Tomasso Campanella Essay - Critical Essays

Campanella, Tomasso


Tomasso Campanella 1568–1639

Italian philosopher and poet. The following entry contains discussion of Campanella's life and works published from 1922 through 1992.

An important philosopher of the late Italian Renaissance, Campanella proclaimed himself to be the prophet of a new age that combined the best ideas of the old world with those of a new, modern society. His Utopian vision is most clearly conveyed in his La Citta del sole (1623; City of the Sun), his most famous work. A man of action as well as of words, Campanella attacked both the Church establishment and the Spanish monarchy: he was involved in planning a revolt against Spain—which was unsuccessful—and was repeatedly imprisoned for his heretical beliefs. Contributing numerous volumes of philosophical and political writings, Campanella is also recognized as a courageous and rebellious individual, often hailed as one of the first great reformers of the modern age.

Biographical Information

The son of an illiterate shoemaker, Campanella was born Giovanni Domenico in Stilo, Calabria, on September 5, 1568. At a young age he displayed remarkable intellectual abilities. He joined the Dominican order at fourteen years old to study the philosophy of Aristotle. To his superiors' dismay, Campanella soon displayed Anti-Aristotelian tendencies, preferring a more intuitive and less analytical natural philosophy. In 1588 Campanella was sent to the theological house of studies at Cosenza where he first encountered the writings of Bernardino Telesio, a natural philosopher who also objected to Aristotle's teachings. He read Telesio's De rerum natura juxta propria principia (1565, 1586), and was thrilled to discover a kindred spirit. Telesio died before the two could meet, but his writings continued to inspire Campanella, becoming the cornerstone of his own philosophy. In 1589 Campanella completed his first significant work in just seven months' time, Philosophia sensibus demonstrata, in which he attempted to vindicate Telesio from the attacks of his detractors, especially Giocomo Antonio Marta. Around that time Campanella encountered a Jewish rabbi, Abraham, from whom he acquired strong interests in astrology and magic. As these interests (as

well as his anti-Aristotelianism) were contrary to Dominican teachings and traditional Thomistic doctrines, Campanella was arrested, charged with heresy, and tried. He was instructed to reject Telesian doctrine and was ordered back to Calabria in 1592. Ignoring his sentence, Campanella went to Padua where he encountered Galileo and Paolo Sarpi. For almost a year Campanella continued to develop his thinking along Telesian lines in works like Apologia pro Telesio (c. 1593-94) and Nova physiologia iuxta propria principia (c. 1593-94). He was again arrested in 1594 by the order of the Holy Office in Padua who seized all of his manuscripts. Campanella was accused of many offenses, including being critical of Church doctrine, and was severely beaten and tortured. In his own defense he wrote several volumes including Defensio Telesianorum, all of which, unfortunately, have been lost. Released in December 1597 Campanella returned to his native Stilo on condition that he confine himself to the monastery in Calabria. The socio-political upheavals of the time and Campanella's belief in astrology and prophecies, however, compelled him otherwise. Convinced that great changes were at hand and that he was both a prophet and a leader of the millennium, Campanella helped instigate a revolt in Calabria against the Spanish monarchy. Unsuccessful in his attempt to replace the existing form of government with a Utopian republic founded on religion and natural magic, he was subsequently arrested in 1599, but feigned madness to avoid being put to death. He spent the next twenty-seven years in prison, eight of which were spent in a windowless dungeon. During this period Campanella penned what is often considered his most significant prose and poetry, including City of the Sun, Monarchia di Spagna (1620), Metaphysics (1638), and Theologia (c. 1613). He also wrote letters appealing to the Pope, cardinals, or to anyone who could help him gain his freedom. Successful in these efforts he was released by the Spanish authorities in 1626. He was arrested less than one month later, however, by the Holy Office because of his philosophical opinions, and remained in prison until January, 1629. After spending nearly thirty years in prison and being continuously kept under observation by both the Papal and Spanish authorities, Campanella left Italy for France in 1634, where he was received with favor by Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XIII. During his last years, as throughout his life, Campanella engaged in political and literary activities: he attempted to influence French politics by initiating anti-Spanish campaigns and prepared the final editions of his works. Campanella died on May 21, 1639 in France at a Dominican monastery in Rue St. Honoré.

