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F I C I N 0'5 DE
Hermetic Tradition in 1964, the word "Hermetic" and its cognates
became terms to conjure with . Following Yates's lead, other scholars have
treated "Hermetic" as if it were roughly synonymous with "magical,"
and they have often tried to understand the meaning of these two words
for Renaissance culture by referring to the thought of Marsilio Ficino,
especially his De "i(a coelitus comparanda. This treatise on astrological medi-
cine, hereinafter called De vita III, is the third part of De vita libn' tres,
completed in 1489 and widely read thereafter as the most important state-
ment of a philosophical theory of magic in the early modern period. I
While I agree that Ficino's philosophy became the basis of European think
ing about magic in the post-medieval centuries, I have argued elsewhere
that Ficino's contributions to tbe theory of magic should not be called
"Hennetic." The Hennetic that Fieino translated from Greek, and
I. P. Y1tes, Ciorrla"" BtwINl IlNl IN Htnflfflt TrvJilion (London. 1964), 4+-82; idml, "The Her-
metic: TraditiOD in Rtnaimnce Scimoe," in C. S. Singleton, ed .. Art, Sritnct lind HUIoty ill/N
Rt>IIlWollltt (Baltimore. 1968).255-74. For Y1Ies'S influence in Ihis regard on Ol ber writers, see
my "Nnurn M3gic, Hmnerism 1nd Occul tism in Early Modern Science," forthcoming in
prllisGlJ of IN Scitflrif .. RtwJwliot!. ed. R. WtslDWI md D. LiDdberg. See ;dso Mllmlii Fitini ...
optnI tf ,MMiudtmu alilnr (1576; repro Turin, 1959). 1: S29-Sn, hereafter cited as Ficino, DVCC.
Other rd"ereDCft to Ficino', works will be 10 this JaIl1e edition u Ficino, 0ptnI.
the Latin Asclepius that he cited say little of theoretical interest about magic.
Hence Ficino looked to other sources from antiquity and the Middle Ages
for the metaphysical and cosmological ingredients of his magic, ingredients
lacking in the Hermerica. In three previous papers I have tried to show
how Ficino found the principles of his magic not in the Corpus Hermeri.
cum but in Plotinus, Proclus, Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers of com-
parable stature.
Here, I shall extend this line of argument to three texts
of later Neoplatonism- the De insomniis of Synesius, the De mYSleriis of
Iamblichus, and the Oraculo Chaltl4ica.
Synesius, lamblichus and the Chaldaeans all appear in the twenty-sixth
and concluding chapter of De vila Ill, where Ficino picks up threads of
his commentary on Plotinus which had originally inspired his iatromathe-
matical treatise and which formed the substance of its first chapter. Be-
cause Ficino cites Plotinus regularly in De vita III and because he wrote
a long commentary on the Enneatb, the reader can consult tbe commen-
tary to illuminate Ficino' s use of Plotinus as a theoretician of magic; the
influence of Hermes Trismegistus is more difficult to determine. ) Most
of what scholars have mistaken for Ficino's commentary on the Hermetiea
(despite Professor KristeUer's identification of the material) was actually
written by Leevre d'Etaples. Moreover, Ficino mentions Hermes in only
three passages of De vita III, only twice by To discover Ficino's
attitude toward the meager magical content of the Hermelica, we must
examine the context of those parts of De vita III in which Hermes ap-
pears. Ficino's use of various Neoplatonic philosophers in those contexts
will be especially enlightening.
All three sections of De vila III that make use of Ficino's Hermetica refer
2. Copmtuver, " Hennes Trimneginus. Proclul and the Question of a Theory of Mlgic in
the ". read at the Folger Libnry Conference on TrismegiJtul in Mlrcb, 1982,
and In the jperl of that conference; idem, "Sthowrie Philosophy and Rmaiwnce
Mag.c 10 the of Mauilio Ficino:' RQ, 37 (1984); 523-554; idem, "RelUisun Magic
and NeoplaloDic PhIlosophy: E""raJ " .3-5 in Pieino's Dt vil<l tor/llNs t'''''p''r12tukJ,'' forthcoming
in Alti Jd Omwgrw i"'fTMrio",,1t Ji stud! $WI /.fllm/i(l Fiti"". Naples. Florence, Figline Valdamo,
May. 1984.
3. Ficino, DVCC, 570-72; on DVCC, the &1IfIMh and Ficino'l PIotinUi commentary, Stt Copen_
hJVtt, "E,,1INIi
4. Fiano, DVCC, 548, 561, 571-2; d. 540-41, 550 where the referenus ue not to rono's
Greek Hmnnial or to the Latin AJtlrpnu builO the UbtT Hn--nmu Ik XV Skllis and the IN
bus Itm"."" two of the "popubr" Hmnttit" of the Middle Ages, on wbich Stt A . J.
Fntugib"e. '-" RMz",Um J'Hmnb (Paril, 1950-54), 1: 146- 186, 169; KriJleller,
Stlpplt1lll"fl1ltm I ; cxxix-c:xxi; d. Vltn, Bn.1kI. 28-35, 3nd 40, note I.
- 443 -
to the same two "god-making" passages of the Asclepius.
Ficino made
no attempt in De vita Til to ground his theory of magic in a close reading
of the fourteen Hermetic whicb he had translated because, as I be-
lieve, any attempt to derive such material from the eclectic and philosophi-
cally jejune Hermetica would have been fruitless. The three passages that
use the AscfepiUj are not so much references to philosophical arguments
as appeals to authority, the venerable authority of the Hermes whom Fi-
cino thought to be a contemporary of Moses,6 Ficino's clearest intention
in the three passages is to show that the god-making magic described in
the Asdepius is effICacious, i.e., that the artificial, material structure of a
talisman or statue can cause it to be inhabited or animated by a spiritual
being, a demon. Analysis of Ficino's reasoning and sources in these pas
sages will also reveal an obscurer purpose: to admit that this efficacious
magic might nonetheless be illegitimate, an idolatrous breach of the first
and second commandments and a sin against religion.
