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Ian M. Slater
- Publié sur Amazon.com
In the second half of the twentieth century, readers of English who were interested in the Renaissance had their attention drawn to Ficino's "Three Books on Life" (known by various titles, such as "Liber de Vita" and "De Vita Triplici") by several influential books. Chief among them were D.P. Walker's "Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella" and Frances A. Yates' "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition." The many readers of Robert Burton's seventeenth-century masterpiece "The Anatomy of Melancholy" had already encountered frequent citations of "Ficinus" on melancholy, its causes and cure. Any attempt to find an English translation, or even a good text of the Latin original, however, came up with nothing.
For a moment it seemed that Charles Boer had provided one with "The Book of Life," originally published in 1980, and currently in print. It was an attractively printed and extremely readable translation. Unfortunately, it was not only based on unreliable versions of the Latin, but it paid little if any attention to the vast scholarship needed to understand Ficino. Since Boer was dismissive of the existing Ficino scholarship, hostile reviews were perhaps to be expected, but I can testify from experience that Boer's work was more frustrating than useful.
Fortunately, a far superior translation, along with a carefully edited Latin text, useful introduction and helpful notes, and glossarial indexes, was already in progress. It appeared about a decade later, and, like Boer's, has been reprinted several times. It is an impressive accomplishment, providing a rich source of information on Ficino's theological, philosophical, medical, astrological, and magical readings and world-view, and how they interact.
Ficino, famous in his day and in histories of philosophy as the pioneering translator of Plato and the Neo-Platonists (a distinction made long after his time), was the son of a physician, which in those days meant an astrologer. He was trained in his father's profession, but also as a priest, and read the Aristotle of the late Scholastics as well as Plato and his followers, and his supposed source, the books attributed to the Egyptian sage, Hermes Trismegistus. Bits and pieces of all of these interests, and others, appear in the "Books on Life," which are in large measure an attempt to avoid the negative implications of Ficino's own horoscope, which was dominated by the influence of Saturn, seeming to doom him to lethargy and sickness.
In the process, he worked a minor revolution in European thought, which is still with us today. He did this by finding good aspects to melancholy, which in the tradition he had inherited was a disease, combining aspects of depression and mania. He argued that it was also a producer of scholarship and wisdom, helping to launch both the modern idea of "genius" and the suspicion that it has some connection with insanity.
Ficino also argued for special diets to control the negative aspects (lots of sugar and cinnamon), and, in a controversial final section, for astrological talismans to concentrate good forces and repel bad ones. This was dangerous ground, obviously shading into magic, and protesting that he was vindicating Free Will against astrological determinism was not much of a cover.
Although a very high proportion of the thousands of websites mentioning Ficino seem interested mainly in Ficino the Great Astrologer or Ficino the Renaissance Platonist, he was a lot more complicated, as Kaske and Clark make clear. Nothing will make ""Three Books on Life" easy reading, but they have done everything possible to make it intelligible to modern readers.