pico, by the same Themistius, who in Ficino's praise is a founding father of true Aristotelianism.
A few remarks on chronology: The Plotinus edition was printed on 7th May 1492, one month after Lorenzo's death (8th April), but it had already been solemnly presented to him on 12th November 1490, to whom it is dedicated.[34] Whenever Ficino wrote his preface, he did not withdraw his references to Pico in it, even though De ente et uno was written in 1491 by this complatonicus.[35] Furthermore, there is Ficino's harsh rebuttal of De ente et uno in the commentary on Plato's Parmenides with the famous passage "Utinam ille mirandus iuvenis":
"Had this admirable youngster just diligently pondered over the disputations and queries, presented above, before being so cocksure as to assail his teacher and so headstrong as to publish views that run counter to those of all Platonists …!"[36]
The controversy is well known among Ficinisti; what I want to emphasize at this point is that Ficino's outburst – if it was factually justified – presupposes that Pico possibly could have read (and not perhaps anticipated) the Parmenides-Commentary, which, consequently, must have been in the making while Pico published his De ente et uno and Ficino introduced Plotinus.[37]
At this point, while reading the preface to Plotinus, the reader has already been enchanted by the praise of Pico who is inferred to have been providentially instrumental in stimulating Ficino to continue his work, inspired by Cosimo de'Medici, as Ficino describes it. Looking back in the text, we may state that Ficino actually needs Pico in order to justify his own work; and that means that in the passage quoted, two rhetorical strains merge: the Pico strain with the Plethon strain.
Ficino employed the figure of young Pico as having urged him to translate Plotinus – and we may leave the miraculous circumstances aside – in order to explain why he went beyond the command of Cosimo's who had commissioned only the Corpus Hermeticum and Plato. Now as is well known according to Ficino’s narrative, this idea that had been associated with the founding of the so called Platonic Academy, i.e. making these key texts available in Latin, came to Cosimo from Gemistos Plethon. Giovanni Pico, then, serves as a stepping stone between the remote event of the Council of Florence, when in 1439 Cosimo encountered Plethon, and the new translation of Plotinus, to be dedicated to Cosimo's grandson Lorenzo. The divine inspiration – instilled by Plethon and forwarded from Cosimo via Pico to Ficino – allegedly Christianizes the project, but this would have sounded dubitable if related only to Plethon. Consequently we may sum up the narrative as follows:
Plethon convinced Cosimo that Hermetism and Platonism contain "mysteria", hitherto unknown. Plotinus, in Ficino's view, must be the completion of the Medici project, which is now presented as an attempt to save religion. Ficino, well aware of the pagan implications of Plethon's doctrine, made Pico his accomplice, exactly because Pico had criticized the non-Christian implications and inconsistencies of Neo-Platonism and because he had advocated the compatibility of Aristotle and Plato from a "higher point of view" (as he maintained in his letter to Ermolao Barbaro). Thus, Pico was to help saving Ficino's reputation as a religious philosopher. For this purpose, Ficino had to parallel Plethon with the unsuspected Pico, to the effect that Plethon became so to say christened. This achieved, Ficino may now present Plotinus' works to Lorenzo as the source that discloses the "philosophiae mysteria" which had inspired Cosimo.
Finally, in order to tie up the whole narrative, Ficino makes reference to Angelo Poliziano, the professor of Aristotelian philosophy, close friend of Pico's, and certainly a competitor in the attention from Lorenzo. Ficino mentions that Porphyry's Life of Plotinus, that opens the whole work, was particularly dear to Poliziano, "alumnus tuus".
So, to return to the initial question: whom is Ficino actually praising when he praises people we wouldn't expect him to hold in praise? We should not forget that a dedicatory letter addressed to the backer of the book should first of all praise him. So Ficino eulogizes Lorenzo and his Grandfather and their friends. As it happens, he has to applaud them for intentions he does not share, or at least not in the same way. And, even worse, the addressee of the preface died before the book came out. Appropriately, in his new brief dedication to Pietro de'Medici, Ficino muses about being unfortunate. Ficino perceives the passing of times against which he pursues his Platonic project, and he craves recognition by those he praises.

