When we went to school, we all got to know Giordano Bruno, the great Neapolitan philosopher who has become one of the symbols of freedom of thought par excellence. Bruno was born in the province of Naples, but there has been a point in his life when he has been forced to leave it and to travel throughout Europe.
Here we try to do an exercise in style in order to follow the traces of this eclectic thinker, and we will do so by using the form of dialogue that was so dear to him. Here we imagine a dialogue between Giordano Bruno and his disciple and copyist Hieronymus Besler, an important figure in the last years that the Neapolitan philosopher spent as a free man.
An imaginary dialogue between Giordano Bruno and Hieronymus Besler
BESLER: Tell me, master, what was the place where you grew up like?
BRUNO: The most beautiful place in the world, my dear Hieronymus, without a doubt. I guess that many people talk about their birthplace like that, but even after so many years spent travelling all over Europe I cannot help thinking of my Nola as a paradise of sweetness. I was born at the foot of Mount Cicala, which would have been watching over me throughout my childhood. It was a place covered with rich vegetation, herbs and fragrant trees: laurel and myrtle, oaks and chestnuts, ivy and olive trees… I used to even talk to the mountain, you know?
BESLER: Do you think this has inspired you for your studies on nature?
BRUNO: Let me tell you an anecdote. I was about twelve when I imagined having a dialogue with Mount Cicala. The mountain told me to look towards the south, because I would have seen Mount Vesuvius there. I looked towards that mountain and found it very gloomy, but the Mount scolded me affectionately: it said that Mount Vesuvius was his brother, and that I should not have judged it based on its appearance. Even that distant mountain loved me, it was close to me and would watch over me. In retrospect I can well say that Mount Cicala was right: every element of Creation is the work of God, and as such is rich in beauty.
BESLER: Was it also right in his other considerations? Did Mount Vesuvius protect you?
BRUNO: Mount Vesuvius accompanied me even to where Mount Cicala could not reach. It would have stayed with me for many, many more years… have I ever told you about my arrival in Naples?
BESLER: No, master. If you want to tell me, I would like to listen to you.
BRUNO: Just imagine: I was only a 14-year-old boy who grew up in Nola, surrounded by the vegetation of Mount Cicala. Imagine what it was like for me to arrive in Naples, in the vibrant and majestic Naples! I walked that streets full of life as in a dream, and in the background I always had Mount Vesuvius and the sea to watch over me. Crossing the centre of the city I saw splendors that until then I had never even dared to imagine. I entered the Church of Santa Chiara, where I visited the tomb of King Robert of Anjou and was enchanted by Giotto’s splendid frescoes. Finally I arrived at the Church of San Domenico Maggiore. I would have seen it countless times over the years, but it would always have seemed as majestic and exciting to me as the first time. It is difficult to get used to such splendor… Next to the church there was the final destination of my trip, the convent where I would have spent many years. Here I would have studied hard, as a frightened boy I would have become a man and take vows to dedicate myself to serving the Lord. Did you know that that was the same convent where Saint Thomas Aquinas taught? I saw what had been his cell, it was extraordinary to think of being in the same places where such an exceptional figure had lived…
On the traces of Giordano Bruno between Nola and Naples
In our dialogue Giordano Bruno recalled the memories related to when, at a very young age, he left Nola to reach the Convent of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples. Let’s get to know him better.
Giordano Bruno was the author of extremely innovative theses on science, philosophy and theology; theses that, despite an exhausting trial that lasted almost 8 years that saw him accused of heresy and witchcraft, the great philosopher chose not to retract. For this reason, he was sentenced to the stake by the Inquisition and burned alive in Campo de’ Fiori square in Rome on 17th February 1600.
Giordano Bruno was born in 1548 in Nola, in the province of Naples. In 1591 he recalled this land through a triptych of works in which he devoted affectionate pages to Mount Cicala, the background of his childhood. As soon as he was 14, Giordano Bruno moved to the Convent of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, that would be the background for all the years of his formation; here he will later take the vows to join the Dominican order. Bruno remained in Naples until 1576, the year in which his ideas earned him the institution of a trial for heresy. Alerted in time by a novice, Giordano Bruno flees on foot along Via Mezzocannone until he reaches the port to embark for Terracina. This escape will be the beginning of a long pilgrimage that will bring Giordano Bruno all over Europe. During this tormented itinerant life he will compose his works, the result of a free and independent thought which rejected the traditional dogmas imposed by the Church.
Giordano Bruno and the heroic frenzies of freedom of thought
Although he went down in history for the accusations made by the Holy Inquisition, it would still be wrong to consider Bruno as an anti-Catholic: he rather wanted to have a role as a reformer, freeing the Church from dogmas now outdated (such as for example the geocentric conception of the universe and the Aristotelian idea that the universe is finite and therefore limited) and leading it to take steps forward in the search for knowledge and truth. He believed in fact that study and direct experience were the highest aspiration of man, as well as the only way to seek contact with God. His research passes through the continuous and in-depth study of nature, a way to “seek God in things” from which an almost pantheistic conception transpires: if God is infinite and unreachable, the only way to get closer to him is to try to understand that nature that he created and which is the only space within which every man is able to move. Hence the “heroic frenzies” that give the title to one of the most famous works of the philosopher: a thirst for knowledge similar to a love passion, capable of pushing men towards a continuous search for truth.
The tribute of the May of Monuments to Giordano Bruno
The May of Monuments, a cultural review consisting of a rich series of events that takes place in the historic centre of Naples, reaches its twenty-sixth edition in 2020. This year’s festival is dedicated exactly to Giordano Bruno.
Given the extraordinary situation we are experiencing, these events cannot naturally be open to the public. However, the more than 200 events will take place, as per tradition, in the symbolic places of the city and it will be possible to watch them live streaming through the social channels of the Municipality of Naples.