Walter Pater (essay date 1889)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5465
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 of Bruno in an examination of the philosopher's 1586 speech delivered in Paris.]
It was on the afternoon of the Feast of Pentecost that news of the death of Charles the Ninth went abroad promptly. To his successor the day became a sweet one, to be noted unmistakably by various pious and other observances; and it was on a Whit-Sunday afternoon that curious Parisians had the opportunity of listening to one who, as if with some intentional new version of the sacred event then commemorated, had a great deal to say concerning the Spirit; above all, of the freedom, the independence of its operation. The speaker, though understood to be a brother of the Order of St. Dominic, had not been present at the mass—the usual university mass, De Spiritu Sancto, said to-day according to the natural course of the season in the chapel of the Sorbonne, by the Italian Bishop of Paris. It was the reign of the Italians just then, a doubly refined, somewhat morbid, somewhat, ash-coloured, Italy in France, more Italian still. Men of Italian birth, "to the great suspicion of simple people," swarmed in Paris, already "flightier, less constant, than the girouettes on its steeples," and it was love for Italian fashions that had brought king and courtiers here to-day, with great éclat, as they said, frizzed and starched, in the beautiful, minutely considered dress of the moment, pressing the university into a perhaps not unmerited background; for the promised speaker, about whom tongues had been busy, not only in the Latin quarter, had come from Italy. In an age in which all things about which Parisians much cared must be Italian there might be a hearing for Italian philosophy. Courtiers at least would understand Italian, and this speaker was rumoured to possess in perfection all the curious arts of his native language. And of all the kingly qualities of Henry's youth, the single one that had held by him was that gift of eloquence, which he was able also to value in others—inherited perhaps; for in all the contemporary and subsequent historic gossip about his mother, the two things certain are, that the hands credited with so much mysterious ill-doing were fine ones, and that she was an admirable speaker.
Bruno himself tells us, long after he had withdrawn himself from it, that the monastic life promotes the freedom of the intellect by its silence and self-concentration. The prospect of such freedom sufficiently explains why a young man who, however well found in worldly and personal advantages, was conscious above all of great intellectual possessions, and of fastidious spirit also, with a remarkable distaste for the vulgar, should have espoused poverty, chastity, obedience, in a Dominican cloister. What liberty of mind may really come to in such places, what daring new departures it may suggest to the strictly monastic temper, is exemplified by the dubious and dangerous mysticism of men like John of Parma and Joachim of Flora, reputed author of the new "Everlasting Gospel," strange dreamers, in a world of sanctified rhetoric, of that later dispensation of the spirit, in which all law must have passed away; or again by a recognised tendency in the great rival Order of St. Francis, in the so-called "spiritual" Franciscans, to understand the dogmatic words of faith with a difference.
The three convents in which Bruno lived successively, at Naples, at Citta di Campagna, and finally the Minerva at Rome, developed freely, we may suppose, all the mystic qualities of a genius in which, from the first, a heady southern imagination took the lead. But it was from beyond conventional bounds he would look for the sustenance, the fuel, of an ardour born or bred within them. Amid such artificial religious stillness the air itself becomes generous in undertones. The vain young monk (vain of course!) would feed his vanity by puzzling the good, sleepy heads of the average sons of Dominic with his neology, putting new wine into old bottles, teaching them their own business—the new, higher, truer sense of the most familiar terms, the chapters they read, the hymns they sang, above all, as it happened, every word that referred to the Spirit, the reign of the Spirit, its excellent freedom. He would soon pass beyond the utmost limits of his brethren's sympathy, beyond the largest and freest interpretation those words would bear, to thoughts and words on an altogether different plane, of which the full scope was only to be felt in certain old pagan writers, though approached, perhaps, at first, as having a kind of natural, preparatory kinship with Scripture itself. The Dominicans would seem to have had well-stocked, liberally-selected, libraries; and this curious youth, in that age of restored letters, read eagerly, easily, and very soon came to the kernel of a difficult old author—Plotinus or Plato; to the purpose of thinkers older still, surviving by glimpses only in the books of others—Empedocles, Pythagoras, who had enjoyed the original divine sense of things, above all, Parmenides, that most ancient assertor of God's identity with the world. The affinities, the unity, of the visible and the invisible, of earth and heaven, of all things whatever, with each other, through the consciousness, the person, of God the Spirit, who was at every moment of infinite time, in every atom of matter, at every point of infinite space, ay! was everything in turn: that doctrine—l'antica filosofia Italiana—was in all its vigour there, a hardy growth out of the very heart of nature, interpreting itself to congenial minds with all the fulness of primitive utterance. A big thought! yet suggesting, perhaps, from the first, in still, small, immediately practical, voice, some possible modification of, a freer way of taking, certain moral precepts: say! a primitive morality, congruous with those larger primitive ideas, the larger survey, the earlier, more liberal air.
Returning to this ancient "pantheism," after so long a reign of a seemingly opposite faith, Bruno unfalteringly asserts "the vision of all things in God" to be the aim of all metaphysical speculation, as of all inquiry into nature: the Spirit of God, in countless variety of forms, neither above, nor, in any way, without, but intimately within, all things—really present, with equal integrity, in the sunbeam ninety millions of miles long, and the wandering drop of water as it evaporates therein. The divine consciousness would have the same relation to the production of things, as the human intelligence to the production of true thoughts concerning them. Nay! those thoughts are themselves God in man: a loan, there, too, of his assisting Spirit, who, in truth, creates all things in and by his own contemplation of them. For Him, as for man in proportion as man thinks truly, thought and being are identical, and things existent only in so far as they are known. Delighting in itself, in the sense of its own energy, this sleepless, capacious, fiery intelligence, evokes all the orders of nature, all the revolutions of history, cycle upon cycle, in ever new types. And God the Spirit, the soul of the world, being really identical with his own soul, Bruno, as the universe shapes itself to his reason, his imagination, ever more and more articulately, shares also the divine joy in that process of the formation of true ideas, which is really parallel to the process of creation, to the evolution of things. In a certain mystic sense, which some in every age of the world have understood, he, too, is creator, himself actually a participator in the creative function. And by such a philosophy, he assures us, it was his experience that the soul is greatly expanded: con questa filosofia l'anima, mi s'aggrandisce: mi se magnifica l'intelletto!
For, with characteristic largeness of mind, Bruno accepted this theory in the whole range of its consequences. Its more immediate corollary was the famous axiom of "indifference," of "the coincidence of contraries." To the eye of God, to the philosophic vision through which God sees in man, nothing is really alien from Him. The differences of things, and above all, those distinctions which schoolmen and priests, old or new, Roman or Reformed, had invented for themselves, would be lost in the length and breadth of the philosophic survey; nothing, in itself, either great or small; and matter, certainly, in all its various forms, not evil but divine. Could one choose or reject this or that? If God the Spirit had made, nay! was, all things indifferently, then, matter and spirit, the spirit and flesh, heaven and earth, freedom and necessity, the first and the last, good and evil, would be superficial rather than substantial differences. Only, were joy and sorrow also to be added to the list of phenomena really coincident or indifferent, as some intellectual kinsmen of Bruno have claimed they should?
The Dominican brother was at no distant day to break far enough away from the election, the seeming "vocation" of his youth, yet would remain always, and under all circumstances, unmistakably a monk in some predominant qualities of temper. At first it was only by way of thought that he asserted his liberty—delightful, late-found privilege!—traversing, in mental journeys, that spacious circuit, as it broke away before him at every moment into ever-new horizons. Kindling thought and imagination at once, the prospect draws from him cries of joy, a kind of religious joy, as in some new "canticle of the creatures," a new monkish hymnal or antiphonary. "Nature" becomes for him a sacred term. "Conform thyself to Nature"—with what sincerity, what enthusiasm, what religious fervour, he enounces the precept to others, to himself! Recovering, as he fancies, a certain primeval sense of Deity broadcast on things, in which Pythagoras and other inspired theorists of early Greece had abounded, in his hands philosophy becomes a poem, a sacred poem, as it had been with them. That Bruno himself, in "the enthusiasm of the idea," drew from his axiom of the "indifference of contraries" the practical consequence which is in very deed latent there, that he was ready to sacrifice to the antinomianism, which is certainly a part of its rigid logic, the purities of his youth for instance, there is no proof. The service, the sacrifice, he is ready to bring to the great light that has dawned for him, which occupies his entire conscience with the sense of his responsibilities to it, is that of days and nights spent in eager study; of a plenary, disinterested utterance of the thoughts that arise in him, at any hazard, at the price, say! of martyrdom. The work of the divine Spirit, as he conceives it, exalts, inebriates him, till the scientific apprehension seems to take the place of prayer, sacrifice, communion. It would be a mistake, he holds, to attribute to the human soul capacities merely passive or receptive. She, too, possesses, not less than the soul of the world, initiatory power, responding with the free gift of a light and heat that seem her own.
Yet a nature so opulently endowed can hardly have been lacking in purely physical ardours. His pantheistic belief that the Spirit of God was in all things, was not inconsistent with, might encourage, a keen and restless eye for the dramatic details of life and character for humanity in all its visible attractiveness, since there, too, in truth, divinity lurks. From those first fair days of early Greek speculation, love had occupied a large place in the conception of philosophy; and in after days Bruno was fond of developing, like Plato, like the Christian platonist, combining something of the peculiar temper of each, the analogy between intellectual enthusiasm and the flights of physical love, with an animation which shows clearly enough the reality of his experience in the latter. The Eroici Furori, his book of books, dedicated to Philip Sidney, who would be no stranger to such thoughts, presents a singular blending of verse and prose, after the manner of Dante's Vita Nuova. The supervening philosophic comment reconsiders those earlier physical impulses which had prompted the sonnet in voluble Italian, entirely to the advantage of their abstract, incorporeal equivalents. Yet if it is after all but a prose comment, it betrays no lack of the natural stuff out of which such mystic transferences must be made. That there is no single name of preference, no Beatrice or Laura, by no means proves the young man's earlier desires merely "Platonic;" and if the colours of love inevitably lose a little of their force and propriety by such deflection, the intellectual purpose as certainly finds its opportunity thereby, in the matter of borrowed fire and wings. A kind of old, scholastic pedantry creeping back over the ardent youth who had thrown it off so defiantly (as if Love himself went in for a degree at the University) Bruno developes, under the mask of amorous verse, all the various stages of abstraction, by which, as the last step of a long ladder, the mind attains actual "union." For, as with the purely religious mystics, union, the mystic union of souls with each other and their Lord, nothing less than union between the contemplator and the contemplated—the reality, or the sense, or at least the name of it—was always at hand. Whence that instinctive tendency, if not from the Creator of things himself, who has doubtless prompted it in the physical universe, as in man? How familiar the thought that the whole creation longs for God, the soul as the hart for the water-brooks! To unite oneself to the infinite by breadth and lucidity of intellect, to enter, by that admirable faculty, into eternal life—this was the true vocation of the spouse, of the rightly amorous soul—"à filosofia ènecessario amore." There would be degrees of progress therein, as of course also of relapse: joys and sorrows, therefore. And, in interpreting these, the philosopher, whose intellectual ardours have superseded religion and love, is still a lover and a monk. All the influences of the convent, the heady, sweet incense, the pleading sounds, the sophisticated light and air, the exaggerated humour of gothic carvers, the thick stratum of pagan sentiment beneath sympathies, tender inspirations, attraction, repulsion, dryness, zeal, desire, recollection: he finds a place for them all; knows them all well in their unaffected simplicity, while he seeks the secret and secondary, or, as he fancies, the primary, form and purport of each.
A light on actual life, or mere barren scholastic subtlety, never before had the pantheistic doctrine been developed with such completeness, never before connected with so large a sense of nature, so large a promise of the knowledge of it as it really is. The eyes that had not been wanting to visible humanity turned with equal liveliness on the natural world in that region of his birth, where all its force and colour is twofold. Nature is not only a thought in the divine mind; it is also the perpetual energy of that mind, which, ever identical with itself, puts forth and absorbs in turn all the successive forms of life, of thought, of language even. But what seemed like striking transformations of matter were in truth only a chapter, a clause, in the great volume of the transformations of the Spirit. To that mystic recognition that all is divine had succeeded a realisation of the largeness of the field of concrete knowledge, the infinite extent of all there was actually to know. Winged, fortified, by this central philosophic faith, the student proceeds to the reading of nature, led on from point to point by manifold lights, which will surely strike on him, by the way, from the intelligence in it, speaking directly, sympathetically, to the intelligence in him. The earth's wonderful animation, as divined by one who anticipates by a whole generation the "philosophy of experience:" in that, the bold, flighty, pantheistic speculation became tangible matter of fact. Here was the needful book for man to read, the full revelation, the detailed story of that one universal mind, struggling, emerging, through shadow, substance, manifest spirit, in various orders of being—the veritable history of God. And nature, together with the true pedigree and evolution of man also, his gradual issue from it, was still all to learn. The delightful tangle of things! it would be the delightful task of man's thoughts to disentangle that. Already Bruno had measured the space which Bacon would fill, with room perhaps for Darwin also. That Deity is everywhere, like all such abstract propositions, is a two-edged force, depending for its practical effect on the mind which admits it, on the peculiar perspective of that mind. To Dutch Spinosa, in the next century, faint, consumptive, with a hold on external things naturally faint, the theorem that God was in all things whatever, annihilating, their differences suggested a somewhat chilly withdrawal from the contact of all alike. In Bruno, eager and impassioned, an Italian of the Italians, it awoke a constant, inextinguishable appetite for every form of experience—a fear, as of the one sin possible, of limiting, for oneself or another, that great stream flowing for thirsty souls, that wide pasture set ready for the hungry heart.
Considered from the point of view of a minute observation of nature, the Infinite might figure as "the infinitely little;" no blade of grass being like another, as there was no limit to the complexities of an atom of earth, cell; sphere, within sphere. But the earth itself, hitherto seemingly the privileged centre of a very limited universe, was, after all, itself but an atom in an infinite world of starry space, then lately displayed to the ingenuous intelligence, which the telescope was one day to verify to bodily eyes. For if Bruno must needs look forward to the future, to Bacon, for adequate knowledge of the earth—the infinitely little; he looked back, gratefully, to another daring mind, which had already put the earth into its modest place, and opened the full view of the heavens. If God is eternal, then, the universe is infinite and worlds innumerable. Yes! one might well have supposed what reason now demonstrated, indicating those endless spaces which sidereal science would gradually occupy, an echo of the creative word of God himself,
Qui innumero numero innumerorum nomina dicit.
That the stars are suns: that the earth is in motion: that the earth is of like stuff with the stars: now the familiar knowledge of children, dawning on Bruno as calm assurance of reason on appeal from the prejudice of the eye, brought to him an inexpressibly exhilarating sense of enlargement of the intellectual, nay! the physical atmosphere. And his consciousness of unfailing unity and order did not desert him in that larger survey, making the utmost one could ever know of the earth seem but a very little chapter in that endless history of God the Spirit, rejoicing so greatly in the admirable spectacle that it never ceases to evolve from matter new conditions. The immovable earth beneath one's feet! one almost felt the movement, the respiration of God in it. And yet how greatly even the physical eye, the sensible imagination (so to term it) was flattered by the theorem. What joy in that motion, the prospect, the music, the music of the spheres! —he could listen to it in a perfection such as had never been conceded to Plato, to Pythagoras even.
Veni, Creator Spiritus,
Mentes tuorum visita,
Imple superna gratia,
Quæ tu creasti pectora!
Yes! the grand old Christian hymns, perhaps the grandest of them, seemed to blend themselves in the chorus, to deepen immeasurably under this new intention. It is not always, or often, that men's abstract ideas penetrate the temperament, touch the animal spirits, affect conduct. It was what they did with Bruno. The ghastly spectacle of the endless material universe, infinite dust, in truth, starry as it may look to our terrestrial eyes—that prospect from which Pascal's faithful soul recoiled so painfully—induced in Bruno only the delightful consciousness of an ever-widening kinship and sympathy, since every one of those infinite worlds must have its sympathetic inhabitants. Scruples of conscience, if he felt such, might well be pushed aside the "excellency" of such knowledge as this. To shut the eyes, whether of the body or the mind, would be a kind of dark ingratitude; the one sin, to believe directly or indirectly in any absolutely dead matter anywhere, because involving denial of the indwelling spirit. A free spirit, certainly, as of old! Through all his pantheistic flights, from horizon to horizon, it was still the thought of liberty that presented itself to the infinite relish of this "prodigal son" of Dominic. God the Spirit had made all things indifferently, with a largeness, a beneficence, impiously belied by any theory of restrictions, distinctions, absolute limitations. Touch, see, listen, eat freely of all the trees of the garden of Paradise with the voice of the Lord God literally everywhere: here was the final counsel of perfection. The world was even larger than youthful appetite, youthful capacity. Let theologian and every other theorist beware how he narrowed either. The plurality of worlds! how petty in comparison seemed the sins, to purge which was the chief motive for coming to places like this convent, whence Bruno, with vows broken, or obsolete for him, presently departed. A sonnet, expressive of the joy with which he returned to so much more than the liberty of ordinary men, does not suggest that he was driven from it. Though he must have seemed to those who surely had loved so lovable a creature there to be departing, like the prodigal of the Gospel, into the furthest of possible far countries, there is no proof of harsh treatment, or even of an effort to detain him.
It happens, of course most naturally, that those who undergo the shock of spiritual or intellectual change sometimes fail to recognise their debt to the deserted cause: how much of the heroism, or other high quality, of their rejection has really been the growth of what they reject? Bruno, the escaped monk, is still a monk: his philosophy, impious as it might seem to some, a new religion. He came forth well fitted by conventual influences to play upon men as he was played upon. A challenge, a war-cry, an alarum; everywhere he seemed to be the creature of some subtly materialised spiritual force, like that of the old Greek prophets, like the primitive "enthusiasm" he was inclined to set so high, or impulsive Pentecostal fire. His hunger to know, fed at first dreamily enough within the convent walls as he wandered over space and time an indefatigable reader of books, would be fed physically now by ear and eye, by large matter-of-fact experience, as he journeys from university to university; yet still, less as a teacher than a courtier, a citizen of the world, a knight-errant of intellectual light. The philosophic need to try all things had given reasonable justification to the stirring desire for travel common to youth, in which, if in nothing else, that whole age of the later Renaissance was invincibly young. The theoretic recognition of that mobile spirit of the world, ever renewing its youth, became, sympathetically, the motive of a life as mobile, as ardent, as itself; of a continual journey, the venture and stimulus of which would be the occasion of ever new discoveries, of renewed conviction.
The unity, the spiritual unity, of the world: —that must involve the alliance, the congruity, of all the things with each other, great reinforcements of sympathy, of the teacher's personality with the doctrine he had to deliver, the spirit of that doctrine with the fashion of his utterance. In his own case, certainly, as Bruno confronted his audience at Paris, himself, his theme, his language, were the fuel of one clear spiritual flame, which soon had hold of his audience also; alien, strangely alien, as it might seem from the speaker. It was intimate discourse, in magnetic touch with every one present, with his special point of impressibility; the sort of speech which, consolidated into literary form as a book, would be a dialogue according to the true Attic genius, full of those diversions, passing irritations, unlooked-for appeals, in which a solicitous missionary finds his largest range of opportunity, and takes even dull wits unaware. In Bruno, that abstract theory of the perpetual motion of the world was a visible person talking with you.
And as the runaway Dominican was still in temper a monk, so he presented himself in the comely Dominican habit. The eyes which in their last sad protest against stupidity would mistake, or miss altogether, the image of the Crucified, were to-day, for the most part, kindly observant eyes, registering every detail of that singular company, all the physiognomic lights which come by the way on people, and, through them, on things, the "shadows of ideas" in men's faces ("De Umbris Idearum" was the title of his discourse), himself pleasantly animated by them, in turn. There was "heroic gaiety" there; only, as usual with gaiety, the passage of a peevish cloud seemed all the chillier. Lit up, in the agitation of speaking, by many a harsh or scornful beam, yet always sinking, in moments of repose, to an expression of high-bred melancholy, it was a face that looked, after all, made for suffering—already half pleading, half defiant—as of a creature you could hurt, but to the last never shake a hair's breadth from its estimate of yourself.
Like nature, like nature in that country of his birth, the Nolan, as he delighted to proclaim himself, loved so well that, born wanderer as he was, he must perforce return thither sooner or later, at the risk of life, he gave plenis manibus, but without selection, and, with all his contempt for the "asinine" vulgar, was not fastidious. His rank, unweeded eloquence, abounding in a play of words, rabbinic allegories, verses defiant of prosody, in the kind of erudition he professed to despise, with a shameless image here or there, product not of formal method, but of Neapolitan improvisation, was akin to the heady wine, the sweet, coarse odours, of that fiery, volcanic soil, fertile in the irregularities which manifest power. Helping himself indifferently to all religious for rhetoric illustration, his preference was still for that of the soil, the old pagan one, the primitive Italian gods, whose names and legends haunt his speech, as they do the carved and pictorial work of the age, according to the fashion of that ornamental paganism which the Renaissance indulged. To excite, to surprise, to move men's minds, as the volcanic earth is moved, as if in travail, and, according to the Socratic fancy, bring them to the birth, was the true function of the teacher, however unusual it might seem in an ancient university. Fantastic, from first to last that was the descriptive epithet, and the very word, carrying us to Shakespeare, reminds one how characteristic of the age such habit was, and that it was pre-eminently due to Italy. A bookman, yet with so vivid a hold on people and things, the traits and tricks of the audience seemed to revive in him, to strike from his memory all the graphic resources of his old readings. He seemed to promise some greater matter than was then actually exposed; himself to enjoy the fulness of a great outlook, the vague suggestion of which did but sustain the curiosity of the listeners. And still, in hearing him speak you seemed to see that subtle spiritual fire to which he testified kindling from word to word. What Parisians then heard was, in truth, the first fervid expression of all those contending apprehensions, out of which his written works would afterwards be compacted, with much loss of heat in the process. Satiric or hybrid growths, things due to υßρι insolence, insult, all that those fabled satyrs embodied—the volcanic South is kindly prolific of this, and Bruno abounded in mockeries: it was by way of protest. So much of a Platonist, for Plato's genial humour he had nevertheless substituted the harsh laughter of Aristophanes. Paris, teeming, beneath a very courtly exterior, with mordent words, in unabashed criticism of all real or suspected evil, provoked his utmost powers of scorn for the "triumphant beast," the "constellation of the Ass," shining even there, amid the university folk, those intellectual bankrupts of the Latin Quarter, who had so long passed between them gravely a worthless "parchment and paper" currency. In truth, Aristotle, as the supplanter of Plato, was still in possession, pretending to determine heaven and earth by precedent, hiding the proper nature of things from the eyes of men. Habit—the last word of his practical philosophy—indolent habit! what would this mean in the intellectual life, but just that sort of dead judgments which are most opposed to the essential freedom and quickness of the Spirit, because the mind, the eye, were no longer really at work in them?
To Bruno, a true son of the Renaissance, in the light of those large, antique, pagan ideas, the difference between Rome and the Reform would figure, of course, as but an insignificant variation upon some deeper, more radical antagonism between two tendencies of men's minds. But what about an antagonism deeper still? between Christ and the world, say! Christ and the flesh? —that so very ancient antagonism between good and evil? Was there any place for imperfection in a world wherein the minutest atom, the lightest thought, could not escape from God's presence? Who should note the crime, the sin, the mistake, in the operation of that eternal spirit, which could have made no misshapen births? In proportion as man raised himself to the ampler survey of the divine work around him, just in that proportion did the very notion of evil disappear. There were no weeds, no "tares," in the endless field. The truly illuminated mind, discerning spiritually, might do what it would. Even under the shadow of monastic walls, that had ever been the precept, which the larger theory of "inspiration" had bequeathed to practice. "Of all the trees of the garden thou mayst freely eat! If you take up any deadly thing, it shall not hurt you! And I think that I, too, have the spirit of God."
Bruno, the citizen of the world, Bruno at Paris, was careful to warn off the vulgar from applying the decisions of philosophy beyond its proper speculative limits. But a kind of secresy, an ambiguous atmosphere, encompassed, from the first, alike the speaker and the doctrine; and in that world of fluctuating and ambiguous characters, the alerter mind certainly, pondering on this novel reign of the spirit—what it might actually be—would hardly fail to find in Bruno's theories a method of turning poison into food, to live and thrive thereon; an art, surely, no less opportune in the Paris of that hour, intellectually or morally, than had it related to physical poisons. If Bruno himself was cautious not to suggest the ethic or practical equivalent to his theoretic positions, there was that in his very manner of speech, in his rank, unweeded eloquence, which seemed naturally to discourage any effort at selection, any sense of fine difference, of nuances or proportion, in things. The loose sympathies of his genius were allied to nature, nursing, with equable maternity of soul, good, bad, and indifferent, rather than to art, distinguishing, rejecting, refining. Commission and omission; sins of the former surely had the preference. And how would Paolo and Francesca have read the lesson? How would this Henry the Third, and Margaret of the "Memoirs," and other susceptible persons then present, read it, especially if the opposition between practical good and evil traversed another distinction, to the "opposed points," the "fenced opposites" of which many, certainly, then present, in that Paris of the last of the Valois, could never by any possibility become "indifferent," between the precious and the base, aesthetically—between what was right and wrong, as matter of art?
William Boulting (essay date 1914)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4405
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.]
I. THE SHADOWS OF IDEAS
In 1582, Gorbin, whose shop was under the sign of "Hope," produced the second of Bruno's printed works, but the first which has been preserved down to our own time. "De Umbris Idearum"—"The Shadows of Ideas"—was dedicated to Henry and issued "with his privilege." Now Chicus Æsculanus asserted in his commentary "In Spheram" that Solomon wrote a work on the shadows of ideas, and perhaps this statement suggested the title to Bruno; for more than once he refers to Solomon and his Song in in this book. The work aimed at setting before the King, men of cultured mind, scholars and students an improved art of remembering; but, since the mnemonic system displayed is loosely associated with metaphysical bases, the latter are treated of in the first part of the book as "Shadows of Ideas." while the second part is entitled the "Art of Memory." The first part is frankly Neo-Platonic. Bruno had absorbed much Neo-Platonism; it was a popular doctrine in his time. It is true that he despised its Italian exponent, Pico della Mirandola; but the symbolic doctrine of the One True Light approached so near to the conceptions he was forming, or had already formed as to the immanence of God that he had no scruple in using it. He accepts, too, the doctrine of universal animism, which was held by the ancient world and generally received by thinkers of his own age. The "Art of Memory," following the philosophic treatise, is in three divisions which contain some rudimentary psychology and an attempt at mental analysis. The notions which Lully conceived to be irreducible are replaced by an increased number of concepts, chosen for their convenience in illustrating mnemonic method. Bruno retains Lully's mechanical arrangements, the various compartments bearing symbolic labels for economy and concentration of thought. There is, however, little serious attempt at systematic treatment. Severe orderly arrangement would seem to have been repellent to all the men of the Renaissance, and it was by no means conformable with the swoop and circlings of Bruno on the wing. The book was intended to be generally acceptable; and therefore its author reserved much which must have been maturing in his brain. His thought was to be quickened and strengthened by the clarifying stimulus of opposition and contumely; his bold and penetrative insight to be sharpened by the obtuse folly of his foes. His present object was to arouse the mind of his reader without incensing him unduly.
Eastern ideas reached Plato, and he endeavoured to formulate them; but Neo-Platonism retranslated thought into imagery. Bruno never entirely departed from the Neo-Platonic method. He often associates his concepts with a mystic symbolism which is not always a mere aid to memory, but implies some subtle and profound cosmic sympathy. Words, nay alphabets, he holds are the shades of things, and things are the vestiges of the Being of beings. Throughout, he presupposes an ultimate identity of thought and thing; of memory and nature; of what is knowable and the unknown; of fact and power. This opinion has been pretty generally held by the profounder thinkers. The age was so convinced of the reality of a single principle that it sought eagerly for the Elixir of Life and the Philosopher's stone.
It had been shown by the later Greeks that sense-perception was not to be depended on for the discovery of truth. The Neo-Platonists therefore relied on the directness of intuition concerning high matters; they regarded intuition as having the force of perception on a higher plane. This was also characteristic of the mystics and it greatly influenced Bruno. But he held man to be incapable of achieving the very truth. We are but shadows of the Ineffable One; for the light which reaches us is confused and contradictory and mixed with darkness; we perceive good and evil together and in contrast, the beautiful associated with the ugly to which it is in opposition. Looked at from the eternal point of view, all, even the worst evils are perfection; everything descends from the perfect and everything strives to wing a homeward flight. The human soul is to the human body as is a pilot to the ship: it is in it, but not of it, and, being associated with body, the soul perceives truth confusedly and as in flux. But the Idea draws us on; and, in itself, it is not abstract but concrete and articulated. Our ideas, we must remember, are as an admixture of light and shadow and not that absolute truth which they can never reach; but nonetheless the mind can rise above the things of sense, perceiving unity in plurality. Mystic union with the Divinity was experienced by Plotinus and others. From the acceptance of this mystical experience thus avowed in this early work, Bruno never departed. But in his later works, wherein he reproduces far less Neo-Platonism and becomes vastly more original, he proclaims that by the exercise of reason also we can attain comprehensive contact with the Absolute, Who is at once the source and object of our search.
God is immanent as well as transcendent; for does not man share a measure of the Ineffable Light? The interconnection of ideas naturally corresponds with that of things. But memory is apt to break down, and, where it does so, we may mend it by working on the lines of its natural operation. He feels the significance of the principle of the Association of Ideas, which Aristotle was the first to indicate, and uses it. He also culls the best from all writers of his time on mnemonics, as he told us in the preface he intended to do. Our ideas being shadows of truth, we use shadows of these shadows in mnemonics. We can economize thought by means of signs the nature of which is that they are shadows or traces.
To fix attention, maintain interest and arouse emotional force, he introduces mythological subjects.
Imagine what a good "draw" a really useful tool for unearthing the buried treasures of the mind would be to men who found books so hard to come at! But Bruno was endowed with a prodigious memory, and he falsely attributed his natural power to the artifices he employed. Probably the expectations he excited were not fulfilled. There is no great novelty in his mnemonics; he was one of the "celestial thieves" of his generation. There are, in "De Umbris," foreshadowings of his philosophic syncretism; but he has not yet welded the conclusions of others into a vital whole or made them live anew in his own completer thought; the work is tentative and contains only the germ of the Bruno that was presently to appear; but such remarks as the one that religious mysteries are mere institutions to train human eyes for the perception of "the steep passage from darkness to light" are truly Brunian.
He introduces symbolic verse of his own composition and gives us brisk dialogue between Hermes, Philotimus and Logifer, with thrusts, less severe than those which were to follow, at the doctors and masters of the schools.
Scholars had travelled a far road from the elegant Latin of Cicero. Bruno's Latin is full of neologisms; his syntax is bad; his prosody, abominable. In a later work he acknowledges that his Latin is coarse and rough. But it is alive. One finds the elements of Bruno's manner in this early work and they may be conveniently examined here.
He delights in brisk and varied dialogue which knows no curb. Sometimes the thread of mystical symbolism which runs through it finds a natural expression in metre; every here and there he breaks into verse, which, no less than prose, he writes with impetuous fury. At its worst, one is reminded that he came from the land of improvvisatori. He is far too much in a hurry to be over careful as to style, and never dreams of polish; for the thing he has to declare is infinitely more important than the manner of declaring it. Later, he hinted at being too diffuse, but failed to amend his ways. In his verses, there is little of craftsman-like skill. His pen flows as rapidly as his thought; his mind is full to bursting point; he indulges in wide circlings and side-long sweeps. He casts about for the most unlikely allegory; for to him, as to Dante and Swedenborg and Emerson, all nature and all the products of the human mind are symbolic of higher truth; and in this he fell into line with the conviction of his century, perceiving deep analogies in fact and fable, whether sacred or profane. Hence, in an age of respect for authority, he supports an argument by drawing on his own vast lore; he lugs in learning by the ears, not for display but to reinforce his meaning. He does this quite impartially: the Bible, the Pre-Socratic philosophers, the Cabala and classic myth are introduced as of equal weight. There is real unity underlying each of his works; but all give the impression of disorder. For, each trivial occasion, each intruding half-thought is as a spark which he allows to burst into vivid and vagrant flame: his imagination plays riotously round his immediate theme, and then suddenly leaps aside. Sometimes this is a trick, done of set purpose. If the men of the Renaissance rejoiced in life, towards the close of the period they expressed their vigour in violence. Hence Bruno lost no opportunity of keeping his readers awake by the oddness of his antics; he surprises them by bombardments and unexpected raking fires. He thinks to throw each noble design, each lofty thought into relief by the dodge (not wholly unknown to modern authors) of smart paradox. Prolixity and the grossly grotesque entertained his age: they bore ours. All is overdone: there is not a thought of repose. Penetrative insight, soaring imagination, novel wisdom, severe thought have a setting of jest and jeer, clumsy buffoonery and sheer indecency. He was justified in being sure of himself; but his bombastic self-assertion repels the modern reader. He delights in contrast and invective. His polemic is implacable and often unjust, but less so than that of his contemporaries and immediate successors; and he flies less readily than they to the final argument of abuse. As Tocco remarks, his motive is always noble; he "made no thought of life" and proved it by sacrifice and suffering and sealing his faith in death.
II. THE INCANTATION OF CIRCE
Books of the period bore odd titles to catch the eye. Bruno called his next work the Cantus Circaeus—The Incantation Of Circe. The Homeric sorceress, who transforms men into beasts, discusses with her handmaiden the human vice which each kind of beast represents, and each beast and its vice are memorised under initial letters. Now the nature of memory is occult, and the recalling of ideas may be regarded as a sort of magical process. So the art of memory may be regarded as a fascinating incantation. The dialogue is full of bitter satire on human depravity. A second dialogue follows with different interlocutors. It treats more directly and precisely than the previous "Art of Memory" of that subject. There is an attempt to localise the functions of the brain as the physical conditions of mental process. The principle of the association of ideas is more closely followed than in "De Umbris" and copious illustrations of method are given. The work abounds in obscurities, which were as attractive to superior minds in that age as in our own. Later on Bruno found it convenient to be occasionally obscure where it was wiser to suggest merely to those few who had the capacity really to understand perilous doctrine. But Bruno never erred on the side of over-caution!
III. THE LULLIAN ARCHITECTURE
In the same year appeared a third book, the Brief Architecture Of The Art of Lully With Its Completion [De compendiosa architectura et complemento artis Lullii]. It was published by Gorbin and was little more than a reproduction of Lully's "Great Art." But Bruno thought that art a key to the structure of the universe and the ready way to a complete philosophy, proceeding from foundations of all knowledge; he conceived of it as a demonstration of unity, the shortest of roads for thought and memory, and a useful symbolic logic. Of the value of Inference in extending knowledge, Bruno had little more notion than had Lully. For, although Lully worked outside scholasticism and exhibited much of that spontaneous originality which we find in Scotus Erigena before scholasticism began, mediaeval thought was harnessed in the syllogism and employed itself in ceaseless rotation, like a donkey round a grinding mill, but mostly grinding philosophic chaff. In Bruno's time Lully captured many able minds and had a great vogue. Before Kant, it was not possible to work from other than dogmatic premises; certain concepts were posited as fundamental and ultimate; there was no notion of submitting them to criticism. For Bruno, the art of Lully was alive; for us, it has become dead and valueless.
Lully tried to prove the dogmas of the Church by human reason [in De Articulis Fidei] Bruno, in this work, [Brief Architecture of the Art of Lully with its Completion] denies that they are reasonable: any attempt to prove their truth is a blunder; for Christianity is irrational, contrary to philosophy and in disagreement with other religions. We only accept it by faith and through revelation. As a Neo-Platonist and syncretist he relies on and quotes pagan authority as freely as Christian.
Berti thinks that at some time before Bruno left France he wrote a book, never published, of which all we know is that, two years later, he promised to send his English friend Smith his "Purgatory of Hell, wherein you shall see the fruit of redemption." One judges from the context that the redemption was from scientific and philosophic error.
IV. THE CHANDLER
The same year (1582) saw another work from Bruno's rapid pen. This time he wrote in Italian, and the book was printed by an Italian who had settled in Paris, Guglielmo Giuliano by name. Bruno tells us it was the fruit of "a few burning days." It differs wholly from his other writings, for it is a stage-play, full of rattling, roaring fun and furnished with a satiric probe for credulity, pedantry and pretence. Its world is full of the pursuers and hucksters of illusions; rogues abound, and fools are duped by miraclemongers, alchemists and pretenders to magic arts. This comedy is entitled Il Candelajo, which may be translated as The Chandler. In Bruno's time the person who supplied candles also made them. Now the manufacture of tallowdips is a noisome and undignified trade. Bruno, like Dante, loved to load words with more than their surfacemeaning. "Behold," he says in the dedication, "behold in the candle borne by this Chandler, to whom I gave birth, that which shall clarify certain shadows of ideas." This product of imagination which shall set forth truth is dedicated with a letter to the lady Morgana, a name very suggestive of Fata Morgana—the mirage—which is illusion. In this dedication a multitude of ideas surge pellmell; they only get themselves out as obscure half-hints; the language is tortuous and the syntax involved. Priests and pedants may banish his body and make chaos of his life, but they shall not shackle his soul or obscure its vision. Here he presents some shifting shadows, but all the moving shadows of the Universe are really the expression of One Reality. "I need not instruct you of my belief: Time gives all and takes all away; everything changes but nothing perishes; One only is immutable, eternal and ever endures, one and the same with itself. With this philosophy my spirit grows, my mind expands. Whereof, however obscure the night may be, I await daybreak, and they who dwell in day look for night…. Rejoice therefore, and keep whole, if you can, and return love for love."
The characters of the play, being vicious, are inversions of virtue, integrals in the scheme of things, fulfilling an office to higher ends, as does the one who gives the play its title, our provider of gross matter which shall furnish shining flame. The title of the play is repeated in three of its scenes. In the two first of these our protagonist, who aims at writing amorous poetry, is told, to his great perplexity, that he is trying to change himself from chandler to goldsmith. In the last, it is related how all the folk with a bee in the bonnet, who hanker after miracle-mongering priests and their "water of St. Peter the Martyr, seed of St. John, heaven-sent food of St. Andrew and marrow from the bones of St. Piantorio" are wont to consult an ancient dame who poses as a wise-woman. An intended bride, doubtful as to her marriage, goes to this old lady. The dialogue, though only recorded by one of the characters, may be translated as fairly illustrative of Bruno's brisk and vigorous dramatic manner. It reminds us to that of Plautus and Molière.
