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The State of Giordano Bruno Studies at the End of the Four-Hundredth Centenary of the Philosopher's Death.

The documents relating to Giordano Bruno's eight-year long trial for heresy at the hands of first the Venetian and then the Roman Inquisition, and to his execution in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome on 17 February 1600, have been gradually coming to light since Bruno's first Italian biographer, Domenico Berti, started to publish them in 1876. They were finally gathered together over a number of years in the second half of the twentieth century, and expertly edited, by one of Italy's most prestigious historians, Luigi Firpo, who did not live to see the results of his work in print. Published in 1993 as Jiprocesso di Giordano Bruno (Rome: Salerno Editrice) under the direction of Diego Quaglioni, this volume at last allows an almost complete overview of Bruno's dramatic debate with the Roman Catholic theologians (among them such distinguished figures as the Jesuit, Roberto Bellarmino, not to mention Pope Clement VIII) which took him from his arrest on 22 May 1592, in the house of the Venetian nobleman Zuane Mocenigo -- who had invited him to act as his teacher in the arts of memory -- to the official Avviso of 19 February 1600, announcing his death at the stake in Rome:

Thursday morning in Campo dei Fiori that vile Dominican friar from Nola was burnt alive. He was a most obstinate heretic who had capriciously convinced himself of a number of dogmas contrary to our faith, and particularly to the Virgin and the Saints, and who insisted on dying without repenting: evil man that he was. And he said that he died a martyr and willingly, and that his soul would rise with the smoke towards paradise. But by now he will have found out if he was right about that. (356)

Although a small number of new documents have emerged from the newly opened secret archives of the Inquisition, and are gradually being presented and commented on by Leen Spruit, author of a study of Bruno's epistemology, Il problema della conoscenza in Giordano Bruno (Naples: Bibliopolis, 1988), it is unlikely that there will be any fundamental changes to our picture of the remarkable ideological and intellectual struggle which marked both the final years of Bruno's life and a crucial moment in the claim of western philosophy to free itself from the dogmas of the theologians. Unfortunately the violent manner of Bruno's death, as well as the intensity of the sentiments which surrounded it, branded his name as a dangerous one for decades, and even for centuries -- a suspicion from which it is perhaps not entirely free even today. It is precisely this prolonged aura of suspicion that highlights the importance of a number of studies published in the second half of the twentieth century which, stimulated directl y by the masterly teaching of Eugenio Garin, have documented as never before the presence of Bruno at the highest and most advanced levels of the European philosophical, as well as the wider cultural and literary discussion, from the moment of his death until our own times. Of note in this context are Rita Sturlese's Bibliografia, censimento e storia delle antiche stampe di Giordano Bruno (Florence: Olschki, 1987); Saverio Ricci's La fortuna del pensiero di Giordano Bruno, 1600-1750 (Florence: Le Lettere, 1991); and Brunus redivivus. Momenti della fortuna di Giordano Bruno nel XIX secolo, edited by Eugenio Canone (Pisa and Rome: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 1998).

Apart from the more specifically philosophical interest in his works, fully documented by the above mentioned volumes as well as by a number of essays by other scholars of various schools and nations, Bruno's Italian fortuna in the nineteenth century vibrated out towards far wider social and political components of the newly united and independent peninsula as he suddenly, and perhaps unexpectedly, became a powerful ideological focus for those libertarian and radical movements which were opposed to compromise between the new State and the Roman Church. The long and complicated series of events which eventually led to the undoubtedly provocative erection by various libertarian forces of the statue of Bruno in Campo dei Fiori -- almost exactly on the spot on which he had been burnt, and inaugurated before a large crowd on 9 June 1889 -- have long been veiled in silence. In the last decade of the twentieth century, however, they too were fully documented in a series of illustrated publications by Lars Berggren -- in Swedish as Giordano Bruno pa Campo dei Fiori. Ett monumentprojekt i Rom 1876-1889 (Lund: Artifex, 1991), and in Italian, with Lennart Sjostedt, as L'Ombra dei Grandi. Monumenti e politica monumentale a Roma 1870-1895 (Rome: Artemide, 1996) -- and another salient episode in the tormented story of the Nolan philosopher was at last placed on a solid historical and archival footing.