Major Works

Throughout his life, Campanella wrote more than one hundred volumes ranging from metaphysics and theology to political theory and Utopian fiction. His philosophical writings include Philosophia sensibus demonstrata, De sense rerum et magia, and De gentilismo non retinendo (1636), and contain strong anti-Aristotelian notions influenced by the new empirical ideas of Telesio and Galileo. This new mode of thinking is clearly evident in the City of the Sun as Campanella combines elements of abstract and rational modes to form the philosophical foundation of his ideal society. Moreover, his Monarchia del Messia (c. 1605) and Atheismus triumphatus (c. 1605-7) confim his theocratic convictions toward governing the new society, while his Monarchia di Spanga and Ecloga in Principis Galliarum delphini admirandam nativitatem (1639) provide the means to realize his Utopian ends. Campanella's poetry also reveals both his optimism in his role as a prophet of the new age and his frustration at his inability to fulfill the mission. "I live as I write" wrote Campanella in a letter to Cardinal Antonio Barberini. Considered in their totality, the scope and complexity of Campanula's writings indeed reflect his turbulent yet courageous life.

Critical Reception

Reaction to Campanella's ideas varied from repeated imprisonment and torture to a milder form of censure from his contemporaries Gaspar Schopp and Samuel Sorbière, the latter once referring to Campanella as a "most inefficient and ignorant monk." Campanula's supporters such as Tobias Adami and Gabriel Naudé, however, lauded his extraordinary intelligence. During his own lifetime, both Campanella's admirers and detractors lacked objective critical analysis, while critics in the eighteenth through the twentieth century grappled with determining the extent his anti-Aristotelianism. Many recent critics are concerned with Campanella's political writings and with examining the apparent contradiction between his overtly stated antipathy to Machiavelli and the strategic opportunism of his political theories. This focus also sparked an interest in examining the City of the Sun in relation to the whole tradition of utopian writing. The majority of recent criticism, however, focuses on the historical elements of Campanella's philosophy, interpreting his paradoxical thought as reflecting the social and political climate of the late Italian Renaissance.

Principal Works

Philosophia sensibus demonstrata [Experimental Philosophy] (philosophy) 1589

De sense rerum et magia (philosophy) c.1591

* Apologia pro Telesio (philosophy) c. 1593-94

* Nova Physiologia iuxta propria principia (philosophy) c. 1593-94

Monarchia del Messia (political treatise) c. 1605

Atheismus triumphatus [Atheism Conquered] (prose) c. 1605-7

Quaestiones physiologicae, ethicae et politicae (prose) c.1613

Theologia (prose) c.1613

Quod reminiscentur [On Converting the Heathen] (prose) c. 1616

Del senso delle cose e della magia [On the Sense and Feeling in All Things and on Magic] (philosophy) 1620

Monarchia di Spagna [A Discourse Touching the Spanish Monarchy] (political treatise) 1620

Scelta d 'alcune Poesie filosofiche (poetry) 1622

Apologia pro Galileo [The Defense of Galileo] (prose) 1622

La Città del sole [City of the Sun] (utopian fiction) 1623

De gentilismo non retinendo [On the Gentilism that must not be adhered to] (prose) 1636

Metaphysics (philosophy) 1638

Poetica (poetry) 1638

Ecloga in Principis Galliarum delphini admirandam nativitem (political treatise) 1639

§ Lettere (letters) c. 1601-39

* Date of composition. Date of first publication is unknown.

†Published in 1936.

‡Published in 1939.

§Published in 1925.


Lewis Mumford (essay date 1922)

SOURCE: An excerpt from The Story of Utopias, Boni and Liveright, 1922, pp. 103-08.

