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Modern Platonism
by [?]

The pious writer might have been satisfied to have bestowed a smile of pity or contempt.

When Pletho died, full of years and honours, the malice of his enemies collected all its venom. This circumstance seems to prove that his abilities must have been great indeed, to have kept such crowds silent. Several Catholic writers lament that his book was burnt, and regret the loss of Pletho’s work; which, they say, was not designed to subvert the Christian religion, but only to unfold the system of Plato, and to collect what he and other philosophers had written on religion and politics.

Of his religious scheme, the reader may judge by this summary account. The general title of the volume ran thus:–“This book treats of the laws of the best form of government, and what all men must observe in their public and private stations, to live together in the most perfect, the most innocent, and the most happy manner.” The whole was divided into three books. The titles of the chapters where paganism was openly inculcated are reported by Gennadius, who condemned it to the flames, but who has not thought proper to enter into the manner of his arguments. The extravagance of this new legislator appeared, above all, in the articles which concerned religion. He acknowledges a plurality of gods: some superior, whom he placed above the heavens; and the others inferior, on this side the heavens. The first existing from the remotest antiquity; the others younger, and of different ages. He gave a king to all these gods, and he called him [Greek: ZEUS], or Jupiter; as the pagans named this power formerly. According to him, the stars had a soul; the demons were not malignant spirits; and the world was eternal. He established polygamy, and was even inclined to a community of women. All his work was filled with such reveries, and, with not a few impieties, which my pious author has not ventured to give.

What were the intentions of Pletho? If the work was only an arranged system of paganism, or the platonic philosophy, it might have been an innocent, if not a curious volume. He was learned and humane, and had not passed his life entirely in the solitary recesses of his study.

To strain human curiosity to the utmost limits of human credibility, a modern Pletho has risen in Mr. Thomas Taylor, who, consonant to the platonic philosophy in the present day, religiously professes polytheism! At the close of the eighteenth century, be it recorded, were published many volumes, in which the author affects to avow himself a zealous Platonist, and asserts that he can prove that the Christian religion is “a bastardized and barbarous Platonism.” The divinities of Plato are the divinities to be adored, and we are to be taught to call God, Jupiter; the Virgin, Venus; and Christ, Cupid! The Iliad of Homer allegorised, is converted into a Greek bible of the arcana of nature! Extraordinary as this literary lunacy may appear, we must observe, that it stands not singular in the annals of the history of the human mind. The Florentine Academy, which Cosmo founded, had, no doubt, some classical enthusiasts; but who, perhaps, according to the political character of their country, were prudent and reserved. The platonic furor, however, appears to have reached other countries. In the reign of Louis XII., a scholar named Hemon de la Fosse, a native of Abbeville, by continually reading the Greek and Latin writers, became mad enough to persuade himself that it was impossible that the religion of such great geniuses as Homer, Cicero, and Virgil was a false one. On the 25th of August, 1503, being at church, he suddenly snatched the host from the hands of the priest, at the moment it was raised, exclaiming–“What! always this folly!” He was immediately seized. In the hope that he would abjure his extravagant errors, they delayed his punishment; but no exhortation or entreaties availed. He persisted in maintaining that Jupiter was the sovereign God of the universe, and that there was no other paradise than the Elysian fields. He was burnt alive, after having first had his tongue pierced, and his hand cut off. Thus perished an ardent and learned youth, who ought only to have been condemned as a Bedlamite.

Dr. More, the most rational of our modern Platonists, abounds, however, with the most extravagant reveries, and was inflated with egotism and enthusiasm, as much as any of his mystic predecessors. He conceived that he communed with the Divinity itself! that he had been shot as a fiery dart into the world, and he hoped he had hit the mark. He carried his self-conceit to such extravagance, that he thought his urine smelt like violets, and his body in the spring season had a sweet odour; a perfection peculiar to himself. These visionaries indulge the most fanciful vanity.

The “sweet odours,” and that of “the violets,” might, however, have been real–for they mark a certain stage of the disease of diabetes, as appears in a medical tract by the elder Dr. Latham.