Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (Pico for short) was the wunderkind of the Renaissance. In 1486, at the age of 23 he proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy, and magic against all comers, for which he wrote the Oration on the Dignity of Man, which has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance.”

Today we are going to talk to Professor Matthew Gaetano about this remarkable figure. Pico was called a great genius, even in his own time. He defend 900 contested theses drawn from the Greeks, Scripture, rabbis, from Persians, and from Islamic scholars into a syncretic drawing together of learning and culture from all across the then-known world.

There were also odd aspects of Pico’s thought system— he defended magic and mysticism. But his complex life is an inspiration for us moderns today.


Matthew Gaetano is a History Professor at Hillsdale College. He teaches on figures in the Western tradition: Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Petrarch, Luther, and others. As far as I know he hasn’t been to a Renaissance fair.