It was in this situation of a continental revival of Bruno studies of extraordinary importance in placing his intellectual figure and story on a newly researched and documented basis that an initiative for a new edition of his collected works was successfully launched in the last decade of the twentieth century by the newly founded Centro internazionale di studi bruniani presided over by Giovanni Aquilecchia and sponsored by the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici in Naples. Directed by Yves Hersant -- editor of a previous French edition of Le banquet des cendres (Paris: Editions de l'Eclat, 1988) -- and Nuccio Ordine -- author of La cabala dell'asino: asinita e conoscenza in Giordano Bruno (Naples: Liguori, 1987) -- and published by Les Belles Lettres in Paris, this French edition of Bruno's Oeuvres completes fulfilled its aim of producing the entire series of Bruno's Italian works in a critical edition edited (with varying degrees of success) by different scholars in seven volumes, with facing Frenc h translations, by the centenary year of 2000. This was indeed no mean achievement, even if it meant a somewhat hurried edition of the Eroici furori edited by Miguel Granada, whose important work as the Spanish translator of Bruno, as well as his studies of the cosmology in both its physical and metaphysical implications, have established him over the years as a major Bruno scholar, and who had earlier edited the best of the Belles Lettres volumes: the De l'infinito, universo e mondi. Nevertheless, the most incisive aspect of this French edition of Bruno -- which may be seen, among other things, as a fir testimonial to the crucial years spent by the Nolan in the French capital from 1581 to 1583 -- is undoubtedly the inclusion of the final texts of Bruno's Italian works established over half a century by the remarkable philological activity of Giovanni Aquilecchia. Whether or not in the future faults will be detected in these texts, the quality of Aquilecchia's work as the foremost authority on Bruno's Italian dialogues, based as it is on a passionate and minute study of the work of his predecessors as well as a profound knowledge of Italian Renaissance linguistic and literary modes, is beyond question, and deserves to be fully recognized by all Bruno scholars. Aquilecchia has recently defended his work against early signs of criticism of these texts. His subtly argued contribution published in the Giornale storico della letteratura italiana (179 [3]: fasc. 579 [2000]) suggests that Bruno scholars would be well advised to challenge them only with the greatest prudence and care.

It is therefore all the more to be deplored that this centenary year, so long awaited by Bruno scholars and readers, has been repeatedly marred by a bitter and (on both sides) wounding public polemic between the team of scholars and publishers associated with the French edition and those associated with the Italian edition of the same works, edited by Michele Ciliberto and launched by the publisher Mondadori of Milan with much public acclaim and an immediate and large diffusion, on the day of the commemoration of Bruno's death in Rome. Behind this argument -- which continued throughout the commemorative year and seems likely to drag on into the future, to the serious detriment of Bruno studies in all quarters -- lie serious problems concerning the copyright of work on historical texts of canonical authors which often, as in this case, represents the effort of a lifetime. It is, however, to be hoped that the work presently in progress by the team of scholars who originally produced the French edition to transl ate their results into a further Italian edition for the publisher UTET of Turin will have the effect of calming the agitated waters which have done so much to disturb the numerous celebratory activities long scheduled for the year 2000.

The Mondadori edition of Bruno's Italian philosophical dialogues is only one of the initiatives undertaken during this commemorative year by Michele Ciliberto, president of the official Comitato Nazionale per le Celebrazioni di Giordano Bruno nel IV Centenario della morte as well as President of the prestigious Istituto Nazionale di Studi sul Rinascimento in Florence. Ciliberto's standing as a Bruno scholar of the first rank goes back to his Lessico di Giordano Bruno produced in 1979 for the Lessico Intellettuale Europeo in Rome -- still an essential terminological tool for any serious scholar of Bruno -- as well as to a series of volumes which have had the merit of bringing the often (at first sight) obscure and abstruse ideas of the Nolan philosopher to a wide public of students and general readers, in particular his Giordano Bruno (1990), the introduction of the Eroici furori edited by Simonetta Bassi (1995), and Introduzione a Bruno (1996). [1] Such a concept of his duty as a Bruno scholar is indeed enti rely coherent with respect to the idea that Ciliberto proposes of Bruno as a fundamentally antihierarchical thinker, both at the level of his ontology, his infinitist, homogeneous cosmology, and at the level of his social philosophy; a thinker for whom, as Mercury reminds his readers in the Spaccio della bestia trionfante, every smallest minuzzaria must be faithfully recorded in the book of time.

