These volumes contain the first English translation of the corpus of letters published during the lifetime of the philosopher priest who helped to shape the Renaissance worldview. The letters in this volume span the seventeen months from April 1491 to September 1492. This period marked a critical time for the whole of Florence, occasioned by the death of Lorenzo de’ Medici, effective ruler of the city for more than two decades. In one of the letters Ficino calls him ‘the great and god-like Lorenzo’. The youth and inexperience of his son and successor, Piero, led to discontent and instability, a situation that would soon be exploited by the radical reforming friar, Girolamo Savonarola.
Despite this political instability it was a period of prolific creativity in literature and the arts, described by Ficino as a ‘golden age’. 1491 saw the publication of important works in philosophy by Pico della Mirandola and in philology by Poliziano. Ficino himself brought out his great Plotinus translation with the commentary that had occupied him for several years. He sent copies of some fascinating minor texts he had explored to his friends, including extracts from newly discovered writings of Proclus on Plato’s Republic and Alcibiades I. In one letter to Martin Prenninger, Professor of Ecclesiastical Law at Tübingen University and counsellor to Count Eberhard, he talks about the reprinting, in Venice, of his translations of Plato’s dialogues and the Platonic Theology.
A particular feature of this volume is Ficino’s German correspondence. The book begins with an exchange with a lawyer in Augsburg. He dedicates a work on the Sun to Count Eberhard and sends books to Martin ‘Uranius’ Prenninger, who is a recipient of five of the letters in this volume. He takes care of two German students in Florence, one of whom is Reuchlin’s younger brother. For Prenninger he compiles a list of those who have been close to him in his philosophic studies, beginning with his patrons from the House of Medici and including companions and colleagues, new and old.
The illustration on the front of the jacket shows the frontispiece of a manuscript written by Luca Fabiani in 1493, containing amongst other things Ficino’s De sole (MS Acquisti e Doni 665, fol. 1 recto) in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence. It is reproduced with kind permission.
Translated from the Latin by members of the Language Department of the School of Economic Science, London
Keywords: Marsilio Ficino, Renaissance