Marsilio Ficino published two letters in the selected collection of his correspondence in 1495: one of them was an offensive letter written in Buda around 1485 by a certain Ioannes Pannonius who criticized Ficino's theory (or misunderstood words?) about divine providence and the nature of fate. Ficino and one of the main figures among contemporary intellectuals in Europe, did not just respond to the intellectual echo of the “Transalpine barbarian” land, but a few years later published their discussion as well. Who can this mysterious friend be in Buda who was involved in what was perhaps the first public philosophical-theological debate in Hungarian intellectual history? Or maybe he was just a fictitious, created persona against whom Ficino wanted to defend himself and his philosophy publicly? Although the identity of Ioannes Pannonius has been shrouded in mystery for centuries, this paper – despite the dirth of available information – argues that the unknown correspondent was a real person and not a work of fiction of the Florentine Platonist, and tries to outline his very fragmentary biography.
Ficino, M. (1576). Opera, et quae hactenus extitere, et quae in lucem nunc primum prodiere omnia […], I–II. Ex officina Henricpetrina, Basel.
Ficino, M. (2001). Platonic Theology, I, tr. M.J.B. Allen, J. Warden, lat. text ed. J. Hankins, W. Bowen. Harvard University Press, Cambridge–London.
Ficino, M. (2003). The letters of Marsilio Ficino, VII, tr. by members of the Language Department of the School of Economic Science. Shepheard-Walwyn, London.
Gentile, S. (1994). Marsilio Ficino e l’Ungheria di Mattia Corvino. In: Graciotti, S. and Vasoli, C. (eds.), Italia e Ungheria all’epoca dell’Umanesimo Corviniano. Olschki, Florence.
Kőszeghy, P. (2011). Dubitatio utrum opera philosophica regantur fato an providentia. Irodalomtörténeti Közlemények, 115/2: 168–173.
Martius Narniensis, G. (1934). De egregie, sapienter, iocose dictis ac factis regis Mathiae ad ducem Iohannem eius filium liber, ed. L. Juhász. Teubner, Leipzig.
Veress, A. (1915). Matricula et acta Hungarorum in universitate Patavina studentium (1264–1864). Typis Societatis Stephaneum Typographicae, Budapest.
I publish the original Latin text from Ficino's 1495 edition, because he proofread the whole book (Ficino, 1495, 145v; see also: Ficino, 1576, 871): „Dubitatio utrum opera philosophica regantur fato an providentia. Ioannes Pannonius Marsilio Ficino Platonico. S[alutem]. P[lurimam]. D[icit]. // Legi Budae in epistola ad Bandinum, item in prooemio tuo super Platonem et in prooemio Theologiae tuae quantum astruas providentiae. Quod aliquis esse fati suspicabitur, primo non video equidem ad quid serviat providentiae renovatio antiquorum. Deinde non est Christiana illa antiquorum Theologia, praeterea memini cum olim in Italiam profectus Latinis litteris et Graecis erudirer Florentiae me a duobus vestrum astrologis audivisse te ex quadam syderum positione antiquas renovaturum philosophorum sententias. Quam quidem positionem syderum etsi audiverim non satis recolo, sed te arbitror meminisse immo et per te invenisse. Adduxerunt item illi astrologi ad suum iudicium confirmandum quod fatali quodam tempore antiquum cytharae sonum et cantum et carmina Orphica oblivioni prius tradita luci restituisses. Mox et Mercurium Trismegistum antiquissimum traduxisti et Pythagorica multa. Item carmina Zoroastris explanavisti et antequam Florentia huc redirem transferendo Platoni manum iniiceras, iisdem (ut equidem suspicor) astronomicis auspiciis. Quod autem haec non tam providentia quam fato quodam fiant abs te illud etiam argumento est quod ante haec omnia antiquum quenda philosophum sive poetam, utpote adhuc adolescens leviter propagasti. Quem deinde meliori fretus consilio suppraexisti, et (ut audio) pro viribus extraxisti, neque fuerat illud divinae providentiae munus quod ipse aetate prudentior factus merito iudicasti damnandum. Equidem te amice moneo caveas ne forte curiositas quaedam sit isthaec renovatio antiquorum potius quam religio.”
Huszti (1925), 64; Kristeller (1973), I, CLVII–CLVIII. Although there is not any concrete biographical date in Ficino's answer, its reference to his Plotinus commentary suggests a later - even one of several years - date for both letters. More precisely: after January 17, 1486. Kristeller (1973), I, CXXVI–CXXVIII., or even Kőszeghy (2011, 171).
