Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic
Giordano Bruno was a philosopher before his time.
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Profuse thinker, writer
Yet throughout his life, he wrote and published copiously: poetry, plays, books on the art of memory, philosophical tracts, and essays expounding his evolving theories of infinity. His attempts to find an adequate means to measure and calculate both the infinite and the infinitesimal led directly to his formulation of atomic theory.
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Unsurprisingly, his theories were far too expansive and threatening to the dogmatic religious authorities of his day. Thus, after nearly a decade in prison, first in Venice and then in Rome, he was condemned as a heretic by the Inquisition in 1600 and suffered a heretic’s fate: burned at the stake.
Still, Ms. Rowland’s “Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic” is less a biography of the man than a largely uncritical examination of his vast literary and philosophical output, with the few facts of his life offered as source material or a mere framework for the discussion of his writings.
The early chapters are a testament to the risks of speaking out or thinking originally in a society ruled by a repressive regime.
Because of the lack of factual information, the author frequently substitutes conjecture and inference such as “[he] must have read” or “must have known” or “must have met” for factual evidence.
Further, Rowland assumes a specialist’s knowledge of Renaissance politics, religion, and philosophy which may leave one wanting for the nonexistent Cliff Notes on philosophers and significant figures of the Counter-Reformation in Rome and Naples.
And as Bruno wrote copiously, so does Rowland quote copiously – page upon 8-point-type page of it, much of it imponderably obscure. Only rarely does she attempt to convey the color, vigor, and clamor of life in a Renaissance city.
Frequently tangled in the web of her own scholarship and Bruno’s sophistry, she seems unable to distinguish between Bruno’s flights of insightful genius, which, as in the works of many Renaissance authors, lie cheek by jowl with ideas we now find arcane or hopelessly naive.
For the sake of knowledge
But “Giordano Bruno: Philosopher/Heretic” is not without merit. It is a rare excursion into the cosmos of sumptuous prose and philosophical delight as exemplified by Giles of Viterbo, Erasmus of Rotterdam, and Giordano Bruno.
It is a venture into a lost world where man’s pursuit of spiritual understanding and wisdom made for bestseller reading – and where such journeys into the uncharted territory of infinity led these philosophers to examine ideas which although rejected at the time, proved to be modern beyond their and our wildest dreams.
M.M. Bennetts is a freelance writer living in Hampshire, England.