Plato’s Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception

  Lesher, James, Debra Nails, and Frisbee Sheffield, eds. 2007. Plato's Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception. Hellenic Studies Series 22. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

15. The Hangover of Plato’s Symposium in the Italian Renaissance from Bruni (1435) to Castiglione (1528)

Diskin Clay [1]

It is not that Socrates did not drink with his companions at symposia; he did. The strange thing about the man is that no one ever saw him drunk. In Plato’s Symposium he leaves the company who had remained at the second day of celebration for Agathon’s victory in the tragic competitions of the Lenaia of 416 asleep and heavy with wine. He goes out with Aristodemus to face a new day and returns to his wife sober, only with evening. As we know from the opening scene of the dialogue, the memory of what was said and done at Agathon’s symposium is of great interest years later, but vague and faulty. As vague and faulty as this memory was, the Symposium has been recalled for nearly twenty-four centuries in imitation, emulation, constatation, and transformation not only in the dialogues of Xenophon, Plutarch, and Lucian but in the visual arts. I think of the bronze relief on a chest from Pompei showing Diotima and Socrates and Anselm Feuerbach’s painting of the company at Agathon’s (Karlsruhe, State Museum, 1869). In these fixed images there is none of the animation and accident of the moving sequence of the seven speeches of the Symposium and no reflection of its opening or its close, only “clichés.” Feuerbach chooses the most dramatic moment of Agathon’s {341|342} symposium, its disruption by the drunken and Dionysiac Alcibiades to represent the Symposium as a whole.

The Symposium was remembered selectively in Italy of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Its history in the humanist and Christian culture of the Italian Renaissance in Florence, Asolo in the Veneto, and the court of Urbino is a story of selective attention and amnesia that I cannot tell fully. This very partial report is appropriate to my theme, for the Symposium is fragmented in its refracted images in Italy, even as it is melded into a Platonic whole. I begin with the Latin translation of the speech of Alcibiades that Leonardo Bruni sent to Cosimo de’ Medici in 1435 and I end with Pietro Bembo’s speech in the fourth book of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier, finished in 1516, printed in 1528). One of the courtiers present during these conversations was Giulano de’ Medici, the youngest son of Lorenzo and, like his father, called il Magnifico.

We traverse then a period of four generations of the Medicis. It is fitting that Cardinal Pietro Bembo is buried in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva between the two Medici popes, Leo X and Clement VII. Before we begin with Bruni’s long career as a translator of Plato, we should note a transformation in Italian culture. Bruni translated the speech of Alcibiades in Plato’s Symposium into Latin. Marsilio Ficino’s De Amore (set on November 7, 1468 and written in 1469) is a brilliant attempt to recreate the Symposium in a Florence that for some had come to think of itself as the Athens of Italy. All of the speakers who assemble at the Medicean villa at Careggi speak Latin. But in the next century, the speakers of Pietro Bembo’s Gli Asolani (of 1505) and Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano speak less learnedly in the vernacular and under the influence not only of Ficino’s Platonism but of Boccaccio’s Decamerone. And, after Ficino, the printing press disseminates in Aldine octavos works once laboriously copied and illuminated. We owe the Bembo font to Pietro Bembo’s close association with Aldus Manutius.

What these Italian humanists found fascinating about the dialogue is obvious. They all moved in aristocratic circles and appreciated the ennobling prototype of their own societies in the Athens of Socrates and Plato. Plato had brought together the most brilliant Athenians of his youth. Of special fascination were the figures of Socrates, Aristophanes, Agathon, and Alcibiades (Symposium 172a–b). Then there is the unparalleled virtuoso rhetoric of the seven speeches of the Symposium, with all of their variety and drama and Plato’s stunning brilliance in creating the characters of his seven speakers. Then, for the Christian reader, Diotima’s speech seemed a faint reflection of Jacob’s ladder and a pagan anticipation of the ascent of the mind to God. Erôs is translated with no cultural hesitation into amor Dei.

