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Opere magiche & Corpus iconographicum: Le incisioni nelle opere a stampa & Giordano Bruno 1548-1600: Mostra storico documentaria, Roma, Biblioteca Casanatense, 7 giugno--30 settembre 2000. .

Giordano Bruno. Opere magiche.

Eds. Michele Ciliberto, Simonetta Bassi, Elisabetra Scapparone, and Nicolecta Tirinnanzi. (Classici, 67.) Milan: Adelphi, 2000. cxlii + 1590 pp. [euro]103.29. ISBN: 88-459-1509-3.

Giordano Bruno. Corpus iconographicum: Le incisioni nelle opere a stampa. Ed. Mino Gabriele. (Classici, 69.) Milan: Adelphi, 2001. ciii + 618 pp. [euro]77.47. ISBN: 88-459-1667-7.

Eugenio Canone, ed. Giordano Bruno 1548-1600: Mostra storico documentaria, Roma, Biblioteca Casanatense, 7 giugno-30 settembre 2000.

(Biblioreca di Bibliografica Italiana, 144.) Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2000. xlix + 233 pp. append. illus. bibi. n.p. ISBN: 88-222-4901-1.

The four-hundredth anniversary of the tragic death of Giordano Bruno, commemorated in the year 2000, saw the setting up of a national committee in Italy to protect and enhance the philosopher's memory, and to encourage study and diffusion of his works. The committee, presided over by Professor Michele Ciliberto, president of the prestigious Istituto Nazionale per gli Studi del Rinascimento in Florence, was generously funded by the Ministry of Culture. Some of these funds are being used in contributions towards Bruno publications, among which are all three of the volumes here under review. Furthermore, the first of the two volumes published by Adelphi in Milan has been publicly presented as the initial volume of a new national edition of Bruno's Latin works, made necessary by the generally recognized limits of the original national edition of 1879-91 edited by F. Fiorentino et al., a nevertheless historic edition, produced with the blessing of the then Minister of Education, Francesco De Sanctis, in a newly un ified Italy for which Bruno had become a hero of free thought. The third volume under review here is a catalogue, accompanied by a dense critical comment, of the books and documents of or concerning Bruno exhibited, among much public acclaim, at the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome in the summer of the year 2000. (For an extended comment on the four-hundredth centenary events, and their effects on Bruno studies, see my review article The State of Giordano Bruno studies at the End of the Four-Hundredth Centenary of the Philosopher's Death in RQ, 54.1:252-62.)

The editors of the nineteenth-century edition of Bruno's Latin works started their initiative with a volume containing some of his major scientific texts: the antiAristotelian Camoeracensis acrotismus (1588) and the De immenso (1591), which is Bruno's final statement of the infinite universe and worlds. It was only in the final volume three of their seven-part edition that they published, for the first time, the collection of manuscript works that Bruno had left unfinished at his death, and that finally finished up in Moscow, where, known as the Noroff manuscripts, they are still held today. Among these various manuscript works, copied by Bruno's pupils but containing some precious corrections in his own hand, are the only works which he dedicated completely to the subject of magic: De magia mathematica, De magia naturali, Theses di magia, and De vinculis in genere. Ciliberto has reversed the order followed by his predecessors and has started his Bruno in Latin with these manuscript works, all of them present ed with an impressive critical apparatus consisting of facing Italian translations and ample commentary and notes by Simonetra Bassi, Elisabetta Scapparoni, and Nicoletta Tirinnanzi.

A series of textual notes at the beginning of the volume justify this choice by the fact that the nineteenth-century editors had only made hurried copies of the Moscow manuscripts, at times in the form of synopses, and that this is the first presentation of them to the public in an integral transcription. Although some commentators are already complaining that even this version of the Noroff manuscripts contains imperfections, it is clear that much work has been done to improve on the philological defects of the third volume of the nineteenth-century edition. It is less clear whether the presentation of these texts under the overall heading of Opere magiche, accompanied by a critical apparatus strongly oriented towards a claim that magic is to be seen as a privileged interpretative key to Bruno's philosophy as a whole, can really be justified. Indeed, Ciliberto himself recognizes that such a project must be seen as paradossale (Introduzione, xxvii), given that by far the longest and undoubtedly the major work contained in the volume, Lampas triginta statuarum, is a purely philosophical text concerned with defining Bruno's ontology and has little or nothing to say about magic. In fact, less than half of this volume is taken up by the four explicitly magical works which give it its somewhat deceptive title.

