<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Alan Powers' Habitable Worlds


The Worlds of Giordano Bruno - book cover
The Worlds of Giordano Bruno: The Man Galileo Plagiarized

A new book by Alan W Powers, available towards the end of year. Published by Cortex Design


Giordano Bruno's Candelaio

Giordano Bruno's only drama, the comedy Candelaio published in Parisian exile in 1582, has waited four hundred years to be read in English.  One obvious reason for English disinterest is the play's monkish ribaldry, another is the difficulty of its three languages. Yet it is arguably the best first play ever written.  Not only in England has it a curious publication and performance history, perhaps never performed until this century in Italy (most recently in 1964, 1982 and 1991), though translated into French in 1633.  The French version is very incomplete.  Even the Italian version of 1911 is entirely changed and simplified.

My translation (from Italian, Latin and Neapolitan dialect) emphasizes the modernity of the text, with its Brechtian devices like the framing Janitor prolog and 'distancing' soliloquys, plenty of vulgar language and jokes, and the central subject of male midlife crisis.  It also deals with broader gender issues, since Bony is bisexual and Manny a gay (in fact, a pederast).  I have translated the gender of the powerful magus Scaramure into female, and Caribbean. The major quality of Bruno's text that mine lacks is its Neapolitan locality.  There are a high proportion of women in the play, and the best soliloquys are theirs-- and there are lots of 'soliloquys' or places where the 'action' stalls as in some absurdist plays.

The final two acts include a 'bed-trick' like that in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (twenty years later), but here Bony goes to bed with his own wife, not just a precontracted fiancee.  These acts also contain a scene in which the schoolteacher has to choose to be punished by one of the school punishments he usually exacts.

This is an important work for many reasons: it shows Bruno's outrageousness in new light, it balances views that have over-philosophized him, and offers profound insights in accessible form. It is also timely, 2000 marking the four hundredth anniversary of his horrible death in the Campo dei Fiori, for eight heresies the most famous of which is the infinite number of habitable worlds.  This idea still awaits confirmation, but it seems more and more probable with each new datum of astronomical knowledge (for instance the universe according to the red-shift studies of Margaret Geller et al).

It is appropriate for Bruno's outrageousness to once again find harbor in England, where he fled and wrote his best works-- excepting this play.  His reception at Oxford was mixed (to be kind), where a don found most of his Latin discussion familiar.  When the scholar returned to his room, he found the passages he thought stolen, in Ficino.  Bruno did have a prodigious memory, even published on and taught memory; it is possible he was quoting and did not know it.  No precedent for this play, however, exists-- nor perhaps any successor.

Like Machiavelli who is known first as a political theorist, next as an historian, and only marginally as a playwright, Giordano Bruno is popularly known today as a proto-Galileo, a martyr for modern, "scientific" thought.  My work translates Bruno the emigre playwright.   Bruno's comedy, Candelaio; and I shall research its performance history since first published in France (1582), and fifty years later in French, as Boniface et le Pedant.   Bruno's play is complex in Neapolitan dialect, Latin and Italian.  Its unavailability in English warps modern views of Bruno.  Candelaio is a curious work, with some outrageous, monkish humor and some Ficinian philosophy, and much satire.

Those who know about Bruno the martyr seldom have heard of his comedy.  A Russian high school textbook of the Soviet period featured four Renaissance men of science: Copernicus, Bruno, Kepler and Galileo.  Of the four, Bruno was the genuine martyr, burned in the Roman Campo [now Piazza] dei Fiore in the year 1600 for the eight heresies Pope Clement VII found in his works.  Arianism was one, and a corollary doubt of the virginity of Mary.  Touchingly, Bruno was convinced during his final, Roman incarceration that if the Pope would only read his works he would see they were not heretical.  But even when moderns read his work, one heresy stands out that makes him our contemporary: the infinite number of inhabitable worlds.

