[Renaissance Humanism - Italy] [Bible - Genesis - Exegesis] [Philosophy] [Astrology]
Venice: Guglielmo da Fontaneto, 22 March 1519.
Text in Latin (some passages in Greek).
Edited by Pico’s nephew, Giovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola.
This is a scarce, handsomely printed post-incunable edition of the collected works of the distinguished Renaissance thinker, textually nearly identical to the 1st collected edition printed in 1496 in Bologna.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94), a brilliant philosopher, scholar and mystic was one of the towering figures of Italian Renaisance. Neoplatonist and humanist whose aim was to conciliate religion and philosophy, Pico was a student of Marsilio Ficino at his Florentine Academy. He was among the first to promote the knowledge of Kabbalah beyond exclusively Jewish circles. His syncretic world-view combined Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and Kabbalah.
"Giovanni Pico della Mirandola is, after Marsilio Ficino, the best known philosopher of the Renaissance: his Oration on the Dignity of Man is better known than any other philosophical text of the fifteenth century." [Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
His most important works (all included in this edition) are:
- Heptaplus, a mystico-allegorical exposition of the Creation narrative of the Book of Genesis.
- Apologia Tredecim Quaestionum, where Pico defends against the accusation of heresy thirteen of his famous 'nine hundred theses' that he had planned to discuss in Rome.
- Oratio, i.e. Pico's famous ‘Oration on the Dignity of Man’, seen by many as the 'humanist manifesto' of the Italian Renaissance.
- Disputationum Adversos Astrologos, Pico's influential attack on astrology, which was read by Kepler who agreed with most of its arguments (cf. Thorndike, VII, p.19).
- Tractatus de Ente et Uno, an explanation of the concordances between Aristotle's and Plato's philosophies.
- Epistolae, comprising numerous letters of Pico to illustrious learned friends such as Marsilio Ficino, Angelo Poliziano, Filippo Beroaldo, Cristoforo Landino, Baptista Mantuanus, Gioovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola, Hieronymus Emser, et al. These are particularly useful for understanding the late 15th century humanistic thought.
- Also included is the ‘Life of Pico’ written by his nephew (and editor of this edition), Giovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola.
Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) was born of an illustrious and wealthy family from Ferrara. His father, Giovanni Francesco Pico, prince of the small territory of Mirandola, provided for his precocious child's thorough humanistic education at home. Pico then studied canon law at Bologna and Aristotelian philosophy at Padua and visited Paris and Florence, where he learned Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. At Florence he met Marsilio Ficino, a leading Renaissance Platonist philosopher.
Introduced to the Hebrew Kabbala, Pico became the first Christian scholar to use Kabbalistic doctrine in support of Christian theology. In 1486, planning to defend 900 theses he had drawn from diverse Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin writers, he invited scholars from all of Europe to Rome for a public disputation. For the occasion he composed his celebrated Oratio. A papal commission, however, denounced 13 of the theses as heretical, and the assembly was prohibited by Pope Innocent VIII. He then published the Apologia for the theses, in which he defended his views on subjects such as: the descent of Christ into hell, the veneration of Cross and divine images, man's free will, Jesus's miracles, natural magic, the cabbala, etc. Pico thought it prudent to flee to France but was arrested there. After a brief imprisonment he settled in Florence, where he became associated with the Platonic Academy, under the protection of the Florentine prince Lorenzo de' Medici. Except for short trips to Ferrara, Pico spent the rest of his life there. He was absolved from the charge of heresy by Pope Alexander VI in 1492. Toward the end of his life he came under the influence of the strictly orthodox Girolamo Savonarola, ascetic, martyr and enemy of Lorenzo.
Pico died under very mysterious circumstances in 1494. It was rumored that his own secretary had poisoned him, because Pico had become too close to Savonarola. He was interred at San Marco and Savonarola delivered the funeral oration. Ficino wrote at that time: "Our dear Pico left us on the same day that Charles VIII was entering Florence, and the tears of men of letters compensated for the joy of the people. Without the light brought by the king of France, Florence might perhaps have never seen a more somber day than that which extinguished Mirandola's light.”
