The Secret of Pico’s Oration: Cabala and Renaissance Philosophy

Brian P. Copenhaver

In this important article, Prof. Copenhaver shows that Pico della Mirandola’s famous Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486), the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”, is not about the modern concept of dignity of man but a manifesto for ascetic mysticism, urging the pious to abandon the body and escape the material world through magic and Kabbalah. Thus the article makes obvious the misappropriation of Pico’s writings and figure by the Enlightenment philosophy.

Pico condenses this epoch of vast changes into a unity, a coherent ancient wisdom of Chaldaean, Orphic, Hermetic, Pythagorean, Platonic, and other philosophies, a prisca theologia of Greek and barbarian doctrines to support the revelations of the Bible.

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Originally published in Midwest Studies In Philosophy, Volume 26, Issue 1, pages 56–81, 2002. Republished here with thanks.

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