Fiono's reader waits until the thirteenth chapter of De vita III for his
first encounter with Hermes, a single sentence in a list of authorities-
including Synesius, lamblichus and the Chaldaeans-who claim that rna
gicians can cause spiritual beings to enter material objects. Arguing at
this point for the efficacy of talismanic magic, Ficino makes no clear state-
ment about its legitimacy.' But in chapter twenty, having announced his
suspicion that the evident power of talismans arises tlQlurally from the matter
that constitutes them ratber than artifuially from the figures that they bear,
he hesitates, writing that
the Egyptians attribute so much to statues and images fabricated with
astrological and magical technique that they believe spirits of the stars
are sealed inside them. But some think that these spirits of the stars
, . . are demons . . . , [and] whatever they may be, ... tbey think they
are implanted in statues and talismans no differently than demons
5. AJtltp. 23-24, 37- 38; subsequent refereoccs to this work will include page and line numberl
from the Bude text (Paris, 1946) of Noek and Fnmgirn.
6. On the we of Hermn in doxographk Of gene-alogial as opposed to theoretical contexts,
Stt Copmfuvn, "Natural Magic." .
7. Ficino, DVCC, 548: Quales (imlgiDeS qux movercntW"j et TrismegUtUJ ait ex
Ctttil mundi mlI terlil fxcTe COIUueviJJe ec in e;u opponune animas cbemoaum iruerere 5Ollios
alquc mi= avi sui Mercurii: Axltp. 23 (326. 1-2), 37 (347.13-20. 348.3-6), 38 (348. 19-349. 1):
for other authoritin lined in this jlIJuge, Stt Urjra. DOtes 13, 16, 27, 29, 33 and Copenhaver.
"Proclus. "
....... 444 ......
sometimes possess human bodies .... We believe that these things
can actually be done by demons not so much because they are con-
strained by a particular [kind] of matter as because they enjoy being
worshipped. We will discuss this elsewhere more carefully.8
Having once again establi shed the effuacy of talismans, imputing it either
to material or demonic agency, Ficino then raises the issue of legitimacy
by comparing the animation of statues to demonic possession and by identi-
fying an obviously evil motivation for the activity of the demons. Then
Fiano abruptly suspends this religiously sensitive discussion of the Hermetic
smues, which make their Snal appearance in the Snal chapter of De "ita 111.
Mercuriw enters this concluding chapter as a precursor of Plotinus, the
inspiration of Plotinus' belief that
the ancient priests or magiciam used to capture something divine
and wondrous in statues .... [Plotinus] along with Trismegistus sup-
poses that, strictly speaking, divinities altoget her separated from mat-
ter are not captured through material objects but cosmic [divinities]
only, as I have said from the beginning and as Synesius agrees ....
Mercurius, whom Plotinus foUows, says that these are aerial
demons- not celestial. much less anything higher- ... [and] he adds
songs resembling the heavens in which, he says, they take delight
and thus remain longer in tbe statues and do good for men or else
do them harm. [Mercurius) also says that when the wise men of
Egypt, who were also priests, could Dot convince people by rational
means that the gods existed ... , they devised this magical entice-
ment (illicillm) by which. att racting demons into statues. they declared
them to be divinities. But Iamblichus condemns the Egyptians be-
cause they not only took the demons as steps, as it were, on the
path to higher gods but also frequently adored them .... Mercurius
says tbat the [Egyptian] priests took from the nature of the world
8. Ficino, DVCC, 561: Aegyplii tantum SUtui5 inuginibusque attribuunl arte Utronomic. tt
fabriealis ut lpiritus stdlarum in til includi puttDI. SpirillU aUltnl stelJarum intdligunt
alu qUldcm ... tkmonas ... qualescunque lin!. in5tri StaluiJ n imaginibul arbilr.lIDtur. non aliter
31; soIeant humaru. nonnul1quam corpon ocxupare .... Quae quidem DOS per cbemonas
pone putarnus non wn m.neru. nerta cohibitos quam cullu pudmles. Sed haec alibi diligm-
I1US; 24 (326.9-1 1). 37 (.}47. 1S-18). 38 (.}49.5-6); Aug. Cill. D. 8.24. 10.11; D. P. Walk.
tt. Spt"tJjQ/ GNi DtmOfli( MGgit- Fili"" U1 Q,"'pGM'I.., Studies of the Warburg Innitule 22
(London. 1958). 41, nOle 2. '
a suitable power and mixed it in Iwith the statues]. Plotinus fol-
lowed him .... 11
This last point on which Ficino heard Hermetic echoes in Plotinus in-
troduces an allusion to Plotinus' theory of seminal reasons, an important
technical component in the metaphysics of Plotinus' magic and also in
Ficino's.lo Given Plotinus' importance for FiOOo in De vita III and else-
where, his SHation wi th Hermes in chapter twenty-six. would seem to
imply a positive evaluation of Hermetic statue-magic. When Ficino finds
Hermes and Plotinus agreeing that only cosmic-as opposed to
hypercosmic-numina enter tbe statues, the AsdepiI4J and the Enneads be-
come the basis for a theologically cautious approach to lower cosmic powers
rather than high gods. On the other hand, the numina mumJanQ of the
AsclepiI4J are demons lured by an idolatrous rite to enter statues where
they can do harm to humans, and (as Augustine had warned) the Egypti-
ans who fust made the statues used a deception, a "magical enticement,"
to trick thei r people into a blasphemous belief. The demons take delight
in astrological song, recalling the illicit worship condemned in chapter
twenty and the demonic chants scorned by Michael Psellos in chapter thir-
If chapter thirteen was silent on the legitimacy of statue-magic
and if chapter twenty seemed to condemn it, what may we conclude from
the ambiguities of chapter twenty-six? Can we learn anything from the
other authorities-Synesius. lamblichus, the Chaldaeans-associated with
these ambivalent references to the Asclepius?
