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Giordano Bruno’s Geometry o f Language

A Dissertation
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School
Yale University
in Candidacy for the Degree o f
Doctor o f Philosophy

Arielle Saiber

Dissertation Director: Giuseppe Mazzotta

December 1999

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UMI Number: 9954363

Copyright 2000 by
Saiber, Arielle

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Giordano Bruno’s Geometry of Language

Arielle Saiber
Yale University

Giordano Bruno’s writing is a striking example o f geometry’s explicit and

implicit participation in language. His work demonstrates an attentiveness to the

figurative; that is. to the figures o f both classical rhetoric and Euclidean geometry.

My dissertation investigates what is geometric o f Bruno's language and what is

rhetorical about his geometric diagrams. Through three "geometric readings” I

demonstrate that certain geometric figures echo and complement Bruno’s use of the

figurative idiom.

Chapter One offers an historical overview o f geometry in sixteenth-century

Europe, and an assessment of Bruno’s mathematical expertise. Here, I also account

for the paucity of scholarship on Bruno's geometry and on the relationship between

his language and his mathematics. In the body o f the dissertation. I isolate three

categories o f geometric form— the curve, the angle, and the straight line—and three

works by Bruno. In Chapter Two, I consider the "curvilinear tropes” of

circumlocution, hyperbole, ellipsis, and parable in the Cena de le ceneri, arguing

that ethical, cosmological, and theological principles are reflected in and

emphasized by the geometric rhetoric o f the dialogue. In Chapter Three, I examine

the “angles” in Bruno’s De gli eroici furori as expressed in tropes o f contradiction

(such as oxymoron) and in “axial” tropes (such as chiasmus) that revisit Bruno’s

philosophy of coincidentia oppositorum. In the fourth chapter, I trace Bruno’s

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critique o f pedantic thought in the Candelaio through manifestations o f rhetorical

and conceptual “rectilinearity” in the tropes o f listing and inversion.

In Bruno’s writing, word and image intersect and clamor for recognition.

To expand our understanding o f Bruno’s philosophical thought, we must articulate

this intersection. In so doing, we also open a door onto the larger question o f how

geometry contributes to the rhetoric o f argumentation and literature as a whole. In

my Conclusion, I draft a theory for the "geometric reading” o f literature, outlining

the metaphoric geometry that is present in all forms o f literature.

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Giordano Bruno’s Geometry of Language


Introduction______________________________________________ 1-20

Chapter 1: The A xiom s_____________________________________21

Chapter 2: C urves_________________________________________ 46

Chapter 3: A ngles__________________________________________103

Chapter 4: Lines___________________________________________ 153

Conclusion: The Point_____________________________________ 185

List o f Figures____________________________________________ 199

Glossary of Mathematical T erm s____________________________ 203


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On a typical study-hall evening in the library o f my boarding school. 1

strayed, as usual, from my homework to an enticing book on a shelf nearby. This

time, however, I came across a magnificent quotation by a certain G. Bruno. “The

universe is all center," it said, "with its circumference nowhere.” My fourteen years

of living had not yet prepared me for such a thought. I copied down the sentence on

a scrap of paper and taped it to the wall over my desk; it stayed there through my

senior year. It was not until my junior year o f college that I happened once again

upon this “G. Bruno.” In a course on memory and metaphor at the Universita di

Bologna, the same sentence appeared, but this time in Italian. In a flash I made the

connection. Moments later my mind was racing.

My dissertation has been a chance for me to offer thanks to whatever

occasione it was that introduced me to Bruno’s thought when I was fourteen, and a

chance to thank Bruno for his courage and abandon in thinking the “unthinkable.” I

hope what I have written would have pleased him, though I imagine its inevitable

pedanteria would, instead, serve to fuel his polemical spirit and elicit tremendous


But thanks are always due to those who crack the whip o f criticism. To the

director o f this thesis and my advisor, Giuseppe Mazzotta, I owe infinite

gratitude— gratitude for his guidance, encouragement, discussions, and provocative

questions. From me, the minimo, to the mentor, the immenso.

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I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have a number o f mentors

throughout this project and my graduate studies, and I profoundly thank Professors

Anna Botta, George Hersey, Nuccio Ordine, and Paolo Valesio for their

suggestions, comments, conversations, and most o f all, inspiration. Other scholars

who have contributed greatly to my research and scholarship and to whom I owe

particular gratitude and admiration are Professors Giovanni Aquilecchia. Wai Chee

Dimock, and Deanna Shemek. A special thanks also goes to the professor o f

mathematics, Michael Frame, who met with me on a regular basis to dissect

Bruno’s geometric diagrams. There are so many others whom I have met at

conferences and over the course of my work in Italy that I would like to

acknowledge as well.

Friends, how many friends I must thank! As many enemies as Bruno had, 1

am blessed with friends. First and foremost. 1 thank Jenny Davidson for her

relentless, patient, brilliant editing of my entire dissertation. I have tried to

communicate to her a boundless universe o f gratitude, but she is far too sensible to

accept such indebtedness. To my cherished interlocutors. I offer colossal thanks: S.

Baldassarri, S. Bassi, A. Bertland. J. Boss, A. Chazkel, M.P. Ellero, J. Fisher, D.

Hecht, D. Ho. R. Kirkbride, J. Lewin, R. Lofthouse. A. Perfetti, K.. Phillips, T.

Pollard, T. Prowidera, R. Ruquist. M. Shurkin, K. and D. Solomon, E. Steiner, P.

Tonolo, G. Trone, M. Truglio, and A. Ulanov. And to DK, who patiently worked

with me on the numerous graphics, thank you.

