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BRUNO, GIORDANO (b. Nola, Italy, 1548; d. Rome,
Italy, 17 February 1600), philosophy.
ignored. Leo Olschki was probably one of the first
to notice that no coherent philosophical system could
be drawn from Bruno's works through this approach;
and Antonio Corsano emphasized the magical ingredients
in Bruno's thought and the politico-religious
aspects of his activities. It is, however, the work that
has been done in recent years on the Renaissance
Hermetic tradition that has at last made it possible
to place Bruno within a context in which his philosophy,
his magic, and his religion can all be seen
as belonging to an outlook that, however strange,
makes historical sense.
Now that Giordano Bruno has been, as it were,
found out as a Hermetic magician of a most extreme
type, is he therefore to be rejected as of no serious
importance in the history of thought? This is not the
right way to pose the question. Rather, it should be
recognized that Renaissance magic, and that turning
toward the world as a revelation of the divine that
is the motive force in the “religion of the world” that
inspired Bruno, was itself a preparation or a stage
in the great movement that, running out of the Renaissance
into the seventeenth century, gradually shed
its irrational characteristics for the genuinely scientific
approach to the world. Bruno's leap upward through
the spheres into an infinite universe, although it is
to be interpreted as the experience of a Gnostic
magician, was at the same time an exercise of speculative
imagination presaging the advent of new world
views. Although Bruno infused the innumerable
worlds of which he had learned from Lucretius with
magical animism, this was in itself a remarkable
vision of a vastly extended universe through which
ran one law. We can accept Bruno's Renaissance
vision as prophetic of coming world views, although
formulated within a very strange frame of reference.
Again, Bruno's atomism, derived from his study of
Lucretius through magical interpretation of Lucretius
in such a writer as Palingenius, whose Zodiacus vitae
was one of Bruno's inspirations, may have stimulated
the attention of other thinkers. The Renaissance
interpretation of Lucretius, which was begun by
Ficino, is a stage in the history of atomism which has
not yet been adequately examined. When that history
comes to be written, Bruno's magically animated
atoms may be found to hold some transitional place
Another example of Bruno's thought as a presage
of scientific discovery is his remarkable intuition
about the circular movement of the blood, which he
based on parallelism between man and the universe;
he believed that “spirit” is the driving force that
moves the blood, the same spirit that is diffused
through the universe and that Plato defined as “number
which moves in a circle.” Hence, the movement
of the blood within the body, said Bruno, is circular,
diffused from the heart in a circular movement.
One of the closest connections between Bruno and
a seventeenth-century scientific philosopher is that
which can be discerned in the influence of Bruno's
Cena de le ceneri on William Gilbert's De magnete.
The magnet is always mentioned in textbooks on
magic as an example of the occult sympathies in
action; and Bruno, when defending his animistic
version of heliocentricity, brought in the magnet.
Gilbert's language when defending heliocentricity in
the De magnete is extremely close to that of Bruno;
like Bruno, he cites Hermes and others who stated
that there is a universal life in nature when he is
arguing in favor of earth movement. The magnetic
philosophy that Gilbert extended to the whole universe
seems most closely allied to that of Bruno, and
it is not surprising that Francis Bacon should have
listed Gilbert with Bruno as proud and fantastic magi
of whom he strongly disapproved.
Even the strangest and most formidably obscure
of Bruno's works, those on his magic arts of memory,
can be seen to presage, on the Hermetic plane, seventeenth-century
strivings after method. Bruno aimed
at arranging magically activated images of the stars
in memory in such a way as to draw magical powers
into the psyche. These systems were of an incredible
complexity, involving combinations of memory
images with the revolving wheels of Lull to form ways
of grasping everything in the universe at once and
in all possible combinations. Bruno's Hermetic computers,
if one may be permitted to call them such,
were almost certainly known to Leibniz, who was also
familiar with the art of memory and with Lullism.
When introducing his universal calculus, Leibniz uses
language that is remarkably similar to that in which
Bruno introduced his art of memory to the doctors
of Oxford. The many curious connections between
Bruno and Leibniz may, when fully explored, form
one of the best means of watching the transitions from
Renaissance occultism to seventeenth-century science.
Within that view of the history of thought in which
the Renaissance magus is seen as the immediate precursor
of the seventeenth-century scientist, Giordano
Bruno holds a significant place, and his tragic death
early in the first year of the new century must still arrest
our attention as symbolic of a great turning point
in human history.
I. ORIGINAL WORKS.
Bruno's Latin works are in Opera
latine, Francisco Fiorentino, Vittorio Imbriani, C. M.