In late January, our book group is discussing Mark Edmundson’s essay, “On the Uses of a Liberal Education.” Then we’re going to read Panofsky’s Life and Art of Albrecht Durer. In the future, we may discuss more essays; perhaps the group will change from a “book group” to an “essay group.”
Finally, finally I’m going to finish my discussion of Bruno, which I began in early November, and often promised to finish. If you’re interested in Bruno/Hermetism, you may want to look at that earlier issue before you read this issue.
Bruno was born in 1548, two years before Shakespeare. He was born in a small town called Nola, hence he called himself “the Nolan.” He joined the Dominican order, but when he was 28, he was accused of heresy, and fled. “Thereafter began his life of wandering through Europe.”1
Yates turns first to Bruno’s early works on the art of memory (a subject to which she later devoted an entire volume). She says that the art of memory has a long history:
|The Roman orators used a mnemonic which is... referred to by Cicero and Quintilian. It consisted in memorizing a series of places in a building, and attaching to these memorized places, images to remind of the points of the speech. The orator when delivering his speech, passed in imagination along the order of memorized places, plucking from them the images which were to remind him of his notions.2|
During the Renaissance, the ancient art of memory was expanded, and was “understood as a method of printing basic or archetypal images on the memory, with the cosmic order itself as the ‘place’ system, a kind of inner way of knowing the universe.”3 This new approach to the art of memory was popular among Renaissance Neoplatonists and Hermetists; it reached its culmination in Bruno, just as Renaissance Hermetism in general reached its culmination in Bruno. Bruno’s art of memory is much more than a tool for remembering information; it is part of his philosophy, part of his Hermetic worldview. “Bruno’s art of memory is a magical art, a Hermetic art.”4
Like magic in general, the magic art of memory aimed to achieve results:
|By using magical or talismanic images as memory-images, the Magus hoped to acquire universal knowledge, and also powers, obtaining through the magical organization of the imagination a magically powerful personality, tuned in, as it were, to the powers of the cosmos5.... The magic images were placed on the wheel of the memory system to which corresponded other wheels on which were remembered all the physical contents of the terrestrial world — elements, stones, metals, herbs and plants, animals, birds, and so on — and the whole sum of human knowledge accumulated through the centuries through the images of one hundred and fifty great men and inventors. The possessor of this system thus rose above time and reflected the whole universe of nature and of man in his mind.6|
Yates thinks that Bruno’s magical art of memory may be inspired by the ancient Gnostic-Hermetic writings, which spoke of “the reflection of the universe in the mind.” The goal of this process was to understand God, and to become god-like. Yates quotes the ancient writings:
|Unless you make yourself equal to God, you cannot understand God: for the like is not intelligible save to the like. Make yourself grow to a greatness beyond measure, by a bound free yourself from the body; raise yourself above all time, become Eternity; then you will understand God.... Draw into yourself all sensations of everything created, fire and water, dry and moist, imagining that you are everywhere, on earth, in the sea, in the sky, that you are not yet born, in the maternal womb, adolescent, old, dead, beyond death. If you embrace in your thought all things at once, times, places, substances, qualities, quantities, you may understand God.7|
Lofty thoughts! Bruno’s art of memory aims to strengthen not just the memory, but the whole soul. According to Bruno, “by imprinting the figures of the zodiac on the fantasy ‘you may gain possession of a figurative art which will assist, not only the memory, but all the powers of the soul in a wonderful way’.... When the parts of the universal species are not described separately but in relation to their underlying order — what is there that we may not understand, memorize, and do?”8 Bruno’s art of memory is a way of making the universe into an organic whole, a way of linking all the objects in the universe to each other. One world (unus mundus): this is Hermetism in a nutshell.
Bruno wrote a book on the making of talismans (magic images). The purpose of talismans, for Bruno, is to enrich the personality, “to attract into the personality through imaginative concentration on these images, these twelve principles or powers (only the good aspects of them) and so to become a Solar, Jovial and Venereal Magus.”9 Bruno’s magic is similar to Ficino’s; Ficino “did aim at changing the personality, from a melancholy Saturnian one into a happier and more fortunate Jovial-Solar-Venereal type.”10 Ficino had aimed to cure melancholy; Bruno aimed higher, he aimed at enriching the personality, developing higher powers, godlike powers. “Why [Bruno asked] do so few understand and apprehend the internal power? He who in himself sees all things, is all things.”11 Bruno’s magic is “Ficino’s talismanic magic used inwardly to form a Magus.... It is really quite a logical development from Ficino; once you start a religion, there is no knowing what it may become.”12
As a magician, Bruno was more willing to deal with demons than Ficino, or Pico, or John Dee, or even Agrippa.13 Bruno was bolder, and more un-Christian, than most other magicians.
Bruno’s magic is an obscure subject, so let’s try to make it clearer by connecting it to something we understand. When we discussed inspirational literature, we said that writers like James Allen urge us to “think positive,” to keep our thoughts directed at a positive goal. Our thoughts shape our circumstances, says Allen; As A Man Thinketh is the title of Allen’s most well-known book. Isn’t this similar to what Bruno is doing? Bruno is urging us to improve ourselves by concentrating on positive images, images of virtue, beauty, power, etc. Positive images lead to positive thoughts, which lead to positive actions, which lead to a positive personality.
For Bruno and for Renaissance Neoplatonists, a magic image is identical to (or at least similar to) a Platonic idea. I’ve long believed that Platonic ideas are akin to Jungian archetypes, and I noticed that, in her discussion of Bruno’s magic, Yates makes frequent use of the word “archetype.” Perhaps a Jungian archetype, such as the archetype of the self, can be compared to a Platonic idea (perhaps we can call it “the idea of the self,” or “the idea of wholeness”), and portrayed by an artist (as a cross with four equal parts, for example, or as a cross with a circle — a mandala). Such a portrayal could be regarded as a magic image à la Bruno. One can imagine someone putting this image on their wall, looking at it every morning, stamping it on their memory, and perhaps, as a result, enriching their personality, becoming more whole. If inspirational literature is based on the power of positive thoughts, Bruno’s magic is based on the power of positive images. I hope this helps the reader to understand Bruno’s magic, and Bruno’s system of “magic memory,” too.
