Giordano Bruno

The Italian philosopher and poet Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) attempted to deal with the implications of the Copernican universe. Although he made no scientific discoveries, his ideas had much influence on later scientists and philosophers.

Giordano Bruno was born at Nola in southern Italy. His baptismal name was Filippo, but he took the name Giordano when he entered a Dominican monastery in Naples in 1565. During his stay in different monastic houses in southern Italy, he acquired a vast knowledge of philosophy, theology, and science. Because he developed unorthodox views on some Catholic teachings, Bruno was suspected of heresy and finally fled the monastic life in 1576. This experience reveals much about Bruno's personality. His love for knowledge and hatred of ignorance led him to become a rebel, unwilling to accept traditional authority. The price he paid for this independence was persecution and condemnation in many countries.

After making his way through northern Italy, Bruno sought refuge at Geneva in 1579. His criticism of a Genevan professor, however, forced his withdrawal from that city. The next 2 years were spent in Toulouse, where he was granted a master's degree and lectured on Aristotle. In 1581-1582 he stayed in Paris and published his first significant set of writings, in which he explained a new method for memory training and commented on the logical system of Raymond Lully.

In 1583 Bruno traveled to England, where he lived for 2 years. While there, he became friendly with some prominent Englishmen, publicly praised Queen Elizabeth I, and held a disputation at Oxford on the Copernican and Aristotelian conceptions of the universe. Most important, he published some of his best works in England during 1584-1585, namely, La Cena de le Ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper); De l'infinito universo et mondi (On the Infinite Universe and Worlds); and De la causa, principio et uno (Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One). In these works Bruno attempted to come to grips with the meaning of the new conception of the universe that Copernicus had developed. Bruno conceived of the universe as infinite, composed of a plurality of worlds. For him the universe has a unity that signifies a prevailing order-individual things are not isolated but are animated by a common life and a common cause. This cause is immanent, not transcendent, and the soul which gives life to the whole is God. It is God who "is not above, and not outside, but within and through, all things." It is not surprising that later examiners of Bruno's system described it as pantheistic. Bruno also published an Italian dialogue, De gli eroici furori (1585; The Heroic Furies), in which he presents the Renaissance conception of Platonic love.

Returning to France in 1585, Bruno was forced to leave that country in 1586 because of his attacks on Aristotelian philosophy. He then went to Germany, where he achieved some acclaim as a result of his lectures at the University of Wittenberg and published some works centered primarily on logic. After further travels he settled briefly in Frankfurt am Main, where he wrote a series of poems in Latin. In the three most important ones (all 1591), De minimo (On the Minimum), De monade (On the Monad), and De immenso (On the Immense), he examined what is infinitely small and infinitely great in the universe.

In 1592 Bruno went to Venice on the invitation of a Venetian nobleman who later betrayed him to the Catholic Inquisition. Bruno was arrested and imprisoned in Rome, where after a lengthy confinement and a trial for heresy he was burned at the stake on Feb. 17, 1600.


Further Reading on Giordano Bruno

There is an extensive literature on Bruno in many languages. The best English biography is Dorothea Waley Singer, Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought (1950). This work also includes a translation of Bruno's important work On the Infinite Universe and Worlds. Older biographies are J. Lewis Mclntyre, Giordano Bruno (1903), and William Boulting, Giordano Bruno: His Life, Thought, and Martyrdom (1916). The former is divided into two sections, one on his life, the other on his philosophy. Among the specialized works on Bruno are Sidney Greenberg, The Infinite in Giordano Bruno, with a Translation of His Dialogue: Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One (1950); Irving Louis Horowitz, The Renaissance Philosophy of Giordano Bruno (1952); John Nelson, Renaissance Theory of Love: The Context of Giordano Bruno's Eroici furori (1958); and Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964).


Additional Biography Sources

Yates, Frances Amelia, Lull & Bruno, London; Boston: Routledge& K. Paul, 1982.

Bossy, John, Giordano Bruno and the embassy affair, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.