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Subverting Patronage in Translation:

Flavius Mithridates, Giovanni Pico


della Mirandola, and Gersonides
Commentary on the Song of Songs
Michela Andreatta
Florence 1486
The concept of patronage is, by definition, multifaceted. In the field of
Renaissance studies it has traditionally been used by art historians to define
the munificent commissioning of artistic works by private sponsors seeking
public affirmation and acknowledgement. Since the 1960s, it has also extended
into the field of social history, being used to designate the network of personal
ties of interest and obligation which played a fundamental role in the sociopolitical life of the Renaissance city. More recently, studies in the field of cultural history have challenged the dichotomy implied in the above distinction
between patronage of the arts (mecenatismo) and socio-political patronage (clientelismo), arguing that other forms of patronage, such as literary patronage,
might gain from the application of definitions pertaining to both systems of
values.1 In fact, the Renaissance also saw other forms of partnership, specifically
of the intellectual type, that, while generally referred to as belonging to the
category of cultural patronage, were often structured rather as a patron-client
1
Gary Ianziti, Patronage and the Production of History: The Case of Quattrocento Milan,
in Patronage, Art, and Society in Renaissance Italy, ed. by F.W. Kent and others (Canberra:
Humanities Research Centre; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp.299311.

Michela Andreatta (mandreat@z.rochester.edu) has conducted research in the fields of the


literary and intellectual history of the Italian Jews. She teaches at University of Rochester.
Patronage, Production, and Transmission of Texts in Medieval and Early Modern Jewish Cultures,
ed. by Esperanza Alfonso and Jonathan Decter, MCS 34 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014) pp.165198
PUBLISHERS
10.1484/M.MCS-EB.5.103108
BREPOLS

166 Michela Andreatta

relationship. A number of partnerships between Italian humanists and scholars


of different religious and linguistic traditions, in which the latter were usually
contracted by the former to serve as private teachers or translators, may also be
considered as belonging to this special typology.
The intellectual history of the Renaissance, a period when the humanistic
aspiration to approach the texts of ancient traditions in the original made the
need for experts particularly urgent, displays a few partnerships of this kind.
Besides ancient Greek, competence in Hebrew was particularly sought-after,
hence the prominence of Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity in this form
of patronage. From the Florentine Giannozzo Manetti (13961459) to the
cardinal Domenico Grimani (14611523) in Venice and Egidio of Viterbo
(14691532) in Rome, the Renaissance period numbered several Christian
intellectuals who secured the collaboration of Hebrew scholars, who were
hired as teachers in oriental languages, translators of Hebrew or Arabic works
into Latin, or as tutors in Jewish philosophy or Kabbalah.
While sharing all the attributes that anthropologists and social historians have outlined as characteristic of patronage, especially with reference
to Mediterranean societies,2 the relationship linking the humanists to their
Hebrew associates was marked by some special features. In fact, the inequality
of power or status typical of the patronclient relationship was here complicated by the religious difference between the two parties the Jews representing a tolerated but discriminated minority with the consequent tension it
could engender. Although it rarely resulted in open doctrinal confrontation,
this tension was nevertheless often articulated in the form of apologetic or conversionist dialectics. Moreover, the role of cultural intermediaries played by
Jews and converts in making aspects of the Hebrew tradition accessible to the
humanists could itself undermine from within the political order that usually
governed the patronclient relationship. Indeed, the exclusive access to Jewish
sources held by these scholars gave them immense power over their protectors, who were usually unfamiliar with either Hebrew or the Jewish tradition,
and consequently unable to orient themselves in these fields without the guidance of an expert. In particular, by selecting, filtering, and in some cases even
manipulating the materials they put at their patrons disposal, Jewish scholars
and converts were in fact subverting the usual system of values and behaviour
2

On this, see Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies, ed. by Ernest Geller and John
Waterbury (London: Duckworth; Hanover, NH: The Center for Mediterranean Studies of the
American Universities Field Staff, 1977).

Subverting Patronage in Translation

167

expected within the frame of patronage, in some cases exploiting the inexperience of their protectors, in other cases fostering their specific intellectual inclinations, and eventually shaping their opinions in matters of Judaism and Jewish
texts. In doing so, these experts actually played a crucial role in the Renaissance
rediscovery of Hebrew as well as in the process of acceptance and integration of
Jewish texts into the eclectic mosaic of sources that the humanists were putting
together as prisca veritas.
The instance of the humanist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (146394) and
his Hebrew associate Flavius Mithridates (c.1445post 1491)3 provides a typical case in point. Probably one of the most famous and intriguing Renaissance
examples of intellectual association between a humanist and a scholar of Jewish
descent, the partnership of Pico and Mithridates was first of all a relationship
between a patron and his protg. When they started to work together, the
voracious and all-encompassing intellectual interests of the Florentine scholar
could already count on economic affluence, allowing travel, the purchasing of
books and manuscripts, and the hiring of teachers and experts in various disciplines. A former Jew and now a churchman, Mithridates could justifiably boast
of uncommon competence in the oriental languages deriving from his early
years in Sicily, combined with the theological and doctrinal preparation that
he had acquired later as a Christian. Among his former patrons were Federico,
Duke of Montefeltro, for whom he had translated an astrological work and two
Qurnic surahs from Arabic into Latin, between 1481 and 1482,4 and the pow3
Born in the Sicilian town of Caltabellotta, near Agrigento, under the Jewish name of
Samuel Ab al-Faraj, he converted to Christianity in the 1460s, adopting the name of Gulielmus
Raimundus Moncada after his baptismal godfathers name. After his conversion he undertook
an ecclesiastical career. In the course of his public activity he assumed several different literary
pseudonyms, the most frequent one also during the period of his collaboration with Pico
being Flavius Mithridates, probably an allusion to the Roman Jewish historian Flavius Josephus
and to MithridatesVI Eupator, King of Pontus, who according to tradition was able to speak
twenty-two languages. An ample literature has been devoted to this still puzzling figure of
Jewish convert and early Orientalist, on which see Michela Andreatta and Saverio Campanini,
Bibliographia Mithridatica, in Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada alias Flavio Mitridate: Un
ebreo converso siciliano; Atti del convegno internazionale, Caltabellotta, 2324 ottobre 2004,
ed. by Mauro Perani (Palermo: Officina di Studi Medievali, 2008), pp.24157; Bibliographia
MithridaticaII, in Flavio Mitridate mediatore fra culture nel contesto dellebraismo siciliano del
xv secolo: Atti del II congresso internazionale, Caltabellotta (Agrigento), 30 giugno1 luglio 2008,
ed. by Mauro Perani and Giacomo Corazzol (Palermo: Officina di Studi Medievali, 2012),
pp.289317.
4

On this see Angelo M. Piemontese, Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada alla corte di Urbino,
in Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada, ed. by Perani, pp.15171; Hartmut Bobzin, Guglielmo

168 Michela Andreatta

erful cardinal Giovanni Battista Cybo. The latter had introduced him into the
ecclesiastical circles in Rome, and probably sponsored him when he preached
his Christological homily entitled Sermo de Passione Domini in front of Pope
SixtusIV and the College of Cardinals on Good Friday 1481.5
Though Mithridates probably joined Picos entourage prior to 1486, it was
around this time that he officially took up the position of personal tutor in the
oriental languages and translator in the service of the young humanist. At that
time, Mithridates was about forty years old. He had just returned from a period
spent beyond the Alps, in Germany, where he had successfully taught Greek and
oriental languages in several universities.6 Old offences, whose details remain
unclear but that in 1483 had forced him to flee hastily from the Italian Peninsula,
the fact that he made no secret of his pederasty, and his proneness to irascibility
did not bar him from being accepted into the humanistic circles. Apparently,
Mithridates fame and scholarly achievements were sufficient to assure him the
favour of the Florentine scholars gravitating around the Accademia Platonica,
and to overcome reservations posed by common social morality.
In 1486, Pico was twenty-three years old. He was emerging from a period
of intense philosophical studies, during which he had made the traditional perRaimondo Moncada e la sua traduzione della sura 21 (dei profeti), in Guglielmo Raimondo
Moncada, ed. by Perani, pp.17383. On the BAV [Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana], MS Urb.
Lat. 1384 in which the translations are extant, see Fabrizio Lelli, Pico tra filosofia ebraica e
Qabbala, in Pico, Poliziano e lUmanesimo di fine quattrocento: Catalogo della mostra allestita
presso la Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, 4 novembre31 dicembre 1994, ed. by Paolo Viti
(Florence: Olschki, 1994), pp.20406, no.71, and the bibliography there indicated. In the
capacity of expert of Arabic, Mithridates also worked at the Vatican Library, where he was in
charge of the description of the collection of oriental manuscripts. On this, see Giorgio Levi
della Vida, Ricerche sulla formazione del pi antico fondo dei manoscritti orientali della Biblioteca
Vaticana (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1939), pp.9497.
5
On the homily see Flavius Mithridates, Sermo de passione Domini, ed. by Chaim
Wirszubski ( Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1963), esp. the
introduction, pp.1176.
6
On this see Gustav Bauch, Die Einfhrung des Hebrischen in Wittenberg, Monatsschrift
fr Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, 48 (1904), 7786 (p.79); Umberto Cassuto,
Wer war der Orientalist Mithridates?, Zeitschrift fr die Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland,
5 (1934), 23036 (p.235); Franois Secret, Pico della Mirandola e gli inizi della cabala
cristiana, Convivium, 25 (1957), 3147 (p.37); Mithridates, Sermo de passione Domini, ed. by
Wirszbuski, pp.6672; Karl Hartfelder, Unedierte Briefe von Rudolf Agricola: Ein Beitrag zur
Geschichte des Humanismus, in Festschrift der Badischen Gymnasien gewidmet der Universitt
Heidelberg zur Feier ihres 500 jhrigen Jubilums (Karlsruhe: Braunsche, 1886), pp.136 (esp.
p.32).

