Elizabeth Medler, Editor of New Vision (www.thehamblintrust.org.uk), reviews the latest translation of Ficino's letters published by The School of Economic Science:- 'These wonderful volumes of letters are translated from the Latin by members of the School of Economic Science and comprise not only the letters themselves but explanatory notes, appendices and interesting biographical notes. Each is prefaced by a helpful introduction by Arthur Farndell. Arthur is one of those engaged in the immense task of translating all twelve books of letters of the renaissance scholar and man of wisdom, Marsilio Ficino, from Latin into English. The School are to be congratulated on venturing upon such a mammoth project requiring not only great sensitivity of understanding of Ficino’s ideas, but translation skills to match. The result is breathtaking.
As you might imagine, I somewhat hesitated when I dipped my pen into the ink to write this review; Ficino was, after all, one of the most influential thinkers of the Italian Renaissance and said by some to be its ‘fountainhead’. What did he do? Well, with the help of the Medici family, he brought about a revival of the important work of Plato and the neoplatonists, translating all Plato’s works into Latin. He was also appointed by Cosimo Medici to be head of a newly introduced Platonic Academy in Florence.
To those who think Plato too highbrow to read, please think again! He is as much a teacher for us today as he is for any century. His wisdom is timeless and very practical. Here are approximately thirty Dialogues. Why not pick up one today and start reading!
Ficino would gently encourage us to read Plato and those following him. These letters are not only a joy to read, they are deeply nourishing. Like Plato’s Dialogues, they make me stand up straight and listen. Ficino’s letters are witty, subtle, full of intelligence and wisdom. His words are joyful and have a poetry and intimacy that I cannot resist. If you try reading them out loud, as I did, you discover that they have a rhythm and a haunting melody all of their own. Very soon, you will find yourself admiring the rich beauty of this man. Even though we may not understand all the allegories and wonderful astrological references, again and again one is drawn back.
There are fifty letters in Volume 9 and thirty nine in Volume 10. Each is a gem that repays careful attention. To pick out but two letters, very briefly, from Vol.9: Letter 18, commends us to Psalm 145 and the benefits of singing it three times a day; Letter 33 gives a wonderful exposition on the theme of worship… ’We are seeking God for certain when, loving him above all, in whatever way he may be known, we devotedly trace him out through all his works and testimonies as though they were his footprints, in order that we may worship him more truly when he is found. A search of this kind is one which is reckoned to free the soul firstly of all its storms and afterwards of its clouds.’
Letters 21, 29, 30 and Appendix D in Vol 10, deal with the nature of our daemons (each soul’s guiding spirit or guardian angel). Please note, daimons have nothing to do with demons!
Through these volumes, one really sees the extent and richness of Ficino's correspondence with many like-minded souls. Indeed in letter 28 he divides his friends into groups, starting with patrons like the great Cosimo and Lorenzo, then Friends through close association and others who have sometimes listened to him teaching. Letter 34 gives some marvellous insights into Plato's Republic and the three lives of the soul: divine, human and bestial.
Marsilio writes to his patron: ‘All my books have been coming to you for a long time now. They are my children, whom I fathered in my youth or when I was a little more mature; and those whom I am fathering even in my old-age still come to you regularly.’ And so, Marsilio laboured throughout his life to know the Truth.
The beehive motif on the frontispiece is apt indeed. If you want to sip nectar, where better to go!'