Leonardo Bruni (1370–1444)

In the case of Alcibiades’ speech in the Symposium, Bruni confronted the delicate problem he had faced years before in translating the Gorgias: the frank and unabashed recognition of pederasty. His solution was simply to blink, look away, and leave the offending passages untranslated and, thus, to prepare for Ficino’s chaste conception of amor Socraticus in the next generation of Florentine Platonism. Another strange gift for Cosimo was to arrive in Florence from Milan. This was a poem in the vernacular with the Latin title Hermaphroditus, sent by the soon to be notorious Antonio Beccadelli (known as Panormita, 1394–1471). If Cosimo ever read these two manuscripts or Panormita’s epistle to Poggio Bracciolini citing Plato and his epigrams as an authority to legitimate his interest in homoerotic love, he would have been greatly puzzled. In Bruni’s translation of Alcibiades’ speech in the Symposium he could have found no trace of such a thing. Bruni discretely transformed Alcibiades’ account of his attempt to seduce Socrates and reverse the roles of erastês and erômenos (218b–219d) into an admirable confession of his pursuit of Socrates in search of wisdom. Bruni had, indeed, closed the door on the bedroom scene revealed by Alcibiades (Symposium 218b), just as he had closed the door on the flute girls who broke into Agathon’s sober banquet in the company of the drunken Alcibiades. In another age, Benjamin Jowett was to perform the same castigation of homosexual love in his Victorian “parody” of the praise of a philosophical pederasty in the Phaedrus. Pederasty translates into Victorian English as the sanctioned but eventually Platonic love of a married couple. This is one mode of translation: bowdlerization in commentary. Bruni practiced another tactic: truncation or the excision of the offending {344|345} parts of the dialogue. In this Bruni’s nemesis, Ambrigio Traversari, was of one mind with his enemy. When faced with the pederastic poems attributed to Plato in Diogenes Laertius 3, Traversari left them untranslated. Or rather he first translated them with a notation on the margin of his manuscript: Platonis amor and then cancelled his translation. [7] This cancellation of Platonis amor is a theme we will follow in Ficino’s De Amore, in Bembo’s Gli Asolani, and in Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano.

Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499)

Marsilio Ficino’s “commentary” or commemoration of Plato’s Symposium carried the subtitle, sive De Amore. It is not a translation like Bruni’s, which itself is not a translation; it is a reenactment of Plato’s Symposium. Its occasion is the banquet celebrated in the Medici villa at Careggi to commemorate the day of Plato’s birth on November 7, 1468. We have moved from the age of Cosimo de’ Medici to that of his grandson, Lorenzo, properly called il Magnifico. It was Lorenzo who reinstated the feast day of this pagan saint. The list of those present and their roles is as follows:


      Plato’s Symposium         Ficino’s De Amore

  • Plato                          Marsilo Ficino (1433–1499)
  • Phaedrus                   Giovanni Cavalcanti (c.1444–1509)
  • Pausanias                  Antonio Agli (1400–1477)
  • Eryximachus              Diotifeci Ficino (1402–1479)
  • Agathon                     Carlo Marsuppini (son of Carlo 1399–1453)
  • Aristophanes             Cristoforo Landino (1424–1498)
  • Socrates/Diotima       Tommaso Benci (1427–1470)
  • Alcibiades                 Cristoforo Marsuppini (son of Carlo)

The guests at Careggi comment on the speeches just read by the rhetor Bernardo Nuzzi, although their performances are described as orationes. They are also commentaries, and, as commentaries, they resemble Ficino’s commentary on Plato’s Phaedrus in their general tendencies. [12] In the Alexandrian mode of explaining Homer from Homer (Ὅμηρος ἐξ Ὁμήρου), they interpret Plato from Plato and authors who are described as Platonici and they reconcile Platonism with Christianity by the charitable device of allegoresis. [13] My exhibit is the speech that will take us to Bembo’s Gli Asolani—Cristoforo Landino’s explication of Aristophanes’ speech. Landino was a poet—Ficino calls him “an Orphic and Platonic poet” (28r/167 [4.1]). We will encounter his Platonic poem addressed to Bernardo Bembo describing Bernardo’s Platonic love for Ginevra de’ Benci as we introduce Pietro Bembo (Epilogue). Perhaps more than any of Dante’s Quattrocento commentators, Landino read Dante’s Commedia in the then fashionable manner of allegoresis. His perspective on Dante has now dimmed in the distance of what C. S. Lewis called “the discarded vision,” but this vision is relevant to Ficino and to the speeches of Carlo Marsuppini and Tommaso Benci. Landino describes Aristophanes’ meaning as “obscure and involved” (obscuram et implicatam, 28r/167 [4.1]). There is an indelicacy in Aristophanes’ myth. The hermaphrodite represents the seemingly normal union of male and female, but it is abnormal if both are combined into one. Landino clothes it in silence. For Aristophanes there were originally three sexes compounded into three rotund creatures: male and male, female and female, and male and female. Landino avoids the offensive word ἀνδρόγυνον (Symposium 189e) and translates promiscuum. And his astral allegoresis recognizes but does away with the problems Bruni faced a generation earlier. This passage is revealing of Ficino’s manner of reading, as it is of Landino’s (29v/168–31r/169 [4.2]): {347|348}