[1] Marsilio Ficino, Opera (Basel: Henricpetri, 1576; Reprint Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1983) II,p. 1537: "cuius mentem hodie pauci, praeter sublimem Picum complatonicum nostrum ea pietate, qua Theophrastus olim et Themistius, Porphyrius, Symplicius, Avicenna, et nuper Plethon interpretantur". About this preface see Sebastiano Gentile in Marsilio Ficino, Lettere, I (Florence: Olschki, 1990), pp. XIII-XLII; Sebastiano Gentile: "Giorgio Gemisto Pletone e la sua influenza sull'umanesimo fiorentino", in Paolo Viti (ed.): Firenze e il Concilio del 1439 (Florence: Olschki, 1994), I, pp. 813-832. Michael Stausberg: Faszination Zarathushtra. Zoroaster und die Europäische Religionsgeschichte der Frühen Neuzeit (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1998) I, p. 82, called this preface a "geschickt inszenierte Legende" (a cunningly contrived legend). Cf. Cesare Vasoli, Quasi sit deus. Studi su Marsilio Ficino (Lecce: Conte, 1999), pp. 23-50. James Hankins: "Cosimo de' Medici and the 'Platonic Academy'", in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 53 (1990), 144-162. Paul Richard Blum: Philosophieren in der Renaissance (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2004), pp. 167-175; Idem: "Die Graue Eminenz des Renaissance-Platonismus: Georgios Gemistos Plethon", Tumult. Schriften zur Verkehrswissenschaft 29 (2005), 119-129 (this issue is dedicated to "Georgios Gemistos Plethon (1355-1452), Reformpolitiker, Philosoph, Verehrer der alten Götter").
[2] The name refers to (Nagy-)Várad, Hungary, today Oradea in Romenia. Klára Pajorin: "Ioannes Pannonius e la sua lettera a Ficino, Verbum – Analecta Neolatina 1 (1999) 59-68.
[3] Ficino: Opera, pp. 871 sq. and 1537; translation from Michael J. B. Allen: "Golden Wits, Zoroaster and the Rivival of Plato", in idem.: Synoptic Art. Marsilio Ficino on the History of Platonic Interpretation (Florence: Olschki, 1998), p. 15.
[4] C. M. Woodhouse: Gemistos Plethon. The Last of the Hellenes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986), p. 193, § 5.
[5] Woodhouse, S. 203, § 32.
[6] Woodhouse, S. 213, § 55.
[7] Bernadette Lagarde: "Le 'De differentiis' de Pléthon d'apres l'autographe de la Marcienne", Byzantion 43 (1973) 312-343; p. 321: Oi men hmwn palaioteroi kai Ellhnwn kai Romaiwn Platwna Aristotelou" pollw twi meswi proetimwn. I altered Woodhouse's translation, which – in accordance with the Latin – translates: "Our ancestors, both Hellenes and Romans, …" (cf. "Tam Graeci quam Romani veteres, qui nostrum saeculum antecesserunt …": Georgii Gemisti Plethonis De Platonicae atque Aristotelica philosophiae differentia libellus, ed. Georgius Chariander, Basel 1574, fol. B 2 v; cf. Migne PG 160, col. 890).
[8] John Monfasani: "Marsilio Ficino and the Plato-Aristotle Controversy", in Michael J. B. Allen and Valery Rees (eds.): Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy (Leiden: Brill, 2002), pp. 179-202; p. 199 edition of Ficino's marginal note on De fato from Cod. Riccardianus 76; pp. 196-199 Ficino's references toPlethon. On that codex see S. Gentile, S. Piccoli and P. Viti (eds.): Marsilio Ficino e il ritorno di Platone. Mostra di manoscritti, stampe e documenti, Firenze 1984, n. 43,pp. 55-57.
[9] Pléthon: Traité des lois, ed. C. Alexandre (Paris, 1858; reprint Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1966), I 2, pp. 30-32. In the following Nomoi will refer to this work.
[10] Ibid. I 5, p. 44.
[11] Some hints at possible Neoplatonic backgrounds of Plethon's Nomoi in Dominic J. O'Meara: Platonopolis. Platonic Political Philosophy in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Clarendon, 2003), pp. 203 sq., who also suggests parallels with a-Farabi's The Best State.
[12] Pléthon: Traité des lois, I 2.
[13] Woodhouse, p. 328 sq.; Traité, I 4, p. 45.
[14] Gennádiosz Szkholáriosz: Petrus Hispanus Mester Logikájából (Greek-Hungarian), ed. György Geréby (Budapest: Jószöveg, 1999), p. 214. Cf. George Karamanolis: "Plethon and Scholarios on Aristotle", in Katerina Ierodiakonou (ed.): Byzantine Philosophy and its Ancient Sources (Oxford: Clarendon, 2002), pp. 253-282.
[15] Arnold Toynbee: The Greeks and their Heritages (Oxford: University Press, 1981), p. 308.
[16] Toynbee, p. 308; Traité, Appendix XV, p. 404; Woodhouse, p. 13.
[17] Janus Pannonius: Poemata (Utrecht: Wild, 1784; reprint Budapest: Balassi, 2002), I, p. 561 (Epigrammatum lib. 1, nr. 236): "Nuper in Elysiis animam dum quaero Platonis, / Marsilio hanc Samius dixit inesse senex."
[18] Traité, p. 28.
[19] A fabulous Thracian singer and priest of Ceres, who brought the Eleusinian mysteries and the culture of the vine to Attica (Lewis and Short).
[20] Traité, pp. 30-32.
[21] Traité, p. 32.
[22] Traité, p. 34.
[23] Traité, p. 2, translation from Woodhouse, p. 322, with alterations.