Perhaps a magic image is more effective if it’s a great work of art. Were the great paintings and the great cathedrals of the Renaissance intended to have an effect on the viewer, intended to enrich his personality? As I mentioned earlier, Yates regards Botticelli’s “Primavera” as a magic image, “a talismanic Venus [expanded] into a richer classical form.”14
Are images more effective than words — more apt to enrich the personality, more easily stamped on the memory? Bruno and other magicians seemed to think so. Bruno thought that the best writing systems were image-based systems, ideogram systems — like Egyptian hieroglyphs, or Chinese characters. These ideogram systems (in Bruno’s view) are in direct contact with reality (since they consist of pictures of actual things). Compared to these ideogram systems, sound systems (phonetic alphabets) like Greek, Latin and other European languages, are (in Bruno’s view) a step backward.15 Here, as elsewhere, Bruno (and many of his contemporaries) had a high opinion of the ancient Egyptians.
As Bruno’s magic images remind us of Jung’s archetypes, so too Bruno’s remarks on dreams remind us of Jung. Bruno quotes with approval from the book On Dreams, by the Hellenistic writer Synesius. Synesius believed that “divine and miraculous images [were] impressed on the imagination in dreams.”16 In this case, we aren’t creating magic images to enrich the personality, but rather, the unconscious is presenting us with magic images to enrich the personality. Bruno’s work would certainly be a fertile field for a Jungian to explore. Perhaps the reason why Bruno hasn’t (as far as I know) been explored by Jungians is that Bruno had little interest in alchemy. In Renaissance times, the Hermetic tradition and the alchemical tradition followed paths that were parallel but separate.
According to the ancient Hermetic writings, the Hermetic religion of Egypt was eventually suppressed by legal statutes. Augustine interpreted this to mean that Christianity had suppressed an inferior, pagan religion. Bruno, however, argued that “the false Christian ‘Mercuries’ have suppressed the better Egyptian religion.”17 Bruno regarded both Christianity and Judaism as inferior to Egyptian Hermetism, which he wrongly believed to be more ancient than Christianity or Judaism.
Bruno had a flair for beating his own drum, for boastful self-promotion.18 After abandoning the Dominican habit, and leaving Italy, he spent several years in Paris. Then he decided to try his luck in England, and wrote to the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University:
|Philotheus Jordanus Brunus Nolanus [that is, God-loving Giordano Bruno of Nola], doctor of a more abstruse theology, professor of a purer and more innocuous wisdom, noted in the best academies of Europe, an approved and honorably received philosopher, a stranger nowhere save amongst the barbarous and ignoble, the waker of sleeping souls.... who regards not the anointed head, the forehead signed with the cross, the washed hands, the circumcised penis, but (where the man may be known by his face) the culture of the mind and soul.19|
“This certainly arrests the attention,” remarks Yates.20 Having introduced himself in this fashion, Bruno presented himself at Oxford in 1583, and lectured on Copernicanism and Hermetism. A Protestant (George Abbot) later poked fun at Bruno’s lecture, saying that Bruno had “a name longer than his body... His heart was on fire, to make himself by some worthy exploit, to become famous in that celebrated place.” Bruno championed the Copernican theory “that the earth did go round, and the heavens did stand still; whereas in truth it was his own head which rather did run round, and his brains did not stand still.”21 Someone in the audience thought he had heard Bruno’s ideas before. He retired to his study, and began looking through a volume of Ficino. He found that Bruno’s lectures had been “taken almost verbatim” out of Ficino’s works.
But Bruno wasn’t a slavish follower of Ficino. Bruno was influenced by Ficino, and carried his ideas further. This happens frequently in philosophy; Berkeley, for example, was influenced by Locke, and carried Locke’s ideas further, Nietzsche carried Schopenhauer’s ideas further, etc. Yates says that Bruno carried Renaissance Hermetism and Neoplatonism to its logical extreme.22 While Ficino tried to link Neoplatonism to Christianity, Bruno abandoned this effort, and broke away from Christianity. In Bruno’s view, the powers that Jesus possessed could be possessed by any wise and benevolent Magus:
|If man can obtain such powers through Hermetic experiences, why should not this have been the way in which Christ obtained his powers? Pico della Mirandola thought to prove the divinity of Christ through Magia and Cabala. Bruno interpreted the possibilities of Renaissance Magic in another way.23|
Bruno later lambasted the Oxford scholars as “grammarian pedants” who were more interested in Ciceronian eloquence than new ideas. In his book, The Ash Wednesday Supper (Cena de le ceneri), Bruno describes an imaginary dinner with some Oxford scholars. He sings the praises of Copernicus, but sings his own praises even more loudly:
|Copernicus has made a beginning, but, being only a mathematician, he has not understood the profound meaning of his discovery. He is a precursor of the dawn of truth and of its prophet, the Nolan [that is, Bruno himself].24|
Bruno greeted the Copernican theory as a confirmation of ancient Hermetic teachings — specifically, a confirmation of the teaching that everything is living and moving. Bruno was doubtless familiar with this passage from a Hermetic text:
What in fact is the energy of life? Is it not movement? Or what is there in the world which is immobile? Nothing, my child.|
But the earth, at least, does it not seem to be immobile, O father?
No, child.... Would it not be ridiculous to suppose that this nurse of all beings should be immobile?25
Bruno carried the ideas of Copernicus further, just as he carried the ideas of Ficino further:
|Bruno is chiefly celebrated in histories of thought and of science, not only for his acceptance of the Copernican theory, but still more for his wonderful leap of the imagination by which he attached the idea of the infinity of the universe to his Copernicanism, an extension of the theory which had not been taught by Copernicus himself. And this infinite universe of his, Bruno peopled with innumerable worlds all moving through the infinite space — thus finally breaking down the closed medieval Ptolemaic universe and initiating more modern conceptions.26|
But while Bruno broke down the medieval universe, his own universe isn’t altogether modern:
|Bruno’s worldview is vitalistic, magical; his planets are animated beings that move freely through space of their own accord like those of Plato or Patrizi. Bruno’s is not a modern mind by any means.27|
What’s the source of Bruno’s cosmology? “Bruno found the conceptions of infinite space and innumerable worlds, inhabited like our own, in Lucretius.”28 But while the Lucretian world is godless and materialistic, Bruno’s world is full of life.
