Bruno, Giordano


Giordano Bruno 1548–1600

Italian philosopher.

Known for his unorthodox views regarding the nature of the universe, Bruno was a philosopher who challenged traditional cosmological beliefs held by the Roman Catholic Church and sixteenth-century society. From the sixteenth through the twentieth century, scholars have repeatedly examined Giordano Bruno's status as a heretic, scientist, pantheist, and poet. Some contend that his ideas influenced philosopher Benedictus de Spinoza and scientist Galileo Galilei and argue that Bruno was the greatest philosopher of the Renaissance. Much of the controversial nature of Bruno's works, among them La cena de le ceneri (1584; The Ash Wednesday Supper) and Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante (1584; The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast) stem from the social, political, and religious reform that they suggest. Many of Bruno's ideas were considered heretical by the Church, as his cosmological model was based on a Copernican rather than an Aristotelian foundation. Bruno's teachings on mnemonics, believed by many to be a form of black magic, were also a source of concern for the religious community. Despite the suspicion surrounding his views, neither in his lectures nor in his writings did Bruno compare his philosophy with Roman Catholic doctrine. Furthermore, Bruno claimed never to have taught directly against the Church's beliefs. Nevertheless, he was executed on the grounds of heresy.

Biographical Information

Born in Nola, Italy, in 1548, Bruno was given the name Filippo, which he later changed to Giordano upon entering a Dominican monastery as a teenager. Bruno fled the monastery in 1576 due to accusations of heresy. After a period of travelling and lecturing, Bruno arrived in England in 1583 and resided with the French ambassador until 1585. During this time, Bruno published several of his more well-known philosophical works, including La cena de le ceneri, Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante, and De gli eroici furori (1585; The Heroic Frenzies). For several years, Bruno journeyed through France and Germany, arriving in Frankfurt in 1590. There, in 1591, he published his last works, among them De imaginum signorum et idearum compositione (1591; On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas), a controversial book on the art of memory. While in Frankfort, Bruno received an invitation from a Venetian gentleman, Giovanni Mocenigo, to serve as an instructor in this art. Bruno accepted and returned to Italy in 1592. Mocenigo soon turned Bruno over to the Holy Tribunal for examination on the grounds of heresy. Following the Venetian Inquisition, Bruno was sent to the Supreme Tribunal of the Holy Office of Rome for trial in

1593. He was imprisoned until 1599. Some scholars believe that during this period Bruno's inquisitors tortured him in an effort to make him admit his heresy and recant. Bruno did neither. He was sentenced to death and burned at the stake on February 17, 1600.

Major Works

Many of Bruno's works are structured in the form of a dialogue and combine discussion of societal, political, or religious issues with philosophical arguments. The setting of La cena de le ceneri is the home of an English nobleman, to which Bruno is invited for a discussion of the movements of the earth and sun and their relationship to the universe. Additionally, some social and political issues are mentioned or alluded to as Bruno describes the problems he encounters on the way to the nobleman's home. In Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante, human vice is embodied in the "triumphant beast" which lives, argues Bruno, in everyone. Bruno explains that in order to overcome his vice, man must employ reason, gained through an understanding of the laws of nature. De la causa, principio et uno (1584; Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One) outlines Bruno's metaphysical beliefs. He provides detailed arguments concerning the nature of God, the universe, and man's relationship to both. Bruno further develops his ideas pertaining to the physical universe in De l'infinito universo et mondi (1584). This work focuses on the infinity of the universe as an image of an infinite God. De gli eroici furori reveals Bruno's ethical doctrine regarding heroic love as compared to human, or vulgar love. Bruno argues that heroic love leads one's soul toward a union with God, and that this union cannot be achieved in one's present life.

Critical Reception

During his lifetime, Roman Catholic Inquisitors examined Bruno's writings in search of heretical statements. Others, such as Johannes Kepler, turned to Bruno for different reasons. Kepler indicated that Bruno's ideas on the plurality of inhabited worlds influenced his own thought. Scholars such as Dorothea Waley Singer contend that Spinoza and Galileo may have also been influenced, directly or indirectly, by Bruno, as his cosmological ideas are often mirrored in their work. In an analysis of Bruno's beliefs, Paul Oskar Kristeller states that the body of the philosopher's work contains ambiguities regarding form and matter, the physical and the metaphysical, and the distinction between the universe and God. Other scholars have noted similar inconsistencies. Bruno's use of poetry as a means of strengthening his philosophical arguments has been a source of discussion for critics as well. Frances Yates contends that in De gli eroici furori Bruno uses the sonnet form as well as Petrarchan conceits to discuss the striving of man toward union with the divine. Giancarlo Maiorino insists that the subject of Bruno's "literary stature" has been evaded by most scholars. Maiorino goes on to compare Bruno's views on poetic and philosophical thought and argues that Bruno's poetics are grounded in a commitment to free thought and expression. In its complexity, Bruno's work offers endless opportunities for religious, social, and scientific analysis. He has been admired for his cosmological insights, developed through logic and analogies, for speaking out against social, political, and religious corruption, and for his unshakable faith in his own ideas.