Subverting Patronage in Translation

169

egrinatio studiorum, attending the main centres of Scholasticism in Italy, and


then the Parisian Studium. Since the early 1480s, he had been working with
the most prominent representative of Jewish Averroism in Italy, the physician
Elijah Delmedigo (c.146097), whom he had met while in Padua.7 Upon his
return to Florence, he started to study under the guidance of Marsilio Ficino
(143399) and at the same time to work on an ambitious project of harmonizing the different philosophical schools in accordance with the contents of the
Christian faith, to be structured as a set of theses that he intended to debate
publicly, the Conclusiones Nongentae (Nine Hundred Theses). For this reason,
he was eager to read the works of the Jewish tradition in the original and in
translation and sought collaborators who, besides being competent in the field
of the oriental languages, also had a solid doctrinal preparation. He was particularly anxious to explore the works of Kabbalah, the esoteric Jewish tradition, to which he had been summarily introduced by Delmedigo. The Jewish
philosopher was apparently unwilling to treat that topic in a more thorough
form, though in one of his epistles to the young humanist he had supplied him
with a list of Hebrew authors of Kabbalah and even promised him a copy of the
Commentary on the Pentateuch by Menahem ben Benjamin Recanati, an Italian
Kabbalist who had been active between the thirteenth and fourteenth centu7

On the figure of this Jewish intellectual and on his relationship with Pico see Umberto
Cassuto, Gli ebrei a Firenze nellet del Rinascimento (Florence: Galletti e Cocci, 1918; repr.
Florence: Olschki, 1965), pp.28299; David Geffen, Insights into the Life and Thought of Elijah
Del Medigo Based on His Published and Unpublished Works, American Academy for Jewish
Research, 4142 (197374), 6286; Kalman P. Bland, Elijah del Medigos Averroist Response to
the Kabbalahs of Fifteenth-Century Jewry and Pico della Mirandola, The Journal of Jewish Thought
& Philosophy, 1 (1991), 2353; Alberto Bartla, Elia del Medigo, in Dizionario biografico degli
italiani, directed by Alberto M. Ghisalberti (Roma: Istituto dellEnciclopedia Italiana, 1925),
xxxviii (1990), 11721, and Eliyahu Del Medigo e Pico della Mirandola: La testimonianza dei
Codici Vaticani, Rinascimento, 33 (1993), 25378; Edward P. Mahoney, Pico della Mirandola
and Elia del Medigo, Nicoletto Vernia and Agostino Nifo, in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola:
Convegno internazionale di studi nel cinquecentesimo anniversario della morte (14941994),
Mirandola, 48 ottobre 1994, ed. by Gian Carlo Garfagnini, 2 vols (Florence: Olschki, 1997),
i, 12738; Harvey Hames, Elijah Delmedigo: An Archetype of the Halakhic Man?, in Cultural
Intermediaries: Jewish Intellectuals in Early Modern Italy, ed. by David B. Ruderman and Giuseppe
Veltri (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), pp.3954. On Delmedigos
activity as a translator see also Giuliano Tamani, Traduzioni ebraico-latine di opere filosofiche
e scientifiche, in LHbreu au temps de la Renaissance, ed. by Ilana Zinguer (Leiden: Brill, 1992),
pp.10514 (esp. p.106 and no.8); Averroes, Parafrasi della Repubblica nella traduzione latina di
Elia del Medigo, ed. by Annalisa Coviello and Paolo E. Fornaciari (Florence: Olschki, 1992); Lelli,
Pico tra filosofia ebraica e Qabbala, pp.193223, nos6670.

170 Michela Andreatta

ries.8 Both Delmedigo and Mithridates were linked to the Florentine circles
and were acquainted with each other, as demonstrated by their participation
in a theological debate held at Picos house in which the two confronted each
other concerning the meaning of biblical prophecies and the Messianic nature
of Jesus, traditional topics of Christian-Jewish polemics.9 It is likely that, as a
consequence of Delmedigos reluctance to teach him Kabbalah, Pico resolved
to turn to Mithridates in order to be initiated into the study of Jewish mystical lore, finding in the Sicilian a scholar willing to accommodate his special
requests and in need of the social rehabilitation that a patron like Pico might
provide him. By an ironic twist of fate, Recanatis Commentary, turned into
Hebrew by Mithridates, would later become one of the principal Jewish sources
for the first of the two sets of Kabbalistic theses that Pico included in his
Conclusiones Nongentae.10
8

The letter, preserved at Paris, Bibliothque nationale de France (BnF), MS Lat. 6508,
has been partly edited by Jules Dukas, Recherches sur lhistoire littraire du quinzime sicle
(Paris: L. Techener, 1876; repr. Genve: Slatkine, 1978), and further by Garin (G. Pico della
Mirandola, De hominis dignitate, Heptaplus, De ente et uno e scritti vari, ed. by Eugenio Garin
[Florence: Vallecchi: 1942; repr. Turin: Nino Aragno, 2004], pp.6772). The full text of
the letter is included in Bohdan Kieszkowski, Les rapports entre Elie del Medigo et Pic de la
Mirandole (daprs le MS Lat. 6508 de la Bibliothque nationale de France), Rinascimento, 15
(1964), 4191 (pp.6375). On this episode see Giulio Busi, Who Does not Wonder at this
Chameleon? The Kabbalistic Library of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, in Hebrew to Latin,
Latin to Hebrew: The Mirroring of Two Cultures in the Age of Humanism; Colloquium Held at
the Warburg Institute (London, October 1819, 2004), ed. by Giulio Busi (Berlin: Nino Aragno,
2006), pp.16796.
9
A third participant was a Jewish physician named Abraam. According to Ficinos testi
mony, the stubborn resistance of the two Jews, both followers of Aristotelian philosophy, was
defeated by Mithridates use of arguments taken from Platonism (Marsilio Ficino, Opera omnia,
ed. by Paul Oskar Kristeller, 2 vols [Basel: Ex officina Henricpetrina, 1576; facs. edn, Turin:
Bottega dErasmo, 1983], i, part2, p.873). On Ficinos testimony and for the identification of
the personalities involved in the debate, see Joseph Perles, Les savants juifs Florence lpoque
de Laurent de Mdicis, Revue des tudes juives, 12 (1886), 24457 (pp.25152); David B.
Rudermann, The World of a Renaissance Jew: The Life and Thought of Abraham ben Mordecai
Farissol (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1981), pp.4043.
10
That is, the Conclusiones Cabalisticae numero .XLVII secundum secretam doctrinam
sapientium Hebraeorum Cabalistarum and the Conclusiones Cabalisticae numero .LXXI
secundum opinionem propriam. On this, see Syncretism in the West: Picos 900 Theses (1486);
The Evolution of Traditional Religious and Philosophical Systems, ed. by Stephen A. Farmer,
Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 167 (Tempe, AZ: Medieval and Renaissance Texts
and Studies, 1998), pp.34463, 51653; Chaim Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandolas Encounter
with Jewish Mysticism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp.1952. The

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171

Over the span of about a year, between the early months of 1486 and late
autumn, Mithridates introduced Pico to the study of Hebrew, Arabic, and
possibly Aramaic11 and at his demand also translated more than forty Hebrew
works into Latin, most of them Kabbalistic in content.12 In these months of fremanuscript containing Mithridates translation of Menahem Recanatis Commentary has not
been preserved, but a few passages copied from it have been discovered recently in the MS A.IX.
29 (fols 117v124v), held at the University Library in Genoa. The copy was drafted by Pier Leone
of Spoleto, Lorenzo de Medicis personal physician. On this, see Franco Bacchelli, Giovanni
Pico e Pier Leone da Spoleto: Tra filosofia dellamore e tradizione cabalistica (Florence: Olschki,
2001), pp.4, 8994. On Recanatis theories and his place in the history of Italian Kabbala, see
Moshe Idel, Kabbalah in Italy (12801510): A Survey (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,
2011), pp.10637.
11
Though Picos knowledge of Arabic likely never reached beyond the elementary level,
thanks to Mithridates he was able to access the Islamic tradition, as proved by the contents
of BAV, MS Ebr. 357 (fols51r156r), in which the Arabic text (in Hebrew letters) of the
Qurn and an interlinear Latin translation by Mithridates are preserved. Marginal annotations
in Mithridates and Picos hands demonstrate that the two studied the text together. On this,
see Angelo M. Piemontese, Il Corano latino di Ficino e i corani arabi di Pico e Monchates,
Rinascimento, 36 (1996), 22773 (pp.25864), and Codici giudeoarabi di Sicilia, in Ebrei
e Sicilia, ed. by Niccol Bucaria and others (Palermo: Flaccovio, 2002), pp.17983; Benot
Grvin, Le Coran de Mithridate: Connaissance de larabe, exgse coranique et controverse
religieuse dans lItalie de la fin du xe sicle daprs les annotations interlinaires et marginales
latines, arabes, aramennes et hbraques du manuscrit Vat. Hebr. 357, 2 vols (mmoire indit
de lEcole franaise de Rome, Section dhistoire mdivale, 129, 12, 2006), and Un tmoin
majeur du rle des communauts juives de Sicile dans la prservation et la diffusion en Italie
dun savoir sur larabe et lIslam au xve sicle: Les notes interlinaires et marginales du Coran de
Mithridate (MS Vat. Hebr. 357), in Chrtiens, juifs et musulmans dans la mditerrane mdivale:
tudes en hommage Henri Bresc, ed. by Benot Grvin and others (Paris: De Boccard, 2008),
pp.4556. On the controversial meaning of Picos reference to the Chaldean language (lingua
Chaldaica) and the possibility that Mithridates imparted to him the rudiments of Aramaic too,
see Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, pp.24144 and Syncretism in the West, ed. by
Farmer, p.3.
12
The Hebrew-Latin translations that Mithridates made for Pico represent the most
significant part of his work as a translator and expert in oriental languages. The bulk of them
are still preserved in five manuscripts, all at the Vatican Library, namely the BAV, MSS Ebr.
18991, BAV, MS Chigi A. VI 190, and the BAV, MS Lat. 4273. As a whole they amount to
about 1500 pages in folio, a figure that provides only an approximate estimation of Mithridates
work, since not all of his translations have been preserved. On the manuscripts and their
contents, see Mithridates, Sermo de passione Domini, ed. by Wirszubski, pp.4965; Wirszubski,
Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, 1018; Saverio Campanini, Pici Mirandulensis Bibliotheca
Cabbalistica Latina: Sulle traduzioni latine di opere cabbalistiche eseguite da Flavio Mitridate
per Pico della Mirandola, Materia giudaica, 8 (2002), 9095, and Guglielmo Raimondo
Moncada (alias Mitridate) traduttore di opere cabbalistiche, in Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada,

