Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.07.13

Michael J.B. Allen, James Hankins, Marsilio Ficino. Platonic Theology. Volume 4: Books XII-XIV. I Tatti Renaissance Library, 13.   Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2004.  Pp. 371.  ISBN 0-674-01482-0.  $29.95.  



Reviewed by Maude Vanhaelen, Université Libre de Bruxelles (maude.vanhaelen@ulb.ac.be)
Word count: 1035 words

This is the fourth volume of the I Tatti Renaissance Library project of reediting Marsilio Ficino's Platonic Theology, thus superseding Raymond Marcel's pioneering edition and French translation published in 1964-1970. In addition, this new edition provides for the first time an English translation facing the Latin text, making Ficino's Platonic Theology available to a wide readership. It also includes, at the end of the volume, two sets of explanatory notes (to the text and to the translation), a selected bibliography of secondary sources, and an author and subject index.

Volume IV of the I Tatti edition contains Books XII-XIV of Ficino's Platonic Theology. It includes some of the most important Renaissance texts on the immortality of the soul and on the concepts of theurgy, phantasy and vacatio. Book XII demonstrates that the soul is immortal because it is formed by the Divine Mind, and deals with the soul's ascent to the divine ideas. Book XIII demonstrates the soul's immortality by four signs : phantasy, reason and prophecy, arts, and miracles. Book XIV demonstrates the soul's immortality from the fact that the soul strives to become God.

1) The text:

The text incorporates several significant improvements to Marcel's edition, avoiding numerous misprints and unnecessary conjectural emendations. At the end of the volume the "notes to the translation" include the variant readings of the different witnesses and indicate departures from Marcel's edition.

As previously shown by Marcel (Marsile Ficin. Théologie Platonicienne. Tome I. Livres I-VIII, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1964, pp. 17-30), the text of Platonic Theology is preserved in two manuscripts, the London manuscript Harleianus 3482 (the personal copy written for King Fernando the First), and the Florence manuscript Pluteus 83.10 (the dedication copy written for Lorenzo de' Medici). Harleianus 3482 derives from the second edition printed in Venice in 1491 and can therefore be eliminated from the apparatus. Laurentianus Pluteus 83.10, however, contains a text that is independent of the editio princeps (Florence 1482). There are therefore two primary witnesses, which probably derive independently from the same archetype: the editio princeps, printed in Florence in 1482, which Ficino saw through the press and probably corrected himself (= A), and the Florence manuscript Pluteus 83.10 (= L). The text is also preserved in five early modern editions, including the famous Basle edition of 1576 of Ficino's complete works. Excerpts of the text are to be found in other works by Ficino: the Disputatio contra iudicium astrologicum (preserved in the codex unicus Magliabechiano XX, 58), as well as his Letters, his Compendium Platonicae Theologiae, and his De Christianae Religione.

As stated in the first volume of the edition (p. 315), the I Tatti editors have drawn from Marcel's edition, which is based upon the collation of the two manuscripts (H and L), the first two editions printed during Ficino's lifetime (A and B), and the five other early modern editions. However, they have completely re-collated the text's two primary witnesses and, as a result, they have been able to emend Marcel's collation, which was not always accurate. They also tend to adopt, when possible, the text as it is preserved in the manuscripts/editions and sensibly delete Marcel's sometimes unnecessary corrections and conjectural additions. For example, in XIII, 4, section 16, the editors have avoided Marcel's conjecture illa, preferring AL's reading ille (si quando anima hominis ita fingat aciem suam in deum divinoque lumine impleatur rapiaturque ut ILLE tunc aeque coruscat, ...). In one place (XIV, 10, ยง 11), however, the editors follow Marcel's excellent conjecture delebit instead of A's debebit and L's habebit (itaque si deum colere cogit certa quaedam positio siderum, brevi positio contraria e memoria hominum divinos DELEBIT honores).

Hankins' re-collation of the two primary witnesses (A and L) also indicates that Marcel's text followed sometimes too readily that of the Basle edition (which had itself been unnecessarily corrected by its editor) in places where A and L offer a better reading (e.g. converso : e converso Marcel, Op; suppliciter : simpliciter Marcel, Op; appetant : appetent Marcel, Op; quid mirum : quid mirum est Marcel, Op; appetit : petit Marcel, Op.).

2) The translation:

The I Tatti Renaissance Library also provides for the first time an English translation of Ficino's Platonic Theology, facing the Latin text. It is divided into chapters and paragraphs and annotated. Michael J. B. Allen, who has already edited, translated and commented upon several works of Ficino (including Ficino's commentaries on Plato's Sophist, Philebus, Phaedrus), provides here an altogether elegant and readable translation.

The "notes to the translation" include Ficino's sources for quotations and allusions. Although they follow closely Marcel's references, Allen's notes are more complete and accurate (e.g. the reference in XII, 1 is to Psalm 4, 6 and 36, 9 and not, as indicated by Marcel, Psalm 4, 7 and 25, 10). One will also find useful explanations to the text and alternative translations of difficult passages, as well as some basic information concerning the sources used by Ficino and the broader context in which these sources are used.

A very short bibliography at the end of the volume lists secondary sources on Ficino and Renaissance humanism, including two bibliographies (Kristeller's Marsilio Ficino and His Work after Five Hundred Years and the bibliography updated annually in the journal Accademia). To the works mentioned, however, the editors ought to have added major contributions by scholars in other languages than English, and in particular the seminal works of Eugenio Garin and Cesare Vasoli.

The I Tatti project represents a major contribution to Renaissance studies, as it becomes increasingly necessary to produce reliable editions and translations of works of the Italian Renaissance written in Latin. By providing an accurate text and a readable translation in an elegant yet affordable format, this volume will benefit both scholars and students, who might not be familiar with Ficino's sometimes difficult and elliptical Latin. It will interest not only those who are working on Ficino and Italian humanism but also anyone who is concerned with the history of Platonism and Neoplatonism. No doubt this edition will stimulate further studies on Ficino's Platonic Theology, which will in turn enlighten significant aspects of Ficino's thought, identify new sources and provide a comprehensive exegesis of this fundamental text.

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