Merlin Cox (SAS) - 2018-19 Students

The Renaissance of Platonic Theurgy from Ficino to Agrippa

My project examines the rebirth of ancient Platonic theurgy in the thought of the Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino (1433–99) and the German humanist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486–1535/6). In Iamblichus’s (c.245–c.325) Reply of the Master Abamon to Porphyry’s Letter to Anebo and other late antique works, Ficino rediscovered theurgy (theourgia, ‘god-work’), a ritual process that sought the soul’s union with the gods through mediating daimons and using natural objects and names understood as divine symbols. These ideas helped to inspire the radical religious magic of Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia (1533), which definingly influenced Renaissance esotericism. I aim to show how the pagan theurgy of Iamblichus shaped Ficino’s and Agrippa’s conceptions of efficacious ritual and divination, and how they absorbed and transformed it, turning it to problems of early modern Christianity.

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