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Conte Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

Conte Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

The Italian philosopher and humanist Conte Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) was a brilliant exemplar of the Renaissance ideal of man.

The youngest son of a princely Lombard house, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola received a Church benefice when he was 10 years old. However, Pico quickly surpassed the routine expectation of a career in Church or state. At the University of Padua from 1480 to 1482, when the city and its university enjoyed the liberal patronage of Venice, welcomed Eastern scholars, and offered one of Europe's richest civic cultures, he studied Aristotelianism and Hebrew and Arabic religion, philosophy, and science. By 1487 his travels and education, broadened to include Florence and Paris, had steeped Pico in a unique variety of languages and traditions. Committed to no exclusive source of wisdom and disappointed by the philosophic weakness of the Italian humanists' study of classical culture, he sought a core of truth common to this vast knowledge.

The young man's first and most famous venture was a challenge to Europe's scholars for public disputation at Rome in 1487. Pico prepared to defend 900 conclusiones—402 drawn from other philosophers (most heavily from scholastic, Platonic, and Arabic thinkers) and 498 his own. However, a papal commission, suspicious of such diversity, condemned 13 of Pico's theses. The assembly was canceled, and he fled to Paris, suffering brief imprisonment before settling in Florence late in 1487. His writings for the disputation were banned until 1493.

At Florence, Pico joined Lorenzo de' Medici's Platonic Academy in its effort to formulate a doctrine of the soul that would reconcile Platonic and Christian beliefs. Pico's ambition, which many critics attribute to youthful confusion, can be measured by his plan to harmonize Plato and Aristotle and to link their philosophies with revelations proclaimed by the major religions. Preparatory treatises included the Heptaplus of 1489, a commentary on Genesis stressing its correspondence with sacred Jewish texts, and the work De ente et uno of 1492, on the nature of God and creation.

Pico gradually renounced Medicean splendor, embraced the piety of the reforming friar Girolamo Savonarola, and began writing in defense of the Church. Pico's philanthropy kept pace with his purchase of manuscripts, as he built one of Europe's great private scholarly collections. He died of fever on Nov. 17, 1494, as French soldiers occupied Florence.

Described as being "of feature and shape seemly and beauteous, " Pico combined physique, intellect, and spirituality in a way that captivated both the lovers of virtù and Christian reformers. In his De hominis dignitate, written to introduce his abortive Roman congress, Pico had God endow Adam with "what abode, what form, and what functions thou thyself shalt desire … so that with freedom of choice and with honor, thou mayest fashion thyself." This early tract asserted the philosophy that Pico's later and more complex works stressed: the active intellect can discern right from wrong, truth from illusion, and is free to guide the soul, indeed to bind all men, to union with a common creator. Pico's late work Disputationes in astrologiam, an unfinished attack on astrology, rejected occult thought which subordinated human will to deterministic forces.

Further Reading

Many works are collected and translated by Paul Miller and others in Pico's On the Dignity of Man; On Being and the One; Heptaplus (1965). For samples of the extensive scholarly disputes about Pico see Avery Dulles, Princeps Concordiae: Pico della Mirandola and the Scholastic Tradition (1941), which has a critical bibliography; Eugenio Garin, Italian Humanism: Philosophy and Civic Life in the Renaissance (1952; trans. 1965); Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy (1963); and Paul Oskar Kresteller's three works: Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic and Humanistic Strains (1955; rev. ed. 1961), Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance (1964), and his edition of Renaissance Essays (1968), which contains an essay by Cassirer on Pico. □

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Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni (1463–1494)

Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni (14631494)

Italian scholar and philosopher, whose writings became the most important philosophical testaments of Renaissance humanism. Born into a noble family, the son of the Count of Mirandola and Concordia, he was a precocious young student of Latin and Greek, and left home for Bologna at the age of fourteen to study canon law, the law of the church. He gave up this coursework and moved to Ferrara, where he studied philosophy, and then to the University of Padua, where he studied the teachings of the ancient Greek thinkers Plato and Aristotle. In Florence he met Angelo Poliziano and the monk Girolamo Savonarola, who would later establish a puritanical dictatorship over the city. In 1485 Pico journeyed to Paris, where he took part in lively scholarly debates over the nature of philosophy and the teachings of the medieval Scholastics. After returning to Italy, he was soon embroiled in a scandal after abducting the wife of a member of the Medici clan, the powerful ruling house of Florence. He was arrested and thrown into prison, but eventually saved from execution by Lorenzo de' Medici, whose friendship and patronage he had won in Florence.

Pico's studies in Italy and Paris had led him to the conclusion that it was possible to discover the underlying agreements of Plato, Aristotle, and all the medieval religious philosophersChristian, Muslim, and Jewishand bring these competing schools of thought into harmony. He wrote out a series of 900 Conclusions, which was published in 1486 and which he intended to defend in a grand conclave of the best scholars of his day.