Hec Aristophanes et alia narrat per multa, monstris portentibusque similia, sub quibus quasi velaminibus quibusdam divina mysteria latere putandum. Mos enim erat veterum theologorum sacra ipsorum puraque arcana, ne a prophanis et impuris polluerentur, figurarum umbraculis tegere. Nos autem que in figuris superioribus et aliis describuntur singula exacte ad sensum pertinere non arbitramur. Nam et Aurelius Augustinus non omnia inquit, que in figuris finguntur, significare aliquid putanda sunt. Multa enim propter illa que significant ordinis et connexionis gratia sunt adiuncta. Solo vomere terra proscinditur sed, ut hoc fieri possit, | cetera quoque huic aratri membra iunguntur. Que igitur nobis exponenda proponitur, hec est summa.

Homines quondam tres sexus habebant, masculum, feminum, promiscuum, solis, terre, luneque filios. Erant et integri. Sed propter superbiam, cum deo equare se vellent, scissi in duo sunt, iterum si superbiant, bifariam discindendi. Sectione facta, dimidium amore ad dimidium trahitur, ut integritatis restitutio fiat. Qua completa, beatum genus humanum est futurum.

Summa vero nostre interpretationis erit huiusmodi. Homines, id est hominum anime. Quondam, id est, quando a deo creantur. Integre sunt, duobus sunt exornate luminibus, ingenito et infuso. Ut ingenito equalia et inferiora, infuso superiora conspicerent. Deo equare se voluerunt. Ad unicum lumen ingenitum se reflexerunt. Hinc divise sunt. Splendorem infusum amiserunt, quando ad solum ingenitum sunt converse statimque in corpora cecidere. Superbiores facte iterum dividentur, id est, si naturali | nimium confidant ingenio, lumen illud ingenitum et naturale quod restitit quondammodo extinguetur. Tres sexus habebant. Mares sole, femine terra, promiscuum luna genite. Dei fulgorem alie secundum fortitudinem que mascula est, alie secundum temperantiam que femina, alie secundum iustitiam que promiscua, susceperunt. He tres in nobis virtutes aliarum trium quas deus habet sunt filie. Sed in duo tres ille, sol, luna, terra, in nobis mas, femina, promiscuum, nuncunpantur. Sectione facta, dimidium amore ad dimidium trahitur. Anime enim divise et immerse corporibus, cum primum ad annos adolescentie venerint, naturali et ingenito lumine quod servarunt, ceu sui quodam dimidio excitantur ad infusum illud divinumque lumen olim ipsarum dimidium, quod cadentes amisere, studio veritatis recipiendum. Quo recepto iam {348|349} integre erunt et dei visione beate. Hoc igitur erit inter|pretationis nostre compendium.

This is the speech of Aristophanes; he has more to say with many strange and bizarre illustrations. We should think that lurking under these, as if under the cover of veils, sacred mysteries lie hidden. It was the practice of the ancient theologians to conceal their sacred and pure secret doctrines with the shadows (figurae) of allegory to prevent their being sullied by the profane and the impure. It is not our object, however, to claim that what is revealed by these allegories to be discovered in this speech and elsewhere have a precise correspondence to an allegorical meaning. Even Augustine says that not everything represented in symbolic form should be thought to have some deeper meaning. Many details are included for the sake of the sequence and connection of what they are meant to convey. The soil is broken only by the plow, but for it to be broken by the plough the parts of the plough must be joined together for it to operate.