[In the following excerpt from his critical study of Utopian thought, Mumford characterizes Campanella 's City of the Sun as a "utopia of means, " largely concerned with mechanical inventions and the material perfection of society.]

A Genoese sea-captain is the guest of a Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller. This sea-captain tells him of a great country under the equator, dominated by the City of the Sun. The outward appearance of this country is a little strange—the city with its seven rings named after the seven planets, and its four gates that lead to the four quarters...

(The entire section is 1097 words.)

Marie Louise Berneri (essay date 1950)

SOURCE: "Tommaso Campanella: The City of the Sun," in Journey Through Utopia, 1950. Reprint by The Beacon Press, 1951, p. 88-102.

[In the following excerpt, Berneri provides an overview of Campanella's philosophical ideas, political activities, and lengthy imprisonment, and notes that "The City of the Sun is in fact closely related to Campanella 's unsuccessful attempt to create a Republic of Calabria"]

There is none of More's literary elegance and fine irony in Campanella's City of the Sun, for unlike him he did not write in the pleasant circle of refined humanists but with his mind and limbs still aching from the tortures of the Inquisition....

(The entire section is 2626 words.)

Ernst Bloch (essay date 1959)

SOURCE: "Counterpart to More: Campanella's City of the Sun or the Utopia of Social Order," in The Principle of Hope, 1959, translated by Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight, Basil Blackwell, 1986, pp. 523-34.

[In the following excerpt from The Principle of Hope, originally published in German as Das Prinzip Hoffnung, Bloch contrasts the Utopian vision of Campanella with that of More, arguing that these two writers influenced two opposing traditions of Utopian writing: social order and freedom.]

The Baroque is the age of centralized royal power, and it was progressive at that time. A totally authoritarian and also bureaucratic utopia:...

(The entire section is 2652 words.)

Bernardino M. Bonansea (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: "Political Theory: The Ideal State," in Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought, The Catholic University of America Press, 1969, pp. 264-98.

[Reacting against interpretations of The City of the Sun as a communist or rationalist Utopia, Bonansea views Campanella's Utopian text as depicting an ideal society "in the pure order of nature," "modeled after the system of early Christian communities."]

The City of the Sun, which in its Latin edition appears as an appendix to the treatise Politica in aphorismos digesta, is a fictional dialogue. In it a Genoese Sea Captain tells a Grandmaster of the Knights Hospitalers about his...

(The entire section is 4615 words.)

Timothy J. Reiss (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Structure and Mind in Two Seventeenth-Century Utopias: Campanella and Bacon," in Yale French Studies, Vol. 49, 1973, pp. 82-95.

[Reiss compares Campanella's and Bacon's Utopian texts as illustrating two types of Utopian vision"the dynamic and the static."]

The Utopian thinker, according to Marx, writes as a bourgeois who, in the silence of his study, gives free play at once to his reason and his imagination, and it may be supposed that this acknowledged duality of cause has its reflexion in the result. For the utopian ideal is at once a meditation upon history or an historical situation and a proposing of an "ideal" solution to that history. Indeed,...

(The entire section is 4608 words.)

Jon Snyder (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: " The City of the Sun and the Poetics of the Utopian Dialogue," in Stanford Italian Review, Vol. 2, Fall, 1985, pp. 175-87.

[In the following excerpt, Snyder examines the poetics of Campanella's Utopian text, arguing that Campanella deliberately chose the dialogic form since dialogism is intrinsic to the liminal nature of all Utopian fiction.]

Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) is known today chiefly for his famous work of Utopian fiction, La Città del Sole (The City of the Sun), still widely considered among the most important texts in the Renaissance Utopian tradition. Despite its status as a specifically literary work, though, The City of the...

(The entire section is 4552 words.)

Jackson Spielvogel (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "Reflections on Renaissance Hermeticism and Seventeenth-Century Utopias," in Utopian Studies, Vol. I, 1987, pp. 188-97.

[In the following excerpt, Spielvogel traces the influence of Hermeticism on Campanella 's philosophy in relation to the combination of science and magic that characterizes his ideal society.]