172 Michela Andreatta

netic activity, he developed with his patron a complex relationship in which it is


very hard to distinguish between intellectual and personal motivations, so close
is the identification in his personality between scholarly expertise and professional expediency. A few incidents, suggestive of Mithridates jealous and possessive nature, support the impression that he cunningly developed ties of reciprocal dependence between himself and Pico. In a letter to an anonymous friend,
Pico recounts how Mithridates refused to teach him Aramaic until he promised
under oath that he would not impart that language to anyone else. As a further
corroboration of his teachers doggedness, he reports in the same place how one
day Mithridates left in a fury when Picos friend Girolamo Benivieni inadvertently entered the room where they were studying together.13 Undoubtedly, by
fostering the feeling of exclusivity in his relation to Pico, Mithridates sought
to cement further the ties between them; besides, his attitude was perfectly in
tune with the esoteric aura of the teachings that he was imparting to Pico, a
circumstance of which the Sicilian must have been well aware.
ed. by Perani, pp.4988; Ida Zatelli and others, Pico: La cultura biblica e la tradizione
rabbinica, in Pico, Poliziano e lUmanesimo, ed. by Viti, pp.17072, no.57; Lelli, Pico tra
filosofia ebraica e Qabbala, pp.20411, nos7174. As Mithridates translations represent the
most tangible evidence of his collaboration with Pico, their study is crucial for understanding
the intellectual relationship between the two and in order to assess the role that the convert
played in the formation of his patrons opinions, especially in the field of Kabbalah. The
acknowledged role played by Mithridates in making available the works of the Jewish mystical
tradition for Pico has led to the establishment of the project The Kabbalistic Library of Pico
della Mirandola, jointly conducted by the Freie Universitt in Berlin and the Istituto Nazionale
di Studi sul Rinascimento in Florence. The project is aimed at editing, studying, and publishing
all Mithridates Latin translations of Kabbalistic works. This operation is necessary in order to
complete the identification of the Jewish authors and texts that Pico used in his writings, as
well as to understand his otherwise puzzling use of Hebrew sources. The project has thus far led
to the publication of the following editions: The Great Parchment: Flavius Mithridates Latin
Translation, the Hebrew Text, and an English Version, ed. by Giulio Busi and others (Turin: Nino
Aragno, 2004); The Book of Bahir: Flavius Mithridates Latin Translation, the Hebrew Text,
and an English Version, ed. by Saverio Campanini (Turin: Nino Aragno, 2005); Commentary
on the Daily Prayers: Flavius Mithridates Latin Translation, the Hebrew Text, and an English
Version, ed. by Giacomo Corazzol (Turin: Nino Aragno, 2008); Yosef Giqatilla, The Book of
Punctuation: Flavius Mithridates Latin Translation, the Hebrew Text, and an English Version,
ed. by Annett Martini (Turin: Nino Aragno, 2010); The Gate of Heaven: Flavius Mithridates
Latin Translation, the Hebrew Text, and an English Version, ed. by Giulio Busi and others
(Turin: Nino Aragno, 2012).
13

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Gian Francesco Pico, Opera omnia (15571573), 2
vols (Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1557; facs. repr. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969), i, 38586. On
this episode see also Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, 73.

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173

Other elements seem to indicate that Mithridates ties to Pico were of a


rather unconventional kind, consequently resisting the traditional connotations of patronage. In fact, the famous definition of patron later to be coined by
Samuel Johnson (commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid
with flattery)14 could hardly be applicable in this case. Proud of his knowledge,
Mithridates acquiesced to Picos demands, although not without discontent,
a feeling that he did not hesitate to express by means of poignant and sometimes disrespectful remarks inserted into marginal annotations left on the same
manuscripts in which his translations are preserved. In these annotations he
could remind Pico that he was due his pay, or advance requests and conditions
(on a few occasions instruction is conditional upon the arrival of a handsome
boy). Also, he could mock Pico for failing to understand a certain passage without his help, or for having a love affair with a woman Margherita, the wife
of a member of the Medici family, whom Pico tried unsuccessfully to abduct,
apparently with her consent, in May 1486.15 At times incompliant and demanding, Mithridates also knew how to be flattering and obliging, always wishing
to impress his patron with his knowledge. Apparently, his bargaining position
was quite strong. As emerges in a famous letter by Pico to Ficino, dating to
September 1486, the young humanist was particularly proud of the amazingly
rapid progress that he had been making in Hebrew over the previous month,
something that he intended to replicate also with Arabic and Aramaic.16 In
another place, when referring to the study of oriental languages as an indispensable tool for the understanding of Hebrew and Arabic sacred traditions, he
mentioned that he was studying them under Mithridates guidance, defining
him as a very skilful translator of those languages (harum linguarum interprete
peritissimo).17
14

A Dictionary of the English Language, ed. by Samuel Johnson, 6th edn, 2 vols (London:
J.F. and C. Rivington, 1785), s.v. patron.
15
On this see Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, pp.1517, 7273; The Book of
Bahir, ed. by Campanini, pp.6162.
16
Pico della Mirandola and Pico, Opera omnia, i, 367; Supplementum Ficinianum, ed. by
Paul O. Kristeller, 2 vols (Florence: Olschki, 1937), ii, 27273.
17
The passage is included in Picos first draft of his Oratio de hominis dignitate, discovered
by Eugenio Garin in the MS Palat. Lat. 885 of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence.
On this see, Eugenio Garin, La cultura filosofica del Rinascimento italiano: Ricerche e documenti
(Florence: Sansoni, 1961), pp.23839; Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man,
ed. by Francesco Borghesi and others (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p.201,
n.215.

174 Michela Andreatta

The fact that Mithridates considered himself indispensable and wanted Pico
to think so is supported by plentiful evidence. Indeed, at least at this stage,
Picos knowledge of Hebrew, although probably greater than that of most of his
contemporaries, was as yet insufficient to enable him to approach Kabbalistic
texts in the original without the help of an expert. In this respect, Mithridates
played a fundamental role in making available the works of the Jewish mystical tradition to his patron, and it is unlikely that the Florentine would have
been able to use Jewish sources in his early works, and particularly in his
Conclusiones Nongentae, were it not for Mithridates help. Indeed, the pioneering studies conducted by the late Chaim Wirszubski have demonstrated
convincingly that several motifs and symbols illustrated by Pico in the two
series of his Kabbalistic theses were mostly derived from Mithridates translations. Although his conclusions were based only on a partial examination of
the manuscripts containing Mithridates Latin renditions, Wirszubski for the
first time raised the question of the translational interventions made by the
convert on the texts that he was making available for his patron as a key element in understanding Picos use of Hebrew sources in his own works.18 In fact,
though knowledgeable in Jewish traditional texts and competent in Hebrew,
Mithridates was not an impartial translator. In terms of technique, his Latin
renditions generally stick to the traditional principle of literality that was still
prevailing, even among the humanists, for the translation of works of theological or doctrinal nature, and in general in translations meant for personal study.
Nevertheless, when compared to the Hebrew originals, they display significant
differences, affecting not only the semantic, but also the cultural and ultimately
ideological domain of the text. Ironically, Mithridates interventions in translation, whether changes, interpolations, or omissions, proved to have a crucial
influence on his patron, to the extent that he can be reasonably acknowledged

18
Wirszubski devoted a few essays in Hebrew and English to Picos Hebrew studies, later
partly incorporated into his posthumous book Pico della Mirandolas Encounter with Jewish
Mysticism, among which the most significant are the following: Three Chapters in the History of
Christian Kabbalah [in Hebrew] ( Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute, 1975), A Christian Kabbalist
Reads the Law [in Hebrew] ( Jerusalem: The Bialik Institute, 1978), and Giovanni Picos
Companion to Kabbalistic Symbolism, in Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom
G. Scholem, ed. by Efraim Urbach ( Jerusalem: The Magnes Press / The Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, 1967), pp.35362 (all these articles are reproduced in Between the Lines: Kabbalah,
Christian Kabbalah and Sabbatianism [in Hebrew], ed. by Moshe Idel [ Jerusalem: The Magnes
Press / The Hebrew University, 1990]).

