Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case MS 227
Marsilio Ficino
Philosophical Considerations on God and the Soul
Florence, between 1480 and 1500

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Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) was a humanist scholar whose studies of Greek philosophy and translations of Plato were at the center of an informal Platonic Academy under the patronage of Cosimo and Lorenzo de’ Medici.  This text is one of his short, early works written about 1457.  It is an account of the many different opinions of ancient writers concerning the nature of God and the immortality of the soul, a central problem in much Renaissance thought.  Written in the form of a friendly letter, Ficino addresses a member of the Florentine merchant class to whom he has promised an explanation in layman’s terms of these abstruse (and sometimes heterodox) ideas.  This manuscript is unusual.  It is the only one of eighteen known copies of this work to survive in a free-standing manuscript; that is, it is not part of an anthology, the way most of the vernacular works of Ficino are preserved.  It can be dated (on the basis of the script) to the last decades of the fifteenth century, so very likely within Ficino’s lifetime.  Moreover, the text here is written in mercantesca script, a hand typically used for commercial records and correspondence; it was only rarely employed for literary or academic works like this one.  For the convenience of the reader, the names of the individual philosophers discussed are written in red.  Ficino himself wrote a small, clear humanist cursive, and the large circle of scholars and scribes associated with him almost always used humanist scripts as well.  So this unusual little codex raises interesting questions about who wrote it and for whom.  The format and script suggest that it was a personal copy made by or for the use of a literate and cultivated merchant who could not read Latin with ease, someone rather like the addressee of the letter.


Mercantesca usuale di modulo variabile, non del tutto adattata all’uso librario.
Da notare: la e ‘raddoppiata’ (4r, r. 4: origine); il legamento ch che mantiene il tratto inferiore della h (1r, r. 5: amicho); A in forma di alpha (4r, r. 5: Alchuni; r. 24: Agunse); l’uso di p tagliata sia per abbreviare la la sola r (1r, r. 11: p(r)eterita) sia come semplice fiocco della p (4r, r. 17: Platone), sia erroneamente per abbreviare per e, viceversa l’uso della p con asta tagliata per abbrevia re pro (1r, r. 33: p(er) p(ro)pio).

Selected Bibliography:

The Newberry manuscript has never been studied or described in print. For the text and manuscript tradition, see: