Oration on the Dignity of Man

by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

As we enter the age of global interconnectedness and interdependency, humanity should be more aware than ever of its dignified role in the bigger scheme of things. 

In history, many from our tradition pointed at this dignified role. The hermetic text Asclepius, ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, states that “Man is an amazing miracle, a living being worthy of honor and worship.” When looking at the daily news, this may seem like a cry in the wilderness of ancient Egypt, yet it all depends on the perspective one chooses. 

In 15th century Italy, mankind’s divine mission was masterfully voiced by a typical Renaissance-man, called Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494). In his book, Oration on the Dignity of Man, he writes that God tells Adam: “As a free and sovereign being, you have to be your own creator and fashion yourself in the form that you choose. You can descend into the lower forms, the brutish forms, but, by your own will, you can also rise to the higher forms, which are divine.” Pico is enthusiastic about humanity, about its possibilities and potential. 

As a student, I cherished his treatise. Pico shone among my otherwise pretty dull philosophy books. He made me smile, and he still does.  He reminds us to not only look down at the dirt on our shoes, but to look up and ahead in order to fulfill our human role within God’s grand plan.