The numerous activities undertaken by the Comitato nazionale per le Celebrazioni di Giordano Bruno nel IV Centenario della morte during the commemorative year have tended to support this work of an ever-wider diffusion of qualified knowledge of Bruno's life and works. They include major publications such as the collected works on magic, complete with Italian translations, in the first-ever integral edition based on the surviving manuscript transcriptions, edited by Simonetta Bassi, Nicoletta Tirinnanzi and Elisabetta Scapparone (Milan: Adelphi, 2000), as well as a richly endowed exhibition mounted in the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome which, for the first time, presented copies of all the first editions of Bruno's Italian and Latin works, and was accompanied by a densely documented catalogue written by Eugenio Canone, founder and editor -- together with Germana Ernst -- of the review Bruniana e Campanelliana. Finally, to close the activities of this commemorative year, the Comitato nazionale, in the person o f its president who was present throughout the occasion, organized a major conference in Naples on Bruno's philosophy, co-ordinated together with the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, the State University Federico II and the Istituto Universitario Orientale whose Rector, Mario Agrimi, is himself a Bruno scholar. [2]

Another pole of Italian activity concerning Bruno has been traditionally the Scuola Normale Superiore of the University of Pisa, where Eugenio Garin held the historic seminar which gave rise to many of the documentary works mentioned at the beginning of this paper as well as to some interpretative works of importance such as Luciana de Bernart's Immaginazione e scienza in Giordano Bruno: L'infinito nelle forme dell'esperienza (Pisa: ETS Editrice, 1986); while the reflection on the infinite in Bruno's thought has continued at the Scuola with the work of Antonella del Prete, author of Universo infinito e pluralita dei mondi (Naples: La Citta del Sole, 1998). Rita Sturlese's well-documented and varied studies of Bruno's thought include a particularly interesting reflection on the technical aspects of his art of memory in her article "Il De imaginum, signorum et idearum compositione di Giordano Bruno e il significato filosofico dell'arte della memoria" (in Giornale critico dellafilosofia italiana 69 [1990]) and her edition of De umbris idearum (Florence: Olschki, 1991). In the literary sphere, the distinguished Italianist Lina Bolzoni -- a pupil of Nicola Badaloni, author of Giordano Bruno: tra cosmologia edetica (Ban: De Donato, 1988), has started to apply her work on the literary memory in La stanza del/a memoria (Turin: Einaudi, 1995) [3] to some of Bruno's Italian dialogues; while pupils of her own, such as Maria Pia Ellero, are producing innovative work on the linguistic and literary codes in which Bruno presented his philosophical ideas.

It would, however, be a mistake to give the impression that this mounting and ever-more qualified activity concerning Bruno is to be limited to the Italian cultural scene. What Michele Ciliberto himself has called the recent "Bruno Renaissance" has involved almost all the major continental cultures, most of which the philosopher had visited during his long and nomadic exile -- documented in the new biography by Saverio Ricci, Giordano Bruno nell'Europa del cinquecento (Rome: Salerno editrice, 2000) -- from the Italy of the Counter-reformation. Undoubtedly the Belles Lettres edition has stimulated Bruno activity in France where a number of conferences have marked the commemorative year, and where new books have been published such as the biography by Bertrand Levergeois (Paris: Fayard, 1995) and the philosophical study by Tristan Dagron, Unite de l'etre et dialectique. Lidee de philosophie naturelle chez Giordano Bruno (Paris: Vrin, 1999). Germany, too, where Bruno published some of his major works in Latin, has been particularly active in producing translations of Bruno's texts, as well as a number of notable Bruno scholars such as Paul Richard Blum, an expert on Bruno's use of the peripatetic and scholastic philosophical traditions, and Angelika Bonker Vallon, who has made a study of Bruno's mathematics -- in particular in relation to the paradoxes of the infinite -- and who organized the Wittenberg conference in commemoration of his death.

