Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (2010) 117–124
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Mysteries of attraction: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, astrology and desire H. Darrel Rutkin Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University, 15 East 84th Street, New York, NY 10028, USA
a r t i c l e
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Keywords: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola Marsilio Ficino Frances Yates Astrology Magic Kabbalah
a b s t r a c t Although in his later years Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) vehemently rejected astrology, he earlier used it in a variety of ways, but primarily to provide further evidence for positions to which he had arrived by other means. One such early use appears in his commentary on his friend Girolamo Benivieni’s love poetry, the Canzone d’amore, of 1486–1487. In the passages discussed here, Pico presents an intensive Platonic natural philosophical analysis based on a deep astrologically informed understanding of human nature as he attempts to explain a perennial question, namely, why one person is attracted to a certain person (or people), and another to others. I will place this discussion of the mysteries of attraction and desire in historical perspective by tracing Pico’s changing relationship to astrology during the course of his short but passionate life, and in historiographic perspective by revising Frances Yates’s still inﬂuential views concerning Pico’s contribution to Renaissance thought and his relationship with Marsilio Ficino. Ó 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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1. Introduction One of the superstars of Renaissance thought (at least in our historiography), Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention, most of it bent toward deeply ideological ends that have profoundly affected our understanding of this extraordinary person and his work, and not necessarily for the better.1 Likewise, astrology has also played an ideologically overdetermined role in discourses of modernity and how we got there.2 Accurately grasping Pico’s intersection with astrology, then, is fraught with difﬁculty and may be approached from many directions.3 The two main sets of questions I have used to approach this complex problematic are, ﬁrst, (a) what is the role of astrology in Pico’s thought and (b) does it change over time (with corollary questions relating (c) astrology to magic and the other so-
called ‘occult sciences’, and (d) to Pico’s relationship with Marsilio Ficino [1433–1499]). Secondly, what is Pico’s actual role within or impact on the history of astrology, primarily the inﬂuence of his extensive multifaceted attack, the Disputations against divinatory astrology, which was published posthumously in 1496.4 In this paper I would like to indicate some of the results of my research, and in the process tease apart some of the major historiographic tangles. In doing so I will also add some color to how we understand Pico’s own views of astrology. The complete story in all its richness and complexity remains to be told. 2. Historiography The study of Pico’s thought relating to the history of science and philosophy in general, and astrology in particular, should ﬁrst be
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For an incisive critique of the historiography, including of Neo-Kantian ideological strains, see Craven (1981). For much further analysis of Pico’s role within the history of philosophy, see Copenhaver (2002a,b). 2 Astrology is often constructed as superstition, pseudo-science or a type of magic that then provides a foil for the birth of modern ‘rational’ science. But when several of the socalled ‘Fathers of Modern Science’, including Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon, are found to have been either practising astrologers and/or proponents of astrological reform (not rejection), this narrative is called into question. I discuss these issues in depth in my forthcoming book (Rutkin, in press-b). For now, see Rutkin (2005, 2006). 3 For a recent approach (and one quite different from mine), see Rabin (2008). 4 See now the essays collected in Bertozzi (2008). I discuss these and many other issues in this paper in greater depth in Rutkin (2002), Chs. 5 and 6. For a splendid orientation to Pico’s life and writings, see Grafton (1997). 1
1369-8486/$ - see front matter Ó 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.shpsc.2010.04.007
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placed in a broader historiographic context. In The civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, the seminal essay in which he created ‘the Renaissance’ as a cultural epoch, Jacob Burckhardt gave Giovanni Pico a brief but signiﬁcant role.5 Burckhardt emphasized two particular features of Pico’s thought: his views on the dignity of man and his views on astrology. Although Burckhardt treated both subjects very brieﬂy, he spoke, nevertheless, with great authority. After making the astoundingly inaccurate statement that ‘differences of birth lost their signiﬁcance in Italy’ during the Renaissance as a direct result of the historically momentous new vision of humanity and its dignity (Burckhardt, 1958, Vol. 2, p. 351), Burckhardt devoted one paragraph of moderate length to Pico’s famous Oration on this topic, whose importance he characterizes as follows: ‘The loftiest conceptions on this subject [humanity] were uttered by Pico della Mirandola in his speech on the dignity of man, which may justly be called one of the noblest bequests of that great age’ (ibid., pp. 351–352). With respect to Pico’s Disputationes, Burckhardt treated this complex 320-page text6 also in one paragraph of moderate length (ibid., p. 492), in which he claims that: Pico della Mirandola . . . made an epoch in the subject [astrology] by his famous refutation. His main achievement was to set forth, in the fourth book, a positive doctrine of the freedom of the will and the government of the universe, which seems to have made a greater impression on the educated classes throughout Italy than all the revivalist preachers put together. Burckhardt then turns to the speciﬁcs of Pico’s inﬂuence: ‘The ﬁrst result of his [sc. Pico’s] book was that the astrologers ceased to publish their doctrines’. Regardless of the profound historical inaccuracy of such claims, it is precisely these two features of Burckhardt’s interpretation of Pico that have cast such long shadows in the historiography.7 Ernst Cassirer emphasized these very themes (at somewhat greater length than Burckhardt)8 in his widely inﬂuential interpretation of Renaissance thought, The individual and the cosmos in Renaissance philosophy;9 this came to be their classic formulation.10 Cassirer made similarly exalted claims about Pico, but he focused more on the scientiﬁc and philosophical features of Pico’s thought than Burckhardt had. Cassirer also emphasized the Disputationes, which he too argued made an epoch in the history of science and philosophy, speciﬁcally (or so he claims),11 by providing a new mathematico-physical approach to science and introducing the fundamental new views of proximate principles (proxima principia) and true cause (vera causa): ‘What Pico is giving here seems to be nothing more (sic) than a philosophical theory of nature’ (Cassirer, 1963, pp. 116–117). Not only does the ‘dominant idea of Pico’s oration ‘‘On the Dignity of Man” ﬁnd[s] its full and pure expression in this treatise [the Disputationes]’, but, furthermore, ‘with Pico’s polemic against astrology, we are on completely new ground. With one blow, he destroys the sphere of inﬂuence of astrology’ (ibid., p. 115). It is striking to note such forceful and unambiguous statements by recognized authorities whose combined inﬂuence on twentieth and twenty-ﬁrst-century views of Renaissance culture remains immense: Burckhardt: ‘The ﬁrst result of his book [the Disputationes] was that the astrologers ceased to publish their doctrines’.
