Infomotions, Inc.Plato's Parmenides in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance : a chapter in the history of platonic studies. / Klibansky, Raymond, 1905-




Author: Klibansky, Raymond, 1905-
Title: Plato's Parmenides in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance : a chapter in the history of platonic studies.
Publisher: [S.l. : s.n., 19--]
Tag(s): parmenides; platonis; georgius; bessarion; plato; platonic; proclus; dialogue; plato's parmenides; proclus' commentary; renaissance studies; mediaeval; nicholas; opera; commentary; latin
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JAN l1949 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 
AND THE RENAISSANCE 

A CHAPTER IN THE HISTORY OF PLATONIC STUDIES 



No OTHER Platonic dialogue, perhaps no other philosophical work, 
has undergone such strange vicissitudes as the Parmenides. Con- 
sidered by one group of exegetes as a mere exercise in dialectic, 
regarded by another as an important contribution to the theory of ideas, 
rejected by some as spurious, viewed by a few as a humorous parody, and 
extolled by many as the supreme expression of Platonic theology, its 
character was no less disputed in the schools of Antiquity than among 
modern interpreters. 1 



THE MIDDLE AGES 

Considering the fate of the dialogue in the centuries between the 
closing of the Academy in Athens and the rise of the Florentine Academy, 
we find that the Latin world of the early Middle Ages knew very little 
about the Parmenides. References to the work are, however, not entirely 
lacking. We read, for instance, in an unpublished commentary on 



*) The Parmenides as exercise in dialectic : e.g. Albinus, Isagoge 3 and Didaskalikos 6 (Plato VI 
148; 158 sq. Hermann); as treatise on the ideas: e.g. Diogenes Laertius III 58; Marinus (Photius, 
Eibliotbeca 351 a 30 sq., PG 103 col. 1300); as spurious: this was a fashion with German scholars of 
the lal century, e.g. Ueberweg, Schaarschmidt, Ribbeck; as containing the essence of Platonic theology: 
lamblichus (ap. Anon. Prolegomena in Platonis philosophiam VI 219 Hermann); Syrianus (ap. Proclum, 
Comment, in Parmen. col. 1061 Cousin); Proclus, Tbeol. Platan. I 7 (p. 16 Portus, Hamburg 1618) and 
passim. 

See also R. Klibansky, Ein Proldos-Fund und seine Bedeutung (quoted hereafter as ProJkJos-Futuf), 
SBHeidAkad. 1928/29, Heidelberg 1929, p. 7 sqq., and The Continuity of the Platonic Tradition (quoted 
hereafter as Platonic Tradition), London 1939, p. 25 sq. 



2 _ MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

Boethius' De Trinitate} written shortly after 1148, in the course of a dis- 
cussion on the relation between the plurality of ideas (formae) and the one 
forma formarum t God, the following sentences: 

Ita forma quae Deus es~t, cum formet ideas, perfe&ionem a&us conferens 
eis, unit eas materiae eas cogendo immateriari; quae tune nee satis re&e formae 
dici possunt, cum imagines sint veritatis formarum. Inde es~t quod Plato in 
Parmenide ait -quod omnes formae, in eo quod sunt forma et sine discretione, 
sunt forma formarum, nee sunt plures formae sed una forma; quae quia muta- 
bilitati adiun&a non es~t, immateriari non potest. 

It would be wrong to assume that the anonymous author of this in 
many ways remarkable work, a follower of Thierry of Chartres and fierce 
adversary of Gilbert de la Porre'e, had any direct knowledge of the Platonic 
dialogue. His reference is a free interpretation of a passage in that book 
which, from the days of Scotus Eriugena, served as the main guide to the 
Student of Plato, Chalcidius' Commentary on the Timaeus. 

There the commentator explains in a similar context why the problem 
of the unity and plurality of ideas with which Plato dealt in the Parmenides 
is not treated in the Timaeus. He argues that it is outside the scope 
of this dialogue which bears on physics and has to be content with the 
probable, while the Parmenides, being of a higher order, "flows from the 
source of pure knowledge". 2 There can be no doubt that the manner in 
which these two dialogues are here bracketed in an antithesis points to 
the same Neoplatonic tradition, going back to lamblichus, of which we 
have frequent expression in the writings of Proclus. 3 Thus the mediaeval 



*) MS. Berlin, Preussische Staatsbibl., lat. fol. 817. Incipit: " 'Chriftianae religionis reveren- 
tiam plures usurpant.' Aggreditur propositum hoc ordine ..." On this work of the school of 
Chartres whose author I called 'Anonymus Berolinensis' see my notes in Nicolaus de Cusa, Opera omnia, 
vol. I, Lips. 1932, p. XII; 81 n.; 168. Part of the work which throws light on the antagonism between 
two prominent thinkers of the same school, Thierry and Gilbert de la Porree, will be published in my 
edition of the texts of the School of Chartres. 

*) Chalcidius, Comment, in Timaeum 272 (p. 303 Wrobcl) : "Haec (set I. Timaei) quippe naturalis, 
ilia (scil. Parmenidis} epoptica disputatio eft. Naturalis quidem, ut imago nutans aliquatenus et in veri- 
simili quadam Stabilitate contenta; epoptica vero, quae ex sincerissimae rerum scientiae fonte manat." 

) This juxtaposition of the Timaeus and Parmenides originated with lamblichus; see Proclus, 
Comment, in Timaeum 113 Diehl, and Anonymus, Prolegomena in Platonispbilosopbiam 26 (VI 219 Hermann). 
The fa& that Chalcidius adopts it affords an important clue, hitherto unnoticed, to the date of his work 
and the character of his sources. It can no longer be maintained (with Ueberweg-Praechter, Die Pbilo- 



PLATO^S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 3 

scholar was, from the first, in a position to know that these two dialogues 
were considered the ones most representative of Plato's doftrine, the 
Timaeus as containing the sum of Platonic physics, the Parmenidds as 
giving the essence of his theology. 

A further clue to the subject-matter of the dialogue could have been 
gathered from another passage in which Chalcidius refers to the Parmenides 
for a discussion of the question of how the world of things can be said to 
participate in the world of ideas. 1 

Apart from these two short quotations a mediaeval scholar of rather 
uncommonly wide reading- would find, among the Latin authors at his 
disposal in Cathedral or monastic libraries, one more explicit reference to 
a "disputation on abstruse matters between the young Socrates and the 
aged Parmenides", in Macrobius' Saturnalia. 2 

If he was fortunate enough to get hold of a copy of the curious 
miscellany which went under the name of 'Agellius', the Attic Nights, his 
interest might have been aroused by a discussion of the moment dividing 
life from death and his attention called to "Plato's book entitled Par- 
menides" in which, it is said, Plato creates the notion of the instant, 
ilaicpvY)?. 3 However, Aulus Gellius, always eager to parade his knowledge, 
quotes the decisive words in Greeek, and it is therefore doubtful whether 
the passage would have conveyed Plato's meaning to the mediaeval reader. 
v The scantiness of the information available about the dialogue was 
thus wholly disproportionate to the importance evidently ascribed to it 
by Chalcidius. The higher the expectations raised by the commentator's 
allusion to the esoteric doctrine enshrined in the work, the more tantalizing 
must have been the scarcity of clues to its contents. 

sopbie des A/tertums, Berlin 1926, p. 649) that "auf den plotinischen oder nachplotinischen Neuplatonismus 
deutet keine Spur." Both the term epoptica disputatio and its application to the Parmenides are typically 
Neoplatonic; see e.g. Proclus, Comment, in Parmen. I, col. 617 sq. Cousin. 

*) Comment, in Timaeum 335 (p. 359 Wrobel): "Haec operosius in Parmenide, cum quaereret 
quatenus res existentes idearum participarent similitudinem." 

*) Saturnalia I i, 5 (p. 5 Eyssenhardt 2 , Lips. 1893). The reference to the Parmenides in Apuleius, 
Apologia 4, 9 (II 5 sq. Helm) could not have been recognized as such. 

8 ) A. Gellius, Nodes Atticae VII 13, 10 sq. : "Sed Plato, inquit, noSter neque vitae id tempus 
neque morti dedit, idemque in omni consimilium rerum disceptatione fecit . . . , idcirco peperit ipse 
expressitque aliud quoddam novum in confinio tempus, quod verbis propriis atque integris rijv e<u'0vjv 
0v<riv appellavit idque ipsum ita, uti dico, inquit, in libro cui Parmenides titulus eSt scriptum ab eo 
reperietis." 

JB' 

774- 



/ t i 



4 



MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 



On the other hand, the ancient sources accessible, such as Seneca and 
Chalcidius, Macrobius and Boethius, offered some indications concerning 
Parmenides the philosopher and his doctrine. 1 But to what extent the 
Platonic dialogue was concerned with these, or with the familiar figure of 
Parmenides meditating on his rock, the inventor of dialectic, 2 this the 
mediaeval scholar was obviously unable to ascertain. 

This situation was radically changed when, some time before his 
death in 1286, the Dominican friar William of Moerbeke translated 
Proclus' Commentary on the Parmenides. Embedded in this work, but 
clearly distinguished from the text of Proclus' exposition, the Platonic 
dialogue, up to the end of the first hypothesis, became accessible to the 
Latin world. 8 

The Commentary on the Parmenides was the last in a series of trans- 
lations of Proclus' works which William had been prompted to undertake 
at the instigation of Thomas Aquinas. 4 All these writings have in common 
a systematic strufture based on the Parmenides, the, dialogue in which 
Proclus, faithful to the tenets of his masters, saw the culmination of 
Plato's teaching and the essence of his metaphysics. Thus the Occident 
received Plato's work surrounded by a body of do&rine which, from the 
first, determined the perspective in which it was viewed. 

The impression received by readers of Proclus' Commentary fs aptly 
summed up by an English scholar of the fourteenth century who noted 
on the first page of his copy, No fa: myftica theoria Platonis in Parmenide? 

The newly translated writings of Proclus soon gained a wide circula- 



* *) Seneca, Epift. ad IMC. 88, 44 sq. (p. 374 sq. Hense, Lips. 1914); Chalcidius, Comment, in Tim. 
281; 350 (p. 311; 373 W.); Macrobius, Comment, in Somnium Scip. I 14, 20; 2, 21 (p. 543; 483 Eyss.); 
Boethius, De eonsolatione Pbilos. HI 12 pr. Censorinus, De die natali, who offers some material on 
Parmenides' physiological views (IV 7 sq.; V 2; VI 8; p. 6 sq.; n Hultsch), was very little known. 
More information became available in the thirteenth century when Aristotle's physical and metaphysical 
writings had been translated. 

*) See my article The Reck of Parmenides, in this number of M.A.R.S., volume I, number 2. 

*) For Moerbeke's translation of Proclus' Commentary on the Parmenides see Prok/os-Fund, 
p. 13 sq. ; for the date of the translation, ibid. p. 32. 

) Cf. the Stams index of Dominican scholars, ed. Denifle, Quellen %ur Gelebrtengescbichte des 
Predigerordens (ALKG II 226 sq., Berlin 1886). 

) MS. Oxford, Bodleian, Digby 236, fol. i r . The note is based on Proclus' Prologue to the 
firsl book of his Commentary, col. 617, 25 sq. Cousin. 



\ 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 5 

tion, for the Western world was not unprepared for the message they 
contained. Philosophers and theologians were quick to observe the 
affinity of his doctrines with those of one of the most eminent Fathers of 
the Church, Dionysius Areopagita. 

The extraordinary influence which the works of the supposed pupil 
of St. Paul exercised on theological speculation throughout the Middle 
Ages is well known. His authority was unquestioned. Of his philosophical 
affiliations his readers were but dimly conscious; yet his connection with 
the Platonici had been more or less distinctly felt by some writers of the 
twelfth century. Later, Thomas Aquinas in his younger years considered 
Dionysius as an adherent of Aristotle and as such contrasted him with 
those Fathers who, like Basil and Augustine, were followers of Plato. 1 
But once acquainted with the first of William's translations from Proclus, 
Thomas recognized that Dionysius had been "in most things a partisan 
of Plato's doctrine". 2 

Thomas' statement may be qualified by considering the specific 
nature of Dionysius' relation to Platonism. Deeply impregnated as his 
works are with Neoplatonic teaching in general, one Platonic dialogue in 
particular, the Parmenides viewed with the eyes of Proclus, exercised a 
profound influence on his thought. Plato makes his Parmenides sum up 
the first stage of the argument concerning the relation between the 'one' 
and the 'many' with the conclusion: "The one cannot have a name or be 
spoken of, nor can there be any knowledge or perception or opinion of it. 
It is not named or spoken of, not an objedl; of opinion or of knowledge, 
not perceived by any being." 3 These sentences form the end of the first 



J ) Thomas Aquinas, Sent. II d. 14 q. i a. z (II 350 Mandonnet, Paris 1929): "Similiter etiam 
expositores Sacrae Scripturae in hoc diversificati sunt, secundum quod diversorum philosophorum 
se&atores fuerunt, a quibus in philosophicis eruditi sunt. Basilius enim et AuguSlinus et plures sanctorum 
sequuntur in philosophicis quae ad fidem non speftant opinionem Platonis . . . Dionysius autem fere 
ubique sequitur AriSlotelem, ut patet diligenter inspicienti libros eius." In accordance with current 
opinion, Thomas at this time Still regarded Aristotle as the author of the Liber de causis. This obviously 
influenced his judgment. Later, in his Commentary on the Liber de causis, he was the first to discover 
that this book, in faft, depended on Proclus. 

*) Quae ft. disp. de malo q. 16 a. i ad 3 (II 662 Mandonnet, Paris 1925): "satis probabile el quod 
Dionysius, qui in plurimis fuit seftator sententiae Platonicae, opinatus sit cum eis . . ." 

3 ) Parmenides, p. 142 a. On Dionysius Areopagita and the Parmenides see Proklos-Fund, p. 1 1 sq., 
and Platonic Tradition, p. 25. 



6 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

hypothesis of the Platonic dialogue and thus the end of the text commented 
on by Proclus in whose metaphysical explanation they are represented as 
Plato's final word on the 'One'. 

To quote from William of Moerbeke's translation of the concluding 
part of the Commentary, the part lost in the Greek original r 1 

". . . Si igitur nomina et rationes et scientias multas inhonoravimus ad 
perceptionem intelligibilium, quid oportet de ipso Uno dicere? Non quod omnia 
nomina ab ipso deficiant et omnis sermo et omnis scientia? Non ergo eft nomina- 
bile neque dicibile neque scibile neque sensibile nulli entium le Unum. Quare 
omni sensui incomprehensibile es~t et omni opinion! et scientiae omni et omni 
rationi et omnibus nominibus incomprehensibile." 

Altogether severed from their dialectical context, Plato's sentences 
reappear with but slight variation as Dionysius' characteristic of the God- 
head: "It is neither expressed nor conceived; neither is it number nor 
order, nor greatness nor littleness, . . . nor any other thing of those known 
to us . . . , neither is there expression of it nor name nor knowledge." 
Through this cardinal passage of Dionysius' Theologia Myfiica 2 the formula 
of the Parmenides had a decisive share in shaping the conception of 
negative theology, the process of approaching the Deity by the gradual 
removal of all positive qualifications. Moreover, by their emphasis on 
God's unknowableness Dionysius' words became a starting-point of 
mediaeval mysticism. 

All commentators of Dionysius from Scotus Eriugena to Hugh of 
St. Vi&or and Robert Grosseteste, who had looked on the Areopagite as 
the supreme master of theology, thus belonged, unknown to themselves, 
jto a tradition which went back to the Neoplatonic interpretation of the 
Parmenides. However negligible the direct knowledge of the Parmenides 
had been, the indirect influence which the dialogue exercised on the 
mediaeval mind through the distorting medium of Dionysius' writings 
can hardly be overrated. 



*) Sec Proklos-Fund, esp. p. 37 sq. MSS. Vatican lat. 3074, fol. 163'; Cues 186, fol. 148'; Oxford 
Digby 236, fol. i47 v ; Milan Ambros. A 167 sup., fol. 226'; Leipzig bibl. civ. 27, fol. 218*. 

*) Tbeologia mj/flica j (PG 3 col. 1045-8); see also De divinis nominibus I 5 (PG 3 col. 593); XIII 3 
(ibid., col. 981). 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 7 

\ 

It is as a result of William's versions of Proclus that the indirect and 
the direct traditions merged. 

Of all the newly translated works of Proclus the Elements of 
Theology, then known under the quaint name Elemntatio theologica, 
became by far the most influential, owing to the concise presentation and 
systematic arrangement of its main tenets. However, the much more 
voluminous commentary on the Parmenides did not lack readers as can 
be judged from the extant manuscripts which bear witness to the study 
of the text in fourteenth century England and Italy. 

The commentary was quoted, for instance, by the Dominican Berthold 
of Moosburg, in his praise of the 'glorious construction of the world', 1 and 
though the writings of his elder contemporary and fellow Dominican, 
Master Eckhart, do not contain any dired reference to the Parmenides, the 
mode of thinking expressed in Proclus' commentary is unmistakably, 
imprinted on the dialectical speculation of the German mystic. 

Take for example the sentences at the very end of Proclus' Com- 
mentary in which he sums up his interpretation of the Parmenides : 2 

". . . assumamus ascendentein animam ad intellehim cum multitudine 
potentiarum ascendere, sed omnia dimittere quae sibi ipsi connata et quaecumque 
dividunt operationes ipsius; supergressam autem ... ad ipsum Unum ipsam 
adducere et unire non multum negotiantem, neque quaerentem quid non est aut 
eSt, sed omniquaque claudentem et omnem operationem contrahentem et contentam 
unione solum. Haec itaque et Parmenides imitans, in fine et abnegationes abs- 
tulit et omnem sermonem, ad indicibile concludere eum qui de Uno sermonem 
volens . . . 

