- Ficino in Spain by Susan Byrne
With Ficino in Spain Susan Byrne has made a long overdue intervention in the "purist, all Spanish approach" to intellectual—and therefore, literary— history of Spain. Her revision covers four major centuries, 1500-1900, and a broad range of disciplines: theology, astrology, political philosophy, mysticism, medicine, magic and poetry (both verse and prose). In this groundbreaking study, Byrne combines meticulous research into the textual and circulation history of Ficino's texts with equally attentive close-readings and analysis of the ways in which his writing and thought were transposed, reiterated and reimagined by Spanish authors. Byrne illuminates the Ficinian presence in authors such as Miguel de Cervantes, Francisco Aldana, John of the Cross, Luis de León and Juan de Pineda in such a way that she both augments the scholarly understandings of the Italian philosopher, and creates new hermeneutical insights into Spanish Golden Age authors. Due to the dearth of true comparatist studies of this kind focused on the Spanish context, Byrne's study will be difficult to situate within intellectual and literary discourse on early modern Spanish Letters. Her study is and should be viewed as an exemplary and pioneering work which resituates the motley culture of Renaissance and Baroque Spain within a comparative European context. She opens a door which consistently has been closed by hegemonic readings of this period through the historiography of a strictly Counter-Reformation—often deceptively modern—and Nationalistic perspective.
Bryne's study is divided into six chapters which document and examine Ficinian texts from ownership and readership through authorship and influence. Chapter 1 undertakes the nearly quixotic challenge of cataloguing and studying the holdings in Spanish libraries of texts by Ficino or related to Ficinian readership. In chapter 2 Byrne examines the ways in which several of the Ficinian texts chronicled in chapter 1 appeared either in direct citation or in reformulations by Spanish authors. Chapters 3 and 4 expand the Ficinian corpus to Hermes Tirsmegistus and other Neoplatonic texts which were inextricably woven into the fabric of Ficinian thought. Chapter 5 more closely examines Ficino as a figure in the Spanish imagination, frequently allied with the creative faculties of the poet in important thinkers such as Juan Huarte de San Huan and Lopez Pinciano, both of whom have been noted for their remarkable influence on Cervantes. Chapter 6 augments the core [End Page 523] of this study by exploring the place of Ficino's Neoplatonism in the development of political philosophy in Spain. In doing so, Byrne implicitly recovers a historiography which nuances and complicates the standard approaches to the Spanish empire and its articulation as a historical phenomenon. Of remarkable breadth and depth, Byrne frequently surmounts the unappreciated challenge of writing on an author whose range of influence demands an interdisciplinarity which few contemporary scholars have demonstrated.
Byrne should be commended particularly for the recovery of circulation, readership, expurgation and commentary. In doing so Byrne informs us not only of the varied manner of Ficinian readership, but also peers, as though from behind a curtain, into the increasingly evident divide between religious orthodoxy and imaginative or intellectual practice. She shows not only that Ficino was a foundational thinker in early modern Spain, but also how and in what ways. For example, the library of Columbus's son, Hernando Colón, held a non-expurgated 1567 edition of Plato's Opera omnia which ironically had belonged to Don Eugenio Nicolás de Guzmán, self-identified as Censor for the Inquisition. Guzmán's annotations partake in the debate over the validity of Solon's story in Plato's Timaeus—one of Plato's most circulated texts throughout the medieval period. I underscore Byrne's inclusion of such details both because they reveal distance between Counter-Reformation discourse and readerly discourse, and because throughout her study Byrne is acutely sensitive to the ways in which various Platonic, Neo-Platonic and Hermetic texts were not only synthesized by Ficino, but also accompanied readership of his texts and translations of his texts in Spain. Ficinian readership did not simply...