5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Cassirer: ‘with Pico’s polemic against astrology, we are on completely new ground. With one blow, he destroys the sphere of inﬂuence of astrology’. Such clearly stated authoritative utterances, and so profoundly historically inaccurate! The printed evidence alone from the following two centuries provides so much evidence to the contrary that it would be a Herculean feat of scholarship to master even half of it during an entire career of active scholarship. Indeed, Cassirer presented countervailing evidence to modify the bold force of his strongly stated assertion.12 This historiographic circumstance is worth highlighting in order to show that major distortions immediately arise with the very ﬁrst statements concerning the places of astrology in Renaissance thought and culture and Pico’s relationship to them. Frances Yates proposed a more realistic but still not quite accurate interpretation of Pico’s place in the genealogy of Renaissance thought in chapters four and ﬁve of her seminal Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic tradition (1964).13 Her still deeply inﬂuential interpretation is constructed around two fundamental themes: (1) astrology’s relationship with the other so-called ‘occult sciences’, especially natural magic and kabbalah; and (2) Pico’s relationship to Marsilio Ficino. In her view, Pico simply added kabbalah to Ficino’s astrologically-based and medically-oriented natural magic. It is important to clarify the main issues in this utterly central historiographic crux before turning to astrology’s role within Pico’s thought and its development (or not) during the course of his short but passionate life. I will initially approach Pico’s views on astrology in relation to his views on magic and kabbalah. While still exalting Pico’s contribution to Renaissance thought in terms of him making an epoch, Yates extended Cassirer’s view that he was most signiﬁcant in the realms of science and philosophy. She ends her inﬂuential chapter on Pico thus: The profound signiﬁcance of Pico della Mirandola in the history of humanity can hardly be overestimated. He it was who ﬁrst boldly formulated a new position for European man, man as Magus using both Magia and Cabala to act upon the world, to control his destiny by science. And in Pico, the organic link with religion of the emergence of the Magus can be studied at its source. (Yates, 1964, p. 116) Yates thus transforms Pico into a Renaissance Hermetic Magus, in a provocative and inﬂuential formulation. Furthermore, unlike Cassirer, Yates does not focus primarily on the Disputationes, but, rather, on his earlier 900 conclusiones, and, thus, on the magico-kabbalistic side of his thought. Since Yates’s views are still widely held, it is necessary to investigate them more thoroughly. It has seemed problematic—at least to historians and philosophers of science—that Pico could embrace both natural magic and a Christianized form of the kabbalah so openly and forcefully (and as fully in harmony with his philosophy of man), on the one hand, and reject astrology (another occult, hermetic science—in this view) with great vehemence, on the other. This problem arises most pointedly in Yates’s Giordano Bruno, in which she presents a two-stage model for the scientiﬁc revolution. The ﬁrst stage is the hermetic phase, where man as magus is refashioned as a proto-scientist, one who, armed with the new
Burckhardt (1958). There are 320 folio pages in the 1572 Basel Opera omnia. For an insightful analysis of Burckhardt’s often impressionistic, rhetorically evocative manner of writing cultural history, see Gay (1974), pp. 141–182. Cassirer devotes ﬁve pages to Pico’s thought (Cassirer, 1963, pp. 115–120). Cassirer (1963); see also his inﬂuential essay, Cassirer (1942). Craven (1981) focuses with heated critical intensity on this interpretation—and its pernicious Nachleben. For a useful reading of these passages, see Craven (1981), pp. 140–142. Cassirer (1963), p. 120: ‘. . . Kepler was by no means completely outside the ambit of astrology’. Yates (1964). I discuss her reconstruction in detail in Rutkin (2002), Chs. 5 and 6.
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vision of man and his dignity, has turned his will, signiﬁcantly, to engage directly with the world. It is in this context that Yates sings the paean to Pico quoted above. The second stage is the post-Bruno period of genuine mathematico-physical science, where all the hermetic animistic superstructure has been stripped, leaving only a mathematico-mechanical skeleton and musculature. The earliest part of her reconstruction of the proto-scientiﬁc magus culminates in Pico’s promethean activation of the new relationship of man’s will to the world. For our purposes here of resolving the apparent contradiction in Pico’s thought, what is most relevant is the intellectual relationship Yates constructs between Marsilio Ficino’s views of natural magic and Pico’s. She ﬁrst presents her analysis of Ficino’s magic as he developed it most fully in the third book of the De vita (1489), entitled De vita coelitus comparanda, with its astrologico-magical natural philosophy and its psychologico-medical aims.14 Pico then, in Yates’s view, simply added kabbalah to Ficino’s astrological and natural-magical medical foundation. The problem internal to Pico’s thought arises when one considers that he wrote the relevant works for Yates’s view, the 900 conclusiones, the Oration on the dignity of man and the Apologia, during his extremely active early period, 1486–1487. When we then learn that Pico’s last work—which he wrote during the last two years of his life, 1493–1494—was an extensive, multifaceted, intensely-critical assault on astrology, the Disputations against divinatory astrology, a problem arises: did Pico’s views change radically from an earlier pro-astrological position to its contrary, perhaps under Girolamo Savonarola’s notoriously anti-astrological inﬂuence? Or, rather, can the two sets of ideas be reconciled in some other way which might preserve a uniﬁed interpretation of Pico’s thought? Whichever view might seem more likely—Yates chooses the latter15—they both arise in response to a misleading because inaccurate understanding of the original circumstances. What I mean is that Yates characterized Pico’s views of magic based on a very slim textual foundation, primarily the 900 conclusions, a text composed explicitly to be obscure in the manner of the ancient mysteries.16 In her reconstruction, Yates ﬁrst establishes that there is a natural core, as in Ficino’s magic, on the basis of some of the magical and orphic conclusions (Yates, 1964, pp. 87–90). Then she goes further and distinguishes Pico’s magic as far more powerful, with its new turbo-charged kabbalistic engines (ibid., pp. 90 ff.). When the texts Yates used for her reconstruction are closely examined, however,17 one ﬁnds that she ﬁlled in the details of her reconstruction by amplifying Pico’s enigmatic statements in the Conclusiones with apparently similar material from Ficino’s more fully developed De vita. This allowed her to conclude: ‘Pico’s natural magic is therefore, it would seem, probably the same as Ficino’s magic, using natural sympathies but also magical images and signs . . .’ (ibid., p. 89). This methodology has seemed so inherently reasonable and plausible that it has apparently never been critically examined.18 But when these assumptions—which are based on an implicit princi-