. . . Propter omnia itaque haec videtur (scil. Parmenides) mihi ultimo et ab- 
negationes auferre ab Uno. Ad ea quidem quae velut praeianualia Unius deducet 

*) Expositio in Prodi Elementationem theologicam, MSS. Vatican lat. 2192, fol. 2 va ; Oxford Balliol 
Coll. 224 b, fol. 3 vb : "Si enim secundum Proclum super Parmenidem mundus es~l plenitude specierum 
omnimodarum, et secundum Trismegistum (ubi supra) omnium quorum Deus el gubernator recepta- 
culum et contentor, et secundum Ciceronem libro 2 De natura deorum 3 cap. communis deorum 
atque hominum domus et urbs utrorumque, . . . : sequitur necessario quod mundus sit gloriosa con- 
stru&io non km lignorum et lapidum sed omnium sensibilium et intelle&ibilium." 

2 ) MSS. Vatican kt. 3074, fol. i64 v sq.; Cues 186, fol. ijo r ; Oxford Digby 236, fol. I49 r sq.; 
Milan Ambros. A 167 sup., fol. 228 V sq. In this exposition of Parmenides 142 a 7 ("Now can thiipossibly 
be the case with the One?" "I do not think so.") Proclus ingeniously tries to overcome the difficulty 
arising from his interpretation of these sentences with which Plato concludes the firSt hypothesis, casting 
doubt on its result. 



8 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

utique nos quae per abnegationes haec tota dialeftica methodus, auferens omnia 
inferiora et per ablationem solvens impedimenta speculationis illius, si possibile 
dicere. Post pertransitum autem per omnia seponere oportet et hanc tamquanY 
valde negotiosam et coattrahentem abnegatorum conceptum, cum quibus non 
es~t illi adiacere. 

. . . Sicut igitur in hiis oportet operationem purgari a superinstantia . . . , 
secundum haec utique et in hiis oportet purgari ab omni diale&ica operatione. 
Praeparatio enim eft haec eius quae in illud (scil. le simpliciter \Jnum) tensionis, sed 
non tensio. 

... Ad hoc enim et Parmenides concludens multam hanc de ipso (scil. Uno) 
sermonum pertra&ationem, videtur hanc ultimam fecisse interrogationem . . . 
Nam per negari et ipse removit abnegationes. Silentio autem conclusit earn quae 
de ipso theoriam." 

This is then, according to Pjroclus, the teaching of Plato's dialogue : 

In its ascent to the 'Mind' the Soul gradually sheds the multitude of 
its faculties and all that divides its activity. Then, transcending the Mind, 
it seeks to unite itself with the One, not asking any longer about 'not-being 
or being', but content only with union with the One. 

In analogy with this movement of the Soul towards the One, 
- Parmenides removes at the end of the discussion, not only all affirmation, 
but also all negation and, indeed, all speech, indicating that all discourse 
about the One leads to a point where language fails. 

The dialectical method has eliminated the obstacles to the contem- 
plation of the One and, by negations, has led us to the threshold. But at 
this Stage it is necessary to leave dialectic outside as inadequate. For all 
dialectic is preparation for the approach to the One, not the approach 
itself. The last step is to purge the Soul from all dialectic activity. Thus, by 
negation, Parmenides removes negation itself. 1 And silence ends the dis- 
course of the One. 

About the year 1300 a rumour arose that "Plato's Parmenides" had 
been translated into Latin. In his Speculum divinarum rerum et quorundam 



l ) For the conception of ntgatio negotiants in Master Eckhart see Proklos-Fund, p. 12; Magister 
Eckardus, Opus proposithnum, prologus (Opera Latina ed. InSt, S. Sabinae, II 22 Bascour, Lips. 1935): 
"Proclus et "Liber de causis frequenter .nomine unius aut unitatis Deum exprimunt. Praetereav li unum 
es~t negatio negationis; propter quod soli primo et pleno esse, quale esl Deus, competit, de quo nichil 
negari potesV; ibid., p. IX; 27, 20; Comment, in loannem, MS. Cues 21, fol. ioo v : "propria est sibi 
(scil. Deo) et sibi soli negatio negationis, quae est medulla et apex purissimae affirmationis." 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 9 

naturalium the philosopher and astronomer Henry Bate of Malines remarks, 
in a discussion of the problem of parfTcipation : "It is probable that Plato's 
Parmenides, a work not yet in the hands of the public here, contains more 
about this matter, according to what I heard a long time ago from the 
translator who promised to send it to me. But he was prevented by death 
and did not send it." 1 However, there can be little doubt that the work 
here mentioned is not the Platonic dialogue itself, but William's version of 
Proclus' Commentary; for the Fleming Henry stood in friendly relations 
with his compatriot, the' Dominican friar from Moerbeke. It is known 
that he dedicated to William his first scientific work, the Magiftralis 
compositio aftrolabii, and that he owned and used several of William's 
earlier translations. 2 It can safely be assumed that the interpreter whom 
Henry had in mind was none other than William who, "long ago" per- 
haps in 1274 at the Council of Lyons when the two scholars had met may 
have told him of the new 'Platonic' work he had in hand. 

The reader of Henry Bate's book who, stimulated by his remark, 
might have tried to obtain "Plato's Parmenides" would thus have found 
nothing but the first part of the work, surrounded by its bulky com- 
mentary. 

n 

\ 

GEORGE OF TRAPEZUNT 

The first complete translation, it has been assumed so far, was that 
of Marsilio Ficino. Yet there is evidence that an earlier translation of the 



*) Of the Speculum divinorum et quorundam naturalium (MSS. Vatican Ottobon. lat. 1602; Chigi C 
VHt 218; Vat. lat. 2191; Brussels Bibl. roy. 271; 7500; St. Omer 587; 588) only the beginning has been 
edited by Wallerand (Les Philos. Beiges, vol. XI, Louvain 1931). The passage referred to was published 
by A. Birkenmajer, News %u dem Briefs der Pariser Artiftenfakultdt uber den Tod des bl. Thomas von Aquin, 
Xenia Thomi&ica HI, Rome 1925, p. 63. Here (book XI 12) Bate deals with the question: "Quid in 
textu librorum Socratis et Platonis reperitur expressum de participatione?"; after quoting the Timaeus, 
the Meno and the Phaedon, Bate says : "Verum in Parmenide Platonis, qui liber nondum apud nos com- 
muniter habetur, plura forsan de his continentur, prout ab interprete illius seu translatore dudum 
intellexi, qui mihi promiserat eum transmittere, sed morte preventus non transmisit." 

*) See Birkenmajer, /. at.; Proklos-Fund, p. 31 sq. It is possible that Bate owned the MS. Leyden 
Bibl. publ. lat. 64, the only extant MS. containing Moerbeke's translation of an extract from Proclus' 
Commentary on the Timaeus; cp. Corpus Platonicum Medii Aevi. Plato latinus, vol. I, London 1940, 
praef. p. XV. 



10 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

whole work existed. Giovanni Andrea de Bussi, one time secretary and 
friend of Nicholas of Cusa, gives in his preface to the fkst edition of 
Apuleius, published in 1469, an account of the Platonic studies of his 
former master who, "burning, as it were, with great desire, ordered Plato's 
Parmenides to be translated from Greek into Latin". 1 The name of 
the translator is made known to us from another source, viz. Bessarion's 
In calumniatorem Platonis, written in defence of Plato against the attacks 
contained in the Comparatio Platonis et AriHotelis by George of Trapezunt. 
Bessarion composed several Greek redactions and a Latin translation of 
his work: in all these versions the first of which was begun in 1458 and 
completed in 1459 the Cardinal, replying to George's inventive, stresses 
that the author, now turned a slanderer and enemy of Plato, had shortly 
before undertaken a translation of Plato's Parmenides at the request of 
Nicholas of Cusa. 2 

This translation,, together with Georgius Trapezuntius' dedication to 
Nicholas of Cusa, is still extant in a manuscript of the Biblioteca Guarnacci 
at Volterra (cod. Volaterranus 6201, fol. 6i r -86 v ). 3 The preface, with the 



*) Bussi's edition of Apuleius (sec Proklos-Fund, p. 25), first printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz 
in Rome, 1469, was often reprinted in the same century, in Rome, Venfce, Vicenza, and Milan (see 
Gtsamtkatalog der Wiegtndrucke II 529 sq., Berlin 1926). Bussi's preface was republished separately 
several times, e.g. by Cardinal Quirini, De optimorum scriptorum tditionibus quae Romae primum prodiertmt, 
Lindau 1761 ; Botfield, Praefationes et episTolae editionibus princ, atut. vet. praepositae, Cantab. 1861 ; (in part 
only) M. Honcckcr, Nikolaus von Cues u. die griecb. Spracbe, SBHeidAk 1937/38, p. 70 sq.; the relevant 
passage see in Proklos-Fund, p. 26 : "Parmcnidem Platonis magna veluti ardens siti de Graeco in Latinum 
fecit converti." 

. ) Bessarion In calumniatorem Platonis IV 17 (ed. Mohler, Paderborn 1927, p. 624, 31 sq.; we 
correct the text which the editor has misunderstood and spoiled by an unnecessary conje&ure): 
" *Ev ye H^) v ftp ete Tov Ilap|jievC87jv aurou TtpooijiUp, 6v xeXeuaei TOO 00900 xelvou xal tepoO 
dv8p6<; NixoXaou xapSYjvaXetoi; TOU x Kou); ou8v 8n (it) ITXaTajva TTV^OVTO? ip[nr)veoaat Siov 
TtdtvTTj Ttapi^Oapxe, roiaOra Tiepl auroO re IlXdtTtovoi; xal TOU 8iaX6you T(ji 7rpoeipif)(JL^vt[> xapSvjvaXEi 
rcpoaqxovcov Xfyei . . . " The Latin translation (IV 16, p. 627 Mohler) has only: "Quin etiam in altera 
praefatione, quam ad virum do&issimum Nicolaum cardinalem Cusensem misit, in interpretationem 
sermonis Pktonici qui Parmenides inscribitur haec de Platone teStatur . . ." For the various Greek 
redactions see L. Mohler, Kardinal Bessarion als Tbeologe, Humanift u. Staatsmann, vol. I, Paderborn 1923, 
p. 358 sq.; they are all prior to the Latin translation which was first published in Rome, 1469, and has 
been reprinted by Mohler opposite his editio princeps of the Greek text. 

) The MS. is described in Index codicum 'Lai. qw Volaterris in Bybliotheca Guarnacciana adservantur, 
compos. H. Funaioli (Studi Italiani di Filol. Class. XVIII 121 sq., Firenze 1910); it was written towards 
the end of the fifteenth century. 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES II 

beginning and end of the translation, a copy of which I owe to the kind- 
ness of Dr. L. Bertalot, of the Vatican Library, is printed below. 

PLATONIS PARMENIDES INTERPRETE GEORGIO TRAPEZUNTIO 

Ad reverendissimum in Christo pattern et dominum Nicolaum tituli san&i 
Petri ad Vincula presbyterum cardinalem, apostolicae sedis legatum, Georgii 
Trapezuntii in Parmenidis Platonis translationem praefatio. 

Traduxi his diebus, pater optime, de Graeco in Latinum Platonis Parmenidem 5 
vel de ideis. Hac enim duplici librum ipse inscriptione insignivit; quarum altera 
materiem respicit, altera virum cui disserendi summa committitur ostendit. Quod 
facere solet fere semper Plato. Fuit autem Parmenides, vir omnium temporibus 
suis in philosophia clarissimus, ante Platonis tempora annis circiter sexaginta. 
Nam adolescente Socrate senex iam erat Parmenides, Socrate autem sene virilem lo 
Plato agebat aetatem. De ideis vero inscripsit, non quod aperte totus liber de 
ideis esse videatur, sed quia mea quidem sententia, cum de Uno maxime agatur, 
de idea Unius agi ambigendum non es~l. 

Es~t autem liber sic et altitudine rerum profundus et argumentorum crebritate 
refertus, ut facile hinc Platonis ingenium et naturae acumen et disserendi ad J 5 
utranque partem mirabilis facultas eluceat. Brevitas quoque dicendi tanta, ut 
nihil brevios dici possit, quo fit ut .etiam in ornatu verborum longo intervallo 
a ceteris Platonis operibus relinquatur. Quod natura ipsarum rerum fieri neces- . 
sario dixerim. Verborum enim ornatus et compositionis pompa si latius confluat 
et quasi lu&ator nudos in harena lacertos oSlentet ia&etque, omnem gravitatem 2O 
infringit. Hinc fit ut retrusas res atque abolitas, quantum ornatius dicere coneris, 
tantum minus explices, communiores contra nisi ornate dicas ne dicere quidem 
videaris. Illud etiam non praetermittam quod, sicut in ceteris paene omnibus, 
ita hie quoque Plato nihil decidit, sed cum more suo multa in utranque partem 
afferat, quid tenendum sit non determinat. Quod ille faciebat vel modestia, ne 2 5 
determinando de aliquo impudens forsan videretur, vel ne ullo pa&o reprehendi 
posset, vel ut auditorum ingenia excitaret quod eis disputandi viam planiorem 
relinqueret, vel quia Socratem sequebatur qui fertur solitus dicere fuisse illud 
solum se scire quod nihil sciret. 

Hunc autem librum de rebus altissimis tibi potissimum dedicavi, qui et 3 



14 - 17 ) ESt auternr dici possit affert Bessarion In calumniatorem Platonis IV 17. 
18-iaj in u tranqu! Bessarion. 
ia ) eluceat: illuceat Bessarion, 
19 ) quoque: que Bess. 
") si cornea; nisi cod. 



12 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

philosophorum et theologorum ita facile principatum tenes, ut non solum multa 
videris legeris docueris, verum etiam ipse conscripseris atque pepereris. Accedit 
quod antiquitas Platonica eo tibi commendatior sit, quanto mirabiliores qui 
philosophari coeperunt videntur quam qui posterius effulserunt. Nee id iniuria; 
5 siquidem Aristoteles etiam invenire difficillimum, inventis vero addere facillimum 
dudt. 

Praeterea non minus aequitate iustitia humanitate quam do&rina pollere te 
perspicuum est. Quis enim nescit non forte aut casu, sed san&imonia vitae et 
laboribus, quos pro Ecclesia subiisti cum in Basiliensi concilio turn maxime 

10 orator ad loannem Constantinopolitanum Imperatorem pro Ecclesiae unione 
missus, ad cardinalatus dignitatem merito ascendisti? Quis ignorat tua provi- 
dentia praecipue faftum, ut universa Orientalis Ecclesia congregata Italiam ad 
pontificem Eugenium venerit? Partim ergo dobina prudentiaque tua me 
impulit, ut acutissimum atque in naturae secretis reconditum Platonis opus mihi 

1 5 tradu&um ad te mitterem; partim etiam humanitas tua hortata el, ne iudicium de 
tanta re temere fortassis a me suscepta reformidem. 

Accipias igitur Parmenidem Latinum tandem fa&um et tuo nomini dedi- 
catum, et pro humanitate tua et legas et edas, ut tuo etiam nomine atque au&oritate 
adiutus et mordentium linguas effugiat et laetior in posteritatem atque securior 

20 transvolet. 

PARMENIDES VEL DE IDEIS 

Incipit: Cum domo e Clazomenis Athenas venissemus, apud forum Adimanto 
et Glauconi obvii fuimus, et Adimantus manu mea capta 'Vale*, dixit, *o Cephale, 
et si qua earum rerum eges . . .* 

2 5 Explicit: '. . . et ad invicem. Omnia omnino et sunt et non sunt, et videntur 

et non videntur esse.' 'Verissime.' Finis. 

The date of the translation can be inferred from the faft that Nicholas 
of Cusa is addressed as Apofiolicae Sedis legatus. After having been made 
Cardinal of San Pietro in Vincoli in 1449, he held the office of Papal Legate 
repeatedly, at two different periods of his life. In December 1449 
Nicholas V sent him to Germany, Bohemia, and the adjoining countries, 
in order to proclaim the Jubilee^ a mission which came to an end in the 
spring of 145 2. Shortly afterwards, in August 145 2, and again in September 
1454, he was entrusted with some brief special legations, first to deal with 
new Hussite disturbances, then to compose a quarrel between the Knights 



) Cf. Etbica Nicom. I 7, 1098 b 7. 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 13 

of the Teutonic Order and the people of Silesia. 1 Some years later, in 1459, 
he held, in the absence of Pope Pius II, the office of Vicar General of Rome 
and the Patrimony cum pote Hate legati in urbe et patrimonio? 

This last date can be eliminated for two reasons. First, while during 
the legations of the years 1450-54 Nicholas of Cusa is always styled, as 
in the present preface, Apottolicae Sedis legatus, he is referred to as legatus 
urbis in all documents during his tenure of office in Rome. 3 The second 
reason, which in itself would be decisive, is that the quotation in Bes- 
sarion's In calumniatorem Platonis provides a terminus ante quern. For, when 
Bessarion contrasts the praise which Georgius Trapezuntius had bestowed 
on Plato in the dedications of his versions of the Laws to Nicholas V 
and of the Parmenides to Nicholas of Cusa with the abuse he showered 
on Plato's life and work in the Comparatio Platonis et Ariftotelis, he explicitly 
states that Georgius had completed his version of the Parmenides not long 
before he wrote the invective . 4 Now, it can be determined without any 
doubt that the Comparatio was written in 1455, three years after the death 
of Georgius Gemistus Plethon. 5 It can further be gathered from Bessarion 



*) For the legations of 1449-52 see e.g. the papal bulls in MS. Munich. 18647, fl- 89 sq.; Vatican 
Archives, Reg. 391, fol. 17 sq.; Raynaldus, Annales Ecclesiastici, ad a. 1450 sq., IX 552; 554; 573 (ed. 
Mansi, Lucae 1752); Tiibinger Quartalsschrift 1830, p. 800. For the legation "ad Prussiae res com- 
ponendas" of i Sept. 1454 (the date 1453 given by VanSleenberghe, Le Cardinal Nicolas de Cues, Paris 
1920, p. 223, is wrong) see Raynaldus, op. fit., X n sq., Lucae 1753. 

