Aquila pp 190-200 | Cite as

Marsilio Ficino’s Fable of Phoebus and Lucilia and Botticelli’s “Primavera”

  • James B. Wadsworth
Part of the Chestnut Hill Studies in Modern Languages and Literatures book series (CHSL, volume 3)


The contributions of Marsilio Ficino to literature were vast but almost en­tirely indirect.1 There was, however, an imaginative, inventive side to his genius which is often overlooked. He composed, for example, a number of mythological fables, which are amongst the most esthetically pleasing of his writings.2 These Apologi show that Ficino commanded an immense array of classical myths, motifs, and themes; so thoroughly had he assimilat­ed them that he could transform them into his own allegorical tales at will, charmingly, and at times playfully. Rich in allusion, they are also the work of a deliberate Latin stylist. One may compare him in these respects (though a sense of proportion must be kept) to his younger contemporary, Angelo Poliziano, whose gifts as a creator of humanistic poetry have recently been s o well analyzed by Ida Maїer.3 Ficino’s Apologi were not essentially, how­ever, exercises in belles-lettres at a11.4 They are but one facet of the activity of this man who could claim solemnly to be the bearer of a Providentially-inspired message.5 His fables are Christian in essence, the fruit, at the same time, of his belief in a universal truth.6 In his own particular way, Ficino often shows himself the heir of the medieval exegetical tradition, finding Christian and philosophical truths under the mythological veil.7 In his moments of creation, however, he reverses the exegetical process; it is he who clothes Christian truths and philosophical concepts in outergarments bor­rowed from antiquity. Indeed, he goes beyond this process, fusing into an indissoluble whole classical allusions, Biblical and patristic themes and im­ages to an extent which inclines modern readers, still heirs, to a degree, of the tradition of a “pagan” Renaissance, to overlook the underlying Christian doctrine.


Autres Traites Modern Reader Christian Doctrine Omnia Opus Classical Myth 
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  1. 2.
    E. H. Gombrich, “Botticelli’s Mythologies. A study in the Neoplatonic Symbolism of his circle.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Inst., VIII (1945), p. 39: “Modern literature has neglected them.”Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Ida Maier, Ange Politien: La Formation d’un poїte humaniste (1469–1480), (Geneva, 1966).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See, however, “Apologus: In traductionem libri de amore missam ab Alamanno Donato ad Laurentium Medicem,” in Marsilii Ficini Omnia Opera (Basel, 1576), I, 848, an amusing (and prudent?) letter of introduction.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See “Proemio di Marsilio Ficino Fiorentino sopra it libro dello amore,” in P. O. Kristeller, Supplementum Ficinianum (Florence, 1937), I, 89–90.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    See Eugenio Garin, “La Dignitas Hominis,” La Rinascita, I, (1938), 107; P. O. Kris-teller, The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, trans. Conant (New York, 1943), pp. 25–29.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See, e.g., his exposition of the Judgment of Paris, interpreted as allegory of contem-plative, active, sensual life, in “Appendix in Commentaria Philebi,” Supplementum Ficinianum, I, 81–86.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    As fourth book of Nef des dames vertueuses (Lyons, 1503; Paris, 1515, 1530), pub. separately as Le Livre de vraye amour, ed. J. B. Wadsworth (The Hague, 1962), pp. 64–66.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    See also Q. T., III, xxxi, xxxii. W. A. Clebsch and C. R. Jackie, Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective, (New York, 1967), p. 123, point out St. John Chrysostom’s use of the Quaestiones in his analysis of “diseases of the soul.”Google Scholar
  9. 28.
    Ida Maier, Ange Politien, pp. 388–89.Google Scholar
  10. 29.
    Poliziano, L’Orfeo, vv. 101–102, and 145–47, ed. M. Bontempelli, Il Poliziano, Il Magnifico, Lirici del Quattrocento (Florence, 1938), pp. 70, 73.Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    Flora, in Fasti V. 355, wears a many-colored garment; the Hours are “pictis incinctae vestibus” (V. 217).Google Scholar
  12. 33.
    Fasti V. 209 ff. So do the Hours, V. 217 ff.Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    Julius S. Held, “Flora, Goddess and Courtesan,” Essays in Honor of Erwin Panofsky, ed Millard Meiss, (New York, 1961 ), I, 208.Google Scholar
  14. 40.
    See Ida Maier, Ange Politien, “Appendice chronologique,” pp. 422–425. Correspondence Politian-Ficino in 1479 has been preserved.Google Scholar
  15. 42.
    G. de Tervarent, Attributs et Symboles dans l’art profane, (Geneva, 1958), col. 16, “l’amour piqu.” Ovide Moralis, ed. C. de Boer, p. 74, interprets stinging flies as “folles et mauvaises pensäes.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague, Netherlands 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • James B. Wadsworth
    • 1
  1. 1.Tufts UniversityUSA

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