Subverting Patronage in Translation

175

not only as the co-author of much of Picos interpretation of Judaism, but even
as his forerunner in Christian Kabbalism.19
One of Mithridates Latin renditions that afford an excellent opportunity for outlining his crucial role in filtering and manipulating the sources he
was making available for Pico is represented by the translation of Gersonides
Commentary on the Song of Songs. Still extant in a manuscript held at the
Vatican Library (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana [BAV], MS Lat.
4273, fols5r54r), this work is one of the few Hebrew works of a philosophical
nature that Mithridates translated for his patron.20 The author, known within
Jewish tradition as Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides, 12881344), was a philosopher, astronomer, and biblical commentator, and one of the leading Jewish
intellectuals of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Provence.21 The rest of this
essay will be devoted to a discussion of Mithridates translation in light of the
special dynamics governing the relation between the translator and his patron,
particularly showing how Picos requests clearly conditioned the work of his
Hebrew associate, and how in turn the intellectual tendencies and prepossessions of the latter came to affect dramatically Picos reception of Gersonides
Commentary.

19

On this see Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, pp.16184, and Giovanni
Picos Companion.
20
The manuscript contains also two other translations by Mithridates, respectively
the Hebrew into Latin translation of Maimonides Iggeret teiyyat ha-metim (Epistle on
Resurrection; the work, originally written in Arabic had been translated into Hebrew by
Samuel ibn Tibbon) (fols 59r77r), and a short text entitled Vuil harabice prohemii per
Mithridatem traductio (fols 1r2r), evidence of a planned Latin translation of the Arabic
version of the Pentateuch that was subsequently aborted. For a description of the manuscript
and a discussion of its supposedly autographical nature, see Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides),
Commento al Cantico dei Cantici nella traduzione ebraicolatina di Flavio Mitridate: Edizione e
commento del ms. Vat. Lat. 4273 (cc.5r54r), ed. by Michela Andreatta (Florence: L.S. Olschki,
2009), pp.9395; cf. also Ida Zatelli, Pico: La cultura biblica e la tradizione rabbinica, in Pico,
Poliziano e lUmanesimo, ed. by Viti, pp.15991 (esp. p.170, no.57).
21
This is not the place to give a full bibliographical reference on this well known and studied
figure. On Gersonides life, thought, and works see the classical monograph by Charles Touati,
La Pense philosophique et thologique de Gersonide (Paris: Les ditions du minuit, 1973); see
also the bibliographical references included in the following studies: Gad Freudenthal, Studies
on Gersonides: A Fourteenth-Century Jewish Philosopher-Scientist (Leiden: Brill, 1992); Gilbert
Dahan, Gersonide en son temps: Science et philosophie mdivales (Louvain: Peeters, 1991); Les
Mthodes de travail de Gersonide et le maniement du savoir chez les scolastiques, ed. by Colette
Sirat and others (Paris: Vrin, 2003).

176 Michela Andreatta

A Gersonidean Reader
Unlike other manuscripts in which Mithridates translations are preserved, the
BAV, MS Lat. 4273 does not display any feature, such as marginal notes, of
use in establishing its chronology more precisely. Nevertheless, the philosophical nature of Gersonides Commentary suggests that Mithridates was probably
commissioned for this translation at the very beginning of his collaboration
with Pico, before the latters interests would concentrate on Kabbalah. An
early collocation of this translation is also corroborated by the presence of a
few motifs drawn from Gersonides Commentary in the Commento sopra una
Canzona damore (Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni), Picos Neo-Platonic
treatise on love, on whose composition the humanist had already begun to
work in 1485, that is shortly before his collaboration with Mithridates started.
In the Hebrew original, Gersonides Commentary on the Song of Songs is an
epistemological treatise, in which the author illustrates the philosophical basis
of the so-called felicitas (in Hebrew halaah), described as that condition of
intellectual perfection which is the ultimate goal of theoretical speculation, and
which the human being can reach only after a long and demanding process of
moral and conceptual perfectioning.22 According to Gersonides, this speculative path, organized into mathematics, physics and metaphysics, is represented
allegorically in the Song of Songs: the literal meaning of the text, describing a
dialogue between two physical lovers, alludes at a deeper level to the process
of theoretical perfection, at the end of which the intellect is ready to receive
the emanation from the active intellect, and, once it has received the intelligibles, to become acquired intellect. Accordingly, in the Commentary the images
and characters of the biblical book are interpreted as allegories of the cognitive
process and the subjects it involves, namely the material intellect, the acquired
intellect, the active intellect, and the active and passive faculties of the soul.
In light of the nature of Gersonides Commentary on the Song of Songs, why
would Pico be interested in commissioning its translation? There are different
reasons, the first being the cultural congeniality of Peripateticism.23 In fact, Picos
22

For a thorough analysis of the contents of this work, see the introduction by Menachem
Kellner to his edition of the Hebrew text: Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides), Commentary on
Song of Songs [in Hebrew], ed. by Menachem Kellner (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University Press,
2001), pp.947. See also the introduction by the same scholar to his English translation of
the same work: Gersonides, Commentary on Song of Songs, trans. by Menachem Kellner (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), pp.xvxxxi.
23
On this see Bruno Nardi, La mistica averroistica e Pico della Mirandola, in Saggi

Subverting Patronage in Translation

177

writings contain ample evidence of his profound interest in Aristotelianism, a


circumstance also confirmed by the significant number of works by Scholastic
authors included in his library,24 as well as by his collaboration with the above
mentioned Delmedigo. Indeed, from Delmedigo Pico had commissioned the
composition of two pamphlets (quaestiones) devoted to a discussion of the
material intellect and the possibility of a union between the human intellect
and the abstract intellect in Averroistic terms.25 This same idea, representing
the core of the Averroistic concept of felicitas, also underlay Gersonides allegorical treatment of the Song of Songs. The fact that Gersonides exegesis met
Picos intellectual demands is confirmed by the presence in his library of other
works by the Provenal philosopher.26 Moreover, according to the two inventories that were compiled after Picos death, it emerges that he owned Gersonides
Commentary on the Song of Songs in the Hebrew original in a manuscript that
contained also other biblical commentaries by Gersonides.27
We do not know who introduced Pico to Gersonides exegesis. It is likely
that he first heard of the Provenal philosopher from Delmedigo, with whom,
as we have seen, he was still in contact when he started his collaboration with
Mithridates. It is likewise possible that the presence of works by Gersonides in
sullaristotelismo padovano: Dal secolo xiv al xvi, ed. by Bruno Nardi (Florence: Sansoni, 1958),
pp.12746, and Avery Dulles, Princeps Concordiae: Pico Della Mirandola and the Scholastic
Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1941), pp.2564, 129130.
24
On this see Pearl Kibre, The Library of Pico della Mirandola (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1966), pp.7883.
25
Delmedigos Hebrew version of the lost Latin original of the pamphlets is preserved in
Paris, BnF, MS Hbr. 968, fols79r177r. On this see Cassuto, Gli ebrei a Firenze, p.285, no.4,
and Kalman P. Bland, Elijah del Medigo, Unicity of the Intellect and Immortality, Proceedings
of the American Academy for Jewish Research, 61 (1995), 122.
26
Picos library, one of the largest and most celebrated of the Renaissance period, included
six more works by Gersonides, namely the Commentary on the Torah according to the incunabula
edition printed in Mantua in 147475, the Commentary on Job, the Commentary on Proverbs,
the super-commentary on Averroes middle commentary on Aristotles Physics, a work of logic,
possibly to be identified with the Sefer ha-hekkesh ha-yashar, and finally the astronomical tractate
Sefer ha-tekhunah. On the Hebrew works included in Picos library, see Giuliano Tamani, I
libri ebraici di Pico della Mirandola, in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, ed. by Garfagnini, ii,
491530 (on Gersonides works see particularly nos15, 30, 32, 34, 66, 77, 97). Gersonides
Commentary on Job was also one of the works that Pico studied under Mithridates guidance.
On this, see Chaim Wirszubski, Picos Book of Job, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld
Institutes, 32 (1969), 17199.
27
Tamani, I libri ebraici di Pico della Mirandola, no.30.

178 Michela Andreatta

Picos library reflected suggestions that came to him from either Delmedigo or
Mithridates, since the hiring of teachers and learned collaborators and the purchase of books of the different traditions seem to have been conducted by Pico
in concert, and actually represented two intertwined aspects of his activity as
a patron. A few other circumstances seem to indicate that Picos desire to read
Gersonides Commentary on the Song of Songs, and the consequent request for a
Latin translation of it, may have been aroused by suggestions coming from one
of his Hebrew associates. At that time the humanist was working on the above
mentioned Commento sopra una Canzona de amore, and to this end he was
eager to know the Jewish exegesis pertaining to the biblical book in which love
is treated.28 The general meaning of Gersonides interpretation although his
argumentation was conducted more at the gnoseological and epistemological
levels than the theological was nevertheless susceptible to being read in light
of the philosophy of love,29 thus serving the Neo-Platonist interpretation of
human love as amor Dei intellectualis (the intellectual love of God), a theory
that Pico illustrates in his exposition of Benivienis Canzona. Thus it is likely
that Pico asked either Delmedigo or Mithridates to introduce him to allegorical Jewish interpretations of the Song of Songs, and that one of the two sug28

