Born at Nola, in Campania, in the Kingdom of Naples, 1548, he was
originally named Filippo. His father was Giovanni Bruno, a soldier.
At the age of eleven he traveled to Naples to study the Trivium.
At 15, Bruno entered the Dominican Order, taking the name of Giordano.
He continued his studies, completing his novitiate, and becoming
an ordained priest in 1572.
was interested in philosophy and was an expert on the art of memory;
he wrote books on mnemonic technique, which Frances Yates contends
may have been disguised Hermetic tracts. The writings attributed
to Hermes Trismegistus were, in Bruno's time, recently rediscovered
and at that time were thought to date uniformly to the earliest
days of ancient Egypt. They are now believed to date mostly from
about 300 A.D. and to be associated with Neoplatonism. Bruno embraced
a sort of pantheistic hylozoism, rather than orthodox Christian
was also heavily influenced by the ideas of Copernicus and by
the newly rediscovered ideas of Plato as well as the teachings
ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus. Other influences included
Thomas Aquinas, Averroes, Duns Scotus, Marsilio Ficino, and Nicholas
1576 he left Naples to avoid the attention of the Inquisition.
He left Rome for the same reason and abandoned the Dominican order.
He travelled to Geneva and briefly joined the Calvinists, before
he was excommunicated, ostensibily for his adherence to Copernicanism
and left for France.
1579 he arrived in Toulouse, where he briefly had a teaching position.
At this time, he began to gain fame for his rodigious memory.
Bruno's feats of memory were apparently based, at least in part,
on an elaborate system of mnemonics, but many of his contemporaries
found it easier to attribute them to magical powers.
seven years, he enjoyed the protection of powerful French patrons,
including Henry III. During this period, he published 20 books,
including several on memory training, Cena de le Ceneri (The Ash
Wednesday Supper, 1584), and De l'Infinito, Universo e Mondi (On
the Infinite Universe and Worlds, 1584). In Cena de le Ceneri
he defended the theories of Copernicus, albeit rather poorly.
In De l'Infinito, Universo e Mondi, he argued that the stars we
see at night were just like our Sun, that the universe was infinite,
with a "Plurality of Worlds", and that all were inhabited
by intelligent beings (see the Drake equation). These two works
are jointly known as his "Italian dialogues." In 1582,
Bruno penned a play summarizing some of his cosmological positions,
titled Il Candelaio ("The Torchbearer").
In 1583, he went to England with letters of recommendation from
Henry III. There he sought a teaching position at Oxford, but
appears to have given offense and was denied a position there
(and elsewhere in England).
1585 he returned to Paris. However, his 120 theses against Aristotelian
natural science and his pamphlet against the Catholic mathematician
Fabrizio Mordente soon put him in ill favor. In 1586, following
a violent quarrel about "a scientific instrument", he
left France for Germany.
Germany he failed to obtain a teaching position at Marburg, but
was granted permission to teach at Wittenberg, where he lectured
on Aristotle for two years. However, with a change of intellectual
climate there, he was no longer welcome, and went in 1588 to Prague,
where he obtained 300 taler from Rudolf II, but no teaching position.
He went on to serve briefly as a professor in Helmstedt, but had
to flee again when he was excommunicated by the Lutherans, continuing
the pattern of Bruno's gaining favor from lay authorities before
falling foul of the ecclesiastics of whatever hue.
found him in Frankfurt. Apparently, during the Frankfurt Book
Fair, he received an invitation to Venice from one Zuane Mocenigo,
who wished to be instructed in the art of memory, and also heard
of a vacant chair in mathematics at the University of Padua. Apparently
believing that the Inquisition might have lost some of its impetus,
he returned to Italy.
went first to Padua, where he taught briefly, but the chair he
sought went instead to Galileo Galilei, so he went to the University
of Venice. He briefly functioned as a tutor to Mocenigo, who may
have been disappointed that Bruno was merely teaching him a complex
system of mnemonics rather than some form of magic. When Bruno
attempted to leave Venice, Mocenigo denounced him to the Inquisition.
He was arrested May 22, 1592, and given a first trial hearing
before being sent for trial in Rome in 1593.
In Rome he was imprisoned for six years before he was tried, lastly
in the Tower of Nona. He tried in vain to obtain a personal audience
with Pope Clement VIII, hoping to make peace with the Church through
a partial recantation. His trial, when it finally occurred, was
overseen by the inquisitor, Cardinal Saint Robert Bellarmine,
who demanded a full recantation, which Bruno refused. Consequently,
he was declared a heretic, handed over to secular authorities
on January 8, 1600. At his trial, he said: "Perhaps you,
my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear
than I receive it." A month or so later he was brought to
the Campo de' Fiori, a central Roman market square, his tongue
in a gag, hung upside-down naked and burned at the stake, on February
1889, there has been a monument to Bruno on the site of his execution,
erected by Italian Masonic circles.
the actual charge against Bruno was docetism, (adherence to the
doctrine that Jesus did not actually have a physical body and
that his physical presence was an illusion), and despite the fact
that his theoretical work cannot be considered scientific, some
authors have claimed Bruno as a "martyr of science".
They see a parallel between his persecution and the Galileo affair,
asserting that even though, unlike Galileo, Bruno's theological
beliefs were a factor in his heresy trial, Bruno's Copernicanism
was also a factor.
the above "connection" may be exaggerated, or even plainly
false. For example: according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, "…in 1600 there was no official Catholic
position on the Copernican system, and it was certainly not a
heresy. When…Bruno…was burned at the stake as a heretic,
it had nothing to do with his writings in support of Copernican
cosmology." In fact, the precise charges of heresy on
which Bruno was finally condemned are unknown, as the official
record has long been lost. The role (if any) of his heliocentric
teachings and belief in an infinite universe is not a matter that
can be conclusively proved on either side.
his works were placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1603.
