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«Between 1477 and 1490 Marsilio Ficino sent an abundant flow of study material to his friends in Hungary.1 This paper will focus on what we can ...»

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Between 1477 and 1490 Marsilio Ficino sent an abundant flow of study

material to his friends in Hungary.1 This paper will focus on what we can

discover of his aims in this enterprise. How effective he was in achieving

his aims can be dealt with only tangentially, for that is a very wide subject

and one which I have tried to address in various aspects elsewhere.2 But concentrating on Ficino’s writings to his friends in Hungary during this fourteen year period yields some interesting rewards.3 During this period Ficino’s supporters in the Hungarian court received the De Christiana Religione, published in Florence in 1476; Books III and IV of the collected Letters, sometime in the early 1480s4; the Life of 1 An excellent review of the connections between Ficino and Hungary, backed up by supporting data from the Florentine State Archives is given by Sebastiano Gentile in ‘Marsilio Ficino e l’Ungheria di Mattia Corvino,’ in Italia e Ungheria all’epoca dell’Umanesimo corviniano, ed. S. Graciotti e C. Vasoli, Florence, 1994, pp. 89-110.

2 V. Rees, ‘Pre-Reformation changes in: Hungary at the end of the fifteenth century’ in:

The Reformation in Eastern and Central Europe, ed. K. Maag, Aldershot, 1997 and ‘Education and the Church in Hungary and Transylvania, 1490-1530,’ a paper delivered to the Reformation Colloquium, Oxford, 1998.

3 The present paper formed the basis of my contribution to the conference entitled Marsilio Ficino and Central Europe held in Budapest, May 1998 under the sponsorship of Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Collegium Budapest, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In preparing it for publication, I have tried to take account of the stimulating discussions that arose, for which I would like to record my warmest appreciation. In particular, I would like to thank Michael Allen for his kindness in reading my final draft and for his most helpful suggestions, which I have incorporated. I would also like to acknowledge the long-standing support and encouragement of all my colleagues on the Ficino translation team in London at the School of Economic Science.

4 A fine illuminated presentation copy was despatched in September 1482 but was lost en route, and a replacement had to be made. Individual letters from those volumes would of course have arrived earlier, including the Life of Plato, revised in 1477 for Hungary. This revised version incorporates information on Plato’s birth chart taken from Firmicus Maternus’ Mathesis, VI, 30, 24, which was not available to Ficino when he wrote the earlier version.

Whether it came from a Hungarian manuscript known to Bandini or others in Hungary is an interesting question. Shayne Mitchell, citing Iulii Firmici Materni Matheseos libri VIII, ed. W.

Kroll and F. Skutch,Leipzig 1897-1913 (repr. Stuttgart 1968), records the discovery of Firmicus Maternus by Francesco Pescennio Negro in Orossend but not until 1489– 1491. See


Plato, included in Book III, may also have arrived as a separate work as early as 1477.5 It was to be used as an introduction to the Plato dialogues sent, after problems and delays, in 1484-5.6 Ficino’s translation of Synesius on Dreams was also sent in 1484-5. Meanwhile the eighteen books of his own Platonic Theology had arrived in 1482, straight after their publication. The De Vita in its ornamented state may never have reached Buda7 but the plain exemplar was available by November 1489. In 1488 or 1489 Valori’s presentation copy of Books I to VIII of the Letters arrived.

Iamblichus’ Mysteries of the Egyptians and Assyrians was copied for sending as soon as the translation was ready in 1489, despite some dissatisfaction Shayne Mitchell, The Image of Hungary and Hungarians in Italy 1437-1526, PhD dissertation, Warburg Institute, London, 1994. A complete manuscript appeared in the Laurentian Library in Florence (Laurentianus XXIX 31) superseding a defective 13th century copy which lacked the relevant section and confirming interest in this writer at the Medici court, but not until

