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Pico de Mirandola (1463 - 1494) - Marten Kuilman (2021)

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posted by Marten Kuilman alias quadralectics on Tuesday 5th of January 2021 04:04:52 PM

He favored the notion that people have the power to shape their own lives. --- Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (Mirandola, 24 februari 1463 - Florence, 17 november 1494) was een Italiaans humanist. Hij was leerling en collega van onder anderen Marsilio Ficino en Angelo Poliziano. Zijn belangrijkste werk was Oratie over de waardigheid van de mens. Het meest bekend is Giovanni Pico della Mirandola geworden met zijn geschrift over de eenheid van de waarheid en van het menselijke weten, dat vanwege het prachtige eerste gedeelte gewoonlijk de enigszins misleidende titel 'Over de waardigheid van de mens draagt'. Pico interesseert zich al als jongen voor theologie en filosofie. Hij studeert een tijd wijsbegeerte aan de Universiteit te Ferrara. Later gaat Pico naar Padua om bij de Joodse geleerde Elia del Medigo zijn studie filosofie voort te zetten. In deze tijd wijdt Pico zich aan poëzie en maakt hij kennis met de humanistische kringen van Padua. Hij leert onder anderen Marsilio Ficino, Girolamo Savonarola en Ermalao Barbaro kennen. Met deze laatste voert Pico een beroemd geworden briefwisseling over wat er in de literatuur voorrang heeft: de waarheid der dingen zonder elegante en retorische verwoording of eerder juist de esthetische verzorgde zegging. Barbaro kiest voor dit laatste, Pico voor het eerste. Pico is bovenal geïnteresseerd in de wijsgerige, wetenschappelijke inhoud (Wikipedia). --- Giovanni Pico della Mirandola First published Tue Jun 3, 2008; substantive revision Fri May 15, 2020. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94) is, after Marsilio Ficino, the best known philosopher of the Renaissance: his Oration on the Dignity of Man is better known than any other philosophical text of the fifteenth century. Pico was also remarkably original—indeed, idiosyncratic. The deliberately esoteric and aggressively recondite character of his thought may help explain why Renaissance philosophy has had so small a place, until recently, in the canonical history of the discipline as accepted by Anglophone philosophers. Pico was born on February 24, 1463, to a noble Italian family, the counts of Mirandola and Concordia near Modena in the Emilia-Romagna north of Tuscany. Around the age of fourteen he left for Bologna, intending briefly to study canon law, but within two years he moved to Ferrara and shortly afterward to Padua, where he met one of his most important teachers, Elia del Medigo, a Jew and an Averroist Aristotelian. By the time he left Padua in 1482, he had also felt the attraction of the Platonism being revived by Marsilio Ficino, and by 1484 he was corresponding with Angelo Poliziano and Lorenzo de’Medici about poetry. In 1485 he traveled from Florence to Paris, the citadel of Aristotelian scholasticism. Before he left, at the age of twenty-two, he had made his first important contribution to philosophy—a defense of the technical terminology which since Petrarch’s time had incited humanist critics of philosophy to attack scholastic Latin as a barbaric violation of classical norms. Having refined his literary talent while developing his philosophical skills, Pico issued his manifesto in the form of a letter to the renowned Ermolao Barbaro, using the occasion and the genre to show, like Plato in the Phaedrus, how rhetoric could equip a philosopher to defend his calling against rhetorical assault. After a short stay in Paris, Pico returned to Florence, and then Arezzo, where he caused a scandal by abducting a young woman named Margherita, already married to Giuliano Mariotto de’ Medici. Despite the support that came from Lorenzo de’ Medici, the commotion that followed and then a plague kept Pico on the move, just at the time he was writing a Commento on a love poem by Girolamo Benivieni and planning his larger scheme of philosophical concord. At its core this project aimed to secure human happiness by way of a philosophical harmony between Platonists and Aristotelians. But in keeping with Pico’s immense ambition, the scope of the effort became global, striving to join all schools of thought in a single symphony of philosophies. Pico planned to underwrite a magnificent conference on this theme in Rome early in 1487, and in preparation he assembled 900 theses from numerous authorities—ancient and medieval, pagan and Christian, Moslem and Jewish. He had these Conclusions printed in Rome at the end of 1486, and to introduce them he composed a work of eventually immense fame, the Oration on the Dignity of Man—as it came to be called. Intervention by the Holy See derailed Pico’s plans and