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Perspective

Battles of the Books

I have several times passed through Figline Valdarno without realizing it was the birth place of Marsilio Ficino, the head of the Platonic Academy of Florence. Ficino was a strange bird: part Platonist, humanist, and part Christian, he has sometimes been suspected of paganism or worse. Perhaps he was a pagan, somewhere in his mind, but I rather think the fault lies with us: after over 500 years of progress, it is easy to believe that any civilized man, particularly one who takes part in a cultural revolution, must be an emissary of Antichrist.

Ficino was, of course, a priest (not that this proves much), and he sincerely believed in what was later called the philosophia perennis, the idealist philosophy taught by wise men in all ages. He was not, however, a liberal universalist, but a defender of the very specific traditions of Greek philosophy, Hebrew scriptures, and Christian revelation, all of which were under attack from the ruthless infidels who, after finishing off the Roman Empire in the East, were mercilessly persecuting their Christian slaves in the Balkans. In 1480 Ficino wrote to the humanist king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, urging him on in his wars against the Turks. After praising his beloved Plato and other Greek philosophers and writers, Ficino remarks:

In former times all these people sought nothing 'other than the true glory and With highest zeal. At length, after many generations...

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