"Mother mine, they want me to marry Bonifacio Trucco. He is well off." "Have him!" "Yes, but he is too old." "My daughter, don't have him!" "But my parents advise me to." "Have him!" "But he don't please me too well." "Then don't have him!" "I know he comes of good blood." "Have him!" "But I hear he has not teeth enough to bite a bean." "Don't have him!" "They tell me he has a pure-bred greyhound." "Have him!" "But, oh dear me, I hear he is only a chandler." "Don't have him!" "Everybody thinks him mad." "Take him! Take him! seven times over! His being a chandler doesn't count; it's no concern of yours if he can't eat; if he doesn't please you, no matter; what if he be old; but he is mad, so take him [Act V, Sc. xxiv]."
Herein are furtive thrusts all round.
The play begins with a few verses. Then comes the mockdedication. By a convention dating from classic times every play required a prologue. Bruno will none of this. A love of buffoonery pervaded his age, so our author next gives us a synopsis of the characters and of the three closely interwoven but distinct plots of his comedy for prologue and follows this up with an anti-prologue, then with a proprologue and finally, before the curtain rises, there is a speech from the beadle; all this, excepting the synopsis, being done in that spirit of humorous provocation so characteristic of Rabelais.
The play has five acts and eighteen characters, whereof Bonifacio, an elderly, amorous miser; Bartolomeo, an avaricious seeker after the philosopher's stone, and Manfurio, pedant and fool, are chief.
The pedant is of poor but pretentious intelligence; naturally a vessel of mean capacity, which bursts into absurdities when crammed with more than it was designed to hold. His ineptitude overflows in affectation and self-conceit, and he speaks in inappropriate Latin or latinized Italian. He is a man of words and phrases, of subtle distinctions with no value in them, and of painstaking accuracy about trumpery matters. He lugs in classical lore at every breath. He is unmarried and is specially attached to his pupil Pollula: it is significant that a female name is given to the boy. Manfurio has a hand in everything that is going on and understands nothing of it; he is fooled and laughed at, eventually falls into the clutch of a sham watch, and is soundly thrashed, as are the other protagonists.
Bonifacio, married to the youthful Carubina, is in love with Vittoria, a lady no better than she should be, who only pretends to return his affection in order to bleed his purse. He commits endless absurdities in order to keep her to himself, and goes to a professor of magic to help him. This gentleman drains him dry; whereupon Vittoria manages to substitute Carubina for herself. Bonifacio, in the dress of Bernardo, a painter, who is also in love with Carubina, is thus confronted by his own wife dressed in Vittoria's clothes. The pretended watch appear and force Bonifacio to give a bribe to their captain; meanwhile Carubina is tête-à-tête with the painter. Finally the deceived husband has to entreat his wife to pardon him, and sails into more tranquil waters "by the grace of the Lord and the Madonna."
The third protagonist, Bartolomeo, trusts himself to the direction of a designing alchemist who well-nigh exhausts his lean purse. A mixture, which contains a fictitious "powder of Christ" fails to work; and after amusing scenes of roguery, the false watch appear and, by threatening prison, make their profit.
The play is a series of pictures of the seamy side of Neapolitan life and repeats the coarse talk which Bruno would have heard as a boy. He may have written the work when he was in the monastery: certain references and its fresh and vigorous touches smack of the direct transcript of recent impressions. But a reference to a recent event shows that it received at least finishing strokes in France, if not in Paris. In his castigation of vice, the very unpleasant is unduly prominent; but the play is not so foul as those of Machiavelli, Bibbiena and Aretino. It must be admitted that this comedy exhibits a great knowledge of the seamy side of life and is a queer product of monastic discipline. But not so many years before a Prince of the Church had officiated at the altar of the Cyprian as well as at that of Christ, and his comedy brought a blush to the face of that by no means severe prude, Isabella D'Este, while Erasmus tells us of a priest who took a part in a Latin play. Even in Bruno's stricter days of Catholic Reform the full effect of the Council of Trent was not felt, and no great blame attached to such lapses. We must not press too heavily on the fault. The Renaissance found frank indecency attractive; we have become more "delicately indelicate." Natural instincts held in leash are apt to manifest themselves in this vicarious and disagreeable way, and a "virile" young man, in a "virile" century at least, will roll in the obscene with the unconstrained gratification of a puppy dog. Moreover, many young men indulge in obscene speculation for precisely the same reason that lunatic maidens are said to utter foul oaths: there is fascination in the repellent and it is apt to produce an undue impression on the mind.
The plot is unduly complicated and reminds the reader of the Spanish stage. The characters are abstract types, like those of Ben Jonson and dramatists of the second rank; but they are drawn with rare felicity. The dialogue is quite as vivacious and clever as any by Aretino. The Chandler is quite sui generis—a new development in comedy. It is easy, spontaneous, the overflow of an ardent and imaginative temperament. Both the obscenity and buffoonery of the play are half intended to keep the audience amused; buffoonery and indelicacy are also introduced with this purpose in Bruno's more serious writings.
The rediscovery of the classics led, in time, to degenerate humanists: Bruno is less tender to these pedants than to knaves—probably because he had suffered more at their hands. Philosophical theory peeps out in the play here and there.
He believes that his enemies rejoice at his exile; but he is convinced he will obtain his due, "if not under one hood, then under another; if not in one life yet in another"; a remark which some have thought to show that he believed in an immortality not guaranteed by the mere pantheistic Neo-Platonism he had so far expounded.
In a somewhat earlier and more liberal age, Machiavelli expressed his contempt for the miraculous. Guicciardini thought those wonders which were best attested to be examples of natural phenomena not yet understood. This was Bruno's attitude, as is clear from many passages in his books. In The Chandler he pours his scorn on the trickery of the priesthood. He hints at the miseries of monastic discipline.
He is aware of his own originality and declares it; he does not disguise his Horatian contempt for the herd.
There is no evidence that the play was ever performed; but, influenced by prior productions, it left its mark in its turn on those which followed. The comedies of that manysided genius, Giambattista della Porta (who was a Neapolitan and a contemporary of Bruno), which were published more than twenty years later than the Candelajo, show a singular resemblance to it. Within two generations, a French adaptation, entitled Boniface et le Pédant, was staged, and this was followed by Cyrano de Bergerac's Le Pédant joué. Cyrano concentrated Bruno's trifold plot to the advantage of the play; but he missed much of the vivacity of the original dialogue. He indirectly admits this, for he vows that "Italian twins would joke in their mother's womb." These adaptations influenced Molière; he extracted what suited him from Cyrano's version, saying that he had a right to it: "On reprend son bien partout on le trouve." Prof. Adamson suggested that Manfurio was the prototype of Holofernes in Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost."
Frances A. Yates (essay date 1943)
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10493
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 begins before the Elizabethan period, but its most powerful development comes in the last decade of the sixteenth century, during which were published sonnet sequences on the Petrarchan model by Sir Philip Sidney, who inspires and leads the whole movement, by Daniel, Constable, Lodge, Barnes, Drayton, Spenser, and others. Those of Shakespeare were not published until later, but they really also belong to the period of this sonneteering fashion.
Modern English students of this poetry have tended to examine it mainly from two angles, which one might characterize as the personal and the literary. The critic interested in the human side asks himself how far the language of Petrarchism is sincere, by which he means: Does it express real feeling for individual women loved by these poets or is it only an artificial fashion? On the whole it has been felt that language so stilted and conventional as that of the majority of these sonnets cannot be the vehicle of genuine human feeling. The literary approach has concentrated on the tracing of sources, and has proved that the Elizabethan sonneteers borrow their conceits and phrasing, not only from Petrarch himself, but also from his many Italian imitators, and, above all, from the French Petrarchists of the school of Ronsard.
This poetry can, however, be studied from yet another angle, making the centre of interest neither the personal experiences of the poets nor their foreign sources, but the sonnet language in itself as an artistic phenomenon. In a recent book the conventional conceits used by the Elizabethan poets are discussed and a table provided by which the use of each conceit by different poets can be traced. Such a study brings out the fact that Petrarchism is really a kind of picture language, and that the chief interest of the individual Petrarchist is in the pictures or concetti for their own sake.
It is indeed probable that this last approach brings us nearer to the Elizabethan manner of reading the poetry than the other two. And it might be carried a stage further by inquiring what this picture language of the Petrarchan conceit meant to the Elizabethans. One is emboldened to pose this daring question by the fact that Giordano Bruno, the Italian philosopher who came to England at a time when Elizabethan Petrarchism was on the point of bursting forth, and who knew Sir Philip Sidney, uses the Petrarchan conceit in a manner which connects it with the emblem.
The dialogue entitled De gli eroici furori was written by Bruno whilst he was living at the French embassy in London and was published in London in 1585 with a dedication to Sir Philip Sidney.
The Eroici furori is arranged in sections. Each section usually consists of an emblem or device which is described in words, this description taking the place of what would be a plate in an illustrated emblem book; a poem, generally in sonnet form, in which the forms used visually in the emblem occur as poetic conceits; and finally, an exposition or commentary in which the spiritual or philosophical meanings latent in the imagery which has been presented both in the emblem and in the poem are expounded.
The following is an example of the method. The emblem consists of two stars in the form of two radiant eyes, with the motto Mors et vita.
The sonnet which accompanies this emblem is built round one of the commonest clichés of Petrarchist poetry, that of the lady's eyes as stars which the lover prays may be turned upon him although he knows that their glance has power to kill him. This central convention is supported by other equally conventional ideas. There is the worn face of the lover upon which his sufferings are to be discerned:
Writ by the hand of love may each behold
Upon my face the story of my woes….
There is the pride and cruelty of the lady who seems deliberately at times to torment the lover:
But thou, so that thy pride no curb may know
…Thou dost torment….
This leads up to the image which is the foundation of the whole poem, that of the lady's eyes as lights or stars:
Thou dost torment, by hiding from my view
Those lovely lights beneath the beauteous lids.
Therefore the troubled sky's no more serene.
Finally, there is the prayer to the lady, as to a goddess, to relent from her unkindness and turn her eyes upon the suffering lover, even though her glance may kill him:
Render thyself, oh Goddess, unto pity!…
Open, oh lady, the portals of thine eyes,
And look on me if thou wouldst give me death!
The conceit dominating the whole sonnet, which is a tissue of Petrarchist phraseology, is that of the stars-eyes which had already been presented in the emblem.
In the commentary which follows the meanings are explained. The face upon which the story of the lover's woes is written is the soul seeking God. Here Bruno quotes metaphors from the Psalms: 'My soul thirsteth after thee as a weary land', and, 'I opened my mouth wide and panted; for I longed for thy commandments' [Psalms CXLII, v. 6 and CXIX, v. 131]. The image of the worn face of the lover in the sonnet is, he says, intended to have the same meaning as that which the Psalmist conveys when he speaks of the thirst and the panting of the soul. The pride of the lady is a metaphor, as God is sometimes said to be jealous, angry or asleep, signifying how often he withholds the vision of himself. 'So the lights are covered with the eyelids, the troubled sky of the human mind does not clear itself by the removal of the metaphors and enigmas. By praying that the eyes should open, the lover is praying that the divine light should show itself. And the death which the glance of the eyes can give signifies the mystical death of the soul 'which same is eternal life, which a man may anticipate in this life and enjoy in eternity'.
The commentary thus provides a key to the meaning both of the sonnet with its prayer to the death-dealing stars-eyes of the lady and of the emblem of the stars-eyes with its motto Mors et vita. The emblem and the conceit are vitally linked together because they both have the same hidden meaning. In short, the conceit is an emblem.
There is not space to work out any other emblem-conceits from theEroici furori as fully as this. But the following are a few more examples of the method in abridged form, giving only the leading ideas of the figures described, without the subtleties of the detailed interpretation.
The emblem consists of two stars, below which is a head with four faces which blow towards the four corners of the heavens and which represent the winds. There is a sonnet in which the same imagery is used, and the commentary explains that the winds are spiritual aspiration, and that the two stars are divine beauty and goodness towards which the lover or enthusiast aspires. If these divine stars are visible they calm the tempest of his soul; but if invisible he will be troubled and harassed. They have the power to kill the enthusiast, a power which is benevolent because it causes him to die to everything except his divine object.
It will be observed that the meaning of this emblem and sonnet is really exactly the same as that of the stars-eyes emblem conceit, although the imagery is slightly different. The worn face of the lover, the panting breath of the Psalmist, the tempestuous winds in the breast of the enthusiast, are all hieroglyphs with the same meaning—that of spiritual aspiration. And this second emblem-conceit of the stars above the winds expresses the experience of a soul painfully in search of vision and passing through alternate moods of insight and obscurity, as the stars are now visible, now invisible.
The arrow is an image which Bruno uses very freely and in various forms. For example, the arrow-pierced heart:
One object only I regard,
One face alone my mind does fill,
One beauty keeps me fixed and still;
One arrow pierced my heart.
That is to say, explains the commentary, the will of the enthusiast is fixed on one divine object, and 'from thence alone he derives that barb which, killing him, constitutes the consummation of perfection'.
A variant form of the arrow emblem-conceit is the figure of two radiating arrows upon a target, with the motto: Vicit instans. Here the target symbolizes the hard, adamantine heart pierced in an instant by the arrows of divine love. Again, he uses the figure of an arrow with a burning point. This combines the metaphors of a piercing and at the same time burning agency. Roughly speaking, Bruno means by the arrow impressions made by the divine upon the soul; the piercing arrow is the burning ray of divine beauty which wounds the lover.
A large number of the conventional sonnet images are used by Bruno in this way, that is to say as emblems of mystical experience. Yet if the poetry of the Eroici furori were to be printed by itself, without the prose emblems and the explanatory prose commentaries, we should have what would appear to be a kind of sonnet sequence (although not all the verses are in sonnet form), very obscure and difficult to follow, yet highly conventional in the conceits and images which it uses.
In the dedication to Sidney of the Eroici furori, Bruno is at pains to impress fully upon Sidney and his other readers what he is doing. This dedication opens with a violent attack on Petrarchism in the sense of worship of some human mistress, or, as he puts it, of 'distilling the elixir of the brain' in conceits which display to the public view the tortures and torments suffered under the tyranny of an unworthy object, that is of a human and not a divine object. His own poetry, so he explains to Sidney, is concerned solely with the divine. In fact he had intended to make this quite clear by entitling his book a canticle, for its meaning is the same as that of Solomon's poem, 'which under cover of ordinary loves and affections contains similar divine and heroic enthusiasms'. But he refrained from giving it this title for two reasons. First, the fear of censure. And second because there is an external dissimilarity between the form of the Song of Songs and these Eroici furori 'although the same mystery, the same substance of soul, is shadowed forth within them both':
For in the one case the figures of speech are openly and manifestly but figures, and the metaphorical sense is known, so that it is undeniably metaphorical when thou hearest of those dove's eyes, that neck like a tower, that tongue under which is milk, that fragrance of incense, those teeth like a flock of sheep which come up from the washing, that hair which is like a flock of goats that appear from Mount Gilead; but this poem does not present an appearance which thus obviously urges thee to seek a latent and occult meaning, for in it are used ordinary modes of speech and similitudes more accommodated to common sense, such as witty lovers generally use and well-known poets are accustomed to put into verse and rhyme, with sentiments such as are used by those who speak of Citherea, or Licoris, of Doris, Cynthia, Lesbia, Corinna, Laura, and others. Whence each reader might easily be persuaded that my fundamental meaning and primary intention was addressed to an ordinary love, who had dictated to me such conceits; which love afterwards, by force of disdain, had taken to itself wings and become heroic; as it is possible to convert any fable, romance, dream, or prophetic enigma, and to transfer it, by virtue of metaphor and a pretext of allegory, into the significance of anything that may please a mind which has an aptitude for wresting sentiments to any meaning, and of making everything out of everything, since all is in all, as the profound Anaxagoras says. But though he may think what he will and what pleases him, in the end each reader, whether he likes it or not, ought in justice to understand and define this matter as I myself understand and define it, and not force me to understand and define it as he thinks fit: for as the enthusiasms of that wise Hebrew have their own modes, orders, and titles which no one can understand or better declare than he himself, if he were present; so these Canticles have their proper title, order, and mode, which no one can better make plain and understand than I myself, when I am not absent.
One might perhaps express in other words the difference in form between his poetry and that of Solomon which Bruno is here describing by saying that it is the difference between an allegorical and an emblematic mode of speech. The allegorical mode, by its very strangeness and unnaturalness, will not allow the mind to rest in it without seeking a further explanation. But the emblematic mode may lull the reader into taking it at its face value.
It would be valuable to compare the medieval commentaries on the Canticle with Bruno's commentaries on his poems—a task not impossible since in three instances he points out in detail which passages of the Canticle correspond to which passages of the Eroici furori. For example, his third dialogue, he says, shows the force of the will beginning to conquer in the spiritual conflict and corresponds to those verses of the Canticle which speak of the winter being past and the rainy season over, and that the time of the flowers and singing birds has come. Such a comparison might help to trace in some detail the processes by which the allegories of medieval mystical theology were transposed in a Renaissance mind into the emblematic mode of speech.
Since Bruno uses Petrarchan conceits as emblems, and in conjunction with emblems, it seems obvious that the best way of trying to get at the historical flavour of his Petrarchism would be to relate his emblems to the history of emblem literature. In one of its aspects the Eroici furori is an unillustrated emblem book and as such has, or should have, a place in the history of emblem literature. The following attempt to suggest that place must be regarded as tentative.
The vast sixteenth-century literature of emblem and device first takes its characteristic form with the Emblematum liber (1531) of Andrea Alciati. This was one of the most influential books of the sixteenth century; it went through innumerable editions and learned men wrote commentaries upon it. The book initiated an immense fashion for similar productions; outstanding names of emblematists in the sixteenth-century are those of Paolo Giovio, Ruscelli, Contile, but their number is legion. The fashion spread through Europe and in the seventeenth century the genre continued with unabated popularity, though now chiefly in the form of the religious emblem book, a very favourite weapon of the Jesuits.
The emblem literature, trivial though it may sometimes seem at first sight to be, is deeply rooted in the thought of the time. The Renaissance type of emblem seems to have originated in the study of Egyptian hieroglyphs by the humanists. The hieroglyph was believed by them to be a picture with a hidden divine meaning, and since they also believed that both the Graeco-Roman and the Hebraeo-Christian traditions were indissolubly linked with Egypt, it followed that (to their minds) the study of the hieroglyphs was fundamentally a study of divine secrets. Understood in this way, the hieroglyphs became one with Catholic symbolism; the medieval allegories could be translated into hieroglyphs, and vice versa. The emblems of Alciati and the rest were really invented hieroglyphs, expansions of the picture language which drew material from all kinds of sources, one of which was the poetry of Petrarch.
We shall now take a few examples from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century emblem books, illustrating the development of the Petrarchan emblem, in order to compare them with the emblems of the Eroici furori.
The picture of a butterfly burning itself in a flame which is to be found in Camillo Camilli's Imprese illustri is a typical example of a plate from an Italian illustrated book of devices. The motto 'M'è piu grato il morir che il viver senza', that is 'I would rather die than live without it', is taken, as Camilli points out in his commentary, from Petrarch. Petrarch, says Camilli, meant by this image of the butterfly and the flame that he died in his mistress's presence, but nevertheless felt such sweetness in this that he preferred it to remaining alive in her absence. But in this emblem or device the flame means science for which the bearer of the device renounces all pleasure and eats up his life, yet feels a secret delight in doing this.
This is an example of how emblematists drew on Petrarch as a source of 'potential emblems'. The butterfly and flame image is a very common one in the emblem books.
Turning now to the Eroici furori, we find the following:
What is the meaning of that butterfly which flutters round the flame, and almost burns itself? and what means that legend, 'Hostis non hostis?'
Reading this after looking at the example of an illustrated emblem from Camilli one understands how true it is to describe the Eroici furori as an 'unillustrated emblem book'. Bruno in these words places before the reader an imaginary illustration, and, in this case, one which would be very familiar to those well versed in the emblem literature. In the commentary he explains the meaning with which he is using the image.
Several of the devices in Ruscelli's collection are based on Petrarch. For example, the one which shows an eagle gazing at the sun with the motto 'Chi mi puo far di vera gloria lieta,' 'That which (that is, the sun) can make me happy with true glory,' is according to Ruscelli, a modification of the 'sacred precept of Petrarch' which he quotes thus:
Tien pur gli occhi qual' Aquila in quel Sole,
Che ti puó far d'eterna gloria degno
(Keep your eyes fixed, like the Eagle, on that Sun
which can make you worthy of true glory.)
The interpretation of this impresa, which was adopted by Irene Castriota, Princess of Bisignano, is, says Ruscelli, that all the lady's thoughts and desires are fixed upon God, the Sun who illuminates the darkness of the soul. But others, he adds, have thought that the meaning is the devotion of the lady towards her husband.
This device and its meaning is characteristic of Ruscelli's treatment of Petrarchan emblems. The sense is mainly religious but at the same time it retains human undertones. Ruscelli has the humanist and courtly respect for the ideal type of human love as in itself already half divine and is without Bruno's 'anti-Petrarchist' spirit which demands an entirely abstract use of the Petrarchan emblem. It is in this respect that Bruno's emblems look forward to the seventeenth century. Their technique is that of Ruscelli and the whole sixteenth-century literature of emblem and device; but in spirit they belong to the baroque rather than to the Renaissance.
In the early seventeenth century emblem books there is a split between the 'profane' and the 'sacred' uses of the love conceit. One of the most striking examples of this is to be found in the two emblem books of Otto van Veen, or Vaenius, published at Antwerp in 1608 and 1615 respectively. The first is a book of 'profane' love emblems which gives vivid pictorial presentations of the conceits so familiar to us from the sonnet writers. The second is a book of 'sacred' love emblems in which the conceits are used in the service of religion. In the first set of pictures the actors in the drama are the profane Cupid, the lady, and the lover. In the second the actors have changed to Divine Love and the soul. But the conceits in which the spiritual drama is expressed are very close indeed to the 'profane' conceits.
This can best be studied by looking attentively at some examples.
One 'profane' emblem shows love being burned at the stake whilst the proud lady cruelly stirs the flames in which he suffers. Yet in the midst of his torments he turns upon the lady a humble and gentle gaze of resignation. The motto is 'Ny mesme la mort', and the meaning that the lover loves to suffer and even in death does not lack constancy.
The companion picture to this in the 'sacred' series shows the soul being burned at the stake whilst the executioner stirs the flames. But the soul is sustained in her torments by divine love, who clasps her hand encouragingly.
Another profane emblem shows Cupid shooting arrows at a breastplate. The motto is 'Amour passe tout' and the meaning that neither iron nor steel keeps out love's arrows.
In the sacred version the divine Cupid and the soul are seen shooting arrows at a breastplate and a shield. The meaning, of course, is the penetrating power of divine love.
Another picture in the profane series is a literal interpretation of the conceit of the darts from the lady's eyes. The lady sweeps forward in proud beauty whilst the lover lies stricken and wounded by the arrows from her eyes.
Equally literal is the presentation of the divine lover inflaming the breast of the soul with rays from his sun-like halo. The soul is here pierced by the ray of divine love just as the lover in the other picture is pierced by the arrows from the eyes. The allusion to arrows is present in the sacred emblem, for the divine Cupid is fully armed with bow and quiver.
The sacred emblem book thus uses the profane conceits as emblems of spiritual experience. And the tone of the whole series is set by the first picture in the book which shows Divine Love raising the soul. This picture is accompanied by a quotation from the Canticle: 'Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing birds is come.' The whole composition is obviously meant to illustrate this imagery. It will be remembered that this very passage from the Canticle is one of those which, thirty years earlier, Bruno had told Sidney that he was transferring into the language of the Petrarchan conceit.
Let us think over for a moment the resemblances and differences between Vaenius' procedure and that of Bruno. Bruno means by the eyes of the lady, divine beauty and goodness; by her pride and the torments which she inflicts on her lover, the painful processes of spiritual progress and experience; by Cupid's piercing arrows, which burn as well as pierce, the influences of the divine working upon the soul. These are the meanings which are made explicit in Vaenius's sacred emblems. But Bruno uses the profane emblems with such meanings implicit in them. As he himself says, his language is not obviously sacred in intention, like that of the Canticle, but might be mistaken for an 'ordinary love'. Bruno's usage is thus more truly emblematic than that of Vaenius, for the sacred emblems of Vaenius are really sacred pictures, which quite obviously must have an allegorical meaning. But to use the ordinary conceit with the other meaning, as Bruno does, is to use it as a genuine emblem—that is to say, as a picture which secretly refers to something other than that which it appears on the surface to represent.
The sacred emblem book, of which the one illustrated by Vaenius is an early and striking example, was to have an enormous future in the literature of seventeenth-century devotion and became in the hands of the Jesuits an instrument of Counter Reformation propaganda. The Jesuit emblem books are cruder in style but they carry on the same principle of applying the conceit to the sacred emblem. Take, for example, the heart pierced by an arrow from the divine lover's bow in van Haeften's Schola cordis which is based entirely on conceits of the heart.
The same book contains an emblem of a winged heart. This is one which Bruno also uses and in a manner curiously like, though in some respects unlike, the form in which it is found years later in these Jesuit emblem books.
The emblem which Bruno describes consists of a winged heart escaping from a cage up into the sky. On its upward flight the heart is guided by a blind Cupid. In the accompanying sonnet he uses the same imagery, except that he now addresses his heart as an escaping bird. In the commentary he explains that the cage represents the impediments to the spiritual life caused externally in a thousand different ways and internally by natural weakness. The heart is dismissed from it to more celestial surroundings, and its wings are the powers of the soul, as the Platonists describe them. The god who guides it is Love, who has power to transform the seeker into that nature towards which he aspires. The whole episode closes with quotations from Petrarch, the Canticle, and the Psalms.
A near approach to this is to be found in one of the best known and most influential of the Jesuit emblem books, namely Herman Hugo's Pia desideria (first edition in 1624). One of his emblems shows the soul being released from the cage of sense by divine love, with an allusion in the empty cage hanging on the tree from which a bird has just escaped to the theme of the escaping bird. This is very close indeed to Bruno's emblem, although there are certain differences. The author of Pia desideria felt the emblem of the winged heart to be so typical of his aims that he uses a winged and burning heart on his title-page.
The fact that the Eroici furori cannot be illustrated from sixteenth-century examples alone but demands also incursions into the seventeenth century suggests that its place in the history of emblem-book literature might be that of a late Renaissance anticipation of the baroque. Bruno's emblematics would appear to use the Renaissance technique of secret allusion to convey a spirit of baroque fervour. In his hands, the courtly Petrarchan 'device', with its many-sided allusions, is used in the spirit of the future—that seventeenth-century future in which the sacred emblem was to play such a dominating role in the European imagination.
It will be remembered that in outlining Bruno's methods in the Eroici furori the point was emphasized that he uses emblems in conjunction with poems. He describes the conceit in visual form in the emblem, and sings it in aural form in the poem. There is thus some organic connection between pictorial emblems and poetic conceits, and it follows that to place the emblems historically is also to place the sonnets. If, as we have said before, the poems of the Eroici furori were to be printed without the emblems and the commentaries, they would appear as a kind of sonnet sequence. This sonnet sequence would belong to the same climate as the emblems; that is to say, however much it might appear to be addressed to an 'ordinary love', it would in fact be a record of spiritual experience, a translation of the images of the Canticle into Petrarchan conceits used as hieroglyphs, and, historically speaking, it would reflect a moment in the late sixteenth century in which the forces of the coming age were beginning to use these images with a different spiritual accent.
But there is another side to Bruno's use of the Petrarchan conceit—and one which must be mentioned, however inadequately—and that is its connections with his philosophy.
The attitude of mind which sees the universe itself as a hieroglyph or emblem in which divine truth is hidden is profoundly characteristic of Bruno. The sun, the planets, the moon, the earth, are indirect reflections of the Godhead, enigmatic pictures with a hidden meaning. The universe is constructed on the same principle as an emblem or device; that is to say, it secretly shadows forth spiritual truths in terms of objects perceived by the senses. One seventeenth-century theorist on emblematics saw the sky as 'a vast cerulean Shield, on which skilful Nature draws what she meditates: forming heroical Devices, and mysterious and witty Symbols of her secrets' [E. Tesauro, Il Cannochiale Aristotelico, 1655]. This attitude of mind must be realized in order to understand how it is that the sonnet conceits, as Bruno uses them, become, as it were, interchangeable with his philosophy. The witty conceits of lovers are used as emblems of spiritual truth, and therefore such emblems are merely variant ways of expressing the one divine truth which God has wittily concealed in the phenomena of the universe. Bruno's use of metaphysics is really as emblematic as his use of poetic images; hence the ease with which he modulates from the one form of expression into the other.
This is brought home by comparing a predominantly poetic dialogue, such as the Eroici furori, with a predominantly philosophical dialogue, such as the Cena de le ceneri. Yet there are many metaphysical symbols in the Furori and some lyrical symbols in the Cena. In the Furori the poetic emblems are dominant, though with an undercurrent of metaphysics to show their relation to the metaphysical system. In the Cena, the opposite is the case; the metaphysical emblems are dominant, though here and there their connection with the lyrical images is noted. We will quote one example of this correlation from the Cena.
One of the most characteristic and striking expositions of the philosophy in the Cena is that passage where Bruno in spirit breaks through the restraining Ptolemaic spheres into what he takes to be the infinity of the Copernican universe:
Behold now, standing before you, the man who has pierced the air and penetrated the sky, wended his way amongst the stars and overpassed the margins of the world, who has broken down those imaginary divisions between the spheres, the first, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth, or what you will…
This passage is prefaced by a quotation from love poetry, not, indeed, that of Petrarch but that of Ariosto:
Chi salirà per me, Madonna, in cielo
A riportarne il mio perduto ingegno.
(Orlando Furioso, XXXV, i)
Mistress who shall for me to heaven upfly
To bring again from thence my wandering wit.
Here one sees how the philosophical disquisition is related to the lyrical cry, and that both are, as it were, emblems of ascent, of spiritual flight into realms unknown. The Ptolemaic spheres are, so to speak, the wires of an imprisoning cage whence the winged heart escapes into Copernican infinity.
One might also illustrate the interchangeability of lyrical and philosophical emblems from the woodcut which, in the Cena de le ceneri accompanies the argument in favour of the movement of the earth from the analogy of a stone dropped from the mast of a moving ship on to its deck. This woodcut is ostensibly a diagram. But the points marked by letters in the text are not shown on it, whilst the two flames which are visible on the sail-yards of the ship are a curious feature and seem to suggest some possible emblematic meaning.
If this woodcut is indeed an emblem it might be connected with Alciati's forty-third emblem of Spes proximo. In Mignault's commentary upon this emblem we are told that the two stars (in the top left-hand corner) are Castor and Pollux whose appearance means that the tempest in which the ship is tossing is about to abate, hence the motto Spes proximo, Hope is at hand. This emblem is perhaps the nearest thing one can find to Bruno's emblem in the Eroici furori of the two stars above the four winds, which, as will be remembered, was connected with the stars-eyes theme, signifying spiritual calm when the stars of divine beauty and goodness were visible and spiritual tempest when they were obscured. And it might also be connected with the woodcut in the Cena of the ship with the two flames on the sail-yards, for Mignault explains that, according to a well-known legend, the saving presence of the twin stars Castor and Pollux was made known to distressed mariners by the appearance of two lights on the sail-yards of their ship. The same story is told by Ruscelli in his commentary on one of the devices in his collection which is based on Alciati's Spes proximo. In the device shown by Ruscelli the two stars are actually on the sail-yard, though still in the form of stars and not of flames.
The woodcut in the Cena thus seems indirectly, through the two flames on the sail-yards, to suggest an allusion to the calming and hope-inspiring appearance of the twin stars amidst the tempest, and, if really designed by Bruno or chosen by him from an already existing design, would indicate (what is certainly in itself true) that the Copernican theory which this picture is supposed to illustrate as a diagram, meant to him an emblem of divine revelation corresponding in its meaning to the lyrical emblems, such as the one of the stars-eyes in the Eroici furori. But too much importance must not be attached to an argument based on this woodcut, owing to the habit of sixteenth-century printers of using the same wood-block indiscriminately in different publications.
This side of Bruno's thought connects him with the philosophy of the Renaissance. It is necessary to approach the emblems in the Eroici furori from this point of view in order to balance the impression gained from the realization that they anticipate the sacred emblems of the seventeenth century. Bruno's use of the Petrarchan conceits is certainly baroque in feeling, but it is a kind of metaphysical baroque, a blend of Renaissance philosophical and religious liberalism with baroque intensity and fervour.
Such was the emblem book which was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, the initiator of the Elizabethan poetic Renaissance. Its qualities were bound to appeal strongly to the passionate and profound Elizabethan temperament, and it indicated to the rising generation of English poets a way of using Petrarchism which would make of it, not a delayed imitation of a fashion now nearly 200 years old, but a channel for the spiritual life of Europe in its presentday manifestations.
We now come to the English poets, and here our attempts will be very modest. It is proposed to take only the very few conceits which have been studied (and which represent, of course, but a tiny fraction of the Petrarchan vocabulary) and to quote and discuss some examples of them from four sonnet writers, namely—Sidney, Daniel, Greville, and Drayton. It must be remembered that the English sonnet writers have not left us, like Bruno, commentaries on their sonnets. All we have is the poems as they stand and in pondering upon them we are no longer on the same firm ground as with Bruno, who explains what he is doing.
Before coming to the quotations from Sidney's sonnets, something must be said about the evidence for the connections between Bruno and Sidney.
Two of Bruno's works (Lo spaccio della bestia trionfante, 1584, and De gli eroici furori, 1585) are dedicated to Sidney, whilst in the Cena de le ceneri (1584) he speaks of having known Sidney 'first by reputation when I was in Milan and in France, and now, since I have been in this country, through having met him in the flesh'.
Sidney's sonnet sequence to 'Stella' was first published in 1591, after his death, but the dates at which he actually composed the poems cannot be exactly fixed. It is generally supposed that they must have been written in the earlier half of the 1580 decade, perhaps from 1581 onwards. (Sidney was killed at Zutphen in 1586.) A fact which is now certainly known about the sequence is that it was addressed to Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich.
In view of the uncertainty as to the actual date of composition of Sidney's sonnets, and in view also of the fact that they were definitely addressed to a real woman, can one assume them to be influenced by Bruno's 'anti-Petrarchist' emblematics?
In answer to this, the following points may be emphasized.
At the end of the Eroici furori dedication Bruno exempts from his anti-Petrarchist tirades those ladies who are connected with Sidney; these, he says, are worthy objects of devotion since they are divine nymphs, formed of celestial substance, like the divine Diana (Queen Elizabeth) who reigns over them. He repeats these praises in a sonnet to the ladies of England, in which he says that these ladies are like stars on earth:
E siete in terra quel ch'in ciel le stelle.
One would be tempted to conjecture from these remarks that Bruno was alluding to Sidney's sonnets to 'Stella'. And such a conjecture is absolutely and categorically confirmed by John Florio, who, eighteen years later, addressed a dedication to two ladies connected with Sidney—namely his daughter, the Countess of Rutland, and Lady Rich, the original of 'Stella'. In this dedication the following words are to be found:
Or as my fellow Nolano in his heroycall furies wrote (noble Countesse) to your most heroicke father, and in a Sonnet to you Ladies of England, You are not women, but in their likenesse Nymphs, Goddesses, and of Celestiall substance,
Et siete in terra quel' ch'in ciel' le stelle.
Florio is here reminding Sidney's daughter, the Countess of Rutland, of her heroic father to whom Nolano (that is Bruno) had dedicated his Eroici furori; and in the next breath he reminds Lady Rich of the line on 'stelle' in Bruno's sonnet to the ladies of England. It is perfectly clear that Florio associates Lady Rich, and therefore the 'Stella' of Sidney's sonnet sequence, with Bruno's Eroici furori.
This dedication is accompanied by a sonnet by Matthew Gwinne, addressed to Lady Rich, which is a tissue of epithets drawn from Sidney's sonnets. Matthew Gwinne and John Florio are both mentioned by name by Bruno in his Cena de Je ceneri as his close associates, so they were in a position to know the truth—and the truth, to them, evidently is that there is a very close connection between Sidney's sonnets to 'Stella' and the Eroici furori.
By excepting Sidney's sonnets to 'Stella', and the poetic worship of Queen Elizabeth as the 'divine' Diana, from his invectives against 'ordinary' Petrarchism, Bruno thus seems to include the rising school of English poets as Petrarchists in the emblematic sense. He suggests that the meanings inherent in his own poetry must also be implicit in the poetry of the heroic nobleman to whom he is addressing his own heroic enthusiasms. It follows that Sidney's devotion to Lady Rich must have had broader implications than the purely personal, and that the aspiration towards a divine object is somehow bound up with his cult of 'Stella'.
It is a point of great significance that Sidney himself professes a kind of 'anti-Petrarchism' in his sonnets. He will not, he says, imitate the poets who borrow conceits and phrases from Petrarch; he will not write in that artificial style at all but will derive all his inspiration from 'Stella'.
The same intention is expressed in the first sonnet of the sequence, in which he says that after 'oft turning others' leaves' in search of ideas for his poetry his Muse bade him leave that barren study and turn inwards for inspiration:
'Fool!' said my Muse, 'Look in thy heart, and write!'
It has been a great disappointment, and also something of a puzzle, to those in search of 'sincerity' in the sonnet sequences, that after giving himself such admirable advice Sidney does not follow it. For his sonnets are full of the usual Petrarchan conceits—a fact which must have been perfectly patent both to himself and to his readers. Why then does he announce so solemnly that he is not going to Petrarchize, and then proceed to do that very thing most assiduously?
Surely, it is in Bruno's dedication to him of the Furori, where one learns how an anti-Petrarchist could yet make use of the conceits as emblems, that an answer to this might be found. Does it not seem probable, in the light of that dedication, that Sidney's anti-Petrarchist profession combined with Petrarchist practice means that he also is using the conceits emblematically?