From the friends that have enhanced my thesis, to an institution that has

nurtured it, I thank the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici in Naples, Italy. I am

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grateful not only for the generosity o f the 1ISF in giving me summer fellowships to

do research in Italy and a year-long dissertation fellowship, but especially indebted

to Awocato Gerardo Marotta, the president o f the IISF. A w ocato Marotta's

tenacity and outstanding vision in promoting the study o f philosophy in a time

when humanistic study is in decline is unparalleled. He has been among the most

important figures o f my academic career to date, and I aspire to continue his project

in one form or another.

And finally, an avalanche o f thanks goes to my parents, John and Julie

Heyman, who have cheerfully and conceitedly followed my academic pursuits since

I wrote a paper on Russian nihilism in ninth grade. They have earnestly puzzled

over my thesis, perpetually clipped and sent me articles about mathematics and

literature, courageously accepted my living in the quartieri o f downtown Naples,

and have listened to my melodramatic moments with as much love and support as

my joyous intervals of discovery and satisfaction.

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Giordano Bruno’s language abounds with geometry. The dimensions o f

his literature attempt to reflect the universe, to intersect it. Curves, angles, lines,

and points are drafted into the lexical shape o f his thought. His words move as

elliptically as the orbits o f the planets in the Copemican solar system, as

eccentrically as his own passage through the courts of sixteenth-century Europe.

The specific aim o f this dissertation is to trace how Bruno brings about a change in

the language o f philosophy: how he uses geometry as a language to represent such

metaphysical concepts as the One, the immense, the minimum, coincideniia

oppositorum, and multiplicity. This task involves unraveling the convergence that

Bruno elaborates between mathematics and logos, and. ultimately, demonstrating

why performing a "‘geometric reading” o f Bruno's texts— and. by extension, any

literary text— is a worthwhile project.

Bruno's writing shows an author with a tenacious grip on pure number and

form. Geometry was, for Bruno, a profitable nomenclature for articulating his

thoughts and theories; and it served a creative function in his lexicon similar to that

played by Plato's demiurge, Pythagoras' tetraktys, Kepler’s facultas form atrix.

Christianity’s Trinity, and Vico’s verum ipsum factum principle. With geometry,

Bruno denoted the infinite, and by doing so, mimicked it. He configured the

universe with the figurative.

Especially compelling evidence for Bruno’s geometry o f language can be

found in his 1588 treatise dedicated to Rudolf II o f Prague, Articuli adversus

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mathematicos. There are forty-two diagrams appended to the text that speak o f

subjects both within and beyond the bounds o f Euclidean geometry— they take on a

metaphoric power. What is more, they invite the reader to observe that just as

Bruno's geometry is replete with metaphor, his literary metaphors and language are

filled with geometry. Language and geometry are co-implicated in Bruno’s

expression, thought, and mode of describing the "multi-verse.”

This Introduction will point to a series o f examples o f "metaphoric

geometry” and "geometric metaphors” in the ornamental motifs o f Bruno's Articuli,

thereby giving a prototype of the geometric readings to come. I reserve for the first

chapter of the dissertation an elaboration of the notion o f a Brunian geometry of

language, through exploring the tradition of commerce between geometry and

rhetoric; through isolating Bruno's knowledge and peculiar use o f geometry; and

through presenting the current status o f scholarship on Bruno's geometry. The

following three chapters, then, perform expanded geometric readings o f three of

Bruno's Italian dialogues; La cena de le Ceneri. De gli eroici furori. and II

candelaio. What we will see emerge over the course o f these geometric readings is

a mosaic o f figurative language, from circumlocution to chiasmus to the hyper­

linearity o f a linguistic list. Bruno wrote figuratively, both in the verbal and visual

sense. As such, it behooves us as readers to recognize the actual shape o f his

philosophy. By keeping geometry in mind when reading Bruno’s writing, the

figures that populate his complex universe emerge into new clarity, revealing key

motifs within his literature. In the Conclusion o f this dissertation I propose a

geometric reading o f literature, showing why such a reading is not only valid, but

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valuable to the work o f literary critics. Using Bruno as a point o f departure, I show

ways in which readers o f literature might employ this kind o f analysis to other

works o f prose or poetry, expanding the scope o f figurative language and enriching

textual interpretation.

For Bruno, the theoretical is never a mere question o f abstraction. To be

truly theoretical always means to be practical, and the unity o f theory and practice

offers a way out o f dualisms. Therefore, in Brunian spirit, I now turn my attention

to theory-in-practice by way o f a close reading. The Articuli adversus

mathematicos' is a kind o f textbook o f planar geometry, equipped with definitions,

axioms, propositions, and demonstrations (elucubrationes, as Bruno calls them).

But it is also, and even more importantly, an outlet for Bruno to promote the

integration of mathematics with a philosophy of nature, a project he will further

elaborate in the Frankfurt poems.2 O f the forty-two diagrams that he includes in the

text, some appear stolidly geometric, such as those illustrating the golden section,

polygon families, corollary figures, consecutive squares, the ideas o f continuum,

gnomic expansion, rotational and mirror symmetry, and successive bisections.

(figs. 1,2,3). Others seem hardly geometric at all. such as those representing a

snake, a lute, or an explosion o f zigzag lines (figs. 4 ,5 ,6 ). All the diagrams,

' The full title o f the treatise is Articuli centum et sexaginta adversus huius tempestatis
mathematicos atque philosophos. By "mathematicos” Bruno is referring specifically to
mathematicians, and not to learned men in general, unlike the “mathematicos” o f Sextus Empiricus
in his Adversus mathematicos.

2 See especially, Bruno De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 332-334. All citations from Bruno’s
Latin works are from the following edition: Opera latine conscripta, ed. F. Fiorentino et al., 8 vols.
(Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1962).

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Figure 2: “Specula." Giordano Bruno, A rticuli

Figure !: “Scala vitae." Giordano Bruno, adversus m athem aticos.
A rticuli adversus m athem aticos.3

Figure 3: “ Expansor." Giordano Bruno, Figure 4: “ Prometheus." Giordano Bruno,

A rticuli adversus m athem aticos. Articuli adversus m athem aticos.