blocked the conference. Innocent VIII appointed a commission that first declared six of the theses suspect and condemned seven others, then rejected Pico’s clarifications and repudiated all thirteen. When the Apology that Pico hastily published provoked Innocent to denounce all nine hundred Conclusions, the audacious young Count left for Paris, but at the pope’s request he was detained by French authorities and briefly jailed. By the summer of 1488 he was back in Fiesole as the guest of Lorenzo, to whom in 1489 he dedicated a short work called Heptaplus, on the Sevenfold Account of the Six Days of Genesis. Since 1483 Pico had a third of the income produced by his family’s estates, which along with his Mirandola property he transferred in 1491 to his nephew Gianfrancesco, who was to become an important philosopher in his own right and an early voice for the revival of scepticism as an instrument of Christian faith. At this time, however, even after the dust had settled on the provocative Conclusions, contemporaries were unsure of the elder Pico’s orthodoxy, and the Kabbalist exegesis of Genesis in the Heptaplus—tame though it is by Pico’s earlier standards—could scarcely restore their confidence. Meanwhile, Pico pursued safer philological inquiries with Poliziano, who received the dedication of a fragment On Being and the One in 1492. Even though De ente et uno was meant as the first installment of the great work that would prove Plato’s thought in concord with Aristotle’s, not everyone accepted Pico’s position harmoniously—least of all Antonio Cittadini, a Pisan professor who was still fighting about it with Gianfrancesco Pico two years after his uncle’s death. In 1493 Pico achieved reconciliation with a higher authority when Alexander VI pardoned him for his earlier misadventures. By this time he had already grown close to Girolamo Savonarola, the fearsome millenarian preacher who had recently become Prior of the Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence. Pico had known the prophetic friar for some time, but now Savonarola was on his way to establishing a theocratic tyranny in Florence. Growing ever more saintly, Pico disposed of more of his property, giving some to the Church and some to his family, as his habits became less and less worldly. He was working hard on another huge project, the unfinished Disputations Against Divinatory Astrology, when death (hastened by poison, some said) came to him on November 17, 1494. Florence fell to the French armies of Charles VIII on the same day, ending the dazzling age of Florentine culture that Pico’s blazing genius made all the brighter, though only briefly. Ficino, a steadier spirit, survived him by five years. 2. Works and Reputation Pico’s modern fame comes mainly from a speech that he never gave, the Oration on the Dignity of Man that got its title only after he died. He wrote the Oration in 1486 to introduce his 900 Conclusions, having chosen the capital of Christendom as just the place to dispute the outrageous theological novelties advertised by them—including the claim that magic and Kabbalah are the best proofs of Christ’s divinity. The Pope quashed Pico’s rash project, but not before the Conclusions were already in print. To make matters worse, Pico then defended them in an unsubmissive Apology that printed half of the original, and not yet published, Oration—though not the half that later became famous. As a whole, and mainly because its language is enigmatic, the Oration was less inflammatory than the Conclusions; it first appeared in the collection of his uncle’s works (Commentationes) published by Gianfrancesco Pico in 1496. Gianfrancesco, the main source of biographical information about the elder Pico, says that his uncle thought little of the speech, regarding it as a piece of juvenilia. For the next three centuries, few of Pico’s readers were moved to challenge this verdict, despite the author’s continuing fame. Until post-Kantian historians of philosophy were charmed by it, the Oration was largely (though not entirely) ignored, in part because of its publishing history. Shortly after 1450, Giannozzo Manetti had completed a book On Human Worth and Excellence, which—unlike Pico’s speech—really is about dignitas as that word had been used by ancient Romans and medieval Christians: what they meant by it was ‘rank,’ ‘status,’ ‘value’ or ‘worth,’ not what Kant would mean later by Würde. Manetti’s dignitas was still essentially a Christian notion made less otherworldly by the example of ancient sages like Cicero and by the changed conditions of Italian life in the fifteenth century. The last part of Manetti’s book is an attack on a twelfth-century treatise On Human Misery by Cardinal Lotario dei Segni, before he became Pope Innocent III. Manetti took his lead from two contemporaries—Antonio da