Pico Della Mirandola

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Surname of uncle and nephew Italian philosophers of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Giovanni. Count of Concordia; b. Mirandola, Feb. 24, 1463; d. Florence, Nov. 17, 1494. Giovanni Pico was the son of Gianfrancesco I and Giulia (Boiardo) Pico of the ruling family of Mirandola, a small independent duchy near Modena. At age 14 he went to Bologna to study canon law, and two years later he went to Florence, where he first made contact with M. ficino and the Platonic Academy. At the University of Padua (148082) he began studying Aristotelian philosophy and also showed an interest in Hebrew and Arabic, becoming one of the first Europeans of the Renaissance to study these languages. In 1482 he returned to Florence, where he read Ficino's Theologia Platonica, studied Greek, and became fast friends with Angelo Poliziano. In 1485 Pico engaged in a famous controversy with Ermalao Barbaro on philosophical style, taking the position that philosophy must be judged by its truth value rather than by the literary style in which it is written. Later in the same year, he went to Paris to study scholastic philosophy and theology.

In 1486 Pico returned to Florence and made plans to hold a disputation in Rome in which he would defend against all challengers the truth of 900 selected theses in philosophy, theology, and science (Rome 1486). These theses, which include material from many sources, show the great breadth of learning of Pico at age 23. Before the disputation could take place, however, it was suspended by Pope innocent viii. Pico's Apologia (Naples 1487) only made matters worse, and his theses were condemned on Aug. 5, 1487, as containing heretical material. Pursued

by a papal order for his arrest, Pico fled to France and was arrested there in January of 1488; he was released a short time later.

He returned to Florence, protected by the medici family, and in 1489 composed his Heptaplus (Florence 1489), a commentary on the six days of creation dedicated to Lorenzo de'Medici. In 1492 he wrote De Ente et Uno (Bologna 1496), dedicated to Poliziano, the only completed portion of a projected longer work on the concord between Plato and Aristotle. In the same year Pico was absolved from the earlier charge of heresy by Pope alexander vi. In 1493 he finished Disputationes contra Astrologiam (Bologna 1496), the first of a proposed series of works to be written against the enemies of the Church.

Pico's works were published after his death by his nephew, Gianfrancesco II (see below ), who prefaced them with a biography of his uncle (Bologna 1496) that Thomas More translated into English a few years later (London c. 1510). Although Pico's writings exhibit enormous erudition and extensive knowledge of source material, they are somewhat unsystematic and often inconsistent. Because of his early death, he was unable to finish many of his projected works, and, therefore, his philosophical system is incomplete. The extant works attempt to promote a universal accord of philosophical systems, a pax philosophica; their syncretic tendency to utilize what is best in all systems of thought is perhaps the most characteristic mark of Pico's thought.

His most famous single work, the Oratio, written as a preface to his proposed disputation, extols man's dignity. Man does not have a particular place or ability, as do the other animals, but he can raise himself to the level of the angels through his own efforts. Philosophy is of greatest assistance in the ascent toward the highest form of human life, the life of contemplation.

Pico was perhaps the first Christian of the Renaissance to study carefully the Jewish cabala. His wide learning and originally of thought have attracted many thinkers to the study of his works.

Gianfrancesco II. Humanist thinker; b. Mirandola, 1469; d. there, Oct. 16, 1533. He was the author of numerous literary and philosophical works. The most important is Examen vanitatis doctrinae gentium (Mirandola 1520), an extended attack on pagan philosophy in general and on Aristotle in particular, and a defense of Christian religion. He was the first Renaissance thinker to utilize the ancient skeptical writings of Sextus Empiricus (see skepticism).

See Also: renaissance philosophy; platonism.

Bibliography: Giovanni. Works. Opera omnia (Bologna 1496; Venice 1498, 1519, 1557; Strasbourg 1504; Reggio 1506; Paris 1517; Basel, 2 v. 157273, repr. 1601); modern edition, ed. e. garin (Florence 1942 ); Of Being and Unity, tr. v. m. hamm (Milwaukee 1943); "Oration on the Dignity of Man," tr. e. l. forbes, in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. e. cassirer et al. (Chicago 1948) 223254. Literature. e. cassirer, "Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: A Study in the History of Renaissance Ideas," Journal of the History of Ideas 3 (1942): 123144, 319346. a. dulles, Princeps Concordiae: Pico della Mirandola and the Scholastic Tradition (Cambridge, Mass. 1941). e. garin, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: Vita e dottrina (Florence 1937); La cultura filosofica del Rinascimento italiano (Florence 1961), Garin's volumes have fullest bibliog. p. kibre, The Library of Pico della Mirandola (New York 1936). e. monnerjahn, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: Ein Beitrag zur philosophischen Theologie des italienischen Humanismus (Wiesbaden 1960). g. f. pico della mirandola, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: His Life by His Nephew, tr. thomas more (London 1510), modern ed. j. m. rigg (London 1890), and other short works tr. thomas more. Gianfrancesco II. Opera omnis, v. 2 of g. pico della mirandola, Opera omnia, 2 v. (Basel 157273; repr. 1601). e. garin, La filosofia, 2 v. (Milan 1947) 2:7277. r. h. popkin, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Descartes (Assen 1960).

[c. b. schmitt]