Four hundred years after his execution, official expression of
"profound sorrow" and acknowledgement of error at Bruno's
condemnation to death was made, during the papacy of John Paul
II. Attempts were made by a group of professors in the Catholic
Theological Faculty at Naples, led by the Nolan Domenico Sorrentino
to obtain a full rehabilitation from the Catholic authorities.
However, while the Church was able to express regret for the violent
death of a man, it could not condone the activities of a man who
was, as the London embassy period shows, not in favour of any
sort of religious tolerance and brought about the deaths of Roman
cosmology of Bruno's time
In the second half of the 16th century, the theories of Copernicus
began diffusing through Europe. Although Bruno did not wholly
embrace Copernicus's preference for mathematics over speculation,
he advocated the Copernican view that the earth was not the center
of the universe, and extrapolated some consequences which were
radical departures from the cosmology of the time.
to Bruno, Copernicus's theories contradicted the view of a celestial
sphere, immutable, incorruptible, and superior to the terrestrial
region. Bruno went beyond the heliocentric model to envision a
universe which, like that of Plotinus in the third century A.D.,
or like Blaise Pascal's nearly a century after Bruno, had its
center everywhere and its circumference nowhere.
astronomers of Bruno's generation accepted even Copernicus's heliocentric
model. Among those who did were the Germans Michael Maestlin (1550-1631),
and Cristoph Rothmann and the Englishman Thomas Digges, author
of A Perfit Description of the Caelestial Orbes (sic). Galileo
(1564-1642) and Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) were younger, so they
do not figure at this time. Bruno himself was not an astronomer,
but one of the first to embrace Copernicanism as a world view,
rejecting geocentrism. In works published between 1584 and 1591,
Bruno enthusiastically supported Copernicanism.
to Aristotle and Plato, the universe was a finite sphere. Its
ultimate limit was the primum mobile, whose diurnal rotation was
conferred upon it by a transcendental God, not part of the universe,
a motionless prime mover and first cause. The fixed stars were
part of this celestial sphere, all at the same fixed distance
from the immobile earth at the center of the sphere. Ptolemy had
numbered these at 1,022, grouped into 48 constellations. The planets
were each fixed to a transparent sphere.
conserved the idea of planets fixed to solid spheres, but considered
the apparent motion of the stars to be an actual motion of the
earth; he also preserved the notion of an immobile center, but
it was the Sun rather than the Earth. He expressed no opinion
as to whether the stars were at a uniform distance on a fixed
sphere or scattered through an infinite universe.
Bruno believed, as is now universally accepted, that the Earth
revolves and that the apparent diurnal rotation of the heavens
is an illusion caused by the rotation of the Earth around its
axis. He also saw no reason to believe that the stellar region
was finite, or that all stars were equidistant from a single center
of the universe. In these respects, his views were similar to
those of Thomas Digges in his A Perfit Description of the Caelestial
Digges considered the infinite region beyond the stars to be the
home of God, the angels, and of the holy. He conserved the Ptolemaic
notion of the planetary spheres, considered Earth the only possible
realm of life and death, and a unique place of imperfection and
change, compared against the perfect and changeless heavens.
1584, Bruno published two important philosophical dialogues, in
which he argued against the planetary spheres. (Two years later,
Rothmann did the same in 1586, as did Tycho Brahe in 1587.) Bruno's
infinite universe was filled with a substance -- a "pure
air", aether, or spiritus -- that offered no resistance to
the heavenly bodies which, in Bruno's view, rather than being
fixed, moved under their own impetus. Most dramatically, he completely
abandoned the idea of a hierarchical universe. The Earth was just
one more heavenly body, as was the Sun. God had no particular
relation to one part of the infinite universe more than any other.
God, according to Bruno, was precisely as present on Earth as
in the Heavens, an immanent God rather than a remote heavenly
also affirmed that the universe was homogeneous, made up everywhere
of the four elements (water, earth, fire, and air), rather than
having the stars be composed of a separate quintessence. Essentially,
the same physical laws would operate everywhere, although the
use of that term is anachronistic. Space and time were both conceived
as infinite. There was no room in his stable and permanent universe
for the Christian notions of divine Creation and Last Judgement.
this model, the Sun was simply one more star, and the stars all
suns, each with its own planets. Bruno saw a solar system of a
sun/star with planets as the fundamental unit of the universe.
According to Bruno, infinite God necessarily created an infinite
universe, formed of an infinite number of solar systems, separated
by vast regions full of Aether, because empty space could not
exist. (Bruno did not arrive at the concept of a galaxy.) Comets
were part of a synodus ex mundis of stars, and not -- as other
authors sustained at the time -- ephemeral creations, divine instruments,
or heavenly messengers. Each comet was a world, a permanent celestial
body, formed of the four elements.
cosmology is marked by infinitude, homogeneity, and isotropy,
with planetary systems distributed evenly throughout. Matter follows
an active animistic principle: it is intelligent and discontinuous
in structure, made up of discrete atoms. This animism (and a corresponding
disdain for mathematics as a means to understanding) is the most
dramatic respect in which Bruno's cosmology differs from what
today passes for a common-sense picture of the universe.