‘Diligentia et divina sorte‘ Oracular Intelligence in Marsilio Ficino’s Astral Magic by Angela Voss
In this chapter I will be focussing in on a specific phrase used by Ficino in his treatise De vita coelitus comparanda (“On harmonising your life with the heavens”, henceforth Dvcc), the third part of his medico/magical work, the Liber de vita of 1489. Here he addresses the improvisation or composition of suitable music for attracting propitious stellar influences. “It is indeed very difficult to judge exactly what kinds of tones/modes are suitable for what sorts of stars”, says Ficino, “what combination of tones/modes especially accord with what sorts of constellations and aspects. But we can attain this, “partly through our own efforts, partly by some divine oracle” (my italics). The word sors is used in classical sources for the practice of divination by lot, as for example in the ancient Roman custom of drawing Homeric verses from a pot to determine a course of action—implying that what we call ‘chance’ is in fact an opportunity for the gods to give divine guidance. But sors could also refer to the verbal response of an oracle, and this seems to be what Ficino has in mind in Dvcc, in which his primary concern is to attract the gifts of higher (ostensibly cosmic) powers to the human soul. Ficino’s use of sors suggests that he is thinking of his astral music as a divinatory procedure, in which human diligentia prepares the ground for a numinous response. Indeed in confirmation that the divine collaborates in the healing process, he defers to Iamblichus and Apollonius of Tyana who testify that “all medicine had its origin in inspired prophecy”.This statement has far-reaching implications in relation to the supposedly ‘natural’ remit of Ficino’s magic, as we shall see.