The Divine Furor of the Soul: On Marsilio Ficino

“The soul is the greatest of all miracles in nature. All other things beneath God are always one single being, but the soul is all things together…Therefore it may rightly be called the centre of nature, the middle term of all things, the series of the world, the face of all, the bond and juncture of the universe.“

Marsilio Ficino

Portrait of Marsilio Ficino at the Duomo, Florence

Portrait of Marsilio Ficino at the Duomo, Florence

This “diligent capturer of planetary light” (Latin “sedulus erraticarum luminis captator“) was a most crucial figure in the Florentine Renaissance. As Liz Greene boldly asserts in Astrology of Fate, “(Ficino), it would be no exaggeration to state, started the Florentine Renaissance virtually single-handed.” Not many of us know that he was the one who translated Plato’s writings into Latin as well as the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, known as The Corpus Hermeticum. He influenced the most eminent Renaissance thinkers and artists throughout all of Europe, including masters like Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. What he did was spread and expand awareness of the greatest mind of the Renaissance through his unique blending of philosophy, music, medicine, therapy, astrology, and magic. In the book Friend to Mankind: Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), Adrian Bertoluzzi wrote:

“In the bright firmament of the Italian Renaissance no luminary has suffered in recent times a more unmerited eclipse than Marsilio Ficino. Today in Florence anyone can freely admire the majestic grace of Brunelleschi’s cupola. Ficino left no such tangible testimony of his life’s work. The influence he bequeathed to posterity was celebrated under the sacrosanct names of Plato, Plotinus, Hermes Trismegistus and Dionysius the Areopagite. But during his lifetime which spanned sixty-six years Ficino was hailed as something of a legend in his own right; recognised as a philosopher, musician and doctor, a healer of souls.

Plato's Works translated by Ficino

Plato’s Works translated by Ficino

Shakespeare’s debt to Ficino has been obscured for us by his sheer genius – transmuting philosophic gold into poetic gold with a lightning-swift intuitive understanding of the most profound thought which makes the term ‘influence’ almost irrelevant: the origin, the aim, the effect is one.“

http://www.palazzo-medici.it/mediateca/it/immagine.php?id=573

Ficino’s translation of Plotinus

As Ficino fecundated the entire progeny of brilliant minds of his time what we owe him is acknowledgement of his crucial role as a genius of humankind. In his understanding, the true genius lay in the soul “caught up in the rapture of divine embrace.” In Divine Fury, The History of Genius, Darrin McMahon elaborates Ficino’s notion of furor, i.e. “vast zeal, burning piety, and sedulous worship of divinity,” without which no great work can be accomplished. There is poetic furor under the Muses, religious furor under Dionysius, prophetic furor under Apollo but the greatest furor of all is the furor of love under Venus:

  “For Ficino, the divine madness of love permeated all the furors — it lay behind true oracular, prophetic, and mystical power just as it animated the ecstatic visions of the genuine poet, who was blessed by God with the ability to see and re-create the beauty of the world. All those special abilities were divine gifts, which raised us to something higher than ourselves. That was the transformative power of the furor divinus, without which, Ficino judged, ‘no man has ever been great.’”

La_nascita_di_Venere_(Botticelli)

Ficino saw the soul as a messenger, mediator, “the middle term of all things in the universe.”  It connects the body with the mind, acting as the greatest binding factor of all:

 “The way, Ficino makes as clear as can be, is to cultivate the soul as an intermediate factor. The life of the soul will be connected fully to sensuous living and to rational thinking. But the soul will have its own way of connecting to each. Thinking might be sensuous, poetic, grounded, full of imagery. Physical life will be soulful–brimming with value, beauty, pleasure, art.“

Thomas Moore, “Marsilio Ficino: Magus and Cultural Visionary“ in: Friend to Mankind: Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), edited by Michael Shepherd

I am particularly drawn to this notion of the soul as mediator – argent vive (quicksilver), Mercurius, which, according to alchemists, was “the second part of the philosophical stone.”.As Marsilio Ficino wrote himself in his treatise on alchemical art, linking Mercurius to Virgin Mary:

“We say the mercury vive is the second part of the stone. Which since it is living and crude, is said to dissolve the bodies themselves, because it naturally adheres to them in their profundity. This is the stone without which Nature operates nothing. Whence the philosophers advise us not to work but in Sol and mercury; which being joined make up the stone of the philosophers. Who therefore can deservedly praise the merits of mercury, since it is he alone who maketh gold thin and who has so great a power, that he can reduce Sol itself into the first nature? Which power nothing else in the world is discerned to have. It is thus said of the mercury which the wise men seek for, is in mercury. Mercury destroys all foliated Sol: it dissolves and softens it, and takes the soul out of the body. If it be sublimated, then there is made aqua vitae. If anyone therefore ask you: What are the stones? You shall answer, that Sol and mercury are the physical stones. But these stones are dead on Earth and operate nothing, but what is by the industry of men supplied to them.

image from the manuscript "De Sphaera"

image from the manuscript De Sphaera illustrated by Cristoforo de Predis

I will propose you a similitude of gold. The ethereal heaven was shut from all men, so that all men should descend to the infernal seats, and be there perpetually detained. But Jesus Christ opened the gate of the ethereal Olympus, and has now unlocked the kingdoms of Pluto, that the souls may be taken out; when by the co-operation of the holy spirit in the virginal womb, the virgin Mary did by an ineffable mystery and most profound sacraments conceive what was the most excellent in the heavens and on the earth; and at length brought forth for us the saviour of the whole world, who out of his super abundant bounty shall save all who are able to sin, if the sinner turn himself to him. But she remained an untouched and undefiled virgin: whence mercury is not undeservedly compared to the most glorious saint the virgin Mary. For mercury is a virgin because it never propagated in the womb of the Earth and metallic body, and yet it generates the stone for us; by dissolving heaven, that is, gold, it opens it, and brings out the soul; which understand you to be the divinity, and carries it some little while in its womb, and at length in its own time transmits it into a cleansed body. From whence a child, that is, the stone, is born to us, by whose blood the inferior bodies being tinged are brought safe into the golden heaven, and mercury remains a virgin without a stain, such as is was ever before.”