In order to work this suggestion out fully the whole range of imagery used by Bruno in the Furori and by Sidney in Astrophel and Stella ought to be carefully compared. Here one can only quote a few examples from Sidney of the conceit which we chose to study as an example of Bruno's method—namely that of the stars-eyes.
This is, in fact, the dominating conceit of Sidney's sequence. Here is an example:
We gain no mental image from this of any particular woman's face, nor even of any face at all. We see only two eyes in the form of two stars. These eyes are the seat of virtues. The lover prays vehemently that their light may not be taken from him. Yet the eyes have power to kill him with death-dealing darts. Knowing this, he yet prays that they may be turned upon him so that he may die with speed.
Could anything be closer than this to Bruno's emblem of the two eyes in the form of two radiant stars with the motto Mors et vita, with its accompanying sonnet in which he prays that the cruel lady will not turn her eyes from him but will open them and give him death? In Bruno's case his commentary tells us the meanings—the eyes, divine beauty and goodness, the prayer to them a prayer that the divine light may show itself and clear the troubled sky of the human mind (compare Sidney 'let not mine eyes be hell-driven from that light'), the death from the mystical death of the soul, which is eternal life.
The sonnet has exactly the device-like quality with which Bruno uses the conceits. Sidney does not present this conceit in the form of the little dramatic scene which Vaenius illustrates. That scene is indeed implicit in his sonnet, but is suggested rather by the more economical methods of the device. As in Bruno's treatment of the theme, we see here little more than the two stars in the form of two radiant eyes towards which the lover bends all his will in prayer. It is an emblematic statement of the direction of the will towards a sublime object in self-effacing humility and pain, the heroic device of an heroic enthusiast.
Almost exactly the same set of images is found also in this sonnet:
The emblematic nature of the eyes is here more clearly indicated. The eyes have conquered the terrestrial Venus; they are 'sacred lights'. From them proceed the deathdealing and at the same time life-giving rays. (The paradoxical 'Wracks, triumphs be' of the last line has a motto-like precision and is a statement in variant terms of the prevailing theme of Mors et vita.) The emphasis in this emblem-sonnet is on the ray image rather than on the dart image, in contrast to the one first quoted where the emphasis is on the darts from the eyes (though the ray theme is present in the adjective 'beamy' in 'beamy darts'). This suits the more explicit statement of this sonnet; Cupid's darts, shot from the eyes, have openly become the divine rays streaming from the 'sacred lights'.
In succeeding sonnets there is a complaint that, in spite of these prayers, favour has been withdrawn from the lover. The more he cries, the less 'grace she doth impart'. We must here remember how, with Bruno, the pride of the lady is a metaphor, as God is sometimes said to be jealous, angry, or asleep. The sense of woe and desolation is conveyed by Sidney in an interesting use of the worn face image:
Stella oft sees the very face of woe
Painted in my beclouded stormy face…
It will be remembered that in one of his sonnets Bruno uses the worn face of the lover as an emblem of aspiration, and in another he conveys the same meaning by tempestuous winds beneath the stars. Sidney seems here to combine these two ideas by describing the sadness of the lover's face in terms of cloud and tempest, thus producing the beautiful image of the 'beclouded stormy face' to express a mood in which 'the troubled sky of the human mind does not clear itself by the removal of metaphors and enigmas'.
Read in the light of the Eroici furori, Sidney's sonnets are seen to be, like Bruno's, a spiritual autobiography, reflecting in terms of Petrarchan emblems, the moods of a soul seeking God. Bruno's commentary on his own poems cannot take the place of a commentary by Sidney himself on the Astrophel and Stella sequence, and there are still obscurities and problems in the latter, the most puzzling of which is that the poet sometimes reproaches himself for his devotion to Stella and a moral conflict arises in his mind. We never find this in the Eroici furori where, although the lover passes through many conflicts and sufferings, he is always certain of the rightness and full divinity of his object. To Sidney, on the other hand, whilst Stella is usually the completely virtuous and divine object (as in the stars-eyes emblem-sonnets which we have quoted) at other times she seems not to represent the highest possible good, but something less exalted from which he must tear himself away. In the absence of a sonnet-by-sonnet explanation from Sidney of the various shades of mood and meaning in his sequence, this problem must remain a dark one.
Sidney himself issues a warning against reading into his poetry meanings which have not the author's sanction:
These lines, which might appear at first sight to smash our arguments, are on the contrary one of the points in the Astrophel and Stella sequence which put one most irresistibly in mind of Bruno's text. For is it not almost in these very words that Bruno concludes the passage in the dedication of the Eroici furori in which he explains that he is using the Petrarchan conceits with the meanings of the Canticle? His readers, he says, are not to convert his poetry, 'by virtue of metaphor and a pretext of allegory' into some meaning which pleases their own fancy. The poems are to be understood as he himself wishes them to be understood. Sidney, in the above sonnet, seems to be making exactly the same protest and claim; his lines might indeed stand as a versification of Bruno's words. Placed in the context of the Eroici furori dedication they seem to tell us that Sidney, like Bruno, uses the emblematic rather than the allegorical mode of speech in his poetry.
Whilst, therefore, the commentary on the Eroici furori poems cannot be a complete substitute for a commentary by Sidney himself on the meanings latent in his sequence, it may be used as an invaluable guide. For there is no doubt whatever that the Eroici furori and Astrophel and Stella come out of the same atmosphere.
The poet Samuel Daniel was very closely connected with Sidney's circle; in fact some of his sonnets appeared, mingled with Sidney's, in the first pirated edition of Astrophel and Stella.
Daniel was a pioneer in introducing the Italian emblem literature into England, for his English translation of Paulus Jovius on devices was published in 1585, the same year as the Eroici furori. An anonymous friend of Daniel's who signs himself 'N. W.' writes an introduction to the work which mentions Bruno and also shows a wide acquaintance with the emblem literature. 'N. W.' is well-versed in the Renaissance theories on the connections of emblems with Egyptian hieroglyphs, he mentions by name a number of well-known emblematists and theoretical exponents of the science of imagery, he congratulates Daniel on his knowledge of Alciati and refers to Mignault's commentary on the latter's emblems. With such an apparatus as this, 'N. W.' would have been in a good position to read and understand the works of Bruno, to whose recent visit to Oxford he alludes in terms which show that both he and Daniel had heard Bruno debating in the Oxford schools.
Daniel, therefore, was both imbued with emblematic learning and in close touch with the Bruno-Sidney atmosphere. He must fully have realized the possible emblematic meanings of the conceits with which his Delia, first printed in 1592, abounds.
Here, for instance, is Daniel's version of the stars-eyes:
The second line states the emblem; two stars in the form of two radiant eyes. The fourth line reminds one of Bruno's remark, quoted by Florio, 'non son femine, non son donne, ma, … son di sustanza celeste. Daniel, however, is not using the darts-from-the-eyes form of the stars-eyes emblem, but the form which emphasizes the power of the twin stars to calm storms:
And calm and tempest follow their aspects.
Many examples might be quoted of Daniel's use of the darts or rays from the eyes conceit. For instance:
The dart transpiercing were those crystal eyes.
He also twice uses the image of the worn face of the lover:
Delia herself, and all the world may view
Best in my face, where cares hath tilled deep furrows.
Read in my face, a volume of despairs!
The wailing Iliads of my tragic woe:
Drawn with my blood, and painted with my cares,
Wrought by her hand that I have honoured so.
There is much emphasis throughout the sequence on the pride and cruelty of Delia, and on the lover's sufferings.
From this brief study of Daniel and his poetry from the emblematic point of view one gains the impression, first, that external circumstances strongly suggest that he had every opportunity of being in this movement, and, secondly, that in his poetry he uses a range of emblem-conceits which is very close indeed to that used in the Eroici furori.
Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, was Sidney's most intimate friend and biographer, and it was his house which Bruno made the setting for his debate with the Oxford doctors, as described in the Cena de le ceneri. With Greville, therefore, we are still in the same atmosphere, still in this circle of poets and philosophers grouped round Sidney.
Greville's sonnet sequence was not printed until 1633, when it appeared with the explanation that it had been 'written in his youth and familiar exercise with Sir Philip Sidney.'
It is difficult to find any trace of humanity whatsoever in Greville's 'Caelica' (a rare Latin adjective, meaning, of course, 'heavenly' and derived from caelum) or in his 'Cynthia' and 'Myra', the variant names which he sometimes uses in the sequence. Greville's mind moves in a sphere of remote metaphysical abstraction in which the conceits are still used, but used in such a way that their visual, sensual form is, as it were, broken down into philosophical language.
For example, Greville's seventh sonnet is a miniature exposition of mutability—the constant changes of matter into new forms, the passing of time, the movements of the elements. But in the last two lines we reach Myra's eyes and these, we are told, never vary. The sonnet opens with the line 'The world that all contains is ever moving', but this is not an allusion to the Copernican theory, as one might think, for the rest of the poem is built on the old cosmology, with the stars turning on the spheres and the earth standing still. The 'world' of the first line is not the earth but the caelum, with its constant ordered movements. Yet although Greville is not a Copernican, the philosophy of mutability which he expounds is very characteristic of Bruno, though of course very far from being peculiar to him:
It seems that what one has here is in effect the familiar conceit of the stars-eyes shining out amidst the tempest. Yet instead of the visual image of the ship tossing at sea to which the appearance of the twin stars brings a sense of calm after storm, or the allied image of the star-like eyes which clear the storm-clouded mind of the lover, we have here the troubled sea of Mutability with which, in the last lines, are contrasted the eyes of Eternity. If this is a correct interpretation, Greville is here using the lyrical statement in conjunction with the philosophical statement in exactly Bruno's manner.
In the sonnet which immediately follows we find allusions to the worn face in the word 'furrows' twice repeated and in the word 'wrinkles'. But the image is so broken up and confused with the leading conceit in the sonnet (which is that of the fire from the heart and the tears from the eyes—the debate of the heart and the eyes—a conceit which we have not here studied but which is very deeply elaborated by Bruno) that we form no clear poetic picture, and instead of flowing with the easy grace of a Sidney or a Daniel, this poem strikes one as difficult:
It is in exactly this obscure and broken kind of way that Bruno uses the conceits, and one cannot but think that those interested in Greville's remarkable poetry would find the commentary to the Eroici furori a great help.
Greville was a convinced Calvinist and firm believer in predestination and faith without works. One almost fancies that Greville's Calvinism can be detected in his use of the conceits:
The wings of Greville's winged heart symbolize, not the worth of his own efforts, but election. It will be remembered that in Bruno's use of the conceit of the winged heart, the wings represented the two powers inherent in the soul, the powers of the intellect and the will—reason and affection. Greville places these in the stars-eyes above him in the sky, towards which he aspires on wings of election.
Greville's sonnet sequence is an early specimen of the 'metaphysical' style in poetry. It should be realized that the emblematic conceit carries within itself the potentiality for this metaphysical development, even when its possible metaphysical translation does not appear. For example, Daniel's sonnet to the stars-eyes may have had, in his own mind, an alternative metaphysical form which does not come to the surface of the poem. But in Greville's poem on the ever-moving world, the metaphysical translation becomes audible and visible and fills out the framework of the 'eyes' conceit with philosophical imagery. Metaphysical love poetry uses simultaneously those lyrical and philosophical statements, which, in a symbolic system, such as that formulated by Bruno, are thought of as alternative ways of saying the same thing.
Michael Drayton prefixed to his sonnet sequence entitled Ideas Mirrour a dedicatory poem in which he announces that he is not going to imitate Petrarchist poetry, nor merely borrow from Desportes or form Petrarch as so many other writers do. He underlines this by concluding the poem with a quotation from the 'anti-Petrarchist' sonnet in Astrophel and Stella:
Divine Syr Phillip, I avouch thy writ,
I am no Pickpurse of anothers wit.
Here he seems openly to enlist himself under the banner of 'Astrophel' by using the divine Sir Philip's own words of contempt for ordinary imitative Petrarchism.
But when taken at its face value, Drayton's 'anti-Petrarchism' has been even more puzzling to his admirers than that of Sidney. For whilst Sidney still uses the conceits, though professing that he will not do so, he uses them with an air of his own. Whereas Drayton's Ideas Mirrour presents the reader with a large repertory of the most conventional conceits reproduced with almost slavish accuracy.
Here, for example, are the 'darts from the eyes':
The exactness with which Drayton has elaborated the detailed form of this conceit can be realized by comparing this sonnet with Vaenius' illustration of the same theme. The whole little scene of Cupid reduced to idleness whilst the lady's eyes perform the work of his bow and arrows upon the suffering lover is described by Drayton which makes his sonnet, both in form and style, a perfect counterpart to Vaenius' plate.
Is it possible that the dedication to the Eroici furori might provide a clue to Drayton's anti-Petrarchist Petrarchism also? Is Ideas Mirrour a translation of the Canticle into Petrarchan emblems?
Drayton began his career as a poet with a volume of spiritual poems called The Harmony of the Church (1591) which includes a translation into English verse of the Canticle. Drayton, therefore, had been studying the imagery of the Canticle at about the same time that he was writing his sonnet sequence. Admiring Sidney as he did, it is more than probable that Drayton would have known of the Eroici furori, that revealing work which hinted at the existence of Sidney's poems seven years before their publication. And in the dedication of the Eroici furori he would have found an explanation by an anti-Petrarchist of the theory of using Petrarchan conceits with meanings corresponding to the allegorical interpretations of the Canticle.
Looking back now on the sonnet just quoted one may almost fancy that the 'anti-Petrarchist' theme is stated in the opposition between Cupid and the Lady. The Lady has vanquished Cupid, whose bow was pieced with old desire, and substituted for his broken bow her bow of Beauty tempered with Virtue. Is this not an emblem of the sublimation of desire?
We know how the love emblems of Vaenius could turn into sacred emblems, and we have pointed out how Bruno's method differed from that of Vaenius in that the love emblem, to him, is already the sacred emblem. The possibility is worth thinking over very seriously that Drayton may be employing the same technique, representing by the eyes of the lady divine beauty and goodness and by the arrows from the eyes the influences of the divine working upon the soul.
It is interesting to compare Sidney's treatment of this theme with that of Drayton. Sidney, like Drayton, identifies the lady with Beauty and Virtue and suggests the theme of sublimation:
O eyes! which do the sphere of beauty move;
Whose beams be joys; whose joys all virtues be;
Who while they make Love conquer, conquer Love.
The schools where Venus hath learned chastity.
This corresponds to the conquest of Cupid by the Lady in Drayton's sonnet. But whilst the ground-work is the same there is a great difference in the styles of its presentation by the two poets. The visual impression derived from Sidney's use of this conceit consists of very little beyond the two stars in the form of two radiant eyes which are the focus of the lover's aspiration. The dart and ray imagery occurs but is not developed into a very definite picture. In fact, as we have suggested before, Sidney's use of the conceit is 'device-like' in its economy of material. His style is that of a Renaissance impresa. But Drayton provides us with the whole drama of Cupid robbed of his bow by the lady, the lady shooting the arrows from her eyes, and the prostrate lover. Sidney's style suggests Ruscelli; Drayton's style suggests Vaenius. Sidney is a Renaissance emblematist; Drayton, a baroque emblematist.
We thus find in the Elizabethan poets the same moment of transition between Renaissance and baroque which was suggested as typical of Bruno's Eroici furori. Bruno's style, on the whole, is much nearer to Sidney's than to Drayton's; yet, as we pointed out before, his emblems sometimes anticipate the seventeenth-century manner, and it is interesting to find that the 'winged heart', which we took as an example of such anticipation, is an image which Drayton also uses:
With the winged heart emblem, Drayton has combined the emblem of the eagle soaring so near the sun that it burns its wings. This is not one which is actually used by Bruno in the Eroici furori, though the butterfly burning its wings in the flame is used by him with exactly the same meanings. Drayton's winged heart turns into an eagle in mid-flight, and burns its wings in the brightness of the 'eyes' which represent the 'celestiall sunne'. Combined with all these images there is probably an allusion to the Icarus story.
But the strangest thing is the cage. The cage for Drayton appears to mean England, in which he is imprisoned and surrounded by spies and from which his heart can only escape by soaring. This poem appears to reflect Drayton's determination to escape by an interior mysticism from external circumstances in England which he feels to be unsympathetic. It will be noticed that the wings of his heart are the innate powers which he learns to use; they are not the wings of predestination, as in Greville's case. Drayton is certainly not a Calvinist, and the defence of the pre-Reformation Catholic tradition which he openly permits himself in several passages of his Polyolbion suggests that he might have found Bruno's views on this matter congenial. Drayton's sonnet on the winged heart escaping from the cage, like Bruno's emblem on this theme, anticipates the Counter Reformation sacred emblem.
When placed in its proper sequence as representing a stage in the development of emblematic thinking, Bruno's Eroici furori is thus seen to be a work of the greatest importance to students of Elizabethan poetry. Through its connections with Sidney, it forms a link between that poetry and some of the deepest currents of contemporary European thought and feeling; and the relating of Bruno's emblems to the spiritual history of Europe helps to assess the moment in that history to which the poetic imagery of the Elizabethans also belongs.
Paul Oskar Kristeller (essay date 1964)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4291
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 centuries. At the same time, his work is still entirely a part of the Renaissance, not merely in its date and style but in its premises and problems, whereas such younger contemporaries or successors as Bacon, Galileo, and Descartes belong to the Renaissance with only a part, and perhaps not the most significant part, of their thought and work.
Giordano Bruno was born in Nola in southern Italy in 1548, and entered the Dominican order in Naples at the age of 18. While pursuing theological studies, he also read extensively in the ancient philosophers, and began to entertain serious doubts about some of the teachings of the Catholic Church. When he was in Rome in 1576, these doubts became known to the authorities of his order, and an indictment for heresy was prepared against him. Before he could be arrested, Bruno escaped and began a long and adventurous journey that took him to many parts of Europe. He went first to Noli near Genoa, then to Savona, Turin, Venice, and Padua, and apparently earned his living by private teaching and tutoring, as he did throughout most of his later life until his arrest. From Padua he went to Lyons, and then to Geneva, where he became a Calvinist and met many of the Reformed leaders. Yet soon he turned against Calvinism and went to Toulouse, where he obtained a degree in theology and lectured on Aristotle for two years. Next he went to Paris, where he obtained the favor of Henry III, held some kind of a lectureship, and published his first writings in 1582. He then accompanied the French ambassador, Michel de Castelnaud, Marquis de Mauvissière, to England, and spent the period from 1583 to 1585 in London. He also held a disputation, and gave a few lectures, at Oxford, and antagonized the professors both by his manners and by his polemical attacks. Yet he made friendly contact with Sir Philip Sidney and other educated Englishmen, and his English period is especially noteworthy because he published in London, in Italian, some of his most famous writings.
He returned to Paris with his patron, and held in 1586 in one of the colleges of the university a violent disputation against Aristotle, which caused such an uproar that he decided to leave. He went to Marburg and then to Wittenberg, where he lectured for two years at the university on Aristotle's logic, became a Lutheran, and praised Luther in his farewell address. He then proceeded to Prague and to Helmstedt, where he lectured again at the university, and in 1590 to Frankfurt. His stay in Frankfurt was again important, since it was in this city, which was then, as now, a center of the international book trade, that he published his Latin poems (1591), the most important of his published works after his Italian dialogues.
When he was in Frankfurt, he received and accepted an invitation from Giovanni Mocenigo, a Venetian nobleman. After a short stay in Padua, Bruno joined the household of Mocenigo in Venice as his guest and tutor. Shortly afterwards, Mocenigo denounced him to the Inquisition and had him arrested in 1592. Bruno tried to retract, but in January 1593 he was taken to Rome, kept in prison, and subjected to a trial that lasted for many years. After initial hesitations, he firmly refused to recant his philosophical opinions. Finally, in February 1600, he was sentenced to death and burned alive in the Campo di Fiori, where a monument was erected to him during the last century.
Bruno's dreadful end has rightly shocked his contemporaries and posterity. His firm conduct during the trial deserves our highest respect, and goes a long way to balance his human weaknesses, which are all too obvious. The idea that a man should be punished and executed for holding opinions considered wrong by his religious or political authorities is intolerable for any thoughtful person who takes human dignity and liberty seriously, although the deplorable treatment given to Bruno, and the wrong idea underlying it, was by no means peculiar to Bruno's church or to his century, as some historians would have us believe. His death made of Bruno a martyr, not so much of modern science, as was thought for a long time, but rather of his convictions and of philosophical liberty. The records of his trial have not been completely preserved, but several relevant documents have been published, and some very important ones have come to light quite recently, from which the nature and content of the charges made against him have become much clearer than before. It is now quite evident that Bruno's acceptance of the Copernican system constituted but one out of a very large number of accusations, which included a long series of philosophical and theological opinions as well as many specific instances of alleged blasphemy and violations of Church discipline.
Bruno's extant writings are rather numerous and diverse in content. His Italian works, which were all published during his lifetime, include a comedy and several satirical treatises, in addition to his philosophical dialogues, which we shall discuss later. His style is lively and exuberant, and at times quite baroque and obscure. His more numerous Latin writings, some of which were published only in the last century whereas others have come to light quite recently, include several important philosophical poems and treatises, as well as a number of works that reflect his subsidiary interests: mathematics and magic, the art of memory, and the so-called Lullian art.
The art of memory, which grew out of a part of ancient rhetoric, was a subject much cultivated in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and there are many treatises dealing with this subject, which scholars have just recently begun to study, and which probably deserve much further exploration. These efforts to devise systems for strengthening a person's memory had a very great practical importance in a period when scholars and men of affairs could not rely as heavily as nowadays on the help of indexes and reference works, and when the ready mastery of knowledge and information was considered a necessary criterion of competence, not only in speeches and disputations but also in many professional activities.
The Lullian art, named after its inventor, the fourteenth-century Catalan philosopher Ramon Lull, was a general scheme of knowledge based on a number of simple terms and propositions, and it was Lull's claim that through appropriate methods of combination this art would lead to the discovery and demonstration of all other knowledge. The method was illustrated by the use of letters, figures, and other symbols, which represented the basic concepts and their combinations. The Lullian art attracted the interest of many thinkers and scholars down to Leibniz, and it is obviously, at least in its claims if not in its achievements, a forerunner of modern symbolic logic. For Bruno, the art of memory and the Lullian art were not merely the subjects of his intellectual curiosity, but also a means of livelihood, for he seems to have instructed his private pupils mainly in these two arts. This side of Bruno's work is less well known, and a detailed study of it has been attempted only in recent years.
Bruno's thought shows many traits of genuine originality, yet at the same time he is indebted to a variety of sources. In spite of his double polemic against the grammarians and the scholastics, he owed much to his humanist education as well as to his Aristotelian and scholastic training. His doctrine of heroic love, which forms the center of his famous Eroici furori, is heavily indebted to Ficino, and it has been recently shown that this work belongs to the literary and intellectual tradition of Platonist love treatises, which occupied a rather large place in sixteenth-century thought and literature [John C. Nelson, Renaissance Theory of Love, 1958]. In his metaphysics, Bruno was strongly influenced by Plotinus and Cusanus, whereas his cosmology is based on Lucretius and Copernicus.
Many historians have discovered serious inconsistencies in Bruno's thought, and some scholars have tried to account for them on chronological grounds, assuming that his philosophical thought underwent a certain development. Without excluding such a development, I am inclined to think that from the time of his Italian dialogues his basic position remained unchanged, and that a few ambiguities, oscillations, and logical difficulties are inherent in this very position. At least on one important point that is unclear in Bruno's published writings, a recently discovered document from his last years throws a good deal of light.
Some of Bruno's chief ethical doctrines are contained in his famous Eroici furori, a group of dialogues in which the recital and interpretation of a series of poems by Bruno and others, and the explanation of a number of symbolic mottos and devices, occupy a large place, interrupting as well as enlivening the presentation of the chief philosophical ideas. In a free variation upon the common theme of Platonizing love treatises, Bruno opposes heroic love and frenzy to vulgar love. Heroic love has a divine object, and leads the soul in a gradual ascent from the sense world through intelligible objects toward God. The union with God, which is the ultimate and infinite goal of our will and intellect, cannot be attained during the present life. Hence heroic love is for the philosopher a continuous torment. But it derives an inherent nobility and dignity from its ultimate goal, which will be reached after death. It is this emphasis on the suffering which accompanies the unfulfilled heroic love during the present life that distinguishes Bruno's theory from that of most previous writers on the subject, and this may also explain why he chose to call the higher love heroic rather than divine.
A more central aspect of Bruno's thought is expressed in his dialogue De la causa, principio e uno, in which some of his basic metaphysical ideas are discussed. He starts from the fundamental notion that God must be conceived as a substance, and His effects as accidents. This is a complete reversal of the traditional Aristotelian notion of substance, according to which the term substance had always been applied to particular sense objects, whereas their permanent or passing attributes had been called accidents. For Bruno, there remains only one substance, namely God, and all particular objects, far from being substances, become accidents, that is, passing manifestations of that single substance. This notion resembles in many ways that of Spinoza, and it has often been asserted that Spinoza owed this basic conception to Bruno, although there seems to be no tangible evidence that Spinoza was familiar with Bruno's thought or writings.
In order to know God, Bruno continues, we must know His image, nature. In pursuing this task, Bruno proceeds to apply to the universe the four causes that in Aristotle and his school had merely served as contributing factors in the attempt to understand particular objects or phenomena. Developing some occasional remarks in Aristotle, Bruno divides the four causes into two groups, one of which he calls causes in the stricter sense of the word, and the other, principles. Form and matter are principles because they are intrinsic to their effect, whereas efficient and final cause are external to their effect. He then identifies the efficient cause of the world with the universal intellect, which is the highest faculty of the world soul. He is drawing here on Plotinian notions, and there is no evidence that he is identifying the world soul or its intellect with God. On the contrary, he explicitly distinguishes this world intellect from the divine intellect, and states that it contains in itself all forms and species of nature, just as our intellect contains in itself all its concepts. Working as an internal artist, this world intellect produces out of matter all material forms, which are images derived from its own internal species. The final cause of the world, on the other hand, is nothing but its own perfection.
The principles, that is, internal constituents, of nature are form and matter. They correspond in name to Aristotle's formal and material cause, but are in fact conceived along Plotinian lines. Bruno asserts that the form coincides to a certain extent with the soul, insofar as every form is produced by a soul. For all things are animated by the world soul, and all matter is everywhere permeated by soul and spirit. Thus it may be said that the world soul is the constituent formal principle of the world, just as matter is its constituent material principle. The world is thus a perpetual spiritual substance that merely appears in different forms.
In this way, form and matter are both perpetual substances and principles, and mutually determine each other, whereas the bodies composed of form and matter are perishable, and must be regarded not as substances but as accidents. Bruno thus seems to conceive of particular things as resulting from a changing interpenetration of two universal principles, and in this suggestive and original view also lies the basic difficulty of his philosophy.
In God, Bruno goes on to say, form and matter, actuality and potentiality, coincide. In what appears to be an important modification of his previous statements, he says that also in the universe there is only one principle, which is both formal and material, and thus the universe, considered in its substance, is only one. This one principle, taken with its two aspects, is said to constitute both all corporeal and all incorporeal beings. Bruno here seems to follow the so-called universal hylemorphism of Avicebron, who, too, composes all incorporeal beings of form and matter. This statement reveals still another basic ambiguity, which Bruno had inherited from Cusanus and other earlier philosophers, and which he never completely overcomes, at least in this work. That is, in speaking about nature and the universe, Bruno seems to think primarily in terms of the physical universe, but at the same time he includes in the universe all incorporeal beings except God. Speaking of matter, he insists that it is not merely negative, but contains in itself all forms, thus taking up a theory of Averroes, and departing from both Aristotle and Plotinus, who had thought of matter as pure potentiality.
Identifying the universe with the substance that comprises both form and matter, Bruno states that the universe is one and infinite, that it is being, true and one, whereas all particular things are mere accidents and subject to destruction. There is no plurality of substances in the world, but merely a plurality of manifestations of a single substance. The plurality of things is only apparent and belongs to the surface grasped by our senses, whereas our mind grasps, beyond this surface, the one substance in which all apparent contrasts coincide. This substance is true and good, it is both matter and form, and in it actuality and potentiality are no longer different from each other. In such formulas the distinction between the universe and God seems to disappear, but in one important passage Bruno differentiates between the physical universe known by the philosophers and the archetypal universe believed in by the theologians.
He thus presents us with an impressive and original vision of reality, but if we compare the various statements contained in the dialogue, a few basic ambiguities remain. Form and matter are clearly universal principles for Bruno, but he treats them sometimes as distinct and sometimes as identical, or rather as two aspects of the same principle. The physical and the metaphysical universe are sometimes identified, and sometimes quite clearly distinguished. Finally, the universe is sometimes treated as an image of God, and as distinct from Him, whereas at times this distinction tends to disappear.
Students of Bruno have tried to cope with these difficulties in a variety of ways. Some have emphasized one set of statements over the other, thus making of Bruno either a Platonist metaphysician or an outright pantheist. Those who have been willing to admit the ambiguities present in his work have often considered the extreme pantheist position to be his true position, and the dualist statements to be concessions made to popular opinion or potential censors or critics. Others have regarded pantheism as the logical consequence of his position, which he came to adopt gradually, the dualist statements representing a mere residual of his earlier views. This last opinion seems to be the soundest of the ones we have cited. However, I am more inclined to think that Bruno had a vision that was not completely expressible in terms of these antitheses, and that he was quite willing to accept the dilemma, that is, both horns of it, as a paradox and an approximation, without wishing to be pushed into a more extreme position. It is no doubt true that in comparison with his favourite sources, Plotinus and Cusanus, Bruno goes much further in the direction of a pantheistic or immanentistic conception. Yet I doubt very much that he wanted to be an extreme pantheist or naturalist. In one of his latest statements, he tries to show that individual minds are particular manifestations of the universal mind, just as particular bodies are manifestations of universal matter. This statement is a welcome addition to his other writings, in which this particular doctrine is not so clearly stated. It also shows that his position was closer to Cusanus and to the dualistic passages in his dialogues than many interpreters have been willing to admit.
No less interesting and historically significant than Bruno's metaphysics is his conception of the physical universe as we find it developed in his dialogue De l'infinito, unirerso e mondi. In this work, Bruno restates the Copernican system of the universe, and gives it for the first time a philosophical meaning. His chief emphasis is on the infinity of the universe as a whole, as against the innumerable finite worlds that are contained in it. This distinction between the universe and the worlds is borrowed from Lucretius, as is the notion of the infinity of the universe, which is not found in Copernicus at all. We now know that in the sixteenth century the infinity of the physical universe was asserted by Thomas Digges, prior to Bruno, but it is not certain that Bruno was familiar with the writings of this predecessor. We might also compare the view of Patrizi, who assumed an infinite external void surrounding our finite world. For Bruno, there are many such worlds as ours, and the universe outside our world is not a void. Moreover, unlike Patrizi, he conceives our world or solar system according to the system of Copernicus. He further insists that this infinity of the universe cannot be perceived by the senses, but is disclosed by the judgment of reason, thus reverting to Democritus from the sensationalism of the Epicureans and Telesio.
The infinite universe is for Bruno the image of an infinite God. In this context, at least, he clearly distinguishes between God and the universe, and his position may be compared with that of Cusanus. Yet whereas Cusanus reserves true infinity for God alone, Bruno uses the relation between the universe and God as an argument for the infinity of the former. Since God is infinite, also the universe must be infinite, although in a different sense.
As for Patrizi and others, the stars are no longer attached to rigid spheres, but move freely in the infinite space. Yet in accordance with the Neoplatonic tradition, and with a view adopted by most medieval Aristotelians, Bruno assigns the cause for the motion of the stars to their internal principles or souls. The earth is also in motion, and may hence be considered as one of the stars. Only the universe as a whole is at rest, whereas all particular worlds contained in it are in motion. The universe as a whole has no absolute center and no absolute direction; that is, we cannot talk of an upward or a downward direction in an absolute sense. Gravity and lightness have merely a relative meaning with reference to the parts of the universe toward which a given body is moving. This view of Bruno's may be characterized as half-Aristotelian. That is, in his denial of an absolute center, Bruno repeats a formula of Cusanus, interpreting it in a Lucretian sense. In his denial of an absolute direction, he follows the atomists against Aristotle; but in retaining a relative direction, and, above all, in retaining the distinction between gravity and lightness, he is still under the spell of Aristotelian physics.
The individual stars, Bruno argues, are subject to continual change through the influx and efflux of atoms, but persist through some internal or external force. The notion of influx and efflux is again based on atomism, and the notion that the stars are subject to change is another important departure from Aristotelian cosmology, in which the celestial objects, as distinct from the sublunar ones, are considered unchangeable and incorruptible. Yet the internal force seems to be a Neoplatonic rather than an atomistic conception. Bruno knows that the fixed stars are at varying distances from us, and thus discards the traditional notion of a single sphere of fixed stars. He thinks that the entire universe is filled with aether even in the so-called empty spaces between the stars. All stars in the universe are divided into two basic groups, which he calls suns and earths. The prevailing element of the former is fire, of the latter, water. Our earth is like a star, and when seen from the outside, it shines like the other stars. Bruno also assumes that the various worlds outside our own are inhabited. He denies the existence of elementary spheres, thus rejecting another basic conception of traditional Aristotelian cosmology, and calls the notion of a hierarchy of nature a mere product of the imagination.
Bruno's cosmology is quite suggestive, and it anticipates in a number of ways the conception of the universe as it was to be developed by modern physics and astronomy. He is not only the first major philosopher who adopted the Copernican system, but also one of the first thinkers who boldly discarded such time-honored notions as the radical distinction between things celestial and earthly, and the hierarchical view of nature. Being aware of the novelty of his view, he does not spare Aristotle or his followers, whom he pursues with a series of polemical attacks. The fact that Bruno still retains some residuals of Aristotelian physics should not be exaggerated, and it should have been expected in any case. On the other hand, it has been rightly stressed that he was a forerunner, but not a founder, of modern science and philosophy. He was unaware of the role that mathematics and experimental observation were to play in modern science, and did not develop a precise method by which his assertions might have been tested or demonstrated. His merit and his limitation lie in the fact that, through his intuition and vision, he anticipated a number of ideas that resemble those which later centuries were to adopt and to develop on the basis of much more solid evidence. Yet the more we are inclined to extol the role of imagination in the sciences, alongside that of empirical observation and logical deduction, the more we should appreciate the contribution made by such thinkers as Bruno.
The extent of Bruno's influence during the following centuries is hard to estimate. His condemnation and terrible end made it impossible for any Catholic scholar to read or cite him overtly, and even in Protestant countries his works seem to have had a rather limited circulation for a long time. Yet Galileo could have read Bruno long before the latter was condemned, and the resemblance between certain passages in Galileo and Bruno that deal with the place of the earth in the universe is so great that it may not be incidental after all. I am also inclined to see a connection between Bruno and Spinoza, for the conception of the relation between God and particular things as substance and accidents is too similar and too unusual to be a mere coincidence. Aside from many other differences, it was quite natural for Spinoza to replace Bruno's two basic principles, form (or soul) and matter, which have a Neoplatonic, and if you wish an Aristotelian, origin, with the attributes of thought and extension, which are derived from the system of Descartes. I cannot discuss the question whether the theory of monads, as developed in some of Bruno's Latin writings, may have had an influence on Leibniz.
Arthur D. Imerti (essay date 1964)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5894
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 author of life." The philosopher admonishes: "Cieco chi non vede il sole, stolto chi nol conosce, ingrato chi nol ringrazia…." ("He is blind who does not see the sun, foolish who does not recognize it, ungrateful who is not thankful unto it….")
He who had encountered the opposition of the inquisitorial authorities in Italy, the jeers of his students at Toulouse, and the scepticism of his colleagues at Oxford had no illusions as to the reception his ideas would be given by what he calls the multitude of "foolish, perverse, and wicked" pedants who, "under their severe brows and subdued countenances, their profuse beards and magisterial and grave togas, studiously, to universal harm, contain ignorance no less despicable than haughty, and no less pernicious than the most celebrated ribaldry." The philosopher is deeply confident, however, that Lo spaccio will be received with favor by men of the caliber of the erudite, open-minded, and generous Sir Philip Sidney, among whom "works and heroic effects will not be believed to be fruits of no value and vain."
Bruno, dedicating to his friend and benefactor "the numbered and arranged seeds of his moral philosophy," indicates that Lo spaccio is not his definitive ethical work, although there are certain truths therein expressed, which he insists must be defended against the assaults of "the wrinkles and the brows of the hypocrites." He affirms that his reason for writing these dialogues is not to disapprove of "that which commonly is esteemed worthy of being approved by all wise and good men," but, rather, to reprove the contrary. He expresses the hope "that there be not anyone of so gross a mind, and so malicious a spirit," that he may conclude that what is written in Lo spaccio is said by him in a definitive manner. Determined that no one should say that he is taking "aim at the truth," and hurling stones "against the honest, the useful, the natural, and, consequently, the divine," the philosopher voices the hope that his readers will examine and weigh all the evidence objectively before pronouncing judgment.
Bruno's concept of truth is the source of the most heretical premises contained in Lo spaccio. Indeed, the eternal search for truth is the very foundation of the ethical system implicit in the work. Few thinkers have possessed Bruno's fanatical devotion to her; few have been willing to die in her cause. The following passage in Lo spaccio, uttered by Saulino, with its ardent allusions to truth, is strongly autobiographical:
Rather, the more and more she is impugned, the more and more she is resuscitated and grows. Without a defender and protector, she defends herself; and yet she loves the company of a few wise men. She hates the multitude, does not show herself before those who do not seek her for her own sake, and does not wish to be declared to those who do not humbly expose themselves to her, or to all those who fraudulently seek her; and therefore she dwells most high, whither all gaze, and few see.
Bruno equates truth with Divinity itself, declaring that she is "the divinity and the sincerity, goodness and beauty, of things," the unity and goodness which preside over all things. As cause and principle, she is before all things; as substance, she is in all things. Truth, declares the philosopher, is "ideal, natural, and notional"; or, in other terms, "metaphysics, physics, and logic."
The philosopher maintains that truth cannot be crushed by violence, nor can she be corrupted by time; for she is relative to time, and reveals herself as the substance of things in myriad and everchanging forms. She is manifest in all living things, operating through the eternal laws of an immanent God identified with a timeless universe, and although she may appear different in each succeeding generation, she is immutable and immortal. That which in the physical world is revealed to us through our senses, says Bruno, and that which we can comprehend, thanks to our intellect, "is not the highest and first truth, but a certain figure, a certain image, a certain splendor of her."