Yates tries to overthrow the old view of Bruno as a bold scientific thinker who extended the Copernican theory into infinite worlds, and was burned at the stake for his heretical thoughts on astronomy. Yates argues that Bruno’s idea of infinity isn’t so much a scientific theory as a symbol, a “hieroglyph,” designed to express the infinite energies of God, of the universe, and of the Magus who reflected the universe in his mind. Viewed from this perspective, Bruno’s idea of infinity is comparable to Nietzsche’s idea of “eternal recurrence,” which wasn’t a scientific theory so much as a symbol, a symbol of the positive attitude toward life, the yes-saying, Dionysian attitude.
Yates speaks of “Bruno’s extraordinary style, with its mixture of magic, philosophy, and poetry.... What could the Oxford doctors have made of this man? What can anyone make of him? The megalomania of the magician is combined with a poetic enthusiasm of appalling intensity. The lunatic, the lover, and the poet were never all of imagination so compact as in Giordano Bruno.”29
Bruno’s Hermetic philosophy embraced all the humanities (as Phlit embraces all the humanities). “It was a part of his philosophy,” Yates writes, “[that] poetry, painting, and philosophy were all one.”30 Likewise, philosophy and religion are one: “Bruno’s philosophy and his religion are one and the same, and both are Hermetic.”31 Here again, Bruno’s approach is the same as mine.
Bruno often reminds one of Zen. Bruno’s “religion of the world” is concerned with “the works of the world.”32 Bruno believed that “it is not possible to understand supernatural things, except through their shining in natural things.”33 Though he admired some medieval philosophers (Aquinas, for example, and Nicolas of Cusa), he’s more interested in things than in metaphysics: “what others boast of as metaphysics [Bruno wrote] is only a part of logic.”34 Bruno has little interest in the elaborate systems, the ornate arabesques, of Jewish Hermetism and Christian Hermetism; he prefers the simple, original, Egyptian Hermetism.35 Perhaps it was Bruno’s low opinion of metaphysics that led to his low opinion of Aristotle, the master of metaphysics: “For Bruno, Aristotle is the type of the pedant, the literal-minded person who cannot or will not see occult truths.”36
Bruno has been called a pantheist; he said, “God as a whole... is in all things.”37 Bruno has also been called a “hylozoist” — that is, one who believes that all matter has life. In the eyes of a Hermetist, everything in the universe has energy, life — perhaps even a kind of consciousness. (I’ve discussed this idea in several earlier issues; click here, for example.) Since everything has life — even matter — there is no death, only change of form. In short, life is everywhere, death is nowhere.38
While God is in all things, he comes in different flavors, the universe is divided into different groups. Mars, for example, controls a certain group of things, Venus controls another group, etc. You can find Mars in a viper or a scorpion, in an onion or garlic. The sun can be found “in a crocus, a daffodil, a sunflower, in the cock, in the lion; and thus one should conceive of each of the gods through each of the species grouped under the divers genuses of the ens39...This is the philosophy conducive to magic... The Magus can depend on the ladders of occult sympathies running through all nature.”40 We’re apt to smile at this view, and to look down on Ficino and Bruno for holding it. We should reflect, however, that these occult sympathies are the basis for Jung’s theory of synchronicity, and the basis for the Chinese worldview.
Bruno is famous as the champion of infinity. Bruno’s world is an organic whole in which everything is related: “This infinitely extended All was still One, which [is] a basic tenet of Hermetism. The unity of the All in the One is Bruno’s constant theme.” This ancient doctrine is consistent with modern physics, which says that “all of the things in our universe (including us) that appear to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern.”41
Doubtless Bruno was receptive to the idea that the soul can survive the death of the body; doubtless he was receptive to the notions of life-after-death, ghosts, communication with the dead, etc. In fact, Bruno went further; Yates says that Bruno “openly accepts” the idea of metempsychosis — that is, the idea that the soul of a deceased person can take up residence in another person’s body.42 This idea is found in the Hermetic texts of which Bruno had such a high opinion. Jung, too, was somewhat receptive to the idea of metempsychosis:
|The question of karma is obscure to me [Jung said], as is also the problem of personal rebirth or of the transmigration of souls. ‘With a free and open mind’ I listen attentively to the Indian doctrine of rebirth, and look around in the world of my own experience to see whether somewhere and somehow there is some authentic sign pointing toward reincarnation.... Until a few years ago I could not discover anything convincing in this respect.... Recently, however, I observed in myself a series of dreams which would seem to describe the process of reincarnation in a deceased person of my acquaintance.43|
Bruno saw himself as the prophet of a new, Hermetic religion — or rather, an ancient, Egyptian religion. He was confident that this Hermetic religion would triumph: “The marvelous magical religion of the Egyptians will return, their moral laws will replace the chaos of the present age....44 Soon the world would see a general reform of itself, for it was impossible that such corruptions should go on... He hoped great things of the King of Navarre.”45 Clearly, Bruno’s optimism is excessive, and his high hopes weren’t realized. He seemed to believe that religious and moral reform could be promoted by magic: “The magician is manipulating the celestial images on which all things below depend in order to make the reform come.... In the reforming magician’s mind, the reform begins in heaven, with the rearrangement or purification of the celestial images.”46
Bruno was optimistic because he saw corruption all around him, and he felt that the pendulum would soon swing in the other direction:
|Since the states of the world go by contraries; when it is in a very bad state it may expect to return to the good state. When it is in a very good state, as once in Egypt, the fall into darkness is to be expected.... The revolution of the great year of the world is that space of time in which, through the most diverse customs and effects, and by the most opposite and contrary means, it returns to the same again.47|
This is Bruno’s philosophy of history. What Bruno calls “the great year of the world” is what I call a cycle of history, a 400-year cycle of renaissance and decadence, ending with another renaissance.