Principal Works

"Ars memoriae" (philosophy) 1582

Cantus circaeus (philosophy) 1582

Il Candelaio (comedy) 1582

De compendiosa architectura et complemento artis Lullii (philosophy) 1582

"De umbris idearum" (philosophy) 1582

De la causa, principio et uno (dialogues) 1584 [Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One, 1950]

La cena de le ceneri (dialogues) 1584 [The Ash Wednesday Supper, 1975]

De l'infinito universe et mondi (philosophy) 1584 [On Infinite Universe and its Worlds, 1950]

Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante (dialogues) 1584 [The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, 1964]

Cabala del cavallo Pegaseo con L'aggiunta dell' asino cellencio (philosophy) 1585

De gli eroici furori (philosophy) 1585 [The Heroic Frenzies, 1964]

Articuli centum et sexaginta adversus huius tempestatis mathematicos atque philosophos (philosophy) 1588

Oratio valedictoria (speech) 1588

De magia (philosophy) 1590

Medicina Lulliana (philosophy) 1590

De imaginum signorum et idearum compositione (philosophy) 1591 [On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas, 1991]

De innumerabilibus immenso et infigurabili; sue de universo et mundis (poem) 1591

De monade, numero et figura (poem) 1591

De triplicia minimo et mensura ad trium speculativarum scientiarum et multarum activarum atrium pricipie (poem) 1591


Walter Pater (essay date 1889)

SOURCE: "Giordano Bruno," in The Fortnightly Review, Vol. XLVI No. CCLXXII, August 1, 1889, pp. 234-44.

[A nineteenth-century essayist, novelist, and critic, Pater is regarded as one of the most famous proponents of aestheticism in English literature. Distinguished as the first major English writer to formulate an explicitly aesthetic philosophy of life, he advocated the "love of art for art's sake" as life's greatest offering, a belief which he exemplified in his influential Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873) and elucidated in his novel Marius the Epicurean (1885) and other works. In this essay, Pater discusses the monastic background and pantheistic philosophy...

(The entire section is 5465 words.)

William Boulting (essay date 1914)

SOURCE: "The Early Works," in Giordano Bruno: His Life, Thought, and Martyrdom, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., Ltd., 1914, pp. 66-80.

[In this excerpt, Boulting analyzes several of Bruno's early works, including philosophical writings and the comedy, Il Candelaio, commenting on the relevance of these works in the early twentieth century.]


(The entire section is 4405 words.)

Frances A. Yates (essay date 1943)

SOURCE: "The Emblematic Conceit in Giordano Bruno's De gli eroici furori and in the Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences," in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 1943. Reprinted in Lull & Bruno: Collected Essays, Vol. I. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982, pp. 180-209.

[An English educator, historian, and author, Yates is best known and widely respected for her books on the Renaissance. In the following essay, Yates examines Bruno's use of emblems in Eroici furori, arguing that by describing the divine with Petrarchan conceits, Bruno establishes a link between his work and Elizabethan poetry.]

The influence of Petrarch upon English poetry...

(The entire section is 10493 words.)

Paul Oskar Kristeller (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "Bruno," in Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance, Stanford University Press, 1964, pp. 124–44.

[A German-born scholar, Kristeller is an acclaimed author of Italian, German, and English articles and books on Renaissance philosophy. In this excerpt, Kristeller describes Bruno's background and highlights the philosopher's beliefs as revealed in several works.]

[Giordano Bruno's] fame is partly due to the tragedy of his life and death, but no less deserved by his brilliant gifts as a thinker and writer. His vision of the world has a distinctly modern quality, and has impressed and influenced scientists and philosophers throughout the subsequent...

(The entire section is 4291 words.)

Arthur D. Imerti (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast by Giordano Bruno, translated by Arthur D. Imerti, Rutgers University Press, 1964, pp. 3-68.

[Imerti is an Italian-American educator, scholar, and author. In this excerpt, Imerti discusses Lo spaccio de la bestia trionfante, focussing on aspects of the work that were viewed as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church, and on portions of the work in which Bruno criticizes his society.]