9. Ficino, DVCC, 571: Plotinus ... Mercurium imitatus ait vtteres IJottrdotd sive in
statuis ... divinum aliquid el mi17ndum lUscipeu wlitos. Vult autem una cum TrismegiSio per
muerialia haec non ploprie lUscipi nwnina prnitul a mateN 5td munduu lantum, III
ab inilio dixi tI SyndiIU approlnt. ... MercuriIU ipst, quem PIOIinU$ Jequilur, inquit memonll
aerios non ooelnles ntdum sublimiores . .. . Adiungil anlus ooelestibus limiles quibus, ait. em
delectari sutuisqlle lie acksse diutiw tI ptodesse bominibus vd obtm. Addit upienld quondJ.
Aegyplios. qui n sacerdotes tr:Jnt , quum non POSK1lt ntiooibU$ ptrsuadtu populo esse ckot ...
nt'ogitasse magkum hoc: (illicium) quo, demonas allicimtes in lIatuu, esse numhu
Sed bmbli,huJ damnn Aegyptios quod daemonas non solwn ut gradul quosdam ad.
dcos investigandos xctprrint 5td plurimum adouverint .... Merturius sacttdotes all " eer
virtuttm a mundi natura convenitnttm amqut m;scuisse. SequutW hunt PlotinlU ... ; the Ba5C1.
1576, edition has iIIit-illl", in the p:uuge above; for the imporunt emendation to il/ieillm I am
gnttfulto the editorial work of Carol Kuke and John Clarke on DVeC; IlJelrp. 24 (326.9-
11,14-15),37 (.}47. 1G-IS. 18-19; 348.8- 10), 38 (.}49.J..7, 8-11); Plot. E,,,I. 0 . 11.1-2, 8-10.
134-14, 16-18, 23-24.
10. On seminal reasons in Plotinus and Ficino, see Copenhaver, "E/I/luJ 4.3-5."
11. Aug. Cill. D. 8.24; SIIpru, n. 8; fOI Michael Psellos, in/N, nOle 27.
- 446 _
Ficino, who translated Synesius' treatise 0" Dreams, calls on that work
in chapter twenty-six to confirm that hypercosmic gods play no part in
statue-magic; tbe matter of statues, which are artificial forms of lower
nature, attracts only Flumina mundana, cosmic divinities. Ficino had made
the same point in hi s first chapter, where he al so cited De insomniis to
show that lower material forms, acting as baits or lures for higher enti-
ties , can attract at least some powers of Soul. "Such congruities of forms
to reasons of the World-Soul," wrote Ficino, "Zoroaster called divine baits
(illius), and Synesius al so confirmed that they are magical lures
(illecebrae)."12 Synesius appeared again in chapter thirteen in the list of
authorities on animated statues, where Ficino's purpose was to show that
matter can receive demonic and divine as well as celestial gifts. Ficino took
all this material on magical enticement (though not on pneumatology,
another important influence from Synesius) from the first two sections
of De insomniis. He found these preliminaries useful , no doubt, because
of their evident deri vation from Plotinus' exposition of natural magic in
Ennead 4.4.30-45. "Nature is everywhere a sorceress, as Plotinus says and
Synesius also, everywhere enticing particular things with particular baits."
Recapitulati ng Plorinus' account of cosmic sympathy as the basis of natural
magic, Synesius insisted that such magic can provoke divine responses.
All members of the cosmos are
parts of one living organism . . .. Even to some god, of those who
dwell wi/hin the universe, a stone from hence and a herb is a befit -
ting offering; for in sympathizing with these he is yielding to na-
ture and is bewitched .... [Butl whatsoever of the di vine element
is outside the cosmos can in no wise be moved by sorcery. U
12. Ficino, DVCC, pp. 531. 571: Congruitate5 igitur tiusmodi formarum ad m ione, animae
mundi Zor<mter divinas illices et Sync:sius magias e5Joe ilkabw confinnavit; d.
Syn. IrIMlmll. XCIi " Tj mrn. Cll cWtClI. whi,h in his tnnslat ion of Syne5it
(Optnz. p. 1969) FIClIlO renlkrs: Consllkrauone vera dignum est utrum hue tendant iIlius vel
mot:acillac magorum; lee l iso illJrrl, oote 13. The edition of Dr irlMl"",iiJ by N. Ter.zaghi in Syrrtsii
Cyrttrrnsls "pustllla . gmci et latini con$iIio Aa demiae Lyncrorum editi (RoDie. 1944).
the text ID Mignt'. PC. For an E.nglish \enion. Joe.: A. Fitzgerald. T1tt<lY' and Hym/U
oj Synmuf oj Cyrttrt (Oxford, 1930). which comai ns an exteruive introdU<:lion and note5. See
also J : Bregman. Pl.iLnopkr.BUlwp(Berkeky, 1982). 145-1>4; C. Ucomhude.
<it c:ym.t, t r ClrrllK-rr (Paris, 1951), 150- 169. Walker, Magic, 39, note 1 also men
tlons Sync:slus as an Imporunt SOUftt for Neopluonic pneumatology, another impoUlnt ingre-
dient in Ficino's magi<:.
