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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Dr Maude Vanhaelen: Man - hero - daimon: Marsilio Ficino and the revival of Plato in Renaissance Florence

5th November 2008, 17:30 to 18:30, Ritson Room, Department of Classics

This is the third lecture in the Being Human - Classical Perspectives Lecture Series.

In the famous preface to his Plotinus commentary published in 1492 and dedicated to his patron Lorenzo de' Medici, the Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) sets out the reasons that led him to revive (Neo)Platonism. He claims that the 'heroic soul' of Lorenzo's father, Cosimo de' Medici, had divinely inspired another 'heroic mind', that of Pico della Mirandola, who in turn inspired Marsilio Ficino to translate the work of the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, whom he thought either to be 'Plato's reincarnation', or to have the 'same demon' as Plato.

The paper explores the historical and philosophical circumstances surrounding the use of these images of hero and demon. It argues that these images, rather than being poetic topoi seeking to secure the financial support of the Medici, echo some very delicate Pythagorean and Neoplatonic doctrines, that of transmigration of the soul and of demonic inspiration, which had been revived by Ficino since the end of the 1460s. Drawing upon ancient sources, including Platonic passages alluding to Socrates' daimon, the spiritual biographies developed by pagans and Christians and Neoplatonic demonology, Ficino develops the notion that the revival of Antiquity is the instrument whereby the Renaissance man can actually transcend the limits of human reason and acquire the divine status of a hero, or a demon.

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