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While Renaissance artists, thinkers, and other cultural producers only picked up Neoplatonism in part, the doctrine of Platonic love diffused quickly all throughout the culture. It significantly changed the European experience of sexual love which, since antiquity, had always been closely related erotics and physical attraction.

Suddenly writers, artists, poets, philosophers, and women's communities began discussing sexual love in terms of spiritual bonds, as reflecting the relationship between the individuals and God. Platonic love also gave homosexual erotics a new language.

Positive Infinity – Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

While homosexuality was extremely common in the middle ages, it wasn't really regarded as an identity characteristic, as we do today. When a man had sex with another man, he was a sodomite for as long as the act took place. After that, he was someone who committed sodomy; homosexuality as a steady state did not really exist.

The language of Platonic love, however, gave the Italians a language with which to define non-sexual male-male relationships. Once understood in spiritual terms, male-male sexual relationships could now be discussed in the same terms: in the Italian Renaissance, the language of male-male friendship and male-male erotics became the same.

This language is still a key element in the modern debates of homosexuality and lesbianism. Nicholas of Cusanus expanded the Platonic argument that mathematics were a form of certain knowledge to the radical thesis that mathematics represented the divine ideas. This extreme position, accepted by Neoplatonists except of Pico , eventually became the basis for a new form of science.

Through the high middle ages, scientific inquiry was dominated by the qualitative, empirical science of Aristotle combined with the doctrine from the Arabic philosopher, Averroes, that inquiry into the physical world should never include speculation about God or any other kind of metaphysics. In distinction to this, the Neoplatonists that the physical world was fundamentally mathematical and that a knowledge of that mathematics would provide access to the divine mind.

The most famous advocate of this scientific position was Joahnnes Kepler and, a century later, Galileo Galilei. Their story is told in the chapter on the so-called scientific revolution, but we can look forward at the conclusion of this essay.


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Kepler, working in the first half of the sixteenth century, believed that the mathematics of the universe was the truth of the universe. Until Kepler, astronomers and astrologers believed that the qualitative understanding of the universe superseded the quantitaive understanding of the universe. The Ptolemaic universe, which was a mathematical system for describing the movements of the heavenly bodies in relation to the earth as the center of the universe, had long been regarded as a nearly insane mathematical system.

That wasn't the point, though. Even though the Ptolemaic universe didn't make much sense mathematically, it served its purpose in that it provided the math to successfully predict movements of the heavenly bodies. For Kepler, the math of the movements of the stars and planets was the movement of the stars and planets; the most rational mathematical universe was one in which the planets and stars orbitted the sun. This, because it was the most rational mathematics, represented the physical truth. This is a unique reorientation of mathematics to physical phenomena and remains the standard world view of European physics.

While Galileo's relationship to Neoplatonism is controversial, he seems to have inherited from Neoplatonism this same view of mathematics. The fundamental truth of the universe, as Galileo saw it, was mathematical. Only when our understanding of the universe corresponded to the math of the universe could we say that we understood the universe. In the dogmatic throes of the counter-Reformation, the church wasn't willing to accept some of the conclusions that resulted from this viewopint, such as understanding that the sun is the center of the solar system.

It wasn't until Newton that this mathematical view of the universe finally took hold and perpetually changed the face of European science. So, the next time you walk into a physics course, remember, the fundamental understanding of the universe that they're using has its origins in Renaissance Neoplatonism. Trace Renaissance Neo-Platonism. Share on Twitter Facebook Pinterest. It is the only thing that sits midway between the abstract realm of ideas and the physical world—as such, it is the mediator between these two worlds: All things beneath God are but single things, but the soul can truly be said to be all things.

For this resaon, the soul is called the center of creation and the middle term of all things in the universe, the entirety of the universe, the face of all things, and the binding and joining center of the universe.

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Piety, and Poesy London: Robert Wood, Joye, George. Julian of Norwich. Juventus, Caius Vettius Aquilinus. Libri evangeliorum IIII , ed. Karl Marold Leipzig: B. Teubner, Karlstadt, Andreas Bodenstein von. De canonicis scripturis libellus Wittenburg: Johann Rhau-Grunenbeg, Killigrew, Henry. Web, Kingdon, Robert M. Knollys, Hanserd. Kyd, Thomas. The Spanish Tragedy , ed. Andrew Gurr and J. Mulryne London: Methuen, Lamb, John.


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    A Treatise of Divinity London: E. Griffin for William Lee, Ley, John. Saltmarsh Lately Published London: for C. Meredith, [i. Light for Smoke London: I. Lightbody, George. Lightfoot, John. Elias Redivivus London: R. Cotes for Andrew Crooke, Lipsius, Justus. Sixe Bookes of Politickes or Civil Doctrine , tr. Clay Cambridge: Parker Society, Lloyd, William. London: s. Clavell, Christus xilonicus Paris: Guillaume de Bossozel, Locke, John.

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