Marsilio Ficino, Edited and Introduced by Angela Voss, North Atlantic Books, US, 2006, ISBN-10: 1556435606, ISBN-13: 978-1556435607.
In this book, published as part of the ‘Western Esoteric Masters’ series, Dr. Angela Voss presents a collection of Marsilio Ficino’s thoughts on astrology. The book comprises an introduction and various relevant excerpts from Ficino’s letters, books and translations.
The introduction, which takes up 56 of the book’s 245 pages, paints a broad brush picture of Ficino’s philosophy, his intellectual background, and his approach to astrology. Dr. Voss’ style is succinct and beautiful at once, creating some wonderfully memorable images of Ficino, the man, the philosopher, and the magician. She writes:
“As we begin to unravel the threads of his astrology, it will become clear that Ficino moves between two languages, that of Christian orthodoxy and that of the symbolic imagination […]. He keeps his pagan and Christian voices separate, moving effortlessly between them and never allowing astrological showings to determine the working of the divine;” (p25)
We are reminded of William Lilly’s motto ‘non cogunt’, so proudly displayed underneath his portrait in his magnum opus, Christian Astrology. We know that Lilly had some of Ficino’s books in his library and there is a great likelihood that the famous astrologer based much of his own philosophy on Ficino, the Christian magician. (For a thorough discussion of Ficino’s influence on Lilly, see Sue Ward’s and my William Lilly, the Last Magician.)
The only slight criticism I have to make at this point is the lack of detail in the discussion of Ficino’s approach to the fundamentally important question if the stars have to be seen as symbols or causes. I am aware that the reason for this may be found in the editorial guidelines that were imposed upon Dr. Voss. Still, this is a book that purely deals with the astrological segment of Ficino’s philosophy, and therefore it is likely to be of interest to specialists only. For this reason, I think it would have been acceptable and beneficial for the reader to include more about this pivotal problem and how Ficino dealt with it.
(The interested reader can find much detailed information regarding this in Dr. Voss’ own doctoral dissertation Magic, Astrology and Music, the Background to Marsilio Ficino’s Astrological Music Therapy and his Role as a Renaissance Magician. Liana Saif also explains in great detail Ficino’s motivation behind the seemingly contradictory statements found throughout his work. Details of her book The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy, can be found in my review, here.)
The second part of this book comprises excerpts of Ficino’s writings. Here Dr. Voss provides the reader with a magnificent collection of astrological material. Out of Ficino’s vast amount of correspondence, those letters dealing with astrology have been selected. This is particularly convenient for the interested readers who do not have the time to excavate these marvels for themselves from the source material. There are also excerpts of Ficino’s famous Disputation against the judgment of the Astrologers, which he wrote in 1477 but never published.
Very much of interest for the traditional astrologer will be the most important excerpts from the Three Books on Life, particularly if they cannot get access to the much sought after translation by Kaske and Clark.
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the material in this collection is the translation of Ficino’s Book of the Sun. This beautiful piece alone justifies the purchase of this book. Angela Voss writes in the Introduction that it:
“[…] May be considered as the summation of his [Ficino’s] esoteric philosophy, his final statement on the nature of mystical knowledge which brings both pagan and Christian paths into a single focus […]” (p45)
To sum it up, this is an important book, expertly compiled and beautifully written. I would recommend it for anybody who is interested in traditional astrology and wants to get an overview over Marsilio Ficino’s thoughts on the subject.