Ficino & Music Therapy



The Neoplatonic philosopher, theologian, and astrologer, Marsilio Ficino (1433 - 1499), used music as therapy in his Florentine Academy (a revival of Plato's Academy), bringing into play astrology, magic and music. Because this “Renaissance magus” believed that there was a vital correspondence between the spirit of man and the spirit of the world (i.e., soul as microcosm of world soul, or anima mundi), the planets have a “spiritual” influence, which can be purposely attracted through various talismans in order to heal.


But music is what Ficino most strongly recommended as therapy, because “Medicine heals the body, music the spirit.” To this end, he constructed a model of sound perception, which laid the foundation for the medical and mind-expanding function of music in his esoteric philosophy. Ficino's music therapy follows from his ideas about the harmony of the spheres that, until he re-visioned its relationship to the human spirit, had remained a concept of celestial harmony that precluded any human interaction. Ficino changed this significantly when he united Platonic ideas (i.e., Timaeus) about the music of the spheres with Hermetic and biblical ideas (i.e., Book of Genesis) about the imprint of God's image on human beings. Thus, knowledge of the harmonic structure of the cosmos became possible and allowed for the connection between the ancient doctrines of cosmic harmony and the power of music. This resulted in new possibilities for astrological music therapy.



“Saturn seems to have impressed the seal of melancholy on me from the beginning.” —Marsilio Ficino




One of the foremost ailments Ficino treated with his magical music therapy was melancholia, which was particularly common among scholars, philosophers, poets, and artists. Ficino's intention was to temper the melancholic influence of the planet Saturn, which rules the mind (hence the commonplace astrological association, “Saturn and Melancholy”). Consequently, Ficino composed astrological songs as compensating the benign planets, the Sun, Jupiter and Venus.


Ficino's ambitious humanist project of reviving the “practically extinguished” liberal arts disciplines of “grammar, poetry, oratory, painting, sculpture, architecture, music” included “the ancient singing of songs to the Orphic lyre.” Ficino rediscovered the ancient “Orphic hymns,” and Orpheus became his model of the ideal musician and for the magical power of words and song. Ficino, a music theorist and improvisor within the context of 15th-century Italian musical culture, became an accomplished singer of the Orphic hymns—so much so that he was known as a “second Orpheus.” When he was nearly sixty, Ficino looked back at the astonishing cultural developments he has witnessed during his lifetime and considered the singing of lyric poetry ad lyraa (with lyre/lute) to be amongst the greatest achievements of the Florentine Renaissance.