1 In accordance with the scheme laid out by Pseudo-Dionysius (cf. ¶ 73 of the Oratio) and confirmed by St. Thomas (Summa I, q. 108, art. 6) and St. Gregory (In evang. II hom. 34), Pico represents here the three divisions of the highest order of angels: the Seraphim, the Cherubim and the Thrones. These should not be confused, however, with the three types discussed in Heptaplus 3.3 since the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are all members of the highest division, that which enjoys the leisure of contemplation and which is distinguished by a superabundance of goodness. The fact that Pico specifically calls the Cherubim contemplators does not mean that the Seraphim and Thrones are not. See St. Thomas, Summa I, q. 108, art. 5, rep. 5. Man's task is the emulation of the highest angels (action, contemplation, communion with God) and dialectic is the necessary intermediate stage in this mystic process (Bori 1996, 557). Cf. Conclusiones 111, 132, 220, 357, 640, 710, 711. It has been suggested (Farmer 1998, 346-351) that Pico consciously overlaid the Cabalistic sefirot upon the celestial hierarchy elucidated by Pseudo-Dionysius. In this arrangement, as it applies here, each of these three types of angels is associated with a specific sefirah: The Seraphim with Hesed; the Thrones with Din; the Cherubs with Binah.

2 This unusual phrase, in which God «broods», is glossed by Pico himself in Heptaplus 2.3: «Super hunc (i.e. the crystalline heaven of the upper waters) ferebatur, aut ut veritas habet hebraica, et Syrus Effren transtulit, incubabat huic Spiritus Domini, idest proxime adhaerens spiritalis Olympus, sedes Spirituum Domini, fovebat eum sua luce vivifica, et recte est factum, ut qui attinens est principio lucis toto corpore et tota mole lucem combiberet, propterea nobis invisibilem quia corpulentia solidiore non terminatur». (See also Pico's Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni, book 1, ch. 10.) The Hebrew term mentioned here is  (merefeth). Interestingly, the gloss of St. Ephrem here in question (Commentary on Genesis, 1.7) explicitly states that it was the wind and not the Spirit of the Lord that hovered or brooded above the waters. On this, see T. Kronholm, Motifs from Genesis I-II in the Genuine Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, Coniectanea Biblica, vol. 11 (Lund: Gleerup, 1978) pp. 43-44. Pico, however, may have had another text in mind when he wrote the passage mentioned above from the Heptaplus: Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram, 1.18.36 in which the generative interpretation is held to be valid: «Nam et illud quod per graecam et latinam linguam dictum est de Spiritu Dei, quod superferebatur super aquas, secundum syrae linguae intellectum, quae vicina est hebraeae, (nam hoc a quodam docto christiano syro fertur expositum) non superferebatur, sed fovebat potius intelligi perhibetur. Nec sicut foventur tumores aut vulnera in corpore aquis vel frigidis vel calore congruo temperatis; sed sicut ova foventur ab alitibus, ubi calor ille materni corporis etiam formandis pullis quodammodo adminiculatur, per quemdam in suo genere dilectionis affectum». Cf. also Basil, Homilia II in Hexaëron. Later in the Heptaplus (6.5), Pico returns to this same image («Nam et docet nos prima dies tunc primum aquis, depulsa nocte, obtortam lucem cum Spiritus Domini eis incubit»), citing James 1:17.

3 Pico here alludes, as he elaborates in the Heptaplus, to the «separation of the waters» in the Book of Genesis (1:7-9) into the upper and the lower waters (cf. Ex. 20:4 and Ps. 148:4). The upper, as he explains in the Heptaplus (see esp. 7.3), are associated with the Cherubim (Proem II), the Seraphim and the Thrones (3.3). In the Old Testament (cf. Jer. 10:2) they are compared to the Jews (7.2) whereas the lower come to represent the gentiles (7.2) and more generally the earthy world from which Christians are freed, as if from a yoke (7.3). Furthermore, Pico attributes to Moses the notion that the firmament, i.e. the sphere of the fixed stars, was placed by God between the two waters (2.3). The waters under the firmament were originally the seven planets which were collected together and generated the seas and the ocean whence, as the Chaldeans held, in turn came the nutritive elements that give rise to growth and regeneration in plant and animal life (2.3, 3.4 et al.). Metaphorically, they also come to stand for the sensual and sensory characteristics of man (4.3). The waters over which the «Spirit of the Lord» flies here are the upper. This «Spiritus Domini» is in the Heptaplus synonymous with the Spirit of Love (3.2) and with God's illumination of our intellect (4.2, 5.1 and 6.2) as well as creator of form (1.2). In the Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni (2.17a), Pico mentions that the upper waters are the living fountain which slakes man's thirst forever. Cf. John 4:13-15. When considered in the light of Cabalistic teaching, the upper waters may be likened to the fifth serifah (God's judgment) and the lower to the fourth (love, according to Pico's interpretation). Cf. Conclusiones 379, 872, 895; Farmer (1998, 549 et passim). On early morning prayer, see Concl. 392.

