Tommaso Campanella

The Italian philosopher, political theorist, and poet Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) was persecuted for his attempts to achieve utopian reforms.

Giovanni Domenico Campanella was born at Stilo in Calabria on Sept. 5, 1568; he assumed the name Tommaso when he entered the Dominican order about 1583. In Naples he made his first contact with the anti-Aristotelian doctrines of Bernardino Telesio. In 1592, after his first ecclesiastical trial, he was sentenced to return to his province and to abandon his Telesian sympathies. Campanella instead set out for the north, sojourning briefly in Rome, Florence, Bologna, and Padua. Between 1593 and 1595 he suffered several minor trials and periods of imprisonment on a number of charges.

After Campanella was released from prison in 1595, he passed the next few years in apparent quiet in a small monastery at Stilo. But this was actually a period of febrile secret activity. Campanella became the head of a conspiracy to overthrow the despotic Spanish rule of impoverished southern Italy and replace it with a theocratic republic, with himself as supreme priest and king. The plot was savagely repressed, and in 1602 he was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. The subsequent 24 years of Campanella's life were spent in the bowels of various Neapolitan dungeons.

Despite discomforts and privations, this was a period of incredible literary productivity for Campanella, and many of his major works (the Metaphysica, the Monarchia Messiae, the Atheismus triumphatus, the Apologia pro Galileo, and others) date from this period. His best-known work, Civitas solis (The City of the Sun), was completed in 1623. This utopian work was based on Plato's Republic, and it presented Campanella's principal political ideal— universal theocratic monarchy, with its supreme head either the pope or the Spanish king. Regardless of who the ruler might be, the underlying principle remained constant: peace and well-being were impossible without unity.

In 1626, by order of the Spanish viceroy, Campanella was released from prison. When he reached Rome, he was imprisoned by the Pope but was soon freed. But the Curia's opposition to him because of his open defense of Galileo and his outspoken views, together with Spanish hostility, rendered his position in Rome precarious. Fearing further persecution, he fled from Rome in October 1634 and found refuge in France, where he was warmly welcomed in scholarly circles and at court. His central occupation now became the publication in 10 volumes of his writings, many of which had never appeared in print, while others had previously been brought out in unauthorized editions. This project was interrupted by Campanella's death on May 22, 1639.


Further Reading on Tommaso Campanella

The best comprehensive study of Campanella in English is Bernardine M. Bonansea, Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought (1969). It includes a good bibliography of the primary and secondary literature, with a listing of the writings by Campanella that are available in English translation.