It is Bruno's belief that if man wishes to ascertain truth, he must approach theology, philosophy, and science without any preconceived attitudes. He, as Brunnhofer points out, is "perhaps the only philosopher who does not claim to have an infalliable method of arriving at the truth [Hermann Brunnhofer, Giordano Bruno's Weltanschauug and Verhängniss, 1882]." His impatience with those who lay claim to such "infallible methods" is clearly revealed in the following passage from De la causa:
Because it is a thing fit for an ambitious person, and for a presumptuous, vain, and envious mind, to want to persuade others that there is only one way to investigate and to come to the cognition of nature; and for one to convince himself that that is so, is a thing worthy of a mad man and a man without reason.
The philosopher clung to the belief that there is an element of truth in all doctrines. Thus, in "De umbris idearum" he declares:
We do not abolish the mysteries of the Pythagoreans. We do not belittle the faith of the Platonists and do not despise the ratiocinations of the Peripatetics insofar as these ratiocinations find a real foundation.
An examination of Bruno's sources, and the conclusions the philosopher draws from them, will aid us in identifying and understanding the "certain truths" he wishes to defend; and we shall observe that although as expressed in Lo spaccio, they may indeed at times seem fragmentary and indefinitive, the tone in which they are stated leaves little doubt as to their heretical meaning. Thus, the Roman inquisitors could not help but grasp the significance of the heretical religious philosophy that lends the work its controversial nature. Berti observes that although Lo spaccio seems to be, on the surface, an indictment of paganism, it is in effect "the proclamation of natural religion and the negation of all positive religions [Domenico Berti, Vita di Giordano Bruno da Nola, 1868]."
Probably no man did more to focus the attention of Western thinkers upon pre-Socratic philosophers than did Aristotle himself, their greatest Greek opponent; for in order to refute their doctrines, he was compelled to name many of these thinkers in his Physics and Metaphysics. It was Bruno's close familiarity with Aristotle's works and his dissatisfaction with the Stagirite that, according to McIntyre, "led him into greater sympathy with the naturephilosophers whom Aristotle decried" [J. Lewis McIntyre, Giordano Bruno, 1903]. Lo spaccio contains reminiscences of pre-Socratic and Neo-Platonic philosophers whose thinking was considered suspect by the Church. Toward these Bruno maintained the attitude of an eclectic. He does not attempt, as McIntyre points out, "to appreciate their relative value, nor to discover any evolution of thought through the successive systems. From each," continues McIntyre, "he takes that which agrees or appears to agree with his own philosophy, and treats it as an anticipation of, or an authority for, the latter."
Thus, in developing the concept of the Absolute One, Bruno draws upon both Xenophanes, who represents "the static aspect of pantheism," and Heraclitus, who represents the more dynamic concept of pantheism, that is to say, that of a divinity which manifests itself through the finite. To Pythagoras, Bruno owes his concept of the transmigration of souls.
From Anaxagoras, who was the first to introduce the teleological principle in the explanation of the universe, Bruno learned of the relationship existing between Absolute Being and Finite Being. For his doctrine of "motion and change" he is indebted to both Heraclitus and Empedocles.
In the imagery of his language, in his dialectic, in his love of mathematics, in his rational view of life, Bruno shows a close affinity with Plato. His mysticism and his concepts of "substance" and "immanence," on the other hand, seem to stem from Plotinus and other Neo-Platonists.
In Lo spaccio Bruno reveals his strong attraction to the mysteries of the Egyptian religion, his curiosity in that cult having been aroused by his reading of the Hermetic writings of Iamblichus and of Lucius Apuleius.
It was not the substance of Ramón Lull's teaching but, rather, his method that attracted Bruno to him; for through this method the Nolan and many other Renaissance thinkers believed that they could acquire universal knowledge.
With his theory of the "coincidence of contraries" and his use of mathematical symbols to explain the Deity, the German cardinal, Nicholas Cusanus, exerted a profound influence upon Bruno. But, as we shall observe, Bruno's conclusions differ fundamentally from those of Cusanus.
Bruno's concept of "substance" is, perhaps, the most heretical premise of Lo spaccio, since from it he derives his concept of "immanence," the source of his religion of nature. His religion of nature, in turn, becomes the source of his philosophy of knowledge and of his heretical sociopolitical ideas.
Bruno speaks of an "eternal incorporeal substance" and of an "eternal corporeal substance." Although, according to him, "eternal incorporeal substance" does indeed have "familiarity with bodies," it does not become a "subject of composition," since no part of it can be "changed, formed, or deformed." It is, according to the philosopher, "the divinity, the hero, the demon, the particular god, the intelligence," the "efficient and formative principle," about which the composition of all beings is formed. It is the intrinsic principle and cause of "harmony, complexion and symmetry," and is not an accident derived from these, as taught by Aristotle and Galen, whom Bruno places among "fools under the name of philosophers." In short, it is, according to the philosopher, the "substance which is truly man." Since "eternal incorporeal substance" is rational principle, it is the governor and ruler of the body, and, therefore, superior to and independent of it.
On the other hand, "eternal corporeal substance" emanates from "eternal incorporeal substance." It is not "producible exnihilo, nor reducible ad nihilum, but rarefiable, condensible, formable." But whereas "eternal corporeal substance" remains unchanged, "the complexion is changed, the figure is modified, the being is altered, the fortune is varied."
We shall now turn to Bruno's conception of the doctrine of "motion and change." The opening pronouncement of Lo spaccio, uttered by Sophia, is a formulation of this doc trine, evolved by Heraclitus and Empedocles. But whereas the doctrine developed by the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers is, more specifically, of a cosmic nature, in Lo spaccio Bruno emphasizes the doctrine's ethical implications. Thus, asserting that there would be no pleasure if "bodies, matter, and entity" did not experience "mutation, variety, and vicissitude," Bruno's Sophia declares:
The state of venereal ardor torments us, the state of requited lust saddens us; but that which satisfies us is the transit from one state to the other. In no present being do we find pleasure, if the past has not become wearisome to us. Labor does not please except in the beginning, after rest; and unless in the beginning, after labor, there is no pleasure in rest.
In his development of the doctrine of "motion and change" Bruno leans heavily upon the Pythagorean belief in "metempsychosis," a teaching considered heretical by the Catholic Church. For whereas the Church in its Credo unequivocally states its belief in an ultimate return of the soul to its resurrected body, Bruno declares that, guided by the "Fate of Mutation," the soul of man will incur infinite changes of "life and of fortune." He believes that the "High Justice, which presides over all things," will see to it that man is rewarded with a body befitting his conduct in his present state of "metempsychosis." Thus, according to Bruno, a man who has led an "equine or porcine" existence in this life will inherit "equine or porcine" forms in another.
From the consideration of the concept of "motion and change" Bruno is logically led to his interpretation of the doctrine of the "coincidence of contraries," developed by Nicholas Cusanus.
Cusanus maintains that since finite nature is the result of the creative act of an infinite God, those effects which in her seem contradictory to finite minds, do coincide in the mind of God, their creator, who is both the "maximum absolute" and the "minimum absolute."
Bruno believes that "the beginning, the middle, and the end, the birth, the growth, and the perfection of all that we see, come from contraries, through contraries, into contraries, to contraries." He declares that where there is "contrariety, there is action and reaction, there is motion, there is diversity, there is number, there is order, there are degrees, there is succession, there is vicissitude." Every being, then, finds himself "with such a composition, with such accidents and circumstances … because of differences which arise from contraries." All contraries are resolved or coincide in one original and prime contrary, "which is the first principle of all the others, which are the proximate efficients of every change and vicissitude." According to the Nolan, that which gives us pleasure and satisfaction is the "mutation from one extreme to the other through its participants and motion from one contrary to the other through its intermediate points." Consequently, there is a greater attraction between two contraries than between like and like.
Bruno, indicating his indebtedness to Cusanus for his "coincidence of contraries," manifests that he considers it not only an epistemological but also an ethical doctrine. The attraction of contraries becomes for him the very basis of social and political relationships. Therefore, he maintains that there is no appreciation of justice where there is no injustice, no appreciation of harmony where one has not experienced its contrary.
Bruno placed Providence next to Truth in his descending ethical scale. Because she is a companion of Truth, she must be of the essence of Truth; and like the latter, she is both liberty and necessity. She is that attribute which links rational beings with Prudence, inherent in "temporal discourse." She is known as Providence when she "influences and is found in superior principles"; as Prudence when she is "effectuated in us." Prudence is, for Bruno, a reflection of Providence, whom he compares with the sun, "as that body which warms the earth and diffuses light." She abides in universals and particulars, having Dialectic as her "handmaiden" and Acquired Wisdom as her "guide." She instills in human beings the faculty of reason, through which they learn to adapt themselves "to things, to times, and to occasions."
As are Truth and Providence, Sophia, or Wisdom, is of two species. The first is "the superior, supracelestial, and ultramundane," which is "invisible, infigurable, and incomprehensible" and is "above all things, in all things, and between all things"; the second species is "the consecutive, mundane, and inferior," which is "figured in the heaven, illustrated in minds, communicated through words, digested through art, refined through conversation, delineated through writings." Bruno identifies Superior Wisdom with Providence and Truth, which are attributes of the Deity. Earthly, mundane Sophia is not of the essence of Wisdom, but merely partakes of her. Bruno compares earthly Sophia with "an eye which receives light and is illuminated by an external wandering light." She is that indispensable faculty through which man contemplates, comprehends, and explains Truth, "toward which, through various steps and diverse ladders, all aspire, strive, study, and, by rising, force themselves to reach."
Bruno is severe with those who knowingly distort wisdom, calling those who claim to know what they do not know, rash sophists; those who deny knowing what they do know, ungrateful to the "active intellect," "injurious toward truth," and "outrageous" toward wisdom. He condemns all those who do not seek wisdom for her own sake, but would rather sell her "for money or honors or for other kinds of gain." Bruno is scornful of those who desire wisdom in order to win acclaim, or "to detract, and to be able to oppose and stand against the happiness" of those whom they may call "troublesome censors and rigid observers."
For Bruno, Law, the daughter of Sophia, who consists of Divine Law and her derivative, the Law of Nations, is the divine instrument through which "princes reign and kingdoms and republics are maintained." She is the "art of arts and discipline of disciplines," through which men of diverse complexions, customs, inclinations, and wills "must be governed and repressed." Because she is conceived differently by different peoples, she adapts herself to "the complexion and customs of peoples and nations, suppresses audacity through fear, and sees to it that goodness is secure among the wicked."
In his peregrinations through war-torn Europe, Bruno had ample opportunity to observe that the lust for power, which characterized his times, had produced a widespread disregard for law and agreements between and within nations, governed by unprincipled absolute rulers, of which Machiavelli's prince was the prototype. Bruno's condemnation of the faithlessness and hypocrisy of princes is a devastating indictment of his times and a refutation of Machiavelli's political philosophy, as it is expounded in The Prince. He declares:
See to what point the world is reduced, because it has become custom and proverb that in governing faith is not observed…. What will the world come to if all republics, kingdoms, dominions, families, and individuals say that one must be a saint with the saint, perverse with the perverse? And will they excuse themselves for being wicked because they have a wicked man as a companion or neighbor?
The immoral environment engendered by these absolute princes, influenced by sycophants of every description, helped to create a faithless, dissolute, irresponsible, and indolent upper class. With penetrating insight and subtle irony, Bruno realistically depicts the dissipation of the sons of the rich, surrounded by a host of servants, as they while away the hours "in the house of Idleness."
Bruno was highly critical of the libidinous conduct of both the married and unmarried women of the upper classes. He deplored the consequences of premarital relations of young women, although he did not consider Virginity something worthy in herself, "because," declares Bruno's Jove, "of herself, she is neither a virtue nor a vice, and does not contain either goodness, dignity, or merit." He did evince great concern, however, for women who unwisely submitted themselves to abortions; and he deemed that it would have been better, had they prevented the waste of that seed which could "give rise to heroes."
The lack of interest shown by wealthy women in their children, whom they often entrusted to dirty and incompetent nursemaids, and their preference, instead, for domestic animals, provoked Bruno's indignation. With cutting irony he satirizes the distorted sense of values characteristic of one of these mothers, who addresses her child thus:
Oh my son, made in my image, as you show yourself to be a man, would that you also showed yourself to be a rabbit, a she-puppy, a marten, a cat, and a sable. Just as surely as I have committed you into the arms of this servant, of this domestic, of this ignoble nursemaid, of this filthy, dirty, drunken woman, so infecting you with her fetidness (because it is also necessary that you sleep with her), she will easily cause you to die. I, I myself should be she who should carry you in her arms, should nourish you, suckle you, comb you, sing to you, caress you, kiss you, as I do with this gentle animal.
Bruno did not limit himself to satirizing the corruption, despotism, and violence of his times. He proposed as a positive solution the reinstatement of the goddess Law as the moral guide and teacher of nations, who should be especially concerned with "whatever appertains to the communion of men, to civilized behavior." Viewing with alarm the mutual distrust between the governors and the governed, he maintained that the "potent," that is to say those who ruled, should be "sustained by the impotent," or the governed. He insists, however, that "the weak be not oppressed by the stronger."
The state advocated by Bruno must foster "virtues and studies, useful and necessary to the commonwealth"; and its citizens, who most profit from them, should be "exalted and remunerated." Demonstrating a philanthropic concern for the poor, Bruno recommends that they be aided by their wealthy fellow citizens; and in words which might be construed as socialistic, he urges that "the indolent, the avaricious, and the owners of property be scorned and held in contempt."
The citizens of Bruno's state, which should be ruled by laws based on "justice" and "possibility," must not only respect and honor their temporal rulers but also preserve "the fear and the cult of invisible powers."
Despite the fact that out of a sense of gratitude he had extravagant words of praise for such absolute rulers as Henry III of France, Bruno condemns absolutism both in religion and in the state. Advocating the deposition of tyrants and favoring republics, he urges that "just rulers and realms be constituted and strengthened."
Bruno's concept of justice is predicated upon his belief that the state must exert a moral influence upon the lives of its citizens. Therefore, it rests upon the state to see that justice be meted out to all "without rigor," and that it sponsor "Equity, Righteousness," "Gratitude," and "Good Conscience." The state should see to it that individuals be conscious of their own worth, that elders be respected, that equals view one another with equanimity, and that superiors be benign "toward inferiors."
The Roman Republic was for Bruno the symbol of justice, law, and order, that justice, law, and order which he observed in operation in the world of nature. He concurred with Machiavelli in the opinion that Rome attained her leading position among nations, not because she was favored by Fortune, as believed by the ancients, but rather because she practiced virtue. Republican Rome, where the cordial rapport between the state and religion promoted peace and happiness for all its citizens, was for Bruno the ideal state, to be emulated by other peoples. He extolls the Roman people for their "magnanimity, justice, and mercy," qualities which, according to Bruno, made them akin to the gods. Jove's words eloquently express the philosopher's admiration for the Romans:
because with their magnificent deeds they, more than the other nations, knew how to conform with and resemble them, by pardoning the subdued, overthrowing the proud, righting wrongs, not forgetting benefits, helping the needy, defending the afflicted, relieving the oppressed, restraining the violent, promoting the meritorious, abasing criminals; and by spreading terror and utmost destruction among the other nations by means of scourges and axes, and honoring the gods with statues and colossi. Whence, consequently, that people appeared more bridled and restrained from vices of an uncivilized and barbarous nature, more excellent and ready to perform generous enterprises than any other people that has ever been seen. And as long as such were their law and religion, their customs and deeds, such were their honor and their happiness.
Bruno's concept of the Deity as pure rational principle, and as both cause and effect, made all positive religions, with their emphasis on the anthropomorphic attributes of God, repugnant to him. Catholicism was no exception, although the universal structure of the Catholic Church, which united peoples of diverse customs and races, so reminiscent of Rome, strongly appealed to the philosopher. Nevertheless, his sly references to monks, monasteries, and relics hint at his disapproval of some of the basic tenets of Catholicism. His ironic allusions to the New Testament, and particularly his satire of Christ, whose life on earth he allegorizes in Orion, and whose "trinitarian" nature, in Chiron the Centaur, are an implied refutation not only of Catholicism but of Christianity itself.
He assailed the Protestants for their confiscation of Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, and other properties, accusing them of being disseminators of that discord and injustice which wreaked so much suffering and destruction upon Europe, at much inconvenience to himself. Referring to Protestant theologians, constantly bickering among themselves, he caustically remarks:
among ten thousand such pedants there is not one who has not compiled his own catechism, and who, if he has not published it, at least is about to publish that one which approves of no other institution but his own, finding in all the others something to condemn, reprove, and doubt; besides, the majority of them are found in disagreement among themselves, rescinding today what they wrote the day before.
He who had suffered humiliation at the hands of the Calvinists at Geneva acrimoniously impugns their doctrine of predestination and their emphasis on faith, reproaching them for wanting "to reform the deformed laws and religions." The Calvinistic belief in predestination, according to Bruno, induced its adherents "to the contempt of, or at least to little concern for, legislators and laws, by giving them to understand that they propose impossible things, and rule as if in jest." The biting sarcasm with which Bruno refers to the Calvinists and their doctrines, typical of his satirical style, is vividly illustrated in the following passage:
And so let them depart from those profaned dwellings and not eat of that accursed bread; but let them go and inhabit those pure and uncontaminated houses and feed upon those victuals that have been destined to them by means of their reformed law, and recently brought forth by these pious individuals—they who hold completed works in such low esteem, and only because of an importune, vile, and foolish imagination consider themselves rules of heaven and children of the gods, and believe more in, and attribute more to, a vain, bovine, and asinine faith than to a useful, real, and magnanimous effect.
Bruno is harsh in his criticism of the Jews, whom he calls the "excrement of Egypt." He maintains that Moses, "who left the court of Pharaoh, learned in all the sciences of the Egyptians," imparted their knowledge to the Jews; and he implies that the evolution of Jewish monotheism, with its emphasis on a personal God, destroyed the concept of the Deity as immanent principle, embodied in the natural religion of the Egyptians.
In his interpretation of the Old Testament Bruno's views clash with both Christian and Jewish teachings. He regards its stories as fables, or metaphorical representations of history, passed on from the Egyptians to the Babylonians and then to the Hebrews. He adduces as evidence of his premise the "metaphor of the raven," which, he declares, was "first found and developed in Egypt and then taken by the Hebrews, through whom this knowledge was transmitted from Babylonia, in the form of a story…."
Bruno is struck by the variations of the Osiris myth in the ancient Mediterranean civilizations, to which he makes a brief allusion. However, he specifically points out analogies between such Greek myths as that of Apollo and the Raven and the biblical Noah and the Raven, between that of Deucalion and Noah, and between that of Cetus and Jonah and the Whale.
The source of the myths shared by the Greeks with the Hebrews, he insists, is not Hebrew but Egyptian. Egypt, indeed, is for Bruno the source of all the myths and fables of the Mediterranean world, all being poetical representations of events dating back to the dawn of Western civilization.
Historically, Egypt represents for Bruno the cradle of Western religion. The Egyptian cult, with its worship of the living effects of nature, seems to come closest to his concept of natural religion. The following quotation from Iamblichus, which in the form of a prophecy laments the disappearance of the natural religion of the Egyptians and the dire effect this loss will have upon humanity, prognosticates a return to the religion of nature; and Bruno's employment of this passage in Lo spaccio is most significant:
Do you not know, oh Asclepius, that Egypt is the image of heaven or, better said, the colony of all things that are governed and practiced in heaven? To speak the truth, our land is the temple of the world. But woe is me! The time will come when Egypt will appear to have been in vain the religious cultivator of divinity, because divinity, remigrating to heaven, will leave Egypt deserted. And this seat of divinity will remain widowed of every religion, having been deprived of the presence of the gods…. Oh Egypt, oh Egypt! Of your religions there will remain only the fables, still incredible to future generations, to whom there will be nothing else that may narrate your pious deeds save the letters sculptured on stones…. Shadows will be placed before light, death will be judged to be more useful than life, no one will raise his eyes toward heaven. The religious man will be considered insane, the impious man will be considered prudent, the furious man, strong, the most wicked man, good. And believe me, capital punishment will still be prescribed for him who will apply himself to the religion of the mind…. Only pernicious an gels will remain, who, mingling with men, will force upon the wretched ones every audacious evil as if it were justice, giving material for wars, rapines, frauds, and all other things contrary to the soul and to natural justice. And this will be the old age and the disorder and irreligion of the world. But do not doubt, Asclepius, for after these things have occurred, the lord and father God, governor of the world, the omnipotent provider, by a deluge of water or of fire, of diseases or of pestilences or of other ministers of his compassionate justice, will doubtlessly then put an end to such a blot, recalling the world to its ancient countenance [De mysteriis Aegyptiorum, 1516].
In the words of Isis conveyed by Sophia, Bruno contends that despite the fact that it is true that the Egyptians resorted to some abusive practices in their natural religion, they nevertheless worshiped "the Deity, one and simple and absolute in itself, multiform and omniform in all things"; and therefore, he arrives at the conclusion that their cult was far superior to the anthropomorphic polytheism of the Greeks.
A careful study of Lo spaccio, of De la causa and of l'infinito would seem to confirm the opinion, held by some scholars, that Bruno was not only a true pantheist but also the direct ancestor of Spinoza. The universe as viewed by both Bruno and Spinoza is governed by an immanent Deity, who is absolute principle; but whereas Spinoza conceives of a static, determined universe, which is merely "the statue of God," Bruno conceives of one containing both necessity and freedom.
Certainly the most heretical aspect of Bruno's philosophy in Lo spaccio is his concept of a religion of nature, derived from his doctrine of "immanence."
In developing his concept of "immanence," Bruno establishes the premise that "animals and plants are living effects of Nature," which, he declares, is "nothing else but God in things," or, expressed in other terms, "natura est deus in rebus." Thus, according to Bruno, the universe is an emanation of the Deity within it. Referring to Bruno's universe, Spaventa declares that it is not "the tomb of dead divinity," but rather "the seat of living divinity … the true and only life of God." Bruno's Deity, since he is the substance of all things, cannot limit or divorce himself from his infinite universe; for, according to Cassirer, in Bruno's universe, "the one and infinite substance cannot help but reveal itself to itself, in an infinity of effects" [Ernst Cassirer, Storia della filosofia moderna, 1952]. Consequently, potency and act coincide in the Deity; and he is one and the same with the reality that emanates from him.
Bruno believes that Divinity, which is latent in nature, "working and glowing differently in different subjects … through diverse physical forms in certain arrangements … succeeds in making them participants … in her being, in her life and intellect." He alludes to the "ladder of Nature … by which Divinity descends even to the lowest things," just as all rational beings "by means of a life, resplendent in natural things," rise "to the life which presides over them."
From Bruno's philosophy of nature is derived his philosophy of knowledge. Since multiform nature in which all opposites coincide is, according to him, the infinite emanation of a Deity who is absolute reason, she (nature) is the teacher of all rational beings. The inference that we may draw from Lo spaccio is that the more deeply man penetrates into the laws of nature, by virtue of his intellect, the closer will he come to an understanding of the unity that exists between him and the immanent principle. For in Bruno's doctrine, as Cassirer maintains, the "intellect and all its determinations are a representation and so to speak a symbolic imitation of the same original principle from whose foundation nature has its origin." It is, then, through purely intellectual processes, rather than through a mystical experience, that rational beings can become one with God. Upon this point Gentile observes:
The knowledge of divinity as championed by Bruno is not ecstasy, or immediate union, although it is indeed union that it has as its end, whereupon the spirit, as he says, "becomes a god upon intellectual contact with that object, deity." It is a rational process, a discourse of the intellect, a true and appropriate philosophy [Giovanni Gentile, Il pensiero italiano del rinascimento, 1940].
Bruno scoffs at the classical myth of the Golden Age, so often used as a theme by the writers of the Renaissance; for he, like Hegel, concluded that man living in that legendary period of "peace and plenty" was little more than beast. He firmly believes that man, the "artisan and efficient of God, sacred by his very humanity," could reproduce in society the unity and harmony established in the universe by its immanent, rational principle.
Lo spaccio envisages a society in which the natural religion of the Egyptians, in its purest sense, and the speculative intellect of the Greeks would coincide in a sociopolitical structure patterned after that of the Roman Republic. The source of the state, which Bruno conceives of as "an ethical substance," is God, "the absolute reality, or reality which is the principle of all realities." The state envisaged by the philosopher would be one containing a unity of law and religion, rather than a separation of "the divine from law and civil life." In this state, which in some aspects foreshadows Vico's idealization, natural religion, philosophy, the arts and sciences, would combine to form a religion of reason. Of this ideal state, contemplated by Bruno, Giusso declares:
In Bruno, as later in Vico, is designed and prophesied, as the perfect state of civilization, that state in which the arts and the sciences, "since they derive their being from religions and laws, may serve laws and religions" [Lorenzo Giusso, Scienza e filosofia in Giordano Bruno, 1955].
Frances A. Yates (essay date 1964)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4212
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 Haincelius), native of Augsburg, had recently acquired an estate at Elgg, near Zurich. This man was interested in alchemy and in various kinds of occultism and magic, and he liberally entertained at Elgg those who had a reputation for proficiency in such arts. Bruno stayed with him for several months, and it was for the strange lord of Elgg that he wrote a work which he himself regarded as very important. This is the De imaginum, signorum et idearum compositione, dedicated to Hainzell and published at Frankfort by Wechel in 1591. Bruno probably wrote it at Elgg, or at Zurich where he stayed for a while, and took the manuscript back with him to Frankfort. It was the last book that he published.
It is a magic memory system which has points in common with the "De umbris idearum," published during the first visit to Paris and dedicated to Henri III. That system, as will be remembered, was based on 150 magic or talismanic images; these were the images of the Egyptian decan demons, images of the planets, and other made up images. Around them, on concentric circles, were placed images of animals, plants, stones, etc., the whole world of physical creation, and on the outer circle, all arts and sciences under the images of 150 inventors and great men. The central magic images formed as it were the magical powerstation informing the whole system. The system was attributed to "Hermes" and we thought that it related to the experience, described in one of the Hermetic treatises, of the initiate who reflects within his mind the whole universe in the ecstasy in which he becomes one with the Powers.
In the De imaginum, signorum et idearum compositione we have a similar idea but in a more elaborate form. The central magical power-station is now represented by twelve "principles". These are the powers or forces of one personality. The contents of the universe, arts and sciences, and so on, are arranged, or rather incoherently jumbled, in a madly elaborate series of rooms, atria, divisions. This arrangement is related to classical mnemonics in which notions are remembered through images placed in order on places memorised in buildings. But the mnemonic architecture itself has been "magicised" in Bruno's wild scheme, for some of the various plans of memory places in the book are obviously related to the Hermetic "seal" as can be seen by comparing these supposed mnemonic schemes with "seals" in other works. I shall not bewilder the reader by taking him through these magic memory rooms, but the twelve central "principles" or powers on which the whole scheme centres are interesting because they remind us of the gods in the Spaccio della bestia trionfante.
The twelve "principles" of the De imaginum compositione, some of which have other principles with them, or in the same "field", are as follows: Jupiter, with Juno; Saturn; Mars; Mercury; Minerva; Apollo; Aesculapius, with whom are grouped Circe, Arion, Orpheus, Sol; Luna; Venus; Cupid; Tellus, with Ocean, Neptune, Pluto.
If these twelve principles are set out in a column, and in a parallel column are listed the gods who are the speakers in the Spaccio, the gods who hold the council by which the heaven is reformed, the result is as follows:
|The Twelve Principles of G. Bruno's De imaginum, signorum et idearum compositione, 1591||The Gods of G. Bruno's Spaccia della bestia trianfante, 1585|
with his magicians
CIRCE AND MEDEA
with his physician
|X||VENUS||(10 images)||VENUS and CUPID|
As can easily be seen by comparing the two lists, there is a marked similarity between the gods of the Spaccio and the "principles" of De imaginum compositione. Many, indeed most of them, are the same. There is a general similarity, too, in the fact that both lists contain the seven planetary gods and also other non-planetary principles. Even these non-planetary principles are somewhat similar in both lists; Minerva is in both; if we include with Apollo in the Spaccio list, Circe, Medea, Aesculapius who support Apollo in the council, we have something corresponding to the curious Aesculapius group in the De imaginum compositione; if we remember that Isis can mean the earth or nature, we have something corresponding to the Isis of the Spaccio in the Tellus group of the other work.
One naturally thinks, in connection with these "principles", of the twelve Olympian gods whom Manilius associates with the signs of the zodiac, namely Minerva, Venus, Apollo, Mercury Jupiter, Ceres, Vulcan, Mars, Diana, Vesta, Juno, Neptune. It is possible that Bruno has these in mind but is, as usual, adapting and altering a conventional scheme to suit his own purposes. The astrological aspect of Bruno's "principles" is certainly strong, for the seven which correspond to the seven planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Mercury, Apollo-Sol, Luna, Venus) are actually illustrated by cuts showing the planetary gods riding in their chariots which are taken from an edition of Hyginus.
Not only are the principles of the De imaginum compositione of a rather similar character to the gods of the Spaccio, but we also have in the former work elaborate lists of epithets applied to each principle, and these epithets are very like those virtues and vices, good and bad qualities, which ascend into, and descend from, the constellations as the heaven is reformed by the central group of gods. For example, the first principle, Jupiter, in the De imaginum compositione is preceded by Cause, Principle, Beginning; surrounding him are Fatherhood, Power, Rule; crowning him are Counsel, Truth, Piety, Rectitude, Candour, amiable Cult, Tranquillity, Liberty, Asylum; on the right side of his chariot are Life, incorrupt Innocence, erect Integrity, Clemency, Hilarity, Moderation, Toleration; on its left side are Pride, Display, Ambition, Dementia, Vanity, Contempt for others, Usurpation. With amazing exuberance, Bruno proliferates epithets like these for all the principles, and the above is only a small selection from the Jupiter epithets. Readers of the Spaccio will recognise at once that these are of the same type as those in which the reform of the heavens is described in that work. If we were to use the above Jupiter epithets in the Spaccio manner, we would say that to such and such a constellation were ascending Candour, amiable Cult, Tranquillity and so on, displacing the descending opposites of Pride, Dementia, Contempt for others, Usurpation and so on. In the De imaginum compositione, Bruno does not describe the constellations, nor use the idea of ascent and descent from them of all these brilliantly expressed notions, but it is clear that he is thinking on the same lines as in the Spaccio and that the epithets attached to the principles are the raw material for just such a reform as the one described in the Spaccio.
In fact, the De imaginum compositione gives the clue to the way the epithets are being used in the Spaccio. In the above Jupiter example, we can see that the good epithets belong to Jupiter both as a philosophic principle (Cause, Principle, Beginning) and as the planetary god whose characteristics are "jovial" and benevolent, and who is the special planet of rulers. The good Jupiter epithets describe a good, jovial, benevolent type of rule, with Clemency, Hilarity, Moderation, Toleration. The bad Jupiter epithets belong to the bad side of the planet and to the bad ruler; Pride, Ambition, Contempt for Others, Usurpation.
It was from study of the epithets in De imaginum compositione. and how these relate to good and bad sides of planetary influences, that I based the statement which I made in the earlier chapter on the Spaccio that the reform really represents a victory of good sides of astral influences over bad ones. The way to study the Spaccio is to correlate the epithets in it with those in the De imaginum compositione which reveals to what planet the epithets belong.
Further, in the De imaginum compositione the epithets for Saturn are nearly all bad, things like Squalor, Moroseness, Severity, Rigidity; and so are the epithets for Mars, such as Ferocity, rabid Rigidity, implacable Truculence. Reading round the constellations in the Spaccio and noting what bad things are driven down, it becomes evident, when these are compared with Saturn and Mars epithets in the De imaginum compositione, that in the celestial reform, Saturn and Mars are downed by the influence of the good planets, Jupiter, Venus, Sol. Lovely indeed are some of the epithets for Venus and Cupid in the De imaginum compositione—sweet Unanimity, placid Consent, holy Friendship, innocuous Geniality, Concordance of things, Union—and concepts like these, together with Jovial concepts, will be found in the celestial reform of the Spaccio replacing the miseries of Mars and Saturn.
As in the Spaccio, the Sun is of central importance in the De imaginum compositione. The centre of the list of principles is taken up by a group all of which are solar in character. First, there is Apollo himself, Wealth, Abundance, Fertility, Munificence. Then there is Aesculapius, son of Apollo, with Circe, daughter of the Sun, and Orpheus and Arion. This group is all magical, representing benevolent magic. Aesculapius is acceptable Healing, vigorous Salubrity, among other things. Circe is magic, very powerful she is, and her power can be used benevolently or malevolently. Orpheus and Arion, represent, I think, solar incantations. Finally, in this group, there is Sol himself as Time, Duration, Eternity, Day and Night.
As in the Spaccio, the central principles in the De imaginum compositione are solar and magical. We are in the presence of the magical reform, which Bruno is going over again in his mind, more or less as he had thought of it years ago in England.
And further, the application of the magical reform to the present-day situation is also perfectly apparent in the way the epithets are used in the De imaginum compositione, just as it is in the Spaccio where the "pedants" of intolerance are overcome by the Jovial, Solar, and Venereal reform. In the De imaginum compositione, incantations of Orpheus and Arion overcome the miseries of Saturn, which here have obvious reference to bad forms of religion, Lamentation and Wailing, torn out hair, dust and ashes sprinkled on the head, horrible Squalor, mad Tenacity. The evil Mars has reference to religious wars and persecution. And the "grammarian pedants" are represented by the bad side of Mercury, whose splendid good sides are Eloquence, Refining Culture, perverted by grammarian pedantry (actually mentioned here) to Garrulity, Scurrility, sinister Rumour, biting Vituperation.
Of the non-planetary principles of the De imaginum compositione list, Minerva is Truth, Candour, Sincerity; whilst the last group with Tellus at their head represent the philosophy of nature. Tellus is Nature, Maternity, Fecundity, Generation (corresponding to the Isis of natural religion among the gods of the Spaccio).
Though in the De imaginum compositione these remarkable notions are buried beneath the appalling intricacies of a most unattractive, difficult and daunting work apparently about mnemonics, they are in fact the same as those developed with great literary skill and thrilling imagery in the Spacccio delta bestia trionfante. Bruno is presenting to the eccentric owner of the castle of Elgg the same panacea for the times, the same magical reformation, as he had presented to Philip Sidney in London six years earlier.
Interesting and important though this is, it is still not the most interesting and revealing aspect of the De imaginum, signorum et idearum compositione. For the book is really about, as its title states, "the composition of images, signs and ideas", and by this is meant, the composition of magic or talismanic images, signs and ideas, an "idea" being here the equivalent of a talismanic image. To each of the principles, there are attached a number of talismanic or magic images which have been made up, or composed, for a special purpose. This purpose is, or so I believe, to attract into the personality through imaginative concentration on these images, these twelve principles or powers (only the good aspects of them) and so to become a Solar, Jovial and Venereal Magus, the leader of the magical reformation. The number of images attached to each principle varies very greatly. In the list (see above), the number of images with each principle is stated, so that one can see at a glance that whilst Jupiter (with Juno) has eighteen images; Apollo (if one counts with him the Aesculapius group and Sol) has twenty; and Venus and Cupid have twelve; Saturn and Mars have only four each. The personality which has captured powers through these images will thus be mainly Solar, Jovial, and Venereal, with only a little of Martial or Saturnian qualities.
Extraordinary and strange though this may seem, it is not really more strange than the methods taught by Ficino in his De vita coelitus comparanda. Ficino's object was to avoid melancholy and the bad influences of Saturn and Mars, by cultivating the good planets, Sol, Jupiter and Venus. He did this by his mild little astral cults which involved the use of talismans, and he intended it as a medical therapy, to cure melancholy in students. Nevertheless it was really more than this; it was, even with Ficino, a kind of religion with a cult which he managed somehow or other to reconcile with his Christian conscience. He did not aim at becoming a Magus or wonder-worker through it. But he did aim at changing the personality, from a melancholy Saturnian one into a happier and more fortunate Jovial-Solar-Venereal type.
Giordano Bruno, as we know from George Abbot, knew Ficino's De vita coelitus comparanda by heart and he has developed Ficino's sub-Christian supposedly medical cult into an inner technique for the formation of a religious Magus. It is really quite a logical development from Ficino; once you start a religion, there is no knowing what it may become. And we have also always to remember to see Bruno in the context of that Christian Hermetism which was such a major force in the sixteenth century and through which many Catholics and Protestants were trying to ease the religious antagonisms. Bruno always goes much further than the Christian Hermetists for he accepts the magical religion of the Asclepius as the best religion. Transferred into the inner life, that religion becomes Ficino's talismanic magic used inwardly to form a Magus aiming at being the leader of a magical religious movement.
In composing his images, Bruno has been influenced by astrological talismans, but diversifies these with normal mythological figures, or combines the talismanic with classical figures, or invents strange figures of his own. I can give only a few examples. Here are some of the images of Sol.
As can be seen here, ordinary classical images are varied with more magical ones, and this kind of mixture is found in all the lists of images. Bruno often introduces the more magical type of image with the remark that this is an "unfamiliar" image. One has a very curious impression of a mixture of the classical with the barbarous in Bruno's images, when one finds strange, dark and violent forms in close juxtaposition to the classical forms. A striking example of this is Orpheus, the first image of whom is the beautiful young man with the lute taming the animals, but his second image is a black king on a black throne before whom a violent sexual scene takes place (there is possibly an alchemical meaning in this).
In composing these images, is Bruno behaving in a highly original way, peculiar to himself? Or is he leaving a door ajar through which we can peer into something which may lie behind much Renaissance imagery? When a man of the Renaissance "composes" an image to be used on his medal, does he compose it in this kind of talismanic way? What is strange about these images of Bruno's is that he would seem to be reversing the process of the early Renaissance by which the more archaic images achieved a classical form. He seems to be deliberately pushing the classical images back towards a more barbarous form. Why? This could be a part of his general "Egyptianism". He wants to gain more magical power from them, or to recover their magical power.