Figure 5: “Z oem etra." Giordano Bruno,

Figure 6: “Theuti circulus." Giordano Bruno,
A rticuli adversus m athem aticos.
A rticuli adversus m athem aticos.

3 All images from Articuli adversus mathematicos are from the following edition: Prague: Georgii
Dacziceni, 1588. The examplar consulted is from the Biblioteca comunale di Como, Sala Benzi 7.6.93.
The images are reproduced from Ubaldo Nicola, 11sigillo deisigilli. I diagrammi ermetici, trans. Emanuela
Colombi, ed. Ubaldo Nicola (Milan: Mimesis, 1995).

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however, are surrounded by what one might call "ornamental frames,” found also

in Bruno’s De m inim of but nowhere else in his works. What is more, these

ornamental frames often bleed into the geometric diagrams themselves, decorating

the open interstices. Such a blending o f ornament and diagram in a printed work is

highly unusual in the Renaissance, considering the trend at the time in Europe for

printing arabesque fleuron motifs as frames around text, as dividers in between

text, and as line-fillers.3

The only modem edition of Bruno’s Articuli has. unfortunately, treated the

diagrams and their ornamentation as peripheral to the text. Consultation o f two o f

the only four surviving first editions reveals something that the 1889 Tocco-Vitelli

edition o f the Articuli does not: the first six diagrams o f the forty-two are actually

included within the body o f the text itself.6 The other thirty-six diagrams are

placed at the end o f the text, perhaps due to an impatient printer who wanted to set

the letter presses and continue printing the text before all the diagrams were ready,

or due to a lack o f folio space. But given the importance of the first three diagrams

4 Bruno. De triplici minimo et mensura (Frankfurt: Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer, 1591).
5 For information on the history' o f the printer’s ornament and examples thereof, see especially
E.P. Goldschmidt, The Printed Book o f the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1950); Arthur Hind, Introduction to a History o f Woodcut, 2 vols. 1935 reprint (New York: Dover,
1963); Francis Meynell and Stanley Morison, “ Printers’ Flowers and Arabesques.” Fleuron
Anthology, ed. Francis Meynell and Herbert Simon (Boston: David R. Godine. 1979): 1-30: Dale
Roylance, Printers' Ornaments (New Haven: Carl Purlington Rollins Printing Office o f Yale
University Press, 1967): John Ryder, Flowers and Flourishes (London: Mackays. 1976); and
Frederic Warde, Printers' Ornaments Applied to the Composition o f Decorative Boarders. Panels,
and Patterns (London: Lanston Monotype Corp.. Ltd., 1928).

6 Articuli adversus mathematicos (Prague: Georgii Dacziceni, 1588), held in Como’s

Biblioteca comunale (Sala Benzi 7.6.93) and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France (Rds. D \5278
[1 ]). See Tocco and Vitelli’s edition. Opera Latine Conscripta, vol. I.iii, first published in
Florence in 1889, and reprinted in 1962 in Stuttgart.

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in particular to Bruno’s mathematical project, and the emphasis he places on them

in the opening pages of the Articuli. it seems problematic to include them only at

the end o f the text— as Tocco and Vitelli have done— with the other diagrams. This

silent omission is symptomatic o f a larger absence of attention in Bruno studies to

the question of geometry and the diagrammatic.

There is, for example, a serious concern regarding the manner in which

Tocco and Vitelli have "edited” Bruno's diagrams (fig. 7). A comparison o f

Bruno's original woodcut (on the left) with the version printed by Tocco and Vitelli

(on the right) reveals that these nineteenth-century editors considered extraneous

the ornamentation surrounding and filling the geometric figures.

Figure 7a: “ Lucifer seu reportator.” Giordano

Figure 7b: “ Lucifer seu reportator." Giordano
Bruno, A rticuli adversus m athem aticos.
Bruno, Articuli adversus m athem aticos in
Opera Latine conscripta, ed. F. Tocco and G.
Vitelli, vol. I.iii (Stuttgart: Friedrich
Frommann Verlag, 1962). 103.

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Given that Bruno made these woodcuts himself, what would be the sense in

eliminating parts of them?7 What the revised diagrams gain in clarity, they lose in

the overall meaning. Bruno must have had a motive more substantial than mere

decoration for including these detailed motifs.

The most obvious clue to the importance with which Bruno endowed these

motifs lies in the first few pages of

L O U D . J U r N . tfOi.
itf t& u n tn pajfuattjft p t* s in ts ,& [aperut*
(u ttd te flu tes. Ia prpfeatitraat d ttt m «*•-
the Articuli. Here, Bruno introduces
d tn ttjfim i dffdu b'it pafdlum Getptrfrid nu/ .
met ttiam vaiaaft Udtbtftas three symbols: a circle, a moon, and a
tit id iJtdTum Harm** f S * r tf im t-
g ia a n , & itn fiq u tin tr (a tfrtra m tp e r t f t •
(u ltdtam & d n it»», qua Htnfiei Mdtbtfi>fi- star, to which he assigns the values of
tu t c tr ti pec tuMtTprpm Tttitntbm fa*i-rSft
n a m tn ttjn m m * g d ittd t» ib m , ttpfifipnt.
mind, intellect, and love, respectively
&g u tt Mentb m td Q
f ig a t d InteBtHm J (fig. 8). These symbols appear
figurt Amaru jg

Figure 8: “Specula.” Giordano Bruno, A rticuli

throughout the geometric diagrams
adversus m athem aticos.
and the body o f the text, as well as

throughout the diagrams of De minima (figs. 9,10). What relevance might these

M O a
Figure 9: Various diagrams from Giordano Bruno, De minimo (Frankfurt: Johann Wechei &
Peter Fischer, 1591).