4 Jacob saw God here on Earth only during a dream (Gen. 28:11-17); in Heaven, however, the vision of God is attainable in a waking state.

5 The conception here of aspects of the soul as a hindrance to the attainment of spiritual and philosophical purity (paragraphs 83-85) owes much to Plato's Phaedo (64c-67b) in which mastery of physical appetite is the cornerstone of moral rectitude.

6 A probable source for these similes is Plutarch's On Isis and Osiris, 18. After Osiris dies, Typhon (who is identified as being akin to the Titans in 49) comes upon his corpse and cuts it into pieces. Isis afterwards collects almost all of the body parts and, with the help of her son Horus (first identified with Apollo in Herodotus 2.144), conquers Typhon. As a result of this conflict, Osiris comes to be regarded as the god of the dead but also of renewed life through Horus (who is, like Apollo, associated with the sun). Interestingly, there is a very similar sort of expression in Macrobius' In somnium Scipionis (1.12.12) in which it is Bacchus, not Osiris, who is dismembered by the Titans and afterwards regains his corporeal form. It is quite possible that Pico had both these passages in mind when he composed this section of the Oratio and that he formed a sort of synthesis of the two myths here. See also Pico's Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni, book 2, ch. 8.

7 Actually it was not Job but Jeremiah who entered into a pact with God before his birth (see Jer. 1:5).

8 We may recognize in these lines an allusion too to Aeneas who, «fato profugus», was «iactatus ... in alto» (cf. Aeneid, 1.2-3).

9 Pico elaborates on the metaphor of man's interior «manifold beast» in Heptaplus 4.5-7, citing Plato's statement in the Republic (588d) that our secret desires can be compared to various beasts which dwell within us. (Cf. Eusebius, Praeparatio evangelica 12.46.) Pico writes: «Sic etenim a natura institutus homo, ut ratio sensibus dominaretur, frenareturque illius lege omnis tum irae tum libidinis furor et appetentia».

10 To understand this simile of the «icta porca», we must look to Vergil who, in the eighth book of the Aeneid, recounts the peace made between Romulus and Tatius over the sacrificed sow (8.639-641): «post idem inter se posito certamine reges / armati Iovis ante aram paterasque tenentes / stabant et caesa iungebant foedera porca». This passage is incorporated by Pico in Christian terms and brought in here as the symbol of a ratified peace.

11 «Friendship» in this context should be understood both as a form of charitas and as the general force of attraction, much discussed by Empedocles and analyzed by Aristotle (Met. 985a20-30), which, in Pico, translates into that energy which encourages the soul toward its union with God. The soul, which has a natural faculty for friendship (I Sam. 18:1), is always drawn upwards toward the highest good.

12 That «plenitude of life» known as death is explained a good deal more clearly by Pico in his De ente et uno (chapter 5). Citing the Bible (I Cor. 15:31; Rom. 7:24) and Seneca (Ep. 102 and 120), Pico casts our worldly life as death itself inasmuch as it is simply the soul's temporary vivification of the body, not a state of existence that is characteristic of the essence of the soul. The soul's «life» is being and, given that the study of philosophy is also the contemplation of being, can in this way be seen to exemplify the object of the philosopher's endeavor. Cf. the last sentence of De ente et uno. See also Phaedo 82b-84b. Cf. Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni, notes to stanza 4.