The curious mixture of classical and barbarous or talismanic forms is strangely apparent in this selection from the Venus images:
A girl rising from the foam of the sea, who on reaching dry land wipes off the humour of the sea with her palms.
The Hours place garments on that naked girl and crown her head with flowers.
A less familiar image, A crowned man of august presence most gentle of aspect, riding on a camel, dressed in a garment the colour of all flowers, leading with his right hand a naked girl, moving in a grave and venerable manner…. from the west with a benignant zephyr comes an assembly (? curia) of omniform beauty.
The first two images here might be something like Botticelli's "Birth of Venus"; the third, with its crowned man on a camel, is talismanic in type, but softened by notions and forms—the garment the colour of all flowers, the benignant zephyr coming in from the west—such as could never find expression in the fixed rigidity of an ordinary talisman.
Was it something after this manner that Ficino himself composed images, in which the basic magical or talismanic power was softened by expansion into Renaissance classical forms? … We [have previously] suggested that Botticelli's "Primavera" is basically a talismanic Venus, expanded in just such a way into a richer classical form, and that the whole picture reflects Ficino's astral cult. In Giordano Bruno's Venus images, composed with a definite magical intention, there is perhaps some confirmation of this suggestion.
There is, too, in Ficino's De vita coelitus comparanda a precedent for Bruno's practice of reflecting the magic images within, in the imagination and in the magic memory. We saw that in the curious chapter "On making a figure of the universe", that the figure and its images was to be "reflected in the soul". And there also seemed to be a hint that such remembered images unified the multiplicity of individual things, so that a man coming out of his house with such images in his mind saw, not so much the spectacle of individual things, as the figure of the universe and its colours. This was exactly Bruno's aim, in his eternal efforts to find the images, signs, characters in living contact with reality which, when established in memory, would unify the whole contents of the universe.
It is thus possible that—although it comes so late in time—Bruno's De imaginum, signorum et idearum com positione may be an important key to the way in which the Renaissance composed images, and also to the way in which it used images.
Bruno's method was still known and being used by Robert Fludd who in the second part of his Utriusque cosmi… historia of 1619 has a memory system with a celestial basis to which is attached a series of mnemonic places in a theatre—an arrangement like that of the two parts of the De imaginum compositione which I think that Fludd must have known. It is interesting that Fludd, too, uses "ideas" not in the usual Platonic sense but as meaning spiritual things, angels, demons, the "effigies of stars" or the "images of gods and goddesses attributed to celestial things".
In the dedication to Hainzell of the De imaginum compositione, Bruno states that the twelve principles are "the effecters, signifiers, enlargers (?) of all things under the ineffable and infigurable optimus maximus". They are thus divine Powers, and the object of the whole system is (I believe) to become identified with such Powers. Once again we are back to a Hermetic notion, the effort of the initiate to become identified with Powers, and so to become divine.
Bruno once more expounds in the first part of the De imaginum compositione his theory of the imagination as the chief instrument in religious and magical processes. He had given the theory in the Explicatio Triginta Sigillorum, written in England, and gives it most fully of all in the De magia, written about 1590 or 1591 (that is at about the same time as the De imaginum compositione) and which we used in an earlier chapter. The theory can be interestingly studied in the De imaginum compositione where is revealed a curious confusion in Bruno's mind. He cites Aristotle on "to think is to speculate with images". Aristotle's statement is used by Bruno as support for his belief in the primacy of the imagination as the instrument for reaching truth. Later, he quotes Synesius' defence of the imagination in his work on dreams (using Ficino's translation). Synesius is defending imagination because of its use by divine powers to communicate with man in dreams. Bruno seems to fail to realise how totally opposite are the Aristotelian and the Synesian defences of the imagination. Aristotle is thinking of images from sense impressions as the sole basis of thought; Synesius is thinking of divine and miraculous images impressed on the imagination in dreams. Having cited Aristotle on images from sense impressions as the basis of thought, Bruno then goes right to the other extreme of the classical tradition and uses the arguments of a late Hellenistic Neoplatonist in favour of imagination in quite another sense from the Aristotelian, as the most powerful of the inner senses because through it the divine communicates with man.
This confusion belongs to Bruno's transformation of the art of memory from a fairly rational technique using images, theorists on which—amongst them Thomas Aquinas himself—had used the Aristotelian dictum, into a magical and religious technique for training the imagination as the instrument for reaching the divine and obtaining divine powers, linking through the imagination with angels, demons, the effigies of stars and inner "statues" of gods and goddesses in contact with celestial things.
In an extraordinary passage in the De imaginum compositione, Bruno mentions the golden calf and the brazen image described in Genesis (which he interprets as magic images used by Moses, referring for this astonishing statement to "the doctrine of the Cabalists"), and the clay figures made by Prometheus, as all examples of the power of the simulachrum for drawing down the favour of the gods through occult analogies between inferior and superior things "whence as though linked to images and similitudes they descend and communicate themselves." With the last phrase, we reach the familiar ground of the Egyptian statues, linked with demons, which Bruno has here related to the magic of Moses and Prometheus to produce a truly amazing Hermetic-Cabalist justification for the inner magics in his arts of memory.
Light, says Bruno, is the vehicle in the inner world through which the divine images and intimations are imprinted, and this light is not that through which normal sense impressions reach the eyes, but an inner light joined to a most profound contemplation, of which Moses speaks, calling it "primogenita", and of which Mercurius also speaks in Pimander. Here the Genesis-Pimander equation, so characteristic of the Hermetic-Cabalist tradition, is applied by Bruno to creation in the inner world.
There are words and passages in the De imaginum compositione about the frenzy or furor with which the enthusiast hunts after the vestiges of the divine which are very like passages in the Eroici furori; and he gives another formulation of his belief that poetry, painting, and philosophy are all one, to which he now adds music. "True philosophy is music, poetry or painting; true painting is poetry, music, and philosophy; true poetry or music is divine sophia and painting."
It is in such contexts as these, which have been little studied by the philosophers who have admired Giordano Bruno, that one should see the philosophy of the infinite universe and the innumerable worlds. Such concepts are not with him primarily philosophical or scientific thinking, but more in the nature of hieroglyphs of the divine, attempts to figure the infigurable, to be imprinted on memory through imaginative effort to become one with the universe, which was the Hermetic aim pursued throughout his life by this intensely religious magician.
Why, I say, do so few understand and apprehend the internal power? … He who in himself sees all things, is all things [De imaginum compositione.]
M. A. Dynnik (essay date 1967)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4726
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 dictatorship of the church, cleared the way for the sciences of nature, and prepared the soil for the appearance of the advanced philosophical teachings of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Renaissance in Italy found expression in remarkable works of painting and poetry, sculpture and architecture, in brilliant philosophical ideas and discoveries in the natural sciences, in new attitudes and customs filled with the spirit of freedom and independence, in a new morality hostile to the hypocritical morality of religion, in a lofty ideal in the arts, and in a vital esthetic of beauty.
Giordano Bruno rightly occupies an honored place among the most outstanding creators of the culture of the Renaissance in Italy, and not only Italy but all of Europe.
Bruno resurrected and developed the ideas and speculations of the great thinkers of antiquity in struggle against medieval scholasticism and theology. He contributed particularly greatly to the renaissance of the naive dialectics of the ancients. Bruno accepted the idea of Heraclitus that the cosmos had not been created by either God or man, that it had always been, is, and will always be a living flame, flaring up and dying down in accordance with law. But the great thinker of the Renaissance did not content himself with this. Whereas in the view of the wise ancient the notion of the eternity of the cosmos and of cosmic motion was merely a guess of genius, in Bruno this idea was a scientific conclusion from the heliocentric system of Copernicus.
On this same scientific foundation of helio-centrism, Bruno developed Democritus' idea of the infinity of the universe and that the number of worlds comprising it are also infinite.
Nor was Bruno foreign to the ancient tradition of the Peripatetics. Taking a stand against the medieval version of Aristotelian philosophy and the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic system of the world, he did much to bring about a rebirth of Aristotle's vital thought, to free it from medieval, scholastic encumbrances and distortions, and to revive and further develop Aristotle's dialectics.
Among the ancient sources that influenced Bruno's world view, Plato's philosophy must be included. Plato's dialectics, as a logical method of dividing and defining concepts with the purpose of seeking the truth, was also taken up and reworked by Bruno in his struggle against the formal dialectics of the scholastics and their method of proving religious dogmas. But Bruno rejected the transcendental world of Plato's ideas, and for Plato's Eros, regarded as a mystical path to the attainment of supersensory reality, he substituted the heroic enthusiasm of the genuine scientist who gained knowledge of the universe despite all religious prejudices.
Bruno experienced the fruitful influence of the philosophy of Ibn Roshd (as did the Paduan Aristotelians). He also shared some of the ideas of Avicenna. Bruno's synthesized preception of the best achievements of philosophical thought of West and East expanded his intellectual horizons and helped him find a profound and well-argued explanation of the phenomena of reality. Bruno's philosophy rested upon the rich traditions of Italian intellectual culture. Among his precursors and contemporaries in Italy, mention must be made of Leonardo da Vinci, Bernardino Telesio, Girolamo Fracastoro, Geronimo Cardano, and Francesco Patrizzi.
The point of departure, internal secret, and final goal of Bruno's world view was the new man—Renaissance man—who saw the rising sun at the end of the night of medievalism and who cast his gaze upon the infinity of the universe. In his dialogue On Cause, the Principle, and the One, Bruno gives one of his companions in conversation—his disciple and partisan of the new ideas—the name Heliotrope: "facing the sun." To the new man, the man of the Renaissance, the proponent of science and enlightenment, Bruno contrasted the adherents of the old, the scholastics and pedants, the defenders of blind faith and outdated ideas, the medieval Peripatetics and geocentrists: all those "ludicrous, elegant metaphysicians in cassocks".
Bruno held that to acquire knowledge of the truth and uncover the secrets of nature was the noble task of the new man. In his writings The Secret of Pegasus and The Ass of Silenius, he employed vivid satirical images to depict the opponents of scientific knowledge. Bruno wished to free the family of philosophy from "low pedants, phrasemongers, and ignorant frauds." He spoke with bitterness of the fact that the scholastics were the reason why the word "philosopher" had taken on, for the people, the meaning of "do-nothing, pedant, swindler, jester, and charlatan."
Bruno asserted that a new man had been born during the Renaissance, and that that man was free of the old prejudices and confusions: he countered his own free reason to the authority of the church. An apologia for reason was the soul of Bruno's entire philosophy. In this regard he broke decisively with the medieval tradition and the authorities of the church. Anselm of Canterbury said of himself that he did not seek to understand for the sake of believing, but to believe for the sake of understanding. St. Thomas Aquinas, whose teachings were canonized by the Catholic Church, asserted that faith was higher than human reason, as its source was the Divine intellect. "I seek successes in awesome battle with untruth!" exclaims Bruno in his poem "To Him Who Hates Me."
Rejecting the authority of the church in the matter of gaining knowledge of the truth, Bruno glorified human reason. "The power of reason and, equally, the vital force of penetration of the human brain will find a means of understanding things and a scale for evaluating them in a field from the borders of which the vast crowd of sophists and ignoramuses turn and flee."
This apologia for reason, this affirmation of the right of man to free thought, is intimately associated in Bruno's philosophy with the restoration of the standing of knowledge acquired through the senses. Bruno, in the wake of da Vinci, recognizes sensations and accumulated experience as the source of theoretical thought. The man of the Renaissance, in the person of Bruno, rejected holy writ as a false source of knowledge and called for an appeal to the evidence of the senses. According to Bruno's theory of knowledge, sense (sensus), reason (ratio), and intelligence (intellectus) comprise the stage of approach to the truth. With the help of his senses, man sees the surface of things (the reflected light of the moon) as through an aperture in a lattice. Reason looks upon things through an open window, while intelligence attains the truth in full (the light of the sun).
The philosophy of Nola, declared Bruno with pride, would bring freedom to the human spirit. In fact the great Italian thinker not only celebrated the reason of man and restored his senses to their proper standing, but laid the foundations for a new morality, rejecting the old, religious morality. Everything changes in the world, said Bruno. That which seemed stable and even eternal grows old and yields place to the new. Man arises from an embryo, a young boy becomes a strong youth, then becomes adult and aged, and becomes a weak old man. Likewise, having been innocent and inexperienced, he becomes capable and experienced, sad and good. Having known nothing he becomes wise, having been given to fury he grows moderate, having lacked self-control he becomes modest, having been light-minded he becomes serious, having been partisan he becomes just. With the passage of time virtues become faults, and faults—virtues. Therefore the new man faces a great moral task—that of cleansing his soul from faults and confusions, of driving out the "triumphant animal": the faults dominant in the world.
Jupiter and the other gods have grown old and have already crossed to the other side of the Acheron. Above the gods there is Necessity, the law of nature, which repeals established laws, statutes, cults, and ceremonies. The new man enters into fierce battle with the "triumphant animal." The rays of the sun destroy faults and confusion both in heaven and in the human soul. Bruno compares truth to the light of the sun. This comparison had particularly deep meaning in the era of struggle for the new, for the heliocentric understanding of the world against the obsolete geocentric system. In one of his poems, Bruno wrote:
The one, the beginning and the cause,
From which comes existence, life and motion
Of which earth, skies and hell are outcome—
All that extends in distance and breadth and depth.
For senses, reason, intellect—a picture:
There are no acts, numbers and measurements.
For that enormous thing, power, striving,
That eternally towers higher than all peaks.
Blind trickery, the short span of life, evil fate,
The dirt of envy, the heat of bestiality in enmity,
Cruelty and foul wishes
Attacking ceaselessly, lack the power,
To pull a shroud over my eyes,
And hide the beautiful rays of the sun.
However, the "beautiful rays" of the sun were the object not only of Bruno's poetic inspiration, but of his theories of astronomy and his philosophical system. Bruno's service to astronomy is exceptional. Having properly evaluated the revolution in natural science wrought by Copernicus, Bruno consistently defended the great Polish scientist against the ferocious attacks of the scholastics and theologists and promoted in every possible way the dissemination of heliocentric ideas all over Europe. Bruno enriched astronomy with a number of new ideas and insights of genius. He asserted that the sun rotates on its axis but does not remain still, moving in relationship to other stars, and that the earth's atmosphere rotates with the earth. The name of Giordano Bruno has found a firm place in the history of natural science. His brilliant ideas and guesses have been entirely confirmed by the subsequent development of science.
Bruno's critique of the ideas of Osiander, author of the preface to Copernicus' great work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, is a splendid example of scientific argumentation. As we know, Osiander, in his preface under the title "To the Reader. On the Hypotheses in This Work," distorted the real meaning and scientific significance of the heliocentric theory, and falsely interpreted it as a simple mathematical hypothesis and not as an astronomical theory about real things.
Refuting with outrage this gross distortion of the ideas of Copernicus and disclosing their real content, Bruno called Osiander "an ignorant and presumptuous ass," who was incapable of understanding the revolutionary significance of the heliocentric system and who vainly sought to reconcile it with the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic theory, "as though desiring to apologize for the author and offer him protection, or even setting it as his goal that other asses, finding lettuce and fruits for themselves in this book, would thereby not remain hungry".
Taking a very sharp stand against Osiander in his dialogues, The Feast Over Dust, Bruno describes his dispute with Dr. Nundinius, an English scholastic, who upheld the geocentric theory. Nundinius' first argument went: "One must conclude that Copernicus did not hold the view that the earth moves, as that is unacceptable and impossible, but that he ascribed motion to it… for convenience of computation." It was precisely in response to this "argument" by Nundinius that Theophilus (Bruno) offered his critical comments on Osiander's preface, asserting, with justice, that in reality Copernicus "fulfilled the function not only of a mathematician, who hypothesizes, but of a physicist, who proves the motion of the earth".
The image of the self-satisfied scholastic and ignoramus—Dr. Nundinius—was a synthesis of the characteristics typical of many opponents of the heliocentric system with whom Bruno had had to dispute.
Nundinius' second argument against heliocentrism consists in the following: "It is improbable that the earth moves, considering that it is the middle and center of the universe, in which it holds the place of a fixed permanent foundation of all motion." Theophilus (Bruno) demonstrates without difficulty that this argument too is utterly untenable, and that Nundinius resembles an individual who rejects, by virtue of faith and habit, all that is new and unfamiliar, and is therefore not capable of independent critical thought. Through detailed examination and refutation of both of these and other arguments of the opponents of the heliocentric system, Bruno validates Copernicus' theory.
In his Dialogues Bruno puts forth other representatives of the "asses' science" in the persons of Dr. Torquato ("The Feast Over Dust"), Polinnius (On Cause, the Principle, and the One), Burkius (On Infinity, the Universe, and the Worlds), Sebasto (The Secret of Pegasus), etc. In criticizing the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic system, Bruno does not confine himself solely to analysis of the vulgar arguments of the scholastics and pedants. He offers critical analysis of the principles of natural science and philosophy underlying geocentrism. From the height of a philosophically synthesized heliocentric system, Bruno subjected to scientific criticism not only medieval Aristotelianism, but Aristotle's actual teachings as well.
The discussion between Philotheus and Albertinus in Bruno's dialogue On Cause, the Principle, and the One comprises a brilliant example of scientific argumentation. Analysis of this discussion shows how groundless and false are the widely heard statements to the effect that Bruno offered no systematic presentation of his philosophical views. In reality, behind the creative form of his dialogues there lay hidden a deeply thought-out and brilliantly argued philosophical system that drew general conclusions from the achievements of science of that day. Albertinus is depicted in the dialogues as a serious scholar and proponent of Aristotle's views. Along with other Aristotelians he holds, as does Ibn Roshd, that "it is impossible to know anything that Aristotle did not know". In his debate with Philotheus, Albertinus advances thirty arguments in support of Aristotelian theory, but all these arguments are refuted by Philotheus and his follower Elpinius as a result of circumstantial examination.
Arguing against the first thesis—that space and time are inconceivable outside this world—Philotheus asserts that both time and space exist behind the imaginary circumference and convexity of our universe, inasmuch as other universes exist beyond, in the infinite cosmos. He also refutes a second argument—that a single eternal motive force exists and, consequently, that only "this" one universe exists. Philotheus denies Aristotle's prime mover and affirms the existence of a single, infinite universe.
Philotheus also convincingly refutes a third argument by Albertinus, which seeks to prove the existence of only "this" universe, proceeding from Aristotle's theory of the "places" of moving bodies. Philotheus replies to this that from the standpoint of the infinity of the universe, Aristotle's theory of "places" makes no sense, as the cosmos has neither a middle nor a circumference.
Albertinus' fourth argument resolves to an affirmation of the fact that recognition of a multiplicity of universes leads to an absurdity: the center of one universe will be at a greater distance from the center of another than from its periphery, and this leads to a logical contradiction according to Aristotle's theory of opposites. It took no effort on Philotheus' part to prove this argument also untenable, inasmuch as Aristotle's theory of opposites had become outdated, as had many other propositions of the peripatetic philosophy.
To the nine remaining, analogous arguments of Albertinus, the refutations are presented, at Philotheus' request, by his follower Elpinius. As a result of this discussion, Albertinus recognized Philotheus' reasoning to be persuasive and stated that he was prepared to become his disciple. Thus, Bruno developed, in artistic form, a critique of Aristotelianism and provides a theoretical validation for his world view.
Determination of the real role of the sun in the life of nature and man was, in Bruno's day, a most important achievement not only for natural science but for philosophy. It denoted the triumph of the new world view over the old, of science over religion, of humanism over medieval obscurantism and tyranny. For Bruno, the "Rising Sun" was the best of images for embodying the triumph of reason over confusion.
All the animate beings hiding from the face of the heavenly luminaries and designated for the eternal chasms, pits, and caves of Pluto, called by the terrible and vengeful summons of Alekto, spread their wings and betake themselves rapidly to their dwellings. But all the animate objects born to see the sun and rejoicing at the end of the hated night, celebrating the favor of heaven and having prepared themselves to take up the so-greatly-desired and long-awaited rays with the centers of the ball-like crystals of their eyes, do obeisance to the East with heart, voice, and hands.
Bruno, having philosophically generalized from the teachings of Copernicus, came to the bold conclusion that the universe is infinite and its worlds innumerable. Reviving the materialist and atheist traditions of the thinkers of antiquity, who had taught the infinity and eternity of the universe and the material unity of nature, and taking as his platform the achievements of the natural science of his day, Bruno developed and validated a new, materialist concept of the cosmos. In accordance with his theory, the universe is one, material, infinite, and eternal. An infinite number of worlds lie beyond the bounds of our solar system. That which is accessible to our view is only a negligible portion of the boundless cosmos. The stars are the suns of other systems of planets. The earth, which theologians hold to be the center of the world, is in fact a speck of dust in the endless expanses of the cosmos. Bruno went beyond Copernicus in his cosmological system, for Copernicus, despite his great discovery, continued to regard the universe as finite and did not raise his thought to the concept of infinity.
Thus, Bruno was the source of the contemporary scientific notion of the world based upon the heliocentric system and recognizing the eternity and infinity of the material world. The great thinker rejected, in argumented fashion, the geocentric system of the world and the medieval theological world view in its entirety.
But Bruno's materialist and atheist ideas were enclosed in a pantheistic envelope. According to Bruno, nature was God contained in things. "The animals and plants are the animate products of nature, while nature itself (as thou must know) is nothing but the embodiment of God (deus in rebus)," Bruno [claims in] The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast. Bruno held that nature is capable of giving birth to innumerable forms of life from out of itself. The single material principle underlying all that exists possesses boundless creative force. Bruno's idea of the universal animateness of nature involves this position.
In Bruno's view, the oppositeness of philosophy and religion lies in the fact that the task of philosophy is cognition of the single material substance as cause and principle of all things in nature, while religion refers us to divine substance. Thus Bruno describes the material substance comprising the subject matter of cognition as the one, the principle, and the cause. As he understands it, the cause is that which acts upon things externally. Such are the efficient cause and the goal. The principle, in Bruno's definition, is that which internally promotes the ordering of things and is preserved in the effects. The single material substance combines in itself the principle and cause of all things. "Just as in art," wrote Bruno,
there is always retained, despite the infinite (if this were possible) changes of form, the original matter—as, for example, the form of wood is first a tree-trunk, then a log, then boards, then a seat, then little benches, then frames, then cards for wool, etc., but the wood always remains the same—so in nature, despite the infinite change in sequence of various forms, the matter is always the same…. Do you not see that that which was seed becomes a stalk upon which an ear arises, and from that which was an ear bread arises, and from bread the juices of the stomach, and from it blood, and from it sperm, and from it the embryo, and from it man, and from it a corpse, and from it earth, and from it stone or some other thing, and that one can thus proceed to all the forms in nature…?
Thus, there necessarily exists one and the same thing that, in itself, is not rock, not earth, not a corpse, not man, not an embryo, not blood and whatever, but which, after having been blood becomes an embryo, acquiring the existence of an embryo; and after it was an embryo acquires the existence of man—becomes man.
It is precisely this single material substance underlying all things in nature that comprises, as Bruno emphasized, the subject matter of philosophy. The divine substance affirmed by religion has proved superfluous for explanation of natural phenomena.
But it is necessary, above all, carefully to analyze how Bruno understood material substance, inasmuch as this concept underlies his entire philosophical system. Material substance, says Bruno, must be differentiated from matter in the concept of the mechanic and the practical physician, i. e., from mercury and silver. In Bruno's words, he himself had previously adhered to Democritus' notion of matter, but later abandoned it. Democritus and the Epicureans, said Bruno, had regarded everything incorporeal as nothing and, counterposing matter as substance to everything incorporeal, had identified it with corporeality. Thus, Bruno approached the wholly correct conclusion that recognition of matter as the primary and nonderivative foundation of all things does not at all mean negation "of everything incorporeal"—i. e., spiritual—but, on the contrary, is a necessary prerequisite for explaining the spiritual.
According to Bruno, Democritus' and the Epicureans' understanding of matter is to be preferred to Aristotle's, but it also must be replaced by a theory taking its origin from the unity of matter and form, of active possibility and passive possibility. The single material substance underlies all natural phenomena, both corporeal and spiritual. Matter, as substance of the cosmos, does not differ from form:
Thus, we have the first principle of the universe, which must also be understood as that within which the material and the formal are no longer distinguished from each other…. However, descending the ladder of nature, we discover a dual substance—in one aspect spiritual, in the other corporeal, but in the final analysis both resolve to a single existence and a single root.
Bruno's great service to philosophy was his affirmation that nature has its own creative force and does not stand in need of any "prime mover." Bruno termed the internal productive force of labor the "universal intellect as internal capacity of the soul of the world." Regarding all natural phenomena as animate, Bruno violated, of course, the logical consistency of his system, but by paying that price he gained the opportunity to replace the outdated "prime mover" by the more progressive "internal artist" of nature.
Bruno's theory of the cosmos played a significant role in the development of dialectics. Bruno valued highly the classical dialectics of Heraclitus. He resurrected and worked over the naive dialectics of the ancient Greeks. In nature, Bruno taught, everything is interconnected and in motion, from the finest particle of matter—the atom—to the numberless worlds of the infinite universe. The destruction of one thing, he said, is the origin of another. One form of matter is replaced by another. Many poisons are useful drugs. Love becomes hate, and vice versa. The good becomes the bad, the beautiful—the ugly, and vice versa.
Underlying Bruno's dialectical views was the principle of the coinciding of opposites. Recognizing that the universe is infinite and that its center is everywhere, Bruno came to the conclusion that a minimum comprises a maximum, and that a coincidence of opposites occurs in minima and maxima. The significance of the principle of coincidence of opposites, said Bruno, must be recognized by the physicist, the mathematician, and the philosopher. The maximum and minimum coincide in nature, and reveal a unity of the universe and its finest parts. It is necessary to distinguish three types of minima: in mathematics—a point, in physics—an atom, in philosophy—a monad. The maximum derives from the minimum, the greatest values from the least.
Bruno preferred Heraclitus as a dialectician to Democritus. He held the atomist theory valuable to physics and therefore recognized the atom as the physical minimum. But in the realm of philosophy he regarded acceptance of atoms and emptiness as insufficient, since philosophy had special tasks to perform: the philosopher, in Bruno's words, was in need of a matter that would "glue together" the atoms and empty space. Therefore he regarded as the philosophical minimum not the atom, but the monad that corresponds to the philosophical maximum—the infinite cosmos in the multiplicity and unity of all its forms given rise to by the one: the cause and the principle.
The engendered and the engendering … and that from which the engendered arises, all be long to one and the same substance. Thanks to this … Heraclitus' maxim to the effect that all things are one, thanks to the variability of all that they contain, does not seem strange. And inasmuch as all forms are found within it, then consequently all definitions are applicable to it, and thanks to this, contradictory propositions prove to be true.
Thus Heraclitus' theory of the cosmos and of logos as dialectical regularity of the development of things natural was reborn on the basis of the new natural science.
Bruno himself described as follows the tasks posed by his philosophical system: to demonstrate what the sky actually is, and what the planets and other stars are; how certain of the innumerable worlds differ from others; why endless space is not only not impossible but even necessary; how infinite action corresponds to infinite cause; what are true substance, matter, action, and the active cause of everything; how all sense-perceptible and complicated things are composed of identical principles and elements; to render persuasive the theory of the infinite universe; to destroy the notion of the convex and concave surfaces that bound the elements and skies within and without; to ridicule the inventions of deferents and fixed stars; to destroy the idea of the prime mover and ultimate complexity; to destroy the belief that the earth is the single center; to make an end to the faith in the fifth essence; to prove that other stars and worlds are composed precisely as are our star and world; to study the arrangement of infinitely great and extensive worlds, as well as those that are infinitely small; to destroy the claim that there are external motive forces and limits to the skies; to prove that our star resembles others, and that other worlds similar to ours exist; to explain that the motion of all bodies in the world occurs as a consequence of their internal spirit, and by all this to assure advance in the knowledge of nature.
Who can deny that the principal tasks posed by Bruno were successfully resolved by him and that he actually was the pioneer in scientific cognition of the cosmos? Defending his honor as a scientist from the attacks of pedants and sophists, scholastics and theologians, Bruno compared his study of the universe with a flight into the cosmos. He said that he "had found a means to raise himself to the heavens, to run through the sphere of the stars, and to leave behind him the convex surface of the arch of heaven."
From here I strive upward, full of faith,
The crystals of the heavens no longer a barrier to me;
Cutting through them, I raise myself into infinity.
And yet, like all in other spheres
I penetrate through the ether's field,
Below I leave the Milky Way, another world.
The heroic image of a man who flew in space, albeit only in thought, makes the name of Giordano Bruno particularly treasured in the Soviet Union—the land of the first cosmonauts.
Giancarlo Maiorino (essay date 1977)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5149
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 chance, but that the rules derive from the poetry. For that reason there are as many genres and species of true rules as there are of true poets". Having found its own form, inner expression stimulates originality instead of conformity.
In his humanistic De vinculis in genere (1591-92) Bruno dismissed the fifteenth-century emphasis on general norms of beauty, which should be replaced by individual models:
Because beauty, whether it consists in some kind of proportion or in something incorporeal which shines through physical nature, is manifold and works on countless levels; just as the irregularity of a stone does not fit, coincide, and join with the irregularity of any other stone (but only there where the reliefs and hollows best correspond), in the same way any appearance will not strike just any mind.
Since art has relinquished general contexts, each stone must assert its own beauty. Furthermore, relative standards involve, as Eugenio Battisti remarks, "by relativism in relationships. Each one of us is moved by a particular kind of beauty, according to his own temperament and culture [Rinascimento e Barocco, 1960]. Each spectator defines art and becomes its critic. The static and structured world-view of Umanesimo—as exemplified in the works of Leon Battista Alberti and Piero della Francesca—assumed that the successful work of art would dominate its public, whereas Bruno and seventeenth-century writers deliberately looked for public consensus. Contact between artist and spectator was sought after, for the reason that, as Battisti points out, "the Seicento strongly felt the need for law; since it could not be based on reason, it was founded on consensus [Rinascimento e Barocco, 1960]."
Bruno's work is a cry for consensus. With reference to the Dialoghi italiani, one can point out the sympathetic relations between the Nolan (Bruno's drammatis persona) and Tansillo, the interloculators' acceptance of the Nolan's ideas, the gods' approval of Jove's deliberations and their impact in the streets of Nola and Naples. From an external point of view, one might consider Bruno's search for a consensus on the Copernican theories, and his own, in the Cena delle ceneri. Moreover, Bruno's appeals to Sidney, Greville, and Queen Elizabeth were obviously meant to gain their consent. The very nature of the dialogue form facilitated such an attitude, which Bruno reiterated by repeatedly calling on the reader. The sophisticated and exclusive aloofness of Humanistic art involved rational and hidden harmonies, which spectacularly surfaced under the open skies of the late Cinquecento. The traditional notions of decorum, eloquence, and narrative distance were superseded by a conception of art that deliberately attacked the intellectual and social exclusivism of Umanesimo (which the Controriforma had already proceeded to modify). As a result, art became more popular, temporal and even sensational, so as to express a unified, exuberant and limitless conception of man and the universe.
In the literary tradition of Umanesimo, Bruno presented the new scientific and cultural relativism of the late sixteenth century in a collection of treatises, which played a fundamental role in a culture that was evolving from acceptance of a closed world toward recognition of an infinite universe. Yet, despite the fact that the prominence of Bruno has been acknowledged in the fields of science, philosophy and history of ideas, literary scholarship has remained hesitant and elusive on the subject of his artistic stature. Giorgio Bárberi-Squarotti considers him as prebarocco, while Carlo Calcaterra refers to him in the context of the anti-barocco. In the realm of aesthetics and art criticism, Eugenio Battisti and Robert Klein see definite baroque positions in Bruno's work, whereas Arnold Hauser defines him as a philosopher of Mannerism. Although this essay declines to label Bruno in any way, it nevertheless draws on such criticism. In addition, the stable world-view of Umanesimo will represent a point of comparison in the assessment of Bruno's historical position. In the spirit of the ongoing researches on poetic theories at the end of the Cinquecento, it is hoped that the present analysis will contribute to a more articulate understanding of the poetic aspects of such a crucial and complex age.
Having drawn a line between the old and the new, Bruno also discriminates between professional imitators and true poets. In the latter category, Bruno identifies the poet of the myrtle (love poets) and those of the laurel, "who instruct heroic souls through speculative and moral philosophy". Consequently, poetry is conducive to "philosophical studies," which Bruno considers "mothers of the Muses". The structure of the Eroici furori articulates both levels of expression, since the work consists of philosophical and critical commentaries on a collection of poems. Furthermore, as Bruno states in the explanatory epistle of the Spaccio della bestia trionfante, art gives order and clarity to "moral philosophy according to the internal light that the divine Intellectual Sun has radiated and still radiates within" the artist himself. Bruno reiterates this association in the Explicatio triginta sigillorum, in which he states that "the philosophers are poets and painters; the poets, the painters and philosophers." Consistent with the concept of ut pictura poesis, the artist defines beauty and truth by means of poetic images that can be interpreted in different contexts. Bruno's exploitation of metaphorical and mythical imagery (phoenix, Acteon, Icarus) also reflect the historical criticism of language, which no longer functioned as a stable carrier of universal truths.
Emphasis on poetic images identifies Bruno's distinction between suggestive and documentative tools. In the Cena Bruno separates poetry from history as follows:
When one is attempting to establish tradition and give laws, certainly it is necessary to speak at the level of common understanding and to avoid becoming involved with maintaining the unbiased tongue of science. The historian, in handling his material, would be crazy if he expected to introduce an unusual vocabulary. If he were to do this, the reader would be more apt to interpret him as an artist rather than to understand him as a historian. One who desires to give to the general populace laws and guidelines for living is worse, if he uses terms that only he understands or only a few understand.
Such a conceptual and artistic position moves the heroic and myth-making nature of Umanesimo beyond history, which usually accommodated mythopoeic constructions. Following Francesco Guicciardini, Bruno expects history to present "events and results," whereas the search for truth belongs to philosophy. Like Bruno, the Humanists separated poetry from history, but they did not extend such a distinction to language (even though they discriminated between high and low levels of style).
Surely, Bruno's unequivocal pronouncements in favor of poetic relativism had to be based on a thorough revision of Aristotelian standards. In fact, Bruno reacted against the codification which the philosopher had undergone in the hands of sixteenth-century critics like Minturno and Giraldi Cinthio, who "do not recognize that these rules [Aristotle's] are there only to show us the kind of epic poet Homer was, and not to serve as modes of instruction to other poets who could in other veins, skills, and frenzies be in their several kinds equal, similar or even greater than Homer". Like Virgil and Lucretius, Homer was "not a poet who depended upon the rules, but he is the cause of the rules". Hence, the standardization of invention represents a later phenomenon, which served the Humanistic translation of the classical lesson into geometric and rational systems. Bruno vindicated artistic originality; in his eyes, the past no longer represented a fixed mirror, but it became a basis for evolution. Having clarified the originality of Homeric poetry, Bruno implicitly recognizes Aristotle as a critic. As a matter of fact, Bruno himself attempts a combination of criticism and invention in the Eroici furori; the Nolan becomes a new Homer and a new Aristotle. It is important to notice that Tansillo's criticism is drawn from within the work of art; Bruno did not make Tasso's mistake. As Giorgio Bárberi-Squarotti remarks, the former's position caused the "dissolution of man's faith in the university of the theoretical postulates of art."
Even the Horatian concept of poetry assumes an innovative character in the case of Bruno. His historical vindication of the principle of utile dulcis aimed at a return to a comprehensive definition of art. In the first half of the sixteenth century, in fact, the utile had often been separated from the dulcis, that Castelvetro had proposed as the goal of art (in spite of the pervasive didacticism that was elicited by the spirit of the Controriforma). As a result, Bruno criticized the intellectual sterility of Petrarchism, the licentious style and radical criticism of Folengo, Berni, and Aretino, who nevertheless influenced his antitraditionalism. Variety of poetic expressions was thus committed to the recovery of a stylistic and conceptual unity that had been dissipated in the meanderings of earlier literature, manneristic or otherwise.
Convinced of the didactic value of poetry, Bruno vehemently confronts the Petrarchists in the Argument of the Eroici furori:
What a tragicomedy! What act, I say, more worthy of pity and laughter can be presented to us upon this world's stage, in this scene of our counsciousness, than of this host of individuals who became melancholy, meditative, unflinching, firm, faithful, lovers, devotees, admirers and slaves of a thing without trustworthiness.
While spiritual love is due to God, its human counterpart belongs to man. The Petrarchists, instead, followed neither nature nor God, since they intellectualized the former and reduced the latter to any unworthy human similitude.
Bruno's independent assessment of Aristotle and Petrarchism is extended to Plato as well. Accordingly, Bruno criticizes those individuals who have become "habitations of the gods or divine spirits, speak and do admirable things for which neither they themselves nor anyone else understand the reason". In the Ion Plato clearly stated that poetry is created "in a state of divine insanity," which places definite limitations on artistic ingenuity. Firstly, such a divine inspiration is not brought to life by the poet himself, but it is extended to him by the deity. Since he creates poetry in a state of receptive passivity, the artist also relinquishes the more rational powers of his mind, "for whilst a man retains any portion of the thing called reason, he is utterly incompetent to produce poetry or to vaticinate". Plato reiterates such a conviction in the Phaedrus: "Whosoever without the madness of the Muses comes to knock at the doors of poesy, from the conceit that haply by force of art he will become an efficient poet, departs with blasted hopes, and his poetry, the poetry of sense, fades into obscurity before the poetry of madness." Under these conditions, the poet "is excellent in proportion to the extent of his participation in the divine influence, and the degree in which the Muse itself has descended on him". It is in such a state of inspired rapture that the poet becomes a divine mouthpiece. Clearly, Plato emphasizes the poet's communicative—rather than creative—powers.
Bruno, instead, cherishes those individuals who:
Tansillo—because of a custom or habit of contemplation, and because they are naturally endowed with a lucid and intellectual spirit, when under the impact of an internal stimulus and spontaneous fervor spurred on by the love of divinity, justice, truth and glory, by the fire of desire and inspired purpose, they make keen their senses and in the sulphurous cognitive faculty enkindle a rational flame which raises their vision beyond the ordinary. And these do not go about speaking and acting as mere receptacles and instruments, but as chief inventors and authors.