ple of mutual interpretability between Ficino’s and Pico’s thought, which is itself based on further assumptions about the tenor of their intellectual relationship—are not embraced, what remains in Pico’s thought are the outlines of, or suggestions for, a view of magic strikingly different in both content and style from Ficino’s imagistic astrologico-medical magic. Pico’s vision is altogether more austere, and with pronounced explicit Christian-apologetic aims. When one characterizes Pico’s magic, then, it seems accurate to call it kabbalistic, as Yates properly does. This distinguishing feature does indeed give it a different tone and structure from Ficino’s, which has no kabbalah, but which does have a great deal of astrology, and also a medical end, neither of which Pico’s has. Pico’s is a much more religiously-oriented magic. As I have shown elsewhere, whatever deeper structures exist in Pico’s magical view, one would hardly call it astrological in any normal sense, let alone—and this is the salient point—closely similar to Ficino’s. Indeed, in his early works Pico seems to have tried to reform astrology at its roots by substituting the kabbalistic seﬁrot for the planets.19 Instead of an overall picture of development, then, where Pico makes an important contribution by adding kabbalah to a deeply astrological natural magic established by Ficino, there seem, rather, to be two different, perhaps competing natural-magical traditions being developed.20 This conclusion is further supported when we examine another confusing feature of Yates’s presentation, which supports her genealogy, but is deeply problematic. In Chapter Four of Giordano Bruno, Yates presents Ficino’s views on natural magic in their most fully developed form, that is, in the De vita, which was published in 1489. In Chapter Five she presents Pico’s magico-kabbalistic views—which had all been written (and some published) in 1486–1487 in the Conclusiones, Oratio and Apologia—as if they had been written directly in response to Ficino’s views, which were published two years later. She uses this explicit terminology, even though she notes elsewhere the proper dates of the relevant works. A historically more likely reconstruction would be that Ficino’s De vita was written in response to Pico’s views, indeed, as an attempt to explicate, in a very different direction, what Pico had written in such an evocatively cryptic manner. One could then read Pico’s Disputationes as a severely critical rejoinder to Ficino’s De vita and, thus, to the most fundamental features of his astrologico-magical system. Furthermore, and in a slightly different thematic context, Paola Zambelli treated some of Ficino’s earlier works that discuss magic, especially (1) his Libro d’amore (1469), which he himself translated into Latin in 1474 and published in 1484 (in the Editio princeps of his Latin translation of Plato’s Dialogues) as a commentary on Plato’s Symposium,21 and (2) his Theologia Platonica (1482).22 Zambelli presents texts that show Ficino’s discussion of magic to be deeply embedded with the subject of Plato’s Symposium, namely, Love. As it turns out, Pico’s ﬁrst extant extended work, written between 10 May 1486 (when he famously abducted Margherita) and 10 November 1486, was on precisely this subject, clothed as a commentary on his friend Girolamo Benivieni’s Canzone d’amore. The ‘commentary’ is
For this work, see Ficino (1989). There is a full spectrum of opinion on this issue in the historiography. For a fuller discussion, see Rutkin (2002), Ch. 5, the results of which are presented below. 16 See the insightful comments of Wind (1968), esp. Ch. 1, ‘The language of mysteries’, pp. 1–16, esp. pp. 9 ff. 17 As I do in Rutkin (2002), Ch. 5, where the argument adumbrated below is developed in detail. 18 Some of the arguments presented here were also arrived at independently by Stephen A. Farmer in the extensive introduction to Farmer (1998). Ultimately our interpretations are quite different, as I discuss in detail in Rutkin (2002). I discuss one of his interpretations below. 19 In addition to Rutkin (2002), Ch. 5, see also Rutkin (2004, 2008). For more on Pico’s views on the Kabbalah, see Wirszubski (1988), Bacchelli (2001), and the new editions being produced in the series The Kabbalistic Library of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, with the Hebrew text, Mithridates’s Latin translation and a translation into English from the Latin, published by Nino Aragno Editore, Turin, 2004–. 20 These two traditions seem to have been integrated in Agrippa’s synthetic De occulta philosophia. For Agrippa’s text with a richly informative introduction, see Agrippa von Nettesheim (1992). 21 The standard edition of Ficino’s commentary is Ficino (1956). Sears Jayne translated this into English (Ficino, 1985). 22 Zambelli (1996). The entire eighteen books of the Theologia Platonica are now available with an accurate English translation by Michael J. B. Allen and John Warden (Ficino, 2001–2006). 15
