Plato's Persona: Marsilio Ficino, Renaissance Humanism, and Platonic Traditions

Plato's Persona: Marsilio Ficino, Renaissance Humanism, and Platonic Traditions

Plato's Persona: Marsilio Ficino, Renaissance Humanism, and Platonic Traditions

Plato's Persona: Marsilio Ficino, Renaissance Humanism, and Platonic Traditions


In 1484, humanist philosopher and theologian Marsilio Ficino published the first complete Latin translation of Plato's extant works. Students of Plato now had access to the entire range of the dialogues, which revealed to Renaissance audiences the rich ancient landscape of myths, allegories, philosophical arguments, etymologies, fragments of poetry, other works of philosophy, aspects of ancient pagan religious practices, concepts of mathematics and natural philosophy, and the dialogic nature of the Platonic corpus's interlocutors. By and large, Renaissance readers in the Latin West encountered Plato's text through Ficino's translations and interpretation.

In Plato's Persona, Denis J.-J. Robichaud provides the first synthetic study of Ficino's interpretation of the Platonic corpus. Robichaud analyzes Plato's works in their original Greek and in Ficino's Latin translations, as well as Ficino's non-Platonic writings and correspondence, in the process uncovering new aspects of Ficino's intellectual work habits. In his letters and works, Ficino self-consciously imitated a Platonic style of prose, in effect devising a persona for himself as a Platonic philosopher. Plato's dialogues are populated with a wealth of literary characters with whom Plato interacts and against whom Plato refines his own philosophies. Reading through Ficino's translations, Robichaud finds that the Renaissance philosopher seeks an understanding of Plato's persona(e) among all the dialogues' interlocutors. In effect, Ficino assumed the role of Plato's Latin spokesperson in the Renaissance.

Plato's Persona is grounded in an extensive study of scholarship in Renaissance humanism, classics, philosophy, and intellectual history, and contextualizes Ficino's intellectual achievements within the contemporary Christian orthodox view of Platonism. Ficino was an influential figure in the early Italian Renaissance: the key intermediary between Greek and Latin, and between manuscript and print, giving voice to Plato and access to the ancient frameworks needed to interpret his dialogues.


His face was covered with a sanguine complexion and would
present a graceful and placid countenance. His golden and curly
hair would extend over his forehead.

—Giovanni Corsi, Life of Marsilio Ficino

I attempted during the previous days to paint the idea of the
philosopher with Platonic colors. But if I had brought Plato himself
before the public, certainly I would have pointed not to a certain
picture of that idea of the true philosopher but rather to the idea
of the true philosopher itself. Let us contemplate our Plato to see
philosopher, philosophy and the idea itself together at the same time.

—Marsilio Ficino, from a public lecture that he gave in Florence,
which he later published as the De vita Platonis

Ficinus Personatus

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Renaissance humanism and philosophy will know the name of Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) and associate him with Platonism or Neoplatonism, the August Medici family, and the Platonic Academy of Florence, long thought to have been the central philosophical institution of the Renaissance city. Those who are a little more familiar with him will undoubtedly think of his achievement of completing the first full Latin translations, along with copious commentaries, of Plato’s dialogues and of Plotinus’s Enneads, of translating numerous other Platonists, such as Alcinous, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, Synesius, Priscianus Lydus, and Michael Psellus, or perhaps of translating Dante’s Monarchia. They will certainly think of Ficino’s celebrated and influential commentary on the Symposium, the De amore—a work that inspired the learned community of Europe during the Renaissance, as well as . . .

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