Saturday, January 8, 2011

What 's Pico Doing With His Sources? The Platonism of Pico della Mirandola

One of the principle insights I am bringing to the discussion is the relevance of the topic of Aquinas and Platonism to Pico interpretation. We know now (thanks to the researches of scholars like Fran O'Rourke and Wayne Hankey) that Aquinas has--like Pico--been misunderstood as a strictly Aristotelian theologian. Aquinas and Pico both draw on the key late Neoplatonic concept of Participation, which Aristotle rejected in Plato but was renewed in Late Neoplatonism after Iamblichus, and systematized into the first scholastic summae in Proclus. Interpreters of Pico's theurgy, whatever they conclude, would do well to look at this. Some have alleged that Pico's interest in Iamblichus is primarily occultist--one example of this idea would be to assume that he is looking into the arcane metaphysical mysteries of Neoplatonism for theoretical help with some practical magical project. Pico does refer to Iamblichus' work as an "occult" philosophy. But in the rest of his Iamblichean theses and references Pico sees Iamblichus as a pious metaphysician, not a sorceror. He ignores the explicity theurgic and apology for ritual in De Mysteriis in favor of metaphysical themes concerning the celestial hierarchy. He plugs Iamblichean theory into the Kabbalah as "ineffable theology" by correlating an Iamblichean concept with Binah. He argues with Iamblichus' concept of prime matter in De Ente and in Heptaplus sees Iamblichus as an example of the Christian attitude of needing help from a higher power. Pico digested a huge amount of Proclus--something like a hundred Theses--out of a much larger amount of difficult Proclan text. He was motivated by disagreements with Ficino, and perhaps a desire to understand why Aquinas was so interested in Proclan theological decisions in the scholastic master's Neoplatonic commentaries, and especially on Dionysius' Divine Names. Of course he was also motivated by his interest in the scholastic and Augustinian prehistory and critique of Aquinas--Albert, Giles, as well as the post-Averroistic school of his Jewish teacher Del Medigo. His understanding of Magic and Hermes Trismegistus seems to rely more on Albertus Magnus and Roger Bacon than Iamblichus or Proclus. Copenhaver has noted that Pico only refers to Plotinus on magic in the Oration, indicating that Pico has at least missed an opportunity to deal with Late Neoplatonic theurgy. Michael Allen has studied Pico's attempt to do a "Plotinian" take on angels in the Commento, which only briefly mentions Kabbalah and has no apparent magical application. Pico either abandoned magic after the Oration and 900 Theses, or his angelology was never the kind of magical project that interpreters have read into the 900. In any case, a better understanding of the non-magical Pico had for studying this Neoplatonic philosophical angelology remains neglected in Pico scholarship.

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