Once human beings were of three sexes: male, female, and a mixture of both male and female. These were the offspring of the sun, the earth, and the moon. They were at one time whole. But, because of the pride that inspired them to be the equal of god, they were cut into two halves. And, should they wax proud once again, they would be drawn and quartered. Once divided, one half was drawn by its love for its other half to restore its original unity. Once reunited, the human race would in the future have a blessed life.

The essence of our interpretation is as follows: Human beings: meaning the souls of human beings. Once: meaning when they are created by god. At one time they were whole: meaning adorned by two lights, the innate light and the infused light so that they might contemplate [by the innate light] what is their equal and what is below them and, the light infused, so that they might contemplate what is above them. They wanted to make themselves equal to god: they turned to their innate light alone. For this reason they were divided: meaning that they lost the illumination of the light infused within them, and, when they first turned only to the inborn light within them, they immediately fell into bodies. If once again they wax proud they will be quartered: meaning that, if they place too much confidence in human intelligence, the inborn and natural light that {349|350} remains will to some degree be extinguished. They were of three sexes: males the offspring of the sun, women the offspring of the moon, the mixed sex the offspring of the earth: some received the brilliant light of the sun, because of their courage, which is a masculine trait; others moderation from the light of the moon, which is a feminine characteristic; others the light of the two, because of their moderation, which combined both lights, which is a feminine characteristic. These three virtues are the daughters of three others which god possesses. But in god these three virtues are called: the sun, the moon, and the earth; in us, they are called male, female, and mixed. Once divided, one half is drawn by love to its other half. For souls are divided and immersed in bodies. When they first arrive at the age of adolescence, the innate and natural light which they had received at birth, that is a half of themselves, prompts them to recover it to discover the truth: that is, the light infused within them that is divine. At one time this light was their other half, a half they lost when they fell. If they should recover this light, they will immediately be made whole and will find their final blessedness in the vision of God. This then, is a short summary of our interpretation.

Pietro Bembo (1470–1547)

The setting of Bembo’s Gli Asolani is the castle of Caterina Cornaro in Asolo in the north of the Veneto looking up to the distant heights of the Dolomites, but he was writing the dialogue in the court of Ercole d’Este during his stay in Ferrara. Appropriately, Caterina was at the time the queen of Cyprus, and love is the subject of a three-day conversation in the gardens of her court on the occasion of the marriage of a lady in waiting. The setting and form of the conversations is clearly indebted to Boccaccio’s Decamerone, a book (known as Il Cento) that the young Pietro Bembo presented to his Venetian lover, Maria {351|352} Savorgnan. [18] Bembo dedicated Gli Asolani not to the Queen of Cyprus but to Lucrezia Borgia, the recipient of many of his amatory poems. [19] Asolo seems a world away from the Florence of Marsilio Ficino. Plato is never mentioned by any of the speakers, but his Symposium is a minor and silent presence in the Queen’s garden, as is the passage in the Phaedo describing the “true earth” (108c–115a). [20] In Gli Asolani Bembo recognizes Aristophanes and Diotima. This might seem a strange pairing, but it is made already in the Symposium (212c) and, indeed, at the end of Tommaso Benci’s speech in Ficino’s De Amore. [21] Aristophanes’ conception of our original unity surfaces in the speech Gismondo delivers to counter Perottino’s (a mask for Bembo himself) hostile conception of love as “bitter.” The connection between amore and amaro is facile, as is the connection between amore and morte. Gismondo offers a praise of love and seems to recognize Diotima’s third step in the ascent to beauty—the love one has for one’s country and its institutions. [22] In the presence of the ladies of the court, Gismondo is inspired with a fervor that leads him into poetry and fable. He attempts to unite man and woman by appealing to Greek myth and asks Perottino if he has not heard of the tale of our aboriginal double and rotund unity. If Bembo had heard Landino’s speech in Ficino’s De Amore, Gismondo has not. Gismondo speaks of one union, that of man and woman, not three. But, in a tribute to Aristophanes, he compares our present segments—not to a flat fish but to a nut. [23] Bembo was to return to this image in Le Stanze, a carnival and juvenile poem of the future cardinal that was placed on the Index. [24]