A modern French author, Emile Namer,  emphasizes this one idea in the title of his compact recension of Bruno: Giordano Bruno, ou L'Univers infini comme fondement de la philosophie moderne (Paris, 1966).  "Philosophy" is a better word for Bruno's subject, both now and during his lifetime, when what we call "science" was called "natural philosophy" or the "new philosophy."  The first philosophers of science in our century deny that Bruno was in any sense a scientist.  Alfred North Whitehead in Science and the Modern World grants Bruno a first-paragraph mention, but does not grant him to be a martyr to science.  Isaac Asimov, whose theory of scientists as dreamers one would think sympathetic to a mind like Bruno's, dismisses him as a "philosopher and poet."

Asimov's popular history of science emphasizes the dreamlike intuition of scientists in its title, The Sleepwalkers.  One would be hard put to find a better example of dreamlike intuition or noetic apprehension than Bruno's.  Whitehead grants him this large role, Giordano Bruno was the martyr; though the cause for which he suffered was not that of science, but that of free imaginative speculation.

Bruno's description of lunar flight and lunar perspective is astonishing.  In De immenso et innumerabilibus (IV.iii), he writes,

Quick now, come up with me, I'll stand you on the Moon.  Fly on reason, stand on your understanding;              Keep it up, come on                                      Follow, not on the waxy wings of Daedalus                Nor on the invention of stupid Menippus,                 But on the vision of truth...                            From here I will show behind you the shining             Face of Earth, with the light of the burning sun         Diffused over Ocean's face.  Don't you see               Now how the wide                                         Expanse seems contracted into a narrow lump?             Say: where's the least trace of trees?  Where're rivers,  Mountains, swamps, lakes, lattitudes of cold and heat?

An half-century later, after the fictional moon voyages of Wilkins and Godwin though before Cyrano de Bergerac's, the moon-mappers of the 1640s, Hevelius and Riccioli, took up this discussion in earnest.  The darker patches of the lunar surface which had been called "blotches," maculae magnae: were they "seas" (maria) or land?  In 1641, the diarist John Evelyn of the Royal Society observes from the cathedral tower in Antwerp, I was much confirmed in my opinion of the moon's being of some such substance as this earthly globe consists of; perceiving all the subjacent country, at so small an horizontal distance, to repercuss such light as I could hardly look against, save where the river, and other large water within our view, appeared of a more dark and uniform colour, resembling those spotts in the moone supposed to be seas there, according to our new philosophy, and viewed by optical glasses.

(quoted in Nicholson, A World in the Moon,28)

And John Milton probably profited from these descriptions when he came to compose, in Paradise Lost, Gabriel's and Satan's voyages to Earth Bruno's name is justly associated with such discussions, which we now call "scientific."  During his lifetime, "science" or natural philosophy was part of philosophic discourse, particularly epistemology.  And Bruno was a widely known lecturer on philosophy, particularly two polar opposite thinkers, Aristotle and Ficino.  Bruno knew Ficino so well, and had trained his own memory such, that an Oxford scholar in attendance at a Bruno lecture hurried home to his lodging to discover the source of what he suspected were Bruno's plagiarisms.  A passage in Ficino.

Giordano also makes wonderful use of Ficinian ideas in Candelaio.  For instance, the conman assistant alchemist and astrological therapist, Scaramure, advises the lover Bonifacio,

"Infatuation works through the power of a lucid and subtle influence, from the heart's heat generated by blood purified, which, in the guise of rays, shoots outside the open eyes, that, looking with strong imagination, come up to and strike the viewed object, striking the heart and the breast of the other body and spirit with the emotion of love, or hate, or envy or madness or some other similar kind of feeling. To be infatuated with love comes when, and most frequently with and if, an intense, although briefest, glance-- one eye locked on another (like radar)-- and reciprocally a ray of the glancer meets that of the glanced at, and the light copulates with the light, like waves."
(See notes for complete scene, I.10.)