Perhaps at Bandini's house who was a kind of Ficino's “Platonist ambassador” in Hungary, and had an influential - or rather a central - position in the court of King Matthias. He was on friendly terms with such powerful and educated Hungarian statesmen as Miklós Báthory, the bishop of Vác, Péter Váradi, the archbishop of Kalocsa or Péter Garázda.
The “G1” is Kristeller's abbreviation: Epistolarum ad amicos libri VIII. (Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 73. Aug. 2°).
His studies in Bologna can be deduced only based on Galeotto Marzio's two words, according to which Vitéz Jr. was his former disciple and housemate (fuerat olim Galeotti discipulus et contubernalis). Martius Narniensis (1934), 26 (cap. 27). If this is true – Fraknói and Veress think so – then his studies could have been before the conspiracy against King Matthias, some time between 1463 and 1465, when Galeotto was the rhetoric teacher at the University of Bologna. Fraknói (1899), 291. Veress (1941), 46. However his name appeared in the matriculation registers of Padua between January 14, 1467 and May 23, 1468 where he obtained a master's degree in canon law. Veress (1915), 13–14.
Regarding this, it is also worth mentioning those four letters where ecclesiastical rank can not be found. One of these is the letter: Marsilius Ficinus Francisco Salviato (Ficino, 1576, 667). In the second letter Ficino did not refer to Soderini's Bishopric dignity but in the third letter, he indicated Soderini's law degree: Francisco Sodorino Iuriscivilis peritissimo (Ficino, 1576, 672, 798). And finally the fourth letter was also adressed to Raffaele Riario without any rank (Ficino, 1576, 800). Among these, the two letters to Soderini are also the evidence that Ficino was not only aware of the Church appointments of his correspondents but he also referenced them in his letters. Soderini was appointed the bishop of Volterra only on March 11 of 1478. The letter (Ficino, 1576, 672) was dated before 1476, while the letter (Ficino, 1576, 798) was written just before his appointment, because Ficino's fifth book of letters (which includes this too) consists of his letters between Sept. of 1477 and Apr. of 1478. As it can be seen in the table above, Ficino always mentions Soderini's episcopal rank in the other eight letters. Francesco Salviati's letter has no date (Ficino, 1576, 667). Ficino's first book of letters includes the letters between 1457 and 1476, but he rearranged them. For this reason, it is not certain that the date of the writing of the letters can be determined based on the present place of the letters in the book. A good example of this is Salviati's letter shown in the table above, where he was already called “archbishop of Pisa” (Ficino, 1576, 649). Salviati received this ecclesiastical rank on Oct. 14 of 1474, thus the (Ficino, 1576, 649) could be written only after this date. Three letters before (Ficino, 1576, 648), is dated Oct. 10, 1474. So this fits with the letter (Ficino, 1576, 649) dated Oct. 14, which was written after Salviati's Archiepiscopal appointment. Furthermore, although the letter (Ficino, 1576, 660) dated Apr. 28 of 1474 was written around five months earlier than the letter (Ficino, 1576, 648), this is placed in a later page of Ficino's book of letters. It is therefore conceivable that the letter (Ficino, 1576, 667) without the Archiepiscopal address was written sometime before his appointment. The letter (Ficino, 1576, 800) was addressed “Raphaeli Riario & Francisco Salviato Archiepiscopo Pisano” by Ficino. This can be found in the fifth book of letters. Since this book includes the letters dated from Sept. of 1477, it is imaginable that Ficino wrote this before the Cardinal appointment of Riario on Dec. 12, 1477 (at that time the other addressee, Salviati, had long been the archbishop of Pisa).
I could not track down when Francesco Marescalco and Roberto Salviati did exactly obtain their church offices. The only individual who was certainly a canon at the time of the letter's writing was Domenico Galletti. However, Galletti was Ficino's friend from his youth and perhaps Ficino did not consider it necessary to indicate his canonical dignity.
The writer of the letter might be referring to the hymns of Proclus. See Kristeller (1973), I, CXLV, no. XXXIII.
Ficino (1495): „Mox et Mercurium Trismegistum antiquissimum traduxisti et Pythagorica multa. Item carmina Zoroastris explanavisti et antequam Florentia huc redirem transferendo Platoni manum iniiceras, iisdem (ut equidem suspicor) astronomicis auspiciis.”