Bembo transforms Diotima into the ancient hermit (romito) who instructs Lavinello on true love. There is much to comment on this the last reported speech of Gli Asolani (3.9–22). It mimics the speech of Socrates in the Symposium in that it is a dialogue (begun in 3.15). Lavinello’s teacher is not a prophet from Mantinea but a holy man who was prophetically expecting Lavinello as he left the Queen’s gardens for the wilderness to meditate on what he could say about {352|353} love (3.11). The hermit is an old man dressed in rags that look like bark (and therefore resembles contemporary images of John the Baptist) and he stresses his age when he speaks of himself and “the ancient masters of things sacred” (gli antichi maestri delle sante cose, 3.18). In this description he acknowledges the ancient theologians of Ficino’s De Amore. [25] Two passages of the hermit’s speech deserve notice. The first seems to have nothing to do with either Ficino or Plato. This is the hermit’s tale of the ever-virgin Queen of the Islands of the Blest (La Reina delle Fortunate Isole, 3.18) and her courtiers and suitors. She examines their dreams as they become visible on their foreheads by day and decides whether they are bestial or worthy of her. It is a parable Lavinello has never heard of and Bembo’s happy invention. The second passage derives from Socrates’ description of the “true earth” in the Phaedo (a dialogue translated into Latin by Leonardo Bruni and then by Ficino). There are many other reflections and refractions of Plato in this final speech of Gli Asolani, but in this mirror one can also make out the dim reflection of Cicero’s Somnium Sciopinis and Dante, a poet Bembo saw into print with Aldus Manutius. [26]

Baldessarre Castiglione (1478–1529)

The friend of Castiglione since Bembo’s arrival in Urbino (in 1506) and the now famous author of Gli Asolani, Bembo is briefly involved in the conversation of the first day of Il Cortegiano, as he, the author of the influential treatise on Prose della lingua volgare, argues that the principal virtue of the courtier is not arms but that arms are the ornament of the more fundamental culture of letters: l’e arme … ornamento delle lettere (1.45). One could revise the motto on the scroll on the device of Bernardo Bembo on the back of Leonardo’s portrait of Ginevri de’ Benci (for which see the Epilogue) and inscribe: ARMA VIRTUTEM ADORNANT. Pietro Bembo gives the final speech of Il Cortegiano. It has many connections with Bembo’s Gli Asolani, [28] and is Castiglione’s studied version of Diotima’s speech in the Symposium, but his Symposium is not Plato’s; it is Ficino’s. Like Ficino’s De Amore it melds the Phaedrus and the Symposium. It recalls Diotima’s Erôs as binding and mediating heaven and earth, represents her mysteries and the ladder of love, and recalls Socrates’ vision in the Phaedrus of the ascent of the soul to the celestial realm of nectar and ambrosia. Bembo concludes with his own prayer to Amor (transforming Socrates’ prayer in Phaedrus 257a–b). [29] He then falls silent, transported by a sacred madness (sacro furore). But he is brought to earth by a gesture of Emilia Pia, the sister-in-law of Elisabetta Gonzaga. The light of dawn is streaming in through the narrow windows of the castle. Venus is the only star still visible in the heavens. Mt. Catria stands starkly on the horizon. Emilia Pia pulls at the hem of his garment, and Bembo returns to earth, much as Socrates did at the end of the Symposium when he left the inebriated and sleeping survivors of Agathon’s banquet, returned to the marketplace of Athens and, at evening, to his wife. {354|355}

Epilogue: Bernardo Bembo’s manuscript of Ficino’s De Amore, Leonardo’s Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, and the Poetry of Cristoforo Landino

Lesher, Plato's Symposium, Ch15 fig.1

Figure 1. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Ginevra de’ Benci, obverse, c. 1474/1478. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, inv. no. 1967.6.1a. Photo, © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art. Online image via Open Access Program. {355|356}

Lesher, Plato's Symposium, Ch15 fig.2

Figure 2. Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de’ Benci, reverse. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, inv. no. 1967.6.1b. Photo, © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art. Online image via Open Access Program.