2 ) Papal bull in Vatican Archives, Reg. 515, fol. 132 sq.; see also L. Pastor, Gescbicbte der Pdpfie H 
22, Freiburg 1889. 

8 ) Cusanus himself refers to his office as legatio urbis, e.g. in a sermon ("Dum post hoc essem 
Romae legatus urbis 1459, . . ." Opera II io2 v , Paris 1514) and in one of his unknown mathematical 
writings, the Aurea propositio in mathematicis, MS. Milan Ambros. G 74 inf., fol. 2O r . 

4 ) In calumniatorem Platonis IV 16 (p. 627 Mohler) : "Sic Platonem homo iste, quern paulo ante 
do&issimum, quern eloquentissimum, quern vita et moribus praestantissimum, quern ingenio et prudentia 
singularem, quern legum ktorem egregium, quern denique vere divinum dixerat et summis laudibus 
extulerat admiratusque fuerat, nunc indo&um, improbum, ineptum, dementem fuisse dicit et iurgiis 
contumeliisque insequitur." 

6 ) The vadous dates given by earlier historians and reference books (Tiraboschi, L. Stein, Gaspary, 
Ueberweg-Frischeisen-Kohler, J. W. Taylor) are wrong; L. Mohler, Kardinal Be ssarion, op. cit., I 352, 
rightly puts it "about 1455"; it can be determined more precisely as certainly after April and probably 
before July 1455 : a) Terminus post. Georgius' son, Andreas of Trapezunt, slates in his Contra Platonem 
liber ex doctorum auctoritate (in: F. A. Zacharias, S. J., Iter Litterarium per Italiam, Venet. 1762, p. 128): 
"... a Georgio Trapezuntio patre meo homine doftissimo et de Christianitate optime merito in tres libros 
Calisti pontificatu felicissime digeSlum (i.e. after 8.4.145 5) per omnem latinitatem . . . legitur." b) Terminus 



14 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

that the translation of the Parmenides followed that of the Laws, which 
was completed in 1450 br in the first two months of 1451, and preceded 
the new dedication of the Laws to Barbaro in I453- 1 

The narrow margin thus obtained can be further reduced by the 
consideration of Georgius' circumstances in this period. In-the absence 
of a modern biography a short sketch of the translator's life will be 
necessary. 2 It is based on Statements of contemporary authors and of 
Georgius himself who was fond of describing his own achievements and 
of dwelling on the vicissitudes of his life. Of special interest is an auto- 
biographical account of his peregrinations contained in a work on 
astrology. 3 

Born in Crete in 1395, Georgius came to Italy as a young man, 
attracted like many of his Greek compatriots by the prospeft of a lucrative 
career. He had the good fortune to enjoy the support of a generous and 
faithful patron, the Venetian patrician Francesco Barbaro who, in 1416 
and the years following, employed him as scribe and made him undergo a 
thorough Latin education. 4 As a pupil of the two most renowned masters 
of the time, Guarino Veronese and Vittorino da Feltre, he very soon 



ante. Georgius himself States in his Comparatio III 20 (cd. Venet. 1523) that, at the time of his writing, 
Plethon had been dead iamfere triennio, an expression which he would have been unlikely to use if more 
than three years had already elapsed since Plcthon's death, 26. 6. 1452. 

*) In ealumniatorem Platonis IV 17 (p. 622-26 Mohler; Latin transl. IV 16, p. 623-27 M.). 

*) The sketch of his life given by Fernandus Herrariensis in his edition of Georgius' RAe/orica, 
Aleak 1511, is useless. Later biographies are based on Leo Allatius, De Georpis tt eorum scriptis dia- 
triba, Paris 1651 (reprinted in: Fabricius, Bibliotbeca Graeca, ed. Harless, XII 70-84, Hamburg 1809, and 
in Migne PG 161 col. 751-66); e.g. H. Hodius, De Graecis illustr. linguae Graecae literarumque bumaniorum 
inftauratoribus, p. 102-35, London 1742; C. F. Boemer, De doctis bominibus Graecis . . . , p. 105-20, Leipzig 
1750; ApoSlolo Zeno, Dissertation Vossiane, II 2-27, Venice 1753; G. Tiraboschi, Storia delta Lett. 
Italiana VI i, 357 sq., Modcna 1790; Ersch & Gruber, Allg. Encyklopadie d. Win. u. Kiinfte, I 59, p. 219 
sq., Leipzig 1854; K. N. Sathas, NeoeXXiQvtx^ OiXoXoyta, p. 41 sq., Athens 1868. 

. ') De antiidis tt cur aftrologorum iudicia plerumque fallant , Venice 1525 (in: Omar De nativitatibus . . . 
ed. L. Gauricus) apd Cologne 1 544. Georgius gives his horoscope, "Nativitas Trapezuntii" (cd. Venet. 
fol. 22 r ; ed. Colon, fol L i v ), followed by an account of his life up to the age of 60. p 

) In the dedication to Barbaro of his translation of Plato's Laws Georgius says: "Tu enim poSl 
Deum causa fui&i, ut e Graecia in Italiam venirem et Latinis literis operam dederim" (in: G. degli 
AgoSlini, Notrye iftorico-critiebe int. la vita . . . degli Scrittori Viniqiani, II 112, Venice 1754). In his dedica- 
tion to the same of his translation of ChrysoStomus' Homiliae in Matthaeum (MS. Oxford, Lincoln Coll. 
35, fol. 276 V ; Bandini, Catal. codd. bib/. Mediceae Laurent. IV 441): "Sed abs te fuit incipiendum qui me 
de Giacciu eripui&i et primus in Italiam in Latina Studia reduxiSli." 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 15 

acquired such proficiency in Latin that Bessarion could recommend him 
for the post of teacher of grammar and rhetoric at Vicenza, held until 
then by Filelfo. He actually obtained this position in 1425, but was forced 
to leave Vicenza after two years. With the exception of a short stay in 
Greece (1427) and at Mantua where he assisted Vittorino at his school, 
he spent the following twelve years teaching at Venice. 1 

His quick and complete mastery of Latin by which he distinguished 
himself from most of his Greek contemporaries proves that he possessed 
unusual linguistic gifts. His Ueforica was the first treatise on the subjeft 
composed in the fashion of the so-called 'humanist' learning. It introduced 
the theories of Greek authors like Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Hermo- 
genes, and made ample use of examples from Cicero's speeches. It not 
only had considerable success with contemporaries in Italy, but was re- 
printed again and again in Spain, France, and Switzerland during the 
following centuries. 2 

No one was more aw,are of his accomplishments than Georgius him- 
self; in his vanity he ridiculed his former master, Guarino, as being 
ignorant of the rules of Latin style and boasted that he, though born a 
Greek, wrote with the elegance of a Roman of Cicero's day. 3 

Thanks to Barbaro's influence, the Curia employed him during the 
Council of Ferrara and Florence as an interpreter in the negotiations with 
the Greeks for the union of the Churches. During this time he also 
leftured at Bologna and at the 'Studium' of Florence. When Eugenius IV 



*) Cp. R. Sabbadini, Bricciole Umanitfiche, V, Giornale stor. d. Lett. Italiana, XVIII 230 sq., Turin 
1891; G. CaSlellani, Giorgio da Trebisonda, maetfro di eloquen^a a Vicenza e a Venecia, Nuovo Archivio 
Veneto, XI 123 sq., Venice 1896. 

2 ) Georgius' Rhetoricorum libri V, preserved in many MSS. (e.g. Vatican lat. 1958; Bologna, Univ. 
1220; Florence, Laurent. Aedil. Eccl. 195; Sandaniele del Friuli 108; Basle, Univ. F VI 3; Vienna lat. 
2329; Chicago, Univ. 851) and printed editions (e.g. Venice 1470; 1478; 1493; et&; Aleak 1511; Basle 
1520; 1521; 1528; Paris 1532; 1538; Lyons 1541, 1547). In 1471 Georgius had such a strong following 
in Paris that Guilkume Fichet could write to Bessarion about the 'Georgian!' at the University who saw 
in him a 'new Cicero' (ed. E. Legrand, Cent-dix lettres grecques de F. Filelfe, p. 229, Paris 1892). On the 
merits of the work see R. Sabbadini, La scuola e gli ftudi di Guarino Guarini Veronese, p. .60 sq.; 76 sq., 
Catania 1896. 

3 ) Cp. Rhetorica V, fol. 68 r sq., Venice 1523, and C. de' Rosmini, Vita e disciplina di Guarino 
Veronese e di suoi discepoli, II 182 sq., Brescia 1806. For the feud between Georgius and Guarino see 
Rosmini, op. fit. II 83-96; R. Sabbadini, Storia del Ciceronianismo nell' eta della EJnasceti%a, p. 17 sq., Turin 
1886; La Scuola di Guarino, I, fit., p. 77; Ericciole Umanifiiche V, /. cit. 



1 6 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

returned to Rome, Georgius obtained, on Bessarion's recommendation, 
the post of papal secretary (1444). Soon afterwards, he began to teach at 
the Roman university, the 'Sapienza', at first with considerable success. 1 

When Thomas Parentuccelli, famed as a lover of the classics, ascended 
the papal throne as Nicholas V, Rome became the centre of literary 
activity. It was thexPope's ambition to colled the whole of ancient litera- 
ture in good copies and to make Greek authors accessible in readable 
translations. Throngs of scribes were busy in the Vatican copying old 
manuscripts, and generous salaries were offered to translators of Greek 
texts. A brilliant future seemed to be in Store for Georgius. High hopes 
were placed on his ability as a scholar by Barbaro and by Ambrogio 
Traversari, who had endeavoured to secure for him the post of a public 
teacher in Florence; 2 he was named among the foremost translators of the 
age by Enea Silvio, Flavio Biondo and Vespasiano da Bisticci; 3 even 
Poggio had paid tribute to his gifts, and Bessarion had called him 'most 
eloquent, a master not only in his Greek mother-tongue, but also in the 
Latin language'. 4 

The first years of Nicholas Vs reign mark the height of Georgius' 
career. His main task now consisted in the translation of both Christian 
and pagan authors for the Pope. The list of writings for whose rendering 
he was responsible is impressive. It includes Basil's treatises Contra 
Eunomittm which had played a prominent part in the disputations on dogma 
with the Greeks at Florence; Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom's 
Homilies on Matthew, and Gregory of Nazianzen. His version of 
Eusebius' Praeparatio Evangelica which first made accessible this important 



*) Vespasiano da Bisticci, Vite di uomini illuftri del see. XV, II 210 sq. Frati, Bologna 1893; R. 
Sabbadini, Centotrenta lettert ined. di F. Barbaro, p. 23; 88, Salerno 1884; Bessarion's preface to Georgius' 
translation of Basilius, dedicated to Eugenius IV, in: H. Vast, Le Cardinal Bessarion, p. 450 sq., Paris 1878. 

') Ambrosius Traversarius, Epiflu/ae VIE 46 (to Niccolo Niccoli, 1433), vol. II 413 sq. Menus, 
Florence 1759. 

*) Aeneas Sylvius, Hiftoria de Europa cap. 58 (Opera, p. 459, Basle 1571); Flavius Blondus For- 
liviensis, Italia Illuftrata (Opera, p. 347, Basle 1559); Vespasiano da Bisticci, op. rit., n 210 ; see also Paulus 
lovius, EJogia doctorum virorum, cap. 25, p. J9 sq., Basle 1571. 

4 ) Poggio, Episl. VI 21 Tonelli, Florence 1832; Bessarion, Preface to Georgius' translation of 
Basilius Contra Eunomium (in: Vast, op. fit., p. 451): "per hominem non modo paternae graecae, sed 
etiam latinae linguae peritissimum, Georgium Trapezuntium, virum sane eloquentissimum ac disertissi- 
mum . . . feci transferri." 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 17 

source of Greek philosophy and early Christian speculation was particularly 
fruitful. 1 

Above all, the Pope expected Georgius to take a prominent part in 
carrying out one of his favourite schemes, a new translation of the corpus 
of Aristotle's works. Georgius' version of the Rbttorua remained for a 
long time the standard text and was reprinted in numerous editions. His 
translations of the De animalibus, the De partibus animalium and the De 
generatione animalium are found in manuscripts, as well as his translation 
of the Problemata, which gave rise to one of the bitter literary feuds of the 
age, and those of the Physics and the De anima, which he mentions in a 
letter to Antonio Beccadelli. 2 It is characteristic of the wide range of the 
Pope's interests that he also ordered Georgius to translate some of those 
Platonic works which had never been rendered into Latin before, vi-%. 
the Laws and the Epinomis. 3 

Yet the remarkable facility with which Georgius' translations were 
thrown off was achieved at the expense of accuracy. Spurred on by the 
desire for speedy and lucrative production, he grew more and more 
careless; and he arbitrarily left out long passages whenever he deemed 
them heretical. His work deteriorated to such an extent that he began to 
lose the confidence of Nicholas V. When, in the end, grievous mistakes 
in the translation of Ptolemy's AlmageH were pointed out to the Pope he 
withdrew his favour from Georgius. 4 Finally, the Cretan's quarrelsome 



*) Numerous MSS. and printed editions bear witness to the success of these and other translations 
of Georgius. His translation of Eusebius, in particular, was of considerable importance, in spite of its 
grave defefts; it was used, e.g., by Nicholas of Cusa whose notes in his copy, MS. Cues 41, show his 
great interest in the work. 

2 ) Georgius' letter to Antonio Panormita, MS. Vatican lat. 3372, fol. 94 V sq. (ed. E. Legrand, 
in: Cent-dix lettres grecques de F. Filelfe, op. tit,, p. 315 sq.) The translation of the zoological writings is 
found e.g. in MSS. Vatican, Urbinas lat. 1320 and Munich lat. 116; the Problemata e.g. in Oxford, Corpus 
Christi Coll. 105 and Canonici lat. 164; the Physica, De anima, De caelo et mundo, De gen. et corr. in Munich 
lat. 177. It is hoped to give a detailed list of Georgius' translations of Plato and Aristotle in a later 
number of M.A.R.S. 

*) Georgius' translation of the Laws and Epinomis are found in MSS. Vatican lat. 2062 and 
3345; of the Laws only in Munich lat. 304; Brit. Mus., Harley 3261 (this MS. was owned by Nicholas 
of Cusa); with dedication to Barbaro: Vatican lat. 5220; to the Doge and Senate of Venice: Bologna, 
Archiginnasio A 199. 

*) On his treatment of Eusebius see Dominicus Georgius, Vita Nifo/ai Qulntl, p. 178 sq., Rome 
1742, and L. Allatius, op. at. On his translation of the Almagetf, ordered by Nicholas V early in 1451 



1 8 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

x 



temperament made his position at the Curia untenable. In the course of 
one of the many feuds in which Georgius was constantly involved he 
created an undignified scene in the Chancellery of the Vatican by boxing 
the ears of his fellow secretary, the septuagenarian Poggiq (May 20, 1452). 
A fight ensued, gleefully described by Loren2o Valla in an account written 
on the same day as *a bloody match between two veteran boxers'. As the 
result, Georgius was imprisoned and, shortly afterwards, forced tojeave 
Rome. 1 

He went to Naples to try his luck at the court of King Alfonso of 
Arragon, renowned as a patron of scholars. From there he wrote abjeft 
letters defending his translation of Ptolemy and bewailing his misfortunes. 
Yet not before the end of 145 3 was he allowed, on the intervention of his 
friend Filelfo, to return to Rome, and then without regaining the favour 
of the Pope. In the following year he is once more found in Naples, 
striving to win the King's patronage. He dedicated to him his translations 
of Cyril's Uber thesaurorum^ of Demosthenes and of Ptolemy, bitterly 
complaining of the Pope's ingratitude. 2 

There is no evidence that, after having fallen in disgrace, he was ever 



and completed in December of the same year, see George of Trebizond's letter to Barbaro of 5 Dec. 1451 
(in: F. Barbari tt aliorum ad ipsum Epiflo/ar, Ep. 198, p. 291, ed. Quirini, Brescia 1743), his letter of com- 
plaint to Nicholas V, of i Jan. 1453 (in: E. Walser, Poggius Florentinus, p. 504-6, Leipzig 1914; also in 
MS. Oxford Canon, misc. 169, fol. 47^, and the account of his Comment. inApborismos Ptolemaei (fol. 
F 4 r , Cologne 1544). 7 Cp. also G. Voigt, Dit Wiederbelebung des class. Altertbnmt, D" 141 sq., 3rd cd., 
Berlin 1893. 

'XL. Valla, Antidotus in Pogiuot, ad Nicolaum V t 1. I (Opera,p. 273 sq., Basle 1540), addressing 
Poggio: "Nam quum tuo et collegae et aequali Georgio Trapezuntio in frequenti Cancellaria quasi in 
sccundo senatu coram ipso praeside Cancellario dixisses: 'Mentiris per gulam' . . . Ibi turn exorta eft 
quasi in medio theatro, quod vere fuit olim Pompeianum theatrum, pugilum vetcranorum cruenta 
certatio, ut acgre concnrsu patrum dirimi potuerit." Ibid., IV, p. 350. From prison Georgius wrote 
an ahjeft letter of apology to Poggio (in: Walser, op. (it., p. 501 ; MS. Oxford Canon, misc. 169, fol. 47'). 