Although modern historians rarely agree on any significant issue, there is a fair degree of unanimity on viewing the seventeenth century as the turning point in the emergence of modern Western history. It was a century full of plagues, constitutional crises, famines, population declines, economic depression, almost constant warfare, and widespread...

(The entire section is 1754 words.)

Anthony Stephens (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "The Sun State and its Shadow: On the Condition of Utopian Writing," in Utopias, edited by Eugene Kamenka, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1987, pp. 1-19.

[In the following essay, originally presented at the Fifteenth Annual Symposium of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1984, Stephens discusses the dystopian "shadow" in Campanella's City of the Sun, and contrasts the fictional techniques used by utopian writers of the Renaissance with those of later centuries.]

Any beginning for an essay such as this has to be arbitrary. Rather than begin with Thomas More, I shall instead take one of his successors, who wrote about a century later, namely...

(The entire section is 6557 words.)

John M. Headley (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "On the Rearming of the Heaven: The Machiavellism of Tommaso Campanella," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 49, No. 3, July-September, 1988, pp. 387-404.

[Despite his avowed aversion of Machivellian philosophy, Campanella is often viewed as a Machiavellian writer. In the excerpt below, Headley concludes that despite seeming similarities between the two political philosophers, their differing historical contexts lead to fundamental ideological conflicts, especially with respect to the role of religion in civic society.]

After Aristotle the greatest single intellectual antagonist of Campanella was Niccolò Machiavelli. Although Campanella was born forty...

(The entire section is 6509 words.)

John M. Headley (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "Tommaso Campanella and the End of the Renaissance," in Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, Fall, 1990, pp. 157-74.

[In the following excerpt, Headley argues that the contradictory elements in Campanella's philosophy are representative of a changing historical movement as the Renaissance gave way to the modern age at the beginning of the seventeenth century.]

Do historical periods, or better yet historical movements, have an end, a definitive termination? It is hardly necessary to observe that historical periods exist in historians' heads as means of defining the past; such periods can only begin to have substantive meaning insofar as...

(The entire section is 5902 words.)

John M. Headley (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "Tommaso Campanella and Jean de Launoy: The Controversy over Aristotle and his Reception in the West," in Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. XLIII, No. 3, Autumn, 1990, pp. 529-50.

[Focusing on Campanella's polemic, On the Gentilism that must not be adhered to, Headley argues that Campanella's anti-Aristotelianism derives from his commitment to Christianity and the new spirit of empiricism.]

In his first published work, the Philosophy Demonstrated by the Senses (Naples, 1591), Tommaso Campanella evinced at the outset of his long intellectual career that abiding and most pronounced feature of his entire philosophical position, namely, an opposition to...

(The entire section is 6247 words.)

Stephanie Laggini-Fiore (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "Messianic Vision in the Poetry of Fra Tommaso Campanella," in Romance Languages Annual, Vol. 4, 1992, pp. 270-77.

[Focusing on Campanella's poetry, Laggini-Fiore discusses the autobiographical aspects of Campanella's utopian vision.]

Little has been written on what Franc Ducros [in Tommaso Campanella Poète, 1969] calls Fra Tommaso Campanella's rôle messianique, yet the messianic vision of the poet is central to both his poetry and his life. It was the direct result of his relationship with the world and with society: his poetry was written while he languished in the jails of the Inquisition for many years; his defense of Galileo was a response...

(The entire section is 7097 words.)

Further Reading


Abramowitz, Isidore. The Great Prisoners: The First Anthology of Literature Written in Prison. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1946, 879 p.

Views Campanella's City of the Sun as the yoking together of the medieval world of astrology and the new spirit of enquiry and experimentation.

Blodgett, Eleanor Dickenson. "Bacon's New Atlantis and Campanella's Civitas Solis: A Study in Relationships." PMLA XLVI, No. 3 (September 1931): 763-80.

Highlights the similarities between the two utopian texts and sees the differences as a product of the...

(The entire section is 477 words.)