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actually a collation of three different works in progress, none of which he ever completed: (1) a Poetic theology, (2) a Commentary on the Symposium, and (3) a Treatise on love. Recent research has revealed that the original version contained an extensive and heated critique of Ficino’s views.23 Considering that Ficino’s views on magic are so deeply connected with his views on love, it is somewhat surprising that scholarship on Pico’s magic and its relation to Ficino’s has not investigated the possible ramiﬁcations of the Commento on these issues.24 This matter is of all the more moment because Pico’s commentary on Benivieni’s poem was written during the very same period when he was composing the 900 conclusiones, and while he was most actively engaged in studying kabbalah, which, as Yates showed, is closely connected with Pico’s magic and is his particular contribution. I will discuss an interesting passage from Pico’s Commento below. If one of our goals, then, is to accurately understand the relationship between Pico’s and Ficino’s thought, whatever that relationship may turn out to be, it becomes methodologically imperative that we not ﬁrst presuppose the tenor of that relationship. What I mean is that there has been a pervasive tendency in the scholarship to use passages from Ficino’s work to interpret obscure passages in Pico, and vice versa, by amplifying the underinterpreted passage with an apparently similar passage in the other’s writings. If we wish to understand the integrated thought of either (or both), we must simply abandon this principle of mutual interpretability, the basis for which is an understanding of Ficino’s and Pico’s relationship, where Ficino is the teacher and Pico the pupil, in such a way that their ideas reﬂect a close similarity of outlook. To hold such a straightforward view is becoming increasingly untenable in light of the best recent scholarship.25 Indeed, the best way to understand their complex intellectual relationship is as one of highly competitive, most often antagonistic intellectual confrontation. In this light, then, any view of their relationship which allows the thought of one to be interpreted by that of the other without a nuanced contextual reading would be open to grave objections. Whatever Pico may have meant in the deepest depths of his mysterious vision, it was in several essential respects strikingly different from what Ficino meant when he used the same terms, especially, magia and astrologia. We should now address the complex and difﬁcult problem of whether Pico’s thought developed or not, and if so, how. Giancarlo Zanier provides a scorecard of the different positions.26 Focusing on the astrological evidence, Zanier divides them into three groups: the ﬁrst group comprises those scholars who support the view of an evolution in Pico’s thought, but disagree on its evaluation (Thorndike, Di Napoli). The other two groups support the continuity of Pico’s thought, but come to opposite conclusions. The second group sees in the Disputations a defense of Ficinian astrology, convinced that Pico had also accepted an astrological conception of the world in his early writings (Walker, Yates). The third group, ﬁnally, convinced that the Disputationes provides a refutation of astrology, also ﬁnd evidence of such a refutation in his early works (Garin). Zanier
focuses his own analysis of astrology’s treatment in Pico’s early works as the necessary background for his later study of astrology in the Disputations.27 He concludes (1) that Pico embraces a semiological view of astrology, namely, that the heavens are signs and not causes, following his Neoplatonic authorities (Zanier, 1981, pp. 532–533), and (2) that astrology is identical with kabbalah in Pico’s thought (ibid., pp. 536–538).28 To his credit, Zanier clearly and explicitly afﬁrms the difﬁculty of interpreting Pico’s theses. The question of evolution or development in Pico’s thought can also be analyzed in terms of his views on magic. Farmer frames the question in these terms, and reﬁnes it in interesting and useful ways.29 Inter alia, he argues for continuities in what he calls Pico’s broader cosmological views, while indicating profound transformations in their practical magical application, or at least in their expression. His analysis is confounded, however, by identifying cosmological issues, such as the nature of the caelum in Pico, with metaphysico-ontological issues, such as the fundamentals of Procline metaphysics. Although Farmer considers the cosmological framework to remain exactly the same, he considers there to be strong evidence for a change in Pico’s views of magic. Farmer thinks, however, that the explicitly anti-magical rhetoric of the Disputationes is actually a cover-up for a continuing deeply pro-magical view, as found in the Conclusiones, which Pico no longer feels comfortable about openly expressing (Farmer, 1998, pp. 151 ff.). Farmer goes further, claiming repeatedly that the texts as published in Pico’s Opera omnia of 1496 signiﬁcantly reﬂect Giovanni’s nephew, Gianfrancesco Pico’s heavy editorial hand. He thus conspired to suppress, under Savonarola’s ideological guidance, the true intent of Giovanni Pico’s still deeply magical thought. Although Farmer adduces intriguing evidence in this direction, his analysis ultimately leaves one wanting a much less convoluted explanation. Of course, a certain level of uncertainty will always remain in the interpretation of these texts. The question of development (or not) in Pico’s thought is complex and difﬁcult. Although the question has been framed so far in terms of either astrology or magic as the focus (where assumptions about the other’s relationship to the primary focus are invariably imported, usually unconsciously), it seems heuristically more sound to approach the issue with both astrology and magic as interpretive focuses. If one historicizes the particular conﬁguration of Pico’s views at a speciﬁc time based on contemporary texts, then, by comparing other texts with his views thus established, we may arrive at a more accurate interpretation of continuities and/or transformations. The texts of 1486–1487 (Conclusiones, Oratio, Apologia—and the contemporary Commento) provide most of the evidence for his early works; the Disputationes (1493–1494), of course, provides the primary evidence for his later views. I have also explored the important intervening Heptaplus (1489).30 In what follows, I will attempt to complicate our understanding by discussing other evidence for Pico’s early views of astrology not usually taken into account, namely, his Commento on Girolamo Benivieni’s Canzone d’amore, and one of his early poems, with which I will begin.
23 For the text, see Pico della Mirandola (1942). Garin treats this issue in his introduction (Garin, 1942), as does Sears Jayne in the introduction to his English translation and commentary, Pico della Mirandola (1984). 24 I make some suggestions along these lines in Rutkin (2002), Ch. 5. 25 In addition to Garin’s and Jayne’s introductions noted above, see Allen (1995). 26 Zanier (1970). 27 Zanier (1981). 28 I ﬁnd both of these conclusions unpersuasive. The interested reader will ﬁnd my treatment of Zanier’s analysis in Rutkin (2002), Ch. 6. 29 Farmer (1998), pp. 142–145. I critique his analysis in detail in Rutkin (2002), Ch. 5. 30 I sketch out some of these results in the conclusion to this paper.