It has been argued that Leonardo’s portrait of Ginevra (Figure 1), now in the National Gallery in Washington, was commissioned by her Platonic admirer, Bernardo Bembo, who served twice as the Venetian ambassador to Florence (1475–1476 and 1478–1480), most recently and persuasively by Fletcher (1989), who identifies the emblem on the “porphyry” back of the portrait as that of Bernardo Bembo. The device shows a laurel and palm branch framing a scroll bearing the inscription Virtutem Forma Adornat (Figure 2). Bembo was {356|357} well known to Marsilio Ficino, as is attested by the thirty letters to him in Ficino’s epistolary. Of particular interest are two: that praising him as a poet and devotee of the Muses and that offering Bembo his reflections on an ideal symposium, translated in Ficino 1975– (1978:18, 42). There is also another letter of Ficino to Bembo in which he associates him with the circle in which these men moved and thrived and, as a poet, with Critoforo Landino 14 June 1477 (1981:20). Ficino styles the unmusical name Bembo as “a name musical to the Graces and most gratifying to the Muses, those in whom he most delights: Cristoforo Landino, a man worthy of Minerva and the Muses” (1981:51). Bembo owned an autograph copy of Ficino’s De Amore now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It is identified as his by his personal device (shown in Fletcher 1989:812). He was also praised by Landino (1970:46, 48) in his De Vera Nobilitat.

Bembo’s annotation to Christophorus Landinus, vir doctrina excellens (Ficino 1956:167n1) Codex Oxoniensis Bodleianus (Canonicianus Latinus 156) folio 21r is both revealing and, in one of its phrases, difficult to interpret:

Quod nos itidem plurimo usu celebrem agnovimus, dum Florentie legatum ageremus. Is qui nos in Bernardi filii de sacro fonte sublati compaternitatem adsciverit. Atque in ibi Ginevram Benciam Matronarum pulcherriman. Atque etiam virtute moribusque illustrem ellegantissimis carminibus coequarit.

Something we came to know as we became acquainted with this famous man from frequent contacts when we served as ambassador [of the Venetian senate] to Florence. It was he who invited us to become part of his family at the baptism of his son Bernardo. And in this same city he introduced us to Ginevra de’ Benci, the most beautiful of married women. It was Landino who matched the virtue and character of this renowned woman by his surpassingly elegant poems.

Fletcher notes Bembo’s personal reminiscence of Landino in her argument that he commissioned Leonardo’s painting (1989:811n3), but she does not reproduce the full text. The words Bernardi filli de sacro fonte sublati given here, are a puzzle. But my colleague Charles Fantazzi has suggested that they must refer to Bernardo’s role in the baptism of Landino’s son Bernardo. This suggestion is born out by the fact that Landino’s second son (of four children) was baptized Bernardo; see Simone Foà, 2004:429. The poem of Landino that seems to describe Leonardo’s portrait best is his Ad Ginevra (no. 26 in Landino 1939:159–160): {357|358}

Flavis crinibus aureisque pulchra
et nigris oculis, gena nitenti,
et tota facie nimis superba,
incedis tetrico, Ginevra, vultu.

Lovely with your golden locks,
your black eyes, your radiant cheeks,
and proud, too proud, in all your countenance,
you move in triumph with your forbidding look.

Ad Ginevram (or Ad Leandram) 26.1–4

Landino’s poem on Ginevra and Bernardo Bembo is long and rhetorical, and not to every Latinist’s taste. My colleague, Lawrence Richardson, Jr., offers the following comment on the poem: “It seems to me that Landino’s poem is not simply fustian, but almost bordering on doggerel. There is not a single trope in it that merits admiration, and the stock comparisons amount to an inventory.” Yet it seems that it was acceptable to and appreciated by the cultured circle in which Bembo and Landino moved. I give a further sample from the poem with a prose translation: [30]

          Qui nuper Veneta missus ab urbe venis,
          sensibus amplectans imis et pectore firmo
10      cantarem laudes, maxime Bembe, tuas,
          Bembe decus nostri, Musarum dulcis alumne,
          delitiae Charitum, Palladiumque caput.
          . . .
          sed curtis elegis Erato me iussit amantum
          usta cupidinea ludere corda face.
25      Quapropter Bembi castos ludere amores
          versibus ut surgat Bencia nota meis.
          Bembus, pulchra, tuam miratur, Bencia, formam,
          caelestes valeas qua superare deas.
          Quae magnus Veneris Mavors praeponere amori,
30      quam missa Europa Iuppiter ipse velit.
          Sed magis antiquos mores pectusque pudicum
          Miratur stupidus Palladiasque manus.
          Semper amore pio calet hic, contagia tetrae
          nec possunt illum tangere luxuriae.
          . . . {358|359}
51      Pulchrior at Ledae partu iam, Bencia, cunctis
          gentibus es rara nota pudicitia.

