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.

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