By Peter J. French
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When rhetorical humanism had become highly developed in the fifteenth century, the next great discovery of the Renaissance occurred: the recovery of Greek texts with their philosophical and scientific revelations. In what might be termed the Hellenic movement, Ficino and followers like Pico della Mirandola believed they were restoring philosophy as part of a broad return to the classical world. Placing rather strict limits on the value of earlier rhetorical humanism, they emphasized philosophy, theology and science and perceived the universe in a new way with ancient wisdom as a guide.
One can only theorize, but with an understanding of how his mind functioned, one can do so with some conviction. I believe John Dee was presenting himself to the Parisians as an Agrippan magus. 95 He says as much when he points out that he explained Euclid according to physical (elemental world), mathematical (celestial, or middle world), and Pythagorean (supercelestial, or religious world) concepts. Agrippa cites Pythagoras as a religious magus, and Renaissance magi generally thought that the Greek philosopher’s mystical numerology operated on the supercelestial level.
60 Thus, certain scholars have shown that John Dee was a major intellectual force; they have tried to dispose of the misconceptions that have prevailed about him and that have sullied his name for centuries. Dee, nevertheless, is still frequently approached in the most condescending way. There are always those angels lurking in the background to make people uncomfortable. ’61 Clearly much work remains to be done before so complex a polymath as John Dee can be fully understood and properly appreciated.