On this, see Gersonides, Commento al Cantico dei Cantici, ed. by Andreatta, pp.3134.
As a matter of fact, in his Commento sopra una Canzona de amore Pico declared his intention to
write his own exposition of the Song of Songs, having found all the interpretations he was familiar
with unsatisfactory. Later on, he was to ask the Jewish philosopher Yoanan Alemanno, with
whom he came into contact around 1489, for a commentary on the biblical book, revealing the
hidden meaning of its allegories. On this, see Arthur M. Lesley, The Song of Solomons Ascents by
Yoanan Alemanno: Love and Human Perfection According to a Jewish Colleague of Giovanni
Pico della Mirandola (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1976),
pp.2729, 33335; B. C. Novak, Pico della Mirandola and Jochanan Alemanno, Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 45 (1982), 12547; Fabrizio Lelli, Yohanan Alemanno, Pico
della Mirandola e la cultura ebraica italiana del xv secolo, in Giovanni Pico della Mirandola,
ed. by Garfagnini, i, 30325; Umanesimo laurenziano nellopera di Yohanan Alemanno, in
La cultura ebraica allepoca di Lorenzo il Magnifico: Celebrazioni del V centenario della morte
di Lorenzo il Magnifico; Convegno di studio, Fiesole, Accademia Toscana di Scienze e Lettere La
Colombaria, 29 novembre 1992, ed. by Dora L. Bemporad and Ida Zatelli (Florence: Olschki,
1998), pp.4967, and Un collaboratore ebreo di Pico della Mirandola: Yohanan Alemanno,
Vivens Homo, 5 (1994), 40130; Idel, Kabbalah in Italy (12801510), pp.17791. See also
the introduction to the volume Yoanan Alemanno, ay ha-olamim (Limmortale). Parte 1: La
Retorica, ed. by Fabrizio Lelli (Florence: Olschki, 1995), pp.355.
29
On this, see Seymour Feldman, Platonic Themes in Gersonides Doctrine of the Active
Intellect, in Neoplatonism and Jewish Thought, ed. by Lenn E. Goodman (Albany, NY: State
University of New York Press, 1992), pp.25577 (esp. pp.25556, 26364).

Subverting Patronage in Translation

179

gested reading Gersonides Commentary and possibly even supplied him with
the Hebrew version of the work. Such a reconstruction is supported by the fact
that, as we have mentioned, a few motifs that Pico learned from Mithridates
translation of Gersonides Commentary eventually entered his Commento sopra
una Canzona de amore.30 Ironically, most of those motifs, as we shall see in the
following, do not reflect Gersonides original interpretation; rather, they all
depend upon translational interventions by Mithridates.

Gersonides iuxta Mithridatem


One of the most remarkable features of Mithridates Latin renditions, and a
constant of his work as a translator, is the large number of interpolations
inserted in the form of glosses into his translations. Ostensibly meant to elucidate the meaning of specific words or passages of the translated text, these
interpolations in fact often represent self-contained expositions that integrate
or comment upon the authors original argumentation. These interventions are
undoubtedly indicative of a certain degree of intellectual complacency; nevertheless, as they reflect Mithridates assumptions and inclinations, they are
also extremely informative as to the range of his competence, and more generally to his opinions on matters of Judaism. The Latin version of Gersonides
Commentary on the Song of Songs displays a wide range of such interventions,
with interpolated glosses of various kinds, from grammatical and rhetorical
remarks these very likely complementing the notions he was imparting to
Pico in the Hebrew language to philosophical, mathematical, geographical,
and even botanical observations. Well-integrated in the general context of the
exposition, these interpolations would hardly be detectable without comparing
the Latin text with the original Hebrew, even when they take the form of small
excurses. They certainly reveal Mithridates tendency for diffuseness, but also
clearly indicate how his translations were carefully tailored to meet the intellectual interests of his patron and intended reader.
In this respect, it hardly seems fortuitous that Mithridates translation of
Gersonides Commentary also includes a conspicuous number of interpolations
of a Kabbalistic nature, that on closer examination appear rather incongruous with Gersonides explication of the Song of Songs, which, as we have seen,
is quintessentially philosophical. One of the most conspicuous and frequent
interventions of this kind is represented by the insertion of references to the
Kabbalists (in Latin, cabaliste or doctores nostri cabaliste) that appear to have
30

On this, see Gersonides, Commento al Cantico dei Cantici, ed. by Andreatta, pp.3443.

180 Michela Andreatta

been systematically introduced every time Gersonides refers to a rabbinical tradition.31 This peculiar manipulation of the text can be explained partly in light
of Mithridates tendency to attribute an esoteric aura to rabbinical sources, a
few significant examples of which are found in the above mentioned Sermo de
Passione Domini.32 Nevertheless, at the base of this equivalence between the
rabbinic masters and the Kabbalists there may be also the idea that Kabbalah,
as the esoteric lore of the Jews, coincided with the divinely revealed Oral Law,
i.e. it was the same as the orally transmitted twin revelation on Mount Sinai.
As a matter of fact, Pico was to adopt this idea which he learned from
Mithridates translations and use it in different places in his writings, where
in fact he defined Kabbalah as dealing with the mysteries of the Law (la esposizione delli astrusi et asconditi misterii della legge)33 and coincidental with the
oral revelation (verus legis sensus ab ore Dei acceptus).34
Another remarkable, even more conspicuous example of a Kabbalistic
interpolation is represented by an excursus that Mithridates inserted in his
rendition of Gersonides introduction to the Commentary. In the original,
the passage under consideration consists of a discussion of the characteristics
of the three disciplines that form the philosophical curriculum. Gersonides
observes that, unlike physics, the degree of verification of the statements pertaining to metaphysics is rather limited, since this discipline is based on premises that are remote and universally accepted. As a consequence, the study of
metaphysics should be barred from those who are not well-grounded in the
principles of the Torah, as well as those whose physical and psychical passions
have not yet abated. These latter individuals, states Gersonides, are particularly at risk for misunderstanding the highest truths of philosophy, as can be
learned from what happened to Elisha ben Abuya when he entered the Pardes.
Gersonides alludes here to the famous passage from tractate agigah (Festival
Offering) in the Mishnah, in which the episode of the four sages is recounted,
a passage that played a central role in both the mystical and the philosophical
Jewish esoteric traditions. In particular, Gersonides reference follows in the
steps of a similar quotation contained in Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed
31

BAV, MS Lat. 4273, fols5rv, 11r, 14v, 16r, 19r, 19v, 22v, 23v, 38v.
See Mithridates, Sermo de passione Domini, ed. by Wirszubski, pp.1928.
33
Commento dello Illustrissimo Signor Conte Joanni Pico Mirandolano [], in Pico della
Mirandola, De hominis dignitate, ed. by Garin, p.580 (Commento particulare, Stanza ix).
34
Apologia, in Pico della Mirandola and Pico, Opera omnia, i, 17577. On this see
Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, pp.12527.
32

Subverting Patronage in Translation

181

(i, 32),35 and is similarly didactic in aim, being meant as a warning to the reader
about the risk of going astray when philosophical speculation is pursued without
the guidance of a teacher. Here is Gersonides discussion of the Talmudic passage:
. ,
.
,
,
,
36
.

The verification we achieve in physics, on the other hand, is based upon particular
appropriate premises. It is the way of commonly accepted premises that they lead
to two contraries or contradictories. Thus this science [i.e. metaphysics] is impossible for one who is not strongly settled on the true views from the perspective of
the Torah and speculation, and for one the effervescence of whose nature has not
quieted, lest his yearning to follow after his desires brings him to make his views in
this science accord with what he sees fit, as is well known concerning Elisha Aer
when he entered the Pardes. Moreover, the smallest mistake which occurs in this
science is great from the perspective of the degree of the subject matter and since
the object of this science is the utmost human felicity.37

In his translation, Mithridates expanded upon and completed the Talmudic


quotation making its mystical significance explicit so that the Pardes referred to
in the Talmud becomes an image of God, and the entrance into it coincides with
the mystical experience of the divine. Notably, Mithridates also transformed
the whole passage into a disquisition on the age limits posed in Kabbalistic circles for undertaking the study of metaphysics, here clearly coincident with the
esoteric lore (the translators interpolations are in bold):
35
If, finally, you do not aspire to apprehend that which you are unable to apprehend you
will have achieved human perfection and attained the rank of Rabbi Aqiba, peace be on him,
who entered in peace and went out in peace when engaged in the theoretical studies of these
metaphysical matters. If, on the other hand, you aspire to apprehend things that are beyond your
apprehension; or if you hasten to pronounce false assertions the contradictories of which have
not been demonstrated or that are possible, though very remotely so you will have joined
Elisha Aer. (Moses Maimonides, Le Guide des gars: Trait de thologie et de philosophie, par
Mose ben Maimoun, dit Mamonide, 3 vols (Paris: A. Franck, 185666; repr. Osnabrck: Zeller,
1964). Trans. by Shlomo Pines, The Guide of the Perplexed, 2 vols (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1963), i, 6869.
36
Gersonides, Commentary on Song of Songs, ed. by Kellner, p.63.
37
Gersonides, Commentary on Song of Songs, trans. by Kellner, p.10.