7 The printer Johann Wechel’s introductory note to De minimo reveals that Bruno made the
woodcuts for De minimo himself. Because these diagrams are nearly identical to those o f the
Articuli, we can infer that Bruno is likely to have made the Articuli's diagrams. See W echel’s
introduction written by Wechei to De minimo in Op. Lai., vol. I.iii, 123-124.

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symbols have to mathematics?
aktic. c o n t. w i g .
ftm txeeffm Jen differentia terminnm indi- Bruno tells us that the three symbols
m. VtrtSnm bifxrism diaidnm ? mu­
lti extrtmerum ciuumfiuxu fd S i,fi fu n S i
luterftStinh tm um ftrenti* in pnnSnm ip~ together embody a •'tripartite
djttnm flnsty tunc bifftSiinh pnnSa in rtS d
ibieSd tndudbit ,vr f d t tt in reSd A B- pit S i o
principle o f formation." We know
I ttrtnmfiuente (tntrnm Aycircule S C A B ,
i p nnSt A circumfluentt tennnm S ,pu n S i
I, ciuuli A C D A vbi: punSum Cfiuens in that a circle with a point in the
uiSum D , rtSdm A £ biffitat in pnnSi O.
j. Vt ptrptndituldjm i ddtipunQ i ducum?
tin pnnSi pojiti ctntrt,dtq, difiuntid, pur: center is the astrological-alchemical
'tbitSd riSd arrumfinxn timprehenddtar,&
npnnSS itUrn bijfrSd ddtnm pnnSnm fludt: symbol for the sun and for gold, and
ft ftper rtSd A S i ddti pnnSi C,p*fitt ctn-
in C & (iunmflnxn A B a , ftper pun Sum
M tSiinn O, pnnSnm C fiudt. ldem fit ia that a crescent moon is the symbol
tttrmd tx ) f i d pnnSi Untd U . & t t cintin-
(tutn A, in ten m m ducutur reSd A d. i+V t
iitd rtS d lin ed 0 A S ip n n S i in td d d ti O
for the moon and for silver. The
rtSim liitdm 4d dnguhs r tS it e x titd b i.
(idem qui pnxim e fnpra p d S i. if. Vt fa- five-pointed star, on the other hand,
}*ddti puSi 0 O lintdm ddunguium re S i
txtitdbi ? Eidtm f d S t <jue perpenduuUrtm.
Item, vt in } fuper pnnSnm A in reds li- is not an astrological-alchemical
•(4 a A perptndiculdrem & ddreSam angu
(in H A fnftipidm. Ipfi 4 A dqauli dtftan- symbol, but may recall the “morning

star," another name for the planet

Figure 10: Giordano Bruno, A rticuli adversus
Venus; hence Bruno's association o f

the star with love. The five-pointed star might also represent magic, the

Pythagorean pentagram, or the human microcosm. These three symbols also

implicitly carry the weight o f the mythological tradition o f antiquity. Bruno often

gave mythological names to diagrams or points on a diagram.9 The circle with a

dot (which he calls “mind") we could immediately associate with Apollo, and the

star (which he calls “ love”) with Venus. The moon (which he calls “intellect”) is

somewhat perplexing, as the moon is usually associated with Diana, while the

8 Bruno, Articuli in Op. Lai., vol. I.iii, 2 1.

9 See especially Bruno’s Praelectiones geometricae and the Frankfurt poems.

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intellect is more commonly associated with Minerva. Another set o f figures

suggests, however, Bruno’s trend in associating the moon with Minerva. Giovanni

Aquilecchia notes in his introduction to Bruno’s Praelectiones geometricae and Ars

deformationum that three geometrical diagrams in De minimo ("Atrium Veneris.”

"Atrium Minervae,” and "Atrium Apollinis”) are nearly identical to the first three

geometrical diagrams (or principal figures) of the .4/7/cm// (figs. 11.12, 1 3,14,15,

16).10 In De minimo. Bruno identifies the three atria as figures from which all

others can be derived.11 With this piece of data in hand, we can deduce two

additional statements: first, given that the two sets of geometrical diagrams are very

similar, we can speculate that the mythological names of the diagrams in De

minimo are transferable to the unnamed principal figures in the Articuli: second,

given that the three little symbols—circle, moon, and star—o f the Articuli display

the same qualities as those attributed to the mythological figures o f Apollo.

Minerva, and Venus (mind, intellect, and love), the little symbols are conceptually

interchangeable with the first three geometrical diagrams of the Articuli.

By making these connections, I hope to show that these three symbols serve

as a shorthand for Bruno— not only as abbreviations for the first three geometrical

diagrams of the Articuli, but also as reminders of the qualities o f mind, intellect,

and love that are present in his vision o f mathematics.

10 See Giovanni Aquilecchia, ed., Giordano Bruno, Praelectiones geometricae e Ars

deformationum. Testi inediti (Rome: Editore di Storia e Letteratura, 1964), xxv. Bruno does not
name the first three diagrams in the Articuli.

11 Bruno, De minimo in Op. Lat.. vol. I.iv, 283.

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Figure 11: First diagram. Giordano Bruno, Figure 14: “Atrium Apollinis.” Giordano
Articuli adversus m athem aticos. Bruno, De m inim o.

Figure 12: Second diagram. G iordano Bruno,

A rticuli adversus m athem aticos.
Figure IS: “Atrium Veneris.” Giordano
Bruno, De m inim o.

Figure 13: Third diagram. G iordano Bruno, Figure 16: “Atrium M inervae.” Giordano
A rticuli adversus mathem aticos. Bruno, De m inim o.