Although basically critical of Plato's position, Bruno shares with the philosopher the conviction that a frenzied impulse is necessary in order to achieve ultimate revelation and beauty. In both instances, the highest stage of human experience lies beyond reason. However, while detachment from reason conditions any poetic process in the Ion and the Phaedrus, Bruno's frenzied experience is based on, and supported by, a "rational flame" up to the higher realms of human fulfillment. As in the case of John Donne and St. Ignatius, emotional experiences are controlled by intellectual preparation and self-awareness. As a result, man plays a more active role in the development of the creative process.
Since poetry is intimately related to philosophy, the experience of the heroic frenzy—that is divine beauty and truth—also implies that of art. The experience of poetry is thus defined as a conscious activity that requires a constructive process of internalization. Under these conditions, Bruno's chief inventor shares several features with Sidney's notion of the poet as a maker. In light of the fact that the latter's Defense of Poesie was finished before Bruno became his personal friend and scholarly admirer, this similarity could indeed be less than accidental. In both instances we find yet another expression—one might think of the Humanistic concept of virtù and the system of linear perspective—of the modern artist's attempts to assert his creative genius beyond the boundaries of the classical lesson.
With regard to the creative interaction between fantasy and intellect, it must be pointed out that, for Bruno as well as for Donne, the concept of frenzy, or ecstasy, does not elicit unbridled expressions of emotional raptures, as was the case with the exemplary St. Teresa of Bernini. The mind always controls the heart in the case of Bruno. One must remember that the nature of the Eroici furori is that of an expository treatise, which is not particularly conducive to immediate mystical flights. Furthermore, Bruno adds that "these frenzies do not arise from forgetfulness, but from remembrance". As a furor recollected in tranquillity, the heroic frenzy transcends the senses. Giovanni Gentile conclusively remarks that "the knowledge of divinity, as championed by Bruno, is not ecstasy, or immediate union, even though it is union that it has as its end…. It is a rational process, a discourse of the intellect [Il pensiero italiano del Rinascimento, 1955].
It is apparent that imagination and the senses only provide a first impulse for experiences which belong to the intellect. In the Eroici furori the human will, through reason, "governs the affections of the inferior potencies against the surge of their natural violence." In terms of artistic process, fantasy participates in the cycle by leading toward inferior things, whereas the intellect raises the mind heavenward. In the spirit of his reconciliation of contraries, Bruno states that "if it is unjust that the sense outrage the law of reason, it is equally blamable that the reason tyrannize the law of the senses". While the intellect stands for rest and identity, the imagination supports movement and diversity; it is the poet's rational faculty that reconciles the "one and the many, the same and the diverse, motion and position, the inferior with the superior". As a result, Bruno avoids a polarization between the real and the ideal, the perceptual and the intellectual.
Giving poetic expression to his heroic pursuit, Bruno synthesizes his philosophical and artistic outlook in the following sonnet of the Eroici furori:
This phoenix which enkindles itself in the golden sun and bit by bit is consumed, while it is surrounded by splendor, returns a contrary tribute to its star;… because that which ascends from it to the sky, becomes tepid smoke and purple fog, which cause the sun's rays to remain hidden from our eyes, and obscure that by which it glows and shines.
Thus my spirit (which the divine splendor inflames and illumines), while it goes about explaining that which glows so brightly in its thoughts, … sends forth verses from its high conceit, only to obscure the shining sun, while I am completely consumed and dissolved by the effort.
Ah me! This purple and black cloud of smoke darkens by its style what it would exalt, and renders it humble.
Poetic similitudes obscure truth, much as they provisionally make it more accessible. While Raphael and Michelangelo portrayed the divine as a similitude of the human in the Disputà and the Creation of Adam in the Vatican, Bruno moves beyond the clarity of anthropomorphic equations, since "the divinity can be the object only in similitude, and not a similitude". Whereas the former conception of similitude supports clear and final concordances, its latter version introduces a new cultural and aesthetic relativism. Incapable of reducing divine beauty to human concepts, Bruno states that "the highest and most profound knowledge of divine things is negative and not affirmative". Short of ultimate equations, Bruno promotes verbal speculations which lead to a "similitude the mind can discern by virtue of the intellect".
By stating that the divinity can be perceived in similitude and in negative terms, Bruno drastically modified the whole system of humanistic correspondences. At the same time, however, he gave the artist a new freedom. Since poetry assumes as many shapes as human ingenuity can devise, the experience of the heroic frenzy takes unlimited forms. In the Eroici furori Tansillo recommends that we "distinguish between the end which is absolute in truth and essence, and that which is so by similitude, shadow and participation". The principle of relativism is again at work. The prosaic usage of language expresses history and criticism. Metaphorical images suggest the divinity in similitude, but ultimate beauty must be contemplated in silence, since such beauty is without "similitude, analogy, image or species". As the frenzied lover assimilates the divinity into himself, the real and the ideal coalesce; finally, beauty is truth. Contrasts and tensions have been dissolved in the eternal harmony of the Monads.
Inasmuch as "it is neither fitting nor natural that the infinite be understood, or that it present itself as finite, for then it would cease to be infinite," the Nolan's ultimate vision becomes the rare praxis of the divine furor, which eludes representational expressions, be it a luminous point (Dante), angelic revelations (Bernini) or the sea (Leopardi). It is thus clear that art becomes a vehicle for a quest that leads to "frenzies" and "philosophical speculations" which resist artistic illusionism. Art offered the Humanist an independent realm in which his provisional experience of reality was organized in patterns of intellectual harmony. In Bruno's poetics of relativism, instead, art becomes a stage in the boundless cycle of human experiences.
The relative and exceptional knowledge of truth and reality leads Bruno to stress process rather than goals. Accordingly, he admits that "cognition can never be perfect to the extent that our intellect has the power to understand the highest object; but only to the extent that our intellect has the power to understand this object…. It is enough that all attempt the journey. It is enough that each one do whatever he can". Nevertheless, the poet must face the task of translating such a limitless effort into the confines of a literary form. The aesthetic implications of this frame of mind are apparent and complex. While Humanistic art was as stable and precise as the system of linear perspective which it created, Bruno's artistic guidelines grow, change and expand in accord with the rhythm and mutations of life itself. The principles of selection and limitation are superseded by those of inclusiveness and proliferation.
In the Dialoghi italiani, attributes, images, definitions, and levels of narrative multiply themselves to an unprecedented degree. A system of artistic and conceptual frames structures the Eroici furori. Its first level of narration is represented by the Nolan's sonnets, which, at the second stage, are commented upon by the interlocutors in philosophical and critical terms. The imaginative nature of the verse is expanded into the expository clarity of a prosaic commentary, in the tradition of Dante's Vita nuova. In the process, the narrative extends from the poems to the artist's mind; finally, commentary and invention, exposition and revelation merge together. Like the ricordo of Guicciardini and the essai of Montaigne, Bruno's dialogue analyzes, dissects, and criticizes the whole intellectual process, "proceeding to the depths of the mind". The literary artifact exemplifies a portrait of the mind.
Following Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man, Bruno considers process and mutability as inherent in man and necessary to nature. This conception also stems from their Hermetic background, which views nature alive and in a state of flux. In the first dialogue of the Spaccio Bruno states that "where there is contrariety, there is action and reaction, there is motion, there is diversity … there is vicissitude". The attraction of contraries stands as a principle of human and universal relationships, on account of which justice, knowledge—and by extension art and beauty—depend on, and are exalted by, the experience of their opposites. In this spirit, Bruno remarks that "the pain of not having the thing desired is absent, and present is the joy of ever finding the thing sought." Consequently, one ought to produce "an infinite effort". This development from being to becoming from goal to attempts, finds an appropriate illustration in a comparison of two works of sculpture that were produced at both ends of the Cinquecento: the ideally aloof David of Michelangelo and the humanly engaged figure of Bernini.
Such a dynamic frame of mind obviously effected the Humanistic system of ideal similitudes. While Michelangelo represented Adam in a godly image of timeless perfection, Bruno subordinated Jove to "the Fate of Mutation" in (Spaccio,) Anthropomorphic perfection is superseded by natural growth, according to which the body reaches perfection, but it "cannot eternally nestle among the same temperaments, perpetuating the same threads, and preserving those same arrangements, in one and the same composite". Such a position evidently shatters the humanistic elimination of chance and process in the faultless world of art.
From a literary point of view, process and development lead Bruno to move from simple similarities to complex metaphors, and, finally, to contemplations without "speeches and discourses, but in silence". At one point in the Eroici furori the narrative enters the Nolan's mind taking the form of his very thoughts. It seems that human expression is breaking free from the expressive restrictions of literary artistry. In turn, the frenzied ascent has liberated poetry from the traditional notions of imitation and representation. The image of light becomes light itself at the point where "infinite potency and infinite act coincide". Silence supersedes eloquence, to the extent that Bruno can experience the "simplicity of the divine essence". In the case of Bruno, silence implies total vision and complete beauty, which exist beyond the reach of representational means. To a degree, art is subservient to imagination and the senses, whereas intellectual speculations allow the mind to "lose love and affection for every other sensible as well as intelligible object, for joined to that light it becomes that light, and consequently becomes a god". At this stage, the external projections of humanistic art are brought back to the artist himself, as the Nolan confidently states in one of his sonnets:
My heart is in the place and form of Parnassus, which I must ascend for my safety; my muses are the thoughts which at every hour reveal to me their glorious tale…
The beauty of art testifies to the greater magic of the artist-Magus, who can finally ignore the appeal of public acclaim, which Petrarch and Tasso could not resist.
At the level of poetic images and external projections, Bruno compares the changing nature of the gods to their ageless appearance in the artworks. As an illustration, the idealized forms of Giorgione's Venus give way, in the Spaccio, to "the wrinkles you have developed, and the furrows dug into your face by the plough of time". Jove adds that the goddess' decay would "make it more and more difficult for the painter, who, if he does not wish to lie, must paint you as you are". Bruno's detailed description of Venus suggests that the literary vehicle can represent life more realistically than painting. This positions seems to negate Bruno's declared endorsement of the concept of ut pictura poesis. The contradiction, however, is only apparent. In the first place, Bruno's dynamic world-view would inevitably resist the medium of painting, which physically restricts the expression of time, space, and development. Secondly, Bruno is probably criticizing the static nature of humanistic art. Aiming at a new synthesis of pictura and poesis beyond Humanistic conventions, Bruno also seems to search for an expressive vehicle that would combine linguistic mobility with the immediate and suggestive evidence of painting in the new context of a relativistic conception of art. This position represent a significant development from the unilateral discriminations on art that characterize the positions of Leonardo (painting), Alberti (architecture), Michelangelo (sculpture), and Montaigne (literature).
With regard to the relation between universal mutations and the humanistic notion of man as the measure of all things, Bruno points out that human life "is symbolized in the wheel of fortune". Such a traditional cycle is, however, less fatalistic and more individualized than its medieval precedent. Man moves along the wheel in a spirit of initiative rather than resignation. Surely, the individual ceases to be the external and fixed measure of the universe. On the other hand, he becomes a relative center of the cosmos, within which virtù and fortuna operate in harmony with the eternal vicissitudes of life. Under these conditions, the connection between the individual point and infinite trajectory eventually brings forward, as Bruno states in De la causa, principio e uno, "the concept of the coincidence of matter and form, potency and act, so that being, logically divided into what is and what it can be, is seen as physically undivided, and one; and this being is at one and the same time infinite, immobile, indivisible, without difference of whole parts, principle and principled."
Faith in the processes of life also reflects Bruno's reevaluation of nature. Since "perfect figures are not found in natural bodies, and they cannot exist either by the power of nature or art". Bruno concludes that the natural "represents its intrinsic principle, which accounts for its own existence". No longer destined to become an artifice, nature is given a form of its own. In the eyes of Bruno, such a recovery of nature compensates for the humanistic dreams that had become obsolete by the end of the Cinquecento. This conceptual position established a basis for the proliferation of reality (still life, genre scenes, tableaux of common life) which characterizes seventeenth-century art and literature, from Jacopo Bassano and Caravaggio to Cervantes and Velazquez. At all levels, life exemplifies artistic expressions which the artist can simply present and frame. The humanistic reconstruction of reality is followed by a more strict application of the concept of imitation on the part of Bruno, who replaced the representation of universal forms with the imitation of individual manifestations. Although part of the Seicento was to concentrate on the insignificant and even ridiculous particulars of life because it lost faith in higher values, Bruno always believed in the intimate relations between the infimo and the sublime.
By accepting chance and process, Bruno implicitly recognized value and purpose in all manifestations of life along the entire chain of being. Related to his search for universal consensus, Bruno acknowledges the experience of poets and philosophers as exceptional. Much as the Nolan denounces the illusionism of the nectar of the gods, he also warns his audience against the futility of frenzied pursuits on the part of those who are not ready for them. Although a degree of Humanistic and Hermetic exclusivism still identifies Bruno's attitude, he can indeed state that "it is a law of fate and of nature that each thing work according to the condition of its nature. Why, therefore, in pursuit of coveting the nectar of the gods do you lose that nectar which is proper to you, afflicting yourself perhaps with the vain hope of some other nectar?" Bruno's concern with individual limits and faith in human participation parallels Montaigne's contemporary criticism of theoretical excellence and concern for the human condition.
Frenzied souls and common crowds justified—only to a point, one should say—the commonness and vulgarity that characterize much of Bruno's work. Such devices are deliberately meant to preserve a contact between the higher and the lower aspects of life. The principle of diversity evidently pervades Bruno's Dialoghi italiani at all levels of human and artistic experience. It is in this spirit that Jove completes his regeneration of mankind by giving instructions concerning an old woman in Fiurulo, who "by the motion of her tongue moving about in her palate, will succeed with the fourth movement in causing the third molar in her right lower jaw to fall out". Likewise, the stories and affairs of the gods are not too far removed from Martinello's undistinguished son and Paolino's breeches. The heavenly assemblage finds a scholarly counterpart in London. Similarly, the dedication of the Eroici furori celebrates a humanistic concordia di cor (Bruno-Greville-Sidney), whereas the dedicatory letter of the Candelaio, dedicated to Morgana (probably a woman from Nola), is disseminated with obscene overtones. In the Cabala del cavallo pegaseo Bruno states that "the creation of philosophy without ignorance is madness; ignorance is a necessary means for the acquisition of truth." Within the confines of a rather theoretical projection, ignorance humanizes knowledge and equalizes people. The hero and the villain exemplify aspects and moments of an eternal cycle, as Mercury explains in the Spaccio: "Everything, then, no matter how minimal, is under infinitely great Providence; all minutiae, no matter how very lowly, in the order of the whole and of the universe, are most important". Considering once again the symbolic figure of David, Bruno, in a manner similar to Bernini's, can see the hero as well as the shepherd.
In spite of his unprecedented acceptance of mutability and relativism, Bruno's poetic conceptions are firmly committed to freedom of inspiration and expression. Satire, irony and invectives are always connected to a world-view in which man and nature breathe in liberty and happiness, certain as they are that the "death of one century brings life to all the others." The concept of alienation, which Hauser considers a major Manneristic trait, does not find support in the Brunian dimensions of spatial infinity and conceptual plenitude. Consistent with the derogatory connotations of the word baroque, the Seicento did produce much artistic
praxis that was alienated from meaningful contexts. Receptive toward neither dissolution nor despair, Bruno's poetics stimulate an ever more challenging sense of fulfillment, in accord with what Ernst Cassirer has defined as a spirit of "immeasurable abundance" [An Essay on Man.]
Edward A. Gosselin (essay date 1984)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5527
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 Pico, and Agostino Steuco, Garin theorized that their platonizing tendencies had led them toward a recuperation, albeit Christian, of the sun worship of Julian [E. Garin, Studi sul Platonismo medievale, 1958]. Garin further suggested—and I think entirely correctly this time—that the continuation of the manufacture of "solar literature" into the seventeenth century, that is, from the time of Copernicus to that of Galileo, "could help to underline a double tone, at the same time also ambiguous, of scientific revolution and of religious crisis…. Nothwithstanding Galileo's eifort, it will be difficult to separate the new scientific vision of the world from a whole complex of religious resonances."
We can readily discern such intertwining themes in two scientific works which were written toward the beginning and toward the end of this era of Renaissance solar literature: Copernicus' De revolutionibus and Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess. At a vital point in his description of the heliocentric model of the universe, Copernicus refers to that part of the Asclepius where Hermes calls the Sun a "visible god." And Galileo concludes his Letter with a quotation from Julian's Oratio.
Whatever we may wish to make of these facts, Copernicus' and Galileo's works are recognizable to us as books of science, with what we would today call scientific intent. Thus do historians of science and intellectual historians now read these works. In addition, both historians of science and intellectual historians would agree that the philosophical and religious writings of Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola are in no way scientific. Yet the texts of all of these men comprise that part of Renaissance literature which Garin calls "solar."
In this article I wish to address the reading of a text which seems curiously to bridge the two extremes of Copernicus and Galileo, on the one hand, and Ficino and Pico, on the other. The text in question is Giordano Bruno's La Cena de le Ceneri or, as it is known in English, The Ash Wednesday Supper.
The Ash Wednesday Supper is one of the most forceful products of late Renaissance solar literature. Its force comes from its embrace and adaptation of the Copernican achievement as well as from its use of a multi-solar and infinite universe as a means to achieving religious reconciliation in late sixteenth-century Europe. I shall argue that Bruno performs a kind of solar magic in this dialogue and that the work must be read in this way in order to make sense of it. Although I do not wish to enter into a discussion of the question of the relation of Hermetism to the Scientific Revolution, I do want to preface my discourse on The Ash Wednesday Supper as solar literature with a brief look at certain internalist, history-of-science views on Bruno's text. Briefly, the internalist's approach endeavors to place Bruno in a kind of positivistic continuum wherein he becomes a fairly important step between Nicholas Oresme and Galileo. While this approach can be defended, for the historian of science to say that any nonscientific or extrascientific reading of the Supper is improper cannot be justified.
Many problems arise when the internalist turns to The Ash Wednesday Supper. Since this work uses the Copernican theory and adds to it such notions as those of the infinite universe and the plurality of worlds, the reader is tempted, as Professor Emile Namer has suggested should be done, to isolate this work from Bruno's oeuvre. This procedure, however, assumes that there was a "true" Bruno and a "cunning" Bruno. The former entrusted his intuitive insights to paper as seldom as possible, though the "modern" reader realizes that it was just these fragmentary insights which bridged the gap between Copernicus and Newton. The latter, "cunning" Bruno knew what kind of superstitious bogus the market would bear, and he opportunistically pandered to this audience. But, as we shall see, The Ash Wednesday Supper complements rather than opposes the works written by Bruno at approximately the same time [Emile Namer, Revue d'Histoire des Sciences et de leurs Applications 29, 1976].
Yet, this isolating of The Ash Wednesday Supper from others of Bruno's writings would seem to lead to edifying results. By ignoring the emblematic nature of Bruno's text and its engravings, a "corrected" and "sanitized" text makes it appear as if Bruno's intentions in the Supper were entirely "scientific." Such treatment seems to save Bruno for the internalist historian of science, for it is no longer necessary to think that Bruno was "interested only … magical or even political motivations" in The Ash Wednesday Supper [R. S. Westman and J. E. McGuire, eds., Hermeticism and the Scientific Revolution, 1977].
There is, however, a high price to pay for this too narrow reading of the Supper. The rest of the text is truncated and made incomprehensible. If it were true that Bruno was merely following in Oresme's footsteps, why the second dialogue's tale of the Nolan's journey through London; why the constant theme of Unity throughout the Supper; why, indeed, the very title of this work, and why the incantation at its end? The internalist approach does not and cannot answer these questions. Yet, surely it is more than an aesthetician's dream that they can be answered and that the text can be read as an integrated whole, not as a cunning medium for a few intuitive insights. It is my contention that an analysis of textual themes will most fruitfully unify the Supper and yield Bruno's overall message of the healing powers of the Copernican Sun.
II. Social and Intellectual Illness
Since much has already been written about The Ash Wednesday Supper, I need only to summarize some of the most salient points about its general meaning and intent. One of six "Italian dialogues" written by Bruno in England between 1583 and 1585, it is dedicated to the Marquis de Mauvissière, at whose ambassadorial residence Bruno stayed in London. The Ash Wednesday Supper telescopes together two events. The first is a description of a "supper" supposedly held at Sir Fulke Greville's home on Ash Wednesday (February 14) 1584. (It is more likely, on the basis of textual evidence and statements Bruno later made to the Inquisition, that the "supper" really took place at Mauvissière's residence.) The subject of this supper was la Cena, the Eucharist. The second event is the lecture-debate in which Bruno engaged at Oxford University on the occasion of the visit there of the Polish prince Albert Alasco (June 1583); the subject of that event was supposed to have been the Copernican theory. Bruno, however, created quite a scandal at Oxford not only because of his Italian pronunciation of Latin but also because he apparently "lifted" portions of his remarks from Ficino's famous book on astral magic, De vita coelitus comparanda.
We should also bear in mind two facts external to the text: first, that Bruno explicitly said that the "troubles" in religion would only be settled if the dogmatic differences between Protestants and Catholics concerning the Eucharist could be composed, and, second, that Bruno felt that he was in England on a clandestine mission from the French king. It is by remembering that Bruno placed great emphasis on the impasse over the Eucharist and that he thought of himself as Henri Ill's ambassador without portfolio that we can begin, as we study its thematic structure, to understand the imagery that pervades The Ash Wednesday Supper and the role played in it by the Sun.
A major theme of The Ash Wednesday Supper is disease and its opposite, health. The Nolan (Bruno) first refers to his two opponents in debate, Doctors Nundinio and Torquato, as "two ghastly harridans, two dreams, two ghosts, two quartan agues." Bruno's prefatory admonition that not one word in the Supper will be idle is perhaps not enough to make us attach great importance to the reference to quartan agues. We also know, however, that the medical lore of the time had it that such fevers could be cured by the correct application of communion wafers. Such beliefs were popular and rural, but more sophisticated adherents of the belief could be found among those who were adept in the cabalistic arts. And, of course, the Roman Catholic Mass, just before the communion service, speaks of the Eucharist in terms of spiritual healing, "Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea. " Drawing upon these ecclesiastical and high- and low-culture traditions, Bruno will, by applying the Eucharist rightly understood, cure the fevers, drive out the bad doctors, and restore health and sanity to England and Europe.
In the first two dialogues of the Supper Bruno constantly returns to the theme of disease and health. In addition to calling him a quartan ague, Bruno describes Torquato as a desiccated being from whom not one drop of juice could be extracted by a press. Torquato and Nundinio were Aristotelians at now Protestant Oxford. Speaking of this generalized group of sterile Aristotelians, Teofilo says that the Nolan's opponents are in blindness and the dark. On the other hand, Teofilo asserts that the Nolan and other followers of the "true" solar philosophy are:
… moderate in life, expert in medicine, unique in divination, miraculous in magic, wary of superstition, … irreproachable in morality, godlike in every way. All this is proved by the length of their lives [and] their healthier bodies.
Such magi as Bruno "free the human mind" and
open the cloisters of truth, give eyes to the moles and sight to the blind, loose the tongues of the dumb [so that they can now] express their entangled opinions.
Given the opportunity, then Bruno could even cure the blindness of Nundinio and Torquato.
While the first dialogue offers the reader a picture of diseased intellectuals and their happier alternative—Bruno and all those who enjoy the good health and miraculous powers made available by the solar philosophy—, the second dialogue delineates the social results of the teachings of such Protestant professors as Torquato and Nundinio. Disease, infirmity, and darkness are present throughout this dialogue, which recounts the Nolan's arduous journey from his residence to Sir Fulke Greville's house. Teofilo says that the stars "lay behind a dark, obscure mantle." The pages that follow indicate that this is the dark of social blindness and disease. The social, individual, and physical blight infecting London and its townsmen is evident everywhere: the Nolan's surly and preternaturally decrepit oarsmen with great effort can only move the hollow wreck of a boat a short way before the Nolan and his friends are ungraciously forced to go ashore and make their way through swinish passages and Avernus-like potholes. Worst of all is the boorish and boarish populace they encounter, whose incivility makes of them:
such a stinkhole that, if they were mightily well repressed…, they would send forth such a stink and reek as would darken the name of the whole population, to the extent that England could boast a people which in irreverence, incivility, coarseness, boorishness, savagery and illbreeding would yield nothing to any other people the earth might nourish on its breast…. I set before your eyes [those] who, seeing a foreigner, seem, by God, so many wolves and bears and who, by their grim looks, regard him as a pig would [regard] someone who came to take away his trough.
In characterizing the London mob as "ramming and butting beasts" who, as they lug and push their heavy loads of food and wares, crash into the Nolan and nearly kill him, Bruno seems to allude to the animal and other constellations whose reformation he describes as taking place in the Spaccio della bestia trionfante (The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast). Perhaps by describing this London mob in their animal forms, Bruno is magically trying to rid them of their baleful power. This interpretation fits well with my discussion of Bruno's powerful conjuration at the end of the Supper, which I will give below.
That Bruno is not simply portraying a bestial mob of the sort that could have been found in any sixteenth-century city is evidenced by the fact that, later, Bruno explicitly says that the London mob is the epigones of the Oxford doctors and their economy of salvation which frustrates the inclination for "good works." Further indication that Bruno relates the bestiality of the mob to the Protestant dispensation and its "dead" eucharistic Sacrament is given at the end of the second dialogue itself. There Teofilo thanks God that at Greville's supper the "ceremony of the cup" did not take place. Although it did not, Teofilo nevertheless describes it in a marvelous parody of the Protestant communion in both kinds:
Usually the chalice passes around the table…. After the leader of this dance has de tached his lips, leaving a layer of grease which could easily be used as glue, another drinks and leaves a bit of meat on the rim, still another drinks and leaves a hair of his beard…. Since all of them came together to make themselves into a flesh-eating wolf to eat the lamb or kid or Grunnio Corrocotta, by thus applying each one his mouth to the selfsame tankard, they come to form themselves into one selfsame lech, in token of one community, one brotherhood, one plague, one heart, one stomach, one gullet and one mouth [emphasis mine].
We are now once again reminded that the subject of the dialogue is the Supper. And we are now told that the Protestant communion is a plague, that is, a disease.
Having discoursed on the diseases afflicting the university teachers and the English commoners whose rude behavior results from the Protestant doctrine of salvation, which gives no place to the efficacy of good works and thus "quenches the fervor of good actions," Bruno turns to the arguments, in the latter three dialogues, in which we find his physical experiments. It is these that the internalist historian of science relies upon to make of Bruno a link between Oresme and Galileo. Yet, even in these sections—following the dialogues that speak of sickness, the Eucharist, and the solar philosophy—we find him referring again and again to disease. He no longer speaks of quartan fevers and plague but of madness.
Bruno notes the fear with which the Copernican theory was met in some quarters. The prefacer [Osiander] of Copernicus' De revolutionibus was afraid, says Bruno through Teofilo, that he and others would be "driven mad" by Copernicus and for this reason had insisted falsely that Copernicus' model had been advanced solely for calculational purposes. Later in the Supper Torquato asks the Nolan if he is "sailing to Anticyra," that is, if he is going mad. According to legend one could obtain in Anticyra the "hellebore" which cured madness. In a sense—to Bruno's mind at least—the Nolan was sailing to that fabled place not because he was mad but he was bringing to England the drug which would cure the madness of religious division. This point is implicit in Bruno's statement that it is Torquato who is mad and that he, the Nolan, is going to "glue together the brains of these mad barbarians."
The "gluing together" of the brains of the Protestant doctors will heal the fevers and madness of Elizabethan society. Or, as the Nolan says in the midst of a seemingly scientific discussion:
As for those of you who place yourselves under the banner of Aristotle, I advise you not to boast, as if you understood what he penetrates. There is, in fact, the greatest difference between not knowing what he did not know and knowing what he knew, because where that philosopher was ignorant he has for followers not only you [Torquato] but all your ilk, together with the London boatmen and dockers.
The uncouthness and rudeness of the Oxford dons and the London mob are both the consequences of the philosophy of Aristotle as it was vulgarly understood in Protestant England. The reader of The Ash Wednesday Supper can only look forward to the amelioration of social and intellectual conditions, the curing of madness and quartan agues, when he reads at the end of the fourth dialogue that Nundinio and Torquato were, as it were, driven out of the dining room by the Nolan's pressing of his Copernican arguments "ad rem, ad rem."
III. Solar Medicine
The arguments that Bruno pressed ad rent have to do with the Sun and its power. As we shall see, the curing of the social and intellectual ills afflicting England is made possible by the eucharistic medicine of the Sun, the "hellebore" that the Nolan was bringing to England.
There is, according to Bruno, a close connection between cosmology and virtue. For this reason, he says, Moses had taught that the earth is motionless at the center of the universe; otherwise his followers, seeing his teaching to be at variance with sensible experience, would no longer have followed the Mosaic Law. But ever since Copernicus had heralded the dawn of a new age, the heretofore necessary exoteric lie was no longer necessary to preserve virtue. Upon Copernicus' astronomy Bruno intended to build a new cosmological dispensation based on the infinite vigor, motion, and thus active good works implicit in his version of heliocentrism.
Accordingly, Bruno transformed Copernicus, selfadmittedly understood what Copernicus the "mere mathematician" could not, and spoke of an infinite universe with many living and inhabited worlds, all of which are in motion around their own suns which themselves are in motion. It is unseemly, says Bruno, to think that the earth is at the center of the universe, for it is impossible to conclude that the "totality of innumerable bodies, of which many are known [to be] more splendid and greater [than the earth], look to the earth as the center and basis of their circles and influences…."
The imagery that pervades The Ash Wednesday Supper and its physical experiments stresses the theme of Unity. Influenced by Cusanus, Bruno constantly emphasizes the progress from multiplicity to One. Opposites are reconciled. Thus, he describes The Ash Wednesday Supper itself as being both "comic and tragic, joyous and choleric, Florentine for its leanness and Bolognese for its fatness." If separated from each other infinitely, stars and planets share their light; the obstacles, the "opaque bodies" which had obstructed the free passage of light between them, become insignificant. At a sufficient distance, a star can illuminate more than a hemisphere; it can illuminate a whole sphere. Polar opposites share the same light and thereby become one.
This healing, antipodal reconciliation is vitally important for Bruno's reunionist schemes. On the celestial level this Brunonian reconciliatory optics supports the idea that the earth is like all the other stars. At one point, in fact, Bruno says that the earth would become as hot as the Sun. In other words, earth and Sun share the same essence. This implies a reconciliation of the most extreme sort, for, according to traditional cosmology, earth was a drossy, mutable body while the Sun was perfect and never-changing.
If the earth and Sun are hot and mobile, then they are both "animals" and have souls. The universe is alive, and we no longer need to look outward for divinity because
we have the knowledge not to search for divinity removed from us if we have it near; it is within us more than we ourselves are.
Or, speaking on another level, when Torquato asks, "Where is the apogee of the Sun?", the Nolan replies that it is anywhere he wants it to be. To the repeated question the Nolan rephrases his answer to show its true import:
How many are the sacraments of the Church? [The Sun] is about the twentieth degree of Cancer, and the opposition is about the one-hundred-tenth degree of Capricorn, or above the bell-tower of St. Paul's.
Sacraments, Summer, Winter, England: All these are components of the Nolan's answer to Torquato's question about the apogee of the Sun. Certainly this is not a fitting reply to a supposedly astronomical question. Clearly, Bruno's physical arguments are of a piece with his Cusanan reconciliation of opposites. For Bruno, if the heretofore putatively inert earth moves and is alive, then the universe and each of its parts partake of soul and are alive. If the earth is alive, then the Sacrament, as one of its parts, is no problem, for it, in a similar way, must be alive, mobile, and thus "anywhere you want it to be." It would seem, then, that the eucharistic sacrament need not be defined rigidly. If liberal-minded Protestants and Catholics realize that they all share in divinity and that the Sun's light can shine through even the Eucharist, then the seemingly opaque eucharistic host need no longer impede their interaction.
Bruno's discussion here is to some degree similar to discussions of light's penetration of opaque bodies in his "De umbris idearum" ("On the Shadow of Ideas"). This similarity suggests that it might be fruitful, at some future time and in another context, to begin reading The Ash Wednesday Supper in the light of this book on Bruno's magic memory system. At this point, I shall only point out that Bruno does not really offer a "doctrine of the Eucharist"; rather, his strategy is to transcend definitions and to allow the Eucharist to become a noncontroversial object through which, metaphorically, the light of Bruno's solar, nonchristian religion can pass. This is Bruno's eucharistie medicine that will heal the "troubles" in religion and the disease plaguing England.
Bruno therefore looks forward to spiritual calm in the Supper, brought about by the dawning Age of the Sun. This calm is indeed the goal of his physics, a fact that is probably best seen in his famous ship experiment. Speaking on an earthly, physical level of the kind of motive attractions found between straw and amber as well as between magnets, Teofilo tells us that a man on the mast of a ship can drop a stone which will fall to the deck directly below, while a man standing on the shore at a point above the ship's mast, not participating in the same system or reference frame, cannot similarly drop a stone to the foot of the mast as the ship passes beneath him. The man atop the mast is successful because he lets the stone fall with an impressed force, a virtù impressa. The impressed force of which Teofilo speaks is as much moral and ethical as it is physical. This man atop the mast of this ship which represents spiritual calm, France and Henri III, is a Brunonian solar magus whose solar Sacrament and universe are alive with spiritual force, while the man on the shore, like Nundinio and Torquato, exists in a universe that does not exude divinity, and he consequently has neither the knowledge of the forces of Nature nor the ethical virtù of a solar magus.
The efficacy of Bruno's healing "hellebore" is guaranteed, to Bruno's mind, by the Sun itself. The occasion for this dialogue was the Lord's Supper on Ash Wednesday. If, as Bruno would like the reader to think, the Supper was attended by both liberal Catholics and liberal Protestants, then the Supper must have been understood by both sides somewhat heterodoxically. Such heterodoxy supports Bruno's conception of the Sacrament as a metaphorical but vital source for interchange among men and between men and Divinity. On one level Bruno's exposition of the Sacrament through the hieroglyph of Copernican heliocentrism is a metaphor for the proposed Anglo-French union. (Indeed, I am inclined to think that Bruno's very choice of Copernican heliocentrism as a vehicle for expounding his Hermetic "secret" of la Cène desguisée was in part due to his awareness that the Dee circle in England—which included the Copernican Thomas Digges—and the Pléiade-Academic movement in Paris both shares an interest in the Copernican theory.) The subject of this dialogue, a sacramental celebration on Ash Wednesday, thereby indicated that a period of spiritual renewal was about to begin: the Lenten season. Again various themes conjoin: Ash Wednesday, sacrifice and self-assessment, renewal, and rebirth of light, all culminating at Easter, that is—on Bruno's nonchristian level—with the coming of Spring. The Sun once more rising above the equator is the bearer of Divinity with which the divinity within men can interact.
Bruno's optimism rests on the life-giving interactions between the divine Sun and the divinity within Nature and Man. Accordingly, the fifth dialogue of the Supper describes the Sun's centricity in these vivifying and renewing interactions. For example, Teofilo speaks of the climatic change that he finds, significantly, occurring at his very time:
… and from the fact that France and Italy are gradually becoming warmer, while England is becoming more temperate, we must conclude that in general the characteristics of regions are changing and that the disposition to cold is diminishing toward the Arctic pole.
This change, Teofilo tells his friends, results from the circulation of the Sun. Unlike Copernicus' Sun, Bruno's is in constant motion. The Sun "diffuses and communicates vital forces," and if the Sun
did not move to the other bodies or the other bodies to it, how could it receive what it does not possess or give what it has?
The Sun, then, is essential for all interaction and change.
The motion of the living earth is also necessary, so that it may imbibe and be nourished by the life-giving forces of the Sun. It is because of the interactions between the two divine animals, Sun and earth, that seas over time become continents and continents seas. As Teofilo sums up:
… in conclusion, every part of the earth comes to have every view of the Sun which every other part has, so that every part eventually participates in every life, every generation, every felicity.
The Sun warms, the earth turns, and changes occur. These changes on the geological level are also antipodal, and things become their opposites. If seas become continents and continents seas, then they are, sub specie aeternitatis, the same: One.
The last dialogue of The Ash Wednesday Supper is thus a powerful summing up of the themes and "experiments" that have come before, in the context of the Lord's Supper on Ash Wednesday. Now, in the fifth dialogue, the propagators of disease, Nundinio and Torquato, are no longer present, and the events leading up to and including the Supper and debate at Greville's (or Mauvissière's) residence are history. In a sense the reform—metaphorically implicit in the Lenten imagery of The Ash Wednesday Supper—has begun. Its arrival is signified by the engine of the Sun, the power-station which accomplishes all change and nourishment. The "engine" is efficacious because of the constant turning and motion of the Sun, earth, and all the other stars. Again, we must ask ourselves, what is the relationship between Bruno's cosmological vision found here in The Ash Wednesday Supper and the star images that constantly turn about the Sun and interact in the complex Lullian memory wheels which Bruno describes in "De umbris idearum?" However we may eventually answer this question, there is a striking similarity between the Lullian mnemonic art as perfected by Bruno in his book on Shadows and the Copernican solar system as perfected by Bruno in his book on the Ash Wednesday Supper.
Just as the efficacy of the memory system in "De umbris idearum" depends on the quasi-Copernican complex of whirling wheels which can store and expose all knowledge, the movement from multiplicity to One and from disease to health in The Ash Wednesday Supper is achieved by Bruno through the Sun's circulation and the revolutions of the earth made necessary by the centricity of the Sun in our solar system. Just as Bruno's previous experiments in the Supper had shown that two stars illuminate each other, so here in the fifth dialogue both Sun and earth are shown to turn so that every part of each shares and interacts with the other. If this can happen cosmologically and astronomically, then nothing, to Bruno's mind, prevents the beneficial interaction of the English Protestants, whose Sacrament had been thought to be, like the earth, dead with the French, whose king is that solar lion, the creature of Light, who was praised in The Ash Wednesday Supper and to whom "De umbris idearum" was dedicated.
By way of drawing together the strands and themes that we have been following, I would like to turn back to a certain point in the fourth dialogue of The Ash Wednesday Supper. After Frulla and Teofilo have bemoaned the existence of the diseased doctors and of the London mob—the so-called "fruits of England"—, the Nolan and Torquato discuss the apogee of the Sun. As we remember, the Nolan replies with a series of questions: How many sacraments are there? Is it Summer or Winter in England; that is, is the Sun high or low? These strange questions are leading to a confluence of the themes we have discussed and thus are leading up to a very dramatic moment.
