The Renaissance Wisdom of Marcilio Ficino
A Sample

Tom Morris

Not long ago, I came across a volume of writings by the Renaissance philosopher Marcilio Ficino (Pronounced "Ficheeno"). I copied our various thoughts that seemed worthy of further reflection, as I often do. Over the next couple of weeks I want to share some of them with you. Email me any reactions you have, and any thoughts they spark in you as you read them. These passages are taken from Meditations on the Soul: Selected Letters of Marcilio Ficino, edited by Clement Salaman. Numbers are page references. I hope you enjoy them.

It was not for small things but for great that God 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. (25)

Only he has all he desires who desires all he has. (27)

To an evil man, indeed, all things, even the good, are turned into evil. To a good man, however, all things, even those which seem very bad, are finally turned into good. (31)

Are you thinking of revenge? I earnestly warn you: have a care. For if you attempt to be avenged, you will suffer a second and a third injury, and through your desire to destroy the other man you will destroy yourself. (31)

Who will deny that those men are foolish who attend to other people's affairs, but neglect their own? (31)

I can only judge it the most foolish act of all, that many people most diligently feed a beast, that is, their body, a wild, cruel, and dangerous animal; but allow themselves, that is , the soul, insofar as they have one, to starve to death. We are surprised that while we continue to live, or rather, die like this, we are unhappy, as though we could reap a different harvest from the one we have sown. (32)

Let us, I beg you, nourish and increase the spirit with spiritual food, so that it may at length become mighty and give small regard for physical things, as though they were worth very little. (32)

Mortal men ask God for good things every day, but they never pray that they may make good use of them. They want fortune to wait upon their desires, but they are not concerned that desire should wait upon reason. They would like all their household furniture down to the least article to be made as beautiful as possible, but they are hardly ever concerned that the soul should become beautiful. They diligently seek out remedies for bodily diseases, but neglect the disease of the soul. They think they can be at peace with others, yet they continually wage war with themselves. (33)

What's more my friends? The magistrates forbid murder, and allow instruments for killing men to be made everywhere. They desire an excellent crop of men, yet they do not take sufficient care of the seedling, that is the child. (33)

People always live badly today; they only live well tomorrow. For the sake of ambition they strive against each other with evil deeds, but the path to glory would be easier to tread by doing good to one another. Although they always speak evil, they hope to be well spoken of themselves; although they do evil, they hope to receive good. We proclaim that we are the authors of good, but that God is the author of evil. (33)

How many people will you find who value a man as much as money; who cultivate themselves in the same way as they cultivate their fields and other affairs; who brings up their family with as much care as many rear their horses, dogs, and birds; who consider how grave is the waste of time? In spending money we are very mean, in expending time we are extravagant beyond measure. (33)

We admire virtue in another, but we ourselves strive rather to seem worthy of admiration than to be worthy of it. (34)

Why do you seek treasure far away, when it is nearby, indeed within yourself? (35)

The soul in this body has two principal impediments. First, it is drawn into many activities and much agitation, and its different activities weaken and obstruct each other, for it is very hard to apply the mind to different things at the same time. Secondly, the soul is engaged in inferior activities much earlier, more attentively, and more often than in higher ones, not only because of the condition of its abysmal dwelling but also because of the corporeal service assigned to men for a time by God. And so it is that when we wish to consider the incorporeal, we function for the most part feebly, and perceive it dimly as though through a cloud. (44)

For God draws the desire of the mind to Himself by filling it with beauty, and by drawing desire to Himself he fulfills it. (45)

If some farmer were not only to work the land of another for no reward but were also to neglect his own at the greatest loss to himself, he would without doubt be judged to be most dense and pitiable. Therefore, those minds are too far out of mind and pitiable that expend all their labor always in this: that the body and externals be kept as well and as finely adorned as possible; but they neglect to labor inwardly, through which they could be good and adorned in themselves. (47)

Nothing is truly good or beautiful in the house of that man where all things seem good and beautiful before himself, that is before the soul. (47)

Labor so that you may be good and shine with beauty; suddenly all things are good and shining with beauty for you. (47)

If by nature the mind desires certain things, we should acquire them. And certainly, in acquiring them, the soul would at some time be fulfilled by them, either wholly or in greatest part. But the more we acquire mortal things from all sides, by so much the more is the appetite of the soul inflamed. (48)

What therefore is to be done, so that we may be of good strength and good vigilance? Life for us should straightway be turned tight round in the opposite direction. Those things which we have learned from many should be unlearned; in having to learn which, we have up to now ignored our own selves. Those things left undone should be learned; the which having been ignored, we cannot know ourselves. What we neglect should be esteemed; what we esteem should be neglected. What we flee from, should be borne; what we pursue should be fled. For us the smile of fortune should bring tears; and the tears of fortune should bring a smile. (49)

Neither will prosperous fortune ensnare us, nor adverse fortune slay us. But, insofar as we shall be cleansed, so shall we be serene; insofar as we shall be serene, so shall we shine. (49)

I cannot but desire the good itself; I may avoid or postpone anything else, but not this longing for the good. How freely chosen is this necessity; for if I want to avoid it, I shall try to do so only because I think the avoidance itself is good. Nothing is more freely chosen than the good. (53)

To our readers: Come back next week for more Marcilio! Thanks for visiting!

Tom Morris


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