Is Marsilio Ficino's commentary on the Symposium on Love a good book to read alongside the Symposium for someone who is reading the Platonic dialogue?

Does it give a good understanding of the Symposium that isn't too focused on the Christian ideas of love? I want a commentary that talks about the Symposium from a "general" perspective amongst scholars?

Also is Ficino's commentary good to read on its own after the dialogue to get a broader understanding of the notions of, platonic or not, the philosophy of love and friendship? Thanks in Advance.

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    See Marsilio Ficino: "Ficino authored commentaries on and summaries of Plato's writings, many of which he continued to work on for the rest of his career; these included the Timaeus, Phaedrus, Symposium (less a commentary and more of a free-standing dialogue), and the Philebus." Aug 2, 2017 at 17:00
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    And also: "Ficino’s commentary on the Symposium — an unorthodox dialogue itself loosely inspired by the original — became one of his most popular and influential treatments of Plato." Aug 2, 2017 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


Plato and Ficino - agreement

Plato's Symposium and Ficino's Commentary agree in 'the vision of spiritual love as an ennobling force, in contrast to carnal love, which debases, a vision which in Socrates' speech pro- duces the famous description of a ladder of love leading up to the pure idea of the good and the beautiful.' (Alan S. Trueblood, 'Plato's Symposium and Ficino's Commentary in Lope de Vega's Dorotea', Modern Language Notes, Vol. 73, No. 7 (Nov., 1958), pp. 506-514 : 507.)

Plato and Ficino - divergence

Ficino Christianises Plato : the spiritual love of which Plato talks in the Symposium is transformed, Christianised, by Ficino who 'broaden[s] it into a conception of love as the motive power of the universe.' (Trueblood, ibid.)

In more detail :

In the Symposium of Plato Ficino found the completion of the arc from God to man; for him the discussion of the meaning of personal love in the Symposium completed the pattern. Just as courtly love fitted into place at the end of the scale of Christianity, so the Symposium fitted into place at the end of the scale of Platonism; the pattern was complete, the two scales were really one, reaching from God to man and from man to God. All the physical drives of human love might be justified spiritually and at the same time idealized intellectually, because love in man is not only a God-given and cosmically necessary and irresistible search upwards toward a perfection which is both spiritual and intellectual; it is also an irresistible, God-given, and cosmically necessary compulsion downward to create the likeness of Divine Beauty in the physical world. Platonism and Christianity, seen as love, are one; and the term "Platonic love," which Ficino invented, embraces love in its widest sense. Love for Ficino is the dart in the eye and the fire in the heart of the courtly lover, becoming idealized through the process described in the Symposium and ultimately revealing itself as identical with the world force of Neoplatonic Christianity. All the known love traditions are fused to show how love between individual persons derives from the love between the individual and God. (Sears Jayne, 'Ficino and the Platonism of the English Renaissance', Comparative Literature, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Summer, 1952), pp. 214-238 : 227-8.)

This interprets Plato's ideas and arguments in the Symposium beyond anything Plato himself would have recognised.

Plato and Ficino - incompleteness

Jayne points out that Ficino's actual commentary is limited to only six specific passages of Plato's dialogue; its main thrust consists rather in the exposition of Ficino's ideas about love. Ficino's awareness of the dual nature of his treatise is reflected in a disparity of titles: he called his 1474 Tuscan version of the work Sopra lo amore and often called his original Latin treatise simply De amore with no reference to "Commentary." (John C. Nelson, 'Commentary on Plato's Symposium on Love by Marsilio Ficino and Sears Jayne', Italica, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Summer, 1988), pp. 164-165 : 164.)

Ficino - a good read ?

Make up your own mind from the online text : https://www.scribd.com/doc/149506301/Marsilio-Ficino-s-Commentary-on-Plato-s-Symposium-Sears-Reynolds-Jayne-A-M

Page through the Introduction and the Latin text to find the English version.

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