lunedì 24 marzo 2014

Love in Renaissance – Eros in the philosophy of Marsilio Ficino

Marsilio Ficino
by Olga Lenczewska

As we all realize, often with slight disappointment, virtually everything that has been said or invented in the modern times had been already thought or written in the Ancient times. Renaissance, despite being commonly thought to be the mother of Humanism with its focus on the man and his creations, only revived what had been known a long time before. With its primary mottoes renovatio humanitatis and renovatio antiquitatis, the aim of the Renaissance period was to popularise the ideas of the Ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, Plato being the most influential of them. One of the most prominent individuals thanks to whom modernity became acquainted with and interested in the works of Plato and the Neoplatonists was the Florentine academic, philosopher, and translator Marsilio Ficino.

In the 15th century, Florence was amongst the biggest and most successful cities in Europe, both culturally and economically. Governed by the Medici, the Florentine environment was perfect for Ficino, who wished to establish a philosophical school that would resemble the Platonic Academy.

But Ficino was not only a reviver of the Platonic thought and his follower; he was a philosopher who established an independent system. One of its most interesting features is the theory of the nature and function of Love or, as the philosopher preferred to call it after Plato, Eros. For Plato, Eros was the desire of beauty, and thus also of goodness and truth, the mediating force between the sensible and transcendental world. Ficino incorporated this understanding of Love into Christianity, where the Platonic ideas became associated with religious figures, and reformulated the definition of Eros as the force that drives us towards the divine world of God. It could not have been equated to Dante's love as a fundamental element in the union with God, nor to Boccaccio's love a bias and inclination towards body; Ficino's Eros was a power situated between the body and the soul, i.e., between the empirical world and the intelligible universe.

Furthermore, it had two dimensions – the moral one and the aesthetic one. Firstly, it was a tool that helped us to narrow our distance from God and reduce our mortal imperfection; it was supposed to contribute to people's moral development, pushing them to go beyond their limits in order to assimilate with God. Secondly, Love was necessarily united with beauty in the sense that it helped us understand beauty and the fact that the search for beauty is not limited to the empirical world, but is derived from God himself.

Finally, Eros was understood as a power that circulated in the world, only to return in the end returns to its proper creator, God. It was born in God as beauty; then, when it passed through men and possessed them, it meant love; and finally, when it returned to its creator, God, it became a unity with Him and functioned as moral pleasure: La bellezza divina si diffonde nelle cose e ritorna a sé stessa attraverso l'amore come in un circolo [Kristeller, Il pensiero filosofico di Marsilio Ficino]. Eros, therefore, had to go through three phases and be three things: beauty, love, and moral pleasure. Love, we can say, was understood as a medium of communication between beauty and moral pleasure.

 It goes without saying that the contemporary understanding of Love (if one believes in this concept at all) differs substantially from that of Ficino and the Renaissance. Love is nowadays believed to be a result of a chain of chemical reactions that have little to do with moral perfection, ideal beauty, or narrowing the distance between us and the divine. And yet it is everyone's own decision what he or she believes in, a choice that is not without consequence to one's life. Personally, I feel inclined towards Ficino’s world-view, but the readers have the responsibility to make up their own minds on such an important subject.

martedì 18 marzo 2014

Movies shot in Tuscany

Tuscany, a wonderful place with “movie-landscapes”, is for sure the perfect setting for Hollywood movies, known and less known. Here is a sample:

Plot: Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) is a 35-year old American writer who lives in San Francisco, whose perfect life is turned upside down. Her recent divorce has caused her a writer’s block and she is deeply depressed. Even her best friend, Patti (Sandra Oh), starts to think that she might never recover. Dr. Patti’s prescription is very simple: a vacation of 10 days in Tuscany, Italy. When she gets there, Frances falls in love with a villa named Bramasole – that literally means “who longs for the sun” – and decides to buy it. The villa needs a lot of restoration, but what could be better than the cradle of Renaissance to begin a new life? While settling into her new lifestyle in her villa, surrounded by the wonderful Tuscan countryside, Frances makes new friends among her neighbours.

Tuscany: in this movie Tuscany is for sure the absolute protagonist. The town where the movie was shot is Cortona, near Arezzo, and another place to note that also appears in the movie is Montepulciano, a small medieval town near Siena. To a lesser extent, Rome and Positano also appear.

