The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella

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The underlying premise in Tommaso Campanella’s narrative is that a knight of Hospitaliers of Saint John is questioning a sailor about his visit to a remote city. The Genoese seaman, who had sailed with Columbus, locates the city in the Indian Ocean (possibly on or near contemporary Sri Lanka). The knight’s questions provide a framework for the sailor’s story. Written in Italian in 1602 but published later in Latin, Campanella’s work may have drawn directly on Thomas More’s 1516 Utopia and almost certainly on Plato’s Republic.

The very well organized city is situated in seven levels on a hill, each named for a planet and surrounded by a circular defensive wall, which is in turn decorated with instructive paintings. Centered on the very top is a glorious temple, the pinnacle of society and knowledge. Security as well as companionship and harmony characterize the City of the Sun, so much so that its inhabitants lack nothing and have no complaints. Poverty is completely absent; people are so healthy they usually live to be 100; Nevertheless, the society is separated into class-like divisions, with the educated elite ruling over the uninformed masses.

The traveler expresses his admiration for the smooth functioning of the city as well as the freedom from want that its people, known as Solarians enjoy. All share in the benefits of society, as there is collective ownership and no private property. Service to the people is acknowledged by small tokens of recognition such as better clothing, and the young are responsible to care for their elders. The officials may receive better food as well.

The levels of government include the top four officials, who are all male. The supreme leader is the “Sun,” and just below him are “Power,” “Wisdom,” and “Love”; each corresponds to a different major social division. Power leads in defense and war against any foreign attackers, wisdom directs science and practical knowledge, such as craft, and love is in charge of gender and sexual relations, including reproduction and child socialization. The society has rigidly divided male and female roles but no traditional families; children are reared collectively. The top officials also have preferential access to choosing their female mates. As everyone is happy, there is almost no crime, but the officials occasionally need to deter it with severe punishments including death.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Tommaso Campanella composed The City of the Sun in Italian in 1602, as La Città del Sole. It was not published until after he translated it, with significant changes, into Latin, the language of the learned during his time. The Italian version is generally regarded as truer to Campanella’s thought.

The work is very much a product of its time and Campanella’s life. The scientific worldview—that nature can be known by observing the things of this world—was developing, but the medieval view was still powerful. A member of the Dominican order and a learned man, Campanella had been trained in the medieval view that truth was largely to be sought through traditional logic and revelation, but he had reacted against too absolute a version of that view. As a result, Campanella suffered greatly for his religious and political ideas; he was imprisoned by the Inquisition. In this work, he offers a kind of order in which people like himself would have a real function.

The Englishman Thomas More had published, in 1516, his De Optimo Reipublicae Statu, deque Nova Insula Utopia(Utopia, 1551), a Renaissance version of Plato’s Politeia, 388-366 b.c.e. (Republic , 1701). Their ideas of the perfect state underlie Campanella’s. Although Campanella’s subtitle is “a poetical dialogue,” the work is a prose dialogue, in which a Genoese traveler, supposedly a sailor with Columbus, is questioned by a knight of the Order of Hospitalers of Saint John. The Genoese describes his visit to the City of the Sun, a utopian state which Campanella locates in, probably, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The...

(The entire section is 2,148 words.)