This explanation of light and love comes after a wonderful scene of prognosis, in which I translate "Si V.S. non rimedia al mio male" as this first line,

Bon. If your worshipful Shrinkhood cannot cure my ills, I'm a goner.
Scar.As I can judge from your appearance, your name, your parents and grandparents, the ruler of your nativity was "Venus retrograde in a masculine zodiac sign, and perhaps the twenty-seventh day of Gemini."  This would suggest certain changes, even mutations, in your forty-sixth year, at which stage you find yourself.
Bon. In fact, I don't remember when I was born; but, through what I've heard from others, I'm around forty-five.
Scar.The months, the days, and the hours I'll compute more  precisely when I measure with calipers the ratio of the lattitude of your largest fingernail to your lifeline, and the distance from the summit of the ring finger to the terminus at the center of your palm, where it's the field of Mars.  But enough for now to have made my preliminary exam, or general physical.  Now tell me, when you were first shot through with the love glance, where was she positioned relative to you? To your left or right?
Bon. To my...left.
Scar.Aha! Tribulations of therapy.-- Was it toward South or North,  East or West, or some points of the compass in between-- West by Northwest?
Bon. Towards the ...West.
Scar.Go West, Young Man. Okay, we have enough, no need for more. I plan to solve your problem with holistic psychotherapy, leaving aside for real basket cases spiritual incantations, waking the dead and all that.
Bon. Do whatever you have to to help my situation.
Scar.Don't trouble yourself, leave the cure to me.  Did this event occur through infatuation?
Bon. How's that? Infatuation? In what sense?
Scar.Videlicet, through your having seen her, but her not seeing you.
Bon. Yes, that's it.  Through infatuation.

Then Scaramure introduces the Ficino we saw above.  The difficulties of translating Bruno here include Scaramure's recurrence to Latin proverbs and phrases.  It's hard now to find either folk proverbs or Latinate professional gobledegook that works as dialog. In this passage, I'm proud of "Go West, young man" for "Oportet advocare septentrionales" ("One must look North"-- i.e. for Ursa Major). "Holistic psychotherapy" stands in place of "con magia naturale," a simpler phrase; but many times Bruno uses baroque Latin and Italian phrases that I must simplify.

In sum, Candelaio is a strange but important literary performance in Italian, Neapolitan dialect, Latin, and rococo riffs a la Finnegan's Wake, or Pulci.  No prior English translation exists.  My translation will have more resonance for an American (as in the proverbial Greeleyana "Go West, young man," above); but it will be accessible for English readers generally.  I hope my translation problematizes the English study of Bruno, raising him from a marginal dreamer and martyr to a man of letters who has written a major comedy, like Machiavelli.


Boniface et le pedant. (trans. anon.) Comedie en prose, imitee de l'italien de Bruno Nolano. Paris: P. Menard, 1633.
Bruno, Giordano. Candelaio. Ed. Isa Guerrini Angrisani. Milano:    Rizzoli, 1976.
_______________. Candelaio, commedia del Bruno Nolano achademico di nulla achademica; detto il fastidito. Pariggi: Guglelmo Giuliano, 1582.
______________, Nolano. De l'infinito universo e Mondi. All' illustrisimo Signor di Mauuisiero. Venetia, 1584.
Candelaio in Il Teatro Classico Italiano, antico e moderno,  ornato di ventiquattro ritratti. Lipsia: Ernesto Fleischer,   1829.

Bruno, Giordano.  Il Candelaio di Giordano Bruno & Boniface et le Pedant, comedie en prose imitee de l'Italien de Bruno Nolano. Ristampa curata da Vittorio Imbriani. Napoli: Riccardo Marghieri di Gius., 1886.
______________, Il Candelaio (Commedia). Biblioteca Nova, Vol. doppia (47&48). Roma: Perino, 1888.
Bruno, Giordano. Il Candelaio. Ed. Carlo Podrecca. Roma: Podrecca e Galantara, 1911.

_______________, Candelaio. Ed. Giorgio Barberi Squarotti. Torino: Einaudi, 1964.
_______________, Candelaio. Ed. Isa Guerrini Angrisani. Milano:    Rizzoli, 1976.
_______________, De Immenso et innumerabilibus, in Opera latine conscripta, ed. Fiorentino, Imbriani et al. Volume I. Naples and Florence: Morano and Le Monnier, 1879-1891.
Il Candelaio di Giordano Bruno. Fr. trans., Boniface et le pedant.  Ristampa curata da Vittorio Imbriani. Napoli, 1886.
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