With Annotated Translation of His Work
by Dorothea Waley Singer
Giordano Bruno was a man with dangerous thoughts. As a monk in a backward monastery in southern Italy he first fell into disgrace for studying the works of Erasmus. He renounced his vows, and his life from there on was one of constant flight and persecution until he finally perished at the stake in Rome on February 20, 1600.
Giordano Bruno is remembered as one of the "martyrs of science." He was, in fact, among the early admirers of Copernicus whom he followed in maintaining that the earth moved round the sun. But he has an importance far beyond this for his conception of the universe as infinite, devoid of center and circumference. Many of his contributions to scientific and philosophic thought, here treated in simple terms by Mrs. Singer, anticipated modern physical conceptions.
This is the story of a heroic and fearless but exasperating man. The ebullience of Bruno's thoughts, his stormy eloquence, and his strong personality brought him a large and enthusiastic following in the courts and universities of 16th century Europe. Yet with all his talents he was totally devoid of worldly wisdom and incapable of prudent silence. His daring ideas brought embarrassment wherever he went, and in the end he was always forced to seek yet another refuge passing from court to court, from university to university.
The author describes at some length Bruno's two-year sojourn in Elizabethan London -- the only truly happy period of his life. Here, with the friendship and support of such men as Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Philip Sidney, and Sir Fulke Greville, his talents came to their fullest fruition. It was in London that he wrote On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, included here in an English translation, with commentary, by Mrs. Singer. Such was the fear which the ideas expressed in this book aroused that, though produced by a London printer, it was issued surreptitiously with a false place of printing and under a false name. On the Infinite Universe and Worlds was later to be most fatal to Bruno in the judgment of the Papal Tribunal. In it he has made his greatest contribution to the thought of later generations.
The last years of Giordano Bruno's life were spent in the prisons of the Inquisition. As he received judgment he uttered the immortal phrase: "Maybe you who condemn me are in greater fear than I who am condemned."
Dorothea Waley Singer
Mrs. Singer, wife of the noted British historian of science and medicine, Dr. Charles Singer, is well known for her special studies on Giordano Bruno and for her scholarship in medieval and Renaissance science and literature. Her teaching and writing career has taken her on two occasions to this country, where she made lecture tours in 1930 and 1932. Among many other titles, she has held that of Vice President of the History of Science Society in the United States.
Mrs. Singer is the author of Ambroise Paré; Catalogue of Greek Alchemical Manuscripts in Great Britain and Ireland; Catalogue of Latin and Vernacular Alchemical Manuscripts in Great Britain and Ireland Written Before the XVIth Century; and "Comenius and Confidence in the Rational Mind" in J. Needham's The Teacher of Nations.
The environs of Nola.
His Life and Thought
With Annotated Translation of His Work
On the Infinite Universe
by Dorothea Waley Singer
Henry Schuman New York
Copyright 1950 by Henry Schuman, Inc.
Printed in the United States of America
by H. Wolff Book Manufacturing Co.
BRUNO died, despised and suffering, after eight years of agony. From that moment, his works have attracted interest, and he has long been recognized as an important figure in the development of modern thought. Nevertheless, few are familiar with the many and often bewildering pages of his writings. His Italian works have their place in the history of Italian literature. The Latin works in prose and verse are much more bulky and diffuse, but the few who grapple with them are rewarded by passages of great beauty and eloquence.
Though he came in time between Copernicus (1473-1543), whom he constantly cites, and Galileo (1564-1642), who had considered his views, it would nevertheless be altogether misleading to regard Bruno as developing the tradition of the one or as leading to the work of the other. Rather his place is in the line of philosophic thought which has taken its somewhat surprising course from the mystic Pseudo-Dionysius (fifth century) to modern exponents of dialectic materialism. But though in no sense a man of science, he betrays certain remarkable premonitions of modern physical thought. Again, he has a place in the long series of writers on the plurality of worlds, following Nicolaus of Cusa (1401-1464) and leading on to Wilkins (1614-1672), Huygens (1629-1695) and Fontenelle (1657-1757).