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3. Astrology and desire Pico offers some surprising ideas in an early poem, in which he represents his own natal horoscope in elegiac couplets.31 He primarily describes the rulership of each mundane house in order, from the ﬁrst to the twelfth, thus revealing a basic literate knowledge of astrology, but no in-depth or expert knowledge.32 These are but poetic descriptions, usually with a mythological resonance. Although there is no astrological analysis of these house rulerships, he does reveal some basic knowledge; for example, that Mars rules Scorpio and that the eighth house rules death. He also mentions where a few of the planets are located within this house structure, without, however, discussing their astrological meaning. Pico also refers to the midheaven (transforming it with a humanistic ﬂourish into medio Olympo), which, along with the rising sign or ascendant is the most signiﬁcant point in a horoscope. Likewise, there is no interpretation of what Cancer there signiﬁes. What we have then is Pico’s competent poetic description (without interpretation) of the most basic features of his own horoscope. Fortunately, we seem to possess the horoscope itself, which was apparently drawn up by Girolamo Benivieni, the author of the poems Pico interprets in the Commento.33 There is also a signiﬁcant passage earlier in the same autobiographical poem, which seems to indicate Pico’s own views on astrology. If we interpret it in this way, a strikingly different picture emerges than one would have expected from the standard interpretations of his thought. How we read this passage with respect to Pico’s own views, then, could play a major role in assessing later changes in his thought.34 In this autobiographical (or at least self-referential) poem, Pico presents a view of man’s relation to the world which explicitly denies free will! Cogimur, est animo maior vis indita nobis, Quae negat arbitrio vivere quemque suo.35 ‘We are compelled’, he begins; ‘there is a force in us greater then the mind (animus), which denies that anyone lives by their own choice’, their own arbitrium.36 Beyond the surprising sentiment expressed here, the terminology is perhaps even more striking. The denial of free choice (liberum arbitrium), along with a strict determinism, are the two major features that a legitimate astrology must avoid. Stat fati series; stat non mutabilis ordo; stant leges: one could hardly ask for clearer language in prose or poetry! Pico presents here an extre-
mely fatalistic world view, where every single person is explicitly and emphatically denied freedom of the will and its concomitant free choice, and this by the supposed avatar of man’s dignity! The central question is, of course, how to evaluate the views expressed here. Should we take them as a serious statement of his considered views on the nature of human life, or merely as an exercise in the genre, popular at the time, of astrological poetry?37 In fact, if we turn to the ﬁrst section of this ‘autobiographical’ astrological poem, we can determine its genre, which will provide the key to its interpretation. This is a love poem (an erotic elegy), a genre not generally known for veracity of any sort. Indeed, in such poetry the conventions of self-representation are often profoundly subverted.38 Given the carnivalesque nature of erotic poetry, then, it makes sense to interpret Pico’s content here as playful, a striking inversion of his own cherished beliefs. Regardless, Pico raises some interesting themes, which he explores in greater depth while interpreting his friend’s love poetry, to which we will now turn. The other text I wish to treat comes from the Commento and amounts to a small discourse on the relative natures of earthly and divine love. Pico here explicates one of the great mysteries of human life: what causes one person to be attracted to another? His analysis provides the foundation for his interpretation of stanza six of Benivieni’s Canzone d’amore.39 Pico’s description is quite full, and in the process he treats seemingly astrological material as found in the writings of the Platonists. Although problems of interpretation may arise concerning what (if any) of these views Pico himself embraced, they certainly provide interesting information about his knowledge of astrology, or at least of its natural philosophical foundations. As I have shown elsewhere,40 the passages analyzed here provide a Platonic counterpart to an Aristotelian analysis of astrology’s natural philosophical foundations developed at least since the middle of the thirteenth century, as found in Albertus Magnus and others.41 These passages are also of interest because Pico discusses issues related to celestial inﬂuences that he also discussed in the 1489 Heptaplus and the Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem, both of which seem clearly to represent his own views on these subjects.42 There are several astrologically relevant passages in book three, chapter six, which treats the internal psychological ascent from the terrestrial to the celestial Venus, a quintessentially Platonic theme. The ﬁrst two passages occur in a discussion that sets up the analysis of Benivieni’s sixth stanza. The question raised is of central
31 Paul O. Kristeller published the text and discussed the manuscript in which this poem occurs in Kristeller (1965), p. 50 n. 56. Kristeller discovered the manuscript of the poem while this important article was in proofs. He associates the poem with Pico’s Florentine period, in contrast to another poetic manuscript, which seems clearly to have been associated with his earlier Ferrarese period. Kristeller does not date it more precisely, nor does he reﬁne the dating in Kristeller (1975). Wolfgang Speyer also discovered and published this poem, from a different manuscript collection, contemporaneously with Kristeller (Pico della Mirandola, 1964); it is number 14 in his edition. References for the horoscope will be given below. 32 For a description of the different ‘house’ systems, see North (1986). For the astrological signiﬁcance of the houses (as well as planetary rulerships and other technical features of astrological practice), see Eade (1984). 33 Kristeller (1965), pl. 5, reproduces the horoscope. Patrizia Castelli (1994) also reproduces it, with a transcription and brief discussion. I will take this opportunity to correct two mistakes in her transcription (ibid., p. 228): (1) Inpium in line three (for the fourth house) should read Jupit. for Jupiter (the last letter is unclear); and (2) Job. in line four (for the sixth house) should read Sol. With these two corrections, all the planets and both nodes are now accounted for in the horoscope. 34 For a review of the prevalence of this interpretation in the historiography, and a sharp critique, see Craven (1981). 35 Kristeller (1965), p. 50 n. 56, ll. 9–10; Pico della Mirandola (1964), no. 14, ll. 9–10. 36 Translations are mine unless otherwise indicated. 37 See (for example) Soldati (1986). 38 See Paul Veyne’s provocative Roman erotic elegy: Love, poetry and the West (Veyne, 1988). 39 Here is a translation of stanza six: ‘When, once formed from the highest countenance,/ The soul departs from the highest part,/ Where the soul lives, to descend here below,/ It imprints itself in human hearts./ There, expressing with marvellous art,/ That power which it has received from its own star,/ And which lives gathered into the bosom/ Of its ﬁrst celestial garment,/ to the degree that its tools are able in the human seed,/ It forms, molds, and shapes its own home, in that/ Which now more, now less, resists its divine cultivation./ Thence when the infused image of it, from the Sun which is engraved in it,/ Descends into the heart of another,/ If it corresponds to it,/ The soul which then contains it within itself blazes up./ It makes it much more beautiful by the divine rays/ Of its own faculty. And from this arises the fact/ That in loving, the heart is nourished by a sweet delusion’. The translation of the poem is all Jayne’s. Most of the translation that follows is fundamentally mine (except where otherwise indicated), but with constant reference to Jayne’s. 40 Once again, see Rutkin (2002), Ch. 5. 41 For a detailed reconstruction of this system of Aristotelian natural knowledge, where I treat al-Kindi, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon and Albertus Magnus, see Rutkin (2002), Ch. 2, and Rutkin (in press-b), Sect. 1. For a treatment of Albertus in particular, see Rutkin (in press-a). 42 See Rutkin (2002), Chs. 5 and 6.