13 The image of heavenly nectar in this context goes back to Plato's discussion of the angelic charioteer who, after guiding the soul to heaven, refreshes his horses with ambrosia and nectar (Phaedrus 243e-257a). Ficino was especially intrigued by this mythical «hymn» of which he wrote several times and which, indeed, occupies nearly all of his commentary on the Phaedrus. In a letter sent to Giovanni Cavalcanti (known as the De raptu Pauli ad tertium coelum [Opera Omnia, vol. 1, pp. 697ff.]), Ficino uses Plato's charioteer as a stylistic model for Paul's vision of heaven (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2-4 and ¶ 72 above). The motif is revisited, complete with mention of the divine foods, in two other works: in the De voluptate, he explains that ambrosia represents contemplation and nectar the joy of being near to God; in the De amore (7.14), ambrosia and nectar are symbolic of the wondrous vision of heaven: «Obicit illis ambrosiam et super ipsam nectar potandum, id est, visionem pulchritudinis et ex visione letitiam». These two interpretations come together in a third passage, his commentary on the Philebus (chap. 34): «Levitas enim ignem sursum traxit, et ignem in superioribus detinet et obicit intellectui ambrosiam, id est, visionem, voluntati nectar, id est, gaudium». The food and drink of the gods are glossed once more by Ficino in such a way as to clarify Pico's words here. In the Theologia Platonica (18.8), published in 1474, Ficino considers Plato's idea of souls: «Addit eisdem una cum superis illic alimentis, scilicet ambrosia et nectare vesci. Ambrosiam quidem esse censet perspicuum suavemque veritatis intuitum, nectar vero excellentem facillimamque providentiam». These various ideas on the meaning of heavenly nectar appear frequently in many of Ficino's letters. Pico probably begins with this Platonic notion for the presence of nectar in heaven but then, relying on Plotinus' interpretation (Enneads 3.5.9) of a passage in Plato's Symposium (203b-c), adds the reference to intoxication, an allusion in the case of Plotinus to the way in which knowledge is passed down from higher levels to lower. See also Pico's Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni (2, 14a, notes to stanza 3 and notes to stanza 4 in which he refers to Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, 2.12). Note that this type is to be distinguished from the decidedly less beneficial «nectar philosophiae» mentioned in Boethius' De disciplina scholarium 5 (PL vol. 64, cols. 1233C-D).

14 The meaning of paragraphs 105-107 relies upon several Old Testament passages related to temples and the duties of priests. Most scholars attribute the wondrous images of paragraph 107 to the descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25-26). To be sure, the phrase «pellicea elementa» is difficult to understand if not in reference to the furs placed over the ark's exterior (cf. Ex. 26:14, 36:19 and 39:33; see Cassirer, Kristeller and Randall, 233). The skins could be Christological symbols and/or representative of the Fall and Redemption (cf. Conclusiones 764-765 and Farmer [1998, 489-490]). Similarly, the seven-part candelabra could well be inspired by the «septem lucernas» of Ex. 25:37-39 and the multicolored decorations to the various blues, scarlets, purples and golds of the tabernacle's curtains (Ex. 26:1-6). The most important aspect of this section is Pico's allegorical division of the place of worship into three stages, each corresponding to a level of philosophical enlightenment. This is an interesting twist to the physical hierarchy of holy places that is presented in the Bible. The outermost area of the temple is that of the unclean or the common people. The Levites are responsible for the sanctuary (see Num. 1:47-53; 3:5-10; 18:1-7; Ez. 44:15-17, etc.). At the centermost area of the temple, that part administered by the descendants of Aaron, is located the «velum» («nullo imaginis intercedente velo») behind which one finds himself in God's direct presence. In the first proem to the Heptaplus, Pico explains that Moses was entirely illuminated by the Divine Light but revealed to men the truths according to their ability to comprehend them (cf. Ps. 118:11, I Cor. 5:11). This idea is represented in these paragraphs. Similarly, in the second proem, Pico expounds upon a tripartite configuration of the world structured according to levels of attainable comprehension: the highest level is that which theologians call «angelic» and philosophers call «intelligible»; the middle level is the celestial world; the lower is the sublunary which we inhabit. These three worlds are symbolized by Moses' instructions regarding the construction of the tabernacle. Pico insists upon this series of similes, as he himself tells us, because through them man is able to recognize his path to a union with God. It was with the sight of the spirit, that is, through intellectual or intuitive cognition, that Moses and Paul saw God without any veil of a likeness coming in between. See also Pico's Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni, book 2, ch. 9.