Patrizi, Francesco (1529–1597)

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Francesco Patrizi, also known as Patritius, was a vigorous defender of Platonism and an unremitting foe of Aristotelianism. He was versatile even for his time, being at once philosopher, mathematician, historian, soldier, and literary critic. Born in Dalmatia, he studied at Padua (Francesco Robertelli was a teacher-friend) and Venice. Having been an early and avid reader of Marsilio Ficino's Theologia Platonica, he turned from careers in business and in medicine to develop further his interest in Platonism.

After some years in France, Spain, and Cyprus in the service of various noblemen, Patrizi was in 1578 appointed by Duke Alfonso II as professor of Platonic philosophy at the University of Ferrarawhich, with Florence and Pisa, was an important center of Platonism in Italy. In 1592 he was called to the University of Rome by Pope Clement VIII. He considered the privilege of expounding Platonism at Rome his crowning achievement, and he held that position until his death.

Although intellectual activity was his chief concern, Patrizi also showed interest in practical matters: He offered means for diverting a river threatening Ferrara, and presented plans for improving military strategy against the Turks and naval plans against the British.

In 1553 Patrizi's Discorso on types of poetic inspiration appeared, followed by his dialogues on history (1560). After visiting France, Spain, and Cyprus, he published Discussiones Peripateticae (1581), which violently attacked Aristotelianism. His achievement dates largely from his appointment at Ferrara, although correspondence with Telesio (1572) indicates an earlier interest in the study of nature. In Della Poetica (1586), he produced the first modern study of literary history, which also was an attack on Aristotle's Poetics. In 1587 there appeared several polemics defending his friend Orazio Ariosto against Torquato Tasso and Jacopo Mazzoni and upholding Patrizi's Platonic view of art as transcendental against their Aristotelian theory of poetry as imitation.

Patrizi's chief philosophical work, Nova de Universis Philosophia (1591), contained four parts: Panaugia, on light; Panarchia, on first principles; Pampsychia, on souls; and Pancosmia, on mathematics and natural science. Dedicated to Gregory XIV, who had been a fellow student at Padua, its aims were the linking of Christianity with the teachings of Zoroaster, Hermes, and Orpheus; the derivation of the world from God through emanation; and the insistence on a quantitative study of nature. His last work was Paralleli Militari (1594).

Patrizi's metaphysics of light is suggestive of Ibn Gabirol and Robert Grosseteste, and places him in the company of Geronimo Cardano and Bernardino Telesio. Defending the cognitive value of mathematics (as did Nicholas of Cusa), Patrizi helped to establish the subsequent priority of space over matter in the study of nature. His doctrines, fanciful yet impressive, failed (as did those of Giordano Bruno and Telesio), for want of an adequate method, to overthrow the well-entrenched Aristotelians. The decisive attack came only in the seventeenth century, when Galileo Galilei and others postulated a new physics of quantities that was related to astronomy and was based on experiments and calculations.

See also Aristotelianism; Bruno, Giordano; Ficino, Marsilio; Galileo Galilei; Grosseteste, Robert; Ibn Gabirol, Solomon ben Judah; Matter; Nicholas of Cusa; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Space; Telesio, Bernardino.


works by patrizi

Discorso. 1553.

Della Historia. Venice, 1560.

Discussiones Peripateticae. Basel, 1581.

Della Poetica. Ferrara: V. Baldini, Stampator Ducale, 1586.

Nova de Universis Philosophia. Ferrara, 1591.

Paralleli Militari. Rome: L. Zannetti, 1594.

works on patrizi

Brickman, B. An Introduction to Francesco Patrizi's Nova de Universis Philosophia. New York, 1941.

Kristeller, P. O. Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic, and Humanistic Strains. New York, 1961.

Robb, N. Neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance. London: Allen and Unwin, 1935.

Salata, F. "Nel terzo centenario della morte di F. Patrizi." Atti e memorie della Società Istriana di Archeologia e Storia Patria 12 (1897): 455484.

Jason L. Saunders (1967)

Patrizi, Francesco

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(also Patrizzi or Patricio; Latin form, Frnaciscus Patricius ) (b. Cherso, Istria, Italy, 25 April 1529; d. Rome, Italy, 7 February 1597)

mathematics, natural philosophy.

Patrizi studied at Ingolstadt, at the University of Padua (1547–1554), and at Venice. While in the service of various noblemen in Rome and Venice he made several trips to the East, where he perfected his knowledge of Greek, and to Spain. He lived for a time at Modena and at Ferrara, before being appointed to a personal chair of Platonic philosophy at the University of Ferrara by Duke Alfonso II d’Este in 1578. He remained there until 1592, when Pope Clement VIII summoned him to a similar professorship in Rome, a post he held until his death.

Patrizi had interests in many different intellectual fields; he published works on poetry, history, rhetoric, literary criticism, metaphysics, ethics, natural philosophy, and mathematics, besides translating a number of Greek works into Latin. His thought is a characteristic blend of Platonism (in the widest sense in which the word is used when referring to the Renaissance) and natural philosophy, with a very strong anti-Aristotelian bent. The latter critical tendency is developed in his Discussiones peripateticae (Venice, 1571; much enlarged edition, Basel, 1581).

Patrizi’s importance in the history of science rests primarily on his highly original views concerning the nature of space, which have striking similarities to those later developed by Henry More and Isaac Newton. His position was first set out in De rerum natura libri II priores, alter de spacio physico, alter de spacio mathematico (Ferrara, 1587) and was later revised and incorporated into his Nova de universis philosophia (Ferrara, 1591; reprinted Venice, 1593), which is his major systematic work. Rejecting the Aristotelian doctrines of horror vacui and of determinate “place,” Patrizi argued that the physical existence of a void is possible and that space is a necessary precondition of all that exists in it. Space, for Patrizi, was “merely the simple capacity (aptitudo) for receiving bodies, and nothing else.” It was no longer a category, as it was for Aristotle, but an indeterminate receptacle of infinite extent. His distinction between “mathematical” and “physical” space points the way toward later philosophical and scientific theories.

The primacy of space (spazio) in Patrizi’s system is also seen in his Della nuova geometria (Ferrara, 1587), the essence of which was later incorporated into the Nova de universis philosophia. In it Patrizi attempted to found a system of geometry in which space was a fundamental, undefined concept that entered into the basic definitions (point, line, angle) of the system.

The full impact of Patrizi’s works on later thought has yet to be evaluated.


Lega Nazionale di Trieste, Onoranze a Frnacesco Patrizi da Cherso: Catalogo della mostra bibliografica (Trieste, 1957), presents the most complete listing of primary and secondary works to 1957. Other general works are B. Brickman, An Introduction to Francesco Patrizi’s Nova de universis philosophia (New York, 1941); P. O. Kristeller, Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance (Stanford, 1964), ch. 7; and G. Saitta, Il pensiero italianonell’umanesimo e nel Rinascimento, 2nd ed. (Florence, 1961), II, ch. 9.

Works on Patrizi’s concept of space are B. Brickman, “Frnacesco Patrizi on Physical Space,” in Journal of the History of Ideas, 4 (1943), 224–245; E. Cassirer, Das Erkenntnisproblem, 3rd ed. (Berlin, 1922), I, 260–267; W. Gent, Die Philosophie des Raumes und der Zeit, 2nd ed. (Hildesheim, 1962), 81–83; and M. Jammer, Concepts of Space (Cambridge, Mass., 1954), 84–85.

Charles B. Schmitt

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