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He says that these three symbols are fecund with reference not only to geometry but

to all forms of knowledge.12 Furthermore, their tripartite nature also recalls the

■‘triple-minimum”— the three-fold foundation o f Bruno's natural philosophy— in

which the geometric point, the metaphysical monad, and the physical atom are all

representative o f the universe's first principle o f unity. Bruno scatters these

symbols throughout the text, thereby recalling three triads: those o f Mind, Intellect,

and Love: of Apollo. Minerva, and Venus; and o f the point, the number one. and

the atom. He thus integrates the qualities he perceives as lacking in current

mathematical and philosophical work, rooting his geometric project not in

abstractions, but in the virtues o f mind-intellect-love, mythology, metaphysics, and

the natural world.

Another interesting fact about the three little symbols is that they are all

celestial', sun, moon, and star. In the diagrams, however, these celestial symbols

are joined with other symbols—

leaves, flowers, hearts— that I would

call terrestrial (fig. 17). Sixteenth-

century typography, drawing heavily

from the design patterns o f the Arab

world, used myriad terrestrial

motifs— fleurons o f all kinds from

Figure 17: “Auctor." G iordano Bruno, A rticuli
adversus mathem aticos.
interlacing vine leaves to blossoming

12 Bruno, Articuli in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 21. See also John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica, which
uses very similar symbols with an equivalent meaning.

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petals— to decorate the printed text.13 In Bruno’s Articuli, however, the

“decorations” are not merely floral. He seems to consciously bring the terrestrial

and the celestial together in the frames and interstices o f the geometric figures. In

his dedicatory epistle to Rudolf II, Bruno speaks about how mathematicians have

broken the laws o f love and nature by separating mathematics from the celestial and

the terrestrial worlds. Thus, by encoding his geometry with the celestial motifs of

circle, moon, and star, as well as with numerous terrestrial motifs, Bruno may have

been trying to effect a reconciliation between mathematics and the world outside it.

Tocco and Vitelli's decision to have their technical designer. Federico Renzetti,

trim these symbols from the diagrams interferes with the very intention, as well as

the nomenclature, of Bruno's mathesis.

What is more, the three motifs placed within and around the geometric

diagrams o f the Articuli represent quite possibly a move on Bruno's part to invite

his readers to engage the figures on multiple levels: to see geometry as part o f an

organic and divine expression linked to the terrestrial and celestial worlds, rather

than abstracted from them. In the introduction to their translation o f Bruno's

Eroici, Edward Gosselin and Lawrence Lemer propose that the incompleteness and

incongruities o f the diagrams in the Eroici may have been intentionally orchestrated

by Bruno in certain cases so as to force the reader to participate in his philosophy—

to fill in what has been left out, to re-direct one’s vision to seeing the relationship

13 The typographic arabesque derived many o f its patterns from what was used in lace-making.
Such “inter-lacing” motifs could hardly have gone unnoticed by someone like Bruno with an eye
for symmetry, proportion, and patterns with infinite recursion. See especially Stanley Morison and
Esther Potter. The Splendour o f Ornament and Specimens Selectedfrom the Essempio di recammi
o f Giovanni Antonio Tagliente (London: Lion & Unicom Press, 1968).

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between text and image in a different way.14 This notion works equally well for

Bruno’s geometric figures and the supposed ornamentation in and around them. He

calls the mathematicians and philosophers o f his time "blind” : blind, perhaps, to

what one might see within, around, between, and beyond the lines drawn by a

compass and a straightedge.

There is a particular diagram in

the Articuli that further evidences this

notion of Bruno's "intentional

incongruities” and the necessity of

reading within, around, between, and

beyond Bruno's diagrams. "Geometria'

(fig. 18) displays the nesting o f squares

and circles, the doubling o f areas, and a Figure 18: “Geometra." Giordano Bruno,
A rticuli adversus mathematicos.
division into quadrants. Perhaps the

diagram is an attempt— serious or mocking— to square the circle. Curiously. Bruno

does not talk about "Geometria” anywhere in the text o f the Articuli. How. then, do

we account for the diagram to which Bruno assigned such a specific, pertinent

name? Is its absence in the text a printer’s error? Unlikely. Is it sloppiness on

Bruno’s part? Perhaps. Regardless, these incongruities should force us to think

more rigorously about what Bruno was trying to prove, to say about geometry,

about the mathematicians and philosophers o f his time. It is not likely that Bruno

14 Edward Gosselin and Lawrence S. Lemer, Introduction to Giordano Bruno's Ash

Wednesday Supper (Toronto: University o f Toronto Press, 1995), 197-198.

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meant to put errors into his diagrams, and we know he was his own most

punctilious editor.13 In many cases, the errors do seem to be due to carelessness

and oversights, but in other cases, omissions and incongruities might offer forms of

provocation; we know Bruno was fond of provoking other to alter their thinking.

These motifs seem to elucidate Bruno's "mathesistical" geometry— to borrow a

term from Frances Yates— as well as illuminate his use o f figurative language.16

They are part and parcel o f his revision of mathematics, religion, and human

interaction. They are semiotic components o f his very mathesis.

How would cae describe Bruno's mathesis'? The Greek etymology refers to

••knowledge” or an “act o f learning.” Bruno never specifically defined what he

meant by mathesis, though he generally seems to use it as any Latin speaker o f the

sixteenth century would have: to mean mathematics. In the Eroici he speaks of

Archimedes' mathesis.17 and in the dedicatory letter to Rudolf II in the Articuli. he

calls his own revision o f mathematics a mathesis. In the Triginta sigilli. Bruno

includes mathesis as one o f the four guides o f religion— love, art. and magic being

the other three. I take this inclusion to mean that for Bruno, mathesis is a

companion of love, art, and magic. In Bruno's definition o f religion, mathesis

completes this aesthetic-esoteric tetrad. The link between mathematics and all the

arts is fundamentally divine.