Coming finally to the situation in the English-speaking world, it is impossible not to note a far less innovative and stimulating climate of Bruno studies, which seem to have remained substantially anchored to the hermetic interpretation of Bruno's life and works proposed by Frances Yates in Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul and Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1964), which has often been defined as "an epoch-making book." Indeed, Yates's powerfully argued book, together with her later pages on Bruno's mnemotechnical works in her Art of Memory (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), conditioned Bruno criticism not only in England and the United States, but also in continental Europe for over two decades; and there is no question of her being ignored by any serious Bruno scholar even today. Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny that there has been, in the wider field of Bruno studies, a long "querelle" with regard to the Yatesian "hermetic" Bruno; with the result that the most recent season of Bruno studies can be more properly defined as "post-Yatesian" rather than as directly developed in the light of her dominant hermeticism. Such developments appear, however, to have stimulated only dim echoes in the English-speaking world, where most Bruno studies are still the domain of declared disciples such as E. A. Gosselin, whose pioneering English translation of The Ash Wednesday Supper (New York: Archon Books, 1977), carried out together with L. Lerner in terms of a yet more radical hermetic approach than that of Yates herself, has recently been re-published in both Canada and the United States. Also the younger generation of Bruno scholars in London, such as Stephen Clucas (who is making a detailed study of Bruno's memory works) and Dilwyn Knox (who is studying Bruno in relation to the Neoplatonic tradition), tend to refer to the prestigious Warburgian scholar, even two decades after her death in 1981, as the inevitable starting-point and to some extent still the domina ting influence on their work. The well-documented and well-written book by Karen De Leon Jones on Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997) also essentially follows in the path indicated by Yates, although transposing her hermetic reading into a kabbalistic key which the Warburg scholar herself had indicated as viable, but had then left largely unexplored.

Even when new readings are proposed in the English-speaking world, they appear to go in somewhat uncertain and sometimes abortive directions. For example, John Bossy's suggestion in Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991) that Bruno was to be identified with the spy known as Henry Faggott, active in the French Embassy in London during Bruno's stay there as a gentleman attendant to the French ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, caused some immediate excitement among general readers but has failed to leave a permanent mark on Bruno studies in the absence of any definitive documentary proof. Much more promising of future development, as indicating at last a willingness to admit Bruno to the field of serious philosophical study, is the new English translation of one of the major Italian dialogues, Cause Principle and Unity -- and, in the same volume, the first ever English translation of some of the Essays on Magic -- edited by Richard J. Blackwell and Robert de Lucca with an introduction by Alfonso Ingegno (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) included in Desmond Clark's series, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. In a literary dimension, Lia Buono Hodgart has proposed a rigorously ethical interpretation of Bruno's only drama Candelaio in Giordano Bruno's 'The Candle-Bearer': An Enigmatic Renaissance Play (Lewiston and Queenston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997). Furthermore, such disparate but promising initiatives seem destined to increase and develop in exciting ways now that Ingrid Rowland is working on a much-needed new English translation of the Eroici furori while on a Getty grant in California where, among other advantages, she can use many of the books personally owned by Frances Yates. It was also in California, at the University of California at Los Angeles, that Massimo Ciavolella, of the Italian Department, organized a study-day in memory of Bruno during the commemorative year.

In this reviving state of English-language Bruno studies, which still remain somewhat muted and uncertain with respect to the renewed fervour of continental scholars, my own work in Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999) [4] has tried to bring Bruno back into the field of the history of the new science, although underlining his affinity with some of the developments in the field of the new post-relativity physics and mathematics rather than with the classical, mechanistic sciences of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with which he was often out of tune. Although unknown to me when I wrote my book, a similar approach had already been adopted above all in the cosmological field by Ramon G. Mendoza in The Acentric Labyrinth: Giordano Bruno's Prelude to Contemporary Cosmology (Shaftesbury and Rockport: Element, 1995). This newly scientific approach to Bruno, which once again considers him as a participant of note in the new enquiries into the order of the physical world which characterized European, and particularly English culture in the second part of the sixteenth century, was not only the subject of an important conference organized by the historian of science, Arcangelo Rossi, at the State University of the "Sapienza" in Rome in February 2000, to coincide with the celebratory events of the four-hundredth anniversary of Bruno's death, but also characterized many of the papers given at the London conference sponsored by The British Society for the History of Philosophy and hosted by University College London in June 2000.

The importance of the Italian Department at University College in acting as a new focal point in the English-speaking world for Bruno studies can hardly be over-stated. Ever since Giovanni Aquilecchia retired from his teaching post at the Royal Holloway University of London and took up an Honorary Research Fellowship at University College, the Italian Department at Gower Street has become the meeting place of Bruno scholars both young and old, Italian and English, and an important hub of new research and discovery. Examples of younger scholars working more or less directly in the wake of the teaching and example of Giovanni Aquilecchia -- whose Schede bruniane (1950 - 1991) (Manziana: Vecchiarelli editore, 1993) is dedicated "Ai valenti brunisti della nuova generazione" -- are Leo Catana from Denmark who is working on Hyginus and Cusanus as sources of some of Bruno's major themes; and Tiziana Provvidera, who can already boast the discovery of one of the most important Bruno documents to emerge from the archiv es in the twentieth century: that is, the note, written only a few weeks after the event, informing the Earl of Essex of Bruno's death at the stake in Rome ("Essex e il Nolanus. Un nuovo documento inglese su Bruno" in Bruniana e campanelliana 4 [1998]).