Torquato and the Nolan cannot agree about whether Copernicus had put the earth and moon on the same epicycle. Copernicus' book is brought in for all to look at. At the real debate at Oxford Bruno had quoted from Ficino's book on magic, De vita coelitus comparanda. This time, in an analogous situation, the Nolan turns to De revolutionibus.
The book is opened, and everyone looks at Copernicus' diagram of the heliocentric universe. Although Bruno does not explicitly say it in the Supper, we know, he knew, and the guests present at the Supper would have known, what words were printed directly beneath the engraving in the Copernican text:
In the midst of all this is the Sun…. Trimegis tus [sic] calls it the visible god.
Clearly, Bruno sees no essential difference between Ficino's book on magic and Copernicus' book on astronomy. They are both mediums for his Hermetic secret.
At this critical juncture of the text, we find telescoped together within a very few pages the diseased "fruits of England," the sacramental cure, the Sun, an allusion to Bruno's discourse on magic at Oxford, and Hermes Trismegistus. The very core of the scientific argument in The Ash Wednesday Supper is Hermetic, the quasi-religious revelation of a Sun whose mobility in an animate and mobile universe makes it a powerful image for change. By setting the Sun and earth free or by making the Sun image the center of all "intentions of the will" in a Lullian magic memory wheel (as was found in "De umbris idearum"), Bruno's Sun can help to heal, nourish, and redeem a Europe plagued by confessional "troubles."
Perhaps looking forward to a time when his "secret," alluded to in "De umbris idearum" and expounded in La Cena de le Ceneri, will have restored a (nonchristian) unity to Europe, Bruno promises another work on the "fruit of redemption," as The Ash Wednesday Supper ends. Finally, it is Prudenzio, so often before the butt of criticism and mockery in this work, who ironically is made to deliver the stunning conjuration that sums up Bruno's "medicine": found among the six parts of the conjuration are, for example, the "cure" of the French alliance by the progeny of the Trojan horse; the more traditional cure by Aesculapius of Nundinio and Torquato; and the violent "cures" befitting the "butting and kicking beasts" whom the Nolan had encountered in his journey across London.
Bruno returned to France with Mauvissière in 1585, following an adverse change in the balance of power within France between Henri III and the Guisards—a change that nullified Bruno's "mission" to England. From Paris he recommenced his European wanderings. His failed mission to England has therefore left us without the promised Purgatorio de l'inferno on the "fruit of redemption." Yet, even without it the confluence of themes in the fourth dialogue—preparatory to Bruno's discussion of his solar philosophy in the fifth dialogue—and the magical conjuration at the very end of The Ash Wednesday Supper, ridding England of its baleful propagators of disease, should be enough to alert us to the fact that what has gone on in the text is more closely related to Hermes the Thrice-Great, to Julian's pagan Sol Invictus, and to Bruno's own work on the magical and Lullian memory system than it is to Oresme's impetus theory and to Galileo's mechanics. More than a practitioner of the astronomical art, Bruno is a practitioner of what he will later call the medicina Lulliana—the healing art.
Edward A. Gosselin (essay date 1987)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7433
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 on these occasions seemed to indicate then, and have ever since, that he had had only scorn for his natal faith. Such seemed clear from the philosopher's remark when the sentence was read to him by the inquisitors: "Perhaps you feel more afraid in pronouncing this sentence than I do on hearing it." Such seemed clear also from his scornful turning away from the proffered crucifix as the flames engulfed him. As Gaspar Scioppius, an eyewitness to the execution, said: "When they showed him the image of Christ, as he was on the verge of expiring, he turned his head away and rejected it with a scornful look…." No matter who has written about Bruno since that time, the memory of his condemnation and execution scenes has stood between the Nolan and his subsequent interpreter. "Fu bruciato!" Since February 17, 1600, Bruno's published works and his words at his trial have served only to confirm the terrible judgment carried out on that February morning.
This continuous confirmation of the inquisitorial judgment has prevented complete understanding of Giordano Bruno's ideas and actions as a religious thinker. It would thus be well to read and view Bruno's words anew, trying as much as possible to escape the distorting lens of his condemnation and execution, and thus to view him just before the picture frame froze him forever beyond the pale of Catholic, indeed even Christian, thought and behavioral parameters. I believe that this fresh examination will be useful for several reasons. For one thing, work by Carlo Ginzburg, whatever the final assessment of its methodology may be, has shown that inquisitors did not always easily or accurately comprehend or even taxonomize the responses given them by suspected heretics. This seems especially clear in Bruno's case for, as we shall see below, the inquisitors—as late as September, 1599—had not reached agreement on defining Bruno's heresies. And, indeed, as Hélène Védrine has rightly pointed out, the whole purpose of inquisitorial proceedings was biased, in the first place, and, in the second, was intent upon making the accused "see," "accept," and recant his "errors." We may argue, then, that Bruno's condemnation was a fortiori a prejudiced decision and that it could not help but shape all subsequent readings of the Nolan philosopher.
I propose in this paper, then, to survey Bruno's responses to the inquisitors and to try to assess their significance both in the light of related things he had previously written and in that of the problem of the internal consistency of his answers to the questions put to him by his judges. We cannot enter into a detailed accounting of Bruno's quotidial behavior and actions—what he did and said to those around him while he was a monk and while he was not a monk—for the evidence for such a brief does not exist, however lamentable that fact is. Thus we are left with scattered snapshots, as it were, of moments—many of them highly charged—in Giordano Bruno's life, and we must try to infer conclusions about that life from them. In so doing, we will be going through published material that is well known, as no new documents have been uncovered. I am, however, offering a fresh interpretation that is fully allowed by the evidence. By the time we reach the end of this analysis, we will have concluded that Bruno was probably not quite as "unchristian" and "Egyptian" in his religion as Frances Yates averred nor as morally flawed but, au coeur, Roman Catholic as Angelo Mercati argued. Fra Giordano rejected much of his Catholicism, but he continued to maintain some feeling for his monastic background and some longing for sacramental ceremonial. He might have been a Nicodemite, but his dislike of the Protestant doctrine of justification prevented, as we shall see, his being a proper Catholic Nicodemite.
II. The Truth of Words
The reader might question the sincerity of Bruno's response to the question of whether he had ever said that the miracles of Christ and the Apostles were not real but were done by magical art. The posture and words seem studied. Yet it could also signify genuine shock that such an outrageous thing could have been said about him. One could interpret the above-quoted statement either way. The former interpretation—that he was acting—is more consistent with the normative view of Bruno as a flamboyant individual whose public utterances tended to histrionics and perhaps even intellectual dishonesty. Bruno's shock seems all the more implausible when one recalls Bruno's blasphemous aversion of his eyes from the crucifix in the last moments of his life. But this may be an overhasty conclusion. After all, given the fact that Bruno was finally condemned, as we shall see, despite the inquisitors' difficulty in reaching consensus on his crimes and despite his previous expression of contrition for any errors of thought and action he might have committed, one can well understand that his state of mind on the morning of February 17 would not have induced him to turn toward the crucifix. The evidence against Bruno was in large part drawn from the testimony of his Venetian host-turned-betrayer, Zuan Mocenigo, and from that of his Venetian cellmate, Fra Celestino da Verona. Neither man was unbiased. Mocenigo seems to have felt that Bruno had failed to teach him the art of memory that could have facilitated a brilliant career for the young nobleman, and Celestino may well have betrayed Bruno in a futile attempt to lighten his own sentence. When we survey the extant records of Bruno's trial, we are thus faced with the problem of Bruno's probity in the face of his questioners. The easy assumption is to conclude that Bruno, a brilliant intellectual fencer, ran circles around the inquisitors and generally lied to them. I do not believe that this assumption can be sustained. What seems clear from the testimony as well as from a comparison of the testimony with certain things that Bruno had written in La Cena de le Ceneri, Lo Spaccio della bestia trionfante, and De l'infinito, unirerso, e mondi, is that Bruno stayed close to the truth on those matters for which the inquisitors had close-to-hand evidence with which to assess his responses, and that he either stretched the truth of, or obfuscated, issues about which the judges were not likely to have contrary evidence. It was essential for Bruno to stretch the truth in this latter case in order not to reveal his deeper relations with Protestant churches or his Va-lois-appointed mission to bring about religious reunion. Such matters could not be revealed if Bruno held out any hope that his life be spared and that he be sufficiently reconciled with Rome to allow him active participation in the eucharistic ceremony. Ultimately, as we shall see, while Bruno may not have been orthodox, he saw himself as an apostle of the eucharist.
One of the best instances of Bruno's deliberate obscuring of the truth may be found in his response to a question directly relating to the point just made—whether he had ever written about an Ash Wednesday Supper:
I once wrote a book [my emphasis] titled The Ash Wednesday Supper. It is divided into five dialogues which deal with the motion of the earth; and because I engaged in this discussion in England with some physicians at a supper that took place on Ash Wednesday in the French ambassador's residence, I titled these dialogues The Ash Wednesday Supper, and dedicated them to the aforementioned ambassador…. My intent in the book was only to mock those doctors and their opinions on these matters.
Bruno obviously wanted to avoid giving any religious significance to that Ash Wednesday Supper as he focused the inquisitors' attention on the safer—because then still neutral—ground of the Copernican theory and the comic aspects of the book. On the other hand, despite the care with which Bruno responded to this and other questions put to him, I do not believe we can assume that his responses are entirely devoid of truth value. Somehow it would seem out of character for Bruno to have been able to maintain a façade throughout his eight years of encounters with the inquisitors, notwithstanding the fact that on July 30, 1592 he confessed and begged pardon for all his errors and that, again, in September 1599 torture prompted him momentarily once again to recant, a type of confession that few today would really believe was sincere. On December 21, 1599, Bruno reneged his recantation:
He said that he ought not and did not wish to recant, that there was no subject about which to recant, and that he did not know about what he should recant.
The modern psychological age might say that Bruno had a death wish. But, more likely, once the pain and memory of torture had abated, he once again realized that the case against him was a slender reed. As far as Bruno's credibility is concerned, credence can, I think, be given to many of his responses by dint of the fact that some were obviously liable to make trouble for him. Thus if he felt compelled to reply honestly concerning some questions, the answers to which threatened his safety, then why should we not assume that he consistently answered as honestly as he could, always trying to be true to his beliefs but yet showing their compatibility with orthodox Roman teaching? The evidence suggests that Bruno in some sense wanted to be reconciled with the Church, although not entirely on the latter's terms.
III. The Habit, the Tonsure, and la Cène: From Naples to Geneva
Let us turn then to an examination of Bruno's testimony in the context of the chronology of his journey from Naples to Geneva (1576-1579). The confluence of the testimony with the chronology will enable us the better to reach some conclusions about Bruno's religious views and comportment.
Born in Nola in 1548, Filippo Bruno entered the Dominican monastery of San Domenico in Naples on June 15, 1565. After a year, he completed his novitiate and became a Dominican friar, adopting the name "Giordano," in honor of the second leader of the Order. He became a priest in 1572 and sang his first mass at the convent of San Bartolomeo in Campagna. Not much is known of Bruno's activities as a friar over the next few years. By 1576, however, this period of relative calm ended and Bruno came to the attention of his monastic superiors. He had expressed some Arian-sounding ideas and was discovered to have read editions of Erasmus that had been prohibited. In addition, he seems to have taken to heart some of the latter's anti-ritualistic ideas, for Bruno "reformed" his own monastic cell:
At Naples, I had been brought to account two times: first, for having taken down certain figures and images of the saints, retaining only a crucifix, [and] thus I was thought to despise the images of saints.
There is only fragmentary evidence of Bruno's doings after he had fled Naples, and then Rome, because of the charges of heresy brought against him. He travelled throughout Italy until he crossed the Alps and went to Geneva in 1579. Comments made at his trial indicate that he taught Sacrobosco's Sphere in Noli, along with grammar lessons to young boys. He claimed to have published a book, De' segni de' tempi, in order to earn money while in Venice; however, its contents are unknown today. Interestingly, at Bruno's request, the Dominican humanist Remigio Fiorentino authorized its publication, a fact that may indicate that the work contained nothing contrary to Catholic teachings. When Bruno finally emerged from Italy, it was after he had once again donned the Dominican habit in Bergamo, having been urged to do so by Dominicans of his acquaintance whom he had met in Padua:
Leaving Venice, I went to Padua where I met some Dominicans who knew me, [and] they persuaded me to put on the habit again, even should I not wish to return to the Order, as they were of the opinion that it was safer to go with the habit than without it; and with this thought I continued on to Bergamo. [There] I had a [Dominican] habit made out of cheap white cloth, and over it I put the scapular that I had kept with me when I left Rome.
Crossing the Alps, Bruno stayed for some time in the Dominican convent in Chambéry and continued to wear his Dominican robes:
…and I continued to wear the habit as I proceeded in the direction of Lyons; and when I was at Chambéry, I lodged at the convent of the Order; and seeing that I was treated soberly, I discussed this with an Italian priest who was there. He said to me: "Be forewarned that you will not find courtesy of any kind in these parts [in convents], and the further you go [toward Lyons and into France] the less you will find."
One interpretation of Bruno's life (shared in certain ways by Yates, Corsano, Védrine and Singer, among others) has it that Bruno was fully formed intellectually and, by implication, religiously, at the time of his flight from Naples. By further adducement, he is thought to have been already an "unchristian," a proponent of the Hermetic "Egyptian" religion, Lullism, and, perhaps, Copernicanism. However, none of the evidence presented here or, as far as I know, extant in the documents completely supports this line of interpretation. Rather, on the eve of Bruno's entrance into Geneva we have a picture of a thirty-one-year-old man, Dominican trained, whose somewhat iconoclastic and Erasmian tendencies had caused him to be alleged a heretic in the Kingdom and again in Rome. Understandably fearful, Bruno ran away and, by that act prompted by fear, he became apostate and thus a heretic.
Bruno is of course not the only monk or brother to have fled the cloister in the sixteenth century. Erasmus and Rabelais also did, to name only two of the most famous—and without the scandal that has hounded Bruno's reputation. Besides, unlike Erasmus and Rabelais, we are beginning to sense that Bruno had not completely broken with and distanced himself from the cloister. It is true that his readoption of the habit could have been purely for safety's sake. But why? How recognizable could Bruno have been as he wandered the streets of Padua and Bergamo? Why could he not have merged in with the other people on the crowded streets of these cities? Might it be the case that, having abandoned the Dominican habit when he fled Rome, he retained the tonsure? Nothing in the trial records or in any other source, as far as I know, speaks one way or the other about this matter. However, Bruno's own account of his arrival in Geneva, immediately after having left Chambéry, may indicate that he in fact did wear a tonsure:
And [the Marchese of Vico] persuaded me … to get rid of my habit, [and] I took off those clothes and had a pair of breeches and other robes made; and the Marchese [and] other Italians gave me [a] sword, hat, cape, and other necessities for dressing myself.
Perhaps Bruno's Genevan friends only wanted him to look the gentleman. But it is likely that, at the same time, they wanted him—whatever his intentions vis-à-vis the Calvinist religion—to hide the tonsure from Calvinist eyes.
It would not be surprising if Bruno had retained the tonsure ever since leaving Rome in 1576, just ahead of the next step of the inquisitorial process. Although he had fled the Inquisition and the Order, he may not have thought of himself as a heretic, no matter how individual his ideas had become or were becoming. Perhaps he kept the tonsure as a sign of private religious commitment. This would explain better why his Dominican friends in Padua advised him to wear the habit—the rest of his body ought to be garbed in line with his tonsure. Being tonsured, he was easily recognizable as a lapsed brother. Since canon law forbade his putting aside the habit, he could have been prosecuted by Italian civil authorities. And certainly, as he continued to wear the Dominican habit even when he entered Geneva, he must have arrived there tonsured as well.
That this maintenance of the tonsure—for I believe that this is what he did, given the evidence that we have seen—and the putting on again of the Dominican robes may well denote more than fear of discovery is supported by the fact that Bruno had kept the Dominican scapular he had worn in San Domenico and Rome. He had carried it with him until he repositioned it over his readopted habit in Bergamo. This behavior betrays more lingering commitment and attachment to the cloister and Church than it would perhaps today for someone who, forsaking his religion entirely, might consign the object to the trash or to a soon-to-be-forgotten spot in a drawer. Bruno had become a wanderer in 1576. Every object he carried along with him must have meant something.
Bruno's residence in Geneva, however, confuses the matter of Bruno's religious feelings, especially since it seems to contradict what the evidence thus far implies: that Bruno retained certain attachments to Catholicism. For it is among the Genevan records that we find prima facie evidence that Bruno had entirely forsaken not only the Dominican Order but also the Roman Catholic Church. What else should one make of the fact that in Geneva he abandoned his religious name, "Giordano," and adopted his secular name, "Filippo"? Not only this, but the municipal records found in Spampanato's Documenti show that Bruno desired a lifting of the ban that had, to use the Calvinist expression, "fenced him off" from the Lord's Supper in that city.
After his arrival in Geneva, Bruno had created a storm by attacking the Genevan Academy's leading philosopher, Anthoyne de la Faye, claiming that his lectures contained twenty errors. De la Faye brought suit against Bruno and his publisher, Jean Bergeron, and caused them to be imprisoned briefly. Thereafter, we find that on Thursday, 13 August:
Filippo Bruno appeared in Consistory to acknowledge his fault…. He was admonished to follow the true doctrine. He replied that he was prepared to accept censure…, [that] he has to acknowledge his fault, and that they had forbidden him the Supper in case he did not wish to confess his fault.
And, on Thursday, 27 August, we learn of:
Removal of the ban, with warnings. —Filippo Bruno, student, living in this city, appeared in Consistory. He asked that the ban on his taking the Supper be lifted.
One final document, compiled and published in 1650, lists "Filippo Bruno of the Kingdom of Naples" as having been a member of the Italian Protestant church in Geneva.
These shreds of evidence point to Bruno's conversion to Calvinism. He had apparently become a member of the Italian congregation. Later, stung by the furor over and the eucharistic consequences of his published attack on Anthoyne de la Faye, Bruno was above all concerned to be readmitted to the Calvinist Supper. These signs of change are confirmed, it would seem, by his adoption of his secular name. Since the entry of his secular name in the Livre du Recteur is an autograph signature, we know that it was not simply the case of a Genevan Calvinist refusing to honor his religious name; yet, registration in the university at most required an acknowledgement of Christian doctrine as it was taught at Geneva, not a confession of faith.
Filippo Bruno the Calvinist? This is quite a different picture from the one we have been sketching thus far. And it is quite a different picture from the one Giordano Bruno painted for his inquisitors:
[Having left Chambéry, I finally arrived in Geneva.] I went to lodge in an inn; soon thereafter, the Neapolitan Marchese of Vico, resident in that city, asked me who I was and whether I had gone there to settle and to profess the religion of that city. I gave an accounting of myself and the reason why I had left the religious state, [and then] I added that I did not intend to adopt the religion of Geneva, because I did not know what religion it was; and that I desired to stay there in order to be free and secure rather than for any other reason.
Which is the correct version: that contained in the municipal and university records of Geneva, or the one given by Bruno, that he merely wanted security and freedom in Geneva, not a new religion? The answer is that both reasons are correct. Bruno did become a Calvinist congregant for a brief period; and Bruno did want to find a place where he could live securely and without fear of inquisitorial prosecution. Above all, it is not to be wondered that Bruno did not want to confide to the inquisitors during his long trial in Venice and Rome that he had been a Calvinist congregant or a partaker of its communion. This was never admitted openly by Bruno at his trial, but we will be able to understand how he could hunger for both Protestant and Catholic communion when we understand The Ash Wednesday Supper. For the moment, we should simply realize that, as the rules obtaining at the time of his enrollment in the Academy of Geneva indicate, Bruno did not have to swear a Calvinist confession of faith before he signed his name in the Livre du Recteur. Thus, he did not have to commit himself publicly to Calvinist theology even though he seems to have—or at least have wanted to—take the Calvinist Supper.
IV. Paris, London, and the Eucharist
I have argued elsewhere that Bruno's long journey from Naples to Paris was intensely educational and that it was only in Paris that Bruno was finally introduced to Ramon Lull, the mystical philosopher who believed in the use of the art of memory to harmonize Muslims with Christians. Paris was where Bruno was introduced to the king who would send him to London to harmonize Anglicans with French Catholics, and where he began to get his first glimmerings of the Copernican Sun that would for Bruno become the sign and the motive engine of the Valois Henrican reform. Sequestered in San Domenico and Naples, Bruno's knowledge of the Reformation and its controversies had probably been indirect and minimal. His only documented exposure was to the scholarly works of Erasmus (which, as I suggested above, either caused or reinforced a sensitive and somewhat reformist religious nature). But, after fleeing Naples and then Rome (out of fear of being prosecuted for having read the prohibited works of Erasmus), his journey northward brought him an ever closer acquaintance with Reformation controversies. Once settled in Geneva, he found a religious community that had been, to some extent, influenced by Erasmian ideas. Certainly Calvinist iconoclasm would have dovetailed with his own modest iconoclastic efforts in his Neapolitan monastic cell. In Geneva, too, he must finally have become aware of a quite different eucharistic feast than that to which he had been accustomed as a priest. This growing awareness was, I believe, the beginning of Bruno's belief that the crucial stumbling block of the Reformation debate, as far as religious reunion was concerned, was the question of Holy Communion, its definition, and its liturgy. In Geneva, Bruno attended public sermons by French and Italian preachers, including homilies on the Pauline Epistles and the Gospels given by Nicolò Balbani. Perhaps thinking that he could find religious peace and communion in Geneva, he joined the Church, but he soon ran afoul of the holy community because of his attacks on de la Faye. (It may be that he already realized, as we will see he did in London, that the Protestant doctrine of justification was anathema to him.) In any case, Bruno did not remain long in Geneva. He betook himself to Toulouse, which was, until the 1590s, a Calvinist town.
In Toulouse, Bruno became affiliated with and taught at the university. Relative religious calm reigned in the city when Bruno arrived, so the usual requirement that professors participate in the Protestant communion was not then enforced. By 1581, Bruno had left Toulouse and gone to Paris. There, he soon became known to court intellectuals and to Henri III himself. The king offered Bruno an ordinary lectureship, but the Nolan declined. Bruno's later remarks to the inquisitors explain why he could accept the teaching position in Toulouse but not in Paris:
And then, because of the civil wars, I left [Toulouse] and went to Paris where I gave an extraordinary lecture in order to make myself known…, but when I was asked to give an ordinary lecture I refused, because full professors in Paris went to mass and other religious services as a matter of course. And I have always resisted this, knowing that I was excommunicated for having fled the [convent and] Order and for having discarded the habit; while in Toulouse the ordinary lectureship did not require church attendance.
One could read this statement to mean that Bruno refused to attend divine services because of disagreement with and repudiation of both (perhaps all) established religions. This interpretation stretches Bruno's words too far, however. One can more reliably infer that Bruno took his excommunication seriously, especially since—as we shall see—it was in Toulouse and Paris that Bruno was told he could not receive communion until he had received absolution in Rome and that, until such time, he could only pray in church. This reading is more likely, especially when his words here are considered in the light of his other comments about the eucharist.
One senses from Bruno's trial records as well as from The Ash Wednesday Supper that he had a special commitment or devotion to the eucharist. In reply to the inquisitors' question, Bruno strenuously averred that he never spoke or wrote against the Roman Catholic doctrine of the eucharist:
I have never spoken of the sacrifice of the mass, nor of transubstantiation, unless in the manner of the Holy Church; and I have always held and believed, as I now hold and believe, that transubstantiation changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, really and substantially, as the Church teaches.
This reply is all the more striking when one recalls that Bruno quite calmly admitted that as a philosopher he had difficulty reconciling Christ's humanity with his divinity as well as understanding the hypostatic union of the Three Persons of the Trinity. Indeed, even though Bruno admitted that
for many years [he] had known and associated with Calvinists, Lutherans, and other sorts of heretics, [he] however did not doubt or argue against the transubstantiation of the sacrament of the Altar.
Bruno's words are carefully chosen, but their artfulness does not, I think, indicate complete falsification. Bruno seems to have valued the eucharist and may privately have held to something that he did not think was completely incompatible with the orthodox doctrine. This inference becomes possible when one reads Bruno's reply to the inquisitors' question concerning his view of the sacrament of penance:
I know that the sacrament of penance was instituted to purge our sins…. It has been about sixteen years since I last went to confession, except for two times: once in Toulouse [where I went to be confessed] by a Jesuit; and another time in Paris [where I tried to be confessed] by another Jesuit…. [Saying that my case had not been settled back home], they told me that they could not absolve me for being apostate, and I could not go to divine services [but could pray in church].
It seems, then, that Bruno wanted to return to the Church, at least to be allowed once again to receive the eucharist, and that it had been impossible for the two Jesuits to absolve him for being apostate; only higher (Roman) authorities could do this. We might also note that Bruno does not say that he himself wanted to perform the sacrifice of the mass, but only that he wanted to partake of the communion following that sacrifice. This sets some parameters upon what he meant by reconciliation with Rome.
When one pieces together the various parts of Bruno's testimony, one concludes that the Nolan longed for eucharistic communion, but that this desire was thwarted by his apostasy and by his conscientious understanding of the sacramental consequences of excommunication. We have seen that Bruno desired to partake of Holy Communion in Geneva. We also see that he did not want, according to his words, to go to divine service either in Protestant Toulouse or Catholic Paris.
Bruno's stories here do not seem to coincide with the real record, inasmuch as he denied going to communion in Geneva but yet we have seen him requesting to have the ban on the Supper lifted. Two answers to this contradiction are possible: either he was unable—given the short time he was in Geneva (during part of which he was under the ban)—to have an opportunity to take communion in that community where it was given only four times a year; or, probably more likely, he simply did not want to admit to having taken communion in a non-Catholic land, especially since he had later been told he could not receive it in Catholic lands. Consequently, he consistently denied taking Protestant communion, and said he went to divine services only "out of curiosity," and that
… after the lesson or sermon, when they were about to distribute the bread in the manner of their Supper, I left,… nor did I ever take their bread or observe their eucharistic rites.
The evidence is ambiguous. However, whether or not Bruno did participate in the Calvinist liturgy, he ultimately found the Protestant sacrament loathsome. His attacks on Protestant doctrine and practice are based on theological principle and aesthetic judgment.
It is to The Ash Wednesday Supper that we must turn for guidance on Bruno's attitudes toward the eucharist and the Protestants. In this work, Bruno exhibits a strong dislike for his English hosts. The Supper is replete with disparaging remarks about the English populace, whom Bruno describes as so many kicking and butting beasts, completely devoid of civility and humanity. Their barbarousness results, says Bruno, from the justification-by-faith-alone theology preached in Protestant England. These statements lend credence to Bruno's reply to the inquisitors that
Faith, hope, and charity [are necessary to salvation]…. I have always maintained that good works are necessary for salvation. [And in De l'infinito, universo, e mondi I said] "that type of religion which teaches people to trust in salvation without works … is more in need of being eradicated from the earth than are serpents, dragons, and other animals pernicious to human nature; because barbarous people become more barbarous through such confidence, and those who are naturally good become evil…."
Not only did Bruno find England's Protestant religion pernicious to human nature but he also disparaged the Protestant Supper, finding the Communion sub utraque repulsive in the extreme.
The second dialogue of The Ash Wednesday Supper recounts the Nolan's journey across London as he headed to the home of Sir Fulke Greville (sic; in reality, the dinner took place at the residence of the Marquis de Mauvissière, the French ambassador). He had originally been invited for dinner, but no one had come to the French embassy to escort him to Greville's. So, after having gone to visit some Italian friends, he returned to find John Florio, an Italian Protestant residing in England, and Matthew Gwynne waiting to take him to Greville's residence. The dangerous journey along the Strand commenced, and Bruno and his friends encountered swinish passages, Avernus-like potholes, and the murderous "kicking and butting beasts" who worked in the streets and markets of London. Such were the results of the Protestant economy of salvation.
When Bruno's alter ego, the Nolan, was finally delivered from this passion and had arrived at Greville's and was seated, Teofilo (Bruno's other alter ego, who recounts the story) "thanks God" that the "ceremony of the cup" did not take place. Nonetheless, Teofilo describes it in nauseating detail:
Usually the goblet or chalice passes from hand to hand all round the table … with no order but that dictated by rough politeness and courtesy. After the leader of this dance has detached his lips, leaving a layer of grease which could easily be used as glue, another drinks and leaves you a crumb of bread, another drinks and leaves a bit of meat on the rim, still another drinks and deposits a hair of his bread, and, in this way, with a great mess, no one is so ill-mannered … as to omit leaving you some favor of the relics stuck to his moustache…. The meaning of all this is that, since all of them come together to make themselves into a flesh- eating wolf to eat as with one body the lamb or kid or Grunnio Corocotta; thus by applying each one his mouth to the selfsame tankard, they come to form themselves into one selfsame leech, in token of one community, one brotherhood, one plague, one heart, one stomach, one gullet and one mouth.
Teofilo goes on to say that this custom did not occur at this feast because it had "remained only at the lowest tables, and has disappeared from these others…."
This passage mocks the Communion sub utraque. For Bruno, what began as a sacral meal ends as a travesty of the sacrament, whereby religious brotherhood transforms into illness and alimentary functions. While we realize that many in the sixteenth century welcomed communion in both kinds, it is all too easy to forget that this Protestant liturgical reform could—as in the case of Bruno—have appeared as so much offal to the minds of others who had also been raised and nourished in the Roman faith. It seems unarguable that Bruno's sensitivities concerning eucharistic liturgy tended toward Roman Catholic rather than Protestant. There is also a hint, in the passage just quoted, that the "gentlemen" gathered at the Ash Wednesday Supper (except for Doctors Nundinio and Torquato whom the Nolan debates in the third and fourth dialogues of the Supper) tended toward his views (or so he hoped), and that is why the "ceremony of the cup" did not take place. Bruno was obviously appealing in this book to English Protestants who would share his liturgical preferences for a more traditional, i. e., Roman Catholic, ceremonial—although the significance given that ceremonial would transcend narrow confessional understandings.
This interpretation fits well with Bruno's later responses to the inquisitors concerning his beliefs on the eucharist. Bruno was probably telling them the truth, that the Supper took place at Mauvissière's official residence rather than at Greville's. We know that the ambassador accorded Bruno considerable publishing latitude while he lived with him as a visiting foreign gentleman. His residence in the embassy, his publishing enterprise in London, and his letters of introduction to Mauvissière from Henri III all indicate that Bruno operated in London under the aegis of the Most Christian King.
It is not irresponsible, then, to credit Bruno's assertion that the Ash Wednesday Supper took place in the French embassy. However, we have caught Bruno in a deception. He said, in the passage quoted at the head of this section, that he went neither to mass (either inside or outside the embassy) nor to Protestant services. We have also seen him tell the inquisitors that the Ash Wednesday Supper was only a gathering to debate the virtues of Copernicus' assertions about the motion of the earth. But we have just seen that the Ash Wednesday Supper and the book which commemorates it had to do with a sacramental Supper on Ash Wednesday. Why the prevarication? Bruno had to tread very carefully concerning his entire English experience, as he was involved in the middle of a French reunionist scheme. The reputation of Henri III in very orthodox Roman Catholic circles (e. g., among the Leaguers and, to some extent, in Rome) was badly tarnished, so Bruno was wise not to dilate upon his "mission" to England. Yet we can tell that something is awry in this part of his testimony, as he denies even having gone to hear Protestant preachers "just out of curiosity," which he did admit to having done in Geneva. Bruno might not have gone simply because he knew no English. In that case, however, he probably would have given that reason since the harm of wanting to hear Protestant preachers had already been done by his admissions in Geneva. No, he seems carefully to have distanced himself from all religious interests in his testimony about his sojourn in England, a lack of interest that is belied by the six Dialoghi metafisici e morali he published there. In a sense, seen in the light of his publications while in England, Bruno's very denial of interest in religion in that country—the only time he is so mute—shouts the opposite meaning to the modern reader of his Italian dialogues and testimony. Bruno, a reformist and apostate Dominican, was the perfect French ploy by which to entice English candidates for conversion to a more moderate, because transcendent, Catholic understanding of the eucharist than that offered by the Holy See and its political allies, the Spaniards and French Guisards. It made perfect sense, then, to allow Bruno to participate in discussions about some kind of ecumenical celebration of the Lord's Supper on Ash Wednesday, February 14, 1584—the beginning of the Lenten reform and a symbolic day for initiating a reformist and reunionist scheme sponsored by that strange Counter-Reformation figure, Henri III.
To Bruno, the proponent of French Counter-Reformation policy, the transcendent, "Copernican" vision and understanding of the eucharist in no way outwardly contradicted either Roman Catholic or Protestant eucharistic doctrines, nor did it deny the inherent divine nature of the sacrament. Instead, it refocused how one viewed its divine nature. Not interested for this purpose in the issue of Christ's physical presence (though without, as he correctly told the inquisitors, denying transubstantiation), Bruno honed in on the issue—dear to any mystically-inclined soul—of the reciprocal relationship between the Light of Divinity emanating from the central Sun and the spark of divinity inherent in the earth's inhabitants who ceaselessly circle about, to use the Hermetic expression quoted by Copernicus, that "visible God." A kind of Plotinian psychology governed Bruno's views on this matter.
Accordingly, when Bruno was questioned about his views on the eucharist, he was able to say with some degree of truthfulness that his views were Catholic. Whether he had ever actually been a communicant (even though he wanted to be) at a Protestant Supper is unclear; in fact, however, he had been critical of the Protestant rite and of the doctrine of justification in his writings. Thus, Bruno's public views were not necessarily or outwardly incommensurate with Catholic teaching.
V. Bruno: The Catholic Nicodemite?
The title of this essay, "Fra Giordano Bruno's Catholic Passion," carries obvious multiple meanings. The record of Bruno's long trial paints a poignant picture of a God-lover fleeing his homeland and cloister for fear of prosecution for reformist ideas. This flight took him throughout Europe, treading paths that had probably once been soaked by the blood of one Christian killed by another in the cause of confessional truth. Bruno's search for security and for spiritual refreshment brought him finally back to Italy where he may have hoped to present his ideas to the pope himself in order that he be reconciled as he had tried to be in Toulouse and Paris and, before that, in another faith in Geneva. Before he could do this, however, Bruno was betrayed and turned over to the Inquisition. His trial makes difficult reading for anyone concerned for human dignity and freedom of ideas. Yet we must always remember that these values were sadly lacking in the late sixteenth century. Nonetheless, the records of Bruno's trial help today to elucidate his views as a religious thinker and actor. Although the ambiguities concerning Bruno will probably never completely vanish, we can now dimly see the shadow (to use a favorite image of his) of a man who hoped to reconcile religious opposites and who hoped also to find a place where he, an "academician of no academy," could find rest. We do know now that the rest he sought had something to do with participation in the ceremonial of the eucharist, if not agreement with a doctrinal definition of its meaning. We also see that, for Bruno, human dignity was bound up with the action and choice of the human free will. We also know that, right up to the return to Italy in 1591, Bruno was able to become a member of the Lutheran community in Wittenberg and yet sign his religious name with a cross, in the manner of a Catholic priest, and, two years later, to live in a Carmelite monastery in Frankfurt. The pattern we have observed for the years between 1576 and 1585 persisted throughout his remaining years of freedom. Bruno could live as a Catholic or as a Protestant.
In a sense, some of the views and sentiments we have seen Bruno embrace are Roman Catholic. He was, as we have seen, more Catholic than Protestant in his sacramental views. But it would be an error, I think, to say, as did Angelo Mercati, that only his "vulgar" and "prideful" nature prevented his return to his original home and beliefs. Mercati has judged Bruno on the basis of II Candelaio and has applied an inappropriate, modern moral judgment on that work that, if applied to Rabelais, for example, would consign him to perdition, too. It is more fruitful, I think, to view Bruno as a kind of Catholic Nicodemite. This is at best only a metaphor and cannot be strained, for Bruno—unlike a true Catholic Nicodemite—was unwilling to accept the Protestant doctrine of justification. Yet there is a similarity, in that both the Nicodemites and Bruno accepted the idea that outward religious form was trivial in comparison with inward belief. Bruno also has similarities to the Familists of the late sixteenth century. He believed in an overarching world harmony that could reconcile conflicting religions. Yet, Bruno did not cite or follow the guiding lights of the Family of Love, Niclaes and Barrefelt. He was, as he said above, an "academician of no academy" both in his philosophy and in his religion, and yet he strangely believed that he might be allowed to rejoin the Order but not live in it. He belonged nowhere and everywhere. Perhaps this is what stirred Henry Cobham, English ambassador to France, to write to Sir Francis Walsingham (as Bruno was about to depart for London): "Doctor Jordano Bruno Nolano … intends to pass into England, whose religion I cannot commend."
Hilary Gatti (essay date 1989)
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8937
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 Ceneri in which he praises his own work glowingly between references to Copernicus as the discoverer of a new cosmology and Columbus as the discoverer of a new geography. Eight years later, after a long and often unquiet period in Germany, Bruno dedicates his Latin trilogy containing the final expression of his philosophical vision to Prince Henry Julius of Brunswick. Here he claims, in the first work of the trilogy, the De triplici minimo, to have reached through erudition and science an understanding of the primary elements; in the second, the De monade, to have penetrated through to the foundations or footsteps of imaginings, opinions, and common assumptions; but it is above all in the third work, the De immenso, that his vein of self-assertion is stimulated; for here, he assures his reader, he presents unequivocal, certain, and incontestable demonstrations such as those on the disposition of the worlds in the universe, on the unity of the infinite universe governed by a single principle, and on the manner in which implicitly or explicitly the natural order is revealed. These claims are more circumstantial and clearly defined than those in the letter to the University of Oxford, or in the Cena; but they are no less large, and above all they show no mitigation of Bruno's confidence in his own erudition and intellectual powers.
