Excerpt from Pallas and the Centaur

On the hill of Careggi we stood outside Ficino’s villa watching the storm that played on Florence. I was in awe of the elements. The sky was rupturing with light from north to south. Trees were on fire. The whole land seemed under attack. Ficino reminded me of Plato's myth of the cave, said that what we were watching was a mere shadow of reality.
    I had been working for Ficino for only a few months, but it had been long enough to dispel the unrealistic awe I had once held him in. I had grown used to working for a man who was fully human and whose wisdom was practical. I had also come to realise that Ficino had a sense of humour that could be engaged at any time. Being told that this storm, quite the most dramatic I had ever witnessed in this land of storms, was a shadow of the true reality, I crowed with laughter, and found that my derision amused Ficino. Surrounded by men who called him ‘master’ and who treated his every word with terrifying respect, I believe the philosopher enjoyed my irreverence and found it a relief. In my heart I was the most obsequious of Ficino’s disciples, but it had become my role to play the part of Everyman - the objector to wisdom. Standing now in a land which seemed to be inside a drum being beaten passionately by the gods, and to be told that the realm of the senses is a shadow of the ‘intelligible world of ideas’ provoked such fierce rebuttal that I half-choked on it. In the face of this destruction, Plato’s theory seemed preposterous.
    ‘Be content, my young friend, it is so,’ Ficino assured me, smiling broadly. ‘Look beyond, look behind this reality - what do you see?’
    ‘I see fury.’
    ‘Indeed. Is our lady not full of wrath?’ Ficino asked. As if in response to this, hail began to drive at us; flinching under the stinging rain, we hurried back inside the house. ‘So what has made Nature so wild?’ Ficino asked, throwing a log on the fire and blowing on his frozen hands.
    I was shivering noisily but, in fear of chilblains, I kept away from the hearth and looked for warmth in the wine jug. ‘It is my experience that a woman’s anger usually stems from neglect. While I dally here in the gardens of philosophy, my Elena is at home sharpening knives.’
    ‘Have we neglected Nature?’ Ficino asked, ignoring the point I was trying to make, but another deafening crack of thunder had me turning to look out again at the brilliant roots of wrath searing the sky. I wondered how Angelo was faring in the Mugello, and with these thoughts came a despair which was not my own. Filled with sudden and inexplicable melancholy, I told Ficino that I would neglect Nature no longer, that I was going home to my wife.
    ‘Elena will be terrified, alone in all this,’ I lied. I left hurriedly, braving the storm to reach my house, the warmth of my bed and the comforting embrace of my beloved. But it was not Elena who needed shielding from fear, it was me. As I came down the hill of Careggi, however, I found that the meadows outside the city had become a sea, albeit a shallow one. In the dark I could not see where the road was: it was too dangerous a journey to make on horseback. A man, Florentine through and through, approached on a boat and offered me passage at a rate undreamt of by a professional ferryman. I gave my horse over to his boy to return to Careggi and climbed in, remarking on the transfiguration of the countryside.
    ‘This is nothing,’ said the man. ‘Wait till you see the city.’