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Marsilio Ficino: From The ‘Three books on Life’ – A Little Sampler

‘Three books on Life’, title page for the 1560 Lugduni (modern Lyon, France) edition.


Another sharing for the day from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, from Marsilio Ficino’s ‘Three books on Life’. The Renaissance Society of America, Arizona State University- 1998. Pages 389 and 391. English translation from the original Latin by Carol V. Kaske and John C. Clark.


Three books on Life, book III- From chapter XXI

…Observe the daily positions and aspects of the star and discover to what principal speeches, songs, motions, dances, moral behaviors, and actions most people are usually incited by these, so that you may imitate such things as far as possible in your song, which aims to please the particular part of heaven that resembles them and to catch an influence that resembles them.

But remember that song is a most powerful imitator of all things. It imitates the intentions and passions of the soul as well as words; it represents also people’s physical gestures, motions, and actions as well as their characters and imitates all these and acts them out so forcibly that it immediately provokes both the singer and the audience to imitate and act out the same thing. By the same power, when it imitates the celestials, it also wonderfully arouses our spirit upwards to the celestial influence and the spiritual influence downwards to our spirit. Now the very matter of song, indeed, is altogether purer and more similar to the heavens than is the matter of medicine.’


…It is no wonder at all that by means of song certain diseases, both mental and physical, can sometimes be cured or brought on, especially since a musical spirit of this kind properly touches and acts on the spirit which is the mean between body and soul, and immediately affects both the one and the other with its influence. You will allow that there is a wondrous power in an aroused and singing spirit, if you allow to the Pythagoreans and Platonists that the heavens are a spirit and that they order all things through their motions and tones.’


Three books on Life, book III- From chapter XXII

If you want to assign all the reasons which led Moses to command the Hebrews to be at leisure on the Sabbath, perhaps you will discover behind it a more sublime and secret allegory: the day of Saturn unfit for action in peace or war but fit for contemplation and for beseeching divine patronage on that same day against dangers. Abraham, Samuel and most of the Hebrews astrologers testified that they were able to achieve this aid against the menace of Mars or Saturn by elevating their minds to God and by vows and sacrifices, thus confirming that rule of the Chaldeans: ‘If you lift your ardent mind to a work of piety, you will also preserve your weak body.’ Noteworthy is that statement of Iamblichus: ‘The celestial and cosmic divinities include some powers higher than they are and some lower.’ Through the latter, they bind us to the effects of fate, but through the former in turn they free us from fate, as if they have keys, as Orpheus says, for opening and closing.’


Three books on Life, book III- From chapter XXII

‘Finally, whenever we say ‘celestial goods descend to us,’ understand:

(1) That gifts from the celestial bodies come into our bodies through our rightly prepared spirit. (2) That even before that, through our rightly prepared spirit, through their rays the same gift flow into a spirit exposed to them either naturally or by whatever means, (3) and that the goods of the celestial souls partly leap forth into our spirit through rays, and from there overflow into our souls and partly come straight from their souls or from angels into human souls which have been exposed to them-exposed, I say, not so much by some natural means as by the election of free will or by affection. In summary, consider that those who by prayer, by study, by manner of life, and by conduct imitate the beneficence, action, and order of the celestials, since they are more similar to the gods, receive fuller gifts from them. But consider too that men artificially made alien and discordant to the disposition of the celestials are secretly miserable and in the end become publicly unhappy.’


Three books on Life, book III-From chapter XXIII

‘…There are two kinds of people who are unfortunate beyond the rest: those who, having professed nothing, do nothing at all; others who subject themselves to a profession unsuited to their natural bent, contrary to their Genius. The do-nothing vegetate lazily when all the time the ever-moving heavens are continuously inciting them to activity. The misfits, while they do things unsuited to their celestial patrons, labor in vain, and their supernatural patrons desert them. The first sort confirms the ancient proverb: ‘The gods help those who are doing something; they are hostile to the lazy’; the second confirms another ancient proverb: ‘Do nothing with Minerva unwilling’. I think it is for this reason that the Pythagorean verses beseech Jupiter either that himself would relieve the human race of its many evil or that at least he would show us what daemon we should adopt as our leader.

Consequently it would be worthwhile to investigate exactly what region your star and your daemon initially designated you to dwell in and cultivate, because there they will favor you more. Assuredly, it is that region in which, as soon as you reach it, your spirit is somehow refreshed through and through, where your sense stay vigorous, where your physical health is stronger, where the majority favor you more, where your wishes come true. Learn about these things, therefore, by experience; select the region where you find them; inhabit it in good fortune. When you leave it, your fortune will be bad, unless you return and undertake similar activities. But while you are within this region, exercise by keeping constantly in motion and make various circular movements like those of the heavenly bodies (Note: Ficino is here hinting at the Orphic dancing). Since by their moving and circling you were engendered, by making similar motions you will be preserved.’


A little quote from

Plato’s ‘Timaeus’: 47a to 47e

Translation by Benjamin Jowett

I will now speak of the higher purpose of God in giving us eyes. Sight is the source of the greatest benefits to us; for if our eyes had never seen the sun, stars, and heavens, the words which we have spoken would not have been uttered. The sight of them and their revolutions has given us the knowledge of number and time, the power of inquiry, and philosophy, which is the great blessing of human life; not to speak of the lesser benefits which even the vulgar can appreciate. God gave us the faculty of sight that we might behold the order of the heavens and create a corresponding order in our own erring minds. To the like end the gifts of speech and hearing were bestowed upon us; not for the sake of irrational pleasure, but in order that we might harmonize the courses of the soul by sympathy with the harmony of sound, and cure ourselves of our irregular and
graceless ways.’

Bust of Marsilio Ficino by Andrea Ferrucci in Florence Cathedral.


About Ficino’s ‘Three Books of Life’:
Marsilio Ficino: From The ‘Three books on Life’ – A Little Sampler

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