Letter 8: Marsilio Ficino to Aldus

This letter by Marsilio Ficino, one of the most famous personalities of the Florentine Renaissance and reviver of the (Neo-)Platonic philosophy, gives an interesting insight in the intricacies of the early printing culture that not only poses evident technical difficulties, but is also heavily affected and even disrupted by less thought about quotidian conditions of the time period it emerges from.

Marsilius Ficinus Florentinus Aldo Romano salutem plurimam dicit

{1} Gratias ago benivolentiae et diligentiae tuae. Doleo autem me minus posse meam his temporibus diligentiam adhibere. Esse multa exscribentium vitio in libris istis errata facile credo. Nam acceptis litteris tuis statim post initium Iamblichi duo errata deprehendi. Neque id quidem mirum. Nam codices quos habetis non ego quidem recognovi tunc in Parmenidis Dionysiique commentariis occupatus, sed mei quidam admodum negligentes quorum negligentiam postquam ad vos missi sunt animadverti.

{2} Graecos equidem libros a Medicibus accepi commodo. Hi nunc nec haberi facile nec forte inveniri possunt. Synesium prae ceteris arbitror esse mendosum non solum exscribentium vel amicorum vitio sed quia exemplar habuit mendarum plenum.

{3} Denique haec omnia me olim ceteris occupatissimo nescio quomodo edita sunt. Ego vero ist[h]aec tempestate hac curare non possum. Praeterea enim id quod valitudinarius sum, nec in urbe nec in suburbiis habitare tuto possum, nec meos qui in civitate sparsi sunt libros colligere. Tres enim furiae Florentiam iandiu miseram assidue vexant: morbus pestilens, et fames, atque seditio, atque id quod acerbius est, una cum caeteris mortalium dissimulationibus, dissimulata pestis.

{4} Legi quod in Synesio emendas; emendationem tuam probo. Quapropter cetera fidei tuae credo iudicioque committo. Denique si ad me, ut nunc unum, ita deinceps plures quinterniones miseris, ego quoque pro viribus emendabo, et cum totum opus impressum fuerit, mittam emendationum indicem, quem vos post codices imprimetis antequam libri ipsi vendantur.

{5} Vale feliciter et Hieronymo Biondo nostrae dignitatis studiosissimo meo nomine dicito salutem et gratias agito.
Kalendis Iuliis MCCCCLXXXXVII.

Notes to the Text

habuit my emendation : habui Reg. 2023


Marsilio Ficino greets Aldus the Roman,

{1} I want to thank you for your goodwill and your diligence. Sadly, I am not able to provide you with equal diligence on my part in this period. I have no difficulty believing that many of the errors in those books are the fault of the copyist. For after I received your letter, I immediately caught two errors at the beginning of the Iamblichus. This is no surprise, since I did not examine the codices that you have because I was occupied with the commentaries on Parmenides and Dionysius at that time. Rather, they were examinded by some very careless employees of mine, whose carelessness I realized after they were sent to you.

{2} For my part, I am glad to have received some Greek books from the Medici. Those are not easy for me to access or to come across by chance now. I think the Synesius is even more corrupt than the others, not only owed to the shortcomings of the copyist and even friends, but because it already had an exemplar full of errors.

{3} Finally, I do not know the particulars of how all of them were published while I was recently occupied with other things. But I can’t take care of these things at this time. And besides, there is the fact that I am sick, and in addition, I cannot live safely in the city or in the suburbs, nor can I collect my books, which are scattered throughout the city. For three Furies have been vexing poor Florence for a while now: the plague, famine, and unrest. But what is worse is the fact that, along with all the other human dissimulations, there is a plague in disguise.

{4} I read what you emended in the Synesius and I approve. Therefore, I entrust you with the rest and consign them to your judgement. So, if you will send me more quires later, just as you do with this one now, I will also emend them to the best of my abilities, and when the whole work is printed, I will send you a list of emendations, which you will print at the back of the gatherings before the books themselves are sold.

{5} Farewell and good luck. Give my greetings and thanks to Girolamo Biondo, who is very devoted to my good name.
July 1, 1497.

Notes to the Translation:

Iamblichus: Neo-Platonist (245 – 325 CE)

Parmenides: Plato’s dialogue

Dionysius: Dionysius the Areopagite; (fl. 100 CE); Neo-Platonist

Synesius: Synesius of Cyrene (~ 370 – 412 CE), Christian Neo-Platonist. With Aldus Ficino published his translation of the Book of Dreams (περί ἐνυπνίων, or De insomniis), in which Synesius elaborates on “personalized” dream interpretation as a means of approaching divine knowledge of the future.

plague, famine, and unrest: Ficino’s hometown Florence with shaken by several disasters. Although spared major epidemics after 1479, mortality statistics suggest a minor “plague” from 1497-1498 and famine during 1496-1498.

By far more profound upheavals took place in the political sphere. After the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492, which ended six decades of stable Medici rule over city, his son Piero assumed the political leadership but proved unable to continue his father’s success. After the invasion of Italy by Charles VIII, Piero was exiled, leaving Ficino bereft of an important patron.

a plague in disguise: With the expulsion of the Medici family, a band of several Florentine noble families planned to (re)claim power of the city and to reestablish a republican reign. The Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola who called for the complete abolition of classical texts and the purification of Christian theology from ancient (mainly Platonic) philosophy, rose to power and became an antagonist to Ficino’s efforts. The “plague in disguise” is most likely an allusion to Savonarola, who, in the same year, published his Triumphus Crucis, a treatise that is, among other things, a pamphlet against “worldly” philosophers.

Girolamo Biondo: Girolamo Rosso, a.k.a. Pistoriensis or Florentinus (15th – 16th century); Dominican who lived in Venice and Florence; a member of the “Platonic Academy,” an informal Florentine discussion group after the model of Plato’s Academy that was sponsored mainly by Lorenzo de’ Medici and led by Ficino.