Author: Arthur Farndell
Plato’s Republic contains the declaration by Socrates to the effect that States will have no rest from their troubles until philosophers are kings or rulers have the spirit and power of philosophy. Marsilio Ficino (1433-99), whose 12 volumes of letters a team in the School has been translating and publishing during the last half-century, wrote a commentary to the Republic, an English translation of which, by a member of the School, was published in 2009 under the title When Philosophers Rule. A copy was sent to HRH The Prince of Wales at this time as we had heard that he was interested in Ficino, and a letter of thanks was received from the Palace.
The following year HRH The Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper, and Ian Skelly gave the world their magnificent work entitled Harmony and subtitled ‘A New Way of looking at the World’. In Chapter 3 of this work there appears the following sentence, in large font and startling red: ‘The renaissance in this learning reached something of a zenith a couple of centuries later in fifteenth-century Florence, where figures like the long-forgotten but tremendously important Marsilio Ficino began to incorporate Plato’s principles into the established Christian tradition.’
In 2017 the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall attended a reception in Florence, where the Prince was given the award of Renaissance Man of the Year by the Strozzi Foundation. In his speech of acceptance the Prince makes a number of references to Marsilio Ficino. He feels, for example, that Botticelli, in painting the Primavera, was guided by a slightly older man, referring to whom the Prince adds, ‘Sadly, he is not as well-known as he should be but, for me, Marsilio Ficino might even be called the father of the Renaissance.’ He goes on to speak about Ficino’s attempt to revive the idea of Plato’s Academy, refers to Ficino’s translation of all of Plato’s writings, and states that ‘it was effectively Ficino who ignited the great renewal of the philosophy of “wholeness” that Plato was so pivotal in defining – a renewal of learning and study of the natural world. The Prince gives the following paraphrase of Ficino’s words: ‘There will be some who observe that there is life in the lowest animals and the smallest plants, but they do not see that the whole, in which we live and move and have our being, is itself alive.’
There are also some who feel justified in hoping that HM King Charles III will go some way towards exhibiting the qualities that Plato and Ficino saw as inherent in the philosophical ruler.