It’s ironic that Bruno saw corruption everywhere at the height of the Renaissance! What he considered the bottom of the abyss is precisely what we regard as the top of the mountain! Bruno’s idea of “contraries” is what Heraclitus called “enantiodromia”, and what Hegel called “dialectic.” I discussed this idea in the March ’02 issue, and it plays an important role in my philosophy of history. In a recent issue, I argued that this idea is found in mythology as well as philosophy:
|The youthful redeemer replaces the aged tyrant. This is a common motif in mythology: “inertia, dissolution, age, death, are followed by vitality... renewed youth and life.” As Campbell put it, “a regular alternation of fair and foul is characteristic of the spectacle of time.” The golden age alternates with the wasteland.|
As we said earlier, Bruno believed in a Hermetic reform, a reform of the world that would begin in heaven, would begin with a purification of the celestial images. Although he speaks of gods and zodiac signs, Yates says that his reform is really an inner reform, a reform of the personality, “a personality whose powers are being formed into a successful whole....48 ‘Divinity dwells within,’” wrote Bruno, “‘through the reformed intellect and will.’ For Bruno, the Dignity of Man as Magus lies within.”49 This is an interesting topic for modern Hermetists, who are more apt to trust psychotherapy than astrology. I don’t believe, however, that Yates fully explores this aspect of Bruno, perhaps because Yates didn’t study Jung and other psychologists.50 But Yates points the way to further research, she points the way to a Jungian interpretation of Bruno.
Bruno wasn’t a pessimist; he’s on the optimist side of the Gnostic-Hermetic tradition. And Bruno isn’t an ascetic: “the moral teaching which Bruno associates with his ‘Egyptian’ reform is non-ascetic and partially Epicurean.”51 Bruno is at odds with the Protestant-Puritan-ascetic tradition. He excoriates the Protestants for seeking salvation by faith alone, and for neglecting “good works.” Bruno advocates “a moral reform with emphasis on social good works and an ethic of social utility.”52
Yates argues that Bruno’s philosophy resembles the philosophy of the Freemasons “with its mythical link with the medieval masons, its toleration, its philanthropy, and its Egyptian symbolism.”53 She says that Freemasonry was first organized in England in the early 1600s, but it may have its roots in Bruno’s lectures and writings of the late 1500s: “One cannot help wondering whether it might have been among the spiritually dissatisfied in England, who perhaps heard in Bruno’s ‘Egyptian’ message some hint of relief, that the strains of the Magic Flute were first breathed upon the air.”54
When I read this passage, I wondered, “Why does she speak of the Magic Flute?” I searched the Internet for
“magic flute” and freemasons
and here’s what I found:
“The Magic Flute” has often been dubbed “The Freemason Opera” by music critics and scholars. Indeed, even with my very sketchy knowledge of Freemasons, I was able to recognize many Masonic symbols in the opera. The use of the number three is very significant: the opera begins and ends on the same three chords, there are Three Ladies and Three Boys, and three doors to the Sun Temple.
One of the obvious reasons for this Masonic influence was that Schikaneder (the librettist) and Mozart were Freemasons. Although the Freemasons would eventually dwindle and almost die out due to their lodges being shut down on suspicion of revolutionary activity, in the eighteenth century Freemasons were plentiful. The finest minds of the age joined the Freemasons. Mozart loved the Freemasons and found many kindred spirits among them, who understood his music and supported him in rough times.
After Mozart’s death, there were wild rumors that the Freemasons had killed Mozart for divulging their secrets to the public in “The Magic Flute”. This is ridiculous, however, since the Freemasons supported Mozart’s widow and children.
Mozart and Schikaneder, through “The Magic Flute”, were actually trying to save the Freemasons by demonstrating to the public that the Freemasons (a.k.a. the Sun Priests) held Reason, Truth and Virtue in the highest esteem. This was a vain effort on Mozart’s part since the Hapsburg Monarchy dissolved the Freemasons after Mozart’s death.55
The mystical experiences of the Cabalists and Hermetists are similar to an out-of-body experience.
|In a supreme trance [Yates writes], in which the soul is separated from the body, the Cabalist can communicate with God through the archangels, in an ecstasy so intense that it sometimes results, accidentally, in the death of the body, a way of dying called the Death of the Kiss [mors osculi].56|
This Cabalist experience is similar to the Hermetic ecstasy:
|In the supreme Hermetic experience... the body ‘slept’ during the whole vision, the senses being bound whilst the soul left the body to become divine.57|
The mystical experiences of the Cabalist and the Hermetist are similar to Jung’s out-of-body experience, which we discussed in an earlier issue:
At the beginning of 1944 [Jung said] I broke my foot, and this misadventure was followed by a heart attack. In a state of unconsciousness I experienced deliriums and visions which must have begun when I hung on the edge of death and was being given oxygen and camphor injections.... I had reached the outermost limit, and do not know whether I was in a dream or an ecstasy. At any rate, extremely strange things began to happen to me.
It seemed to me that I was high up in space. Far below I saw the globe of the earth, bathed in a gloriously blue light. I saw the deep blue sea and the continents.... From below, from the direction of Europe, an image floated up. It was my doctor, Dr. H.... Dr. H. had been delegated by the earth to deliver a message to me, to tell me that there was a protest against my going away. I had no right to leave the earth and must return. The moment I heard that, the vision ceased....
In reality, a good three weeks were still to pass before I could truly make up my mind to live again.... Life and the whole world struck me as a prison.... I had been so glad to shed it all.... While I floated in space, I had been weightless, and there had been nothing tugging at me....
During those weeks I lived in a strange rhythm. By day I was usually depressed.... Toward evening I would fall asleep, and my sleep would last until about midnight. Then I would come to myself and lie awake for about an hour, but in an utterly transformed state. It was as if I were in an ecstasy. I felt as though I were floating in space, as though I were safe in the womb of the universe — in a tremendous void, but filled with the highest possible feeling of happiness. ‘This is eternal bliss,’ I thought. ‘This cannot be described; it is far too wonderful!’....
Yates is the historian of Hermetism par excellence. In addition to her book on Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, she also wrote The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. Doubtless she has written about the Hermetic aspects of Freemasonry. Click here to see Wikipedia’s article on Yates.58
I think I’ve finally found a link between Shakespeare and Bruno. First, some preliminaries:
Bruno was in England from 1583 to 1585, living with the French ambassador. While he was in England, Bruno exerted considerable influence through his writings and speeches.59 Bruno frequently came to court with the French ambassador; Bruno and Elizabeth knew each other, and it’s easy to imagine that Bruno met Shakespeare.60
Why did Bruno live with the French ambassador? What was the connection between Bruno and the French? The French kings, Henry III and Henry IV, were more tolerant in their religion, more open-minded, more Hermetic, than the hard-core Catholics, or the hard-core Protestants.61 This tolerant attitude appealed to Bruno, and perhaps to Shakespeare.
