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Throughout most of the Middle Ages, learning had been the domain of the church.

But the appearance in the fourteenth century of poets such as Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch, along with rising literacy, helped to create a market for works written in vernacular Italian as well as Latin. The rediscovery and translation of so many works in Greek from the Roman era and before helped to feed this market, and to bring prestige to those who sponsored them. Another component which furthered the spread of ideas in the Renaissance was the printing press. Italy was an early adopter of the new technology, which allowed Ficino’s translations of Plato to spread quickly throughout Europe, and Ficino went on to write books of his own on Platonic and astrological themes. Although written in Latin, the language of the educated class, the mere fact of Plato’s works being printed and made widely available throughout Europe constituted a revolution in its own right. Ficino also maintained relationships with many intellectuals throughout Europe through the exchange of letters, presumably a side benefit of the wide-ranging Medici banking enterprise. And although most of these letters were intended for publication (Ficino had copies made as they were written) they still reveal a more personal and candid side than do his scholarly works. They are frequently written to one individual, known personally to Ficino, about one topic of immediate practical interest. The same sense of being personally addressed by Ficino still comes through in reading them today. (All the quotes below are taken from the collection of letters published under the title Meditations on the Soul.¹) I’ve already spoken of the ascendance of humanism; the redefinition of the human being not as a miserable sinner, but as the noblest being in the creation. This idea was expressed perhaps most thoroughly by Pico, but Ficino also espoused it. It was not for small things but for great that God² created men, who, knowing the great, are not satisfied with small things. Indeed, it was for the limitless alone that He created men, who are the only beings on earth to have rediscovered their infinite nature and who are not fully satisfied by anything limited, however great that thing may be. MOS 12 At the same time, he was all too aware of the tendency of humans to ignore their “infinite nature,” and concentrate on the limited and illusory world of the sensible.

What we flee from. to starve to death. so that we may be of good strength and good vigilance? Life for us should straightway be turned right round in the opposite direction. we have up to now ignored our own selves. the soul. but allow themselves. in having to learn which. and dangerous animal. and birds. and the tears of fortune should bring a smile. tied to the senses. For us the smile of fortune should bring tears. Those things which we have learned from the many should be unlearned. MOS 20 But he believed that philosophy had the ability to bring people back to their divine nature.) What therefore is to be done. that many people most diligently feed a beast. that is. cut off from daily life. as well as a large measure of what is usually translated as “leisure.” This is not leisure in the sense we use it today. dogs. so shall we be serene. what we esteem should be neglected. nor desire for knowledge of mortal things torment us. that is. who consider how grave is the waste of time? In spending money we are very mean. For by these means. should be borne. It requires right living. Neither will prosperous fortune ensnare us. it may be a surprise to learn. nor adverse fortune slay us. insofar as we shall be serene. a wild. but one of the richest and most powerful men in Europe. their body. for the first time. who cultivate themselves in the same way as they cultivate their fields and other affairs. But. whom Ficino had tutored when Lorenzo was a young boy.I can only judge it the most foolish act of all. insofar as they have one. which keeps it limited and in the thrall . Those things left undone should be learned. what we pursue should be fled. but the time and ability to bring the mind to rest from its “busyness. in spending time we are extravagant beyond measure. so shall we shine. Ficino did not believe that philosophy was an abstract study. is not a twenty-first century invention). Weakness will not prostrate us. It’s this activity of the mind. The following is an excerpt from a letter written to Lorenzo de Medici. What we neglect should be esteemed. MOS 19 How many people will you find who value a man as much as money.” (which. How many can you name who recognize the poverty of their soul? Everyone believes he abounds in wisdom. who bring up their family with as much care as many rear their horses. but is short of money. (Keep in mind that not only is Lorenzo now Ficino’s patron. the filth of the multitude will not defile us. when for the first time we are devoid of dreams. MOS 28 Like Plato and Plotinus. nor desire undo us. the which having been ignored we cannot know ourselves. cruel. Then. we shall go forth full of true beauty. insofar as we shall be cleansed. nor will carelessness of immortal things harm us.

were given of the kind to which Plato alludes in his Seventh Letter: “…after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together. as it has been said. However. not. for in me are all things. is there any need even to be moved to that which is not moved anywhere. however. MOS 67 Ficino’s “good company” was not just in the world of his letters. which is present everywhere in every single thing? Then let us not be moved or distracted by many things. to flee only to that which does not flee anywhere. For the use of a still mind is the contemplation of truth. as the use of a clear sky is to admit light. he seeks through my guidance and my light. which he referred to as the Academy. and thereafter sustains itself. Besides. but through being still and being one.” Whatever anyone does anywhere. not through movement or multiplicity. Neither is Epicurean peace the ultimate goal. for we are endlessly busy to enjoy leisure. out of me come all things and by me are all things sustained forever and everywhere. We will not find the goal we seek in toil. for cleansing and calming the mind. Whatever anyone seeks anywhere. as it were. but in rest. Indeed no place can be found where I am not. It is not difficult to find the place where I am. As Clement Salaman states in his introduction to Meditations on the Soul. The way for us to remember this he states quite clearly in a letter in which he assumes the voice of God. And with infinite power I expand through infinite space. is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another. there is no .of the changeable and transitory. But that alone cannot flee anywhere which cannot be moved anywhere. except for the good. It is only through the ability to still the mind that we will be able to come into the presence of The One. since we find eternal unity and the one eternity. “It is clear that Ficino soon gathered around him a group of like-minded men. but let us remain in unity as much as we are able. but rather that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. agrapha dogmata. How this group met and what happened at such meetings is far from clear. since it fills the universe. and wage war to live in peace. this very “where” surely exists through me and is called “everywhere. suddenly a light. MOS 59 Perhaps it would be worthwhile. right conduct is never sought for its own sake but to put to use. like a medicine. There is no desiring anywhere. he does through my guidance and my light. if we wish to attain what we are seeking. that we are human beings seeking a spiritual experience.” It is possible though that unwritten teachings. or unity.” What is clear is that Ficino believed this search for the Good to be the reason for our being on earth.

finding anywhere. Stop the movement. MOS 29 . who long ago reached you. Seek my face and you shall live. unify diversity. except of the truth. I am all truth. I am all good. But do not move in order to touch me. I am unity itself. and you will surely reach me. Do not be drawn in many directions in order to take hold of me. for I am stillness itself.