It is easy enough, and has been an almost constant characteristic of Bruno criticism, to declaim against this aspect of his work, dismissing it as eccentric or in strident bad taste. It is more important to understand the intimate motives which led Bruno throughout his life to place himself in such an unusual posture towards his own figure and intellectual enquiry. Undoubtedly the answer is to be found in his sense of the cultural crisis which had developed at the end of the sixteenth century as a consequence of the ferocious tensions in the religious sphere linked to a decadence in the humanistic movement which was beginning to codify in tired and pedantic formulas experiences which had long animated a cultural awakening throughout Europe. In feeling the force of that crisis, Bruno was only one of a number of sensitive European intellects of the final decades of the century. What gives his work its particular power and impetus both within his own times and more generally within the modern world is the nature of his response. For Bruno, placed in front of a newly entrenched and often obscure rigidity on the part of the traditional cultural institutions, both academic and religious, takes upon his own individual intellect the task of repudiating an old and worn-out world order and of opening up new vistas of knowledge and understanding.
His constant reference to his erudition as a primary factor of his intellectual enquiry does not allow accusations of an excessive individualism; for Bruno is always profoundly aware of a centuries-old, internationally wide and immensely rich body of wisdom and knowledge to which the modern intellect must refer and within which it will choose its own essential sources. There is, then, no question with Bruno of disregarding tradition. Rather, his distinctive note is sounded where he claims an unlimited autonomy in operating his cultural choices, and in developing from them his own vision of the truth and order of the universe: it is only to the criterion of a natural principle of truth which lies both within the order of the universe and within the light of reason which illuminates the individual mind that Bruno will declare his adherence:
He who desires to philosophize will first doubt all things, refusing to assume any position in a debate before having heard the contrasting points of view, and after having well considered the arguments for and against he will judge and take up his position not on the basis of hearsay or according to the opinion of the majority or their age, merits, or prestige, but according to the persuasiveness of an organic doctrine which adheres to reality as well as to a truth which is comprehensible according to the light of reason.
Traditional schools of thought, of whatever origin or kind, tend to require some form of submission to criteria of collective doctrine. The humanist movement had already done much to accentuate the autonomy of the individual intellect with respect to the claims of church, corporation, or civic authority which had had such a dominating influence on the medieval mind. But Bruno's uncompromising position sounds a new and forward-looking note which inevitably brought him to clash with the authorities of his times which had little idea as yet of protecting any rights to protest or dissent. These were primarily the churches as religious authorities, the universities as cultural authorities, and the courts of the Renaissance princes as political authorities. Bruno's story with all of them is one of tension and drama.
The break with the churches was the first stage of his life story in these terms, and had already been completed by the time he reached Paris in 1581. First, in 1576, came his flight from the Monastery of St. Domenic in Naples and then, soon afterwards, from a monastery of the same order in Rome, after enquiries into his religious beliefs had established that he had sympathies with Arian doctrine and consequently that he may not have accepted orthodox belief in the Trinity. In his convent years Bruno is also known to have destroyed his images of the saints leaving only his crucifix intact and to have advised his fellow monks to pay more attention to the early Fathers of the Church: positions which would inevitably be interpreted as moving dangerously near to Protestant doctrine. It may well have been sympathies of this kind which drew Bruno, on his journey north after his escape from Rome, to the Geneva of Calvin. But his stay there in 1579 lasted only a brief space of months; for he was soon arrested for printing a notice objecting to twenty errors contained in the lessons of one of the chief pastors, M. de la Faye. The surviving documents relating to this episode do not specify the nature of these objections but only that Bruno called all the ministers of the Church of Geneva "pedagogues", adding that he had further erred "blasonnant les ministres en plusieurs et diversses facons". By the time he reached London, Bruno's position was one of anti-Christian polemic with both sides of the religious divide.
This position of equidistant refusal of Christian orthodoxies is clearly illustrated in the final image of the Explanatory Epistle prefixed to the Spaccio della bestia trionfante ('Expulsion of the triumphant beast'), a text which has recently been at the centre of research into the terms of Bruno's quarrel with Christianity. Here, after describing the rejection of the ancient astrological images which he will carry out in his work envisaging their replacement by moral virtues, Bruno leads his reader to the altar on which he intends to celebrate his own idea of true religion, piety, and faith. This idea corresponds with the substance of his philosophical vision of an infinite, divinely animated universe which becomes the only proper object of contemplation both in the religious and in the philosophical spheres. Such contemplation implies a severe refusal of "iniquous Impiety" and "insane Atheism", which Bruno visualizes as falling down an ignominious precipice on the west side of his heavenly altar. On the east side of the altar are attached the Christian religions of both sorts. The first of these is presented by Bruno as an "iniquous Credulity" linked to "so many forms of madness". These expressions refer to his polemic, which became particularly virulent at that stage of his stay in England, with the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone, with its corresponding rejection of human works as able to save the believer's soul: doctrines which he thought (in not very original terms, for here he is merely repeating, for his own different ends, the main terms of much Catholic abuse of the Protestant movement) were leading to moral hypocrisy and degeneration as well as to cultural laziness and stagnation. The other form of Christianity, the Catholic faith, is rejected by Bruno with equal decision. This he sees (again without great originality, for here he is repeating a widespread Protestant objection to Catholicism) as based on superstition rather than true faith, and as surrounded by what he calls "Cose, coselle e coselline"—nugae, small insignificant things—by which he means the various objects and appurtenances, such as images and relics, which play such an important part in Catholic worship. Both forms of Christian religion are then seen as falling together from the east side of Bruno's altar, leaving him free to celebrate what he presents to the reader as the only object of a correctly conceived worship: the Infinite and Universal One as expressed in the Infinite Universe. Bruno believes, with what are clearly Epicurean echoes, that such a form of worship, which is identifiable with philosophical contemplation of the divine principle of order within the infinite universe, will fill the mind with a "voluptuous torrent of joy and delight".
Bruno was not the unrealistic mystic and visionary which he has been made so often to appear. Even after the definition of his own religious position, which is expressed so clearly in this page of the Spaccio, he continued to be deeply interested in the various forms of Christianity and their relations with each other, aware as he was that they were not going to fall away in historical terms as easily as in his vision of his ideal altar. But I do not believe that he was primarily interested in a religious reform for its own sake, or that he thought of himself as carrying out a religious mission. Rather he was interested in; and appealed continually in his works for, a movement towards tolerance and religious compromise which would leave the way free for the development of intellectual enquiry into the divine order and harmonies which regulate the universe. It was not his philosophy which modulated continually into a religious message, but his idea of the divinity which governed his conception of the universe as the eternal reflection in terms of multiplicity, movement, and continual process of the infinite One: the scattering into an infinite number of mobile fragments of the single, divine ray of light and truth. The nature of the order governing that multiplicity, in Bruno's opinion, had to be defined by a philosophical enquiry which, in its turn, had to be free to develop according to the impetus of the affections and the light of reason.
It was in these terms that Bruno searched throughout his life for an academic institution within which he could develop his thought and teach it to others. But the universities of the sixteenth century were closely linked to the ecclesiastical authorities of the part of Europe in which they operated, and were unlikely to offer Bruno a comfortable haven. What he was searching for amounts to an early ideal vision of a lay university of European culture rather than to any institution existing at that time. His claim in his letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford that he had been approved and welcomed throughout the principal universities of Europe is far from the truth. In fact, in his journey north, Bruno had taught at Toulouse between 1579 and 1581, but had then been forced to leave because of rising religious tensions between the Catholics and the Huguenots. In Paris he was unable to hold an official position at the Sorbonne where fidelity to the Catholic religion was required, although he became one of the public "royal" lecturers due to the influence of Henry III who was interested in his doctrine of memory and patronized him between 1581 and 1583. His celebrated clash in the summer of 1583 with the Oxford dons over the Copernican question was brief and violent, arising as it did from religious rather than philosophical or, even less, scientific objections. On his return to Paris in 1585, religious tension was far more acute than during his previous visit, with Henry III much weakened by the increasing power and fervour of the Guise faction and the Catholic League which would soon depose him. Henry Ill's assassination in 1589, followed by the emergence of Henry of Navarre as the new heir to the throne and his conversion to Catholicism in 1593, and finally the achievement of the Edict of Nantes in 1598, which at last conceded liberty of conscience and worship to the French Calvinists, were developments in the history of France which Bruno would only follow from an ever greater distance. The tense and fanatical Paris of 1585—6 was no safe place as yet for a mind like Bruno's, and in the summer of 1586 he left France for Germany. It was Wittemberg which eventually offered him the nearest approach to an academic haven, with a regular teaching post which he covered from 1586 to 1588.
Bruno's arrival in Wittemberg was preceded by a significant interlude at the University of Marburg, where he matriculated on 25 July 1586. He at once petitioned the Rector, Nigidius, a professor of moral philosophy, to be permitted to hold public disputations on philosophy, but this permission was denied him on the grounds of what the Rector, in a personal account of the episode, defined as "weighty reasons". The following scene between Bruno and the Rector, narrated by the latter himself, is often taken as a testimony of Bruno's irascible, southern temperament. But, as the Rector himself seems to have been aware, it is far more telling in its expression of intense disappointment with respect to an ideal academic institution which Bruno was evidently convinced, at this point, he could find in Germany alone:
he fell into a passion of anger and he insulted me in my house, as though I had acted in this matter against the rights of man and the usages of all the German universities, and against all zeal in learning; and, therefore, he desired not to continue a member of the academy, to which desire we agreed gladly, and his name was cancelled by me on the rolls of the university.
Fortunately the Marburg episode failed to influence Bruno's reception at Wittemberg, where he matriculated on 20 August of the same year. Bruno's arrival at Wittemberg was marked by a stroke of extraordinary good luck and a stroke of equally extraordinary bad luck. His good luck was to find there, in a position of prestige and respect, his fellow countryman Alberigo Gentile, who had probably heard Bruno speak at Oxford where the patronage of Leicester had installed him in a good position and where he would return to be awarded a Chair in 1589. Gentile was a highly respected student of law, who is recognized as having founded the important concept of international law. His influence may perhaps be traced in Bruno's concept of the true law as not only international but universal, as he defines it in the Spaccio where the Law, in the reformed universal order, reigns in the heavens beside Prudence and Truth. Gentile had left Italy on account of his Protestant sympathies, and he professed Calvinism during his Oxford years. At Wittemberg he was attached to the English Embassy at the Court of Saxony. It was Gentile's direct influence which obtained for Bruno at Wittemberg a post for teaching the Organon of Aristotle and other philosophical subjects. But the stroke of ill luck which marked out Bruno's Wittemberg experience as necessarily brief was not long in making itself felt. The Elector of Saxony, Augustus I, who had favoured religious peace and tolerance, died on 11 February of the year of Bruno's arrival in Wittemberg. His place was taken by his weak and degenerate son Christian who came rapidly under extreme Calvinist influence. The tolerant effects of religious compromise which had been arduously achieved through conventions such as the Treaty of Passau (1552) and the Peace of Augsburg (1555) began to give way within the University of Wittemberg itself; and by 1588 the influence of rigorous Calvinist doctrine was making itself felt. Bruno decided to leave, but not before he had expressed his gratitude to the university in which he was most fully and generously welcomed, in spite of the fact that he taught there doctrines which conceded little to the tastes and canons of the times.
Bruno's public recognition of Wittemberg as a place of culture approaching his ideal of an academic institution was expressed in two separate moments. The first of these was a dedication which he added to his work De lampade combinatoria Lulliana published in Wittemberg in 1587. The dedication is addressed to the Senate of the university and it expresses grateful praise for the 'liberty of philosophy' which Bruno found there. Bruno underlines his appearance in Wittemberg as a stranger "not distinguished by any royal commendation, bearing no ensigns of honour". Yet he was never questioned in religion, but allowed to proceed in his own enquiry which he describes as one of "universal philanthropy". In this dedication Bruno further describes Wittemberg as "the Athens of Germany, the daughter of Minerva, and the Queen of German schools". It is the reference to Minerva which he takes up and develops in his Oratio valedictoria pronounced to the professors and assembly of the university on 8 March 1588, shortly before his departure from Wittemberg. The oration takes the form of a redefinition of the myth of the golden apple awarded by Paris to Venus on Mount Ida: Bruno's choice goes to Minerva who 'drew me to her, and fettered me'. In the remarkable celebration of Minerva which follows, Bruno mixes elements of classical myth with the language of the psalms and prophetic vision to create an image of wisdom which expresses itself both as the divine unity, inscrutable to man, and as the richness and abundance of universal variety which it is given to man to approach and comprehend through dedicated search and enquiry. The complexity of Minerva's wisdom is expressed through a number of her attributes, foremost among them her helmet. This is crested to signify that we are not to put our trust in strength alone, but to show a courteous and quiet spirit. But above Minerva's crest is a cock with outspread wings which represents the swiftness, vigilance and foresight of the combatant; her keen-edged lance is her intelligence, ready for offence and for defence; while to them who oppose her she shows the Gorgon's head, for her formidable and admirable qualities are such as strike the beholder dumb with awe. Bruno has approached the throne of Minerva which stands on a pillar of clouds:
On the outer part of the throne I beheld engraven an owl, which is her emblem; for night is not darkness to her, and for her night shines with the light of day, and my countenance is not hidden from her.
The key to this approach to the throne lies in the design on its surface which is the work of Vulcan; for here
was a wondrous representation of the universe, which is the work of the gods, a plastic picture, and underneath was written, 'He bestowed upon me the knowledge of all living things, so that to me the disposition of the sphere of the earth is laid bare, the powers of the elements, the beginning, the end, and the midst of time, the sway of fate, the changes of custom, the course and lapse of years, the order of the stars, the nature of the animals, the deadly rage of beasts, the powers of the winds, the thoughts of men, the variety of plants, the virtue of roots; for that which is hid from others lies open for ever before me'.
Gradually the sense of Bruno's amalgam of classical myth, the language of prophecy, and mystical vision becomes clear; although, as he had warned his audience at the beginning of the oration, 'fate decrees we shall deal in words with that which is unspeakable'. The question which he poses is whether words, which are the signs and tokens of things, can do more than specify the presence and evidence of objects. He answers his own question when he declares that he is attempting to use words to specify all three modes of perceiving the sun of intelligence which manifests itself in essence, in substance, and in activity. It is where Bruno considers that manifestation in its incomprehensible essence that he adopts cabbalistic imagery and arcane myths expressing mystical concepts of varying traditions. In the second mode, Wisdom is apparent in substance in the shape and body of all things and takes the name of Minerva: 'it calls upon man with a thousand voices, and in all parts of the earth'. Here all the varieties of language are necessary to express the richness and plenitude of the universal being. In the third mode, Wisdom is implanted within the spirit, in the profound thoughts of mankind. In this expression Wisdom as activity may be seen as having built a house of reason and design in the individual soul from which man can glimpse the image of the first archetypal house which is before the world as well as of the second house, according to the senses and to nature, which is the world.
In Bruno's universe as thus defined time is eternal, and his concept of wisdom looks back to the arcane mysteries which were a form of participation in the divine essence, as well as forward to a more rational and organized enquiry into the order of the universal whole. Bruno's work derives its substance and value from his awareness of the necessity for the individual intellect to hold in harmonious tension these various stages of wisdom: imaginative myth combines with rational discourse; mystical aspiration to absorption into the divine essence is accompanied by a stand in favour of man's historical autonomy and free will; a sense of the magic and occult powers which vivify the universe coexists with an intellect projected towards the rational discovery and revelation of nature's secrets. At this point one wonders how, and in what terms, Bruno will manage to introduce the figure of Luther, who could hardly be left out of a celebration of wisdom pronounced in sixteenth-century Wittemberg; for Bruno has so far defined a complex and coherent philosophical concept of wisdom in terms which include no reference to the Christian faith on which Luther had erected the whole structure of his religious reform.
Bruno's answer to this conundrum is a brilliant one. It ignores any reference to the Lutheran doctrines of justification by faith alone and the refusal of human works which Bruno had opposed so bitterly in his dialogues written in England, but rather it introduces Luther in his heroic stance as the opponent of papal power and authority: 'that vicar of the princes of hell, who by cunning and violence polluted the world', writes Bruno, taking over in mass the familiar terms of Protestant anti-papal polemic. The really significant phrase, however, is that which defines Luther as a 'mighty hero, armed to the teeth with club and sword'. Here Luther is clearly identified with Hercules and thus with the profound significance of the virtue of 'fortezza' (strength) as Bruno had defined it in the Spaccio. Although Bruno would remain convinced to the end that Luther's reform was not the right one, it is clear that his welcome in Wittemberg had led him to a revaluation of the reformer's stature as well as of some of the effects, in terms of liberty and tolerance, which his insistence on the divine light which illuminates the individual intellect was leading to. Like Bruno himself, Luther had opposed his own vision of things to the whole weight of an immensely powerful and entrenched prevailing culture. He is accorded the status of a hero in Bruno's scheme of things; and it is even suggested, although in not very precise terms, that the Nolan philosophy, by which Bruno means his own thought, 'is not altogether alien' to the philosophy of contemporary Lutheran Germany. It could be interesting to speculate how far Bruno's reading of Luther, which led to the clear and reasoned refusal of so much of the doctrine of the Reformation in his Italian dialogues written in England, had influenced some of his own way of expressing himself in his most polemical moments. Consider, for example, Luther's angry cry against Erasmus for his defence of the freedom of the will:
Away, now, with Sceptics and Academics from the company of us Christians; let us have men who will assert, men twice as inflexible as very Stoics! Take the Apostle Paul—how often does he call for that 'full assurance' which is, simply, an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction.
Here Bruno is undoubtedly closer to Erasmus's undogmatic humanism on the level of ideas. Yet Bruno's own voice, in his moments of indignation and refusal, often sounds with notes that are reminiscent of Luther's decided and uncompromising tones. It is significant that Bruno concludes his praise of Luther with a reference to what he managed to do 'through the power of the Word'. It is that power which formed Luther's 'Herculean club'; and it is through words (his own words rather than those of the Scriptures) that Bruno too is trying to bring about a cultural reawakening.
Wittemberg listened to that message in spite of the fact that it was very different from what its own reformer had preached. Bruno's farewell to Wittemberg was also a farewell to the academic life of his times which was not yet ready for spirits such as his. He left for Prague, but appears to have ignored the university there; and when later he went to Helmstedt, attracted by the Academia Julia founded by Duke Julius of Brunswick, he took no regular academic post. He appears to have been more interested in seeking the patronage of Emperor Rudolf II at Prague, or of Duke Julius at Brunswick, in the hope, perhaps, that the protection of an enlightened Prince might offer him more security than the academic halls had done.
The third dimension of Bruno's story with the authorities of his times is in fact represented by his relationship with the Princes and their Courts. Here too we have the continually renewed search for an ideal, although in this case the search is less solitary and projects us less into the modern world. Rather it represents a precise moment in the history of political power in Europe linked to the widespread realization, which is such a marked characteristic of the humanist movement in the sixteenth century, that any renovation in the society of the time involved a rethinking of the role of the Prince from whom, wrote Thomas More, all evils and benefits flow as if from a bounteous fountain. More in his Utopia proposed a solution well in advance of his times, and certainly uncongenial to his own Tudor monarch Henry VIII, when he saw the necessity of abolishing the hereditary principle and establishing a mechanism of regular elections to positions of power. Machiavelli was equally projected into the modern world where his uncompromising realism left the Prince naked of ambiguous and often imaginary ideal attributes, and offered him instead a manual of instructions in the harsh realities of political virtue. But the solution most widely accepted by the humanists of the period was rather that of Erasmus, which went back through the Middle Ages to Plato's concept of the Philosopher-Prince, developed in a Christian dimension with a primary emphasis on his religious and intellectual education to power. This profound desire to see the Prince absorb into himself the humanist ideal of special forms of wisdom and culture, combining them, in some unspecified, if not miraculous, way, with the active political virtues, seems to have become more widespread and deeply felt as the century progressed. It is clearly linked to the increasing sense of crisis which was beginning to invest the concept of monarchy itself as we see it explored with increasing scepticism in dramatic representations of the weak or incompetent Prince such as Marlowe's Edward II or Shakespeare's Richard II. It was not the solution which the modern world would adopt, with its progressive emargination of the figure of the monarch and its development of a parliamentary principle. And given that one of the main leads in that direction would so soon be offered by the England of the following century, it remains a curious cultural phenomenon that so meagre a meditation on the parliamentary alternative was developed by the culture of the sixteenth century, in England as elsewhere. Shakespeare, together with his fellow dramatists, remains deeply immersed in a meditation on the figure of the Prince himself. The crisis which was growing around him is clearly felt where the ideal Princes, in the Erasmian sense of the specially wise and cultured princely mind, are deposed or deprived of their rights, as both Hamlet and Prospero are, by more ignorant but wily and unscrupulous rivals. Nevertheless, the solution to the crisis is always proposed in the form of a return of just (at least hypothetically) princely rule, with the arrival of Fortinbras or the return to power of Prospero himself. The extreme limit which Shakespeare achieved, or possibly was able to achieve as a dramatist whose plays were represented at Court, is the doubt and ambiguity which he allows to surround his solution. For it is far from certain that Fortinbras, who leads armies of ignorant soldiers to lose their lives for new territories whose real worth is less than an eggshell, will in fact prove to be the gentle and promising ruler that Hamlet hopefully imagines in his dying speech. As for Prospero, his return to power coincides clearly with his own (or according to another critical tradition, Shakespeare's) setting aside of his magician's cloak with its special forms of secret wisdom and power.
Much Italian and French meditation on the figure of the Prince was based on a far more intense monarchical idealism than is found in the Elizabethan dramatists, who, by the very fact of dramatizing the history of Princes in problematical terms, have been seen as partially subverting their sacred and inviolable authority. The French and Italian tradition, instead, was more concerned with celebrating an ideal of monarchy which was projected towards expanding that authority in terms of empire which looked back to the example of ancient Rome. Bruno has been seen as participating in what was a widespread Italian as well as French reference to the monarchy of France in these terms; for looking back to the figure of Charlemagne, it was possible to see the French kings as inheriting a mission to install a form of Roman-imperialistic rule which would bring back peace and justice to a divided and bloodstained Europe. The tribute to Henry III in the closing pages of the Spaccio undoubtedly participates in this tradition, creating of the French king a mythical figure who ascends to the heavens to take the place of the constellation of the Southern Crown, symbolizing with his ascent the opening of the new era of universal peace and tranquillity which Bruno, together with so many of the intellects of his age, ardently desired: 'he loves peace, keeps his loved subjects as far as possible in tranquillity and devotion; he is not pleased by the noise, clashes and fanfares of martial instruments which lead to the blind conquering of unstable tyrannies.
It is in similar terms that Bruno treats the figure of Elizabeth I, whom he praises above all for the era of peace she had brought to her island kingdom, but also for her culture and intellectual powers which confer on her a status of exceptional authority and standing among the Princes of the time:
her judgement, wisdom, political virtue, and art of government are next to none who carries a sceptre on earth: in her knowledge of the arts, scientific notions, expertise and practice of all those languages which the educated in Europe are accustomed to speaking, I leave the whole world to judge what rank she holds among her fellow princes.
Bruno treats her in mythological terms as Amphitrite declaring that her rule should ideally extend not just to England but to the world, if not to the universal whole. There is an obvious dose of rhetoric and favour-seeking here, but even so it remains a fact that Bruno's virulent attacks against so many aspects of English life and society never extended to the figure of the Queen even after he had left England and had no further need of her protection. It is a stand which the Inquisitors during his trial would be quick to pick up, accusing him of undue praise of a heretical and excommunicated monarch.
It would appear that Bruno's participation in the cult of the English monarchy in its new imperialistic aspirations was known in the early years of the seventeenth century when the Stuarts, aided by the myth-making art of Rubens and the celebratory masques of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones, made their dramatic but disastrous attempt to imitate French models of absolute, imperialistic power. For among the Stuart masques, we find the curious work of Carew, Coelum Britannicum, in which parts of the Spaccio, and in particular the monarchical-imperialistic vision of the closing pages, are used as a source, to be applied, inevitably, to the Stuart rather than to the French monarchy. But it is far from clear that Bruno would have approved of Stuart rule which opposed so many of his desires for religious, political, and cultural tolerance and peace. It was precisely these virtues, which the Stuart kings would so sadly lack, that Bruno extols in the crucially important pages of his dedication to Emperor Rudolf II of the Articuli centum et sexctginta published in Prague in 1588.
Bruno's dedication to Rudolf II addresses that monarch as Divo Rodolpho II Romanorum Imperatori semper Augusto: a form of address which is not just empty flat tery. For Bruno defines human knowledge itself, and the philosopher who pursues it, in terms of a universal brotherhood of intellectual searchers over which Rudolf, in his capacity as Holy Roman Emperor, is seen as presiding. It is in terms of this concept of the universal value which is to be attributed to all true forms of knowledge that Bruno launches into a bitter attack against all those sects and religions which persist in asserting that God has conceded them some particular form of revelation: a conviction which leads them to believe 'that only they dwell in the house of truth (outside which the blind and erring legions wander lost and aimless)'. In his refusal of this concept, Bruno not only urges the necessity of a search for truth based on a spirit of universal love which sees God as the father of all men, 'good and bad, just and unjust', but he makes it clear that he repudiates entirely the whole concept of divine revelation. God has not revealed any sacred truths to any privileged sects, religions, or peoples. He has done something far more valuable and challenging, giving to every man the 'eyes' of sense and intelligence with which to pursue truth on his own account. What derives from this concept is a vision of knowledge as necessarily multiform and conflicting, but at the same time active and assertive: knowledge which, when a man has acquired it through dedicated and rigorous intellectual endeavour, will give him the capacity not only to judge but to 'direct the cause'.
Hermetic elements stressing the autonomy of man within the universal whole amalgamate with what is already a Baconian concept of organized research into the forces regulating the universe which will lead man to an ever greater dominion over the natural world. But above all Bruno is concerned with clarifying here what he sees as the fundamental and necessary condition for such a pursuit of knowledge: a degree of freedom of enquiry which in his time was clearly unrealizable, and which may still be considered as advanced even today. For it is correct to speak of a 'religion of freedom' in Bruno, which goes far beyond an illuministic plea for rational and judicious tolerance and intellectual harmony. Rather, the idea of liberty and autonomy of enquiry becomes the defining characteristic of the truly philosophical spirit: a sign of a fully mature humanity which relegates to the status of beasts (the asses, sheep, etc. of his Cantus Circaeus) all those unable or unwilling to carry intellectual enquiry to its greatest possible limits or heights. Although, in the closing passage of his dedication, Bruno admits that the pressures of social cohesion may, in some circumstances, oblige the wise man to hide his wisdom with humility, nevertheless such wisdom must be nourished as the occult sign of God's light which hides within man. When he is occupied with philosophical speculation (which Bruno here formally declares is the sphere of activity to which he has dedicated his life and intellectual powers) the wise man will only agree to listen to those masters who exhort him to open his eyes and not to close them.
Rudolf II had succeeded in the year 1576 to the throne of Maximilian II, the worldly and tolerant emperor who in 1574—5 had given the young Philip Sidney the welcome to his Court remembered in the opening page of his Defence of Poetry. Rudolf was a more melancholic figure, something of a recluse with an interest in esoteric studies and enquiries. He had shown rather too keen and ingenuous an interest in the spiritualistic magic of John Dee and his spurious companion Edward Kelley, who had both been entertained at his Court from 1584: Kelley was still there when Bruno arrived from Wittemberg. Bruno clearly hoped that he too would find favour with the eccentric Rudolf II ; but he was disappointed. He received only a modest payment for his dedication of the Articuli centum et sexaginta, and in August of 1588 he left Prague without having obtained any official post either at the university or the Court. His new journey took him to Helmstedt where he was attracted by the university which had been founded in 1575 by Duke Julius of Brunswick. But Bruno seems to have moved on the outskirts of the Duke's Court rather than the university, in which he held no official position. It was, nevertheless, at the university that he spoke on 1 July 1589, when he pronounced a highly formal and rhetorical Oratio consolatoria as part of the funeral rites following Duke Julius's death.
Underneath the elaborate praise Bruno heaps on the dead Duke, it is possible to trace a further meditation on the figure of the Prince, above all in his function of guardian of the intellectual life of his small community. The Duke is pictured as gathered into the heavenly regions from where he looks down on to his academy, guiding it towards new vistas of divine knowledge. It is a concern with this same aspect of the princely role which appears with particular clarity and force in the dedication of his major philosophical work, the so-called Frankfurt Trilogy, [De triplia minimo, De monade, De immense] which Bruno published in that town in 1591, to the son of Duke Julius, the new Duke Henry Julius of Brunswick. This dedication develops a meditation on the figure of the Prince of a different order from that applied to Henry III of France or to Elizabeth I or to Emperor Rudolf II. It is no longer imperial dominion seen as a universal force of cohesion and unity which constitutes the primary element of Bruno's interest here, but rather the aspect of exceptional wisdom and intellectual power which certain Princes are seen as achieving, in part at least due to their divinely consecrated status. Such wisdom gives them particular authority and power within the confines of their kingdom, creating at the same time a special relationship between them and the philosophers among their subjects. This is the concept which lies behind Shakespeare's creation of Prospero, and it appears to constitute an extreme form of meditation on the figure of the Prince. For either he represents an exceptionally potent form of wisdom, with special insight into divine truths, or he has no right to exert his power and dominion over those who dedicate themselves to obtaining similar wisdom through intellectual enquiry.
It is the nature of the relationship which links the figure of the Princely sage to the philosophical enquirer which Bruno is anxious to define in his dedication. Princes who are also sages and seers deserve the name of Trismegisti, which means 'three times great' in virtue of their knowledge, power, and authority: the number three, as Bruno had underlined in the De monade, possessing special significance, made up as it is of the first even number added to the first odd number, and so containing within itself potentially all numbers and being. It was among the Trismegisti, the wisest of men, that the ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans chose their kings. Constructing his meditation around a complex series of trinities which takes as its starting-point the Trismegistus-Prince and ends with the 'gift' to this Prince of his philosophical trilogy, Bruno sees such Princes as the authorities who decide and defend the laws, religions, and cults to be practised by the community. Such Princes guarantee stability within the state, seen as a necessary condition for philosophical enquiry to proceed and develop. The authority of the Prince, however, cannot extend to an interference with the enquiries of the true philosophers 'who must never suppress the light of reason for fear of those in power, showing themselves insensible to the voice of nature, nor hypocritically hide the truth in order to receive the consent of men of the church'.
Bruno's development of his final meditation on the figure of the Prince in these terms, in a work which is generally considered to contain his most advanced speculations on subjects connected with the development of a new science, is of particular interest if we compare it with Francis Bacon's dedication of The Advancement of Learning to James I in 1605. Bacon too was interested in the Prince in so far as he acted, in his special wisdom and power, to guarantee the free advancement of the new scientific philosophy. Bacon's praise of James in these terms echoes so closely Bruno's dedication to the Duke of Brunswick as to make it seem that he is modelling his text on it. For Bacon too uses the term of Trismegistus, applied by the ancient Greeks to the god Hermes, to celebrate the figure of James as sage and seer: 'your Majesty standeth invested of that triplicity which in great veneration was ascribed to the ancient Hermes, the power and fortune of a King, the knowledge and illumination of a Priest, and the learning and universality of a Philosopher'.
Both Bruno and Bacon consider the wisdom of the Trismegistus-Prince in part as a divine gift, and in part as acquired through study and meditation: Bruno praises the Duke of Brunswick as possessing 'all virtue, grace and ornament … as innate gifts magnified by a superior, interior Genius'; while Bacon says of James, 'there seemeth to be no less contention between the excellency of your Majesty's gifts of nature and the universality and perfection of your learning'. It is to the Prince who reveals himself in these terms as the example and defender of arcane, semi-divine forms of wisdom and learning, that both men are prepared to offer their works as gifts which, in Bacon's words, constitute 'a fixed memorial, and immortal monument, bearing a character or signature both of the power of a King and the difference and perfection of such a King'.
It was, as we can now see, an impossible ideal which led both men to inevitable disappointment. James I would do almost nothing to further Bacon's project for a new scientific tific community, which he would be later forced to outline in terms of a Utopia in his New Atlantis. As for Bruno, he wrote his dedication after he had left Helmstedt which he would never see again. History would show that the advancement of learning in terms of new and free enquiry into the order of the universe would develop most fully where monarchical absolutism was overcome. But Bruno and Bacon were in many respects in advance of their times, which were still dominated on a political level by the Renaissance Princes and their Courts. This imaginative construction of a figure of the Prince as seer and sage was not so much a question of monarchical faith or political principle as an extreme effort to visualize the form of princely rule which would, they both hoped, offer the maximum guarantee for the development of the new learning. In so far as their image of the Prince as possessing special forms of wisdom projected them clearly into an ideal region outside the process of modern history (recalling a long-lost concept of the Prince as priestly demigod rooted in the dawning centuries of mankind), they can be seen as contributing, even if obliquely, to the critical meditation on the figure and role of the Prince which would eventually culminate in disillusion, leading to the decline of the monarchical principle itself.
The most important event in Bruno's final period of freedom was the publication in Frankfurt of his Latin trilogy containing the dedication to Duke Henry Julius of Brunswick. He supervised the publication himself in spite of the fact that the Senate of the city refused his request, made on 2 July 1590, to lodge with the publisher Wechel. Through Wechel's influence, however, he was allowed to stay in the Carmelite convent where he worked on his publication until February 1591 when he received an order of expulsion from the city. He was thus obliged to leave Frankfurt before the appearance of his final and most ambitious philosophical work which was published during the autumn book fair of that year together with his final work on memory, the De imaginum, signorum et idearum compositione.
It was at this point that Bruno, having received an invitation from the Venetian nobleman Giovanni Mocenigo to stay with him in Venice and teach him the 'secrets of memory', decided to return to Italy. He passed through Zurich where he lectured to private groups of students. At the end of August 1591, he reached Venice; and the last act of his story began.
The decision to return to Italy has been the subject of much and various comment. Apart from the enticement offered by Mocenigo's invitation, there was a historical context of a particular moment of optimism which, as the documents relating to Bruno's trial clarify, he had carefully considered: the accession to the French throne of Henry of Navarre and the rumours of his imminent conversion to Catholicism, which seemed to presage a slackening of the wars of religion; the accession to the papal throne of Clement III who, in 1592, called Francesco Patrizi to Rome and gave him a Chair there in what appeared to be a gesture of goodwill towards the new philosophers. The choice of Venice as a starting-point for the return to Italy clearly related not only to the invitation from Mocenigo but also to the tolerant religious policy of the independent city-state which had strenuously opposed the efforts of the Catholic church, after the Council of Trent, to exert a much greater control over secular affairs throughout southern Europe. This was a period in which many Protestant visitors to Italy, such as Philip Sidney and his companions in the 1570s, chose to stay only within the Venetian dominions, where they felt safe from religious persecution; while the University at Padua, which was part of Venetian territory, was attracting an ever greater number of celebrated teachers due to the relative freedom of thought and enquiry permitted there. The appointment of Galileo to the Chair of mathematics in 1592 may be considered as symbolic of the standing of the Paduan University at that time; while the final years of the century and the beginning of the new one would see the emergence in Venice itself of the figure of Paolo Sarpi, whose critical History of the Council of Trent was to be so deeply admired and studied throughout Protestant Europe. What, then, was so particular about Bruno's position that made his return to Italy end in tragic failure, in spite of the carefully chosen geographical setting and historical moment in which he attempted it?
It is here that opinions diverge. One thesis, which has had several supporters, sees Bruno as planning to initiate in Italy some form of religious 'mission' which, so the thesis goes, with an almost insane recklessness he thought of starting from the very heart of Christianity, that is Rome itself. The Hermetic interpretation of Bruno adopts this thesis, lending it support by pointing out that in Padua, where he went before taking up his final residence in Mocenigo's house in Venice, he dictated to a group of pupils his final works on magic thus defining his 'mission' as a magic-Hermetic one which would inevitably clash with any form of Christian authority. This answer to the problem has recently been rigorously contested and replaced by the thesis that Bruno's real aim in Italy was to obtain an academic position as Patrizi had done, and that he went to Padua attracted by the still vacant Chair of mathematics. This thesis is supported by the recent discovery of two new texts related to his logical-mathematical enquiry which Bruno dictated to private pupils in Padua; thus he was not completely immersed in his magical-Hermetic studies there as had previously been thought. It is a thesis which has the merit of bringing Bruno back from the borders of insanity, and allowing him a greater measure of rational and judicious behaviour. Even so, there is no precise documentary evidence to support the thesis that he was looking for an academic appointment (he had not held one anywhere since his departure from Wittemberg); and if that was the case, it is obvious that he had miscalculated his chances, for after only a brief stay in Padua he went to Venice and took up Mocenigo's invitation. In the end, it is only possible to speculate on the exact reasons which led Bruno to return to Italy; and perhaps there is no need to create hypothetical religious missions or academic programmes to justify them. Bruno had been an exile since his flight from Italy in 1579, and it is natural that he should have wished to return to a country which was not only his by birth, language, and traditions, but which had created and guided the Renaissance culture of which he must be considered still, in many respects, an intimate part. His decision was made in a moment which appeared, in objective historical terms, to be particularly propitious. Furthermore, it is important to understand that the cultural policy of the Counter-Reformation, particularly with respect to the new philosophy, did not become clear at once even to the ecclesiastical authorities themselves. It was only over a long period of discussion and debate, with frequent changes of attitude on both sides, that Bruno's imprisonment, trial, and death at the stake became a symbolic moment in the definition of a rigorously severe policy towards heretical thinking at whatever level. The decision to put Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium on the Index of forbidden books, which was only taken in 1616, has been seen as a direct result of the final outcome of Bruno's trial. According to this interpretation, both events lead directly to the trial and punishment of Galileo, 'grown old', as Milton would write, 'a prisner to the Inquisition, for thinking in Astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licencers thought'. But such severe rigour with respect to the new philosophy and science was only slowly defined, as the hesitations over the case of Copernicus show; and Bruno's trial, rather than the inevitable result of an already rigorously entrenched policy, should properly be seen as one of the main moments through which that policy was gradually defined. The very rigour of his sentence was clearly intended to underline its symbolic character; for Bruno was not only burnt at the stake but carried to his death with his tongue tied to signify the silence imposed on the particularly dangerous and impenitent heretic. Such was the end to the battle with the authorities which Bruno had waged throughout his life in the name of what he called a 'universal philanthropy'. Fortunately history is not made only by the authorities in power. As Milton would write not many years later: 'Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master-spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life.'