In his most celebrated work, the “Oration on the Dignity of Man” (1486), Pico justified the importance of the human quest for knowledge within a neo-Platonic framework. He writes that after God had created all creatures, he conceived of the desire for another, sentient being who would appreciate all his works, but there was no longer any room in the chain of being; all the possible slots from angels to worms had been filled. So, God created man such that he had no specific slot in the chain. Instead, men were capable of learning from and imitating any existing creature. When man philosophizes, he ascends the chain of being towards the angels, and communion with God. When he fails to exercise his intellect, he vegetates. Pico did not fail to notice that this system made philosophers like himself among the most dignified human creatures. The idea that men could ascend the chain of being through the exercise of their intellectual capacities was a profound endorsement of the dignity of human existence in this earthly life. The root of this dignity lay in his assertion that only human beings could change themselves through their own free will. Coupled with his belief that all of creation constitutes a symbolic reflection of the divinity of God, Pico's philosophies had a profound influence on the arts, helping to elevate writers and painters from their medieval role as mere artisans to the Renaissance ideal of the artist as genius.
The Oration also served as an introduction to Pico's 900 theses, which he believed to provide a complete and sufficient basis for the discovery of all knowledge, and hence a model for mankind's ascent of the chain of being. The 900 Theses are a good example of humanist syncretism, because Pico combined Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and Kabbalah. They also included 72 theses describing what Pico believed to be a complete system of physics.
Pico planned a long work against the enemies of the Church's, of which only the section directed against astrology was completed. Though this critique was religious rather than scientific in its foundation, it influenced the astronomer Johannes Kepler, whose studies of planetary movements underlie modern astronomy. Pico's other works include an exposition on Genesis under the title Heptaplus (from Greek hepta, \"seven\"), and a synoptic treatment of Plato and Aristotle, of which the completed work De ente et uno (Of Being and Unity) is a portion.
The ‘Heptaplus’, a mystico-allegorical exposition of the Genesis story of the seven days of creation, was fundamentally dissimilar to mainstream medieval and Renaissance approaches to biblical interpretation. Rather than use the standard four senses of Scripture, Pico adopted an esoteric hermeneutic stance characteristic of Neoplatonic and kabbalistic exegesis, and developed an allegorical theory based on epistemology and the idea of intellectual ascent.
BM STC/Italian, p. 514; Graesse V, p.283].
Folio, textblock measures 29.5 cm x 21 cm. Bound in 16th-century over boards, sympathetically rebacked in modern reversed calf, raised bands, paper title-label to spine.
 leaves, unfoliated (forming 516 pages).
Signatures: A10 a-q8 r4 s-z8 [et]8 [cum]8 [rum]8 2A-C8 D-E10.
COMPLETE, including the final blank E10.
Numerous fine large woodcut and metalcut ornamental initials. One large woodcut astrological diagram (leaf [cum]2v).
Text printed in single column, in roman type, with some use of a Greek type; with printed marginal notes.
Preliminaries include a dedicatory epistle by the editor, Giovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola to Ludovico Maria Sforza, also known as Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan from 1494 to 1499 (written for the 1st edition of this collection and dated 1496), followed by the Life of Pico also written by Giovanni Francesco, as well as a short (two-line) epitaph on Pico and a poem De ligno crucis carmen by St Cyprian (c. 210 – 258), a bishop of Carthage and an early Christian writer of Berber descent.
Registrum and Colophon on E9r (verso blank).
Very Good antiquarian condition. Complete. Binding rubbed, some soiling and darkening to vellum boards, corners bumped and slightly worn. Neatly rebacked (retaining original endpapers). Internally with occasional light soiling to some leaves, including title; title-page also with an early ink scribble (signature?) at bottom, and a small closed marginal tear near gutter (without loss). Several leaves with small marginal ink-marks. Large woodcut initial on A2r with two small ink-blots, probably made intentionally to conceal (albeit unsuccessfully) nudity of the putti/cherubs in it. In all, a pleasing, clean, solid, genuine, wide-margined example of this fine early edition.