182 Michela Andreatta

Et veritas perveniens nobis in scientia naturali pro maiori parte capitur ex propositionibus propriis et proportionatis. Est autem de via propositionum per se notarum
ut eveniant ex eis consequentia duorum contradictoriorum. Ideo prohibetur hec
sapientia ne quis studeat in ea, nisi habuerit intellectum firmum et quietum, ac roboratum in opinionibus veris tam legalibus quam speculativis, nec etiam si non
quievit et mitigatus est fervor nature in eo, ne forte appetitus ducat eum sequi concupiscentias suas, et trahere opiniones suas in hac sapientia secundum quod ei videtur pro opinione sua convenire. Ideo sancti doctores nostri cabaliste prohibent
ne quis usque ad annum quadragesimum ei vacet, quando presupponunt predicta sciri, sicut lectum est apud eos de Eliseo ubi dicitur quod quatuor intrarunt
paradisum: Simeon Azzaides, Simeon Zoomides, Eliseus, et Achibas, quorum
unus mortuus est, alter lesus, tertius oberravit. Quartus pace intravit et exivit,
et paradisus illa38 refertur ad Deum sanctum et benedictum. Nam minimus error
eveniens in hac sapientia est multus ratione nobilitatis subiecti, et cum sit quesitum
huius sapientie finis felicitatis humane, et quia quesitum in hoc libro seu ut ita
dicam subiectum, est notificare viam per quam pervenit felicitas.39
The truth that we can achieve in physics is for the most part taken from premises
that are specific and proper. It is, moreover, inherent in premises that are known per
se that the consequences following from them are two and contradictory. Thus, this
science is forbidden to be studied by anyone, unless he has a firm and composed
intellect, that is established in true opinions in both legal and speculative matters, nor it is permitted unless the fervour of his nature has quieted down and subsided in him, lest his desire will lead him to follow his passions and form his opinions on this science according to what seems fit to him. For this reason our holy
masters the kabbalists forbid anyone to engage himself with it until the age of
forty, when they determine that the above subjects can be learned, as you may
read in their writings about Elisha, where it is said that four entered the paradise:
Simeon Azzai, Simeon Zoma, Elisha, and Akiba, of whom the first died, the
second lost his reason and the third became a heretic. The fourth entered and
exited in peace, and the paradise mentioned there is referred to God the holy
and blessed. In fact, the smallest error that occurs in this science is great by reason
of the nobility of its subject, and because what it investigates is the ultimate human
happiness, and also because the topic of this book or, as I may say, its subject is
to make known the way through which one can achieve this happiness.40

38

This is one of the several morphological and syntactical deviations from the norm that
characterize Mithridates Latin. The masculine Latin noun paradisus is always treated by
Mithridates as if it were a feminine.
39
BAV, MS Lat. 4273, fols10v11r.
40
My translation.

Subverting Patronage in Translation

183

Indeed, the motif of the age of forty as a requisite set in Jewish circles for the
study of secret doctrines seems to reflect Mithridates own opinion in matters of Jewish tradition. In fact, in his Sermo de passione Domini he referred to
the same limitation on the study of what he called the Vetus Talmud, a work
defined by him as a very old text dating back to a period prior to Christianity
in which theological doctrines of an esoteric nature were contained.41 There,
however, Mithridates had indicated the tractate Avodah zarah (Idolatry) in
the Mishnah as the source of this tradition, while in the Latin translation of
Gersonides Commentary he ascribed it to Kabbalah. Indeed, it is likely that he
derived this concept from a Kabbalistic source possibly from the works of
Abraham Abulafia (1240after 1291), as has been suggested by Moshe Idel42
though he knew the rabbinical traditions pertaining to the age of forty and did
not hesitate to manipulate them for his purposes. Actually, this insertion could
serve not only Mithridates didactic aims, but also his political manoeuvring.
In fact, at the time when Mithridates was translating Gersonides Commentary,
Pico was just undertaking the study of Kabbalah under his guidance. It is difficult not to see this interpolation also as an astute and flattering allusion to
the privilege Mithridates was granting his twenty-three-year-old patron: being
introduced to the secrets of Jewish mystical tradition while still on the edge of
early youth! As a matter of fact, later on Pico would appropriate this motif and
quote it in his writings, ascribing it to the study of Kabbalistic texts.43
41

Hoc itaque antiquissima Hebreorum oracula trecentis septuaginta annis ante ipsius
Christi adventum in veteri Talmud: quod Hebrei usque ad annum quadragesimum sue etatis
legere non audent: (ut in volumine Habodazara habetur) ita vaticinati sunt (Mithridates, Sermo
de passione Domini, ed. by Wirszubski, p.89). On the Vetus Talmud as a pseudo-esoteric
creation of Mithridates and its use in the homily, see Mithridates, Sermo de passione Domini, ed.
by Wirszubski, pp.1928.
42
Moshe Idel, A Note Concerning the Origins of Flavius Mithridates Vetus Talmud
[in Hebrew], Immanuel, 13 (1981), 6467, and On the History of the Interdiction against
the Study of Kabbalah before the Age of Forty, Association for Jewish Studies Review, 5 (1980),
120 (p.6, n.28).
43
Sciant autem prohibitum Judaeis legere illos libros antequam attingerit annum
quadragesimum suae aetatis (Apologia, in Pico della Mirandola and Pico, Opera omnia, i,
179); Hi libri [i.e. the seventy secret books, that according to the pseudoepigraphical book of
2 Esdras 14 are meant for the saviours, and that Pico identifies as the books of Kabbalah] apud
Hebreos hac tempestate tanta religione coluntur, ut neminem liceat nisi annos quadraginta
natum illos attingeret (Oratio de hominis dignitate, in Pico della Mirandola, De hominis
dignitate, ed. by Garin, p.160). On this, see also Alastair Hamilton, The Apocryphal Apocalypse:
The Reception of the Second Book of Esdras (4 Ezra) from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), ii, pp.3436.

184 Michela Andreatta

In the above passage from Mithridates translation of Gersonides Commen


tary, the contents of what the Provenal philosopher identifies with metaphysics are equated by the translator with those of Kabbalah, an equivalence to
some extent suggested by the reference to agigah contained in the original.
This equivalence is reiterated in other parts of the translation, this time in the
absence of any element in the original that could justify a conjectural intervention by the translator, but showing that his interpolations were rather the
result of deliberate interference. Thus, for example, on fol.53r, when translating a passage in which Gersonides, again referring to the rabbinical tradition,
states that in order to study metaphysics it is necessary to have first learned
dialectics, Mithridates inserted an interpolation of similar purport from which
it results that the sapientia divina (a calque of the Hebrew expression okhmat
ha-elohut, indicating metaphysics) is the same as Kabbalah:
. ,]8 , ' ' [
. , ,
44
.

The statement in the day when she will be spoken for comes to indicate that the fulfilment of many conditions is necessary for this. Among them are training in the
art of rhetoric, as was mentioned in the beginning of [Aristotles] Rhetoric, a settled mind and the quieting of the effervescence of ones nature. For this reason our
ancient sages did not permit it to themselves except in their old age.45
Dixit autem: in die qua de ea sermo fiet, ad indicandum quod requiruntur hic multe
conditiones, quedam sunt exercitia et usus in arte que dicitur nissua46 [], quibus
intellectus acquiescat et mitigetur fervor naturalium. Et ideo doctores nostri sapientes antiquissimi hanc sapientiam divinam, que cabala dicitur, sibi ipsis non
concesserunt nisi tempore senectutis.47
He said, moreover: in the day she will be spoken about, to indicate that many conditions are required here, and those are training and experience in the art called
nissua [], through which the intellect quiets down and the fervour of natural
characteristics subsides. And indeed our sages, the ancient masters, did not allow
themselves the study of metaphysics, which is called kabbalah, unless in their
old age.48
44

Gersonides, Commentary on Song of Songs, ed. by Kellner, p.152.


Gersonides, Commentary on Song of Songs, trans. by Kellner, p.91.
46
This is Mithridates rendition of the Hebrew niua (dialectics).
47
BAV, MS Lat. 4273, fols52v53r.
48
My translation.
45

Subverting Patronage in Translation

185

Indeed, the overall impression that one derives from Mithridates interventions is that he tried, by forcing Gersonides arguments, to give the Commentary
on the Song of Songs some Kabbalistic pretence. Given Mithridates undoubted
familiarity with medieval Jewish philosophy, demonstrated by his ability to
render even the most difficult passages of Gersonides exposition into Latin,
this can hardly be explained as a clumsy attempt to pass a philosophical text off
as mystical. Indeed, Mithridates predilection for the theories of the above mentioned Abulafia, the author of some Kabbalistic commentaries to Maimonides
Guide of the Perplexed,49 seems to suggest that in equating the contents of metaphysics to those of Kabbalah, he was rather expressing his personal convictions.
At the same time, he must have been well aware that these manipulations could
conveniently meet Picos intellectual interests. Thus, in addition to fostering his
eagerness to explore the Kabbalistic tradition, Mithridates was able to secure
his patrons favour.
As a matter of fact, close examination of the manuscript containing
Mithridates Latin translation of Gersonides Commentary sheds light not only
on how the translator carried out his work and artfully exploited the task with
which he was entrusted, but also on how his patron read and understood the
resulting text. The fact that Pico perused the translation is demonstrated by the
several annotations in his hand that are found on the manuscript. Though only
partly decipherable, they nevertheless help to reconstruct the way in which he
studied the text, confirming that Mithridates translation was used as a sort of
textbook meant for both Picos individual study and class discussion between
him and his collaborator.50 The marks left by Pico on the BAV, MS Lat. 4273
also demonstrate that he had access to Mithridates translation before it was
completed, a detail that proves his eagerness to use the materials he had commissioned for translation, and also indirectly confirms the demanding rhythm
of work he had imposed upon his protg. Probably not sufficiently knowledgeable in Hebrew to detect Mithridates editorial interventions in translation,
Pico was however familiar with Jeromes Latin version of the Song of Songs and
was able to evaluate the quality of his collaborators rendition of the biblical
49

For Pico Mithridates translated two of Abulafias commentaries on the Guide of the
Perplexed, respectively the Sefer geullah (Liber redemptionis) and Sitre torah (De secretis legis).
Both translations are preserved in the above mentioned BAV, MS Chigi A. VI 190. On these
translations and on Mithridates interpretation of Abulafias Kabbalistic writings, see Wirzubsky,
Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, pp.84105. On Abulafias mystical theories see Idel, Kabbalah
in Italy (12801510), pp.30105.
50
On this, see Gersonides, Commento al Cantico dei Cantici, ed. by Andreatta, pp.4043.

