I will begin on a personal note. Monteverdi’s music has been a catalyst in my life, awakening me to a ‘spiritual eros’, as the Platonists would describe the intimation of, and yearning for, an experience of union with an ineffable, and undefinable, ‘other’.I have also been an astrologer for nearly forty years, and a central focus of my academic life has been the challenge of addressing the revelatory function of the symbolic in a world which no longer values poetic metaphor as a primary mode of knowledge. Instead, such knowing is assumed to be ‘merely subjective’, incompatible with the sharp scalpel of the rational mind.
Through his revival of Platonic thought, the Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) stands at the forefront of the great spiritual and cultural rebirth we call the Renaissance. Priest, theologian, astrologer, physician, musician and magician, his life was dedicated to the reconciliation of faith and reason in the quest for self-knowledge, and knowledge of God.
In September 1462, aged almost twenty-nine, Marsilio Ficino wrote to Cosimo de’ Medici in gratitude for his generous patronage:
A few days ago I was celebrating [the hymn to the Cosmos] in an Orphic ritual, when my father brought me some letters, in which the wise Cosimo de’ Medici, most health-giving doctor of my life, said he would reflect on my studies, kindly provide for me, generously favour me, and hospitably and piously welcome me into his sacred dwelling. So it happened that not only your magnificence, but also the ancient prophecy of Orpheus evoked in me the most immense wonder. For he seemed to be directing to you the hymn that he consecrated to the Cosmos,..
In this paper I shall explore the connections between the physiological condition of melancholy and the possession of divinatory knowledge, via the development of the idea of philosophical ‘genius’ which arose in the work of the fifteenth-century Florentine platonist Marsilio Ficino.
To write about music of any era as an operative magical power in the world poses an epistemological challenge, since it requires the use of discursive and descriptive language to convey intentions and experiences which, in their immediacy, are far removed from any attempts to theorise, categorise or observe from a distance.
The Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) is chiefly remembered for being the first translator of the complete works of Plato into Latin, and thus standing at the forefront of the Humanist revival of classical learning known as the Renaissance. He founded the Platonic Academy in Florence, and dedicated his life to the reconciliation of Platonism with Christianity.