<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> BETWEEN MAGIC AND MAGNETISM <p> <i>BRUNO'S COSMOLOGY AT OXFORD</i> <p> <p> In 1960, Robert McNulty Discovered and published in <i>Renaissance News</i> the bitterly satirical page on Giordano Bruno's lectures at Oxford of 1583 that he had found in the book by George Abbott of 1604, <i>The Reasons Which Doctour Hill Hath Brought, for the Upholding of Papistry.</i> It was an important discovery, but it also created an interpretative crux for scholars concerned with the development of Bruno's post-Copernican cosmology. This chapter will take as its subject the technical problem of the precise stage that Bruno's cosmological speculation might have reached when he spoke at Oxford in the summer of 1583—"might have" being obligatory, given that the texts of his lectures have not survived. I shall only briefly touch on the question of the historical or cultural factors that affected the knowledge of Copernicus in the Oxford of the period, or on the ways in which this complex and dramatic episode would affect the rest of Bruno's stay in England. Bearing in mind these limits to this inquiry, let us recall briefly the salient characteristics of Abbott's page, and of its author, who was neither mediocre nor obscure. <p> In the summer and autumn of 1583, Abbott was twenty-one years old and was about to become a fellow of Balliol: one of Oxford's most prestigious colleges. The detailed character of his account of Bruno's lectures suggests that it was based, in all probability, on a personal and active role in the events that he narrates some twenty years after the event. In the meantime, Abbott's academic and ecclesiastical career had been a success and would take him to the peak of the Anglican Church in 1611, when he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by James I. In spite of his somewhat radical Protestantism, Abbott was a strenuous defender of the episcopal structure and hierarchy of the Anglican Church, of which James was a jealous guardian. Abbott also satisfied James's political and religious needs by arguing energetically against the Catholics. In 1604, at the beginning of the new reign, after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, a danger for the stability of the throne came from the Catholic camp, hostile to the arrival from Calvinist Scotland of the new king. For James, although he was the son of the unfortunate Mary Stuart, had long since renounced the Catholic religion practiced by his mother. So it is hardly surprising to find Abbott's attack on Bruno in a book of anti-Catholic polemic, with an evident anti-Italian and anti-humanistic slant: "that little Italian, with a name longer than his body, who claimed to be qualified as a Doctor in Theology, etc., and who called himself Philoteus Jordanus Brunus Nolanus." <p> It is worth remembering that, in 1600, Abbott had been elected vice chancellor of the University of Oxford, a position that he still held in 1604 and from which he would carry out his violent critique of Bruno. Abbott's page on Bruno supplies information about his Oxford experience that was not evident from the brief mentions of it by Bruno himself in his dialogue <i>The Ash Wednesday Supper</i>, written and published in London in 1584. For example, it is Abbott who mentions two distinct visits made by Bruno to Oxford. The first of these, which Bruno mentions himself with indignation, sees him as part of the entourage of the Polish Prince Albert Alasco, during whose visit to Oxford Bruno held a public dispute with an opponent who proved to be hostile (a much quoted note in a margin of one of his books by Gabriel Harvey tells us that he was actually John Underwood, a future vice chancellor of the university). It was during another visit, "not a long time afterwards," that Bruno attempted to give the series of lectures that are the subject of the comments by Abbott. It is necessary to add to these two visits the publication, at a date that remains uncertain, of the famous letter addressed to the vice chancellor of the university that Bruno added to some copies of his work on the art of memory, the <i>Explicatio triginta sigillorum</i>, railing against the ancient British university for its inability to measure up to new ideas brought in by outsiders. This letter oscillates between moments of eloquent and powerful rhetoric in defense of the right of the modern scholar to think independently, and indignant and at times decidedly offensive criticism of what Bruno considered the obtuse arrogance of the Oxford dons. Abbott, who mentions the <i>Explicatio</i> with precision in a marginal note, makes it clear that in this way, Bruno had stimulated a deep and lasting ill humor on the part of the Oxford dons, which was still remembered by Abbott more than twenty years later. So it is in a context of feeling marred by resentment and rancor that Abbott offers a series of indications of the contents of Bruno's lectures, which had taken place many years before he wrote his account. <p> On a specifically cosmological level, Abbott writes: <p> 1. That Bruno enjoyed "telling us much of <i>chentrum</i> and <i>chirculus</i> and <i>circumferenchia</i>." <p> 2. That "he undertooke among very many other matters to set on foote the opinion of Copernicus, that the earth did goe round, and the heavens did stand still." <p> 3. That his first three lectures were taken "almost <i>verbatim</i>" from the works of Marsilio Ficino. (In a marginal note, Abbott specifies: <i>De vita coelitus comparanda.