13. Ficino. DVCC, 549, 570: Ubique igilur nuun maga e5t, ut inquit Plotinu, atque Synesius.
- 447 -
To this Plotinian material Synesius added the notion or magical
charms. which he would have found in various Neoplatonic commentaries
on the OracuLJ Chaldniea. The of the Chaldaean Oracles - which are
both magical material objects and immaterial processions hom
became Ficino's illices and illeubrae, magical lures to attract divme pow
ers. Since the original was a bird, the wryneck, whose striking be-
havior seemed a visible sign for invisible powers capable of attracting the
circling heavenl y gods, Synesius used it to introduce an anal ogy between
the act of casting a spell (6i).:yuv) and the act of giving a signal (O'l'ijJ.Cl (vtl'J).
Like other Neoplatonists of his era, he wished to distinguish a base, illegiti-
mate magic from a nobler, licit magic, and he drew his distinction on
the basis of the distance between matter and mind. As a magic of signs
rather than things, divination had a greater share in the divine intellect
than the lower yOT}'ttlex that bound the magus downward to matter. H
Thus, at the end of his introductory remarks, Synesius saw no danger
in explaining IlClV'tttCl or divination, but in his "law-abiding treatise" he
found no place for 'ttAt"tCXl, which Ficino translated pleonastically as "ex
"" fi d , Is .. 15
pialiorl ts . " so emulatesque, pun lCatlons an n ua .
What were the rituals to which Synesius objected? From his own ac
videlicet a rta quaedam pabuli, ubique cert is inescans ... : Syn. /rIMl":lI . 132?10-_13: l..b(:rilpw itw
XCIi WtW Cllhov; tI ",mov hipov lli,y.o: XCI\ S" XCII tlVl tWV, &law
toU xOa",ou tv&vOl XCll l3otoXVfl1tpoa1)x'I, oTt; Oy.olO1'!Cl9wv , 'extl tt 'fWlI )((11..1
FiriDO. Opffla, 2: 1969: Ambo enim iDa et unius wn.t membr:a' ... A:tqul et allCUl
ex deorum numero mumhnorum lapi$ hic herbave c;ongrult . qUlbus qlWl camp-mens IUturx cxdlt
ac veluti fascinatur: EuolY' Hymlll. 329-330 (my iuliet); piol. E,m.
42. 14- 17,43. 12-19: Copenhaver. " Proclus." . '
14. Syn. IrIMlmn. 131a7-9, 132cl-5, 133bl4- 15; A. Smith. Potp"yry'J plt m ,lit
Tnu/illoll: A SnJr in POJI.P/oJmiall Ntepi.l r(lfliJm (The Hague. 1974). 90 fr.. the nouon
of higher and lower theurgie5 (inJrrl. note 19). beginning with such eadier authonue5 1.5
Lewy and ScKbno. From Ficioo' s mnslation of Syn. (IIIJ1R1. 12). It.1S
that he ident ified the physiu\ as. among other thmgs. the m"wlli.l or wagtaIl (d. Phn. !
37. 156), although the of the ancients W2S the wryneck. Jynx limJwili.l. Ficino also
the m"fa.'ili.l in DVCC. 533. On variou$ aspectS of the see OriJ{. ChaM. frg$. n. 206 Lid
Places)' Midtxl P1d\o$ Comm. ill On:ar. ChoW. 133a3-b4, 1149a1().-b1l ; Psdlos, F.;qm Jogm. C . .
n. i _ll '''-6' Oralio 1000NNu Pici Mir<J ,.alli.lni, in G. Pico della Mi randob, Dr J.o", iniJ aign,IIII(,
7\; U Cos "wl ' .. Pauly
H(Pkiplus, DrtllU' (1lIII0 ( Juilli l'llri, ed. E. Ginn (Florence. 1942), 152; $Cn. if
WiUOWI, RE. 'JIJ/ 2. coil . 1384-86; Han$ Lewy. Clralrlotan OracksallJ nt;rgy; MaR
ana PlaumiJm ill lilt Lal" Roman Empirr. Publiutions <It: d
rccher,he5 d'arcMologie, <It: philologie et d'hi$toire, 12 (Cairo, 1956), 132- 134, 156-157. .
15. Syn. l ruomn. ... XCIi u An.:u; !Ltv. illil ,,'I)8i xWUtW,
1ttl96!a'olO(' Sl O:Tlo&t9:tC!6clI: Ficino. 0pmI, 2: 1969: qul<lt:m
solcnniutesque sed ni hil in praesenti, $Crmo moveat dvili tantum legi fidem adhlbens; Fllzgenld,
EuolY' and Hymns, 330.
count we may gather that illicit uAna were those magical procedures
that trapped the magus in matter. unlike the higher rites of divine mantic
that released him. That statue-magic (which Proclus called UAt<TttXiI from
uAt-Iv, "to consecrate") was tbe ritual that offended Synesius seems likely
when we turn to lamblichus' views on the subject- Iamblichus. whom
Fiono cited along with Synesius as an authority on the statues.