*) Georgius' own highly coloured version of these events is found in a letter to his son Andreas, 
I June 1454 (in: Cent-dix lettrti grecques dt F. Filelfe, ed. Legrand, op. cit., p. 322 sq.) and in his letters 
to the bishop of Perugia and to Pope Nicholas V, of i Jan. 1453 (in: Walser, op. cit., p. 504 sq.; MS. 
Canon, misc. 169, fol 47' sq.); he maintains that Poggio attempted to have him murdered, and that 
Poggio's and Aurispa's vile intrigues made his return to the Curia impossible. Cp. also R. Cessi, La 
contesafra Giorgio da Trebisonda, Poggio t G. Aurispa, Archivio Stor. per la Sicilia orient. IX [1912] 211 sq.; 
R. Sabbadini, Carteggio di G. Aurispa, p. 134, Rome 1931. On his dedications to King Alphonse of new 
works and translations and rededications of old ones see Georgius' letter to Beccadelli (Cent-dix lettres 
. . dt F. Filelfe, op. cit., p. 316). 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 19 

commissioned by any member of the papal circle to undertake a new 
translation. On the contrary, we know that Bessarion's protege, Theo- 
dorus Gaza, was entrusted, on his patron's recommendation, with the 
task of retranslating the Problemata, the De animalibus 'and the other 
zoological writings, and that these versions ousted those of Georgius. 1 
Disappointed and enraged, Georgius began violently to attack first Gaza, 2 
then Bessarion himself. The manner in which he chose to vent his personal 
spite was vehemently to revile in his 'Comparison of Plato and Aristotle' 3 
Platonic philosophy and its chief exponent among the Greeks of his day, 
Georgius Gemistus Plethon. This philosopher, Bessarion's former 
master, had been led, Georgius averred, by his consistent Platonism to 
become the prophet of a new universal Platonic religion which was soon 
to supersede both Islam and Christianity. 4 By discrediting the philo- 
sophical doctrine to which Bessarion was known to adhere as immoral 
and incompatible with the true faith and by denouncing the CardinaFs 



*) When Georgius complained about his rival, Bessarion told him: "Tace tu, quoniam quanto 
duo a viginti quattuor exceduntur, tanto interpretationes Theodori tuas excedunt, . . . quoniam duobus 
annis ille convertit Problemata quae tu duobus mensibus pervertisti." (Georgius Trap., In perversionem 
Problematum, in: A. Gercke, Theodoras Ga%es, Greifswald 1903, p. 16). See also Bessarion, De natura et 
arte (p. 413), Rome 1469. Gaza's translations of Aristotle's scientific works were far more successful 
than those of Georgius. However, he was taken to task by Angelo Politiano, Liber Miscellaneorum cap. 
90 (Opera, p. 303, Basle 1553) for having ridiculed Georgius' work while at the same time drawing 
heavily upon^it. 

2 ) See Georgius' In perversionem Problematum Ariltotelis a quodam Theodora Cage editam et problematicae 
Ariftotelis philosophiae protectio, dedicated to King Alfonso, MSS. Vatican lat. 3384; Vienna lat. 218; 
5250; Leyden B. P. lat. 151; etc.; (extracts printed by A. Gercke, op. fit., p. 13 sq.). Angelo Politiano, 
too, attacks (Liber Miscell., loc. cit.) Gaza's translation for having failed in the rendering of the famous 
Problema 30, On melancholy, in which he and his Florentine friends were particularly interested. 

*) Comparatio P/atonis et Arifiote/is,Vcnice. 1523 (the rmly printed edition). MSS. Escorial 5 IV 
15; Venice, Marcian. cl. X cod. 13; Perugia, Bibl. comun. 133; Vienna lat. 5413; 5445. 

*) Comparatio III 16 (fol. V 6 V , ed. cit.): "Nam constat ipsum ita Platonicum fuisse ut nihil aliud 
quam Plato senserit . . . Audivi ego ipsum Florentiae venit enim ad concilium cum Graecis asserentem 
unam eandemque religionem uno animo, una mente, una praedicatione universum orbem paucis post 
annis esse suscepturum; cumque rogassem, Christine an Machumeti ? 'Neutram', inquit, 'sed non a 
gentilitate differentem' . . . Percepi etiam a nonnullis Graecis qui ex Peloponneso hue profugerunt palam 
dixisse ipsum . . . non multis annis post mortem suam et Machumetum et Christum lapsum iri et veram 
in omnes orbis oras veritatem perfulsuram." See also In perversionem problematum (p. 19, ed. cit): "ideo 
praedicabat dum viveret paucis post mortem suam annis transacts ad veram Platonis theologiam universas 
gentes relapsuras." 



20 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

late friend as a 'second Mohammed', he aimed at making suspeft 
Bessarion's integrity and orthodoxy. 1 

Georgius thus introduced into Latin literature the controversy 
between Aristotelians and Platonists which had been waged among 
Byzantine scholars since the appearance at Florence of Plethon's 
lUpi wv 'AptaTOTeXK -rcpos IlX&Tcova Siacpe'peTai in 1438/39. His Com- 
paratio gave rise to a series of polemical writings, characterized, with a 
few exceptions, more by personal animosity than by original thought. 2 
How little philosophical convictions mattered to Georgius may be inferred 
from the inconsistency of his attitude to Plato of which Bessarion does not 
fail to make effe&ive use in his reply to the 'calumniator*. When Georgius 
dedicated his translation of the Laws to Nicholas V he recalled with 
approval a saying of the Pope to the effecl: that, according to some distin- 
guished theologians, Aristotle's political theory was more suitable to this 
life, while that of Plato was more appropriate to the state of innocence, had 
man not sinned and fallen. 3 A short time afterwards, when he wrote to 
Barbaro (December 1451) and again when, after his disgrace, he rededi- 
cated his translation to this Venetian statesman, he pointed out the im- 
portance of Plato's Laws for the government of the State, maintaining 
that the Venetian constitution had been modelled on the Platonic work.* 
A few years later, in the Comparatio (1455), he claimed to reveal Plato's 
crimes and the pernicious influence of his writings; these, he was eager to 



*) Comparatio, 1. cit. (fol. V 6 1 ): "Alter nobis iam natus et educatus e$l Machumetus qui, nisi 
provideamus, tanto exitiosior primo futurus eSl, quanto Platone ipso Machumetus pernitiosior fuit." 

*) The polemic between Platonists and Aristotelians has not yet been adequately treated. Boivin 
le Cadet, Querelle des Pbilosopbes du quirryeme siecle (Memoires de Litt. tirez des registres de 1'Acad. R. des 
Inscr. et B. L., II 775-91, Paris 1717) has not been superseded by either Gaspary, Zttr Chronologic des 
Streitts der Gritcbtn fiber Platon und Arifloteles . . . (Arch. f. Gesch. d. Philos. Ill 50 sq., Berlin 1890) or 
J. W. Taylor, Georgius Gemittus Pletbo's Criticism of Plato and Ariftotle (Diss. Chicago, Menasha, Wis., 
1921). 

*) Georgius' dedicatory epistle quoted by Bessarion In column. Platonis IV 17; Latin transl. IV 1 6 
(p. 623 M.): "Nam quod a san&itate tua memini audisse a praeclaris quibusdam thcologiae magiStris, 
cum in comparationem disciplinae civilis Aristotelicae atque Platonicae incidissent, scriptum esse huic 
quidem vitae Aristotelicam, innocentiae vero, si homo lapsus peccando non esset, Platonicam magis 
convenire . . ." 

*) Georgius' letter to Barbaro of 5. 12. 1451 (F. Barbari . . .Epifto/ae, Ep. 198, p. 290 Quirini, 
ed. cit.). Dedication of the Laws toTJarbaro and the Senate of Venice, Sept. 1453 (MS. Vatican lat. 5220, 
fol. 32 V ), quoted by Bessarion, loc. cit. 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 21 

prove, had caused the downfall of Greece and were now becoming a 
menace to the Western world. In 1459, however, hope of a handsome 
reward prompted him to offer his old translation of the Laws to the Doge 
and Senate of Venice, with a new dedication in which he again praised 
Plato's political thought and dwelt on the similarity between the constitu- 
tion of Venice and that advocated in the Laws. 1 On the other hand, his 
hatred of the Platonists which earned him the nickname 'Erinnys' obsessed 
him to such an extent that when in later years he recorded the a&s of the 
blessed Andrew of Chios, he could not forbear to close the narrative with 
a prayer to the martyr, "et sicut in Graecia perfidiam deiecisti, sic insur- 
gentes in Italia Platonicos intercessione tua reprime". 2 

This biographical sketch will have shown it to be most unlikely that 
Nicholas of Cusa, the close friend of Pope Nicholas V and of Bessarion, 
should have entrusted Georgius with a translation of a philosophical text 
after his failure in rendering Ptolemy had discredited him with the Curia 
as a scholar. Even assuming that some time may have elapsed between 
the ordering of the work and its execution, it can be stated with a fair 
degree of probability that the Parmenides was translated at the end of 
1450 or the beginning of 1451. 

In Georgius' preface we shall not expect to find any original appre- 
ciation of the philosophical contents of the dialogue. Yet a few points 
may be noted. 

His exemplar showed, like most other Greek manuscripts, the tradi- 
tional inscription IIap(jLevt8Y)? ?) itepl SSsaiv. The sub-title, found already 
in Thrasyllus' list of Plato's works preserved by Diogenes Laertius, goes 
back to Hellenistic times, when it was the endeavour of the Platonic 
school to classify the dialogues and to define in one word the subje6t- 
matter (cxouos) of each of them; then the Parmenides was classed among 
the dialogues on logic. 3 On the other hand, Georgius was familiar 



*) See M. Sanuto, Vite di ducbi di Venecia (in : Muratori, Rer. Ital. Script. XXII 1167, Milan 1733); 
G. CaStellani, op. tit., N. Archivio Veneto XI 139 sq. The new dedication (preserved in MS. Bologna, 
Archiginnasio A 199) is quoted by Bessarion, he. tit. 

*) Acta B. Andreae Chit (in: A&a Sanctorum Maii, VII 188; Migne PG 161 col. 890). 

) Diogenes Laertius III 58: IIap(jLev(8y)5 ^ Ttepl ISetov, Xoyix^i;. This classification is different 
from that found in Albinus, Isagoge 3, according to which the dialogue is merely an exercise in dialectic. 
Proclus, Comment, in Parmen. I (col. 631, Cousin 2 ) describes the sub-title 'On Ideas' as 'very old* 



22 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

through Proclus' Commentary, no doubt with the Neoplatonic tradition 
according to which the Parmenides was the embodiment of Platonic 
theology, and its subject the One, the principle of all being. Thus he 
declares that it deals with 'the most profound problems* and that it is full 
of hidden meaning. But by Stating that it is concerned mainly with 'the 
idea of the One* he tries at the same time to harmonize the two different 
views, a compromise which will hardly have satisfied the more philo- 
sophically minded among his readers. 

Georgius, himself the author of two very successful works on Rhetoric 
'and Dialectic, 1 is on surer ground in his appreciation of the peculiar Style 
of the dialogue. Yet, here again, he may have borrowed from Proclus' 
exposition in the beginning of his Commentary. Nor is he original in his 
observation that in this dialogue as in almost all others no positive solution 
of the problem under discussion is offered. He certainly knew the relevant 
passages in Cicero whom he had Studied with special care; from his own, 
reading he would have confirmed the judgment he found in the 
Academical The reasons put forward to account for this Platonic method 
are mostly his own; in their irrelevance they betray the author's lack of 
philosophical penetration. 

The words in which Nicholas of Cusa is addressed as 'first among 
philosophers and theologians' are in keeping with the hyperbolical style 
usual in the dedications of the age and need not be taken as an expression 
of Georgius' considered judgment, though his reference, at this com- 
paratively early date, to Cusanus' fame as an author is worthy of note. 
The convention of the age was for the author in his preface to point out 
the fittingness of dedicating this particular work to this particular person- 
age; a task of which Georgius acquitted himself by alluding to Cusanus' 



). It is found e.g. in Galenus' Synopsis dialogorum P/etoniforum (see Ibn abu Oseibia, Hitfory 
ofMedea'ne, ed. A. Miiller, I 101, K6nigsberg 1884; and Damascius, Vita Isidori, in Photius, Bibliotbeca 
351 a 30). 

*) On the Rbetorifa see above, p. 295, n. 2. At the beginning of the lyth century Georgius is still 
praised as 'THermogenc latin ou cicdronien" (B. Gibert, Jugemens des Savons sur les autturs qui ont traitt 
dt la rbitoriqut, Paris 1613-19, n 139 sq.). The Dialtctica was widely studied as appears from the number 
of extant MSS. and printed editions (e.g. Lyons 1559); it is still quoted by Bernard Bolzano, Wisstn- 
scbaftslebre I, Introd. 7, p. 26, Sulzbach 1837. 

*) Acadcmica I 1 2, 46. 



X 

PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 23 



well-known predilection for Plato. 1 Characteristically, he explains it by 
imputing to the Cardinal a purely historical interest in the antiquitas 
Platonica. Instead of the mediaeval scholar who would have recommended 
the work he translated for the truth it contained and for the contribution 
it made to the edifice of knowledge, we have now the professional 
litterateur who treats a philosophical work as an object of antiquarian 
curiosity and values it as mirabile on account of its early date. 

When Georgius praises Nicholas of Cusa for his efforts as envoy to 
the Byzantine Emperor to bring about the reunion of the Churches, his 
words have a warmer and truer ring. It wag a cause in which he, himself 
a convert to the Roman Church, had been a&iye. At the time of the Council 
of Ferrara and Florence he had written several theological treatises 
refuting errors of the Greeks in dogma and had previously sent a letter 
to the Emperor Joannes Palaeologos, warning him against the partisans 
of the Council of Basle and urging him to come to the Council of Ferrara 
convened by the Pope. 2 Therefore Georgius' testimony that it was due 
largely to Nicholas of Cusa that the Emperor and his suite accepted the 
papal invitation carries some weight. It shows how this episode in Cusanus* 
life of such consequence for the development of his philosophy 3 was 
valued by a Greek contemporary. 

Georgius corroborates Giovanni Andrea de Bussi's statement that 
the impulse for the translation of the Parmenides came from Nicholas of 
Cusa. The wish expressed by the translator at the end of his preface that 
Cusanus should lend his authority to the dissemination of the work and 
that it should thus achieve lasting fame was not fulfilled. Many of his 
translations remained known for a long time and had, in spite of all 
adverse criticism, considerable success, 4 as is shown by the number of 



*) Cp. e.g. Bessarion's description of Nicholas, of Cusa, " ouS&v 6n \t~t\ Ill&rtova 
(loc. cit., above, p. 290 n. 2) and Vespasiano da Bisticci, Vite di uomini illnttri I 169 sq. Frati, Bologna 
1892: "grandissimo filosofo e teologo, e grande Platonista." 

f ) See his treatises De processione Spiritus Sancti and De una sancta catbolica Ecclesia (in: L. AUatius, 
Graecia Ortbodoxa I 469 sq., Rome i6j2; Migne PG 161 col. 769-868); Epiftola ad Eugenium IV De uniont 
tcclesiarum, PG 161 col. 889-94; Epiftola qua . . . loannem Palaeologum Romanorum Imp. cobortatur ut in 
Italian ad Synodum naviget (Greek and Lat.), PG 161 col. 895-908. 

8 ) Cp. e.g. Nicolaus de Cusa, De docta ignorantia, Epilogue (Opera I 163, 7 sq. Hoffm. & Klib., 
Lips. 1932). * 

*) His fame was such that in the middle of the i6th century some uninformed people could 



24 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

extant manuscripts and printed editions; of the Parmenides only one 
chance manuscript copy has survived. 

The qualities and defe&s of Georgius* translation stand out if it is 
contracted with its predecessor. In accordance with the practice of his 
time Moerbeke had rendered word for word, particle for particle, with 
complete disregard for the rules of Latin style, sometimes even of syntax. 
The result was a translation as faithful as it was unwieldy, in a language 
which with Latin sometimes shared nothing but the words. 1 Georgius' 
work, on the other hand, is a piece of oratory in classical style, polished 
and fluent, but gliding over the difficulties inherent in the philosophical 
argument. With the one, the reader is forced to halt at every Step to make 
sure of the meaning; the well-rounded periods of the other, while easy to 
read, more often veil than reveal the problems under discussion. 



HI 

NICHOLAS OF CUSA AND BESSARION 

The question arises whether, after 1451, his acquaintance with the 
whole Parmenides in Georgius* translation left any mark on Cusanus* 
writings. This dialogue always had a particular fascination for the 
philosopher of the coincidentia oppositorum. In his youth he himself had 
transcribed a part of the mediaeval version of Proclus* Commentary. 2 
Two complete copies of this work from his library are still extant 
MS. 1 86 of the St. Nicholas Hospital in Cues and MS. Vaticanus latinus 
3074 with many marginal notes and corrections in his hand which bear 
witness to his intensive occupation with both text and commentary at 
various periods of his life. Indeed, when Bussi after Cusanus' death wanted 
to establish that nobody had been a keener student of Plato and the 

assume that Marsilio Ficino's translation of Plato was really his; see the 'Vita Trapezuntii' in Georgii 
Trap. De re'dialectica scboliis I. Neomagi . . . illuftr., Lugd. 1559, p. 6: "Sunt enim qui versionem operum 
Platonis quae Marsilio Ficino inscribifur esse putent Trapezuntii." 

*) On the principle of mediaeval translators, "reddere verbum e verbo", see Proklos-Fund, p. 15. 

