From Amor hereos to Love-Melancholy
A Medico-Literary History
“Amor est mentis insania qua vagatur animus per inania crebris dolori-
bus permiscens gaudia”
—Peter of Spain, Questiones super Viaticum (version B)
The seventh and final speech in Ficino’s De amore turns unwillingly to consider the kind of love that does not adhere to the Platonic ideal of transcendence but rather remains lodged in the body, threatening to subvert the mind’s sovereignty over the body’s unruly desires. In the third chapter of this speech, Ficino argues that this kind of love is the “opposite” of Socratic love, a form of insanity (insania) rather than the “divine madness” (furor divinus) praised by Plato as a means to knowledge. Insanity is a bodily disease resulting from a defect of the heart and does not even deserve the name of love:
Cordis autem morbo eam proprie insaniam fieri arbitramur, qua affliguntur
hi qui perdite amant. His falso sacratissimum nomen amoris tribuitur.
[We think that the insanity by which those who are desperately in love are
afflicted is, strictly speaking, caused by a disease of the heart, and that it is
wrong to associate the sacred name of love with these.] (De amore 7.3, trans.
Jayne, with minor emendation)1
For want of any clearer terminology, however, Ficino continues to refer to this “insanity” as a form of love, though the anxious desire to maintain a clear distinction between the two kinds of love is apparent throughout the speech. In delineating the features of what he also calls “vulgar love,” Ficino draws heavily on the medical sources with which he, as a trained physician, was quite familiar. In these works, love always threatens to become a melancholic disease, an affliction first of the body and then, inevitably, of the mind: