Marsilio Ficino

On Love

On the origin of love

In the Argonautica, when Orpheus, in the presence of Chiron and the heroes, sang about the beginnings of things, following the theology of Hermes Trismegistus, he placed Chaos before the World, and located Love in the bosom of that Chaos, before Saturn, Jove, and the other gods; and he praised Love in these words: Love is the oldest, perfect in himself, and best counseled. Hesiod, in his Theology, Parmenides the Pythagorean, in his book On Nature, and Acusilaus the poet agreed with Orpheus and Hermes. Plato, in the Timaeus, describes Chaos in a similar way, and places Love in it. And in the Symposium Phaedrus recounted the same thing.

The Platonists define chaos as an unformed world, and world as a formed chaos. According to them there are three worlds, and likewise there will be three chaoses. The first of all things is God, the author of all things, whom we call "the Good" itself. He creates first the Angelic Mind, then the World Soul, as Plato calls it, and last the World Body. That supreme God we do not call a world, because world means ornament, composed of many, whereas God must be completely simple. But we do declare Him to be the beginning and end of all the worlds. The first world made by God is the Angelic Mind. The second is the Soul of the universal Body. The third is this whole machine which we see.

In these three worlds three chaoses are also considered. In the beginning God creates the substance of that Mind, which we also call its essence. This essence at that first moment of its creation is formless and dark. But because it is born from God, it turns toward God, its beginning, through a certain innate appetite. Turned toward God, it is illuminated by His ray. By the splendor of that ray, its appetite is increased. The whole of that increased appetite reaches out to God. As it reaches out, it receives form. For God, who is omnipotent, imprints on the Mind, reaching out toward Him, the natures of all things which are to be created. On the Angelic Mind, therefore, are painted, in some spiritual way, so to speak, all the things which we perceive in these bodies. There come into being the spheres of the heavens and of the elements, the stars, the natures of the vapors, and the forms of stones, metals, plants, and animals.

These forms of all things, conceived in that celestial Mind, by a certain fomenting of God, we do not doubt are the Ideas. That Form or Idea of the heavens we often call the god Uranus. The Form of the first planet we call Saturn, of the second, Jove, and so on for the rest of the planets. Also, that Idea of our fire we call the god Vulcan, of air Juno, of water Neptune, and of earth Pluto. Thus all the gods assigned to certain parts of the lower world are the Ideas of those parts collected in that celestial Mind.

But before that perfect conceiving of the Ideas by the forming God came the reaching out of the Mind to God. Before this reaching out came the increasing of the appetite; before this the infusion of the ray; before this that first turning of the appetite; before this the unformed essence of the Mind. Further, that still unformed essence we call Chaos. Its first turning toward God we call the birth of Love. The infusion of the ray, the food of Love. The ensuing increase of appetite, we call the growing of Love. The reaching out to God, the impetus of Love. The forming of the Ideas, the perfecting of Love. The combination of all the Forms and Ideas we call in Latin a mundus, in Greek a cosmos, that is, an ornament. The grace of this world or ornament is Beauty, to which that Love, as soon as it was born, attracted the Mind; and it led the Mind, formerly ugly, to the same Mind made beautiful. Therefore the condition of Love is that it carries things off to beauty, and joins the ugly to the beautiful.

Who, therefore, will doubt that Love immediately follows Chaos, and precedes the World and all the gods who are assigned to the parts of the World, since the appetite of the Mind precedes its receiving of the Forms, and it is in the already formed Mind that the gods and the World are born! Therefore Orpheus rightly called Love the oldest of the gods. Also perfect in himself, as if to say, self-perfecting. Since that original appetite of the Mind seems to act spontaneously in drawing its own perfecting from God and in offering it to the Mind, which is formed by it, and to the gods, who are born from it.

Orpheus also called Love the best counseled. And rightly. For all wisdom, to which counsel belongs, was given to the Mind, because it turned toward God through Love and shone with His glory. The mind is turned toward God in the same way that the eye is directed toward the light of the sun; next it sees the light of the sun; third, in the light of the sun it perceives the colors and shapes of things. Therefore the eye, at first dark and, like Chaos, formless, loves the light while it looks toward it; in so looking, it is illuminated; in receiving the ray, it is informed with the colors and shapes of things.

But in the same way that the Mind, just born and formless, is turned by Love toward God and is formed, so also the World Soul turns itself toward the Mind and God, from which it was born, And although it is at first formless and a chaos, when it is directed by Love toward the Mind, having received from it the Forms, it becomes a world. In the same way also, the Matter of this World, although in the beginning it lay a formless chaos, without the ornament of Forms, immediately because of a love innate in itself, it directed itself toward the Soul and offered itself obedient to it, and through this conciliating love, receiving from the Soul the ornament of all the Forms which are seen in this world, from a chaos became a world.

Therefore there are three worlds, and three chaoses. In all of them finally, Love accompanies chaos, precedes the world, wakens the sleeping, lights the dark, gives life to the dead, gives form to the formless, perfects the imperfect. Greater praises than these can hardly be expressed or conceived.

Quoted from De Amore, Translated by Sears Jayne (Spring Publications, Connecticut 1994)

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