) MS. Strasburg 84; see Proklos-Fund, p. 14. The excerpt begins: "In omni enim opposicione 
necessarium esl Unum exaltatum esse ab ambobus oppositis." On its importance for the conception of 
the coincidentia oppositorum see ibid., p. 28. 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 2 5 

Pythagoreans than his late master, he illustrated his contention by the 
story of Cusanus' study of Proclus' work. He described how the Cardinal, 
.possessing a very faulty manuscript, had endeavoured "with all the 
keenness of his mind and with persistent industry to penetrate into the 
meaning of this author, until from the mass of scribes' errors he succeeded 
in eliciting the truth." Soon striking proof of the accuracy of Cusanus' 
emendations was found. When, by a happy chance, a correct exemplar 
came his way it appeared that "Proclus had written precisely as Cusanus 
had ingeniously conje&ured." 1 

Cusanus first quoted the Parmenides, not in a philosophical work, 
but in the sermon which he delivered at Mainz in 1446, 'Maria optimam 
partem elegit'; the context leaves no doubt that his knowledge is derived 
from Proclus' Commentary : 

Platonici enim, prout ex libro Parmenidis liquet, a multitudine se avertentes 
ad Unum se contulerunt. 2 

In 1449, he referred in the Apologia doftae ignorantiae to the Parmenides 
as the most distinguished representative of the theologia negativa: 

Unde, quandow Avicenna in Dei singularitatem conatur ascendere per 
theologiam negativam, Deum ab omni singular! et universal! absolvit; sed 
acutius ante ipsum divinus Plato in Parmenide tali modo in Deum conatus et 
viam pandere; quern adeo divinus Dionysius imitatus est, ut saepius Platonis 
verba seriatim posuisse reperiatur. 3 

Nine years later, he expressed a similar view in the De beryllo, this 
time explicitly mentioning Proclus' 'Commentary as his authority: 

> ^ 
Refte igitur, ut Proculus recitat in Commentariis Parmenidis, Plato omnia 



x ) Preface to his edition of Apuleius, Rome 1469 (see Proklos-Fund, p. 26, n. 3) : "Proclum habebat 
Platonicum mendosissime scriptum; acri tamen ingenio adeo ei rei intelligendae insliterat, ut etiam ex 
mediis librariorum mendis solidam rerum eliceret veritatem; quod ea ratione perspe&um eft, quia deinde 
oblato forte fortuna vero quodam exemplari ita inventus eft Proclus ipse scripsisse, veluti Nicolaus 
ingenio suo fuerat conie&atus." 

2 ) Opera, H fol. 66 V , Paris 1514. 

8 ) Opera, n 10 Klibansky, Lips. 1932. 



26 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

de ipso principio negat. Sic et Dionysius noSler negativam praefert theologiam 
affirmativae. 1 

In the course of the years 1458 and 1459 Cusanus once more read 
and annotated Proclus' work; this becomes evident from his treatise De 
principio the sermon *Tu quis es' in which the influence of Proclus' 
interpretation of the Parmenides is particularly marked. 2 It is only in 1462 
that we have evidence of Cusanus' study of the Parmenides as distinct from 
Proclus' Commentary. In the Tetralogus de non aliud* the Cardinal introduces 
besides himself three well-known members of his entourage, each one at 
the time engaged in a particular philosophical pursuit, the Portuguese 
physician Ferdinandus Martins in the reading of Aristotle, Petrus Balbus 
Pisanus in the translation of Proclus' Theologia Platonis, and the Abbot 
Giovanni Andrea de Bussi in the study of Plato's Parmenides and Proclus' 
Commentary. 4 Throughout the De non aliud the references to the dialogue 
are kept distinft from those to the Commentary, 5 but no special mention 
is made of a separate translation. This faft will not appear surprising, if 
we consider the procedure usual in Cusanus' household during these 
years. Any important addition, classical or modern, to the Cardinal's 
library would be examined by Bussi who would correct the scribe's mis- 
takes and, in the case of a version from the Greek, emend the translation, 
if possible with the help of a Greek friend. This practice of which there 
is abundant evidence e.g. in Cusanus' copies of Proclus' Commentary 
and of Diogenes Laertius 6 was undoubtedly followed also in the case of 

*) De beryllo cap. n (Opera, I fol. i85 r , Paris 1514). 

) Sermon of 9 June, 1459; Opera II, fol. 7 r -n v , Paris 1514. Whole sentences of Proclus' Com- 
mentary reappear in this sermon ; see Proklos-Fund, p. 27 ; 35 sq. 

*) Ed. J. Uebinger, in: Die Gotteslebre des Nikolaus Cusanus, pp. 150-193, Miinster & Paderborn 
1888. 

*) On F. Martins, one of the executors of Cusanus' will and, later, the recipient of the famous 
Toscanelli letter concerning the passage to India through the WeSt which was to play an important 
part in Columbus' plans, cp. S. de Madariaga, Cbriflopher Columbus, London 1939, p. 76 sq. and F. Van- 
gleenberghe, Le Cardinal Nicolas de Cues, p. 252, n. i. On Petrus Balbus' translation of Proclus' Theologia 
Platoms, found e.g. in MS. Cues 185, see Proklos-Fund, p. 26 n. 2 and 29 n. i. On Giovanni Andrea de 
Bussi, later Bishop of Ajaccio, then of Aleria, see above, p. 290. 

~~ 8 ) De non aliud, ed. cit., p. 150; i8j; 189; p. 155 : "Etenim . . . quidam theologi . . . ipsum unum 
ante contradi&ionem perspexerunt, quemadmodum in Platonis Parmenide legitur atque in Areopagita 
Dionysio." . 

) MS. Brit. Mus. Harley 1347. 



t 

PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 27 

Georgius' translation of the Parmenides. From the point of view both 
of linguistic accuracy and philosophical understanding this translation 
would have been found wanting by the fastidious Giovanni Andrea, the 
pupil of Vittorino da Feltre and of Nicholas of Cusa. It is safe to assume 
this, judging from Georgius' translation of the Laws; for Bessarion was 
able, in later years, to fill a whole book with corrections of the errors 
committed by Georgius. As to the Parmenides, Bessarion had explicitly 
stated that Georgius had not rendered, but ruined the work. 1 Anyhow, 
since his invective against Bessarion and the Platonists in 1455, Georgius 
would have been held in contempt by Cusanus' circle, as he was by many 
Italian scholars of the time. Even before this, the Cardinal's entourage 
must have been annoyed by Georgius' venomous attack on Theodorus 
Gaza, Bussi's friend. 2 On all these grounds it is easy to see why his name 
was not mentioned either in the De non aliud or, later, in Bussi's account of 
the motive for the translation of the Parmenides. 

It is more difficult to explain the long interval between the time of 
Georgius' dedication of his work to Cusanus and its earliest trace in the 
philosopher's writings. Did Cusanus' departure and subsequent long 
absence from Italy cause a delay in the delivery t)f the translation? Did 
the latter part of the Parmenides with its bewildering array of conflicting 
hypotheses, now translated for the first time, appear to Cusanus less 
relevant to the speculations which occupied him then, compared with 
the first hypothesis of the dialogue and its familiar Neoplatonic interpre- 
tation? So far, we have no evidence on which to decide. 

At any rate, from one of Cusanus' latest works, the De venatione 
sapientiae, written a year after the De non aliud y it can be inferred that he 
knew the whole Parmenides, obviously in Georgius' translation. He still 
quotes it in the same breath with Proclus' and Dionysius' writings, but 
a new element now appears in his appreciation of the work : 

In the discussion of the relation between the One and the Many he 



*) In calumniatorem Platonis IV 17 (loc. cit., above, p. 290, n. 2). 

*) This friendship is repeatedly mentioned in Filelfo's letters to Gaza, of the year 1456 (Cent-dix 
lettres . . . , ed. Legrand, op. cit., p. 78 sq.; 86). In the prefatory letter to Pope Paul II in front of 
his tditio princeps of Pliny's Hiltoria naturalis, Rome 1470, Bussi refers to the help he received from Gaza 
in editing this work. 



28 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

is evidently referring to the last hypothesis of the dialogue which he could 
not have known before: 

Neque potent esse multitude, quae non participet imitate. Nam, si foret 
simile, esset dissimile in non participate unitatem. Omnia multa similia forent 
et similiter dissimilia ex eadem ratione, quia non participarent unitate. Cessarent 
igitur omnia multa et plura et numerus omnis et quae unum dici possunt, uno 
sublato, ut haec in Parmenide Platonis mira subtilitate ostenduntur. 1 

Characterizing the whole dialogue, he now stresses the dialectical 
rather than the metaphysical aspect : 

Quomodo auteni venationem suam per logicam de Uno fecerit, liber 
Parmenidis ostendit. 2 

Further, the influence of the type of dialectical reasoning found in the 
second hypothesis is apparent in the course of the De venatione sapientiae : 

Dionysius re&e dicebat de Deo simul opposita debere affirmari et negari. 
Ita, si te ad universa convertis, pariformiter comperies. Nam cum sint singularia, 
sunt pariter similia, quia singularia, et dissimilia, quia singularia; neque similia, 
quia singularia, neque dissimilia, quia singularia. Sic de eodem et diverse, 
aequali et inaequali, singulari et plurali, uno et multis, paro et impari, differentia 
et concordantk, et similibus, licet hoc absurdum videatur philosophis prin- 
cipio 'quodlibet est vel non esY etiam in theologicis inhaerentibus. 8 

To sum up the development which we have just traced. Cusanus 
came into contact with the Parmenides through the mediaeval Latin 
version of Proclus' Commentary. This work which exercised a profound 
and continuous influence on the evolution of his philosophy stimulated 
his interest in the dialogue itself, and in his eagerness to know the whole 
work he ordered the translation to be made. 

Not to be content with derivative knowledge, but to go back to the 



*) De venatione sapientiae cap. 21 (Opera, I fol. 209', ed. cit.). The quotations from this and other 
works of Nicholas of Cusa are corrected from the MSS. 
) Ibid., cap 22 (fol. 209*). 
') Ibid. (fol. 210*). 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 29 

fountainhead itself, was a characteristic trait of disarms' attitude towards 
tradition. As a young man he had proclaimed the quest and re-search for 
'the originals' as a distinguishing tendency of the age, and had proudly 
pointed out how he himself was drawing on the original sources, rather 
than using 'some anthology of excerpts'. 1 In the same spirit he turned 
from the commentary to the original text, from Proclus to Plato, and thus 
became the first philosopher in the West since the time of Boethius to 
read again the complete Parmenides. 

But his conception of the dialogue remained determined by the 
Neoplatonic interpretation; and the first hypothesis which, 'through 
Proclus, he had known isolated from the rest, always retained the pre- 
'dominance assigned to it in the traditional exegesis. He never doubted 
that the ev was to be understood as the transcendent One, the Platonic 
God, 'beyond all being, beyond name and speech, opinion and know- 
ledge'. 2 And so vividly were the relevant passages of this hypothesis 
imprinted on Cusanus' mind that he recognized their recurrence in 
Dionysius Areopagita's writings and thus discovered the consequential 
connexion between the classical formula of 'negative theology' and the 
Platonic Parmenides as understood by Proclus and his predecessors. 3 

Yet in spite of the hold which the traditional conception of the 
Parmenides continued to have over Cusanus, his acquaintance with the 
whole dialogue brought about the combination of the two conflicting 
interpretations of ancient exegesis, the logical and the metaphysical. 
While the aim of the dialogue is still taken to be the comprehension of the 
incomprehensible One, emphasis is now laid on the dialectical method. 
This characteristic nuance will appear more clearly by comparing Cusanus' 



*) De concordantia catholica, completed in 1433, Praefatio (Opera, HI fol. AA IF, ed. cit.) : "Videmus 
autem per cun&a ingenia etiam Sludiosissimorum omnium liberalium ac mechanicarum artium vetera 
repeti, et avidissime quidem, ac si totius revolutionis circulus proximo compleri speftaretur. . . . Originalia 
enim multa longe ab usu perdita per veterum coenobiorum armaria non sine magna diligentia collegi. 
Credant igitur qui legerint, quod omnia ex antiquis originalibus, non ex cuiusdam abbreviata collecHone, 
hue attrafta sunt." 

2 ) On the Neoplatonic interpretation of Plato, Parmenides 1423, see Proclus' Commentary (in: 
Proklos-Fund, p. 37-40; 10) and Continuity of the Platonic Tradition, p. 25. 

8 ) See Apologia doctae ignorantiae (p. 10 Klib.; quoted above, p. 305); De beryllo (quoted ibid.); Dt 
venatione sapientiae cap. 22 (fol. 209^ ed. cit.). On this connexion see ProUoi-Fund, p. II sq.; Continuity, 
p. 25 sq.; above, p. 285. 



30 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

approach to the dialogue with that of his Greek friend and fellow Cardinal, 
Bessarion. 

Like Cusanus several years before, Bessarion is struck with the fact 
that Dionysius Areopagita, 'the father of Christian theology', borrows 
from the Parmenides, and he exclaims after quoting several passages from 
the book On the divine names, "By the immortal God, did not Dionysius 
take this almost verbally from Plato?" 1 

Yet the critical restraint characteristic of Cusanus is conspicuously 
lacking in Bessarion. When he identifies the unum of the Parmenides, not 
only with the summum bonum, but also with the demiurge and the 'creator 
of the universe', he is bent on making the Platonic God appear as similar 
as possible to the Christian. Consequently, he does not hesitate to assert 
the closest dependence of the holy Fathers on Plato's theology: 2 

"For Plato always calls the One the first principle of all things, 
always the craftsman and creator of the universe, always the highest Good, 
king and founder of all ... And so acceptable was this Platonic theology 
to the most holy doctors of our faith that, whenever they wrote anything 
on God, they were anxious to use not only Plato's doctrines, but also his 
words. For the most holy man Dionysius Areopagita who was the first 
and foremost author of Christian theology and who had no predecessors 
in the writing of divinity save the apostle Paul and Hierotheus, Bishop of 
Athens, his masters, wrote thus in his book which he composed On the 
divine names : "The superessential infinity is placed above things essential, 
and the 'Unity above mind' above minds, and the One above conception 
is inconceivable to all conceptions, and the Good above words is unutter- 
able by word." 3 . . . Item: "There is neither perception nor imagination 
nor surmise nor thought nor knowledge nor name of it." And a little 
further: ". . . To none indeed who are lovers of the Truth above all 
truths is it permitted to celebrate the supremely-divine Essentiality that 
which is the super-subsistence of the super-goodness neither as word 
or power, neither as mind or life or essence, but as pre-eminently separated 



*) In calumniatorem Platonis II 4 (Latin transl. ibid.), p. 89 sq. Mohler: "Haec, per immortalem 
Deum, nonne a Platone per eadem fere verba Dionysius sumpsit?" 
) Ibid. II 4 (Latin transl. ibid.). 
) Dt diviws nominibus I i (PG 3 col. j88 b). 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 31 

from every condition, movement, life, imagination, surmise, name, word, 
thought, conception, essence, position, stability, union, boundary, infini- 
tude, all things whatever." 1 By the immortal God, did not Dionysius 
take this almost literally fronr Plato?" 

Plethon, whom Bessarion called 'the only initiate and true guide to 
the vision of the Platonic mysteries', 2 had advised him to study the 
Parmenides. According to the Byzantine philosopher, he would find in 
this dialogue Plato's doctrine of the highest cause and the meaning of the 
term 'participation'. 3 Bessarion transforms this interpretation so as to 
make it harmonize with Christian thought. , 

He deals with the Parmenides in two chapters headed 'That nobody 
treated of the principles of theology more sublimely than Plato' and 
'What Plato says in the Parmenides about the principle of all beings'. The 
first of these begins : "Who being in his right senses could doubt that to 
Plato justly belongs the palm of theology? Where is a work more sublime 
than the whole Parmenides, one that is wiser, one that is more divine? 
Where do we find more fully and explicitly stated the highest simplicity 
and unity of the first being, or rather of God who is beyond all beings? 
Not only the doctrine, but also the very words are used in all his works 
by the prince of Christian theology, Dionysius Areopagita." 4 

In the second he identifies Plato's ttnum with Dionysius' super- 
sub ftantialis Dei divintias : "Let us see what Plato wrote in the Parmenides 
about the first being, or rather the first principle of all beings, beyond all 
beings. I shall only give the gist of the matter: 'The One itself, he says 
for thus he calls the supersubstantial divinity of God 'is not many' . . ." 5 



*) Ibid. I 5 (PG 3 col. 593 bd). 

2 ) Bessarion to Plethon (Migne PG 161 col. 716 a): "c&v Sv et;, aoy&ry.'c' dcvSptov, TOU (ji.6voo 
TOCVUV TY)<; nXartovixTJ? lnoitteiy.q (/.uOTaywYoC TE xal {JUJOTOU." 

3 ) Plethon to Bessarion, in answer to a letter of 1447 (Migne PG 161 col. 721 c; corrected according 
to MSS. Oxford, Bodleian. Barocci 165 and Aul. F 4. j): "'Yrc^p 8& TOO (jieOexrou, ox; TrXeova^^ 
Xeyerai TO (xeOexTov, avdcyvcoGi T&V nXcxTtovo? ITap(jLeviS7)v." 

*) In column. Platonis I 7 (p. 73 M.) : "Quis mentis compos dubitet palmam (scil. theologiai) Platoni 
esse tribuendam? . . . Quid toto Parmenide sublimiue? Quid sapientius? Quid divinius? Quid de summa 
simplicitate unitateque primi entis vel potius supra omnia entia Dei plenius atque explicacius? Cuius 
non modo sententiis, verum etiam verbis ipsis princeps ChriSlianae theologiae Dionysius Areopagita 
in omnibus suis operibus utitur." 