[24] Traité, p. 30.
[25] Traité, p. 262; cf. Woodhouse, p. 319, who suggests "prudent" and "right-minded" for phronimos.
[26] See Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott: A Greek-English Lexicon, s.v. – Scholarios contraposed sophos and hieros to phronimos in his polemics agains Juvenalios, a pupil of Plethon's, by stating: "Allà sophòs men ouk ên, oudè hierós, phrónimos dé." Oeuvres complètes de Gennade Scholarios, ed. Louis Petit, X. A. Sideridès and Martin Jugie, tome 4, Paris 1935, p. 482, 6-7 (letter to Manuel Raoul Oises).
[27] Plato: Nomoi, 12, 963 e: "aneu de au logou psuchê phronimos te kai noun echousa out' egeneto pôpote".
[28] Plethon: Peri aretôn (De quatuor virtutum justa explicatio), PG 160, 865-882; 865.
[29] PG 160, 880. The virtues are explained as: Theosebeia regards the divine, physike the natural, euboulia the human things.
[30] Shakespeare: The Tempest, Act II, sc. II.
[31] Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni, transl. Sears Jayne (New York: Lang, 1984), II 19, p. 115.
[32] It should be noted at this point that Gianfrancesco Pico, who tended his uncle's legacy, seems to have known only the De differentiis, which he adduced, together with Bessarion and Nicholas of Cusa, in his Examen vanitatis doctrinae Gentilium, book 4, when criticizing Aristotle: Joannes Franciscus Picus Mirandulanus: Opera omnia, (Basel: Henricpetri, 1573; reprint: Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1972), vol. 2, pp. 1025, 1239 sq.
[33] Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: Opera omnia (Basel: Henricpetri, 1572; reprint Turin: Bottega d'Erasmo, 1971), I p. 368 f.: „Diverti nuper ab Aristotele in Academiam, sed non transfuga, ut inquit ille [Themistius], verum explorator. Videor tamen (dicam tibi, Hermolae, quod sentio) duo in Platone agnoscere, et Homericam illam eloquendi facultatem supra prosam orationem sese attollentem, et sensuum, si quis eos altius introspiciat, cum Aristotele omnino communionem, ita ut si verba spectes, nihil pugnantius, si res nihil concordius." Cf. Eugenio Garin: "Introduzione", in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: De hominis dignitate, Heptaplus, De ente et uno e scritti vari, ed. Eugenio Garin (Florence: Vallecchi, 1942), p. 9.
[34] Paul Oskar Kristeller: Supplementum Ficinianum (Florence: Olschki, 1937; reprint 1999), I, pp. CXXVIII and CLVIII. Raymond Marcel: Marsile Ficin (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1958), pp. 504, 507 f. On Lorenzo's personal copy see: Marsilio Ficino e il ritorno di Platone. Mostra, n. 115, pp. 147-149.
[35] Eugenio Garin: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Vita e dottrina (Florence: Le Monnier, 1937), p. 42, says the dedication of De ente et uno to Angelo Poliziano dates 1492, but there Pico speaks in present tense about "Ethica hoc anno publice enarras", and Poliziano started teaching Aristotle's Ethics in 1490-91: Paul F. Grendler: The Universities of the Italian Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), p. 238. Cf. PaoloViti (ed.): Pico, Poliziano e l’Umanesimo de fine Quattrocento, Catalogo (Florence: Olschki, 1994), p. 119.
[36] Ficino, In Parmenidem, cap. 47 (Opera II, 1164): "Utinam ille mirandus iuvenis disputationes, discussionesque superiores diligenter consideravisset, antequam tam confidenter tangeret praeceptorem, ac tam secure contra Platonicorum omnium sententiam divulgasset, et divinum Parmenidem simpliciter esse logicum, et Platonem una cum Aristotele ipsum cum ente unum, et bonum adaequavisse." I partly used the translation in Jill Kraye: "Ficino in the Firing Line: A Renaissance Platonist and His Critics", in: Allen/Rees, pp. 377-397, p. 379.
[37] According to Kristeller, Supplementum, I p. CXX, the Parmenides commentary was begun after November 1492; but Ficino complains that Pico should have read his "disputationes, discussionesque", which in fact appear like independent quaestiones inserted into the commentary; these might have been written beforehand.


Anonymous said...

You write that Scholarios was Plethon's student. However Woodhouse disputes that. What is the source for your claim?

Logico-metaphysicus said...

Very interesting post. I look forward to read the final paper, as it is publiched by Brill. But as far I can see, I cannot agree absolutely with the conclusions of this draft.
Mainly, because the paganism of Plethon was not addressed only to the whole people of Byzantium, who could not understand it, but mostly to a small group of initiates, which called "Theasos" (θίασος). The case of Plethon's student and martyr Juvenalius is very characteristic, and he should belong to this mystic society related to Plethon's philosophy. The question is what happened to this closed circle after Plethon's death.