The Wisdom of Marcilio Ficino: Part Three
A Sample

Tom Morris

This continues some excerpts from a volume of writings by the Renaissance philosopher Marcilio Ficino (Pronounced "Ficheeno") that I began two weeks ago. I'm doing this bit of excerpting because this is not a thinker, or a book, that you're likely to come upon, and you may find some of the insights interesting. 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.

Then, above all, Philosophy removes misery from mortals, and bestows happiness upon them. For she discriminates good from evil and shows us how to avoid evil so that it does not hurt us, or how to bear it with strength so that it hurt us less. Furthermore, she shows us how to find goodness more easily, and how to use rightly either the gifts that have been bestowed on us by nature or fortune or acquired through work, so that they may be more profitable. (106)

I pray you be swift and diligent to hear and see, but slow to believe, slower to judge, and slowest of all to speak. So that you can speak what is good, listen to what is good, and so that you will hear well of yourself for your part speak well of others. For it cannot be that he who speaks maliciously does not hear maliciously. Moreover, in speaking, beware of a lie no less than a navigator is wary of a rock. For boundless is the light of truth, boundless its power. The lie swiftly betrays and ruins the liar. (110)

We must, moreover, take care that we often reflect on what we have learnt. For in this way the food of the mind is digested and, as it were, turned into mind. (111)

Do you wish to think usefully? Then have very few thoughts, and those of a kind that very few think. This is what Pythagorus meant when he said: "Turn aside from highways and walk by footpaths." Why do peopple wander around so heedlessly? Shrewdness and discrimination are needed, for the hare lies hidden in a small clump of grass. Evils lie everywhere, while the good is reduced to narrow limits. (111)

Farewell: that is to say, give your soul good fare. But you fare well if you feed it, not on great quantity, but on the best quality. (112)

Where wisdom abounds, there is very little work for dice. Where there is very little wisdom, chance dominates most things. (116)

Certainly a divine man does not wish fortune to be his guide, for fortune is blind and often by chance suffers a fall. He does not rejoice in the promises of fortune, for she is faithless even to her own, whom, without honor, she has exalted to the highest summit of honor. For she rejoices in the reversal game between height and depth, and delights in alternate hap and mishap. (116)

No one is more pitiable than he who places true happiness in fortune. No one is happier than he who does not judge fortuitous prosperity truly to be happiness. (116)


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