8 ) Ibid. II 4 (Latin transl. ibid., p. 87 M.) : "Quid igitur de primo ente vel potius de primo omnium 
entium et supra omnia entia posito principio Plato in Parmenide scripserit, videamus. Ponam autem 






32 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

While Bessation is thus wholly concerned with praising the Platonic 
work for the theological doctrines which it seemed to contain and with 
emphasising their affinity to Christian faith, Nicholas of Cusa is primarily 
interested in the dialogue as demonstrating the process of thought by 
which the mind approaches its highest objeft. He therefore conceives the 
Parmenides as a venatio de Uno per logicam, a 'hunt for the One through 
logic'. 1 

- This gives us the clue to the particular attraction which the Par- 
menides always had for Cusanus. From an early date his thought centred 
round the problem of the approach of the finite and conditioned human 
mind to the infinite and absolute truth, God. In the Platonic dialogue the 
philosopher of the dofta ignorantia found support for his conviftion that 
discursive reason, based as it is on the principle of contradiction, is not 
capable of achieving any adequate knowledge of God in whom all oppo- 
sites coincide. In limiting, by means of dialectic, the sphere within which 
logic is valid, this work seemed to provide the strongest weapon against 
the 'inveterate tradition of Aristotelianism'. 2 



rv 

THE MEDICI AND THEIR CIRCLE 
MARSILIO FICINO VERSUS PICO DELLA MIRANDOLA. 

It was in the same year (1463) in which Nicholas of Cusa composed 
the De venatiom sapientiae that Marsilio Ficino, "in his passion for Plato 
Bessarion's heir", 3 undertook, at the request of Cosimo de Medici, to 



dumtaxat capita rerum : 'Unum', inquit, 'ipsum' sic enim, sic supersub&antialem Dei divinitatem appellat 

'non multa esV . . ." 

/ 
1 ) De venatiotu sapientiae cap. 22 (sec above, p. 308). 

') Cp. Apologia doctae ignorantiae (p. i Klib.): ". . . inveterata consuetudine qua Ariftotelicae 
tradition! insudarunt." 

*) "Marsilius Ficinus, Bessarionis in affeftu erga Platonem haeres." Thus Leibniz in the Dissertatio 
praeliminaris . . , de pbilosophica dictione, the introduction to his edition of Marti Ni^olii Anti-Barbarus 
Pbilosopbicus (fol.xi 3 V , Francof. 1674; Die pbilos. Scbriften IV 152 Gerhardt, Berlin 1880). 



"PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 33 

translate the whole of Plato's works. 1 In Cosimo's lifetime, i.e. before 
August 1464, he completed his rendering often dialogues which included 
the Parmenides preceded by the Euthyphron and followed by the Philebus. 
In the dedication of this selection to Cosimo, preserved in an Oxford 
manuscript, he states the reasons for choosing these particular dialogues 
and for the sequence in which they appear: "But inasmuch the divine 
light flows into a mind already purified by san&ity and, with its radiance, 
grants the vision of God, the disquisition on the One^ the principle of all 
things, rightly follows on the book on san&ity. And therefore the Par- 
menides succeeds the Euthyphron. And because our beatitude consists 
in the vision of God, the Philebus on the highest Good of man is justly 
placed after, the Parmenides on the highest Good of all being." 2 

Here as in many other passages of Marsilio's writings the Parmenides 
is described as a treatise on the One, the principle of all things, a view 
expressed also in a contemporary Argumentum in Platonis Parmenidem by 
an anonymous author, found in a Florentine manuscript beginning 
"Propositum huius libri est probare Unum esse principium omnium 
rerum." 3 

To understand Marsilio's description of the dialogue it is necessary to 
consider the place which he accords to this work within the whole of Plato's 
system. With Proclus and Olympiodorus he holds that the Parmenides en- 
shrines the essence of Plato's theology and that it is the innermost sanctuary 
of Platonic thought. 4 This opinion is expressed in terms borrowed from the 



x ) Cp. e.g. Ficinus, In Platinum epitomae sen argum., comment, et adnot. prooemium (Opera, II 1537, 
Basil. 1576). 

l ) MS. Oxford, Bodl. Canonic! class, lat. 163, 'Argumentum Marsilii Ficini Florentini in decem 
a se tradu&os Platonis dialogos ad Cosimum Medicem patriae patrem', fol. i v : "Cum vero in mentem 
iam san&itate purgatam divinum lumen influat eiusque fulgore deus ipse cernatur, merito librum de 
sanftitate disputatio de uno rerum principio sequitur, ideoque Parmenides Euthyphroni succedit. 
Cumque in Dei visione beatitudo noSlra consiSlat, iure Philebus de summo bono hominis post Parmenidem 
de summo totius naturae bono locatus esse videtur." (Now printed in Supplementum Ficinianum n 105 
KriSleller, Florence 1937); cp. Prooemium in Comment. Piatonis ad Laurent. Medicem (Opera, n 1128 sq., 
Basil. 1576). 

8 ) MS. Florence, Laurent. Gaddian. plut. 89 cod. 71, p. 214 sq. 

*) Cp. Proclus, Theol. Platon. I 7 (p. 16; 21; 30 Portus, Hamburg 1618); Comment, in Parmen. col. 
1063 Cousin). Olympiodorus calls the Parmenides the adytum of Platonic philosophy, Comment, in 
Alcibiad., ed. Creuzer, p. n, Francof. 1821. On lamblichus see above, p. 281, n. i. 



34 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

language of the mystery cult and with the fervour of the initiate who has 
access to the fountains of secret knowledge : "While Plato sprinkled the 
seeds of all wisdom throughout all' his dialogues, yet he collected the 
precepts of moral philosophy in the books on the Republic, the whole of 
science in the Timaeus, and he comprehended the whole of theology in 
the Parmenides. And whereas in the other works he rises far above all 
other philosophers, in this one he seems to surpass even himself and to 
bring forth this work miraculously from the adytum of the divine mind 
and from the innermost sanctum of philosophy. Whosoever undertakes 
the reading of this sacred book shall first prepare himself in a sober mind 
and detached spirit, before he makes bold to tackle the mysteries of this 
heavenly work. For here Plato discusses his own thoughts most subtly : 
how 'the One itself is the principle of all things, which is above all things 
and from which all things are, and in what manner it is outside everything 
and in everything, and how everything is from it, through it, and toward 
it." 1 

These sentences by which Marsilio hints at the 'mysteries of the 
heavenly work' strike a note widely differing from Cusanus' sober philo- 
sophical appreciation. 

Marsilio's enthusiasm cast its spell over the Medicean circle. He was 
accepted as the high-priest of 'Platonic* worship. Something of the char- 
acter of this Florentine Platonism with its peculiar blend of intellectual, 
aesthetic and religious elements is conveyed by Marsilio's encomium of his 
late patron whom he pictures as the embodiment of the Platonic ruler- 
sage. He writes to Lorenzo Medici : 

". . . Magnum Cosmum dico, avum tuum, patronum meum, virum ante 



*) Argumentum in Parmenidem dt Una rerum omnium prindpio (in the editio princeps of Marsilio's 
translation of Platonis opera, Florence 1484, fol. c 11 sq.; Opera, II 1136 sq., Basil. 1576): "Cum Plato 
per omnes eius dialogos totius sapientiae semina sparserit, in libris De republica cun&a moralis philo- 
sophiae inStituta collegit, omnem naturalcm rerum scientiam in Timaeo, universam in Parmenide com- 
plexus est theologiam; cumque in aliis longo intervallo ceteros philosophos antecesserit, in hoc tandem, 
seipsum superasse videtur et ex divinae mentis adytis intimoque Philosophiae sacrario coelesle hoc opus 
divinitus deprompsisse. Ad cuius sacram le&ionem quisquis accedet, prius sobrietate animi mentisque 
libertate se praeparet quam attreftare mySteria caeleslis operis audeat. Hie enim divus Plato de seipso 
subtilissime disputat, quemadmodum ipsum Unum rerum omnium principium est, super omnia omniaque 
ab illo, quo pafto ipsum extra omnia sit et in omnibus, omniaque ex illo, per illud atque ad illud." 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 35 

alios prudentem, erga Deum pium, erga homines iustum atque magnificum, in 
seipso temperatum; in re familiari admodum diligentem, ac multo accuratius in 
re publica circumspeftum, qui non sibi solum, sed Deo et patriae vixit, cuius 
animo nihil inter homines humilius, nihil rursus excelsius. Ego, Laurenti, una 
cum illo annos plures quam duodecim feliciter philosophatus sum: Tarn acutus 
erat in disputando quam prudens et fortis in gubernando. Quam enim virtutum 
ideam Plato semel mihi monstraverat, earn quotidie Cosmus agebat. . . . 

Denique Solonem philosophum imitatus, cum per omnem vitam vel in 
summis negotiis egregie philosophatus esset, illis tamen diebus quibus ex hac 
umbra migravit ad lucem quam maxime philosophabatur. Itaque postquam 
Platonis librum De Uno rerum principio ac De summo bono legimus, sicut tu nosti 
qui aderas, paulo post decessit, tanquam eo ipso bono quod disputatione gustaverat 
re ipsa abunde iam potiturus. 

Vale, et sicut Deus Cosmum ad ideam mundi formavit, ita te ipse quemad- 
modum coepisti ad ideam Cosmi figura." 1 

A similar description of Cosimo's last days is given by Marsilio in 
the preface to his translation of the pseudo-Platonic Axiochus : 

Deinde ne intima sapientiae ipsius arcana sibi deessent, divi Platonis libros 
decem et unum Mercurii e Graeca lingua in Latinam a nobis transferri iussit, 
quibus omnia vitae praecepta, omnia naturae principia, omnia divinarum rerum 
mysteria san&a panduntur. Haec omnia Cosmus et accurate legit et absolute 
comprehendit; cumque Platonis librum De Uno rerum omnium principio et De summo 
bono iam peregisset, duodecima deinde die quasi ad id principium bonumque 
fruendum rediturus, ex hac vitae umbra ad supernam lucem revocatus accessit. 2 

Thus it came about that the masterpiece of Platonic dialectic was 
chosen, with the Philebus, to be read to the dying Cosimo as the fitting 
preamble 'for his return to the highest principle and the fruition of the 
highest good*. 



Yet the theological interpretation of the Platonic work did not 
remain unchallenged. The first opposition to it arose in Florence itself. 

*) Epiflolae, lib. I (Opera, I 648 sq.). The pun on Cosimo at the end of the letter is characteristic 
of the writer's fondness for playing with the significance of names; the allusion is to the formation of 
the cosmos in the Platonic Timaeus. 

') Preface to Marsilio's Traductio Xenocratis Hbri de morte, ad Petrum Medicem, in Opera, II 1965. 



36 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

Loren2o Medici, it is true, who as a youth had witnessed the scene at 
Cosimo's deathbed remained, throughout his life, convinced of the 
religious significance of the Parmenides; and he based his objections to 
Aristotelian philosophy on this dialogue. 1 But his view was contradicted 
by two members of his circle, Angelo Politiano and Pico della Mirandola. 
Politiano, while disclaiming all aspiration to the name of philosopher, 
maintained that as literatus he had the right to expound and to judge 
works belonging to all provinces of learning. 2 By his method of purely 
literary criticism this 'interpreter of authors' seems to have reached a 
different appreciation of the character of the Parmenides. At any rate, we 
are told that he argued against Lorenzo's attempt to oppose Plato to 
Aristotle and to establish, no doubt with the help of the Parmenides, the 
superiority of Platonic metaphysics. 3 Yet Politiano, himself the author of 
Latin and Italian verse of no mean distinction, was primarily attracted by 
the poetry, not the philosophy of the ancients. It was only Pico's advent 
to Florence and his close relationship with this much admired friend that 
had stimulated him to explore this field, 'not, as before, with sleepy eyes, 
but lively and wide awake'. 4 Pico he regarded as his master in these 



J ) This appears from Pico's remarks in De ente et mo, prooem. & cap. i sq. (Opera, fol. LL i r 
Bologna 1496; p. 159, Basle 1601). 

*) Cp. Angelus Politianus, Praeltctio in Priora Arittotelis Analytica. Lamia, where the distinction 
between the philosopher and the critic is drawn for the first time and with remarkable precision (Opera, 
fol. Y 7 V , Venice 1498; p. 460, Basle 1553): "Videamus ergo primum quodnam hoc sit animal quod 
homines philosophum vocant; turn spero facile intelligetis non esse me philosophum . . . Ego me 
Aristotelis profiteer interpretem; quam idoneum, non attinet dicere; sed ccrte interpretem profiteer, 
philosophum non profiteer. Nee enim si regis quoque essem interpres, regem me esse ob id putarem. . . . 
Nostra aetas parum perita rerum veterum nimis brevi gyro grammaticum saepsit. At apud antiques 
olim tantum autoritatis hie ordo habuit, ut ccnsores essent et iudices scriptorum omnium soli gram- 
matici, quos ob id ctiam Criticos vocabant . . . Nee enim aliud grammaticus graece quam latine literatus. 
Nos autem nomen hoc in ludum trivialem detrusimus tanquam in pistrinum. . . . Nunc ad me redeo: 
non scilicet philosophi nomen occupo, ut caducum, non arrogo, ut alienum, propterea quod philosophos 
enarro." 

') See Pico's account in Dt ente et uno, prooem., loc. cit. 

*) Speaking of his former studies of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, Politiano says, "Liber 
tSscellaneorum cap. 100 (Opera p. 310, Basle 1553): ". . . dabam quidem philosophiae utrique operam 
sed non admodum assiduam, videlicet ad Homcri poetae blandimenta natura et aetate proclivior . . . 
Sic ergo nonnunquam de philosophia, quasi de Nilo canes, bibi fugique, donee reversus est in hanc 
urbem . . . princeps hie nobilissimus loanncs Picus Mirandula, vir unus, an heros potius omnibus fortunae 
corporis animique dotibus cumulatissimus utpotc forma pene divina iuvenis ... Is me inStituit ad philo- 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 37 

studies, and to him therefore he referred the problem of his discussion 
with Loren2o. 

Thus Pico was prompted, in 1492, to undertake a thorough examina- 
tion of the subject. His way of approaching the problem was entirely 
different from that of the Florentine circle. In the course of his studies at 
the Universities of Northern Italy and of Paris he had been reared in the 
Aristotelian tradition of the Schools. 1 After his initiation in philosophical 
studies at Ferrara, it was particularly the period he spent at Padua that 
influenced his intellectual development; here he gained his thorough 
acquaintance with the teachings of Latin Averroism which, from the 
beginning of the fourteenth century, had prevailed at that University. 
Here, too, he gained access, with the help of his Jewish master Elia del 
Medigo, to the undiluted doctrine of Averroes himself much maligned 
at Florence and became imbued with the spirit of rational inquiry found 
in the writings of this and other Arabic masters. 2 

Thus his intellectual equipment set him apart from the Florentine 
circle of which in many ways, not only through his interests and tastes, 
but in his whole style of life, he is the outstanding representative. 3 In- 
spired by a love of letters equal to theirs, he had written ardent verse and 
vied with Lorenzo in singing the praise of Amor. But while the cult of 
the beautiful form made the Florentines, like many of their contempor- 
aries, reject the works of the school-men for their clumsy style no less 
than for their pedestrian way of thought, Pico never would admit that 
the appreciation of the legacy of Antiquity should entail a sacrifice of the 
heritage of the centuries preceding his own. 

sophiam, non ut antea somniculosis, sed vegetis vigilantibusque oculis explorandam . . ." It is signi- 
ficant of the man that, when he decided to translate a Pktonic dialogue, he chose the Charmides; cp. his 
dedication to Lorenzo (Opera, p. 446 sq.). 

1 ) Pico says in a letter to Marsilio, written in 1482 (Opera I 253, Basle 1601): "lam tres annos, 
Marsili, apud Peripateticos versatus sum, nee omisi quicquam quantum in me fuit, ut Arisltotelicis 
aedibus quasi unus ex eorum familia non indignus admitterer." Cp. also his reply to Ermolao Barbaro, 
quoted below, Stating that he Studied the authors of the Schools for six years. 

2 ) On Elia del Medigo see J. Dukas, Recherche s sur rbift. lift, du XV. siecle, Paris 1876; M. Stein- 
schneider, Die bebr. Ueberset^ungen des Mittelalters, Berlin 1893, passim; U. Cassuto, Gli Ebrei a Firemy 
neireta del Rinascimento, p. 284 sq., Florence 1918. At Padua Pico was considered an extreme AverroiSl. 
AgoStino Nifo, mentioning a discussion he had with him there, likens Pico's Standpoint to that of Siger 
of Brabant (AuguSlini Niphi . . . De intellectu, HI 18 sq., fol. 30 sq., Venice 1554). 

*) See e.g. Politiano's enthusiastic characterization, Liber miscell., cap. 100, loc. cit. 



38 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

^ * 

When one of his humanist friends, the Venetian Ermolao Barbaro, 
attacked the 'barbarous' thinkers of the Middle Ages, Pico invoked the 
great masters Thomas and Duns, Albert and Averroes, to whose study 
he professed he had devoted the best years of his life and made them 
retort: "We have lived, and shall live in ages to come, famous, not in the 
schools of the grammarians and classrooms of the young, but in philo- 
sophers' gatherings and in assemblies of the sages, where the discussion 
concerns not Andromache's mother or Niobe's children or trifles of this 
kind, but the principles of things human and divine." 1 

Where others, with the eager intolerance of the newly initiate, saw 
oppositions and conflicts Pico, combining in a new synthesis Averroes' 
doctrine of the unity of the mind with Cusanus* coincidence of contra- 
dictories, 2 recognized the unity underlying the differences. His conviction 
that the various philosophies were but different expressions of the one 
truth moved him to search for the principles in which they agreed and 
from which apparent contradictions could be solved. 

