Boethius and Ficino


The Letters of Ficino 1497

The Letters of Marsilio Ficino represent an essential core of his thought and influence as a chief architect of the Platonic and Hermetic revival, the philosophical and revelatory center of the new learning that was revamping religious vision and humanistic enquiry Italian Renaissance.



525J Marsilio Ficino 1433-1499


Epistolae Marsilii Ficini Florentini.

[Nuremberg] : Per Antonium Koberger impræsse,  1497

Price $30,000

Imprint from colophon./ 

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Chancery quarto 15 x 10cm. . Signatures: π¹⁰,A-Z⁸ a-g⁸ h⁴(lacking blank leaf h4); Errors in folation: D2 signed C2; G2 unsigned, G4 and G5 signed G3 and G4. Final leaf blank and wanting. Colophon reads: Marsilii Ficini Florentini eloquentissimi viri epistolae familiares per Antonium Koberger impraesse anno incarnate deitatis Mccccxcviixxiiii Februarii finiunt foeliciter./ Place of publication suggested by ISTC.

This copy is bound in seventh century, full vellum. With filled initial spaces, printed guide letters, foliation, without catchwords, The first initial letter is Illuminiated with colours on gilt background with tendrils and an arabesque on margin, red and blue initial letters. There is quite a bit of contemporary  marginalia and underlining. There is an ownership  note from the XVII century handwritten on title-front. Restoration on foot of spine, some damp staining. This copy is better than most of the copies that I have seen in person and online.

                   Paul Oskar Kristeller makes clear below that the Letters of Marsilio Ficino represent an essential core of his thought and influence as a chief architect of the Platonic and Hermetic revival, the philosophical and revelatory center of the new learning that was revamping religious vision and humanistic enquiry Italian Renaissance.

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Excerpt from Paul Oskar Kristeller Preface to volume 1 of the Letters of Ficino:   

 “The Letters occupy in fact a very important place in Ficino’s work. As historical documents, they give us a vivid picture of his personal relations with his friends and pupils, and of his own literary and scholarly activities. As pieces of literature, edited and collected by himself, the letters take their place among other correspondences of the time and are a monument of humanistic scholarship and literature. Finally, the letters are conscious vehicles of moral and philosophical teaching and often reach the dimensions of a short treatise. 

Ficino began to collect his letters in the 1470’s, gradually arranged them in twelve books, had them circulated in numerous manuscript copies, and finally had them printed in 1495. The first book contains letters written between 1457 and 1476, and its manuscript tradition is especially rich and complicated. These letters derive great interest from the time of their composition, for they were written at the same time as some of the commentaries on Plato and as the Platonic Theology, Ficino’s chief philosophical work. The correspondents include many persons of great significance: Cosimo and Lorenzo de’ Medici, and members of other prominent Florentine families, allied or hostile to the Medici at different times: Albizzi and Pazzi, Soderini and Rucellai, Salviati and Bandini, Del Nero, Benci and Canigiani, Niccolini, Martelli and Minerbetti. There are two cardinals, Francesco Piccolomini, the later Pius III, a famous patron and bibliophile, and Bessarion, the great defender of Platonism. There is Bernardo Bembo, Venetian patrician and ambassador, Giovanni Antonio Campano, bishop and humanist. Francesco Marescalchi in Ferrara, and Giovanni Aurelio Augurelli from Rimini. There are the friends of Ficino’s youth, Michele Mercati and Antonio Morali called Serafico, and his favourite friend, Giovanni Cavalcanti. There are philosophers and physicians, and there are numerous scholars, of different generations, who occupy a more or less prominent place in the annals of literature: Matteo Palmieri and Donato Acciaiuoli, Benedetto Accolti, Bartolomeo Scala and Niccolò Michelozzi, all connected with the chancery, Cristoforo Landino, Bartolomeo della Fonte and Angelo Poliziano, Francesco da Castiglione, perhaps Ficino’s teacher of Greek, and Antonio degli Agli, bishop of Fiesole and Volterra, Jacopo Bracciolini the son of Poggio, and Carlo Marsuppini, the son of the humanist chancellor of the same name, Benedetto Colucci and Lorenzo Lippi, Domenico Galletti and Francesco Tedaldi, Antonio Calderini and Andrea Cambini, Cherubino Quarquagli and Baccio Ugolini, known for their vernacular verse, and a number of Latin poets: Peregrino Agli, Alessandro Braccesi, Amerigo Corsini, Naldo Naldi and Antonio Pelotti.