As an introduction to the 900 Conclusions, Pico wrote his famous essay Oration on the Dignity of Man. But his plans for a council of scholars, before which he would defend the points of his work, were blocked on the orders of Pope Innocent VIII, who appointed a church council that studied and rejected most of Pico's arguments. When Pico responded with his Apology, which in large part defended his original arguments, the pope responded by denouncing his entire body of work. Sensing danger in the church's formal disapproval of his thinking, and the pope's accusations of heresy, Pico fled Italy for Paris, but was arrested in France on the orders of the pope's representatives and imprisoned in the fortress of Vincennes, near Paris. Eventually he was released He received the protection of Lorenzo de' Medici, who settled him in an estate near the village of Fiesole, where he wrote another controversial tract, Heptaplus, A Sevenfold Account of the Six Days of Genesis. In 1493 he received a formal pardon from Pope Alexander VI for his transgressions against orthodox church doctrine. During this period he also wrote Disputations Against Divinatory Astrology, which attacked the precepts of astrology. When Girolamo Savonarola took control of Florence and decreed the destruction of works of art, philosophical writings, and all other worldly vanities, Pico surrendered his money and property and burned all of the poetry he had written. He did not take monastic vows, however, and died in 1494 of a sudden illness, brought on in the opinion of some historians by poison. On the day of his death, King Charles VIII of France entered Florence and overthrew the Medici dynasty.

See Also: Medici, Lorenzo de'; Savonarola, Girolamo

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Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni (1463-1494)

Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni (1463-1494)

Italian astrologer and Kabbalist born February 24, 1463. His family played a prominent part in a number of the civil wars which convulsed medieval Italy; they owned extensive lands in the neighborhood of Modena, the most valuable of their possessions being a castle bearing their own name of Mirandola. It was here that Giovanni was born.

He appears to have been a versatile student. According to tradition, before he was out of his teens he had mastered jurisprudence and mathematics, had studied philosophy and theology, and had dabbled in occultism.

As a young man, Mirandola soon left his brothers in charge of the family estate and proceeded to various universities in Italy and France. While in the latter country, his interest in astrology and related subjects deepened, thanks partly to his making a close study of the works of alchemist Raymond Lully. In 1486 Giovanni went to Rome, where he delivered a series of lectures on various branches of science.

While thus engaged, his erudition won high praise from some of his hearers, but certain members of the clergy suspected him of heresy, reported his doings to the Inquisition, and even sought to have him excommunicated. The pope, however, was rather averse to quarrelling with a member of so powerful a family as the Mirandolas, and accordingly he waived violent measures, instead appointing a body of church leaders to argue with the scientist.

A lengthy dispute ensued. Mirandola published a defence (under the title Apologia ) of the ideas and theories promulgated in his lectures and in 1493 the pope, Alexander VI, brought the affair to a conclusion by granting him absolution.

Thereupon Mirandola went to live in Florence, and stayed there until his death in 1494, occasionally experimenting with alchemy, but chiefly busy with further study of the Kabala. He died November 17, 1494, in Florence.

Apart from the Apologia Pici Mirandoli cited above, Giovanni was author of several books of a theological nature, the most important of these being his Conclusiones Philosophicae, cabalisticae et theologicae, published in 1486, and his Disputationes adversus Astrologiam Divinaticum, issued in 1495. His works appear to have been keenly admired by those of his contemporaries who were not averse to speculative thought, and a collected edition of his writings was printed at Bologna in 1496, and another at Venice two years later.

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Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni, Conte

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Conte (jōvän´nē kōn´tā pē´kō dĕl´lä mērän´dōlä), 1463–94, Italian philosopher and humanist. To many in the age of the Renaissance, Pico was the ideal man, whose physical beauty reflected his inner harmony. He appears in Il Cortegiano of Baldassare Castiglione. In 1484 he went to Florence where he soon became one of the most active members of Lorenzo de'Medici's Platonic Academy and the chief exponent of Italian Neoplatonism. His studies in Hebrew led to the composition of his celebrated 900 theses on a reconciliation of Christianity with Platonic philosophy. In 1487 he was forced to recant 13 propositions, and his clash with Pope Innocent VIII led to his arrest (1488) at Lyons. Although attacked by the church, Pico's theses were an important symbol of the Renaissance blending of Christian and Greek ideas. Lorenzo invited him back to Florence, where he remained until his death, becoming a follower of Girolamo Savonarola. In his Oration on the Dignity of Man (c.1487) he proclaimed that individuals face no limits to their development except those that are self-imposed. His other works include Heptaplus, a mystical account of the creation; De ante et uno; and an unfinished attack on astrology. Sir Thomas More's Life of John Picus, Earl of Mirandula is a translation of the biography by Pico's nephew, Giovanni Francesco (1890).

See selections of his works, tr. by C. F. Wallis et al. (1965); and W. G. Craven, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1981).

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Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni

Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni (1463–94). Christian mystical and humanistic writer. A considerable linguist, he regarded kabbalah as illuminating Christianity. The created order emerges in hierarchies of emanation, with humans mediating between the spiritual and the material, able to know God as a friend rather than a fact (cf. I–Thou). This amounts to an assertion of Christian humanism which he argued in De Hominis Dignitate … (1492).

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Mirandola, Giovanni Pico della

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: see Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni, Conte.

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