“Marsilio Ficino on the alchemical art”

Item 7 from Ms. Sloane 3638. Transcribed by Justin von Budjoss.

This text is a translation of a Latin text, Marsilius Ficinus, ‘Liber de Arte Chemica’, which was printed in the Theatrum Chemicum, Vol 2, Geneva, 1702, p172-183. It is not entirely certain if this text was actually written by Ficino, or was later ascribed to him.

image from Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier

image from Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier

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23 Responses to The Divine Furor of the Soul: On Marsilio Ficino

  1. Wow. I was completely unfamiliar with Ficino, and ironically I’m sure I saw his statue at the Duomo. His stuff seems right up my alley. How am I ever going to find the time to read everything I need/want to read?

    Cheers!

    Jeff

    • Hi Jeff, I am not surprised because until quite recently I had not heard of him either. The first time I heard was in connection with astrology and magic, which Ficino was both expert in. But like you – when I was in Florence I did not look him up – such a shame.
      Appreciate your comment.
      Monika

  2. Don says:

    Monika, I find his description of the soul in that first quote absolutely beautiful – “the bond and juncture of the Universe” – exquisite. I had no idea that he had such a profound influence on the Renaissance. I also found the section on mercury and the soul fascinating. Thanks again for such an enlightening post. Like with Debra’s posts I find myself always spending time here seeking to grasp and understand and I really appreciate that. Thank you.

    • I am really happy to hear this, Don. I wonder how many times such crucial figures, real behind-the-scene movers remain forever in the shadows, unacknowledged. I am glad you found my writing worth your while.

  3. I had not heard of Ficino….
    And was fascinated to read..
    “Ficino saw the soul as a messenger, mediator, “the middle term of all things in the universe.” It connects the body with the mind, acting as the greatest binding factor of all”

    I was also impressed with your last image from Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier… As the world was encompassed as the woman.. The giver of Life.
    Many thanks for your wisdom sharing 🙂
    Sue ❤

    • Dear Sue,
      I also think this last image is so wonderful. I always try to choose best for last, so that the reader goes away with that last image etched on his/her memory. Thank you for your appreciative comment.
      Love
      Monika

  4. Wonderful post! Thank you for all you do! Namaste _/l\_

  5. Pingback: The Divine Furor of the Soul: On Marsilio Ficino | symbolreader | radupopescublog

  6. lampmagician says:

    Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    “The soul is the greatest of all miracles in nature. and the arts to show with.

  7. Pingback: The Divine Furor of the Soul: On Marsilio Ficino | lampmagician

  8. All along when I have listened to and heeded my heart as an “influencer’, perhaps it’s actually been my soul mediating and guiding. I like my simple interpretation. 🙂

  9. You chose another fascinating and rare topic, and did your usual splendid job explaining it. Ficino is surprisingly obscure today, considering the powerful influence he had on the thinkers of the Renaissance.

  10. Monika, indeed you seem to have a flare for unearthing lost or hidden material which are rare gems – ‘the soul being all things together’ is quite like the Brahmanical version – the inner spirit combines the grand unity as a speck within your apparent diversity. – the mercurial/magical references are also quite mystical in their connotations – the illustrations are equally rare and wonderful works of appealing art.

  11. ptero9 says:

    Dear Monika,

    Yes, more Ficino! I have only heard of him through Hillman, who quotes him extensively in his writings along with Vico, whose New Science I am patiently trudging through now.

    Hillman’s central idea of the soul as mediator between heaven and earth, comes directly from Ficino. The idea of Hermes as god of the borders, and therefore also a mediator between all things, comes to me from Hillman and helps so much in differentiatiing between soul and spirit.

    We moderns have mostly lost many of the distinctions understood by Plato and the neo-platonists the renaissance.

    Great post! I hope to live long enough to read the wonderful books you reference in your posts.

    Love,
    Debra

    • Thank you very much. I was aware of Hillman’s interest in Ficino via Thomas Moore, whose said ““My life work is an attempt to ground the pure, visionary spirit in the imperfect, intoxicating sensuousness of worldly life.” I could second these words.

      Love and Hugs

      Monika

  12. Thank you Monika. I was unaware of Ficino. I am so grateful for being a part of a virtual cafe des artistes of sorts where we can all enhance each other and open new doors for each other. Your blog in particular has the most profound and beautiful offerings I have found in my travels.

    May this coming year bring you miracles and wonders in a constant stream of magical moments.
    With deep appreciation,
    Rebecca

    • Dear Rebecca,
      Thank you for a thoughtful comment. This year has ended with some very difficult and personal hardship. I hope I can get my bearings back and start posting soon.
      All the best to you in the year to come.
      Monika

  13. Pingback: The Divine Furor of the Soul: On Marsilio Ficino – VIRTUAL BORSCHT

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