Iamblichus wrote De mysteriis. which Ficino also translated, in response
to Porphyry's Lttter fO Antbo. a skeptical query into divination, theurgy
and the role of gods and demons therein.H In general, lamblichus' strate-
gy was to make the cause for efficacious. legitimate theurgy and divina-
tion through a series of distinctions and exculpations. He ascribed any
evil detected in these practices to human rather than divine agency, or
to demons rather than higher divinities, or to bad demons rather than
good demons. He al so distinguished bad ritual. marred by buman error
and evil, from good rites guided by divine intention. IS In particular, he
described theurgy, including its ritual components, as a continuous process
of two stages, a lower initiatory tbeurgy and a higher culminating {heur-
gy. Lower theurgy, wbich appealed to cosmic gods, depended principally
on the ritual manipulation of material aUllfJoAa and GUv9i1lla-ca appropri-
ate to such lower divinities; its efficacy came from the GUIl1ta9tla that
unified and vitalized the living cosmos. But the efficacy of higher theurgy
addressed to hypercosmic gods originated in divine love, that tran-
scended cosmic sympathy. Although the higher theurgy still included ritual
elements, its final stage was immaterial or intellection that led to
union with the divine; tbe theurge reached these heights, however, from
lower initial rites more dependent on material objects. These lower rites
had their own sphere of efficacy, but since their power flowed from cos-
mic sympathy such effects were confined to the world of nature and to
the lower di vinities assigned to that realm. Unless they led the operator
to the immaterial, noetic stages of higher theurgy, whose autonomous
16. Ficino. DVCC. 549. 571: E. R. Dodds, TItt Crn-b "nJ IItt frmliDfttll (Berkeley. 1968). 291-95.
17. R. T. WalW. Ntopla/Ollism (London. 1972). 105-110. 120- 23: on IamblichuJ. !hcurgy
and Dr mrs/mis, _ also Ln Mrsrms J'gyp/t. ed. E. IXs Places (paris, 1966).5-33: 8. D. Ln-
Jell. i"mb/;.,wt Ik c""ldJ. tI plrilosopM (AarhuJ. 1972). 14-196: A. H. AnnSlrong. eli .
T1v OJmbriJgr 4IfUIt1 em-lo"nJ &"y Mn/itv.J/ Plril4l"'plry 1970). 283-301:
and "peCali}, . Smith. Porplryry'J PLct. 81- ISO.
18. Iamb. MyJI. 82.9-15. 83. 16-84.4, 91.9-92.7. 103.2-10. 114.3-115. 15. 142. 18-143.3,
144. 1-8. 155. 18-156.3. 160. 15-161. 2. 176.3-178.2.219. 12-18.
- 449 _
powers transcended the cosmos, the material rites of lower theurgy were
worse than incomplete. They were dangerous.
The perils in lower theurgy stemmed from human evil or human ig-
norance, not from any fault of the gods. If human operators were evil,
if they confused the special rites required by the na.tures of
cosmic and cosmic gods, if they made mistakes m conductmg the ntuals,
if they forgot that the lower theurgy of sympathies was only antecedent
to the higher theurgy of intellection, they might find themselves not ris-
ing to divine union but mired in the depths of otherness and vulnerable
to the fierce, capricious powers governing there.1'o Even worse than failed
or incomplete attempts at theurgy were other rituals that not theur-
gic at all. To distinguish such practices from theurgy, lambhchus called
them !pvtaGlla-cWv Saulla'toupr(a. the "thaumaturgy of phantasms" or
"wonder-working through illusions." The genuine theurge contemplat-
ed the true essential forms (ttOl1) of the gods, but the thaumaturge only
handled their false artificial images (ttOwAa). If this trickery derived any
good from power descending from on high, through the cycling
down to the darkest margins of the All , such good was merely phYSical ;
it came from magical technique, not theurgic contemplation. In describ-
ing this non-theurgic magic, lamblichus had especially in
the making of images, which he condemned at length III De mysrcnls. He
ended his critique of the thaumaturgy of statues with a comment that
recalls Ficino' s claim in De vita III to be describing images but not ap-
proving them: "One must know about the nature of this thaumat urgy
.. 21
but by DO means use It or trust It .
lamblichus shunned statue-magic not only as a distraction from theur-
gy but also as an invitation to evil, perverse demons who deceived men
and harmed them: "If we were to speak truthfully now about images
the evil demons who pretend to appear as gods and good demons, it IS
. hf that
clear that a great maleficent host streams mto t. em .rom . .
source .... ,,22 Ficino knew what lamblichus feared. He Cited hiS allXleUes
19. Smhh. Pphyry'J PLct. 91)-99. 105-107, 110, 149: lamb. Myst . 96. 11-98. 15. 126.17- 127.3.
13514- 136 10 1391-4. 184. 1-13.209.4-211.18.
20. bmb. MyJI. '70.18-71.18.72. 12- 17,82.9-15,88.5- 9. 176. I3-tn. 12. 196. 13-197.
227. 1_228. 12.229. 17-230.6,231.5- 232.9. . '
21. Iamb. Mpl. 167.9-15. 169.1- 110.2. 170.7-10. 171.5- 13, t75.1.J-14:. W<IU
XCI! lOu-:-.,... -t\1ICIt [Xu ,""\II. Ol\i '/t\atl.1,ttIY FlO
OVCC. 530: d . Opml. 1: 573: 2: 1891: Walkn-o Mllgie. 42. nolt _J . , _
22. Iamb. MYJf . 190.8-12: Et Yoip ti11'19Wc; &.pn llLYOlLtY '/ttpl 'l:W ,{&:lAW\' XCII 'l:WY xaxw
...... 45 ......
in fifteen of De vita III while describing correspondences between
types of and varieties of demons, and again in chapter eighteen,
after having set forth warnings from St Thorn" 0 d ..
. . n emomc unages:
lamblichus says .that those who neglect sanctity and the highest pie-
ty, who put their trust in alone and expect divine gifts from
them: are most often deceived In this regard by evil demons who
rush In the guise of good divinities. Yet he does not deny
certam natural goods can result from i.mages constructed accord-
Ing to legitimate principles of astrology.21
Ficino's striking restatement of lamblichus' view that statue-rna ic
was thaumaturgy rather than divine theurgy comes in
twenty-me, where
Iamblichus condemns the Egyptians ... because they frequently adore
the demons. In fact, he prefers the Chaldaeans to the Egyptians as
not possessed by demons-Chaldaeans I main" ,'n wh
" f " o were
0 religion, for we suspect that Chaldaean as well as Egyp-
tried somehow to attract demons through celestial
armony Into earthen statues.
