Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499)

Marsilio Ficino

Letter about Time

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Marsilio Ficino to the magnanimous Lorenzo de' Medici: greetings

A thousand greetings to you, my saviour after God. As soon as my hand could lift a pen, I consider it wrong to write to anyone else before writing to my sole patron. On what, then, can I most ably write?...

During my infirmity, Lorenzo, nothing afflicted my mind so bitterly as the memory of time ill-spent, and there remained nothing to console me save the remembrance of those things I had learnt but little. For the divine soul delights only in the divine food of truth, by which it is nourished and strengthened. For the rest, the absurdity of fleeting trifles does not satisfy immortal mind, which by natural inclination demands the eternal and immeasurable. I beseech you therefore, dearest patron, through eternal God, to spend the most precious moment of time, short as it is, cautiously and wisely, lest you ever have the cause to repent in vain your prodigality and irreparable waste. Loss of time often brought Theophrastus to tears when he was eighty years old. Loss of time frequently, in my presence, made the great Cosimo [de' Medici] sigh deeply when he was over seventy.

I beg you, set against foolish cares, empty pastimes, and unnecessary activity that Socratic saying: 'Begone, godless enemies! Begone, at once thieves of my soul, lest I am forced away from yourself, and lead captive the man born to rule. Free yourself, I pray, from this miserable captivity while you can; but you can only do it today; for the first time be independent today. Believe me, it is not wise to say I shall live; tomorrow is too late for living; live today. What I ask, Lorenzo, is easy. To spend one hour rightly and usefully is not difficult: use well, I pray, one hour each day for nourishing the mind in liberal studies, and that little time live profitably for yourself. For the rest, if you wish, live for others. As you know, you should often live for others if you wish to live for yourself. But do both for the sake of God... But make me no more promises for the morrow; promising what you neither have nor know that you will have. If it is only tomorrow that you eat or drink, my friend, will you not be dead in three days? Let this tomorrow die today, let it die at once, lest you yourself should die; nothing is more false than this tomorrow, which has deceived all men that the earth has brought forth...

However, I am not warning Lorenzo with this letter so much as Marsilio and other mortals. We all labour most sorely under the disease of 'Leave that till tomorrow'. We scarcely have the present time, for we hold it so lightly, that we have not the power to retain it even for a moment. But the future is nothing; therefore no man possesses it. Oh demented, pitiable creatures! We put our hopes in nothing, and always squander the treasure we possess. But we wish to use to the full what we do not possess at all! Thus we are sick almost to the point of destruction. Therefore we should not entreat Galen or Hippocrates, but rather Aesculapius and Apollo. Farewell today: if you count on tomorrow's welfare, you will never fare well!... Trust in God alone, Lorenzo: I also trust in God. Once more, farewell today!

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) "Time ought to be used sparingly"
Letter to Lorenzo de' Medici (Letter 82 "Tempus parce expendendum")
The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, Volume I, Shepheard-Walwyn, 1975, pp. 130-132

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (12-31-2002)