1 Pico was not the only one to use the term «mystery» as applied to Moses' teachings: cf. for example M. Ficino, In Phaedrum, in Opera, Basilea 1576, p. 1363: «Tum vero interea mirabile nota mysterium mosayco mysterio simile».
2 On the prisca theologia (a notion that was perhaps taken from Gemistus Pletho), see M. Ficino's Argumentum set before his translation of the Pimander, in Opera, Basilea 1576, p. 1836: «There is therefore a theology of the ancients (prisca theologia) ... which has its origins in Mercury and culminates in the divine Plato». For an alternative thread, which begins with Zoroaster, see Theol. plat. 17, 1, in Opera, Basilea 1576, p. 386. For the different genealogies see D. P. Walker, The Prisca Theologia in France, in «J.W.C.I.» 17 (1956) 204-59. For an overview see Walker 1972. Pico's trust in the prisca theologia will turn into disillusionment, and finally disappear in his Disputationes (cf. Valcke 1989, 192, cit. in Bausi 1996, 110 n. 19).
3 On dialectic seen as an expiatory art see Plato, Sophist 230c-d.
4 Creating an analogy between the path of philosophy and that of the mysteries - the first steps of which consist in purification and initiation - is typical of Neoplatonism, but is already present in Plato, Phaedo, 69b-d: «but truth is in fact a purification from all these things, and self-restraint and justice and courage and wisdom itself are a kind of purification. And I fancy that these men who established the mysteries were not unenlightened, but in reality had a hidden meaning when they said long ago that whoever goes uninitiated and unsanctified to the other world will lie in the mire, but he who arrives there initiated and purified will dwell with the gods. For as they say in the mysteries, 'the thyrsus-bearers are many, but the mystics are few'; and these mystics are, I believe, those who have been true philosophers» (trans. by H.N. Fowler, in the Loeb Classical Library). A.-J. Festugière has suggested that the mystères cultuels have been replaced through the mystères littéraires (cf. A. Diès, Autour de Platon, Paris 1927). Regarding the issue of the "language of mysteries" in a Platonic context, refer to the introduction to Wind 1968.
5 Cf. Plato, Symposium 210a and Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, 77 (382d).
6 In ¶¶ 115-119 Pico adapts Plato's doctrine of the four divine "maníai" (divini furores, following Ficino's and Pico's terminology) to his tripartita philosophia. Plato's most significant passage may be found in Phaedrus 265b: «And we made four divisions of the divine madness, ascribing them to four gods, saying that prophecy was inspired by Apollo, the mystic madness by Dionysos, the poetic by the Muses, and the madness of love [...] by Aphrodite and Eros» (trans. by H.N. Fowler, in the Loeb Classical Library). This passage is amply treated by Ficino in the final pages of his Commentarium in Convivium Platonis, VII, 14 (Marcel p. 259): «Furor autem divinus est qui ad supera tollit, ut in eius definitione consistit. Quatuor ergo divini furoris sunt speties. Primus quidem poeticus furor, alter mysterialis, tertius vaticinium, amatorius affectus est quartus. Est autem poesis a Musis, mysterium a Dionysio, vaticinium ab Apolline, amor a Venere». On the divinus furor, see also Ficino's letter to Pellegrino Agli, in Opera (Basilea 1576), pp. 613f. The translation of the Greek manía into the Latin furor appears in Cicero (see the footnote to the Latin text).
7 On the relation between Dionysos and Apollo (to whom the appellation Musagetes normally refers) cf. Plutarch, On the E at Delphi, 389b-c.
8 This philosopher, who was Plutarch's teacher, belonged to the Platonic Academy; he is one of the main characters of Plutarch's On the E at Delphi.
9 In ¶¶ 121-125 Pico recognizes his tripartite scheme in the series of the three Delphic maxims; the whole passage is clearly dependent on Plutarch's On the E at Delphi (see notes to the Latin text).
10 In ¶¶ 126-129 Pico points to the Pythagorean "symbols" as further evidence for his tripartita philosophia. On the reception of Pythagoras during the Renaissance, see P. Casini, L'antica sapienza italica, Bologna 1998, chap. 2.
11 Cf. Iamblicus, De vita Pythagorica 8, 44.
12 In ¶¶ 136-143 Pico attempts to recognize his tripartita philosophia in the Chaldean writings as well. Unfortunately, the nature of Pico's sources is not clear. Some texts had been brought to his attention by Flavius Mithridates (cf. Pico's letter to Ficino written in Autumn 1486, in Supplementum Ficinianum, pp. 272-273: «Chaldaici hi libri sunt, si libri sunt et non thesauri: In primis Ezre, Zoroastris et Melchiar Magorum oracula, in quibus et illa quoque, que apud Graecos mendosa et mutila circumferuntur, leguntur integra et absoluta. Tum est in illa Chaldeorum sapientum brevis quidem et salebrosa, sed plena misteriis interpretatio. Est itidem et libellus de dogmatis Chaldaice theologie cum Persarum, Grecorum et Chaldeorum in illa divina et locupletissima enarratione»). Pico certainly had some texts or fragments written in a language which C. Wirszubski, on the basis of the extant fragments preserved in the Palatino manuscript (for example the names of the Paradisiacal rivers listed below, ¶ 141), considered to be a mixture of Aramaic, Syrian and Hebrew, written in Ethiopic characters. These "texts", however, obviously might have been fabricated, perhaps by Flavius Mithridates himself (Farmer 1998, p. 13 and pp. 486-487). Pico considered them, as in the above quotation, as being genuine versions (perhaps the originals) of the Chaldean Oracles; according to him they were better and richer than the compilation of scattered Greek fragments that circulated under that title (on the fortune of the Greek Chaldean Oracles during the Renaissance see Dannenfeld 1960). Gemistus Pletho might have been the first to believe that the Chaldean Oracles embodied sentences by Zoroaster (see Masai 1956, 136f; see also T. Bidez - F. Cumont, Les Mages hellénisés, Paris 1938; J. Duchesne-Guillemin, The Western Response to Zoroaster, Oxford 1958, p. 4). He was followed by Ficino in the Theologia platonica.
13 On the prohibition against disclosing the contents of the mysteries, cf. for example Plotinus, Enneads VI, 9, 11: «This is the intention of the command given in the mysteries here below not to disclose to the initiated» (trans. by A.H. Armstrong, in the Loeb Classical Library).
14 In ¶¶ 148-9 Pico uses the names of the most eminent archangels of traditional angelology in order to expound his tripartite scheme once again: Raphael («God heals»), Gabriel («God is strong»), Michael («who is like God?»). For a possible source (Gregory the Great), see the footnotes to the Latin text. The names of the angels are connected to the doctrine of the Sefirot (a connection which might be alluded to through the words «the most hidden mysteries»); see F. Yates, The Occult Philosophy of the Elizabethan Age, London 1979, chap. 2. For Raphael as healer see for example The Book of Tobit 3, 25; 6 and 11, 8ff.