The demon-ridden Egyptians whom Iamblichus repudiates here are of
course, the deornm of the Asciepil4s, for the gods they made
mere ElOwAa, mere baits for evil demons, no true gods at all. 24
" :h.e Cha1daeans whom lamblichus admired were, according to Ficino
nHnmers of religion"; they were not makers of demonic astrological
ages .. ChaJdaeans or Magi or followers of Zoroaster appear fre uentl in
De IIlIa III as proponents of various astrological doctrines, of
1o ... L . .. -
......... two- lmoxplYo",l_ T1r- tw.. 91wII)Ii tw.. d: aw... Sa
tt )ITO.ipOIlllna.t ll"l:Iij(Jtllilt lOll t!\ _ jQ . r.ol.u O1p:ov
176.13- 178. 11. llO.ltOr.OtOv TIIl.OII. lbiJ. 82.9- 15. 129. 18-130.6. 172.15-17,
. Ficino. DVCC. 551. 5S8: bmbl ichus ait eos ui . . .
Ita. ImaginibuJ duntual can ... ,b . d . q, 81
Jumma posthab.
. 11, IVma munen h ' ,.
JmlC falli sub praetexlu . .b :Ie In a rna IS Uiilmlonibus UM>is-
. ... " "Ulnmum OCClilTtntl IU Com' '. . -r
anrologiac conslructit naluralia q bo . lamen ex Ima81mhw kgilirna
172. 15-17.176. 13-177. 10, 178. 4-5, negar: MYSI. 91.9-,
nas. SuIllI7W Contrll Gm/ita, Ill, 104-105. at I' .. .' Optro. 2. 1881. 1886, 1891-93: Aqui
Philosophy." ' 0Jj lIS Dptrrl1Wlll/llMfM, 17. 20: CopcnhaVrT, "SchoLulit
24. Ficino, DVCC, 571: Sed bmblkhus A .
adornerinr. Chakbeos VttO .J _____ :l...._ egypt lOJ quod cUemonas ... pJurimum
, . . u;ocm" .. luuS non oa:upalOJ Acgyptiis .
'8Ioms anuslltcs. nam anroJogos lam Chaldacoru - mquam,
vic dannolW ptt lurmoniam codcstml . m AegypllOrum quocbmmodo
167.9-176.2,246.16-20.247.11_248 2' /n. trahert SUJpiccmuJ: d. h.mb. MYSI.
. IClIlO, ""'r'Y, 2: 1890-92. 1901: AJCItp. 38 (349.8).
....... 4SJ ......
unrelated to the issue of demonolatry and traceable to Macrobius, Albuma-
sac, Peter of Abano and other sources.25 Another set of Ficino's ChaJdaean
references, however, comes from the Oracula ChafdtJit:a. They contain the-
ological teachings, Zoroaster, for example, called material forms "divine
baits" for powers of Soul, and a pre<:ept of his Chaldaean diSciples en-
couraged the mix of medical and theological concerns that we find in Fi-
cino: " Raise up a fiery mind to the work of piety, and you will save a
fallen body." From Michael Psellos' Commemary on the ChaldtJean Oracle5.
Fiano would have known that this "work of piety" referred to "the
methods of the rituals," i ,e., to theurgy, but he also knew that lamblichus
treated pious theurgy as just the antithesis of demonolat ry. 26 More prob-
lematic is the following item from Ficino's list of authorities on animated
statues in chapter thirteen:
To evoke a spirit from Hecate, the Magi, ... follower s of Zoroaster,
used a sort of golden ball marked with celestial characters and contain-
ing a sapphire within; as they chanted, it was whirled about on
a sort of thong made from bull's hide. 1 gladly omit the incanta-
tions, of course, for Psellus the Platonist also disapproves and derides
Act ually, it was in reference to the entire description of these material
that Psellos said " the whole thing is silly talk," but, as far as Fici-
no knew, this bit of nonsense-clearly a recipe for demon-worship- did
not come from the Oracles themselves. Nothing corresponding to it oc-
curs in the compilation of Oracles available in his time.
Moreover, Psel-
25. Flrino. DVCC, 542. 552, 556, 560, 562. 567: M:acrob. CD"''''. 19. 1; Yatcs. SnlIIII, Sot.
70; M. J. 8. Allen, TIw PiIlr,,"ism /I/AlIlrJi'w Fitin(): A SruJy o/ltis ph3Cdrus OIl11l11trt111ry, lu SDwl'fts
lind Cf1'ItSis 1984), 118-19: C. Bezold. F. Boll and W. Gundel. Sltmg/flwbt w"J 51..,.,,'
tinrwJlg: CM CNltitltu w'" daJ Wtstn dtr Aurologil' (Uipzig. 1926). 21, 25, 29. 91- 95 .
26. Ficino, DVCC, 565: ... prateeprum iIIud Chaldacorum: ... Si menlml ad pietatis opus
ardentml corpus quoque aducum SttV3bis: Or.u. CIw/J. frg. 128: ... mp\OII
IIOUIIlP'l'OIIir. PIl.ICJt!\v lUll IIWf!<l PsdlOJ eo"'lII. 1I4Ob1- 1I : ... lp-yu. Sh\xtr.'
