Platonic Academy

The Platonic Academy was a 15th century discussion group in Florence. It was founded after Gemistus Pletho reintroduced Plato's thoughts to Western Europe during the 1438-1439 Council of Florence. It was sponsored by Cosimo de' Medici and led by Marsilio Ficino. It was never a formal group but the members considered themselves a modern form of Plato's Academy. Important members were Politian (or Poliziano), Cristoforo Landino, Pico della Mirandola, and Gentile de' Becchi. The academy would proceed to translate into Latin all of Plato's works, the Enneads of Plotinus, and various other Neoplatonic works.

Platonism in the Renaissance

Platonism underwent a revival in the Renaissance, as part of a general revival of interest in Classical antiquity. Interest in Platonism was especially strong in Florence under the Medici.

During the sessions at Florence of the Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1438-1445, during the failed attempts to heal the schism of the Orthodox and Catholic churches, Cosimo de' Medici and his intellectual circle had made acquaintance with the Neoplatonic philosopher George Gemistos Plethon, whose discourses upon Plato and the Alexandrian mystics so fascinated the learned society of Florence that they named him the second Plato. In 1459 John Argyropoulos was lecturing on Greek language and literature at Florence, and Marsilio Ficino became his pupil. When Cosimo decided to refound Plato's Academy at Florence, his choice to head it was Ficino, who made the classic translation of Plato from Greek to Latin (published in 1484), as well as a translation of a collection of Hellenistic Greek documents of the Hermetic Corpus, and the writings of many of the Neoplatonists, for example Porphyry, Iamblichus, Plotinus, et al. Following suggestions laid out by Gemistos Plethon, Ficino tried to synthesize Christianity and Platonism.

Ficino's student Giovanni Pico della Mirandola also based his ideas chiefly on Plato, but Pico retained a deep respect for Aristotle. Although he was a product of the studia humanitatis, Pico was constitutionally an eclectic, and in some respects he represented a reaction against the exaggerations of pure humanism, defending what he believed to be the best of the medieval and Islamic commentators (see Averroes, Avicenna) on Aristotle in a famous long letter to Ermolao Barbaro in 1485. It was always Pico’s aim to reconcile the schools of Plato and Aristotle, since he believed they both used different words to express the same concepts. It was perhaps for this reason his friends called him Princeps Concordiae, or "Prince of Harmony" (a pun on Prince of Concordia, one of his family’s holdings.) Similarly, Pico believed an educated person should also study the Hebrew and Talmudic sources, and the Hermetics, because he believed they represented the same view seen in the Old Testament, in different words, of God. The writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus had played an important role in the Renaissance Neoplatonic revival.

Pico della Mirandola became the first Christian scholar to master the Jewish mystical theology of Kabbalah. He attempted to develop a form of syncretism whereby different systems of thought could be harmonized based on shared elements of truth. Pico asserted that even though Platonism and Christianity had different views, they held some truths in common. An important aspect of Pico’s philosophical thought was his defense of the dignity and liberty of the human being, set forth in On the Dignity of Man (1486). Ficino also declared “wake up yourself! Oh! You are God who took human figure.” Both philosophers resurrected the humanistic views of ancient Greece. However, the humanism of the Renaissance was more individualistic than the humanism of ancient times.

The biographer of Michelangelo, John A. Symonds, speculates that Buonarotti, during his early years in Florence, spent enough time among members of the Platonic Academy to become fully exposed to its philosophical doctrines, and later authored many poems and other works demonstrating his agreement with these doctrines.

Platonic Academy was, in fact, dissolved soon after the death of Lorenzo Medici in 1492. Poliziano and Mirandola died under very mysterious circumstances in 1494. In 2007, the bodies of Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola were exhumed from St. Mark's Basilica in Florence. Scientists under the supervision of Giorgio Gruppioni, a professor of anthropology from Bologna, will use current testing techniques to study the men's lives and establish the causes of their deaths. A TV documentary is being made of this research, and it was recently announced that these forensic tests showed that both Poliziano and Pico had likely died of arsenic poisoning, probably at the order of Lorenzo's successor, Piero de' Medici.

Source: English Wikipedia: [1], [2].