This conviction led to his attempt to reconcile Thomas and Scotus, 
Averroes and Avicenna; 3 above all, it determined his attitude to the feud 
between Platonists and Aristotelians. Since he had come to live in Florence, 
'to explore the camp of the Platonists', it became the aim of his life to 
establish the fundamental harmony between the founders of the two rival 



*) Pico's reply to Ermolao Barbaro, Florence 148$ (Opera, p. 229, ed. cit.): "Ita porro sum com- 
motus, ita me puduit piguitque studiorum meorum iam enim sexennium apud illos vcrsor , ut non 
minus me fccisse velim quam in tarn nihil facienda re tarn laboriose contendissc. Perdidcrim, ego inquam, 
apud Thomam, loanncm Scotum, apud Albertum, apud Averroem meliores annos, tantas vigilias quibus 
potuerim in bonis litteris fortassc nonnihil esse." To his consolation the 'philosophi barbari' appear 
and declare: "Viximus celebres, o Hermolae, et pofthac vivcmus, non in scholis grammaticorum et 
paedagogiis, sed in philosophorum coronis, in conventibus sapientum, ubi non de matre Andromaches, 
non de Niobes filiis atque id genus levibus nugis, sed de humanarum divinarumque rerum rationibus 
agitur et disputatur." 

*) Contlusiones 900 qttas olim Romae disputandas exhibuit, nrs. 13-18 of the 'Conclus. paradoxicae . . . 
nova in philosophia dogmata introducentes' (Opera, ed. cit., I 60) are based on Cusanus ; e.g. nr. i j : 
"Contradiftoria coincidunt in natura uniali." The papal legates report that in 1488 Pico "ut nobis 
Placcntiac dixit, cupiebat proficisci in Germaniam, maxime Studio visendae bibliothecae olim Cardinalis 
Nicolai de Cusa" (L. Dorez & L. Thuane, Pic de la Mirandole en France, p. 159, Paris 1897; Continuity, 
p. 31). 

') See Contlusiones 900 (Optra, ed. cit., 156 sq.). 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 39 

schools. 1 This was a dominant theme of the famous nine hundred theses 
to the public discussion of which he invited philosophers ancV theologians 
from all over Italy to Rome. The first of the 'seventeen paradoxical 
conclusions, reconciling the sayings, first of Aristotle and Plato, then of 
other masters who seem to disagree most' was: "Nullum est quaesitum 
naturale aut divinum in quo Aristoteles et Plato sensu et re non conveniant, 
quamvis verbis dissentire videantur." 2 This conception of concord in 
principle he defended in his Apologia and intended to demonstrate it in 
detail in a Concordia Platonis Ariftotelisque^ the work which occupied his 
last years and which remained unfinished. 3 

The principal obstacle to this reconciliation was the Platonists' claim, 
based on the Parmenides, to possess a mystery unknown to Aristotle, the 
One beyond being, identified by them with the God of Christianity. 4 This 
do&rine they opposed to the famous Aristotelian axiom 'Ens et unum 
convertuntur'. Pending the completion of his comprehensive Concord- 
ance, Pico undertook to refute their claim in a separate monograph, De 
Ente et Uno, dedicated to Politiano whose discussion with Lorenzo de' 
Medici had been the immediate occasion of writing the treatise. 5 

x ) Pico's letter to Ermolao Barbaro (Opera, I 250) : "Diverti nuper ab Aristotele in Academiam 
sed non transfuga, ut inquit ille, verum explorator. Videor tamen dicam tibi Hermolae quod sentio 
duo in Platone agnoscere, et Homericam illam eloquendi facultatem, supra prosam orationem sese 
attollentem, et sensuum si quis eos altius introspiciat cum AriSlotele omnino communionem, ita ut si 
verba spe&es nihil pugnantius, si res nihil concordius." 

2 ) Conclusions 900 (Opera, I 56). Their first publication, Rome 1486, contained this subscription: 
"Conclusiones non disputabuntur nisi post Epiphaniam; interim publicabuntur in omnibus Italiae 
Gymnasiis. Et si quis Philosophus aut Theologus, etiam ab extrema Italia, arguendi gratia Romam 
venire voluerit, pollicetur ipse dominus disputaturus se viatici expensas illi soluturum de suo." 

3 ) Apologia and Oratio de hominis dignitate (Opera, I 79; 215): "Proposuimus primo Platonis AriSto- 
telisque concordiam a multis antehac creditam, a nemine satis probatam." Letter to BaptiSla Mantuanus, 
Florence 1490 (ibid., I 243): "Concordiam Platonis et AriSlotelis assidue molior. Do illi quotidie iuSlum 
matutinum." On the plan of the work see the correspondence between Baptista Mantuanus and Pico's 
nephew, Gian Francesco (ibid., II 835 sq.). 

*) Pico, De Ente et Una, cap. 4 (Opera, I 162) : "Adiciam et hoc iniuria gloriari quosdam Platonicos 
quasi mysterium habeant Aristoteli ignotum, cum dicunt duas esse proprias Dei appellationes, Unum 
scilicet et Bonum, atque ita Bonum et Unum ante Ens esse." 

8 ) Ibid., prooem. (Opera, I 159): "quoniam qui AriSlotelem dissentire a Platone exiSlimant a me 
ipso dissentiunt, qui concordem utriusque facio philosophiam, rogabas quomodo et defenderetur in ea 
re Aristoteles et Platoni magiSlro consentiret." De Ente et Una was printed first in the collection of 
Pico's works, edited by his nephew, Bologna 1496. The modern reprint by A. J. FeSrugiere (Archives 
d'hist. doftr. et litt. VII 208-24, P a " s !933) of the faulty Venetian edition of 1557 should not be quoted. 






40 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

The cornerstone in Pico's argument is necessarily an examination of 
the Parmenides, the Platonics' chief witness for their esoteric doctrine. 
He Starts by firmly denying the validity of the dialogue as evidence in a 
metaphysical discussion, for he maintains that it is not to be considered as 
dogmatic, but as a mere exercise in dialectic. This explanation is the only 
natural one, all the others are forced and arbitrary. "But," he exclaims, 
"let us discard all interpreters, let us look at the structure of the dialogue 
itself, how it starts, where it tends, what it promises, what it achieves." 1 
He goes on to analyse the scene at the beginning of the Platonic work 
where Parmenides on account of his age is hesitating to take part in the 
discussion and is being persuaded by his pupil Zeno who points to the 
small number of those present. Here, Pico shrewdly observes, it is clearly 
intimated that the whole ensuing conversation is not of an order befitting 
the seriousness and dignity of the aged philosopher, but appropriate only 
to a younger man. Now, could there be a matter more suitable for the 
exertion of the old sage, if the subject of the dialogue were the first principle 
of all things, the central problem of metaphysics? Indeed, in that case no 
question of decorum could ever have arisen. 2 

Moreover, he claims, if we read through the entire argument we see 
that it contains nowhere statements of categorical, but exclusively such of 
hypothetical form. 3 By thus proving his contention that the subject of the 
Parmenides is only a 'dialectical business', negotium dialefticum, Pico has 
eliminated the basis for the Platonists' assertion of an unbridgeable gulf 
between Plato's and Aristotle's teachings. 

The opposition arises, according to him, not only from a misunder- 
standing of Plato, but also from an insufficient knowledge of Aristotle. 
For granting even, for the sake of the argument, that the first hypothesis 



*) Dt Ente tt Una, cap. 2 (Opera, I 160 sq.): "Certe liber inter dogmaticos non eft censendus, 
quippe qui totus nihil aliud eft quam dialeftica quaedam exercitatio. Cui noSlrae sententiae tantum abeSt 
ut ipsa dialog! verba refragentur ut nulla extent mag is et arbitrariae et violentae enarrationes quam 
quae ab his allatae sunt qui alio sensu Parmenidem Platonis voluerunt. Sed omittamus omnes interpretes. 
Ipsam inspiciamus dialogi seriem, quid ordiatur, quo tendat, quid promittat, quid exequatur." 

*) Ibid., cap. 2: "At si, ut illi volunt, de divinis ordinibus, de primo rerum omnium principle agit, 
quae tra&atio seni congruentior aut erubcscenda minus?" 

') Ibid. : "Quibus etiam testimoniis si non credimus, ipsum percurramus dialogum, videbimusque 
nusquam aliquid aifirmari, sed ubique solum quaeri : hoc si sit, quid consequetur, quid item, si non sit." 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 41 

of the Parmenides proclaims the 'One beyond being', it would still not 
follow that Plato had found a purer philosophical formula for God than 
Aristotle. For according to Pico's interpretation, Aristotle, too, teaches a 
transcendent God, the Good and One beyond Being, and he does it even 
more clearly than Plato. 1 

Pico's treatise is characterized by the freshness of its approach and the 
independence of its outlook. It is the work of a man who, while himself 
committed to no school, learns from them all, trying to integrate their 
different traditions. "I have made it a principle," he proudly announces, 
"not to follow blindly the words of anyone, but to go to all the masters, 
to read all the books, to recognize all schools." 2 Brilliantly conceived, his 
work is executed with an impatience that prevents him from following up 
his arguments to their logical conclusion. He recognizes the weakness of 
his adversaries' pretensions, the slender philosophical foundations for 
their high-flowing esthetic and religious Tlatonism'. His own solution, 
on the other hand} must not be understood as a truer recognition of the 
historical connexion between late Platonic dialectic and Aristotelian 
philosophy. His fundamental assumption of the harmony between the 
two philosophers leads him rather to interpret their work in such a way 
as to find in both his own conceptions of the truth. 

It would therefore be wrong to consider Pico, on account of his 
attack on the uncritical attitude of his opponents, as an unbiased historian 
of philosophy. None the less, his treatment of the Parmenides is distin- 
guished from that of earlier and contemporary interpreters by his sensi- 
tivity to the particular atmosphere of the dialogue and, above all, by his 
demand that the work should be viewed as a whole, a demand which 
leads him to recognize and to stress the hypothetical character of the 
entire second part. 

We are told that in the spring of 1492, when his health was declining, 
Lorenzo Medici expressed the desire to withdraw from all political 
activities and to devote the rest of his life to the study of philosophy in the 



x ) Ibid., cap 4 (Opera, p. 162): "At, dicet quispiam, hac saltern ex parte discors erit AriSloteles a 
Platone, quod Aristoteles nunquam ita ens accipit ut sit sub uno Deumque non comprehendat, quod Plato 
facit. Hoc qui dicunt, Arigtotelem non legerunt. Facit enim et ipse hoc, et longe clarius quam Plato." 

2 ) Oratio de bominis dignitate (Opera, p. 214): "Ego ita me inSlitui, ut in nullius verba iuratus me 
per omnes philosophiae magiSlros funderem, omnes schedas excuterem, omnes familias agnoscerem." 



4* MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

company of Pico, Politiano, and Ficino. 1 Is it too bold to assume that it 
was his wish further to elucidate that particular problem on which, since 
his conversation with Politiano, the interest of his three friends had been 
focused? There can be no doubt that Pico's book, which had appeared 
shortly before, had, by its attack on one of the most cherished tenets of 
the Florentine circle, caused a Stir. It is obvious that this attempt to put 
an end to the old opposition between Plato and Aristotle gave, by the 
apparent novelty of the solution it offered, a new stimulus to their dis- 
cussions of the problem fundamental to them. 

Lorenzo's plan of a philosophical retreat at Careggi was not carried 
out, but we hear of the frequent conversations 'de philosophia et iitteris* 
which used to take place in his chamber during the last months of his life, 
and of the particularly strong affection which he held for Pico, an 
affection not impaired by the difference in their opinions. At the hour of 
his approaching end he asked for Pico to come, and his parting words 
were a smiling regret that death would not spare him until he had read 
all the works of Politiano and Pico. 2 

After Lorenzo's death, Pico's challenge was taken up by the hiero- 
phant of Florentine Platonism, Marsilio. In the past he had praised Pico 
for the universality of his mind which embraced and harmonized the most 
discordant elements. With an allusion to Pico's title of 'Count of Con- 
cordia' he says of him : "Truly he should not be called the companion 
(comes) of Concord, but her duke (dux), for wherever he goes concord 
follows at once; he alone succeeds in accomplishing what many have tried, 
and he is constantly bent on reconciling Jews and Christians, Aristotelians 
and Platonists, Greeks and Latins." 3 Marsilio who for his part aimed at 
proving the concordance between Plato and Moses, between the mythical 
theologians and the biblical prophets, sympathized to some extent with 



*) See Politiano's account, in a letter to Jacopo Antiquario, written shortly after Lorenzo's death 
(Opera, p. 49, Basle 1553). 

*) Sec Politiano's beautiful description of Lorenzo's last hours (ibid., p. 48). 

*) Ficinus, De tribus Gratiis et Contordia, letter to Salviati and Benivieni, Epift. lib. VIII (Opera, 
I 890, Basle 1576): ". . . Nempe sicut nebulae discutiuntur Soils accessu, sic adventu Pici procul omnes 
discordiae fugiunt, subitoque hunc passim sequitur Concordia ducem, adeo ut solus hie valeat quod 
olim tentavere nonnulli, et hie agit assidue turn ludaeos Christianis, turn Peripateticos conciliare Platonicis 
Graecosque Latinis." 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 43 

Pico's unifying tendencies. Yet the attempt to argue away what constituted 
for him the fundamental difference between Plato and Aristotle roused 
Marsilio to indignant protest. He could not but feel that Pico's treatise as 
a whole, especially the attacks on the 'arbitrary and violent interpretation 
of the Parmenides', were directed mainly against himself, and he was not 
a little annoyed by the confidence with which Pico described his own 
explanation of the dialogue as being 'above all controversy'. 1 

In the commentary on the Parmenides which he began in the year 
of Lorenzo's death he reproves the 'mirandus iuvenis' for his temerity in 
breaking away from the traditional exegesis, sanctioned by the authority 
of all Platonists, and explicitly reprimands him for asserting that the 
"divine Parmenides is only a treatise on logic." 2 At great length he 
destroys the assertion that Plato had, like Aristotle, equated the One with 
Being, and he endeavours anew to establish the supremacy of the One 
and the Good. 3 

Against Pico's heresies Ficino restates the Neoplatonic position, insist- 
ing that the content of the Parmenides is of theological nature. He adds, 
however, that the form of the work is dialectical: "Materia quidem 
Parmenidis theologica, forma vero dialectica". 4 This formula with its 
distinction between the outward form and the matter of the dialogue seems 
to have been devised as a retort to Pico, disposing of his criticism. It 



x ) De Ente et Una, cap. 2 (Opera, 1 160) : "Sed citra omnem esTt controversiam, nisi nos ipsos velimus 
fallere, id circa quod versaturus erat Parmenides diale&icum esse negotium, neque aliud ab eo Socrates 
postulaverat." 

2 ) Ficinus, Comment, in Parmenidem, cap. 49, headed 'Primum rerum principium es~l unitas boni- 
tasque super intelleftum, vitam, essentiam' (Opera, ed. cit., II 1164): "Utinam mirandus ille iuvenis dis- 
putationes discursionesque superiores diligenter consideravisset, antequam tarn confidenter tangeret 
praeceptorem ac tarn secure contra Platonicorum omnium sententiam divulgaret et divinum Parmenidem 
simpliciter esse logicum et Platonem cum AriSlotele ipsum cum Ente Unum et Bonum adaequavisse." 

8 ) Ibid., cap. 38 (II ii 55 sq.): "familiares eius (Platonis) Unum Bonumque essentiae intelligentiae- 
que praefecerunt . . . Ego vero id sensisse Platonem arbitror in quo schok ilk vetus extra controversiam 
cum nova consentit." Caps. 41-47 are "discursus Platonici probantes Unum esse principium omnium, 
et esse ipsum Unum Bonumque superius Ente." 

*) Ibid., prooem. (Opera, II 1137). An obvious corruption, easily explained on palaeographical 
grounds, of the chapter-heading in the printed editions ('forma non diale&ica', instead of 'forma vero 
dialeftica') has led critics (e.g. E. Garin, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Florence 1937, p. 79) to a false 
appreciation of Marsilio's view. Marsilio himself says, in the text under this heading (Opera. II 1138): 
"Materia igitur Parmenidis huius potissimum theologica eSt, forma vero praecipue logica." 



44 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

parries the adversary's thrust by implying that Pico's analysis is guided 
only by the consideration of formal elements without penetrating to the 
hidden meaning of the work. 1 Marsilio professes now to follow a middle 
course between those who were solely concerned with what was to him 
the dialectical surface of the work and those who, like Proclus, looked for 
theological mysteries in every word. Compared with his earlier utterances 
on the subject, this statement represents a concession to Pico's objections. 
Yet he leaves no doubt that, although not continuously and in every 
passage, he considers the Parmenides to be essentially a dogmatic work 
on theology. 2 For this view he claims the authority, not only of the whole 
Platonic school, but inspired, no doubt, by Bessarion particularly that 
of Dionysius Areopagita; for, by using word for word the arguments and 
the negative method of the dialogue when treating of divine matters, the 
saint had testified that the subject-matter of the work was divinity. 3 

Superficially, Marsilio's solution seems to come near to Nicholas of 
Cusa's description of the Parmenides as a venatio de Uno per logicam. In fact, 
however, there is a profound difference. For when Marsilio contrasts form 
and matter, the dialectical form is considered as something external and 
accidental. It is made in no way evident why 'the highest mysteries of 
theology' should have to be presented in such an austere garb. On the 
contrary, the 'dialectical artifice' presents an obstacle to the expression of 
the theological content. To Nicholas of Cusa, on the other hand, who 
understood the dialogue as reason's search for a supra-rational object, the 
dialectical method appeared as the only possible way of approaching the 

*) See also ibid., p. 1137: "itaque in Parmenide sub ludo quodam diale&ico et quasi logico exscru- 
taturo videlicet ingenium ad divina dogmata passim theologica multa significat." 