186 Michela Andreatta

book. In fact, one of the most remarkable features of Mithridates translation of


Gersonides Commentary consists in the fact that it also contains a line by line
rendition of the Song of Songs that the translator inserted at the beginning of
each translated pericope of the Commentary, which he produced independently
on the basis of the Masoretic text.51 At the time, the work of translation and
revision of the bible attributed to Jerome still represented a landmark, though
the adherence to the idea of an emended version of the bible iuxta Hebraicam
veritatem was spreading among humanists and was shared by Pico himself.52 As
a result, the young humanist did not hesitate to correct Mithridates translation
every time it deviated from the version of the Vulgate, replacing the eccentric
parts with Jeromes reading. These corrections were inserted from the beginning of the version and extended over the first ten verses of the biblical book
until Song 1.10 (BAV, MS Lat. 4273, fols15v23v). At this point, an argument
must have arisen between Pico and Mithridates, since the translator provocatively resolved to leave the space destined for Song 1.162. 2 blank, a space
that Pico filled by writing the corresponding version of the Vulgate in his own
hand.53 Apparently, Mithridates was then convinced by Pico to complete his
translation of the Song of Songs since it then recommenced from Song 2.3 and
continued until the end, though still under his patrons watchful censorship.
Although the argument it generated must have been short-lived, the incident
cannot be dismissed, especially in view of the heated debates on the faithfulness
and correctness of Jeromes version that were animating the humanistic circles
of the time, and the decisive role that an expert of Hebrew such as Mithridates
might have in such polemics.54
51
For a thorough discussion of Mithridates translation of the Song of Songs preserved
in BAV, MS Lat. 4273, see Gersonides, Commento al Cantico dei Cantici, ed. by Andreatta,
pp.6890.
52
On this, see Christoph Drge, Quia morem Hieronymi in transferendo cognovi
[]: Les dbuts des tudes hbraques chez les humanistes italiens, in LHbreu au temps de
la Renaissance, ed. by Zinguer, pp.6588; see also the introduction by Zinguer to the same
volume, pp.722; Salvatore Garofalo, Gli umanisti italiani del sec. xv e la Bibbia, Biblica, 27
(1946), 33875; Ioannis Pici Mirandulae Expositiones in Psalmos, ed. by Antonino Raspanti
(Florence: Olschki, 1997), pp.1121; Jerry H. Bentley, Humanists and Holy Writ: New
Testament Scholarship in the Renaissance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), esp.
pp.194219.
53
BAV, MS Lat. 4273, fols26r27r.
54
It is worth noticing that the debate did not escape the attention of some Jewish
intellectuals, such as the contemporary Abraham Farissol, who in his works expressed his
criticism of Jeromes version. On this, see Ruderman, The World of a Renaissance Jew, pp.8084.

Subverting Patronage in Translation

187

The incident also reveals the interdependence of Picos and Mithridates


relationship as it developed during those months of frenetic activity when,
with the help of his collaborator, the humanist was exploring Jewish tradition
in search of those elements that would allow him to shape part of his debate in
confirmation of the truths of Christianity. Just as Pico needed Mithridates in
order to penetrate the works of a Hebrew library that would otherwise have
remained closed to him at this stage, so Mithridates wished to see his own intellectual stature acknowledged through his collaboration with Pico. Moreover,
Mithridates not only had great interest in pleasing Pico with his work, making
available to him the works that would best suit his interests, but by virtue of his
former education as a Jew who had later converted to Christianity he also had
the ability to comply with and even anticipate his patrons intellectual quest.
In this respect, the examination of Mithridates translation of Gersonides
Commentary on the Song of Songs confirms that the influence exerted by his
translations on Picos thought and works proceeded not simply from the reading of the Latin renditions, but was complicated by the reception on the part
of the humanist of a few of Mithridates original interpretations that had been
inserted into the translated text as interpolated glosses.
Indeed, the most notable motif that Pico drew from the reading of
Gersonides Commentary is the one of the mors osculi, or death by a kiss (in
Hebrew mittat neshikah; binsica in Picos Italian rendition). This evocative
image actually one of the most powerful among those that the humanist
derived from his Hebrew sources and then transmitted to subsequent authors
of the Renaissance symbolizes for Pico the ineffable union of the soul with
God and its emancipation from materiality. It is quoted by him a few times,
both in the Conclusiones Nongentae55 and in his Commento sopra una Canzona
damore. This last quotation is particularly relevant to the purpose of the present discussion and is worth citing here in full:
55

Respectively in the eleventh conclusion of the Conclusiones cabalisticae numero .LXXI


secundum opinionem propriam: Modus quo rationales animae per archangelum deo sacrificantur
qui a Cabalistis non exprimitur, non est nisi per separationem animae a corpore, non corporis
ab anima nisi per accidens, ut contingit in morte osculi de quo scribitur: praeciosa in conspectu
domini mors sanctorum eius, and in the thirteenth of the same set: Qui operator in Cabala
sine admixtione extranei, si diu erit in opera, morietur ex binsica, et si errabit in opera aut non
purificatus accesserit, deuorabitur ab azazele per proprietatem iudicii (Syncretism in the West,
ed. by Farmer, p.524); also, in the seventh of the Conclusiones numero .XV secundum propriam
opinionem de intelligentia dictorum Zoroastris: Que dicunt interpretes super .xiiii amphorismo,
perfecte intelligentur per ea que dicunt cabaliste de morte osculi (Syncretism in the West, ed. by
Farmer, p.488).

188 Michela Andreatta

E nota che la pi perfetta e intima unione che possa lamante avere della celeste
amata si denota per la unione di bacio, perch ogni altro congresso o copula pi in
l usata nello amore corporale non licito per alcuno modo per traslazione alcuna
usare in questo santo e sacrissimo amore; e perch e sapienti cabalisti vogliono
molti degli antiqui padri in tale ratto dintelletto essere morti, troverai appresso
di loro essere morti di binsica, che in lingua nostra significa morte di bacio, il che
dicono di Abraam, Isaac, Iacob, Moyse, Aaron, Maria, e di qualcuno altro. E chi el
predetto nostro fondamento non intende, mai la loro intenzione perfettamente
intende; n pi ne loro libri leggerai se non che binsica, cio morte di bacio,
quando lanima nel ratto intellettuale tanto alle cose separate si unisce, che dal
corpo elevata in tutto labbandona; ma perch a simil morte tale nome convenga
non stato da altri, per quanto ho letto, insino ad ora esposto. Questo quello che
il divino nostro Salomone nella sua Cantica desiderando esclama: Baciami co baci
della bocca tua. Monstra nel primo verso Salomone la intenzione totale del libro e
lultimo fine del suo amore.56
Notice that the most perfect and intimate union which the lover can have with
the heavenly beloved is represented by the union of the kiss, for none of the other
kinds of intercourse or copulation used in corporeal love which goes beyond kissing is in any manner or by any means proper to use as a metaphor for this holy and
most sacred love. Since the Cabalist wise men believe that many of the ancient
fathers died in this kind of rapture of the intellect, you will find the Cabalists saying that those fathers died of binsica, which in our language means death from
kissing. They say this of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Mary, and some others. Anyone who does not understand our aforesaid principle will never properly
understand what the Cabalists mean by binsica. You will not find anything else in
their books, either, except that binsica, that is, death from kissing, occurs when the
soul, in an intellectual rapture, unites so completely with incorporeal things that it
rises above the body and leaves it altogether. But why such a name is appropriate to
such a death has not up to now been explained by anyone else, so far as I have read.
It is this kind of kissing which our divine Solomon desires when he exclaims in his
Song of Solomon, Kiss me with the kisses of thy mouth. Solomon reveals in the
first verse the whole meaning of the book, and the last end [sic] of his love.57

From the above passage it emerges that the kiss represents for Pico the supreme
ecstatic rapture of the intellect, when the soul abandons the body in a second
death to unite with what he calls the Celestial Venus. Examining Picos use of
56
Commento dello Illustrissimo Signor Conte Joanni Pico Mirandolano, in Pico della
Mirandola, De hominis dignitate, ed. by Garin, pp.55758 (Commento particulare, Stanza iv).
57
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni, trans. by Sears
Jayne (New York: Peter Lang, 1984), pp.15051.

Subverting Patronage in Translation

189

this motif, whose origins in the Jewish tradition are to be found in the Mishnah
and the Midrash on the Song of Songs, Wirszubski has pointed out how it was
first used as an allegory of ecstatic death in Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed
(iii, 51).58 Pico knew this work; he owned more than one copy of it in his
library, and also mentioned it in his Conclusiones nongentae. Nevertheless, his
source for this specific quotation was not Maimonides work. In fact, while in
Maimonides the death by a kiss is traditionally ascribed to Moses, Aaron, and
Miriam, in Pico it is enlarged to include the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob. Moreover, it is presented as a Kabbalistic invention. Indeed, Picos reference to this motif in his Commento sopra una Canzona damore was the result
of his wondrous ability to combine different sources that Mithridates had made
available to him. In fact, as Wirszubski has illustrated,59 it is likely that he drew
the enlarged version of the rabbinical tradition from the above mentioned
Latin translation of Menaem Recanatis Commentary on the Torah. However,
the idea that such a tradition was a mystical one must have come to him from a
different source. That source was the following passage of Mithridates translation of Gersonides Commentary, again a passage in which the translator had
inserted one of his canny Kabbalistic interpolations:
- ,' ,
,'! ' ' ' , ''
" , ,
,' ',' '.' ,
' . '
60
.