15 See Johann Wechel, Introduction to De minimo in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 123-124.

15 See Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. 1964 reprint (Chicago:
University o f Chicago Press, 1991), 324.

17 Bruno, Eroici. 1118. All citations from Bruno's Dialoghi italiani are from the following
edition: Dialoghi italiani. ed. Giovanni Aquilecchia (Florence: Sansoni. 1983).

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Frances Yates understood Bruno’s mathesis to be the natural force that lies
in between mathematics and physical things. I see it, instead, as containing

mathematics, or even being mathematics. It is reminiscent o f early Neoplatonic

thought on the interrelations between number, form, matter, and essence; it is a

conglomerate of symbols, notations, and linguistic signs. Hilary Gatti offers an

evocative model o f Bruno’s mathesis as a “meta-mathematics.” 19 I would further

expand Gatti's term to say that Bruno's mathesis is “meta” in that it points both

beyond itself and to itself; it is both self-aware and aware o f its role in God's

creation. And as Angelika Bonker-Vallon has noted, Bruno believes that it is

through mathematics (or mathesis) that the first principles can be accessed, pointed

to, and recognized.20 Knowledge is attained in Bruno's universe through the

application of mathesis.

Still the question remains: why did Bruno go to the trouble o f carving the

little celestial and terrestrial shapes only to intersperse them in the text o f the

Articuli and in the diagrams o f both the Articuli and De minimol If they were

pertinent to his mathematical project, why did he not include them in the geometric

diagrams o f his other works? Before the Articuli, Bruno wrote a number o f books

that have prominent and substantial numbers o f geometric figures: De compendiosa

18 Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 296.

19 Hilary Gatti, Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
1999), 146. Though not directly related to Bruno, Sarah Voss’s study, What Number is God?
Metaphors, Metaphysics, Metamathematics, and the Nature o f Things (Albany: SUNY Press,
1995) offers a detailed discussion o f mathematics as a language, pointing out what is inherently
“meta” about it.

20 See Angelika Bdnker-Vallon, Metaphysik und Mathematik bei Giordano Bruno (Berlin:
Akademie Verlag, 1995).

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architectura (1582); Dialogo duo di Fabricii Mortends (1586); and De progressu

et lampade (1587). After the Articuli, he composed the heavily geometrical

Frankfurt poems (of which the first poem also contains the little motifs) and De

imaginum compositione (1591).21

We can only speculate as to the motives or circumstances that led to this

localized use o f motifs in Bruno’s geometry. Perhaps he had more leisure time

while in the court o f Rudolf II to carve these detailed figures. Perhaps the printer.

George Daczicen, was more willing to wait for Bruno to complete these intricate

woodcuts than the printers Gourbin and Chevillot had been before, or Wechel

would be afterward. De minimo is the first o f the Frankfurt poems, and it is

possible that by the time Bruno began writing the other two (which also contain

numerous geometric diagrams), he had less time to continue such detailed work. It

is also possible that the woodcuts he had already made were lost, either by himself

or by the printer. I have looked at other geometrical treatises o f the mid- and late

sixteenth century printed in Italy. France. Germany, and England, and have found

no other occurrence of this particular grouping o f woodcut or letterpress motifs

surrounding and filling geometric diagrams.22 Equally, in the other works printed

21 For the exemplars o f Bruno’s works to which I allude, see the section entitled “Giordano
Bruno: Early Exemplars Consulted” in the Bibliography. Although I have not seen exemplars of
Praelectiones geometricae ( 1587) and Ars deformationum (1587), Giovanni Aquilecchia has told
me that their geometric diagrams do not have the little symbols.

221 have looked at Roger Bacon, The Mirror o f Aichimy (London: Richard Olive, 1597);
Girolamo Cardano, Ars magnae, trans. and ed. T. Richard Walker (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968);
Nicholas Chuquet, Triparty, ed. Cynthia Hay, Graham Flegg, and Barbara Moss (Dordrecht: D.
Reidel Publishing, Co., 1985); Jean Cousin, Livre de perspective (Paris: Jean le Royer, 1560);
John Dee, The Elements o f Geometrie o f the Most Ancient Philosopher Euclide o f Megara, trans.
H. Billingsley (London: John Daye, 1570); G.B. della Porta, Elementorum curvilineorum libri
tres. In quibus altera geometriae parte restituta, agitur de circuit quadratura (Rome:
Bartholomaeum Zannettum, 1610); Thomas Digges, A Geomtrical Practise, Named Pantometria

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by Daczicen and Wechel. I have not been able to find similar "ornamentation.”23

Perhaps the printers of the Articuli and the De minimo did not want to take the time

to set the omate metal-plate fleuron arabesques to decorate the text as Bruno would

have liked, and decided to let Bruno make his own, simple version of such designs.

Yet this still does not account for the fact that it is more time-consuming to print

metal-plate moveable type and woodcuts together on one page. This would explain

why the diagrams follow the end o f the text and are not integrated.

The question as to why these little symbols are included only in the Articuli

and De minimo would require a much longer discussion— one that would give a

thorough analysis o f Bruno's circumstances at the time o f printing, of Bruno’s

printers, of typography and xylography, as well as a consideration of the particular

relationship between the Articuli and De minimo. I have attempted, instead, to

engage the question of why Bruno might have chosen in the first place to include

these celestial-terrestrial symbols in the geometric diagrams o f the Articuli. The

impetus for his effort. I believe, and as I hope to have shown, originates in the

(London: Henrie Byneman. 1571); Euclid, Euclidis Elementorum, libri XT (Lutetian: Gulielum
Cavellat, 1558); Francesco Feliciano. Libro di arithmetica e geometria speculative/ (Venice:
Francesco Nindoni & Mapheo Pasini, 1427); Oronce Fine. Opere di Orontio Fineo divise in
cinque parti: aritmetica, geometria. cosmografta, e orivoli, trans. Cosimo Bartoli (Venice:
Franceschi, 1587); Fine, Quadratura circuli (Paris: S. de Colines, 1544); Fine. De re & praxis
geometrica libri tres (Lutetiae: Aegidium Goubinum. 1556); Juan de Ortega, Tratado subtilissimo
de aritmetica y de geometria compueslo y ordenado (Seville: n.p., 1542); Luca Pacioli, Summa de
arithmetica. geometrica. proportioni et proportionalita (Venice: n.p., 1494); and Francois Viete,
The Analytic Art. trans. and ed. T. Richard Winner (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press,
1983). A very few diagrams in the works o f Omoce Fine, however, have copperplate fleurons
scattered here and there in the geometric diagrams (see Opere di Orontio Fineo. 68, 70). though
they seem incidental to the diagrams and more like true ornaments.