) Ibid., cap. 37, p. 1154: "Ipse (scil. Proclus) autem Syrianum secutus in singulis verbis singula 
putat latcre mysteria et quot sunt dausulae, ferme totidem esse numina. Ego vero medium secutus 
viam arbitror tantum saltern theologiae subesse quantum admittit artifkium ut communiter dicitur, 
diale&icum, ideoque non ubique omnino continuatas, sed quandoque divulsas de divinis inesse scntcntias 
. . . Confirmemus tandem alio quodam Platonis ipsius testimonio librum hunc non esse contentiosum, 
sed certe dogmaticum . . ." 

8 ) Ibid. : "Denique librum hunc esse theologicum non solum ceteri Platonici praeciptte probatis- 
simi convenerunt, sed etiam Dionysius Areopagita confirmare videtur; quoties in ipsius Unius incidit 
mentionem, toties enim End praeponit . . . ; utitur quinetiam argumentationibus, negationibus verbisque 
Parmenidis saepe quam plurimis in materia divinissima teSlificans interea materiam Parmenidis esse 
divinam." Further below (ibid., p. 1189) Marsilio who had received Bessarion's In calumniatorem 
Platonis shortly after its publication calls the Areopagite "libri huius summus adStipulator". 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 45 

aim. For only in so far as, by means of dialectic, the mind has been made 
conscious of its own limitations, it becomes aware in dofta ignorantia of 
the nature of its transcendental object. 



FROM PATRIZZI TO LEIBNIZ 

Marsilio had not only been the first to translate the whole of Plato's 
works; his translation was the first to appear in print. 1 It preceded the 
editio princeps of the Greek text, the Aldine of 1513, by about thirty years. 
While for a long time to come the study of the original was confined to 
a small number of scholars, Marsilio's Latin rendering, frequently reprinted 
in Venice, Paris, Basle and Lyons, was the most effective instrument in 
making Plato's works known to a wider circle of educated readers through- 
out Europe. 2 By the 'arguments' attached to his translation, and by his 
Commentary he decisively influenced the conception of Plato's philosophy. 
Thus, reinforced by Marsilio's authority, the ancient Neoplatonic view 
of the Parmenides prevailed in the following centuries. Pico's un- 
orthodox interpretation remained unheeded. 

Marsilio's refutation of Pico's criticism was taken up by his pupil and 
successor in the exegesis of Platonic philosophy, Francesco Cattaneo da 
Diacceto, who in his turn set out to prove the concord between Platonism 
and Christianity, stressing again the use made by Dionysius the Areopagite 
of Plato's words. 3 Two generations later, about 1550, Patrizzi, while 
studying in Padua, heard a Franciscan friar proclaiming 'Platonic theses'; 
the impression they made on him was so strong that he forthwith sought 
the friar's friendship in order to be instructed in Platonic thought. The 
friar recommended Marsilio's writings to him, "and this was," in his 
own words, "the beginning of those studies to which henceforth he always 



x ) Printed in Florence, 'per Laurentium Venetum', s. a. (1484). The Commentary to the dialogues 
was first printed in Florence in 1496. 

2 ) There were no less than eighteen editions in the sixteenth century. 

) F. Cataneus Diacetius, Patricius Florentinus philosophus summus, Opera, p. 15 ; 336, Basle 1563. 



46 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

adhered." 1 In his 'New Scientific Order of the Platonic Dialogues' 
Patrizzi describes the Parmenides as an "exhaustive treatment of divinity", 
developed in a sequence of "more than mathematical demonstrations". 
Patrizzi's authorities are Ficino and Proclus of whose Elements of 
Theology he prepared the first Latin printed edition; besides, he is one of 
the earliest Latin authors to make extensive use of the last systematic 
treatise of Greek antiquity, Damascius' De principiis, a manuscript of 
which he owned. 2 In view of the 'more than mathematical* certainty re- 
garding the issues of metaphysics which Patrizzi found in the Parmenides, 
it is not surprising that this dialogue and Proclus' Elements determine the 
structure of his own system, expounded in his Nova de universis philosophia. 
Here, after having found the ascent to the first cause and laid it open to 
contemplation, he proceeds metbodo Platonica to 'deduce' from it the whole 
of being. The ambitious aim of this work, published while the author 
was professor of philosophy at Ferrara, is expressed in the dedication to 
Pope Gregory XIV and all his successors on the Holy See: Patrizzi's 
'Platonic system', based on the Parmenides and the Timaeus, combined 
with Plotinus, Hermes Trismegistus and Zoroaster, was, by Papal 
authority, to be introduced in the monasteries and schools of Catholic 
Europe, especially in the colleges of the Jesuits. Better than ecclesiastical 
censure or the secular sword this 'pious philosophy', superseding 'godless 
Aristotelianism', would enable the Church to master the German heresies 
as well as Judaism and Islam, and thus to dominate the world. 3 



*) Patrizzi's autobiography, in a letter to Baccio Valori, of 1587 (ed. A. Solerti, Autobiografia di 
F. Patricio, Archivio stor. per Trieste, I'l&ria e il Trentino, HI *7J-8i, Rome 1884-86). 

f ) 'Platonicorum dialogorum novus pcnitus a F. Patritio inventus ordo scientificus', fol. 46 vb , 
in: Nova de universis pbilosophia, Ferrara 1591 & Venice 1593: "Hunc (scil. Timaeum) sequi debet 
Parmenides in quem, praeter ea quae sparsimpcr singulos fere attigit, univcrsam divinitatis coniecit 
tra&ationem, multis cam plus quam geometricis explicans demonstrationibus. Quas turn Proclus turn 
Ficinus commcntariis illustrarunt, sed multo magis Damascius libro suo De principiis." His translation 
of Proeli . . . Platonici pbilosopbi eminentissimi Elements Tbeologica tt Pbysica, opus omni admirationt prose- 
qutndum appeared in Ferrara 1583. His copy of Damascius is now MS. Ambros. T 113 sup. 

') Nova de universis pbilosopbia, Dedicatory epistle, fol. a 3' sq., cd. cit. : "Grcgorio XIV Pont. 
Max. futurisque Romm. Pontt. Maxx. . . . Quadringentis vero ab hinc circiter annis scholastic! theologi 
Aristotelicis impietatibus pro fidci fundamentis sunt usi . . . lube ergo, pater sanftissime, tu primus, 
iubcant futuri Pontifices omncs . . . ptr omnia tuae ditionis gymnasia, per omnes coenobiorum scholas 
librorum quos nominavimus aliquos continue exponi, quod nos per annos XIV fccimus Ferrariae. 
Cura ut Christiani orbis principes idem in suis iubcant gymnasiis . . . Quid vero, si istorum imitatione 



PLATO S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 47 

The element of speculative enthusiasm which characterized Patrizzi's 
Platonism accounted for its effect at the Court of the Este. It was con- 
spicuously absent from the work of a contemporary French scholar, Jean 
de Serres, whose conception of Plato differed from that of Patrizzi as 
widely as Calvinist Geneva from the Ferrara of Tasso's time. Hi^ intro- 
ductions and annotations to the dialogues, written for and incorporated in 
Henri Estienne's famous edition which was to become the Standard Greek 
text of Plato, gained a wide circulation. In the general preface to the edi- 
tion, Jean de Serres (Serranus) expresses his distaste for the obscure phan- 
tasies of Neoplatonic exegetes, which, he says, once deterred him from 
the reading of Plato. 1 His own interpretation of the Parmenides is, accord- 
ingly, written in the cautious spirit of the detached critic, anxiously avoid- 
ing to take sides in a philosophical controversy. In his view the dialogue 
contains Plato's discussion of Eleatic doctrines, and he makes the shrewd 
point that the form of the work is chosen to criticize Parmenides' deductive 
method by imitating it; in this he se"es the main reason for the obscurity of 
the work. He modifies the traditional view by Stressing that, from the 
second hypothesis onwards, the dialogue deals with the plurality of ideas, 
to him the genetic causes of the visible world. Yet this critical attitude 
does not prevent him from admitting that the work, in so far as it treats of 
the first cause of all being, is concerned with theology. 2 

On the whole, Serranus' pedestrian exposition of Plato, devoid of 
depth and vigour, could not, in spite of occasional acute .observations, 
give any new direction to Platonic studies. Nor could severe criticism 
levelled by French scholars against Marsilio's translation seriously shake 



scholae etiam Germanicae et quae ab Ecclesia Rqmana Catholica sunt aversae ad eadem (scil. ad Ecclesiae 
dogmata) excitentur, nonne adolescentium suorum mentes pia dogmata imbibent et facile ad Catholicam 
redibunt fidem? Longe sane facilius quam vel censuris Ecclesiasticis ullis cogantur aut saecularibus 
armis . . ." Cp. also Patrizzi's Ariftoteles Exotericus (ibid., fol. 49 vb sq.) where the Parmenides is used 
to prove the superiority of Platonic over Aristotelian metaphysics. 

*) Plato, Opera, interprete lohanne Serrano, ed. H. Stephanus, Paris 1578, preface: "Certe, ut verum 
fatear, illorum interpretum tenebricosa insomnia me a leftione Platonis olim abSterruerunt ; sed experi- 
entia didici Platonem esse extra omnem culpam, eamque in interpretum malesanam diligentiam esse 
derivandam." The first volume of this edition was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. 

*) Plato, Opera, ed. cit., Ill 125: "Unde erit perspicuum hunc dialogum non mere 9eoXoyix6v 
esse, ut vulgus interpretum ait, sed partim 6eoXoytx6v, partim (pu<rix6v. Agit enim non modo de 
prima causa, sed de secundis etiam, id eSt naturalibus." 



48 MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

his authority. 1 The conception of Plato, and particularly that of the 
Parmenides, remained dominated by Marsilio's interpretation. 

His influence is still found in eighteenth century Oxford when J. G. 
-Thomson, of St. Edmund's Hall, published the first separate edition of 
the work, calling it on the title-page Parmenides sive de Ideis et de Uno Rerum 
Principle? The same tradition permeates the writings of the first English 
translator of the Parmenides, Thomas Taylor, who in his introduction 
remarks: "Hence, in the following most important dialogue, under the 
appearance of a certain dialectic sport, and as it were logical discussion, 
Plato has delivered a complete system of the profound and beautiful 
theology of the Greeks." Accordingly, his translation bears the sub-title 
*A Dialogue on the Gods', "for," he remarks, "as ideas considered accord- 
ing to their summits or unities are gods, and the whole dialogue is entirely 
conversant with ideas and these unities, the propriety of such an inscription 
must, I think, be apparent to the most superficial observer." 3 

Taylor's translations appeared when Coleridge was a student at 
Cambridge; they may have given to his Platonic studies their particular 
bent 4 and may have stimulated his interest in Proclus and Marsilio. At any 
rate, he writes : "If there be any two subjects which have in the very depths 
of my nature interested me, it has been the Hebrew and Christian Theology 
and the Theology of Plato. Last winter I read the Parmenides and the 
Timaeus with great care." 5 And it will have been these two books which 
he studied "in the old Libraries" for his "curious metaphysical work". 6 

But more profound and lasting than elsewhere was the influence of 
the Neoplatonic tradition in Germany. A certain depreciation of logic 
and a corresponding exaltation of dialectical metaphysics had been 

*) Cp. c.g. Louis Leroy, the famous translator of Plato into French at the time of Francis II: 
"Le bon seigneur n'dtait gueres expert en grec ny en latin; il a failly infiniment traduisant son autcur"; 
and other authors quoted by C. Huit, La vie et J'oewre de Platan, Paris 1893, II 443 sq. 

) Oxford 1728. 

*) Tbt Cratylus, Pbaedo, Parmenides and Timaeus of Plato, transl.from the Greek by T. Taylor, London 
1793, pp. 245-299. In a long peroration he "earnestly entreats" the sceptics and the impure "not to 
meddle with the ensuing dialogue." 

*) Cp. J. H. Muirhead, Coleridge as a Philosopher, London 1930, p. 38. 

) Letter to W. Sotheby, 10 Sept., 1802 (Letters ofS. T. Coleridge ed. E. H. Coleridge, London 
1895, nr. 130, I 406). 

) Letter to T. Poole, 14 Dec., 1801 (Unpubl. Letters ofS. T. C., ed. E. L. Griggs, London 1932, 
nr. 91, 1 189). 



PLATO'S PARMENIDES IN THE MIDDLE AGES 49 

chara&eriftic of many German philosophers, from Master Eckhart and 
Nicholas of Cusa to Hegel. To these thinkers the Parmenides and its 
Neoplatonic descendants seemed welcome allies in their struggle against 
the fetters imposed on rational thought by the principle of contradiction. 
Thus Proclus' and his followers' interpretation of the dialogue is explicitly 
acknowledged by Hegel, and its traces are found in many a commentary 
of recent times. 

However, already in the seventeenth century a reaction had set in. 
When Leibniz as a young man edited and annotated Nizolj's De veris 
principiis etvera rationephilosophandi contra pseudophilosopbos, he Still regarded, 
in conformity with tradition, the Parmenides and Timaeus as the dialogues 
embodying Plato's profoundest do&rine: 

Qui specimen profiindissimae Platonis philosophiae cupit, is legat non 
interpretes etiam veteres, magnam partem in turgidum ampullosumque sermonem 
ineptientes, sed ipsum Parmenidem et Timaeum quorum ille de Uno et Ente, id 
es~t Deo (nam nulla creatura e$~t Ens, sed Entia), admiranda ratiocinatur, hie 
naturas corporum solo motu et figura explicat, quod hodie tantopere novis 
nostris philosophis merito sane probatur. 1 

Yet at the same time his opposition to the accepted view is manifest, 
in the first place when he insists that not the commentators, but Plato's 
own works should be Studied; secondly, when he determines as the subject 
of the Parmenides "the One and Being, that is God", implying the con- 
vertibility of Unum and Ens. Both these divergencies from tradition show 
a certain similarity with Pico's treatise De Ente et Uno y the insistence on 
independent interpretation as well as the denial of the transcendency of 
the One over Being, a similarity which could hardly be accidental. For 
it is clear from Leibniz's introduction to his edition of Nizoli that he was 
then already well acquainted with the philosophical controversies of the 
Quattrocento, with George of Trapezunt and Theodorus Gaza, with 
Bessarion and Ficino, and in particular with the writings of Pico whom 
he called "the Phoenix of his age" and whose plea for the Scholastics 
against the humanist Ermolao Barbaro he quoted with approval. 2 



*) Marti Ni^plii Anti-Barbarus pbilosophicus . . . , p. 345, Francof. 1674; (Die pbilos. Scbriften IV 
176 Gerhardt, Berlin 1880). 

) Ibid. t fol. d 3 V , Francof. 1674 (Die pbilos. Scbriften IV 152 G.): "Johannes Picus de Mirandula, 
sui aevi phoenix . . ." 



JO MEDIAEVAL AND RENAISSANCE STUDIES 

It was against Ficino's attitude of the mystagogue that Leibni2 later 
directed his criticism, contrasting with the sober teachings and lucid diction 
of Plato himself the hyperbolical and visionary pronouncements of his 
pupils. At the same time, he emphasized the need for a reconstruction of 
the "system of Platpnic philosophy" : 

Ficinus et Patricius ont ensuivi Platon, mais mal, a mon avis, parce qu'ils 
se sont jet6s sur les pensees hyperboliques, et ont abandonn6 ce qui estoit plus 
simple et en meme temps plus solide. Ficinus ne parle partout que d'iddes, 
d'ames du monde, de nombres mystiques et choses semblables, au lieu de pour- 
suivre les exaftes ddfinitions que Platon tache de donner des notions. 1 

De Platone certiora dicere possumus, quia eius scripta extant, ex quibus 
noscendus est, non ex Plotino aut Marsilio Ficino, qui mira semper et mystica 
affeantes dicere tanti viri doctrinam corrupere; quod miror ab eruditis parum 
animadverti. Non sine admiratione vanitatis humanae notavi Platonicos posteri- 
ores quae magister egregia, do&a et solida dixit de Yirtutibus et iustitia, de re 
publica, de definiendi ac dividendi arte, de scientia veritatum aeternarum, de 
notitiis menti nostrae innatis dissimulare, quae vero illi excidere ambigua aut 
hyperbolica, cum forte genio indulsit et poetam agere potuit, de anima mundi, 
de ideis subsistentibus extra res ... a praeclaris illis discipulis avide arripi, in 
peius detorqueri et multis novis somniis onerari . . . Itaque saepe miratus sum 
nondum extitisse quendam qui syfiema philosophiae Platonicae daret. 2 

Thus Leibniz was to pave the way for a new approach to Plato, 
guided by the study of the dialogues themselves, independent of the 
interpretations of ancient and modern Neoplatonists. 3 Yet, clearly defined 
as it seemed to him, the task he envisaged of reconstructing "the system 
of Platonic philosophy" plunged philosophers and historians once more 
into a new ireXaycx; 



) Letter to Fouchcr, 1686 (Die pbilos. Scbriften I 380 G., Berlin 187$). 

*) Cbarofteriftifa universalis, fragment (Die pbilot. Scbriften VII 147 sq. G.). The desire for a 
'system of Platonic philosophy' is repeatedly expressed in Leibniz' letters, e.g. to CoSle and to Remond 
de Montmort (Die pbilos. Scbriften HI 436; 605 G.). 

8 ) The firfit commentary to the Parmenides in which the authority of Proclus and Marsilio no 
longer dominates the author's outlook was written by the Abb Conti (i.e. the Venetian nobleman 
Antonio Schinella), Illustrayjone del Parmenide di Platone, con una dissertations preliminare, Venice 1743. 
Conti had through several mutual friends been conne&ed with the aged Leibniz in whose correspondence 
"cet illuSlre Abbe, homme d'un excellent esprit" frequently appears (e.g. Letters to Remond, Die philos. 
Scbriften HI 618; 638 G.). 

As from Oriel College, Oxford. RAYMOND KLIBANSKY. 




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