BLTC Press Titles


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Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas


The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite


Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

by Giovanni Francesco Pico della Mirandola

Excerpt:

INTRODUCTION.

/

IOVANNI PICO DELLA M1RANDOLA, "the Phcenix of the wits," is one of those writers whose personality will always count for a great deal more than their works. His extreme, almost feminine beauty, high rank, and chivalrous character, his immense energy and versatility, his insatiable thirst for knowledge, his passion for theorizing, his rare combination of intellectual hardihood with genuine devoutness of spirit, his extraordinary precocity, and his premature death, make up a personality so engaging that his name at any rate, and the record of his brief life, must always excite the interest and enlist the sympathy of mankind, though none but those, few in any generation, who love to loiter curiously in the bypaths of literature and philosophy, will ever care to follow his eager spirit through the labyrinths of recondite speculation which it once thridded with such high and generous hope. For us, indeed, of the latter end of the nineteenth century, trained in the exact methods, guided by the steady light of modern philosophy and criticism, it is no easy matter to enter sympathetically into the thoughts of men who lived while as yet these were not, men who spent their strength in errant efforts, in blind gropings in the dark, on abortive half-solutions or no-solutions of problems too difficult for them, mere ignes fatui, it would seem, or at best mere brilliant meteor stars illuminating the intellectual firmament with a transitory trail of light, and then vanishing to leave the darkness more visible, yet without whose mistakes and failures and apparently futile waste of power philosophy and criticism would not have come into being.

Among such wandering meteoric apparitions not the least brilliant was Pico della Mirandola. Born in 1463, he grew to manhood in time to witness and participate in the effectual revival of Greek learning in Italy ; yet his earliest bias was scholastic, and a schoolman in grain he remained to the day of his death. How strongly he had felt the influence of the schoolmen, how little disposed he was to follow the humanistic hue and cry of indiscriminate condemnation, may be judged from the eloquent apology for them which, in the shape of a letter to his friend Ermolao Barbara, he published in 1485. It was the fashion to stigmatize the schoolmen as barbarians because they knew no Greek and could not write classical Latin. That was the head and front of their offending in the eyes of men who had no idea of a better method of philosophizing than theirs, nor indeed any interest in philosophy, mere rhetoricians, grammarians, and pedagogues, while at any rate the schoolmen, however rude their style, were serious thinkers, who in grappling with the deepest problems of science human and divine displayed the rarest patience, sagacity, subtlety and ingenuity. Such is the gist of Pico's plea on behalf of the " barbarians," in urging which he exhausts the resources of rhetoric, and the ingenuity of the advocate; nor is there reason to doubt that it represents at least the embers of a very genuine enthusiasm. That challenge, also, which he issued at Rome, and in every university in Italy in the winter of 1486-7, summoning as if by clarion call every intellectual knight-errant in the peninsula to try conclusions with him in public disputation in the eternal city after the feast of Epiphany, does it not recall the celebrated exploit of Duns Scotus at Paris, when, according to the tradition, he won the title of Doctor Subtilis by refuting two hundred objections to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary in a single day? Only, as befitted " a great lord of Italy," Pico's tournament is to be on a grander scale. Duns had but one thesis to defend ; Pico offers to maintain nine hundred, and lest poverty should reduce the number of his antagonists he offers to pay their travelling expenses. Moreover, to Duns, Aquinas, and other of the schoolmen, Pico is beholden for not a few of his theses ; I of the rest, some are drawn direct from Plato, others from ( Neo-Pythagorean, Neo-Platonic and syncretist writers, , while a certain number appear to be original. Pico, however, was not so fortunate as Duns : the church smelt heresy in his propositions, and Pope Innocent VIII., though he had at first authorised, was induced to prohibit their discussion. (Bull dated 4th August, 1487). Thirteen were selected for examination by a special commission and were pronounced heretical. Pico, however, so far from bowing to its decision, wrote in hot haste an elaborate " Apologia" or defence of his orthodoxy, which, had it not been more ingenious than conclusive, might perhaps have been accepted ; as it was, it only brought him into further trouble.

This Apology " elucubrated," as he tells, " properante


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