In 1600, Essex -- who was the first in England, according to our present state of knowledge, to hear of Bruno's death -- was already in trouble as the rebel who would soon be executed by Queen Elizabeth for high treason, and whose use of Shakespeare's company to act Richard II on the eve of his public protest is well-known. The discovery of this document adds a new conviction to that wavering and inconstant but nevertheless brilliant tradition of Bruno-Shakespeare studies which, originating in the late nineteenth century in Germany, was carried on by, among others, Frances Yates in sometimes debatable but always stimulating terms. [5] In recent years, Italian scholars of English literature have added new dramas and new ideas to this field of study, including the related relationship between Bruno and Christopher Marlowe, in particular Gilberto Sacerdoti's Nuovo cielo, nuova terra: la rivelazione copernicana di 'Antonio e Cleopatra' (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990), and Rosanna Camerlingo's Teatro e-teologia: Marlow e, Bruno e i puritani (Naples: Liguori, 1999). In the light of the new Essex document, the whole relationship between Bruno and the Elizabethan dramatists appears as a particularly promising field for further research, and one which could yield exciting and unexpected results.

In conclusion, in spite of the lacerating effects of the polemic between the scholars responsible for the two principal editions of Bruno's works to appear in recent years, the field of Bruno studies at the end of an intense and active year celebrating the four-hundredth centenary of the philosopher's death appears to be particularly productive and fertile. The sheer numbers of those, at least in continental Europe, who are dedicating their research to Bruno's life and works are such that it has been possible to mention only a few of the many notable Bruno scholars active at this time, and of the publishing and other initiatives promoted by them. Even while writing this review, a new book appeared, Sandro Mancini's La sfera infinita: identita e differenza nel pensiero di Giordano Bruno (Milan: Mimesis, 2000), on Bruno's strictly philosophical speculation, the aspect of his work which has been at the centre of Italian enquiry in recent years. And the review Paradigmi: rivista di critica filosofica, directed b y Franco Bianco, appeared with a commemorative number, edited by Germana Ernst and Eugenio Canone, dedicated to the philosopher from Nola. This intense Bruno activity which seems to have overtaken continental scholars of late makes the simple task of keeping up with such a rapidly increasing bibliography an arduous one. Between the writing of this review and its publication, there will undoubtedly have been further developments in this extraordinary European revival of Giordano Bruno studies. [6]

Above all, however, it seems that the celebratory year has had the effect of developing a renewed consciousness of the importance of the Nolan philosopher as representing a significant turning-point towards modernity in its multiple facets and trends. No longer a philosopher for a restricted elite of Bruno "specialists," the need for new editions and commentaries in many languages appears established as a constant and increasingly global publishing demand: it is worth noting that the French edition of the Oeuvres completes has already begun to be translated into both Japanese and Chinese. Indeed, as Giovanni Aquilecchia claimed in his inaugural address to the members of the recent commemorative conference in London, Bruno appears to have emerged not as a philosopher of the Renaissance but as the philosopher of the Renaissance, and perhaps even more, if we wish to adopt the fashionable terminology, as the philosopher who leads into the early modern world.

(1.) All three of these volumes published by Laterza, Bari-Rome.

(2.) See his "Giordano Bruno: filosofo del linguaggio" in Studi filosofici: Annali dell' Istituto Universitario Orientale, 2 (1979).

(3.) An English translation of this work titled The Gallery of Memory is forthcoming from the Toronto University Press.

(4.) Italian translation forthcoming in the series Scienza e Idee, directed by Giulio Giorello (Milan: Raffaello Cortina Editore).

(5.) The story of this tradition is told in my annotated bibliography of Bruno-Shakespeare studies in The Renaissance Drama of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 1989.

(6.) Relatively up-to-date bibliographies are included in both Giordano Bruno: dilaoghi filosofici italiani, ed. Michele Ciliberto, bibliography ed. Maria Elena Severini (Milano: Mondadori, 2000), 1459-74, and Saverio Ricci, Giordano Bruno nell'Europa del cinquecento (Rome: Salerno editrice, 2000), 618-29).
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Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2001
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