Academic journal article Seventeenth-Century News

Ficino in Spain

Academic journal article Seventeenth-Century News

Ficino in Spain

Article excerpt

* Ficino in Spain. By Susan Byrne. Toronto, Buffalo, and London: University of Toronto Press, 2015. xiv + 364 pp. $70. At first glance, the title alone of this book may appear provocative: what kind of influence could Marsilio Ficino have had in Spain? Spain, as we all know, was different, isolated and inward looking; if it even had a Renaissance, it did so apart from the rest of Europe, and on its own terms. Burckhardt largely ignored Spain when he described the Renaissance elsewhere, and the longstanding romanticizing view from within insisted that Spain produced its own intellectuals. When the two worlds intersected, the received opinion is that what happened to Erasmus was typical and that the ideals of the European Renaissance were sacrificed on the altar of Spanish orthodoxy. Within this picture, there is little place for someone like Marsilio Ficino, whose fascination with Plato and Neoplatonism led him to a heterodoxy that sometimes pushed the limits even in Renaissance Florence.

Byrne's argument, quite simply, is that the "persistent idea that Ficino was not a factor in Spanish thought and letters is, frankly, an obsolete anachronism" (216). By the fifteenth century, Ficino's writings and translations were already circulating in Spain. The Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel welcomed Ficino and his Neoplatonism, and students and scholars at the universities of Salamanca and Alcala de Henares embraced Ficinian studies over the next centuries. Library catalogues at the early colleges there contain many entries on Ficino, and annotations in the accompanying volumes show that the books were being read. Charles V's chroniclers, along with those who explored the new world, made direct references to Ficino, and Philip II read Ficino's translations as part of his education and kept the only surviving fifteenth-century manuscript of a Castilian translation of the Pimander in his personal library. …

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