Bruno's opening words to Sidney in the "Epistola explicatoria" of Lo spaccio exhort his readers to be guided by the "intellectual sun," symbolic of reason, "the teacher of the senses, the father of substances,...

(The entire section is 5894 words.)

Frances A. Yates (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "Giordano Bruno: Last Published Work," in Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1964, pp. 325-37.

[In the following excerpt, Yates examines De imaginum, signorum et idearum compositione, contending that in this work, Bruno uses his theory of imagination as a means of attaining the Hermetic goal of becoming "one with the universe."]

Bruno's stay in Frankfort, where the three Latin poems were printed, falls into two parts. He went there about the middle of 1590, paid a visit to Switzerland during 1591, after which he returned to Frankfort.

A curious character called Hainzell (Johannes Henricius...

(The entire section is 4212 words.)

M. A. Dynnik (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: "Man, Sun, and Cosmos in the Philosophy of Giordano Bruno," in Soviet Studies in Philosophy, Vol. VI, No. 2, Fall, 1967, pp. 14-21.

[In this essay, Dynnik examines the merits of Bruno's arguments and conclusions concerning cosmology.]

Italy was the first country to take the course of elimination of feudal relationships. The Italian Renaissance marked the beginning of the complex and contradictory process whereby the new, capitalist society took form, triumphed, and became firmly established. The epoch of the Renaissance gave birth to centralized national states in what were the most advanced countries of Europe of that time, undermined the intellectual...

(The entire section is 4726 words.)

Giancarlo Maiorino (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: "The Breaking of the Circle: Giordano Bruno and the Poetics of Immeasurable Abundance," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, April-June, 1977, pp. 317-27.

[In the following essay, Maiorino discusses Bruno's views on poetry, emphasizing the link between poetic and philosophical thought and the characteristics of both.]

Since its publication, Torquato Tasso painfully corrected his unorthodox Gerusalemme liberata (1575) in compliance with traditional requirements imposed by critical opinion. A few years later, Giordano Bruno declared in his Eroici furori (1584-85) that "poetry is not born of rules, except by the merest...

(The entire section is 5149 words.)

Edward A. Gosselin (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "'Doctor' Bruno's Solar Medicine," in The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XV, No. 2, Summer, 1984, pp. 209-24.

[In the following essay, Gosselin analyzes The Ash Wednesday Supper, contending that in this work Bruno "bridge[s] the two extremes" of scientific and philosophical solar literature.]

I. The Solar Age and the Internal History of Science

In an article published in 1958, Eugenio Garin discussed the influence of the emperor Julian's Oratio ad solem upon the "solar literature" of the Renaissance. Nothing the deeply religious flavor of the texts of such authors as Gemistus Plethon, Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni...

(The entire section is 5527 words.)

Edward A. Gosselin (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Fra Giordano Bruno's Catholic Passion," in Svpplementvm Festivvm: Studies in Honor of Paul Oskar Kristeller, Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1987, pp. 537-61.

[In this essay, Gosselin examines the religious aspect of Bruno's work, maintaining that despite his alleged heresy, the philosopher retained some Roman Catholic beliefs at the time of his death.]

I. Introduction: The Heretic

As Giordano Bruno's ashes cooled on February 17, 1600, in the Campo dei Fiori, there was relief that an obstinate heretic had been eliminated. The sentence read (February 8) and the execution carried out, Bruno's words and actions...

(The entire section is 7433 words.)

Hilary Gatti (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "The Brunian Setting," in The Renaissance Drama of Knowledge: Giordano Bruno in England, Routledge, 1989, pp. 1-34.

[In the following excerpt, Gatti tracks Bruno's European wanderings, discussing the influential ideas and writings produced by the philosopher during this period of travel.]

Perhaps no writer more than Giordano Bruno has made such large claims for the extraordinary value of his own work. It is enough to remember the opening of his letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, written in 1583, where he presents himself as a philosopher whose work is applauded by all noble minds; or the pages of the first dialogue of the Cena delle...

(The entire section is 8937 words.)

Further Reading

Atanasijevic, Ksenija. The Metaphysical and Geometrical Doctrine of Bruno as Given in His Work De triplici minimo. Translated by George Vid Tomashevich. St Louis: Warren H. Green, Inc., 1972, 151 p.

Provides detailed analysis of Bruno's De triplici minimo.

Bossy, John. Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991, 294 p.

Relates in detail Bruno's activities between 1583 and 1586 in London and Paris.

Greenburg, Sidney Thomas. The Infinite in Giordano Bruno. 1950. Reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1978, 203 p....

(The entire section is 434 words.)