1479. An examination of this and two other contemporary manuscripts in Nürnberg (Norimbergensis cent. V 60 dated 1468) and Naples (Neapolitanus V A 17 15th century but undated) may reveal the source of the new information referred to, but I have not been able to pursue this. Its significance is that when Ficino refers to Bandini and Báthory as his own eyes in Hungary, in 1479, this is generally taken as referring to the outward flow of knowledge from Florence to Hungary and recalling the sparks of light that pour out from the heart through the eyes, spreading knowledge, cf. De Amore VII. and Letters of Marsilio Ficino, School of Economic Science, London, Vol. 3, p. 98 note 39.2. But if the astrological information incorporated in the letter was supplied by Báthory and Bandini, Ficino may also be acknowledging an inward flow of information, to Ficino, through their eyes. For further details of the manuscripts available see Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis, ed. P. Monat, Paris, 1992, Vol. 1, pp. 26-36.

5 Csaba Csapodi lists it separately in The Corvinian Library, History and Stock, Budapest, 1973, p. 218. He also summarises the information available on each of the individual works listed in this paper.

6 These delays were partly related to an episode described in three letters expressing dismay at the misdemeanours of the copyist engaged for the initial transcription of Ficino’s Plato translations by the Duke of Urbino. This unnamed scribe not only made mistakes but subsequently used the books as collateral against payment of his lodging bills when the Duke died and his wages failed to materialise. This resulted in the ‘captivity’ of the books which Ficino likens to Plato’s own captivity in Aegina. See Marsilio Ficino, Epistolarum Liber VII, letters 23, 33 and 43, Opera Omnia, pp. 856, 858 and 862.

Letters not yet published in the English translation series are referred to by the Book and letter number of the Latin, as here, as well as the page on which they are to be found in Opera Omnia, Basel 1576 (and its 1959 reprint). For letters that have been translated into English, the references given are those of the English edition, The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, School of Economic Science, London, citing volume and page as well as year of publication (from 1975 onwards). It should be noted that the Latin Books III and IV dedicated to Matthias appear in English as Volumes 2 and 3 respectively. Translations of Books V and VI are in print (as Volumes 4 and 5), and Book VII (Volume 6) is due to be published in 1999. The missing Liber II, being different in nature from the other books, will be published later. Three of its five treatises have been translated into German by Elisabeth Blum, Paul Richard Blum and Thomas Leinkauf, Marsilio Ficino: Traktate zur platonischen Philosophie, Berlin, 1993.

Volume 5 of the English translation also contains a facsimile reprint of the Latin text of the 1495 Venice edition. It is planned to repeat this improvement in succeeding volumes.

7 The presentation copy of the De Vita has the Medici coat of arms painted over that of Matthias perhaps because it was not ready to leave Florence before the King’s death. See Csaba Csapodi, Bibliotheca Corviniana, Budapest, 1969 (English Edition), p. 53.

REES with its textual inadequacies8. Finally, 1490 saw the arrival of a comparative flood of books, eagerly awaited: the full Plotinus translations and commentaries, Pythagoras’ Symbola and Golden Verses,9 Porphyry’s De Abstinentia, Psellus on Daemons, and Priscus Lydus on Theophrastus and the Mind.

It is not clear when Ficino’s translation of Hermes Trismegistus reached Buda. According to Naldi, this volume occupied the foremost place among the Greek authors in the Corvina Library.10 But the fact that it was so well known and well loved by the King and his circle suggests that the Latin translation was available to them. Antonio Bonfini incorporates substantial quotations from Hermes’ Pimander in the speeches allotted to Matthias in the dialogue of the Symposion.11 The appeal of Hermes at the Hungarian court may indeed give us some clues about the appeal of Ficino too. For the Hermetic writings, despite their puzzling aspects, are simple, direct and poetic. They speak of man’s divine nature and how, through intelligence of the heart,12 the human soul may be reunited with the source of all.

The other important work sent before the period we are discussing was the De Amore, Ficino’s commentary on Plato’s Symposium. An early dedication copy of this was sent to Janus Pannonius as early as 1469.

Through his acquaintance with Janus Pannonius in the mid 1460s, Ficino had every reason to believe that in Hungary were men who would have an interest in the ideas that were beginning to distinguish the Academy of Florence from other groups of scholars.13 What were the real relationships between the individuals whose Platonic interests have been recorded, and the provider of this generous flow of 8 This time the deficiencies were with the Greek text available to Ficino.