Now the possible link between Shakespeare and Bruno: Yates thinks that a character in Love’s Labour’s Lost represents Bruno:
|A long line of writers, amongst them myself, have argued that the character of Berowne must be an echo of Bruno’s visit to England.... Berowne’s great speech of love [IV, iii, 337] is an echo of [one of Bruno’s books]. Further, the fact that the setting of the play is a French court — the court of the King of Navarre [later Henry IV] — in which Berowne is the leader of the poets and lovers, is now seen to be highly significant, connecting Berowne-Bruno with a message from the French court, and with the general European atmosphere of “hoping things” from Navarre.62|
The two pedants in Love’s Labour’s Lost (Don Armado and Holofernes) correspond to the two pedants in Bruno’s book; one represents the “truculence and ambition of Catholic Spain,” and the other represents the “‘grammarian’ Protestants who despise good works,”63 seeking salvation by faith alone. Berowne/Bruno respects good works, hence he “enters a hospital at the end of the play, to look after the sick.”64 I might mention in passing that Yates devoted an entire volume to Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Does Yates’ argument affect the Stratford-Oxford dispute? It does, because the impact of Bruno’s 1583 visit to England on the 19-year-old Stratford man would have been less than its impact on the 33-year-old Oxford. It’s easy to see how Oxford could work this visit into Love’s Labour’s Lost, but not as easy to see how the Stratford man could.
A recently-published Oxfordian book, Great Oxford, devotes an essay to Bruno, and argues that Bruno wrote comedies that borrow from Shakespeare’s comedies. Perhaps the “stream of influence” flowed in both directions, perhaps Bruno and Shakespeare influenced each other.
|Shakespeare’s imagination is full of magic [Yates writes] which often seems to become a vehicle for imaginative solutions of the world’s problems. Was it not Shakespeare who created Prospero, the immortal portrait of the benevolent Magus, establishing the ideal state? How much does Shakespeare’s conception of the role of the Magus owe to Bruno’s reformulation of that role?65|
Yates writes intellectual history, not biography, so she focuses on Bruno’s writings, not his life. One does, however, glean some biographical information. Yates says that Bruno was headstrong, imprudent: “Bruno never calculated; it was not in his nature to do so; all his actions throughout his life were rash and spontaneous.”66 Yates says that Bruno was a difficult person, “irritable, quarrelsome — indeed, more than that, subject to pathological accesses of rage in which he said terrible things which frightened people... he undid the work of his message by his strange outbursts.”67
A Venetian named Mocenigo, who was interested in Bruno’s writings, asked a bookseller how he could contact Bruno. The bookseller had met Bruno at a Frankfurt book fair, and told Mocenigo how he could contact him. Mocenigo invited Bruno to Venice, and Bruno came. The relationship between Bruno and Mocenigo soured:
|Bruno seems to have given way to some of his more alarming outbursts whilst in Mocenigo’s house. Probably because he had grown distrustful of his host, Bruno made arrangements to leave and to return to Frankfort, which Mocenigo prevented by force, shutting him up in a room in the house, whence he was transported to the prisons of the Holy Office [i.e., the Inquisition] in which he was incarcerated on May 26th, 1592. On that day began for Bruno eight years of imprisonment ending in death.... He was burned alive on the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome on February 17th, 1600.68|
Did Bruno bring destruction on himself? Did he seek his own destruction? In an earlier issue, I discussed several famous executions, and I explored the question, “Did these people bring destruction on themselves?” At his trial, Bruno initially recanted his heretical views. Later, however, “he withdrew all his retractions, obstinately maintaining that he had never written or said anything heretical.”69
Bruno had gone to Italy with lofty aims: “There is little doubt that Bruno thought of himself as a Messiah, an illusion not uncommon in the Renaissance.”70 Is this a danger that modern Hermetists face? Will we see some Hermetic Messiahs in our time? When Bruno returned to Italy at the age of 43, he was probably hoping to fulfill his Messianic mission by persuading the Pope to “Hermetize” the Catholic faith. The late 1500s have been called “the golden age of religious Hermetism,”71 so Bruno wasn’t alone in his Hermetic dreams, he wasn’t alone in hoping for a Hermetic reform that would end violence between Catholics and Protestants.72
Yates devotes a chapter to the Italian philosopher Campanella. The chapter begins thus:
|Tommaso Campanella was the last of the line of Italian Renaissance philosophers, of whom Giordano Bruno was the last but one. Like Bruno, Campanella was a magician-philosopher, in the line of the Renaissance Magi descending from Ficino. Campanella is known to have practiced the Ficinian magic up to the end of his life. Like Bruno, too, Campanella was a Magus with a mission. This huge man, who believed that he had seven bumps on his head representing the seven planets, had colossal confidence in himself as in touch with the cosmos and destined to lead a universal magico-religious reform. Unlike Bruno, Campanella was not burned at the stake, though he was several times tortured and spent more than twenty-seven years of his life in prison. Yet — also unlike Bruno — Campanella very nearly succeeded in bringing off the project of magical reform within a Catholic framework, or, at least, in interesting a number of very important people in it.73|
Yates divides Campanella’s career into three phases:
Yates notes that Bruno and Campanella were both Dominicans from southern Italy. She wonders if there were “some way of thinking which was generally fermenting in the Order in the south,”76 some forces that were behind the careers of Bruno and Campanella. In short, she wonders if these two philosophers are part of a larger trend.
Campanella’s most famous work is City of the Sun, which was written about 1602, shortly after his unsuccessful revolt, during his early years in prison. City of the Sun describes the sort of utopian society that the revolt had attempted to establish. Campanella’s ideal city
|was on a hill in the midst of a vast plain.... In the center [of the city], and on the summit of the hill, there was a vast temple, of marvelous construction. It was perfectly round, and its great dome was supported on huge columns. On the altar, the only objects were a great “mappamondo” on which all the heaven was depicted and another showing all the earth.... It is clear that the temple was a detailed model of the world and that the cult celebrated in it must have been a cult of the world.77|
Again, we encounter the idea of a “religion of the world,” an idea that we encountered earlier in our discussions of Bruno, the emperor Julian, etc.