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interest to a philosopher of love, namely, why is a given person drawn more to the love of one person than to the love of another.43 Pico states that one must ﬁrst know that: among human souls (fra l’anime umane) the Platonists say that some are of the nature of Saturn, some of [the nature] of Jupiter, and thus of the other planets, and they intend by this that one soul has more natural afﬁnity (cogniazione) and similarity of form (conformità) with the soul of the heaven of Saturn (con l’anima del cielo di Saturno) than with the soul of the heaven of Jupiter, and another [soul] the opposite. (Cf. Pico della Mirandola, 1984, p. 160)44 Pico completes the point with reference to Plato’s Timaeus: The reason is simply that one soul is of one kind of nature, and another soul is of a different one. There is no other intrinsic cause which can be given for this. The extrinsic and effective cause (estrinseca ed effettiva causa) of the phenomena is the same as that which produces the souls themselves, that is, the creator of the world (l’opiﬁce del mondo). Plato says in the Timaeus that in sowing seeds (spargendo semina), the creator planted some souls in the moon and others in the other planets and stars, which Plato calls ‘the instruments of Time’. (Cf. ibid.)45 Here Pico establishes the Platonists’ claim that some souls are of the nature of Saturn and others of the nature of Jupiter, for which they give an analysis which relies on an interpretation of Plato’s Timaeus. These Platonists base their view on the fact that some souls have more afﬁnity with the soul of Jupiter’s heaven, and others, likewise, with the souls of the other planets. This view of the heavens as animated is certainly in accord with Pico’s position in the Oratio,46 although here it is further articulated that each planet has its own soul. Furthermore, the last phrase, spargendo semina, is very similar to a passage in magical conclusion 9>5, where Pico claims that virtues, which have been separated in a seedlike manner in the heavens and on earth, can be reunited by the magus: ‘Nulla est virtus in caelo aut in terra seminaliter et separata, quam et actuare et unire magus non possit’. There thus seems to be an afﬁnity between these more fully articulated views and Pico’s own as expressed in the Conclusiones, but they are explicitly presented in the Commento as the Platonists’ views.47 It should further be noted that Pico himself mentions his upcoming debate in the ﬁrst part of this chapter, thus explicitly indicating the contemporaneity of the Commento with the Oratio and Conclusiones: And many Peripatetics, especially the Latins, have believed and [currently] believe that our soul, united to the body, cannot
ascend to a more perfect knowledge, which we will demonstrate in our council to be profoundly different from the view of Aristotle and virtually all of the Arabic and Greek Peripatetics. (Cf. Pico della Mirandola, 1984, p. 159)48 Of course this ‘council’ never came to pass. Pico then presents the second prerequisite for properly interpreting Benivieni’s poem. In addition to including two explicitly astrological passages, it also provides a further articulation of the natural philosophical foundations for the ﬁrst point. It is worth examining this text in some detail. To make the ﬁrst point, Pico established that souls have different natures due to their having been seeded in different souls of the planets. In this second text, he describes how the rational soul, in descending from its star (or planet), forms its earthly body by means of a celestial vehicle. We should examine the second principle and its elaboration for two primary reasons: ﬁrst, it provides a Platonic philosophical foundation for astrology; secondly, some of the Platonic ideas presented here are strikingly similar to ideas Pico presents as his own in Disputationes III, 4 and following.49 Secondly one must know that (a) the soul is connected directly (with no medium) to the celestial vehicle (l’anima immediatamente al veiculo celeste), and (b) that the celestial vehicle, then, is the median connected to the terrestrial and corruptible body (e mediante quello al corpo terreno e corruttibile).50 Pico then develops this view, which he explicitly states that Benivieni follows. Some Platonists hold the opinion: that the rational soul (l’anima razionale) in descending from its star (descendendo dalla stella sua) itself forms (lei stessa formi, sc. by means of the celestial vehicle) the terrestrial body which it (lei, the anima razionale) has to govern. (Cf. ibid., p. 161)51 Thus the soul using the celestial vehicle forms the body. To complete this passage, Pico states directly that the poet grounds himself on these two principles just articulated: in imagining that in the vehicle of the soul which descends (nel veiculo de l’anima che descende, sc. the veicolo celeste)—which has been viviﬁed by it (lei, the anima razionale) with the potenzia with which it forms the terrestrial body—there is a virtue formative of corruptible body infused by its star, and according as it descends from this or that star, it thus receives a virtue differently formative (virtù diversamente formativa). (Cf. ibid.)52 The soul, then, seeded in a particular planet, forms its terrestrial corporeal body by means of the celestial vehicle, whatever that is precisely.53 The central point here, and the one that provides the Pla-
43 [M]a prima che a ciò descenda, nel principio de la VI [stanza] assegna la ragione perchè sia tratto uno più a l’amore di questo che di quell’altro. (Pico della Mirandola, 1942, p. 569, ll. 18–21) 44 ‘E per intelligenzia d’essa è da sapere prima, che fra l’anime umane dicono e’ Platonici alcune essere di natura di Saturno, alcune di Giove e così degli altri pianeti, e intendono per questo che un’anima harà più cogniazione e conformità con l’anima del cielo di Saturno che con l’anima del cielo di Giove, e un’altra per contrario’ (ibid., ll. 23–28). The numbers in the quotations in the main body of the text are to Jayne’s translation, whether or not I follow it closely. 45 ‘[C]he non è per altro se non perchè quest’anima è di tale natura e quella di tale, nè altra causa intrinseca se n’ha ad assignare di questo, di che estrinseca ed effettiva causa ne è quello che esse anime produce, cioè l’opiﬁce del mondo, del quale dice Platone nel Timeo che alcune anime nella luna, alcune negli altri pianeti e stelle, che lui chiama instrumenti del tempo, spargendo semina’ (ibid., p. 570, ll. 1–7). For this passage I follow Jayne’s translation closely. 46 Early in the Oratio, Pico gives his account of God’s creation of the world (Pico della Mirandola, 1942, p. 104, ll. 5–11), during which Pico states that ‘He enlivened the etherial orbs with eternal souls (aetherios globos aeternis animis vegetarat)’. The text is cited from Garin’s National Edition, the same volume from which the Commento is also cited. 47 For the text of the Conclusiones, see Farmer (1998). 48 ‘E hanno creduto e credono molti Peripatetici, e massime e’ latini, non potere l’anima nostra unita al corpo a più perfetta cognizione ascendere, il che nel nostro concilio dimonstreremo dalla mente di Aristotile e quasi di tutti e’ Peripatetici arabi e greci essere grandamente alieno’ (Pico della Mirandola, 1942, p. 568, ll. 10–15). 49 For a detailed discussion, see Rutkin (2002), Ch. 6. 50 ‘Secondo, è da sapere che unendosi, come etiam nel primo libro fu detto essere mente de’ Platonici, l’anima immediatamente al veiculo celeste, e mediante quello al corpo terreno e corruttibile’ (Pico della Mirandola, 1942, p. 570, ll. 7–11). 51 ‘[V]ogliono alcuni, l’openione de’ quali segue in questo l’autore nostro, che l’anima razionale descendendo dalla stella sua formi lei stessa el corpo terrestre che lei ha a governare’ (ibid., ll. 11–14). 52 ‘Sopra a questi principii fondandosi el Poeta, si immagina che nel veiculo de l’anima che descende, che è da lei con quella potenzia viviﬁcato con la quale el corpo terrestre forma, sia dalla sua stella infusa una virtù formativa del corpo corruttibile, e secondo che da altra o altra stelle descende, così riceve virtù diversamente formativa’ (ibid., ll. 14–19). 53 The celestial vehicle is an important feature of Neoplatonic speculation on the relationship of the soul to the body, which E. R. Dodds discusses in his edition of Proclus, The elements of theology (Dodds, 1963).
