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Bruno, Giordano (1548-1600)  
 
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Burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church in 1600, Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno has come to symbolize the death of individualistic thought at the repressive hand of religious power, as well as its subsequent rebirth.

Although he was accused of blasphemy and immoral conduct as well as heresy, Bruno's specific offense was the propagation of a scientific philosophy that hypothesized the earth's revolving around the sun and the concept of a universe stretching without end to infinity. Twenty-five years before Galileo, Bruno had taken the Copernican concept of a heliocentric solar system to its logical conclusion.

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Life and Death

Born Filippo Bruno (and sometimes referred to as Bruno Nolano or Bruno the Nolan) in 1548 in the town of Nola in Campania province near Naples, Bruno took the name "Giordano" when he became a Dominican brother at the age of 15. He was ordained a priest in 1572. His remarkable memory served him well in his studies of the newly-rediscovered Plato and Hermes Trismegistus.

In 1576 Bruno fled Naples to avoid persecution by the Inquisition and subsequently fled Rome for the same reason. Having abandoned the Dominican order, he found a safe haven in Geneva; there he became a Calvinist for a short while until he was excommunicated and forced to flee. His wanderings took him though France; he arrived in Paris in 1581 or 1582.

Enjoying there the protection of King Henry III, Bruno wrote three of his major Latin works on logic, and three of his Italian works on mnemonics, the art of organizing and extending memory.

The actual places of publication of these volumes were disguised: of the six works on philosophy and ethics written in 1584-85, three show the imprint "Venice, 1584," while three show Paris. It is currently agreed that all six were actually published in London under false imprints. Bruno's anomalous, satiric, and obscene stage comedy, Il Candelaio, also dates from this period.

At the invitation of the French ambassador to England, Bruno traveled to England, where he lived from 1583 to 1585.

In 1586, Bruno, still under the protection of the French ambassador, left London to return to Paris. After a violent dispute in France over "a scientific instrument," Bruno was forced to flee yet again, this time to Germany, where he was immediately excommunicated by the Lutherans in Helmstadt. Over the next five years, he taught in Wittenberg, in Prague, and in Zurich.

In 1591, at the invitation of the aristocrat Giovanni Mocenigo, Bruno arrived in the Republic of Venice to expound and teach his mnemonic systems and occult philosophies. Denounced for this activity, he was imprisoned there by the Inquisition, then extradited to Rome in 1593. Refusing to recant his beliefs, he was imprisoned for six years before his sentencing.

On January 8, 1600, Bruno heard his death sentence and replied to the holy worthies, "You who condemn me may tremble more in declaring the sentence than I do upon hearing it." He died in flames on February 17, 1600.

The Vatican placed all of his writings on the infamous Index of Forbidden Books in 1603.

England: Bruno, Marlowe, and Fagot

Bruno's two-year stay (from 1583 through 1585) in the England of Queen Elizabeth I and of Shakespeare often proves the most fascinating period of his eventful life, at least for students of English literature and history. For activists seeking to reclaim our roots and forebears, Bruno's English period also proves vital.

In England Bruno met such Elizabethan luminaries as poets Fulke Greville, Sir Philip Sidney (to whom he dedicated The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast), and Christopher Marlowe, as well as the occultist and Hermetic philosopher John Dee. Whether or not he came to know Sir Francis Bacon or William Shakespeare remains unclear, although some scholars detect allusions to him in Shakespeare's plays, including Hamlet.

Ben Jonson's play The Alchemist offers explicit echoes of Bruno's satiric comedy Il Candelaio (1582), while Marlowe's Dr. Faustus yearns to attain Bruno's concept of the Infinite.

Indeed, English-Italian literary comparisons are most apt between Bruno and Marlowe, especially on the basis of their shared iconoclasm: Bruno's Il Candelaio laughs at sporco amor di gargioni ("the dirty love for boys") whereas Marlowe famously warned of fools "who love not tobacco and boys."

Marlowe's strange death has occasioned many conjectures about his life. Biographer Charles Nicholls, for example, argues that Marlowe served as a spy in the queen's service against the Catholics. Similarly, York University's John Bossy contends that Bruno's English years were spent in the same endeavor, spying for Elizabeth under the pseudonym, "Henry Fagot."

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