With reference to our material intellects desire ab initio to cleave to God the
material intellect being called Solomon in this book, as we said above the material intellect said, expressing its desire: Would that God would kiss me with the
kisses of His mouth!, that is, that it cleave to Him so far as possible, for kissing
58

Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, p.153. The result is that when a perfect
man is stricken with years and approaches death, this apprehension [i.e. the apprehension
achieved through the perfection of the intelligibles] increases very powerfully, joy over this
apprehension and a great love for the object of apprehension become stronger, until the soul is
separated from the body at that moment in the state of pleasure. Because of this the Sages have
indicated with reference to the deaths of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam that the three of them died
by a kiss (Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, trans. by Pines, ii, 62728). On the
death by kiss in ecstatic kabbalah, see also Idel, Kabbalah in Italy (12801510), pp.14146.
59
Wirszubski, Pico della Mirandolas Encounter, pp.25253.
60
Gersonides, Commentary on Song of Songs, trans. by Kellner, p.77.

190 Michela Andreatta

indicates cleaving and coming close, and thus the sages said of Moses, Aaron, and
Miriam that they died by a kiss, that is, that at the time of their deaths they cleaved
to God. He said Let him kiss me and not I will kiss him because in truth God is
the actor in this matter, for what we know is an emanation emanating upon us from
God, through the intermediation of the active intellect.61
[Dixit], ad excitandu[m] appetitum qui est in principio rei ad intellectum materialem, ut coniungatur cum ipso Deo, quod intellectus materialis, qui vocatur
Salomon in hoc opere, ut dictum est, dicit de hoc appetitu: utinam oscularetur me
Deus benedictus de obsculis oris suis, scilicet quod coniungeretur cum eo secundum posse; obsculum enim significat coniunctionem et applicationem, et hoc est
dictum cabalistarum de Moyse Aarone et Maria, quod mortui sunt per osculum
id est quod quando mortui sunt, coniuncti erant cum ipso Deo. Dixit autem:
obsculetur me, pro utinam obscularetur me more sacrarum litterarum, nec dixit:
obscularer eum, quia Deus benedictus est agens in hoc secundum veritatem. Et hoc
quod quicquid intelligimus est influentia influens super nos ab ipso Deo mediante
intellectu agente.62
In order to arouse the desire of the material intellect to unite from the beginning
with God himself, he said that the material intellect, which is called Solomon in
this book, as has been already said, says about this desire: Would that God kiss me
with the kisses of his mouth, that is, may it unite with him according to its ability;
the kiss, in fact, means union and adhesion, and this is what the kabbalists say
about Moses, Aaron, and Mary, that they died by a kiss, that is that when they died,
they were united with God himself. He also says: Would that he kisses me, meaning would that he kisses me in the way described in the sacred books, while he
did not say: I will kiss him, for God the blessed is the agent in this in the true sense.
And this is because anything we know intellectually is an emanation emanating
upon us from God himself through the active intellect.63

Picos annotations on the BAV, MS Lat. 4273 are abruptly interrupted at fol.35v,
thus clearly indicating that he did not complete the reading of Gersonides
Commentary. It is likely that once he grasped the general idea of the work and
its contents, Pico decided to move on to some other Hebrew text, possibly following new suggestions coming from Mithridates himself. Nevertheless, the
Latin translation of Gersonides Commentary on the Song of Songs does not represent a piece of secondary importance in the complex mosaic of Picos Hebrew
61

Gersonides, Commentary on Song of Songs, trans. by Kellner, p.24.


BAV, MS Lat. 4273, fol.19r.
63
My translation.
62

Subverting Patronage in Translation

191

sources. The examination of the translation, and especially of Mithridates


interventions, confirms the key role that the Sicilian played in shaping Picos
opinions in matters of Hebrew and Judaism. It also allows us to reconstruct
the crucial impact that his original interpretations had on his patrons subsequent elaborations. Indeed, a Kabbalistic adaptation of Gersonides work well
suited Picos intellectual quest, going in the direction of the syncretism that
represented one of the main features of his thought. As a matter of fact, such
intermingling of philosophy and Kabbalah was not to remain unique among
Picos Hebrew sources: indeed, he considered Maimonides a Kabbalist in philosophical guise something explicitly declared in his Conclusiones nongentae64 an opinion that he had formed by reading Mithridates Latin translations of the above mentioned mystical commentaries by Abraham Abulafia
on the Guide of the Perplexed. Moreover, Gersonides, like Maimonides, was
already known among the Christians as a representative of the application of
Aristotelianism and Averroism to Jewish theology; as a result, a philosophical
commentary on the Song of Songs also integrating Kabbalah established ipso
facto the coincidence between Jewish esoteric lore and the Peripatetic tradition, thus serving if not even anticipating the idea of the confluence of
the different traditions so much cherished by Pico. In this respect, the motif of
death by a kiss is exemplary. In fact, what the humanist presents as an authentic Kabbalistic motif was originally a philosophical allegory based on materials
taken from Talmudic literature: it was only thanks to Mithridates mediation
and his editorial interventions that the mors osculi became an integral part of
Picos poetic theology.65

64
Namely, in the sixty-third conclusion of the Conclusiones Cabalisticae numero .LXXI
secundum opinionem propriam: Sicut Aristoteles diviniorem philosophiam, quam philosophi
antiqui sub fabulis et apologis velarunt, ipse sub philosophicae speculationis facie dissimulavit,
et verborum brevitate obscuravit, ita Rabi Moyses Aegyptius in libro, qui a Latinis dicitur Dux
neutrorum, dum per superficialem verborum corticem videtur cum Philosophis ambulare, per
latentes profundi sensus intelligentias, mysteria complectitur Cabalae (Syncretism in the West,
ed. by Farmer, p.546). On this, see also Moshe Idel, Maimonide e la mistica ebraica, trans. by
Roberto Gatti (Genoa: Il Melangolo, 2000), pp.7273.
65
It is worth noting that Picos first mention of Kabbalah is found in his Commento
sopra una Canzona damore. There the humanist refers to Kabbalah as the only reason that
drove him to undertake the study of the Hebrew and Chaldaic languages, an assertion that
indirectly confirms how Mithridates instructional duties and competencies covered both the
linguistic and the exegetical ambit. Cf. Pico della Mirandola, De hominis dignitate, ed. by Garin,
pp.58081 (Commento particulare, Stanza ultima [last stanza]).

192 Michela Andreatta

Conclusion
The Conclusiones Nongentae were published on 7December 1486, but the
debate planned by Pico never took place. The ecclesiastical commission
appointed by Pope InnocentVIII (Mithridates former patron, the cardinal
Cybo mentioned above) to examine the theses condemned thirteen of them,
accusing the author of spreading heretical ideas. Pico hastily escaped to France,
but there he was arrested and kept in custody for some time in Vincennes.
When he eventually returned to Florence, he apparently did not resume his ties
with Mithridates. Two years later, in 1489, after having been under the protection of Alessandro Farnese, later to become Pope as PaulIII, Mithridates was
lying in prison in Viterbo, probably serving a sentence for his old offences. At
that point, Pico tried a few times through intermediaries to get possession of
his former protgs many good books (i molti boni libri), then under confiscation by the Magister sacri Palatii, the popes theologian and representative in
matters of censorship; however, he was unsuccessful.66 Apparently nothing of
his old relationship with Mithridates had remained, and he seemed to care only
for his former collaborators books probably including also the HebrewLatin translations that he so much coveted.
The short yet intense collaboration between Pico and Mithridates, which
had so dramatically conditioned the life of each, was also destined to affect
their posthumous reputation, being eventually consigned to history as one
of the most daring intellectual adventures of the entire Renaissance. Picos
encounter with Mithridates largely accounted for the formers groundbreaking
use of Hebrew mystical sources that contributed to establishing his fame as the
founder of Christian Kabbalism. As for Mithridates, he would be remembered
among subsequent Christian Hebraists as one of the major experts in the oriental languages of his age and remain a much-debated and controversial figure in
modern historiography, very much as a result of the less honourable aspects of
his relationship with the Florentine humanist. As learned as he was irreverent
and exploitative, Mithridates paradoxically met his patrons expectations perfectly, representing for the young humanist the ideal guide in his search for the
Hebraica veritas and for Jewish arguments supposedly confirming Christianity.
Bearer, in virtue of his peculiar existential experience, of a double vision in
which Jewish and Christian elements combined, Mithridates blithely moved
along the flimsy and treacherous border that separated two different and even
mutually hostile worlds, at ease in subverting rules and conventional behaviour
as well as in exploring new uncharted territories of knowledge.
66

On this see, Garin, La cultura filosofica, p.276.

Subverting Patronage in Translation

193

Works Cited
Manuscripts and Archival Documents
Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS Palat. Lat. 885
Genoa, University Library, MS A.IX. 29
Paris, Bibliothque nationale de France, MS Lat. 6508
, MS Hbr. 968
Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Chigi A. VI 190
, MS Ebr. 189
, MS Ebr. 190
, MS Ebr. 191
, MS Ebr. 357
, MS Lat. 4273
, MS Urb. Lat. 1384

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Text, and an English Version, ed. by Saverio Campanini (Turin: Nino Aragno, 2005)
, Commentary on the Daily Prayers: Flavius Mithridates Latin Translation, the Hebrew
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194 Michela Andreatta

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ben Maimoun, dit Mamonide, 3 vols (Paris: A. Franck, 185666; repr. Osnabrck:
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(Agrigento), 30 giugno-1 luglio 2008, ed. by Mauro Perani and Giacomo Corazzol
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cabalistica (Florence: Olschki, 2001)
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