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tonic natural philosophical foundations of astrology, is that the formative virtue is infused by its own proper star, and that each star infuses a virtue that forms bodies differently.54 Having provided this analysis, Pico now offers astrologically relevant examples. The ﬁrst concerns the physiognomists, who read the soul’s character from bodily signs: Whence the physiognomists say that such a man has a lunar appearance, another solar, another mercurial, another jovial, another saturnine, another martial, and from their appearance, they [the physiognomists] judge the soul of that one to be of a similar nature, which ﬁts well with the poet’s opinion. (Cf. ibid.)55 The physiognomists’ view, then, lends support to Pico’s analysis. With his next move, however, the discussion becomes more interesting: But because matter here below is not always obedient to what forms and stamps it, therefore, the virtue of the soul cannot always express the appearance that it would like to in an earthly body, whence it arises that there can be two jovial people who appear dissimilar in their appearance, because the matter of the conception of the one would have been differently disposed to receive that ﬁgure of the soul than the matter of another. (Cf. ibid.)56 In this example, two people are of a jovial temperament, that is (in his prior analysis), their souls each descend from Jupiter, but, because each individual’s matter receives its form differently, the two jovial persons have different appearances. Pico here presents a Platonic philosophical analysis of generation in order to explain the views embodied in his friend’s poem. This analysis is similar in structure to that of the thirteenth century Aristotelians: the efﬁcient and material causes collectively account for individual differences, the formal cause accounts for the structural similarities that each member of a species shares. The efﬁcient cause for the Platonists—as for the Aristotelians—is directly related to the different planets. Here the opiﬁce del mondo, Plato’s demiurge, casts different souls into different planets, which then inform the making of each terrestrial body. The difference in matter, then, further differentiates each individual, in that an individual’s particular matter receives even the same planetary inﬂuences differently. In the astrologizing Aristotelianism I have reconstructed in detail elsewhere, on the other hand, the particular conﬁguration of all the planets in their various zodiacal signs and in their particular relationships to each other at each individual’s birth (along with the matter and the place) differentiate each individual. Here, then, is a profoundly different conception of how the planets inﬂuence individual human beings. Indeed, most Aristotelians tended to remove the soul entirely from discussions of direct planetary inﬂuences, focusing instead on planetary effects on bodies. Regardless, Pico himself has not explicitly endorsed any of this as his own view; rather, the views expressed here are explicitly 54
those of the Platonists, the physiognomists or the poet himself. Thus they may or may not reﬂect Pico’s own views. There does seem to be a coherence, however, with other of his central views (examined elsewhere), which inclines me to conclude tentatively that these reﬂections on his friend’s poem also indicate his own views as well. In any event, they certainly indicate Pico’s knowledge of Platonic philosophical arguments and analyses with strongly astrological overtones.57 The last astrological passage is also in the philosophical domain, in which Pico discusses the Platonists’ views on the descent of souls. The analysis is directly related to a line of Benivieni’s poetry: Dalla più eccelsa parte Ch’alberghi el sol . . . From the highest part Where the sun lives . . . Namely, of Cancer, the sign, [among all twelve signs of the Zodiac, above our highest empyreum, namely, more elevated],58 and it is the opinion of the Platonists who say that the soul descends through Cancer and ascends through Capricorn; and I believe that this is their foundation, because Cancer is the [celestial] house of the moon, whose virtue especially rules over the vegetable, life-giving part of the body, and Capricorn is the house of Saturn, ruling contemplation, which the soul can leave freely from the body. (Cf. Pico della Mirandola, 1984, p. 162)59 Concerning this passage, Zanier concludes that Pico’s references to astrological theory here are ‘piuttosto precisi’, and they certainly tell us something about his knowledge of astrology, including its natural philosophical foundations. Indeed, his philosophical knowledge seems to be at a more advanced level than his knowledge of technical practical astrology. Unfortunately, it is unclear which of these views Pico himself endorses.
