Marsilio Ficino's Allegorical Reading of Optical Phenomena

Martin Žemla



As a Platonist, Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) was deeply interested in light  and its qualities. As a matter of fact, the metaphysics of light is so fundamental for him that it appears, treated more or less systematically, almost in all of his works. As a physician, he was naturally concerned with the human corporeality and with the relation of human body to the physical world, both terrestrial and astral. However, when discussing astronomical and optical phenomena (e.g. refraction of light in water, camera obscura, and concave mirrors), he sees them primarily not as physical realities but as starting points for his allegorical hermeneutics and analogical interpretations. Similarly, when Ficino situates the Sun in the centre of the universe, as its warming heart, ruling king and animating soul, he does so in the context of a metaphysical, rather than cosmological, heliocentrism. Indeed, physical astronomical “facts” seem generally irrelevant to him, being obscured by their spiritual meaning. This becomes especially conspicuous in the perspective that Copernicus arrived at his heliocentric theory most probably with the knowledge of Ficino’s treatise On Sun (De Sole) and even quoting the same sources as Ficino.


Ficino; metaphysics of light; heliocentrism; incendiary mirrors; optics

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