The Natural Magic of Marsilio Ficino by Angela Voss

Historical Dance, vol. 3, no. 1, 25-30,

Marsilio Ficino of Florence (1433–99) is chiefly remembered for his role as the head of the Platonic Academy, a cultural centre where the foremost artists and humanists of the day gathered to promote a new Renaissance attitude towards philosophy, religion and the arts. One of the members was Lorenzo de’ Medici, who was deeply influenced by Ficino and was one of his closest circle. Ficino stands at the forefront of the Italian Renaissance as he was the first to translate and comment upon the complete works of Plato, followed by neo-platonic works hitherto undiscovered. As a Christian priest, his vocation was to unite philosophy and religion in a total wisdom of being, and to this end he also advocated the use of ritual magical’ practices, including a unique form of astrological music therapy. In this article I present some of the ‘occult’ ideas which underlie both Ficino’s personal activity as a magician, and the esoteric intentions of the Florentine Academy in the late 15th century.

It is in the third book of a treatise entitled the Liber de vita (‘Book of Life’) that we find Ficino the magus advocating talismanic magic, astrology and music as therapies for the health of mind, soul and body. This book, De vita coelitus comparanda (‘How to fit your life to the heavens’) culminates with a formulation of an astrological music-therapy involving the innate power of words when combined with music. But in the preceding chapters Ficino prepares the reader by discussing the probable means by which images and inscribed figures effect physical and psychological changes – and since audible music can be compared to ‘figures in motion’, the same theories apply.

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