was an Italian Renaissance nobleman and philosopher. He is famed for the events of 1486, when, 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”, and a key text of Renaissance humanism and of what has been called the “Hermetic Reformation”. He was the founder of the tradition of Christian Kabbalah, a key tenet of early modern Western esotericism. The 900 Theses was the first printed book to be universally banned by the Church.
A precocious child with an exceptional memory, Giovanni was schooled in Latin and possibly Greek at a very early age. Intended for the Church by his mother, he was named a papal protonotary (probably honorary) at the age of ten and in 1477 he went to Bologna to study canon law.
At the sudden death of his mother three years later, Pico renounced canon law and began to study philosophy at the University of Ferrara. During a brief trip to Florence, he met Angelo Poliziano, the courtly poet Girolamo Benivieni, and probably the young Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola. For the rest of his life he remained very close friends with all three. He may also have been a lover of Poliziano. From 1480 to 1482, he continued his studies at the University of Padua, a major center of Aristotelianism in Italy. Already proficient in Latin and Greek, he studied Hebrew and Arabic in Padua with Elia del Medigo, a Jewish Averroist, and read Aramaic manuscripts with him as well. Del Medigo also translated Judaic manuscripts from Hebrew into Latin for Pico, as he would continue to do for a number of years. Pico also wrote sonnets in Latin and Italian which, because of the influence of Savonarola, he destroyed at the end of his life.
He spent the next four years either at home, or visiting humanist centres elsewhere in Italy. In 1485, he travelled to the University of Paris, the most important centre in Europe for scholastic philosophy and theology, and a hotbed of secular Averroism. It was probably in Paris that Giovanni began his 900 Theses and conceived the idea of defending them in public debate.