On the walls of Campanella’s city were depictions of all flora and fauna, and their correspondences with the stars. Also depicted were arts and sciences, and the heroes who were associated with them. Like most Hermetists, Campanella had high regard for Jesus, and gave him and his apostles a place of honor on the wall. In Campanella’s ideal city, the children could learn all about the world just by looking at the pictures on the city wall!
|Campanella’s republic is saturated through and through with astrology; its whole way of life is directed towards achieving a beneficial relationship with the stars. The aim of producing a good human stock by selective breeding, which is one of the daring innovations for which Campanella’s work is most famous, has really nothing to do with genetics as we understand it. It is concerned with choosing the right astrological moment for conception, and with mating males and females in accordance with their astrological temperaments.78|
Late in his life, after his release from a long imprisonment, Campanella attained considerable influence with the Pope — more influence than Bruno ever attained. In 1628, the Pope asked Campanella to use magic on his behalf; the Pope “was afraid of some eclipses which his enemies... had prophesied would cause his death. Campanella did magic with him to ward off the evil. They sealed a room against the outside air, hung it with white cloths, and burned certain herbs in it.... [Campanella] aimed at artificially creating favorable heavens as a substitute for the real heavens which are going wrong in the eclipse.”79
We mentioned earlier that, while he was in prison in Naples, Campanella wrote “huge philosophical and theological works.” Campanella felt that there was a gap in the works of Aquinas because Aquinas wrote before the writings of Hermes Trismegistus became available. Campanella tried to fill this gap, he tried to Hermetize Aquinas, he tried to reconcile Catholic theology with the Hermetic worldview; Campanella aimed “to produce a revised Summa Theologica.”80 In this respect, Campanella was different from Bruno, who ignored the intricacies of theology, and concentrated on pure Hermetism, on a religion of the world. While Aquinas had drawn on the philosophy of Aristotle, Campanella took a dim view of Aristotle (as Bruno did), and preferred to draw on Hermetic writers instead.81 Campanella’s massive theology was never approved by the authorities in his lifetime, and wasn’t published until after his death.
Like Bruno and the Neoplatonists, Campanella taught that the world is an animal, an animated being, and therefore it can be influenced by magical means. In Campanella’s view, nothing is completely dead; he believes in “universal animation”82:
|[Campanella] teaches that the world is alive and sentient, and to this animism or panpsychism he related his Magia.... That the world is a living animal was, says Campanella “first taught by Trismegistus” and he proceeds to quote from Corpus Hermeticum XII on there being no death, but only change.... Renaissance animism is ultimately Hermetic in origin, of course also using Plato and the Platonists, Virgil and so on.83|
Yates says that Campanella’s political ideas were “entirely medieval and mystical.”84 Campanella was the opposite of a nationalist; his ideal is “the return of the [Roman] Empire in a new golden age, the ideal to which Dante gave classical expression in his Monarchia with its vision of universal peace and justice under One ruler.”85 Campanella’s favorite political philosopher was Dante.86 Campanella combined the Roman ideal of a universal empire with the Platonic ideal of a state ruled by philosophers, and the Hermetic ideal of a government that uses magic to keep society running smoothly. Thus, Campanella’s political ideals were Roman, Platonic, and Hermetic — not nationalistic, not based on a race, a people, a volk.
One might describe Campanella as the last major Hermetic philosopher, the last in the tradition that began with Ficino, and continued with Pico, Bruno, and others. At the end of Campanella’s life, the Cartesian-scientific worldview began to gain influence, and the Hermetic worldview lost favor.
One of the main reasons why Hermes Trismegistus was revered during the Renaissance was that people believed he was more ancient than Christianity, more ancient than Plato. People believed that he had anticipated Christianity and influenced Plato. In 1614, however, an expert in ancient literature (Isaac Casaubon) demonstrated that Hermes Trismegistus was not only later than Plato, he was later than Christianity. Thus, he appeared to be a derivative thinker, a thinker who had been influenced by Plato and Christianity. The dating of Hermes Trismegistus struck a blow at Renaissance Hermetism and provided ammunition to the Cartesians and rationalists who were conducting a campaign against Hermetism. Today, we may think that the dating of Hermes Trismegistus isn’t very important, we may regard him as a Gnostic thinker (or thinkers) whose work is both profound and original.87 In 1614, the dating of Hermes Trismegistus was a shock, a revolution, and it threw Hermetists on the defensive. Yates writes thus:
|Some discoveries of basic importance for the history of thought seem to pass relatively unnoticed. No one speaks of the “pre-Casaubon era” or of the “post-Casaubon era” and yet the dating by Isaac Casaubon in 1614 of the Hermetic writings as not the work of a very ancient Egyptian priest but written in post-Christian times, is a watershed separating the Renaissance world from the modern world.88|
How was Isaac Casaubon able to date Hermes Trismegistus? Casaubon pointed out that the pagan writers — Plato, Aristotle, etc. — make no mention of Hermes Trismegistus, and were probably unaware of him. Furthermore, the Hermetic writings mention Phidias and quote many later Greek writings, indicating that they were written after Phidias, and after the writers they quote. And finally, the Hermetic writings are written (says Casaubon) in a late style. As with many discoveries, this discovery may prompt one to think, “How obvious! Why wasn’t this discovered sooner?” As Yates says, “we cannot but reflect with astonishment that it was so late before a critical approach to the Hermetica was made.”89
Yates says that Casaubon’s copy of the Hermetica is now in the British Museum, “with his signature on the title page and many manuscript notes by him in the margins.... Holding this little book in one’s hand [Yates writes, in her charming way] one realizes, with a certain awe, that it represents the death of the Hermes Trismegistus of the Renaissance.”90
But Hermetism didn’t die as soon as Casaubon’s work rolled off the press. Some people still subscribed to Hermetism, and carried the Hermetic standard into the lists against the Cartesian-rationalists. One of the chief champions of Hermetism in the 1600s was the English writer, Robert Fludd. Fludd paid no attention to the findings of Casaubon, and revered Hermes Trismegistus as much as earlier Hermetists did. Mersenne, a friend of Descartes and a champion of the new scientific worldview, accused Fludd of being a magician, which he probably was.91 A contemporary of Campanella, Fludd possessed, in the middle of the 1600s, the same “intense mystical enthusiasm”92 that was first aroused in the middle of the 1400s by Ficino’s translations of the Hermetica.