Barga and Bartolomeo Facio—who had already written about his topic but in much more conventional ways. Pico’s speech pays no attention at all to these three earlier texts on dignitas because dignitas is not his subject. Instead, he wanted to convince people to use magic and Kabbalah in order to change themselves into angels. Except as part of Pico’s collected works, the Latin text of the Oration was printed only once before the 1940s, when the first translation into English also appeared, just after the first Italian version in 1936. What readers saw on the title-page of the 1496 Commentationes was simply A Very Elegant Oration, which in 1530—in the only separately published Latin text of the pre-modern era—expanded into On Man by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, explaining the loftier mysteries of sacred and human philosophy. Meanwhile, the front-matter of the five collected editions or reprints between 1498 and 1521 stayed with the 1496 formulation, Oratio quaedam elegantissima, which in 1557 finally became On the Dignity of Man in a Basel collection and, in a Venice edition of the same year, A Very Elegant Oration on the High Nobility and Dignity of Man. The two other early modern collections of 1572 and 1601 used a new format that no longer listed contents by title at the front of the book. The British Library Catalog, which has about 1300 entries for books by Erasmus published by 1700, has about 100 for Pico. During the same period, when Marsilio Ficino’s De vita libri tres went through more than thirty editions, Pico’s Latin Oration—far better known to modern readers than Ficino’s Three Books on Life—got almost no attention from publishers. Of the five dozen or so Pico titles that found a publisher by 1700, about half were collections of letters. The first two, called Golden Letters, were incunabular editions, and the letters also figured prominently in early collections of Pico’s works, whose front-matter listed Ficino, Poliziano and other cultural celebrities with whom Pico corresponded Two things made Pico’s Latin letters a durable commercial hit: celebrity and education. Since Latin was still the main medium of learned communication in the late seventeenth century, when Isaac Newton published his Principia in that undead language, educated people kept writing letters in Latin and used writers like Pico as models. And Pico was attractive not only because of his elegant style but also because he had been a celebrity in his own lifetime and remained so in Newton’s day. He stayed famous in three ways: as a critic of astrology; as an expert on Kabbalah; and as the amazing Pico—as the Phoenix who blazed through a brief life in the triple glare of an old aristocratic society, a new mandarin culture of classical scholarship and, in his last years, the millenarian fantasies of Savonarola’s Florence. Noble origins, fashionable friends, physical beauty, prodigious learning, capacious memory, scholarly journeys, youthful sins, trouble with the Church, eventual repentance and a pious death: these are the motifs of the family hagiography by his nephew that have kept Giovanni Pico famous for being famous over the centuries. Because he died so young, Pico finished very little and published less: the vernacular Commento was neither completed nor published in his lifetime; the Conclusions are just bare statements of theses; half of the preface to the rushed Apology was lifted from the unpublished Oration; On Being and the One is a small piece of a larger effort to harmonize Plato and Aristotle; and Gianfrancesco found the unfinished Disputations Against Astrology bundled with his dead uncle’s papers. Pico had only three works printed in his lifetime: the Conclusions, the Apology and the Heptaplus. The Apology, which defends the Conclusions against charges of heresy, is Pico’s longest piece of philosophical writing, and eleven of its thirteen parts are conventional scholastic philosophy in the manner of Aquinas, Scotus and Ockham. But his sources for the Apology were also Durand de Saint-Pourçain, Henry of Ghent, Jean Quidort, Robert Holcot and a dozen other lesser-known scholastics. Since most of the content of the Conclusions and all its presentation is also thoroughly scholastic, Pico did not present himself as a humanist in his first two printed works, which were the basis of his reputation during his lifetime, except on his home turf in Tuscany and the Emilia-Romagna. He wrote the two epistolary essays on poetry and philosophical language in the humanist style, but few saw them during his lifetime. Besides the Conclusions and the Apology, the only work that Pico completed and made public in print while he lived was the Heptaplus (1489), a Kabbalist commentary on the first 26 verses of Genesis.

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