"/IQP cd tWII ul.nw." lamb. Mrs" 178.3- 18; JWprll. nOle 12: d . DVCC,
531,533,534,562: Or.u. CIwl/J. frg. 150: PJeIlOJ CD"'III. ll32bl - lJ, cl-ll. ..
27. FlCino, DVec. 548--49: Magi CfIinctiam l.onstri kCtatora ad ab Hec1le sl"nrum
aurea quadam pib imignita codcslium cui uphynu enr insertus. ct
scula quadam XU tauri rorio IIcrtcbatur alque interim cxtanulnt. Sed ellllioncs equidcm libenlel"
omillo. Nam el PsdluJ Plaronicus en impmbat deridel; PKilOJ 01111"'. IllJaJ-b4:
Si. 'C!\ r.ciII9l.CNlpGII: Orwfll 1Ml't1l .2oru<ufI'iJ 01111 JClwliis PMlli. in 5ibylliflll miltllW ..
tltltrULlil /IC rrmrwlll ... "prot tl JlwJio &.va'i; CIIlldti 1689), 78-91: d. E. Des plXd,
td., Or./n: ClwliJlliqwn /III w,HIwix cDml'Plt'lllllim Ilrt(itns (PariJ, 1971), 52- 53, frgs . 77.206,123.
_ 45
los' analysis of lUntc; that are mentioned in the Oracles known to Ficino
treats them not as physical devices for working magic but as immaterial
powers flowing from above, much like tbe "divine baits" of Zoroaster
that attract soul to matter. Thus, one can discern throughout IX vito III
at least a rough distinction between Chaldaean piety and Chaldaean as-
trology, a division that corresponds to what Ficino saw as lamblichus'
choice of the Cha1daeans over the Egyptians.28 The implication of this
distinction-as in general of Fieino's use of Iamblichus in the " Hermetic"
contexts of De vita llI- is to devalue Hermetic statue-magic and elevate
the status of Cha1daean theurgy.29 One may call Ficino's iatromathematics
"Chaldaean" or "Hermetic" with equal imprecision.
Thus far, our analysis of lamblichus, the ChaldtJean Oracles and Syn-
esius in IX vita III indicates that Hermetic statues and astrological talis-
mans are to be avoided as demonic thaumaturgy. Even genuine but lower
theurgy is a danger unless it leads to V61jG1C; and the higher gods. For
Ficino, as philosopher and Platonist, the attractions of noetic theurgy were
powerful. His whole philosophical career was a pledge of fealty to what
lamblichus called the "intellectual and incorporeal law of the priestly [art
that governs] ... every part of theurgy." But the laws of theurgy that
lamblichus proclaimed gave small comfort to Ficino the physician. In lam-
blichus' view, only men of poor character would show much interest in
the merely physical efficacy-including therapeutic efficacy-of lower theur-
gy which, when con6ned to its own material sphere, kept the operator
vulnerable to demonic affiiction. The ambitions of a perfected theurgy
were, for lamblichus, necessarily hypercosmic.
If the Platonist in Fici-
no was perhaps tempted to follow this sublime path in his magic, the
Christian in him must have trembled to aim so high except through ritu-
als sanctioned by the Church.
Had Plotinus been Ficino's only guide in constructing a theory of mag-
ic, his choices would have been simpler and hi s results - if one may
speculate -clearer. Plotinus never mentioned theurgy, a Chaldaean novelty
28. OraoiIA magic" ZonIiuIrU, 80-81. 89: Drw. chaW. frl!:. n; Psdlos Cernrn.
12. 24.
29. Ficino, DVCC. 549, 571: foe olhn" of bmblichu, ill DVCC not )'eI: diKUiSCd. Jee
ibiJ . 538, 549, 562-65. 571-n: lamb. M'(". 100.3-7,11- 18, IOS. IG-II, 114. 7-9.
118.16- 119.4. 134.7-9. 169.4-14, 175. 15-178.2, 215. 1-7, 230.4-6, 232. 10-234. 4, 253.5-6.
255.9-11, 258.6-11.269.9- MOO, Opmr. 2: 1882-87, 1891-92, 1904.
30. hmb. M'(' / . 219.1- 225.3, 225.3-5: ... IIOlpOy lUIIl SlOP-OW &i.
c11.ulnWIII:rI:lpi :n:&vta. djt; "to: 1l4ni; IWpru, nolC 19.
- 453 _
introduced into Neoplatonism by Porphyry. Magic for Plotinus was en-
tirely a product of sympathy in the All. Like aU else, sympathy could be
traced to causes transcending the cosmos, but it opened no route to those
f the sage Because there was no magic without sympathy, all
for PI ,"nus was natural magic. Had Ficino been content to advo-
magic or 0 I . .' h.
cate nothing more tban non-demonic, natural magtc for medical uses, t IS
constraint might have suited his purposes. But from such sources Iam-
" h Psellos and the Choldaean Oroc/es, Fiono learned of a magic that
ICUS, ed b Od d
reached beyond sympathetic effects and act as a n ge to .an
" II " d union 31 Knowledge of these more ambitious
tVWGlC; mte echon an . h h
put temptation and complication in Fiono's way. As the Ig
noetic theurgy, initiated in a lower magical theurgy, app:oached dl-
" Mi d "!appealed strongly to tbe fundamental Platomst yearmng for
vine n,l Ch . f
pure immaterial union in the One, yet from a . ostlan pomt 0
the unonhodox rituals required to satisfy such yeanungs.
best grav .y
Faced with these conflicts, Ficino brought hIS treause on magic
suspect. . h hapter
to an ambiguous, perplexing conclusion in its c .'