Fludd openly proclaimed himself a Rosicrucian. The Rosicrucians probably originated among German Lutherans. According to Yates,
|The Rosicrucians represent the tendency of Renaissance Hermetism and other occultisms to go underground in the seventeenth century, transforming what was once an outlook associated with dominant philosophies into a preoccupation of secret societies and minority groups.93|
Fludd’s chief critic was Mersenne. Mersenne wrote a vast commentary on Genesis in which he rejected astrology, rejected the idea of a world soul (anima mundi), and attempted to demolish the entire Hermetic worldview. Mersenne criticized Fludd and Rosicrucianism; Fludd responded to Mersenne’s criticisms.
|The controversy was watched with interest and excitement by all Europe.... Mersenne’s and Fludd’s numerous contributions to the dispute were swelled by those of others.94|
The scientist Gassendi joined the fray on Mersenne’s side. Gassendi said he preferred “the old Aristotelianism to the misty science of these people (like Fludd) who are completely ignorant of mathematics, who confuse everything with their doctrine of the world soul, who put angels and demons everywhere.”95
Fludd also disputed with Kepler:
|Of the controversies aroused by Robert Fludd the most famous and important is that between Fludd and Kepler.... [Although Kepler’s thinking was tinged with mysticism and animism] nevertheless, Kepler had an absolutely clear perception of the basic difference between genuine mathematics, based on quantitative measurement, and the “Pythagorean” or “Hermetic” mystical approach to number. [Kepler] brought this matter out into the clear light of day for the first time and performed a great service in finally releasing genuine mathematics from the agelong accretions of numerology.|
Mersenne was a harsh critic of Bruno as well as Fludd. Mersenne says that Bruno’s mission was to “subtly combat the Christian religion,” and he viewed Bruno as “one of the most wicked men who ever lived.”98 Mersenne attacked Hermetism because he viewed it as a threat to Christianity, as well as a threat to science.
Yates says that, while Hermetism battled with scientific-rationalism, the Hermetic worldview may have inspired the scientific revolution, it may have created the movement that destroyed it. Hermetism turned men’s minds to the world:
|Behind the emergence of modern science there was a new direction of the will towards the world, its marvels, and mysterious workings, a new longing and determination to understand those workings and to operate with them.99|
Yates says that Hermetism was weakened by its own success, its own popularity:
|In the opening years of that momentous seventeenth century, every kind of magic and occultism was rampant.... In France, hundreds of sorcerers were being burned every year.... There can be little doubt that the esoteric and demon-ridden atmosphere of this period was the final outcome — as it were, the decadence — of the revaluation of magic ultimately deriving from Ficino and Pico.100|
Though Hermetism was weakened by its own success, weakened by the attacks of Mersenne & Company, and weakened by Casaubon’s dating of the Hermetica, Yates says that Hermetism has never completely died out, and still deserves respect today:
|The mechanistic worldview established by the seventeenth-century revolution has been in its turn superseded by the amazing latest developments of scientific knowledge.... The Fludd controversy cannot be lightly dismissed by the easy assumption that the moderns of those times made no mistakes. They may have discarded notions on mind and matter which, however strangely formulated, may be in essence less remote than their own conceptions from some of the thought of today.101|
|1.|| ch. 11, p. 190 back|
|2.|| ibid, p. 191 back|
|3.|| ch. 11, p. 191 back|
|4.|| ibid back|
|5.|| ch. 11, p. 192 back|
|6.|| ch. 11. p. 197 back|
|7.|| ch. 11, p. 198 back|
|8.|| ch. 11, p. 199 back|
|9.|| ch. 18, p. 331 back|
|10.|| ch. 18, p. 331 back|
|11.|| ch. 18, p. 337 back|
|12.|| ch. 18, p. 332 back|
|13.|| ch. 17, p. 324 back|
|14.|| ch. 18, p. 333 back|
|15.|| see ch. 14, pp. 263, 264 back|
|16.|| ch. 18, p. 335 back|
|17.|| ch. 11, p. 195 back|
|18.|| “Bruno’s character is a most difficult one to assess,” Yates writes. “On the one hand there is the constant self-advertisement and bombast, but on the other hand there is also a sense of mission which was certainly genuine.”(p. 302) back|
|19.|| ch. 12, p. 206 back|
|20.|| ibid back|
|21.|| ch. 12, p. 208. I might mention in passing that Bruno knew Queen Elizabeth (at least slightly) because Bruno often went to court with the French ambassador, whom he lived with.(p. 288) back|
|22.|| “[Bruno] is, in short, the result of the Renaissance Hermetism.”(ch. 14, p. 266) back|
|23.|| ch. 14, p. 266 back|
|24.|| ch. 13, p. 236 back|
|25.|| ch. 13, p. 242 back|
|26.|| ch. 13, p. 244 back|
|27.|| ch. 13, p. 244, quoting A. Koyré back|
|28.|| ch. 13, p. 246 back|
|29.|| ch. 13, p. 240 back|
|30.|| ch. 13, p. 256. “True philosophy,” wrote Bruno, “is music, poetry or painting; true painting is poetry, music, and philosophy; true poetry or music is divine sophia and painting.”(p. 336)
Many of Bruno’s writings were dialogues or poems. Yates says that Bruno’s Latin poems are “much less attractive” than his Italian dialogues, and that the Latin poems require a “heroic enthusiasm” from the reader.(p. 318) back|
|31.|| ch. 13, p. 249 back|
|32.|| ch. 14, p. 260. Is there a Zen element in Lucretius? Zen often begins by rejecting formal religion — we find this in Alan Watts, in Bruno, and in Lucretius. “Lucretius’s dislike of the forms of religion current in his time, his direction of attention towards ‘the world’ as an escape from superstitious terrors, was no doubt most congenial to Bruno.”(p. 249) back|
|33.|| ibid. Yates speaks of “that acute sense of the divine in things so characteristic of Renaissance Hermetism.”(p. 418) back|
|34.|| ibid back|
|35.|| ibid back|
|36.|| ch. 13, p. 251. I quoted this passage before, in an earlier issue on the Hermetic tradition. back|
|37.|| ch. 12, p. 211 back|