4. Conclusion I will now brieﬂy review some of the more signiﬁcant results of my broader investigation into Pico’s early knowledge of and views about astrology.60 It seems clear that he had an adequate enough knowledge of astrology for reading and writing poetry with astrological motifs. His own views on astrology, on the other hand, are less clear. The knowledge of astrology Pico reveals is elementary. He seems to have had a good grasp of planetary rulerships, and an awareness of the basic structure and major points of a natal horoscope, namely, the ascendant and midheaven. There is no indication, however, that he could actually interpret (let alone construct) a horoscope for more than its most basic features, namely, what the planets represent and what signs rule what mundane houses. A more interesting area of his knowledge seems to be a deeper grasp of the Platonic natural philosophical foundations of astrology, where the universe is animated (ensouled), and where each planetary heaven has its own soul that somehow fundamentally
Jayne treats all these issues usefully in his commentary ad loc. ‘Onde dicono e’ ﬁsionomi el tale uomo avere efﬁgie lunare, el tale solare, el tale mercuriale, el tale gioviale, el tale saturnina, el tale marziale, e dalla efﬁgie iudicano l’anima di colui essere di simile natura, il che è molto conveniente all’opinione del Poeta’ (Pico della Mirandola, 1942, p. 570, ll. 20–24). For physiognomy within learned culture, see Agrimi (2002). 56 ‘Ma perchè la materia inferiore non è sempre obediente a chi la forma e stampa, però non può esprimere sempre la virtù dell’anima nel corpo terreno la efﬁgie che lei vorrebbe, onde nasce che essere possono dua gioviali che nella forma appariranno dissimili, perchè la materia della concezione dell’uno sarà suta altrimenti disposta a ricevere quella ﬁgura dell’anima che quella dell’altro’ (Pico della Mirandola, 1942, p. 570, ll. 24–31). 57 For a reconstruction of this thirteenth-century astrologing Aristotelian natural philosophy, see Rutkin (2002), Ch. 2, and Rutkin (in press-b), Vol. 1, Part 1. 58 Jayne omits this passage in his translation. For his explanation, see Pico della Mirandola (1984), p. 244 n. 66. 59 ‘[C]ioè dal Cancro, segno infra tutti e’ dodici segni del Zodiaco sopra questo nostro empireo superiore più eccelso, cioè più elevato, ed è sentenzia de’ Platonici che dicono l’anima descendere per il Cancro e ascendere per el Capricorno; e credo sia el fundamento loro perchè el Cancro è casa della Luna, la cui virtù massime domina sopra la parte vegetale viviﬁcativa de’ corpi, e el Capricorno è casa di Saturno, preposto alla contemplazione alla quale l’anima del corpo sciolta liberamente può vacare’ (Pico della Mirandola, 1942, p. 571, ll. 14–22). 60 Once again, these conclusions are drawn from the intensive investigation in Rutkin (2002), Chs. 5 and 6. 55
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conditions the souls seeded there. Furthermore, a position on how the heavens work with respect to generation was articulated, involving souls, celestial vehicles, formative virtues and the generation of terrestrial bodies. To anticipate some important later developments, though, there is no talk of spiritus or lux (as we ﬁnd in the Heptaplus), nor, especially, of celestial heat (caelestis calor), which he adds to spiritus and lux in the Disputationes. This knowledge of the Platonic natural philosophical foundations of astrology, then, seems far more sophisticated than his more elementary knowledge of practical astrology. Pico does not, however, emphasize the astrological features of his account. Rather, he uses astrological examples and arguments almost exclusively to support positions arrived at from other directions. On the basis of the evidence I have examined here and elsewhere, then, I would characterize early Pico as basically neutral about astrology—it is a part of the realm of learning which he sees as a source of support, perhaps occasionally offering a new insight into how to think about something. It does not, however, seem to be an area of particular interest, study or emphasis, unlike kabbalah and magic, about which he is perfectly incandescent with enthusiasm. This conﬁguration, however, was subject to change over Pico’s life. In the Disputationes, of course, Pico explicitly and vehemently attacks astrology, concerning which he has now attained an expert knowledge; he also explicitly ridicules magicians, kabbalists and the prisci, and has completely de-emphasised magic, removing it from the center of his focus. He also turned in a much more Aristotelian direction from 1491 with De ente et uno,61 and the more fully developed Disputations against divinatory astrology. Much work remains to be done on both the study of Pico’s thought within its relevant contexts and on the history of astrology before a fully satisfactory interpretation of Pico’s relation to astrology can be offered. References Agrimi, J. (2002). Ingeniosa scientia nature: Studi sulla Fisiognomica Medievale. Florence: Galluzzo. Agrippa von Nettesheim, H. C. (1992). De occulta philosophia libri tres (V. Perrone Compagni, Ed.). Leiden: Brill. Allen, M. J. B. (1995). The second Ficino–Pico controversy: Parmenidean poetry, eristic and the one. In idem, Plato’s third eye: Studies in Marsilio Ficino’s metaphysics and its sources (pp. 417–455). Aldershot: Variorum. (First published 1986) Bacchelli, F. (2001). Giovanni Pico e Pier Leone da Spoleto: Tra ﬁlosoﬁa dell’amore e tradizione cabalistica. Florence: Olschki. Bertozzi, M. (Ed.). (2008). Nello specchio del cielo: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola e le Disputationes contro l’astrologia divinatoria. Florence: Olschki. Burckhardt, J. (1958). The civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (S. G. C. Middlemore, Trans.) (2 vols.). New York: Harper and Row. (First published 1860) Cassirer, E. (1942). Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Journal of the History of Ideas, 3, 123–144, 319–346. Cassirer, E. (1963). The individual and the cosmos in Renaissance philosophy (M. Domandi, Trans.). Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press. (First published 1927) Castelli, P. (1994). L’Oroscopo di Pico. In P. Viti (Ed.), Pico, poliziano e l’umanesimo di ﬁne quattrocento (pp. 225–229 & pl. 42). Florence: Olschki. Copenhaver, B. P. (2002a). Magic and the dignity of man: De-Kanting Pico’s Oration. In A. J. Grieco et al. (Eds.), The Italian Renaissance in the twentieth century (pp. 295–320). Florence: Olschki. Copenhaver, B. P. (2002b). The secret of Pico’s Oration: Cabala and Renaissance philosophy. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 26, 56–81. Craven, W. G. (1981). Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, symbol of his age: Modern interpretations of a Renaissance philosopher. Geneva: Droz. Dodds, E. R. (1963). Appendix II: The astral body in Neoplatonism. In Proclus, The elements of theology (E. R. Dodds, Ed.) (2nd ed.) (pp. 313–321). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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