In the sixteen years of his freedom, Bruno wandered over half of Europe. At first welcomed by groups anxious to hear his teaching, his presence always led to embarrassment, and he was passed on to fresh patrons. It is remarkable that such a wanderer should have become so well read. Paradoxically, the two writers who most influenced his cosmological views were Lucretius and Nicolaus of Cusa who occupy opposite philosophical poles, Lucretius denying the validity of theological or metaphysical thinking while Nicolaus sought in his cosmology and even in his physical experiments a reinforcement of his theology. Bruno was neither astronomer nor theologian; but contemporary astronomical writings contributed to the cosmology which was the passionate faith of his life, and he was led by his cosmology to a new ethic and a new philosophy.
In presenting an account of the life and thought of Bruno, it might seem more logical to give a narrative of the facts of his life, followed by a study of his cosmology and philosophy. But Bruno's life and especially his wanderings are inextricably involved in the development of his thought, and the main interest of the years after he left England is in the works that he produced in the places where he sojourned. It has seemed best therefore first to describe his early life and then to build up an account of his environment during the crucial and fruitful period in London. The main lines of his cosmology and philosophy were determined before he left London, so that is the point chosen for a general survey of Bruno's thought, and a somewhat detailed analysis is given of the six Italian works that were the immediate product of the London period. We then follow the wanderer after he left London. During these years the most important events were the completion and publication of his Latin works. The MSS so far discovered, not published by Bruno himself, do not add to his serious contribution. (Cf. Appendices I and III.)
We have chosen for translation the slender Italian volume, On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, because it was Bruno's ecstatic vision of a single infinite universe that was most fatal to him in the judgement of the Papal Tribunal, that sustained him "in enchantment" during the years of agony, and that has contributed most to the thought of his successors. In preparing the translation, the first question to determine was the desirability of pruning Bruno's exuberant repetitions. On the whole it has seemed best to give the work as it was published. Abbreviated editions are apt to be flat, and the reader will probably prefer to choose his own cuts. This decision having been made, it seemed that the English of Bruno's own day would fit his redundant style better than more modern language. It was the more tempting to choose this medium since it has led to the employment of the very phrases given by Florio, who used this work of Bruno in preparing the second edition of his Worlde of Wordes.
I should like to express my warm thanks to Professor Foligno who most generously went through with me the whole translation of On the Infinite Universe and Worlds. To Professor Farrington I am indebted for help with some of the more obscure of Bruno's Latin passages. It is to be hoped that he will find leisure to give an English version of some of the greater Latin writings of Bruno. In common with all who are interested in the group of brilliant foreigners who form part of the picture of Elizabethan London, I am indebted to the scholarly works of Miss Frances Yates. Professor Linetta Richardson was kind enough to read the typescript and to make helpful suggestions. From Professor P. O. Kristeller I have received valuable criticism. To all these I tender grateful thanks, and to my husband whose study of William Gilbert first suggested to us both more than ten years ago that a study of Bruno's influence on cosmological thought would be of interest. He has contributed to the final revision of the work; but he must not be held responsible for its errors.
I am indebted to Doctor Cyril Bailey and to the Clarendon Press for permission to quote from his fine translation of Lucretius (Oxford, 1910); and to the late Lord Willoughby de Broke for a photograph of his beautiful portrait of Sir Fulke Greville, with permission to reproduce it.
The first sketch of the present work was written in the Library of the University of California at Berkeley. I cannot sufficiently express my admiration and gratitude for the hospitality of this institution and for the splendid organization for the reader's convenience. The bulk of the material for the study of Bruno's thought I have found in the treasury collected at the Warburg Institute, now incorporated in the University of London. To its late Director, its Deputy Director and Staff I tender cordial thanks. I have once more to express my thanks also to the never-failing kindness received from the Staff of the British Museum.
The events of the last years have delayed the completion of this work, and it probably bears marks of the interruption in its progress. The important place given to Giordano Bruno by modern thinkers bears a message of encouragement to many in our own day whose life work has also been broken by violence and injustice. To them we say with him, "Veritas filia temporis."
D. W. S.
APPENDIX I List of Bruno's Writings
APPENDIX II Printers of Bruno
APPENDIX III Surviving Manuscripts of Bruno's Works
APPENDIX IV Select Bibliography of Bruno's Philosophy
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