|38.|| see p. 243, footnote 2. According to an ancient Hermetic text, “living beings do not die [but] being composite bodies they are dissolved: now this dissolution is not death but the dissolution of a mixture. And if they are dissolved, it is not to be destroyed but to be renewed.”(p. 242) back|
|39.|| ch. 12, p. 211. Similar thoughts can be found in ch. 14, p. 268. back|
|40.|| ch. 13, p. 248 back|
|41.|| See my earlier issue on physics. back|
|42.|| ch. 13, p. 249 back|
|43.|| Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ch. 11, p. 319 back|
|44.|| ch. 12, p. 215 back|
|45.|| ch. 12, p. 231 back|
|46.|| ch. 12, pp. 231, 232 back|
|47.|| ch. 15, p. 279 back|
|48.|| see ch. 12, pp. 220, 221 back|
|49.|| ch. 15, p. 283. Cf. p. 311 back|
|50.|| Yates did, however, read some Jung; she mentions him in a footnote on page 412, and again in a footnote on page 440. back|
|51.|| ch. 12, p. 225. Yates describes Bruno as “a Hermetic optimist Gnostic.”(ch. 15, p. 286) back|
|52.|| ch. 14, p. 273. “The ethic which Bruno advocates is that of a rule of law and order which encourages peaceful and useful activities and from which warring between sects is banished.”(ch. 12, p. 227) back|
|53.|| ch. 14, p. 274 back|
|54.|| ibid. Likewise, Yates speculates that the German founders of the Rosicrucian society may have been influenced by Bruno.(pp. 312, 313, 411, 412) back|
|55.|| See this site, which says “Info about the Freemasons and their relation to ‘The Magic Flute’ was provided in an excerpt from Alfred Einstein’s Mozart: His Character, His Work.” I made some slight changes in the passage that I quoted. back|
|56.|| ch. 5, p. 99 back|
|57.|| ch. 15, p. 280 back|
|58.|| Here’s a list of books by Yates:
|59.|| “Some of the most recondite productions of Elizabethan poetry,” Yates writes, “use [Bruno’s] imagery.”(ch. 15, p. 290) Bruno’s influence in England lasted well into the 1600s. In 1634, a masque at court called Coelum Britannicum [British heavens], which described “Jupiter’s reform of the heavens,” borrowed its plot and language from Bruno.(ch. 20, p. 392) back|
|60.|| see ch. 15, p. 288 back|
|61.|| Yates says that Du Perron, “an intimate member of [Henri III’s] circle... gave admired spiritual discourses, full of prisca theologia and religious Hermetism at the spiritual academy at Vincennes, one of those religious groups into which Henri III retreated more and more in these anguished years.”(ch. 16, p. 300) Yates calls these years “anguished” because Henri III was under pressure from the Catholic League. When Henri III was assassinated, the Catholic League fought against French Protestants, who were led by the King of Navarre, later Henry IV. Yates speaks of “those frightful wars of the League which destroyed the Renaissance civilization of France.”(p. 303) back|
|62.|| ch. 19, p. 356 back|
|63.|| ch. 19, p. 356 back|
|64.|| ch. 19, p. 357 back|
|65.|| ch. 19, p. 357 back|
|66.|| ch. 16, p. 304 back|
|67.|| ch. 19, p. 348 back|
|68.|| ch. 19, pp. 348, 349 back|
|69.|| ch. 19, p. 349 back|
|70.|| ch. 19, p. 339 back|
|71.|| ch. 19, p. 344. Yates points out that one of Bruno’s contemporaries had the same aspirations, and met the same fate: “The case of Francesco Pucci is almost exactly parallel. He, too, thought that he was illuminated and had a mission and that the time was ripe for returning to Italy and appealing to the Pope in connection with some new dispensation coming in with Navarre, and he, too, stepped into a death trap. Though Pucci is much less wild than Bruno, the similarity of their cases is striking, particularly as they had both been in England.
It is clear that John Dee was very wise not to go to Rome, as Pucci suggested, to expound his angelic messages there.”(ch. 19, p. 346) back|
|72.|| “There was a general sense in this fin de siècle of vast impending religious changes and when this historical situation has been more fully reconstructed the Bruno problem will be more fully understood. Too often, the mistake is made in judging people of the sixteenth century as if they knew, what we know, that no great, general, religious change was about to come.”(ch. 19, p. 355, footnote 2) back|
|73.|| ch. 20, p. 360 back|
|74.|| ch. 20, p. 361 back|
|75.|| ch. 20, p. 361 back|
|76.|| ch. 20, p. 365 back|
|77.|| ch. 20, pp. 367, 368 back|
|78.|| ch. 20, p. 369 back|
|79.|| ch. 20, p. 375, 376 back|
|80.|| ch. 20, p. 379 back|
|81.|| ch. 20, pp. 372, 379 back|
|82.|| ch. 20, p. 381 back|
|83.|| ch. 20, pp. 380, 381 back|
|84.|| ch. 20, p. 385 back|
|85.|| ch. 20, p. 385 back|
|86.|| ch. 20, p. 387 back|
|87.|| What did Jung think of Hermes Trismegistus? Jung respected Gnostic writers (as far as I know), and he probably respected Hermes Trismegistus, but I don’t know for certain. For her part, Yates thinks that Hermes Trismegistus still deserves respect: “The Hermetica were not, and are not, invalidated as profoundly important documents of religious experience by being at last correctly dated.”(p. 431) back|
|88.|| Ch. 21, p. 398 back|
|89.|| ch. 21, p. 401. Didn’t Huxley say of Darwin’s theory, “Why didn’t I think of that?” back|
|90.|| ch. 21, p. 401 back|
|91.|| ch. 21, p. 406. back|
|92.|| ch. 21, p. 406 back|
|93.|| ch. 21, p. 407. One of the original Rosicrucian manifestoes, Fama Fraternitas, says that the Rosicrucians were “founded by one Christian Rosencreutz, a German, who was educated in a monastery and afterwards traveled widely, particularly in the east.”(p. 410) What Rosencreutz learned in the East was what we might call a perennial philosophy, a teaching suitable for all times and places (“agreeable with the harmony of the whole world, and wonderfully impressed in all periods of time”). In another Rosicrucian work, it is argued that “the divisions of Christendom into Romans, Lutherans, and Calvinists are unreal and to be disregarded since all are at bottom the same and tend to the same end.”(p. 412) back|
|94.|| ch. 22, pp. 438, 439 back|
|95.|| ch. 22, p. 439 back|
|96.|| ch. 22, p. 443 back|
|97.|| ch. 22, p. 443 back|
|98.|| ch. 22, p. 445 back|
|99.|| ch. 22, p. 448 back|
|100.|| ch. 22, p. 433 back|
|101.||ch. 22, p. 455 back|