</i>) <p> <p> Once this plagiary had been discovered, the lectures were brought to a close; or at least this has always been the interpretation offered of the relevant passage in Abbott as well as of Bruno's own words in <i>The Ash Wednesday Supper</i>. It is, however, possible to query this interpretation and to ask whether the lectures were actually brought to a close or whether Bruno was not simply warned to stop quoting "almost <i>verbatim</i>" from Ficino's works. Abbott tells us that after the third lecture, the increasing suspicion of plagiary on the part of the dons was communicated to Bruno. "They caused some to make knowne unto him their former patience, and the pains which he had taken with them, and so with great honesty on the little man's part, there was an end of that matter." On his part, Bruno makes no mention of the suspicion of plagiary, but speaking to his readers, he exhorts them: "To find out about how they made him finish his public lectures <i>("gli hanno fatto finire le sue pubbliche letture")</i>, both those <i>de immortalitate animae</i>, and those <i>de quintuplici sphera"</i>: a phrase that has always been interpreted as a cry of distress in front of the humiliation of seeing his lectures interrupted and the lectureship that had been temporarily awarded to him taken away. But it is possible to construe that "made him finish his public lectures" as expressing a sense of satisfaction at being allowed to bring them to a regular end—in which case, one has to presume that Bruno admitted "honestly" to having followed too closely the texts of Ficino, while at the same time promising to make amends in the remaining lectures. In that case, his phrase would express recognition of the fact that his Oxford lectures, in spite of the difficulties that occurred due to the plagiary of Ficino, were nevertheless completed. It may indeed have been precisely at that point that Bruno started to speak about Copernicus, given Abbott's insistence that on mentioning Copernicus, Bruno's head "did not stand stil." As far as the accusation of plagiary is concerned, it should be remembered that the Protestant cultures, from Luther onward, regularly accused the Catholic world of superficiality and a lack of originality, due to the mental habit of having to refer any form of discourse to the canonical sources recognized by the tradition. As Giovanni Aquilecchia has already underlined, Abbott's book consisted of an accusation of plagiary against Hill, who was explicitly repeating what had been said by a Catholic author who preceded him. <p> However we wish to read this aspect of Abbott's page on Bruno, it is clear that the interpretative difficulties derive from the emphasis he also puts on the other aspect of Bruno's lectures—that is, the fact that Bruno attempted to use his temporary Oxford chair to "set on foote" the Copernican astronomy. This was still firmly repudiated by an academic body impregnated by Aristotelian paradigms in the philosophical and cosmological as well as the theological fields. The most recent archival research has established that Copernicus's name had already been mentioned publicly at Oxford by Henry Savile, although Giovanni Aquilecchia, who made a study of the manuscripts of Savile's lectures, established that they mention him only briefly in the context of mathematical hypotheses. It would appear, at least according to the present state of research, that Bruno was the first to propose at Oxford a reading of Copernicus in realist terms, and that by doing so he became the target of the derision of Abbott and his contemporaries, who accused him of being completely mad. But even if this aspect of the question can be considered as established, an enigma remains concerning the terms of Bruno's proposal of Copernicanism in lectures that are said to be taken "almost <i>verbatim</i>" from the pre-Copernican works of Marsilio Ficino. <p> It is curious how few commentators of Bruno have faced up squarely to this problem. One of the first attempts to do so is to be found in the pages of Frances Yates's book of 1964 that interprets Bruno's thought in the light of the Renaissance Hermetic tradition. Writing only a few years after the publication of McNulty's article, Yates ably reinforces her own argument by underlining the largely magical and astrological character of Ficino's <i>De vita coelitus comparanda</i>, as well as Abbott's use, in his description of Bruno, of words such as "juggler," which are often found in the anti-magical polemics of this period. Yates claims that such elements in Abbott's narrative not only reinforce her thesis of a Hermetic Bruno but also serve to show how his post-Copernican and infinite cosmological picture was nothing other than a magical talisman of astrological origin, without any real astronomical validity. In this way, Yates appears to resolve the apparent contradiction between Ficino's text and Copernicus's astronomy by dissolving his Copernicanism in the occult currents of Renaissance Hermeticism. <p> It was only several years later that the problem of Bruno at Oxford was taken up once again in serious terms, when Michele Ciliberto studied it in his two books on Bruno's philosophy published in 1986 and 1990. In Ciliberto's opinion, it is not possible to reduce Bruno's cosmology to a mere astrological emblem—on the contrary, Abbott's page makes it clear that his cosmology was the element in his thought that created the most difficulties for the Oxford dons, who remained faithful to the Aristotelian–Ptolemaic universe. On the other hand, Ciliberto also underlined the importance, with respect to Bruno's Oxford lectures, of the work titled <i>Sigillus sigillorum</i>, published by Bruno in London as an addition to the <i>Explicatio triginta sigillorum</i>. Ciliberto considers this to be a work of fundamental importance insofar as it represents a "gnoseological chrysalis" within which the difference between the infinite worlds and the infinite universe begins to germinate. It is precisely this concept of an infinite universe that calls into question both the Parmenidian unity as well as the Anaxagorean variety and vicissitude that "postulated everything in everything, because the soul, the spirit or the universal form is in everything; so that from everything, all things can be produced." In Bruno, the individual soul searches for unity with the world soul, through the effort of the various grades of reason, intellect, and sense of which it disposes. The <i>Sigillus</i> thus unites "an analysis of the <i>rectores</i> of the active intellect" to a preliminary definition of the constitutive elements of Bruno's cosmology, leading Ciliberto to conclude that "it is not difficult to imagine what Bruno might have said at Oxford." <p> Giovanni Aquilecchia, finding that this conclusion failed to satisfy him, took up the subject again in his volume <i>Le opere italiane di Giordano Bruno</i> of 1991, where he underlined in particular the problem of the interruption of Bruno's lectures, which in his opinion is to be considered as certainly having taken place. Aquilecchia points out that the <i>Sigillus</i> does not contain a fully fledged Copernican discussion, in astronomical terms, such as the one that can be found in the later <i>Ash Wednesday Supper</i>, and that Abbott's page suggests already took place at Oxford. For Aquilecchia, furthermore, any conclusion had to be avoided that led back to Yates's thesis, which he considered a serious oversimplification, for Aquilecchia never accepted that Bruno's defense of the Copernican astronomy was nothing more than a part of his revival of the Egyptian Hermetic religion, becoming (as Yates claimed) a hieroglyph that announces the return of an astral magic. <p> Another significant treatment of this subject can be found in a much discussed paper read by Rita Sturlese at the conference on "Fonti e motivi dell'opera di Giordano Bruno" held at the University of Cassino in 1993. Sturlese develops Ciliberto's thesis that the <i>Sigillus</i> contains the essence of what Bruno said at Oxford, and by following this path (as Aquilecchia had predicted), she arrives at a conclusion similar to that reached by Yates. For the astronomical component of Bruno's Oxford lectures is considered by Sturlese as largely irrelevant, in spite of the fact that Abbott's page seems to testify to the contrary. Sturlese reaches this conclusion by approaching the subject from the angle of the titles of his Oxford lectures that are specified by Bruno himself in <i>The Ash Wednesday Supper</i>, where he claims to have spoken on two different subjects: <i>de immortalitate animae</i> and <i>de quintuplici sphera</i>. Sturlese starts with an analysis of paragraph 31 of the <i>Sigillus</i>, titled <i>de quintuplici et simplici progressionis gradu</i>, where the soul is considered to be the unique and unifying center of the five senses. Through a purifying ascension, the soul is identified as a spherical monad, although not a transcendental one, as in the Plotinian and Ficinian sources of the <i>Sigillus</i>. Sturlese's analysis is thus centered on Bruno's concept of soul, and of the process by which it becomes conscious of itself as a unity and a dynamic entity (that is to say, as a "quintuple sphere"). Only in this way does the soul become aware of the immanent nature of its founding and unifying One. In this concept of immanence, Sturlese might have found, as Ciliberto had attempted to do before her, a connection between the journey of the soul narrated in the <i>Sigillus sigillorum</i> and the beginnings of a properly cosmological discourse that would rapidly develop in the coming years. However, like Yates, she also insists on seeing Bruno's astronomy at Oxford as a superfluous irrelevance, basing this conclusion on the rather surprising assertion that "on examination, the expression <i>quintuplex sphaera</i> makes no sense either in a Copernican or in a Ptolemaic context." <p> Developing this varied and variegated discussion in the following years, and particularly between 1993 and 1995, Aquilecchia returns to the subject of <i>Bruno at Oxford</i> in terms that place it on a new basis, particularly by introducing into the discussion the discovery on the part of Mordechai Feingold of some important and previously unknown documents. These were the texts of the already mentioned lectures of Henry Savile, which were probably delivered in 1573, or a decade before Bruno's visit to Oxford. According to Feingold, Savile's lectures contained the first consistent public reference at the ancient English university to the new Copernican cosmology. However, Aquilecchia, after a detailed study of these manuscripts, claimed that this is only partially exact. For Savile made only a brief reference to Copernicus's heliocentric cosmology in a context of mathematical calculation—thus reducing it to the role of a pure hypothesis. On the contrary, Bruno in <i>The Ash Wednesday Supper</i> proposes a fully realistic interpretation of the Copernican theory and appears to have already anticipated this realist reading at Oxford. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>ESSAYS ON GIORDANO BRUNO</b> by <b>HILARY GATTI</b> Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.