The last authority whom Fiono cites in this last chapter IS
whom he calls upon to reinforce a point taken from Plotinus, a pot.nt
to contradict the Plotinian principle of a purely sympathetdlc,
. d san seml-
mic magic. Given the proper connections among leas, orm
nal reasons, writes Fiono,
higher gifts may also sometimes descend, in so far as reasons in
Wid-Soul are joined to intellectual forms of that same Soul
them to ideas of the divine Mind, as lamblichus also agrees.
Actually, the integrity of Plotinus' theory of magic was.sec.ure for
tive readers who, like Ficino, knew tbat magic, an human
tion could not cause the descent of divine gifts. Men Wise enoug .
" ,he Dins simply took advantage of their presence, through magl
recogruze c f h d" Iy or-
or through prayer. Magic is given in the nature 0 t togs, fly
dained, and some men are clever enough to 6nd it. When :: it-
mentioned the divinized statues of Hermes, he used them. slmp.y s ae-
lustrate the general metaphysical principle that even they
cessible to humans could be fit receptacles for the dlVtne- ( oug
'f ' 62 "'" 5 207.7-208.6; Doddl. Imllioll<ll, 285: Smilh. Porphyry'. p!.Mt.
JI. bm . .. '('I. ..,. . J 4 )-5 "
92- 94. 122- 127. 147; Sllpru. notes 19. 28: Copenluvn", EntiN .
...... 454 -
bec3me so 3S 3 consequence neither of divine intention nor of human
Iambiichus broadened and transformed this principle, 3S
Ficino noted at several points:
lamblichus confirms that not only celestial but even demonic and
divine powers and effects can be caught in material objects which
are naturally in sympathy with higher beings if they are collected
and gathered in from various places at tbe proper time and in the
correct manner.
So taken was Iamblichus with the magic of material objects duly purified
and suitably assembled that he described them as working ex opere opera-
This automatic action might have been 3 desirable addition to a pure-
ly natural magic. But since "higher gifts may also sometimes descend,"
Ficino must have recognized that the continuity of lower with higher
theurgy in Iamblichus opened a path to divinity that was philosophically
enticing but religiously menacing.
More attention to the historicity of his sources might have resolved
some of Ficino's confusions. His admiration for the Hermetica and his in-
terest in their t18WA01tOllCX were, after all , results of an error in dating.
In addition, it is worth recalling tbat the pbilosophy of Ficino's Pla(onici
saw considerable change over a period of centuries: Plotinus began to write
in A.D. 253; Porphyry, who introduced the Oracles to Neoplatonism,
edited the Emleads after 298; Iamblichus wrote De mysteriis before 300;
Synesius' treatise on dreams dates from 405-406; Proclus died in 485; Psellos
studied the Neoplatonists in the eleventh century.JoI All the successors of
Plotinus altered his themes and added to them, and if Ficino had been
32. Fiano, DVCC. 572: Fieri vero posse qUl.ndoqut: Ut ntionibus ad fonnas sic adhibills sub-
limiora quoque dona dnc.eoda.nt, qUl.ltIlUS rationes in anima mundi coniuocUoe SUOI intelleUl.lj
!xu eiusdem animae formis atque per iIlas divinae menti, ilieU. Quod et b.mblic.hus approbat ubi
de perjrlcii, agit: d . ibiJ., S49, 565: lamb. Mys' . 169.4- 14.232.5- 234.4: rono, Opm, 2: 1736,
1745-48. 1891 , 1898-99: Plot. Elflf ., 11.1-{i;, 24-29, 48-50. 32. 1-32,
34.33-38, 35.4-8, 22- 23, 36.25-27, 37. 17-20, 40.1- 9, 42.6-19; Smilh, Parphyry'J l Ji.Ju. 127-28:
Copenhavtt, " &lfnlJ 4.3-5."
33. Fieino, DVCC, S49: lamblichu.s in INterii$ quae naluu.liter superis consemaneae Jim el
opponune nteque collcclae undique alDfUtaeque Nerint virts dfcctlllque non solum coelents sed
eliam daemonicos el divinos swcipi posse confirnlat: b.mb. Mpt. 96. 11 -97. 19, 232.5-2.J.i.4: Fiei-
no, 0pmI. 2: 1882, 1898-99: IUpru. notes 13, 23, 32.
34. Walker, TIw Allritrrl T/woIDgy: StudiN ilf ClrriJlialf PlmonumJrom Ilrt Fiftfflllir 10 rlrt Eiglrl.
mllir Ctnfllry (London. 1972), 17-21: F. Purnell, J r., " Francesco Palnti and the Critics of Hermts
- 455 .....
interested in their development as much as their ideas, he. might have been
. . the contradictions among them. Yet m the end, other
more sensItive to .. & Ch .
. . F 's magic especially those ansmg om os-
sources 0 tenSIOn 10 lcmo, . . .
. . b . Neoplatonic m3gic had been nototlOUS m LatlD
tlamty were more aSlc. ,.
Christianity since Augustine wrote the Cil-y o f G o ~ an.d It to remam
. F ' I med efforts to reconcile magic with philosophy and
so esplte Icmo s ea . d h f h
.. CI .y. the tension between Ficino' s learnmg an IS alt
rehglon. an mg f . 1Il
h I
d d the m
otivation of the last sentence a De VIla , a
e ps us un erstan . h .
. f Ch thodoxy: " ... how Impure was t e superstt-
confession 0 mtlan or . f h
. f h pie but by contrast how pure the pIety 0 t e
(Ion 0 t e p3gan pee ,
Ospe ....
meOIVal &, Renaissance
texts &, stuOles
Studi es In
P au l Oskar
Honor of
Kri s teller
,dited by
m bIV31 &. QmaISSMlC texts &. StuOIS
Binghamton, New York