In This Article Giordano Bruno

  • Introduction
  • Single-Volume Studies, 1889–1968
  • Single-Volume Studies, 1978–1991
  • Single-Volume Studies, 1998–2010
  • Collected Essays and Conference Volumes, 1993–2002
  • Collected Essays and Conference Volumes, 2003–2011
  • Bibliographies and Indexes
  • Journal and Encyclopedia
  • Reception of the Historical Figure and Works
  • The Early Cosmological Discussion
  • The Later Cosmological Discussion
  • Mathematics
  • Lullism and the Art of Memory
  • Religion and Magic

Renaissance and Reformation Giordano Bruno
by
Hilary Gatti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0210

Introduction

Giordano Bruno of Nola near Naples in Italy, (b. 1548–d. 1600), was one of the major natural philosophers of the Italian renaissance. He is also remembered today for his turbulent life of exile and dissent that took him to most of the cultural centers of renaissance Europe. He died dramatically, burned at the stake as an unrepentant heretic in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome. During a brief period of intense intellectual activity, between 1582 and 1591, Bruno composed thirty works, in various European capitals where he visited and taught (including Paris, London, Wittenberg, Prague, and Frankfurt). Seven of those works were written in Italian and the rest in Latin. They covered a large variety of subjects. Some of his major works were concerned with propagating and supporting a post-Copernican cosmology that he expanded to infinite dimensions. He also proposed a meditation on the infinitely small or minimum quantity that established his reputation as one of the first modern atomists. Other works deal with the art of memory and the pictorial logic of Raymond Lull, both of which he opposed to the dominant Aristotelian logic and the increasingly complex and abstract mathematics of his time. He was concerned with the epic religious, social, and political upheavals of the Europe of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both of which he attacked from the perspective of an antiecclesiastical polemic that privileged a search for the divine within the natural world. Magical and Hermetic strands of thought that, from his earliest works, accompanied this stand in favor of a natural religion came to dominate a final period of creative activity expressed in a number of incomplete and unpublished manuscripts, discovered and published only in the 19th century. Bruno’s return to Italy in 1591 ended in an eight-year-long trial at the hands of the Roman Catholic Inquisition, first in Venice and then in Rome, that has been the subject of much study both for the complexity of the religious doctrines debated and for his final stand in favor of freedom of thought, which led to his tragic death.

Single-Volume Studies, 1889–1968

Two early texts (Tocco 1889 and Gentile 1991 [originally 1920]) remain essential points of reference for more modern Bruno scholarship. They contribute to establishing an initial picture of Bruno’s works as those of a natural philosopher whose thought lies between the anti-Aristotelian naturalism of Bernardino Telesio and the new science of Galileo. With Corsano 2002 (originally 1940), a first suggestion is made that Bruno’s works should also be placed in an alternative context of neo-Platonic hermeticism and magic. Yates 2002 (originally 1964) carries this interpretation to a radical extreme, claiming Bruno as the ultimate Renaissance Magus in a volume that has exercised a major influence on the most recent Bruno discussion. Much Bruno criticism has since divided into two camps. Vedrine 1967 gives voice to the first substantial attack on a magical Bruno, reclaiming him as an early modern scientist. Papi 1968, more respectful of the Yates thesis, emphasizes some of the anthropological debates that color Bruno’s works, such as his interest in primitive religions.

  • Corsano, Antonio. Il pensiero di Giordano Bruno nel suo svolgimento storico. Vol. 2 of Opere scelte di Antonio Corsano. Galatina, Italy: Congedo editore, 2002

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    Originally published in 1940, this book represents a turning point in Bruno studies by underlining his attention to the art of memory and the logic of Raymond Lull, as well as his use of neo-Platonic and Hermetic sources. Corsano sees Bruno as attempting to unite ratio, fides, and mysterium.

  • Gentile, Giovanni. Giordano Bruno e il pensiero del rinascimento. Florence: Le Lettere, 1991.

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    Originally published in 1920, this edition carries an important introduction by Eugenio Garin. Gentile sees Bruno as opening a modern era in philosophy insofar as he relegated faith and religion to another sphere, For Gentile, Bruno is thus a worthy precursor of Galileo.

  • Papi, Fulvio. Antropologia e civiltà nel pensiero di Giordano Bruno. Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1968.

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    Concentrates on Bruno’s social and political thought, offering a valuable analysis of his attitude toward the discovery of the New World and the religion and customs of the native American Indians.

  • Tocco, Felice. Le opere latine di Giordano Bruno esposte e confrontate con le italiane. Florence: Le Monnier, 1889.

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    Investigates in detail the points of similarity and difference between Bruno’s Italian and Latin works in the context of an interpretation of Bruno as a philosopher of nature and an early scientist.

  • Vedrine, Hélène. La conception de la nature chez Giordano Bruno. Paris: Vrin, 1967.

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    Strenuously challenges the Yates thesis based on aspects of Bruno’s thought that Vedrine continues to consider marginal. This author insists on taking Bruno seriously as a philosopher of nature, emphasizing his post-Copernican cosmology, his concept of an infinite universe, and his early atomism.

  • Yates, Frances. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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    Originally published in 1964. Yates tends to exclude the ratio from Bruno’s life and work, denying him any role in the history of modern science. Placing him among the mystics of the neo-Platonic tradition, Yates claims the ancient Egyptian religion of the Corpus Hermeticum as Bruno’s major source. With an introduction by J. B. Trapp.

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