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  • Pico della Mirandola: New Essays
  • Marion Leathers Kuntz
M. V. Dougherty . Pico della Mirandola: New Essays.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. x + 226. index. $80. ISBN: 978–0–521–84736–0.

Seldom does a book of essays present such a well-balanced collection as does this work. The introduction is a model of informative scholarship that prepares the reader for the studies that follow.

Jill Kraye's "Pico on the Relationship of Rhetoric and Philosophy" presents a tour de force in her discussion of Pico's letter to Ermalao Barbaro in which Pico entered the age-old fray of the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy. Barbaro was scornful of Aristotelians who did not know Latin or Greek and hoped to show them that "those who separate philosophy from eloquence are thought to be commonplace, insignificant and wooden philosophers" (15). In response, Pico provided a strong defense of the scholastics whose substance of thought far out-weighed any deficiencies in style. Various scholars throughout the ages have provided resolutions to the problem, and the author also adds compelling ones of her own.

In Paul Richard Blums's contribution, "Pico, Theology, and the Church," the author explores Pico's understanding of theology and philosophy and his call for a council to engage in disputation concerning his 900 Theses. A papal commission found thirteen of these heretical. Blum maintains that the papal commission desired to separate natural philosophy from theology. Blum remarks about Lorenzo de'Medici's defense of Pico against charges of heresy that even if he were reciting the Credo his enemies would claim it was heretical.

Michael Sudduth's theme is "Pico della Mirandola's Philosophy of Religion," which Sudduth interprets as a "reflective habit of mind directed toward religious or theological beliefs or statements" (61). Pico's syncretism can be observed in the theological conception of philosophy found in the Oratio as a truth articulated in the world's different religions and philosophical traditions. Sudduth reasons that Pico's defense of philosophy, his idea of human freedom, and his syncretic program were all interrelated and shaped by his religious presuppositions, a "form of Christian supernaturalism that defined Roman Catholic theology in the fifteenth century" (79).

Michael J. B. Allen in "The Birth of Venus" presents the reader with comments drawn from an intimate understanding of Plato to illuminate Pico's Commento and Heptaplus. In the Commento Pico's major concern is poetic theology metaphysically expressed in Greco-Roman myth. Allen points out Pico's absorption with the Orpheus-Eurydice myth in Plato's Symposium and with God's [End Page 916] creation of Mind. Mind awakened by Love turned to God who bestowed upon Mind the perfecting of the beauty of Ideas. In the Heptaplus Pico wants to understand Genesis and how things are in time after creation. He turns to the Kabbalah, in which a Christological text is fashioned from Genesis.

In "Three Precursors to Pico della Mirandola's Roman Disputation and the Question of Human Nature in the Oratio," M. V. Dougherty organizes his contribution into six parts, the first three being Disputatio, Sententiae, and Dialectica. In the last three sections he turns to the content of the Oratio by considering Natura humana, Deificatio, and Oratio. In the Oratio Pico claims that he will demonstrate the concordia between Plato and Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, and Avicenna and Averroes. Dougherty argues that both parts of the Oratio demonstrate that deification is the goal of human endeavors, which is revealed by the ultimate human unity with God.

Sheila J. Rabin's "Pico on Magic and Astrology" provides the reader with a feast of astronomy, astrology, and Kabbalah, defining and discussing each independently and how they relate to each other and to Pico's thought. Pico argued that Kabbalah proved the truths of Christianity and that those who studied Kabbalah worked actively to reform the world. Pico had written in the Conclusiones that "[n]o power exists in heaven or earth seminally and separated that the magician cannot actuate and unite" (159) and in the end of his Conclusiones that "as true astrology teaches us to read in the book of God, so the Cabala teaches...


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