Pico della Mirandola, Gianfrancesco (1469–1533)

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Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola was the nephew of the great Florentine humanist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. He, like his uncle, became interested in the reform movement of Girolamo Savonarola (14521498) that was centered in the Convent of San Marco. The younger Pico della Mirandola moved into the convent and joined the group of scholars who took part in the daily discussions of philosophy and religion. His uncle moved into the convent in 1492 and placed his library there. Among the manuscripts brought to the convent by Pico della Mirandola and other scholars were five manuscript copies of Sextus Empiricus. Savonarola became interested in making these texts in Greek available to modern readers and asked two of his monks to begin preparing an edition of the writings of Sextus. This project never came to fruition, but some of it seems to be incorporated in the younger Pico della Mirandola's own publications.

He edited his uncle's work on astrology that was left in 1494, after Pico della Mirandola had died. He himself authored another work criticizing astrology, as did Savonarola. Pico della Mirandola was writing in praise of Savonarola up to the moment when the latter was arrested, tried, and burned at the stake. Thereafter, his disciples had to flee for their lives. Pico della Mirandola went back to his ancestral home of Mirandola, Italy, and struggled for about ten years to secure control of his family's property.

He wrote on a variety of philosophical and theological subjects, supporting the views of his teacher, Savonarola. In 1520 he published the first presentation of Greek skepticism in modern times, Examen vanitatis doctrinae gentium et veritatis Christianae disciplinae: Distinctum in libros sex, quorum tres omnem philosophorum sectam universim: reliqui Aristoteleam et Aristoteleis armis particulatim impugnant: Ubicunque autem Christiana et asseritur, et celebratur disciplina (Examination of the vain doctrine of the gentiles and the true Christian teaching). The work was apparently written over at least fifteen to twenty years. Besides presenting arguments and analyses out of Sextus, it also contains a text by John Philoponus and Hasdai Crescas. It is curious that Pico della Mirandola includes the material from Crescas, which had not yet been published and only circulated in Hebrew manuscript. He may have gotten a text and its translation from Judah León Abrabanel (c. 1460c. 1521), with whom he was in contact. Pico della Mirandola's skeptical work did not have wide circulation. It is cited by several people writing on philosophical topics, but it does not seem to have encouraged people to look further into skeptical thought. He was read by Gentian Hervetius (14991584), the translator of Sextus, and probably by Francisco Sanches, Pierre Gassendi, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The more serious impact of Sextus on modern thought had to await the presentation of his doctrines in Michel Eyquem de Montaigne's writings.

See also Pico della Mirandola, Count Giovanni; Sextus Empiricus; Skepticism, History of.


works by pico della mirandola

Examen vanitatis doctrinae gentium, et veritatis Christianae disciplinae. Mirandulae, Italy: N.p., 1520.

works about pico della mirandola

Cao, Gian Mario. "Gianfrancesco Pico, Reader of Sceptics." Paper presented at the Conference on Renaissance Scepticism, New York, April 2004.

Floridi, Luciano. Sextus Empiricus: The Transmission and Recovery of Pyrrhonism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Popkin, Richard H. The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Schmitt, Charles B. Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola (14691533) and His Critique of Aristotle. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1967.

Schmitt, Charles B. "The Rediscovery of Ancient Skepticism in Modern Times." In The Skeptical Tradition, edited by Myles Burnyeat. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Viti, Paulo, ed. Pico, Poliziano e l'umanesimo di fine quottrocento: Beblioteca medicea laurenziana, November 4December 31, 1994. Florence, Italy: Leo S. Olschki editore, 1994.

Richard Popkin (2005)