8     you come to us as an envoy from Venice, I would sing your praise, greatest Bembo, embracing you with deepest affection and a stout heart.

25   So, Bembo. Let us celebrate chaste loves, so that Ginevra will be exalted in my verse. Ginevra, Bembo is captivated by your great beauty, a beauty that gives you the power to surpass the goddesses of heaven, a beauty mighty Mars would prefer to his beloved Venus, a beauty for which Jove himself would leave Europa in his desire for you. Even more does Bembo in his awe admire your pristine character, your chaste heart, and Minerva’s hands. Bembo’s love is ardent and chaste. He is ever immune to the poison of bitter lust.

51   Lovelier now than Leda’s daughter, you Ginevra are known among all nations for your rare purity. {359|360}


[ back ] 1. I will not repeat the thanks rendered by the organizers of this memorable conference on Plato’s Symposium to all those who made it possible and then the success it was. I endorse them heartily. I do have three idiosyncratic debts that I must acknowledge: to James Lesher for the inspiration of his “Afterimages of Plato’s Symposium,” images I saw in Durham, North Carolina, long before I heard him present them at the Center for Hellenic Studies in August of 2005; to Lawrence Richardson, Jr., who commented on the Latinity of Cristoforo Landino; and to Charles Fantazzi, who, I think, helped me solve an enigma in a notation Bernardo Bembo entered into his autograph copy of Ficino’s De Amore (for these contributions, see my acknowledgements in the Epilogue).

[ back ] 2. For the manuscripts that arrived in Florence in the age of Ficino see Gentile et al. 1984.

[ back ] 3. So Ben Jonson, Sejanus act 1, line 82.

[ back ] 4. By Tommaso Benci as Socrates (60r/199 [6.1]) and Cristoforo Landino as Alcibiades (114v/251 [7.6]). I cite this text from Marcel’s edition (Ficino 1956). For ease of reference I give first the page (recto or verso) of the Vatican autograph (7.705) followed by the page number and square brackets enclosing the book and chapter. The homoerotic epigrams of Plato are recognized by Ficino, but Dicaerchus’ criticism of Plato’s libido (to be found in Cicero, Tusculans 4.34.71, 8r/143 [1.4]) is indignantly repudiated.

[ back ] 5. As I have argued in Clay 1975.

[ back ] 6. For this see Hankins 1990:80–81 and his Appendix 3D.

[ back ] 7. The erotic epigrams cited are concentrated in Diogenes Laertius 3.29–32.

[ back ] 8. One piece of evidence for the close association of Bernardo Bembo and the circle assembled at Careggi is the dialogue held by Florentine humanists at Regnano in the Florentine countryside in which Giovanni Gavalcanti, Cristoforo Landino, Bernardo Nuzzi, and Bernardo Bembo were present (Ficino 2002:VII.1).

[ back ] 9. Impressively, though, Ficino is the first modern author that I know of to connect Plato’s praise of Erôs with his praise of the erotic Socrates, as is abundantly clear from Cristoforo Marsuppini’s rendition of Alicibiades’ speech, 105r–108v/242–245 [7.2]. He was anticipated by Maximus of Tyre, Philosophoumena 18.

[ back ] 10. Pausanias hactenus . Nunc Eryximachi orationem interpretamur, 22v/160 [3.1]. These are not the words of a speaker but the reporter, named in the speech of Cristoforo Marsuppini, 103r/240 [7.1].

[ back ] 11. Symposium 194e–197e vs. 39r/178–59r/198 [5.1–13]. The complaints come in 40v/179 [5.2] and 53v/191 [5.7].

[ back ] 12. Well presented by Allen 1984.

