Ficino, Marsilio – Selected Letters - From a letter to Antonio Pelotti and Baccio Ugolini
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Ficino, Marsilio – Selected Letters
From a letter from Marsilio Ficino to Antonio Pelotti and Baccio Ugolini; greetings.
When my good friends, Antonio Calderini and Bindaccio da Ricasoli, and I were reading together what you each wrote in praise of Carlo Marsuppini, that child of the Muses, we agreed that Plato was right in his view that poetry springs not from technique but from a kind of frenzy.
Although it is not necessary to give reasons where the matter is self-evident, I shall nevertheless mention the reasons Plato gives. In Phaedrus and lon, he discusses divine frenzy, of which he claims there are three principal signs.
Firstly, without God, one man can scarcely master a single art, even after a long time; but the true poets, such as he holds Orpheus, Homer, Hesiod, and Pindar to have been, included in their poems signs and evidence of every art.
Secondly, those who are in a frenzy utter many wonderful things, which a little later, when their frenzy has abated, they themselves do not really understand, as if they had not spoken them, but God had sounded through them, as though through trumpets.
Thirdly, neither prudent men nor those learned from their youth have proved to be the best poets. Indeed, some were out of their minds, as Homer and Lucretius were known to have been, or unlettered, as Hesiod testifies of himself, and as Plato describes Ion and Tynnicus of Calchis. Passing beyond the limitations of skill, these men suddenly produced astonishing poetry.
Plato adds that some very unskilled men are thus possessed by the Muses, because divine providence wants to show mankind that the great poems are not the invention of men but gifts from Heaven. He indicates this in Phaedrus when he says that no one, however diligent and learned in all the arts, has ever excelled in poetry unless to these other qualities has been added a fiery quickening of the soul. We experience this when we are inflamed by God's presence working in us. Such force carries the seed of the divine mind.