Plot: Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) decides to end his relationship with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) to avoid her the danger of living close to the vampire world. Her childhood friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), member of the mysterious Quileute tribe, eases Bella’s pain over losing Edward, who has left her in the greatest of sorrows. But danger continues stalking the girl: new supernatural creatures will cross her path, and Bella will have the only support of Jacob, with whom becomes closer each passing day. Suddenly, Bella finds herself immersed in the werewolves’ world, ancestral enemies of vampires, and her loyalty will be tested…

Tuscany: the movie was shot in part in the beautiful Tuscan countryside near Siena, particularly in the medieval town of Montepulciano.

- GLADIATOR (2000)
Plot: In the year 185 the Roman Empire rules the known world. After the victory against the barbarians, the old Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) decides to give the power to Maximus (Russell Crowe), a capable general of his armies and a loyal soldier. But his son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) does not accept his father’s decision and plans to murder him.

Tuscany: a part of this movie was shot in Tuscany. The scene where we see the protagonist’s home - set in Andalusia, Spain – was in fact shot near Pienza, in southern Tuscany. Russell Crow himself stayed for 10 days at Hotel Il Chiostro in Pienza.

Plot: Betrayed by Vesper, the woman he loved, James Bond feels the urge to turn his latest mission into something personal. Determined to discover the truth, Bond and M interrogate Mr. White who reveals that the organization (Quantum) who blackmailed Vesper is far more complex and dangerous than anyone had imagined. The Forensic intelligence binds a betrayer of Mi6 with a bank account in Haiti, where a wrong identification brings Bond to meet the beautiful and combative Camille, who is seeking for her own revenge. Camille conduces Bond directly to Dominic Greene, a ruthless business man and an important member of the mysterious organization. This mission brings him to Austria, Italy and South America; Bond discovers that Greene is conspiring to take control on one of the most important natural resources of the world, by setting a deal with the exiled General Medrano. Using his allies in the organization and manipulating his powerful contacts inside the CIA and the British Government, Greene promises to overthrow the existing regime in a Latin American country, giving the General control of the country in exchange for a seemingly barren piece of land. In a minefield full of betrayals, murders and deceptions, Bond allies with his old friends in a battle aimed to unveil the truth. As the man who is responsible of Vesper’s betrayal approaches, 007 has to keep himself one step ahead from CIA, terrorists and also M, to unravel Greene's sinister plan and stop his organization.

Tuscany: Some scenes with the sea were shot in Talamone, a small town near the sea in Southern Tuscany. Siena also appears in the movie: in the scene where James Bond blows up you can see behind him Piazza del Campo, where the Palio is held.

Plot: Lucy Honey Church (Helena Bonham Carter), a young English woman from a good family, is  is touring Italy with her older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith). At the same hotel where the women are staying, they meet an Englishman, Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott) and his son George (Julian Sands), who decide to give the ladies their rooms so that they can have a window overlooking the city.

Tuscany: Florence is the absolute protagonist, since the movie was shot entirely there, with the beautiful monuments as background.

Plot: Some years before the beginning of World War II, the young Guido (Roberto Benigni) arrives in a small village in Tuscany with the intention of opening a library. He then meets Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), who is engaged to the fascist Ferruccio, but he will succeed to marry her and to have a son with her. After the beginning of the war, since Guido is Jew, the family is taken to a concentration camp. Guido will make the impossible in order that his little boy believes that the terrible situation they are experiencing is only a game.

Tuscany: the square where Benigni rides the bike with his “principessa” is San Francesco Square in Arezzo. Other scenes were shot at Caffè dei Constanti, in the same square.

Plot: after the suicide of her mother, an American teenager (Liv Tyler) goes for the summer to the house of some friends in the beautiful Tuscany. There she will discover not only love and the first passions, but also new feelings coming from the cohabitation with the family that hosts her. She will turn herself into the center of attention of this family and will establish a special friendship with a dying author (Jeremy Irons). The young woman will start to believe that she can probably discover the identity of her father, a secret jealously kept by her mother.

Tuscany: thanks to this movie, a little more fame was given to the already famous hills of Chianti and to the beautiful San Gimignano.

Plot: the end of World War II. A wounded man travels on a caravan on a road in Italy, but his condition is so much severe that he has to stop in a semi-destroyed uninhabited monastery, cared only by Hana, a Canadian nurse. His body is completely burned as a result of an accident in Africa, but he still has time to tell her the tragic story of his life, when he worked as a German spy…

Tuscany: some scenes of this Oscar-winning movie were shot in the beautiful Monastery of Sant’Anna in Camprena, near Pienza (Siena).