[ back ] 13. In commenting on Pietro Bembo’s “Hymn to St. Stephen,” Chatfield (Bembo 2005:xiv) discovers “a peculiar phenomenon of humanist mentality: how easily permeable was the membrane between classical myth and the Christian religion.”

[ back ] 14. The texts of Augustine he has in mind are De Vera Religione 1.50–51 and De Trinitate 15.9; also relevant for the Augustinian “charity” involved in allegorical reading are De Doctrina Christiana 2.6 and De Civitate Dei 17.20. Ficino’s project of Christianizing Plato, “the Moses who spoke Attic,” is clear from the Introduction dedicating his Theologia Platonica to Lorenzo de’ Medici (1482). For the background of the striking term mysteria, there is the revealing commentary of Edgar Wind 1968:201–204.

[ back ] 15. For which there is the fundamental introduction of Auerbach 1984:chap. 1.

[ back ] 16. illum divinum lumen … quod cadentes amisere … 30v/169 [4.2]). The Platonic equivalent of the fall is to be discovered in Phaedrus 248c.

[ back ] 17. A suggestion made by Fletcher 1989:811–816 and now generally accepted, for example, by Zöllner 2004:35 (Catalogue VII) among others. The scroll is framed by a branch of laurel and palm. I endorse this suggestion in an Epilogue.

[ back ] 18. For their correspondence (which came to light in the Vatican in 1974), see Kidwell 2004:chap. 3.

[ back ] 19. Now elegantly published as Bembo 1987.

[ back ] 20. A version of this starling cosmology is given by the hermit in Gli Asolani 3.20 and reflected in Il Cortegiano 3.58.

[ back ] 21. In the conclusion that returns to the theme of our aboriginal “mutilation” and our “healing,” 102v/239 [6.19].

[ back ] 22. I cite Gli Asolani from the edition of Dilemmi 1991 (Bembo 1505). The allusion to Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium comes in 2.10 (139.65–70). Diotima will also play her part in Il Cortegiano.

[ back ] 23. Gli Asolani 2.11 (140.6–141.173).

[ back ] 24. In Bembo 1525:651–671, the edition of Dionisotti 1989; Kidwell 2004:134–135.

[ back ] 25. De Amore 8r/143 [1.4] theologi veteres by contrast to Christian theologians (posteriores theologi) and 11r/147 [2.2].

[ back ] 26. In 1502 in octavo, Lowry 1979:144, 147–148. Bembo recognizes both Cicero’s Somnium in 3.19 and, in the description of our small and distant earth as a “small garden of God’s temple” (3.10.43–45) and Dante’s Ciceronian prospect on the distant earth in Paradiso 22.151.

[ back ] 27. I cite Castiglione from the edition of Missier 1968 (Castiglione 1528) . The aspiration to attain the “Platonic” ideal is expressed in the Dedication to Michel de Silva (14) and 1.53 with the notorious example of Zeuxis’ Platonic ideal of beauty collected from five of the beauties of Croton, Pliny’s Historia Naturalis 35.64. Leone Battista Alberti had adopted it in his treatise Della Pictura (On Painting 1436), a treatise well presented by Erwin Panofsky 1968:56–59. Socrates’ dialogue with the painter Parrhesius is also relevant to the concept of ideals in the Renaissance, Xenophon Memorabilia 3.10.1–6; cf. Pliny Historia Naturalis 35.68.

[ back ] 28. The connections between Bembo and Castiglione are set out by Floriani 1976. There are evident connections between Bembo’s last speech in Il Cortegiano and Lavinello’s in his Gli Asolani (Il Cortegiano 4.50 where Bembo’s Lavinello is recalled), Il Cortegiano 4.55 (love as a dream, Gli Asolani 3.15), the fabric of the world, Il Cortegiano 4.58 (Gli Asolani 3.19), the happiness of the old as contrasted with the misery of the young, Il Cortegiano 4.60 (Gli Asolani 3.16). The long dispute over the end of Il Cortegiano (planned or adventitious) is surveyed by Ryan 1972. More recently Hankins 2002 has examined the presence of philosophy in Bembo’s concluding speech.

[ back ] 29. As well as his Stesichorean palinode, Il Cortegiano 4.57 and Phaedrus 243e–244a.

[ back ] 30. He wrote other poems to Bembo on Bencia (in Landino 1939:161–172).