restricted access Burning Lucretius: On Ficino's Lost Commentary


Sometime in the late 1450s the Platonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino wrote a "little commentary" on Lucretius's De rerum natura—a commentary he said he eventually burned as Plato once burned his own juvenilia. Scholars have read this text as an expression of a "religious crisis," and they have described the event of its destruction as a critical turn both in Ficino's thought and in Renaissance intellectual history. This essay explores an alternative explanation for Ficino's early engagement with the poetry of the ancient atomist, revisiting a number of familiar problems in the scholarship, including the philosopher's ideas about the uses of poetry, the story of his intellectual development, and the influence of Lucretius in the Quattrocento. As Ficino sought to revive Plato in Latin, I argue, he may have been drawn to the author of De rerum natura as a model of philosophical and poetic transmission.