231 have not been able to find any other works printed by Daczicen, but Wechel also printed
Dee’s Monas Hieroglvphica (1564) and Della Porta’s Physiognomonica (1591), which contain no
similar celestial-terrestrial motifs.

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complex notion he holds o f mathesis as a fusion o f mathematical abstraction with

the celestial, terrestrial, and human.

Bruno sees mathematics as a language that can explicitly enhance and

transform what we generally express with words alone. To look at Bruno’s

mathematical work without considering language and rhetoric (as critics tend to do)

is problematic, obliging us to see this work as participating in the fragmentary,

disconnected mode o f thought he deplored. Equally, and even more important for

this dissertation, looking at Bruno's language and style without taking into

consideration his fascination for and employment of geometric patterns, numbers,

mathematical notation, and the peculiar tectonics o f data organization (as critics

also tend to do), is to see only part o f the picture, and, I believe, to miss the point.

One must have some familiarity with Bruno's geometry in order to appreciate his

twists and turns o f phrase, his iconographic descriptions, his mnemonic and

magical devices, and his struggle to apprehend, in language, the infinity o f the

universe. In the same way. one must search for the metaphors, symbols, and tropes

within Bruno's geometry' to fully appreciate his struggle to apprehend— in

language— the infinity o f the universe.

Bruno's mathesis is a conglomerate o f word and image. As a discipline.

mathesis concerns itself with maximizing links between the mundane and the

divine in order to increase exponentially our understanding o f all things. Through a

combination o f number, shape, and word, Bruno aims not only to demonstrate, but

also to persuade us to see the universe as a sphere o f infinitely many possible

connections— something like a ball o f criss-crossing spider webs. Bruno’s

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mathesis surfaces in the verbally

sketched emblems o f the Eroici; in

the Spaccio's diagrams o f how to

square the circle, which are missing

in the text and need to be figured

through words; in the

circumlocution describing a

circumambulatorvjoumev to the 2*“re ' 9: *’en,<7 \ heeL De™ brisidearum

- J ' (Pans: Aegidium G orbinum . 1S82).

Ash Wednesday Supper; in the chiastic structure o f oxymoronic neologisms such as

concaveIvconvex and circularlvstraight in the Articuli; in the architectonics of his

memory wheels, like the one that circumscribes the five vowels in Cantus Circaeus

(fig. 19); in the kabbalistic gematria o f letter and number in the Sigillis sigillorum

and De imaginum com position; and in the names he gives his geometric

diagrams— names such as Spider Web, Garden of the Sun, Juno’s Mitre, and

Theuth's Circle.24

The integration of shape, space, number, and word we see in Bruno's

writing reveals a vision o f infinite permutations and combinations o f an infinite

universe. Geometry and language— measuring and naming— reflect each other’s

ultimate inability to measure and name the incommensurate and the unnamable.

The ”spatiality” and "form-ality” o f Bruno’s language illustrate his attempt to

express the ineffable. Geometry is pervasive in Bruno's literature and literature is

24 Regarding the Egyptian god Theuth, see also the “Abacus o f Theutis,” De imaginum in Op.
Lat., vol. Il.iii, 280-281.

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pervasive in his geometry; the dissertation that follows is an attempt to prove the

veracity o f such an assertion.

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Chapter One: The Axioms

In the opening o f Book III o f De immenso, Bruno writes o f how, when he

was young, he looked at the distant Mount Vesuvius from his village in Nola and

thought it an arid, barren mountain. When he finally got close to Vesuvius he saw

it was lull o f life, covered with olive trees and grapes. His initial perception had

been illusory. Bruno’s geometry is like the distant volcano enveloped in mist: a

mammoth structure decked with fruits the untrained eye cannot perceive from far

away. The mountain of geometry must be approached and scrutinized before the

obscure can be apprehended. This chapter aims to take a few steps towards the

base o f Bruno's geometry— the axioms guiding his thought—allowing the

surrounding fog to disperse and the reality o f his mathematical knowledge, skill,

and application to emerge. I will begin with an overview o f the commerce between

geometry and rhetoric in the Renaissance in order to set up my subsequent

discussion o f Bruno’s interest in and use o f geometry. I will close with a look at

the paucity of scholarly contributions made over the last 400 years with regard to

Bruno’s geometry.

The Commerce between Geometry and Rhetoric in the Renaissance

In his 1556 edition o f Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture, Daniele

Barbara discusses how to construct an ideal treatise.1 It should have twenty-seven

1 I would like to cite George Hersey’s Pythagorean Palaces: Magic and Architecture in the
Italian Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976), 49-50 for alerting me to this passage.

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books, sixty-four chapters, and 216 lines per chapter. Twenty-seven is, o f course,

the cube o f three, sixty-four the cube o f four, and 216 the cube o f six.2 Vitruvius,

the great architect o f antiquity, notes that Pythagoras conceived o f these

geometrical figures as aesthetic building blocks for memory.3 As we know from

the pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium, which pre-dates Vitruvius and

would have been well-known to Barbara, we need geometric structures in which to

organize words and allocate them for memorization.4 Given this notion, it was not

a leap for Barbara to envision a treatise as a solid, a chapter as a plane, a sentence

as a line, and a word as a point.