Although too intellectually honest not to be conscious of such paradoxes, Ciliberto, in his Introduzione, makes short work of them in order to develop an eloquent defence of Bruno as essentially a mago ermetico. He is quite aware that today such a thesis can hardly be considered a novelty: on the contrary, it begins to have a long history behind it which Ciliberto delineates with undoubted finesse, tracing it back to the "alternative" idea of Renaissance, and previously of late classical culture as deeply imbued with occult and spiritual currents of thought, developed in the 1920s by Aby Warburg and his followers. The Warburgian influence began to pervade the field of Bruno studies, according to Ciliberto, with the book of 1940 by Antonio Corsano, Ilpensiero di Giordano Bruno nel suo rivolgimento storico, before being sanctioned (if not, indeed, sanctified) in the 1960s by the influential work of Frances Yates. These were the scholars who brought Bruno into the mainstream of a new conception of the Renaissanc e as deeply imbued with magical and hermetical strands of thought: the Renaissance developed in the second half of the twentieth century above all by Eugenio Garin, to whom this volume is affectionately dedicated.

According to Ciliberto's analysis, this concept of the Renaissance world was deeply subversive with respect to the more traditional idea of the Renaissance as the triumph of a rational historicism, as we find it in the work of Giovanni Gentile, for example. So that "Bruno the magus" becomes a revolutionary figure at the origins of a new idea of modernity itself. Ciliberto writes (metaphorically) in this context of Bruno's magical works as "accumulated dynamite," skillfully evading the question of Bruno's deeply ambivalent attitude toward magic and the possibility of becoming enmeshed in Circe's enticing but intellectually frustrating spells. It is a reading of Bruno which, as in Yates and in contradiction with Ciliberto's own earlier work which was more nuanced in this respect, offers a comfortingly linear approach to an oeuvre which many have found disturbing, or at least of great complexity, due to its radical relativism which leads to constant shifts in lines of reasoning and points of view. Certainly Mino Gabriele, in his edition of Bruno's iconographical designs, also for Adelphi and as a part of their new Bruno series, accepts Ciliberto's approach unquestioningly, offering a reading of Bruno's iconography of unwavering fidelity to the magical interpretation of his works.

A serious and complete study of Bruno's iconography was long overdue; for the brutally schematic rendering of Bruno's illustrations in the modern editions not only deprives them of their aesthetic quality but also modifies their meaning and their relation to the written text. Mino Gabriele is to be congratulated for carrying out the challenging task of studying, for the first time, the entire corpus of Bruno's illustrations, many of his own making, as they appeared in the first editions. It is all the more a pity that Gabriele's critical comment is so heavily orientated towards a partisan reading of Bruno as a Renaissance magus. His introduction, for example, would have been both more informative and more innovative if he had said more about Bruno's illustrative techniques rather than proposing once again the by now familiar figure of a Bruno who had read Plato, Porphyry, and the Picatrix, but not Epicurus (whose philosophy is praised as one of his major sources both in the Heroici furori and in the Frankfurt trilogy), a Bruno who becomes a disciple of Cusanus and Ficino but not of Copernicus (to whom he dedicated a whole Italian dialogue, the Cena de le ceneri, and a chapter of the De immenso significantly entitled "The Light of Copernicus"). For Gabriele's volume is not proposed as a study of a particular aspect of Bruno's thought (such as, for example, Bruno's art of memory, on which Gabriele has much of interest to say) but rather of the whole range of his iconography. In such an overall context, it is a wasted opportunity to dismiss Bruno's Copernican diagram in the Cena, which has been at the center of a long and complex twentieth-century discussion, with only the briefest of comments based on frequently questioned nineteenth-century sources (but then, why should a magus be interested in Copernicus?) or to ignore the remarkable novelty of Bruno's designs of atomic agglomerations.

Eugenio Canone, on the contrary, is to be praised for producing a carefully compiled and richly informative catalogue of the Bruno exhibition in Rome which does full justice to the various and varied strands of Bruno's thought. Surely this must be the right direction for Bruno studies to take in the years to come. It is absurd that Bruno has become the ball in a ping-pong match between the "Renaissance Magus" enthusiasts and the "Precursor of Modern Science" superrationalists. For his work contains both these elements, and precisely by doing so it investigates a large number of the issues and enquiries which would be at the center of the European tradition of philosophical thought in the centuries to come.
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Author:Gatti, Hilary
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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