26 – THE AMBIGUOUS GOD – PART 3

Continued from part 2.

Nicolas Conver, The World, 1760. Detail of the central figure.

Marsilio Ficino was aware of the Orphic god Phanes, as he cites him in his Platonic Theology, identifying him with the first power in the element of fire. [1] He also much more often quotes Orpheus, the mythic poet and source of Orphism, whom he ranks – with Zoroaster, Hermes Trismegistus, Aglaophemus, Pythagoras and Plato – among the six great theologians who agreed, before Christ’s advent, on the immortality of the soul.[2] In his commentary on Plotinus’ Enneads, Ficino quotes Orpheus in relation to the creation of the world:

The soul mother of the world, pregnant from the divine intellect father of the world, gave birth to the world through reason in nature. Finally, from impregnation to delivery, an imagination bestows at the same time an affect: the world is born, image of the spirit, expression of the reason, and propagation of life necessarily alive. From that, Orpheus calls Jupiter the artisan of the world male at the same time as female. [3]  Moreover, Plato, in some place, [4] considers the architect of the world spirit (mentem) at the same time as soul, as if he was at the same time father and mother of the world. [5]

In this passage, Ficino identifies two principles in the creation of the world: first, the soul mother of the world, which is female, and second, the intelligence, or spirit, which is male. However, he considers that these two principles are merged into a unique person, whom he assimilates with the Orphic Jupiter and Platonic Demiurge. Thus, for Ficino, the world is the work of a divinity who is both male and female. Ficino also quotes the same Orphic verse in the last chapter of his De Vita, in a passage in which he deals with the natural power that belongs to the world:

Yes, everywhere, nature is a magician, as Plotinus and Synesius say, in that she everywhere entices particular things by particular foods, just as she attracts heavy things by the power of the earth’s center, light things by the concavity of the moon’s sphere, leaves by heat, roots by moisture, and so on. By means of this attraction, the wise men of India testify, the world binds itself together; and they say that the world is an animal which is masculine and at the same time feminine throughout and that it everywhere links with itself in the mutual love of its members and so holds together; moreover, the bond of the members inheres through the engrafted Mind, [6]  “which is blended through the limbs and moves the whole bulk and mixes itself with the great body.” [7] Hence, Orpheus called the nature of the cosmos and the cosmic Jupiter masculine and feminine; so eager is the world everywhere for the mutual union of its parts.[8]

According to this text, the world keeps itself united everywhere because of its male and female nature, in which the members or parts of the world attract each other. Ficino then provides several examples of this interpenetration of the male and female in the world:

That the masculine sex is truly everywhere mingled with the feminine, the order of [astrological] signs testifies from up there, where successively in that unending order, the preceding one is masculine, the subsequent one feminine. Trees and plants testify it from down there: just like animals, they have one sex or the other. I pass over the fact that fire to air plays the role of masculine to feminine and so does water to earth, so that it is no wonder that the members of the cosmos and all its limbs yearn for mutual union among themselves. And this union is brought about by the planets, some of which are masculine, some feminine, but especially by Mercury, because he is masculine as well as feminine and the father of Hermaphroditus.[9]

The male and female Orphic Jupiter also appears in one of Ficino’s early letters, dated December 1, 1457, in which Ficino calls Jupiter the spirit and intelligence of the world before invoking the authority of Orpheus one more time:

The divine prophet Orpheus says, “Jupiter is first, Jupiter is last, Jupiter is the head, Jupiter is the center. The universe is born of Jupiter; Jupiter is the foundation of the earth and of the star-bearing heavens. Jupiter appears as man, yet he is the spotless bride. Jupiter is the spirit and form of all things, Jupiter is the source of the ocean, Jupiter is the movement in the undying fire, Jupiter is the sun and moon, Jupiter, the king and prince of all. Hiding his light, he has shed it afresh from his blissful heart, manifesting his purpose.” [10] We may understand from this that all bodies are full of Jupiter. He contains and nourishes them, so that truly it is said that whatever you see and wherever you move is Jupiter. [11]

Thus, Ficino places at the heart of the universe a divinity that is both male and female, who is the creator of the sensible world. This figure, whom Ficino associates with Orphic verses, undoubtedly resembles the Orphic Phanes. Ficino calls it the “spirit of the world.” What is it exactly? Could his characteristics allow us to identify it with the image of the World from the Tarot of Marseille?

To be continued in part 4.

[1] Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology, IV, 1, translation. M. J. B. Allen, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2001-2006, I, p. 295.

[2] Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology, XVII, 1, cit., VI, p. 7.

[3] Orpheus, fragment 21 Kern.

[4] Probably Timaeus, 29e-30c.

[5] Plotinus, Opera, translated and with a commentary by Marsilio Ficino, Florence, Antonio Miscomini, 1492, f. 79r.

[6] Here, he uses the Latin word mens, but in Virgil’s verse to which he refers, the word mens means the same thing as spiritus: spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus / mens agitat molem et magno se corpore miscet.

[7] Aeneid, VI, 726-27. In this verse by Virgil, the words spiritus and mens mean the same thing.

[8] Marsilio Ficino, Three Books on Life, III, 26, edited and translated by Carol. V. Kaske and John R. Clark, Tempe, Arizona, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2002, pp. 385-387. Translation slightly modified.

[9] Ibidem.

[10] Orpheus, fragment 21 Kern.

[11] Marsilio Ficino, The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, I, translated by members of the School of Economic Science, London, Shepheard-Walwyn, 2001, p. 47. Translation slightly modified.

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