9 Ficino made working translations of four other Pythagorean works too but these were not sent. They are the four treatises of Iamblichus, De Secta Pythagorica, namely De Vita Pythagorica, Protrepticus, De Communi Mathematica Scientia and In Nichomaci Arithmeticam Introductionem. See Michael J. B. Allen, Nuptial Arithmetic, esp. p. 32 and n. 70.

10 Naldo Naldi, De laudibus bibliothecae libri IV ad Mathiam Corvinum Pannoniae regem, written between 1484 and 1486 according to Jolán Balogh, A mővészet Mátyás király udvarában, (Art at the court of King Matthias), Budapest, 1966, p. 658.

11 Antonio Bonfini, Symposion de virginitate et pudicitia coniugali, ed. S. Apró, Budapest, 1943. One example is III, 44-48, ‘Of everything that takes upon itself the name of good, Hermes tells us

that nothing can really be called good besides God Himself who is that true highest good itself:

Nothing can be called good besides God Himself who is that true consciousness itself; nothing can be called good unless it comes very close to God by its likeness to Him. This Egyptian King of divine inspiration tells us that God is the light and the life, the father, from whom man is born and to whose light and life each is able to return again if he has come to know that he is made from light and life.’ (My translation.) This work was written in 1484-5 but not presented until September 1486. It also contains many passages presenting Platonic ideas in very clear and simple form, as well as a hymn which Bonfini ascribes to Orpheus (Symposion III,66-69) which is actually part of the Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus translated by Ficino (Libellus I, 31).

12 For the heart as a centre of spiritual understanding, see Hermes, Corpus Hermeticum, ed. Brian P. Copenhaver, Cambridge, 1992, esp. pp. 17 and 24.

13 Pannonius’ stay in Italy included a visit to Florence where he met Ficino. See Marianna Birnbaum, Janus Pannonius, Poet and Politician, Zagreb, 1981, p.165 and Vespasiano da Bisticci, Renaissance Princes, Popes and Prelates, ed. M. P. Gilmore, New York, 1963, pp. 192-7


material? For convenience I shall divide them into two groups, the Hungarians and the Italians.14 First the Hungarians: to Nicholas Báthory, the Bishop of Vác, Ficino sent three letters, to Peter Váradi one letter, to a Janus Pannonius, whose identity has been much discussed, there is one letter, a response to one included from him, though this may be a literary device.15 Peter Garázda is mentioned but receives no letters, King Matthias is the recipient of five. This makes ten letters in all, to Hungarians at Matthias’ court – not a large number.16 Besides the Hungarians there are several Italians who had Hungarian connections or spent time in Hungary, some of whom played an important role in what was happening there. Of these, far and away the most important was Francesco Bandini. He received eighteen letters from Ficino in these fourteen years. Philippo Buonaccorsi, called Callimachus, 14 This is a somewhat arbitrary distinction. Generations of nationalistic historiography have emphasised differences, but both Hungary and Italy in the fifteenth century were countries of multiple allegiances. Moreover Hungarians educated in Italy were self-consciously international. Nevertheless, in noble circles there was a degree of loyalty to the idea of being Hungarian, reflected in the distinctive myth-history established for Hungary by Bonfini in his Rerum Hungaricum Decades, written 1487-1496 and pursued by later writers. See Amedeo di Francesco, ‘Il mito di Mattia Corvino nei canti storici ungheresi del XVI secolo’ in Matthias Corvinus and the Humanism in Central Europe, ed. T. Klaniczay and J. Jankovics, Budapest,

1994. Furthermore, the Latin spoken in Hungarian student houses in the universities of Vienna or Paris may also have sounded quite different to the local variety, and the separation of Latin and Italian is quite clear from Matthias’ inability to understand the architectural treatise of Filarete that Bandini brought back for him from Italy in 1488 until it was translated for him from Italian into Latin (by Bonfini).

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