ISTC,; if00155000; GW; 9874; Goff; F-155; IGI,; 3864; BM 15th cent.,; II, 443; BSB-Ink,; F-120 Walsh 

  • Locations :
  • Boston Public Library
  • Harvard Library, Countway Library of Medicine (2)
  • Bryn Mawr 
  • Claremont Colleges
  • College of Physicians of Philadelphia
  • Cornell Univ. 
  • Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Library of Congress, 
  • Columbia University, 
  • The Morgan Library 
  • Pennsylvania State Univ.
  • Sacramento Public 
  • Smithsonian Institution, 
  • Stanford Univ. 
  • Newberry Library
  • Univ. of California, 
  • Univ. of Chicago 
  • Univ. of Florida 
  • Univ. of Kansas, 
  • Univ. of Michigan, 
  • Univ. of North Carolina Library
  • Yale University.
  • University of Toronto
  • 

1Marsilio Ficino as a Man of Letters and the Glosses Attributed to Him in the Caetani Codex of Dante, Paul Oskar Kristeller. Renaissance Quarterly Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring, 1983), pp. 1-47 

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Marsilio Ficino  directed the Platonic Academy in Florence, and it was the work of this Academy that gave the Renaissance in the 15th century its impulse and direction.
During his childhood Ficino was selected by Cosimo de’ Medici for an education in the humanities. Later Cosimo directed him to learn Greek and then to translate all the works of Plato into Latin. This enormous task he completed in about five years. He then wrote two important books, “The Platonic Theology” and “The Christian Religion”, showing how the Christian religion and Platonic philosophy were proclaiming the same message. The extraordinary influence the Platonic Academy came to exercise over the age arose from the fact that its leading spirits were already seeking fresh inspiration from the ideals of the civilizations of Greece and Rome and especially from the literary and philosophical sources of those ideals. Florence was the cultural and artistic centre of Europe at the time and leading men in so many fields were drawn to the Academy: Lorenzo de’Medici (Florence’s ruler), Alberti (the architect) and Poliziano (the poet).  Moreover Ficino bound together an enormous circle of correspondents throughout Europe, from the Pope in Rome to John Colet in London, from Reuchlin in Germany to de Ganay in France.



471J  Boethius, Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus (480-524)

Sancti thome de aquino super libris Boecii de consolatione philosophie co[m]mentum cum expositione feliciter incipit.

Lyons: Guillaume le Roy, 1484 ( not after 24 December 1484).  Price: $22,000.

Chancery folio (296 x 210mm). signatures :a-x⁸ (a1 & xblank); Part I only, 166 leaves (of 168, without first and last blanks). Red initial with blue flourishing, smaller red and blue ink initials, red and blue paragraph marks (some leaves browned, repaired tear in text of one leaf, some dampstains). The text surrounded by commentary ascribed to Thomas Aquinas. Le Roy wass the first printer in Lyons and began printing in 1473.  Bound in Contemporary blind tooled morocco, remains of paper label on rear board (lacking clasps, losses to leather, rebacked preserving some original leather). 

Boethius became the connecting link between the logical and metaphysical science of antiquity and the scientific attempts of the Middle Ages. His influence on medieval thought was still greater through his De consolatione philosophiae. Whether Boethius was a Christian has been doubted Nevertheless, for a long time the book was read with the greatest reverence by all Christendom, and its author was regarded as a martyr for the true faith” (Schaff-Herzog). ¶ In this prosimetrical apocalyptic dialogue, Boethius our narrator encounters Lady-Philosophy , who appears in his time of need, the muse of poetry has in short failed him. Philosophy adresses among great protest Boethius’ bad interpretations and misunderstandings of fate and free will…. 

One thousand five hundred years later It is still fair to ask, the same questions which Boethius asks .. “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

And Philosophy answers: “The judgment of most people is based not on the merits of a case but on the fortune of its outcome; they think that only things which turn out happily are good.” “You have merely discovered the two-faced nature of this blind goddess [Fortune] … For now she has deserted you, and no man can ever be secure until he has been deserted by Fortune.” 

¶ “I [Fortune] spin my wheel and find pleasure in raising the low to a high place and lowering those who were on top. Go up, if you like, but only on condition that you will not feel abused when my sport requires your fall.” 

This copy was released/issued without the Pseudo-Boethian De disciplina scholarium from the same press  printed later, which usually accompanies it.

 ISTC ib00779000.; Goff; B779; GW; 4535; Walsh,  3737;Hain-Copinger; 3418; Copinger; 1107.

Copies in United States: Harvard (I) Gordon W. Jones, M.D., (I) Yale (I)