This explicit geometricizing o f text begins to figure prominently in

fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian humanism just at the time in which

mathematical texts from antiquity were being unearthed. It is precisely geometry’s

: Twenty-seven, the cube o f 3. is also the sum o f the consecutive odd numbers 7. 9. and 11; 64.
the cube o f 4. is the sum o f the next four consecutive odd numbers: 27 + 64 = 91; add 91 to 125 (the
cube o f 5) and you get 216, the cube o f 6. See Vitruvius, bk. V and Barbara's 1556 translation. /
died libri dell'architecture! di M. Vitruvio tradutti et commentati da Consignor Barbaro (Venice:
Francesco Marcolini, 1556), 128: “Si come cubo si chiama quel corpo che 6 di sei lati e di sei
quadrati e eguali faccie come un dado, cosi cubo si chiama quel numero che di sei numeri piani
contento per ogni verso tiene eguali dim ensioni.. . ” Barbaro also comments on Vitruvius’
observation that Greek comedy abides by the same Pythagorean ideal o f textual cubes: "lo non ho
trovato ancora, come i Greci facessero le parti, che io atti chiamerei con ragioni cubice non
trovandosi forse quelle favole a quel modo compartite, che si trovavano al tempo di Vitr. Ma e
bisognovo o che gli atti fussero otto, o vero otto science per atto, o vero il numero de versi d ’una
scena, o d’un atto fosse cubico, ma pare che Vitr. accenni gli intermedii delle favole fatte di numero
cubo perch6 gli attori e recitanti si riposassero.. . ” ( / died libri dell'architectural 129). The first
edition o f Vitruvius was printed in 1486 by the circle o f Leto. Fra Giocondo’s illustrated edition
came out in 1511, and Cesare Cesariano published the first Italian translation in 1521, before
Barbara's in 1556.

3 See Hersey, Pythagorean Palaces, 49-50.

4 For the history o f the “architecture” o f memory, see the following studies: Frances Yates, The
Art o f Memory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966); Lina Bolzoni, La stanza della memoria:
Modelli letterari e iconografici nell'eta della stampa (Torino: Einaudi, 1995); Lina Bolzoni and
Pietro Corsi, eds., La cultura della memoria (Bologna: II mulino, 1992); James McConkey, ed.. The
Anatomy o f Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

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claim to proof and certainty that drew the interest o f the humanists. Literary

scholars and orators saw the integration o f geometric proportions and proofs into

their writing as a means o f enhancing its persuasiveness. Geometry, with its claims

to certainty, could provide a convincing argument in much the same way as

dialectic, rhetoric, or even the trompe I 'oeil intarsia cabinets in Urbino and

Alberti’s theory o f creating istoria in a painting. With the re-discovery o f ancient

wisdom, a prism o f figures— geometric and rhetorical— was refracted onto the

pages of humanist production. The humanists brought these two figurative

languages together in an attempt to address the human, the natural, and the divine.

The fusion o f geometry’s rigid methodology with rhetoric’s flourishes and sleight

of hand was to yield a magnificent array o f new literary configurations.

When do these two arts o f persuasion— mathematics and rhetoric— first

intersect? Is it with Pythagoras and his idea that “all is number”? A medieval

Christian might argue that the two were bom simultaneously and exist

symbiotically, because God, the geometer, created the universe through the word.

We can actually trace, however, an early intersection o f mathematics and language

in Hebrew, as the word for text (sepher i d o ) and the word for number

(sephar 1 3 0 ) are nearly identical. In antiquity, Plato points to the Egyptian

God Theuth as the inventor o f mathematics as well as the alphabet.5 Aristotle in his

Posterior Analytics talks about the similarities between geometric reasoning and

syllogistic reasoning (inductio geometrica and inductio syllogistica). Quintilian

3 See Plato’s Phaedrus, 257d.

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was enthusiastic about mathematics’ role in training the orator, and Cicero had as

one of his foremost heroes the geometrician Archimedes.6

It is interesting to note that Euclid’s Elements (fourth century B.C.) contains

terms that will later come to be used in rhetorical manuals. In Book V o f the

Elements, the terms Euclid uses to define the transformation o f ratios, such as

permutation, conversion, and division (defs. 12-16), are echoed in the rhetorical

schemes o f permutatio, conversio. and disjunctio. The rhetorical "figures” are

expressions which twist, flip, cut. and distort syntax, much in the same way as

numbers combine and recombine, and as points, lines, planes, and solids shift to

create geometric forms.7

We can see another example o f geometry and rhetoric's interlacing

terminology in parallels between the conic sections hyperbola-parabola-ellipse and

the literary tropes hyperbole-parable-ellipsis.* The conic sections were named by

Apollonius in the third century B.C., and an investigation o f Hellenistic rhetorical

treatises shows that the names for the tropes hyperbole-parable-ellipsis developed

independently of these geometric terms. It is, nonetheless, worth observing that the

tropes refer to the same spatial concept: hyperbole refers to something that is

6 Quintilian, Ins. Ora. 1.10. Around 75 B.C.. Cicero found Archimedes' neglected tomb in
Sicily near one o f the gates o f Syracuse; see Cicero’s Tusc. Disp. V .23.64-6. In In Verrem
(, Cicero calls Archimedes a man o f "great genius and learning.” In De republica
(1.21.9-10) Cicero evokes the "glorious name o f Archimedes,” as he does in De naturum deorum
(11.88) and Tusc. Disp. (1.63.7-1.64.1).

7 See Sir Thomas Heath’s explanation o f these definitions, in Euclid, The Elements o f Geometry,
ed. Thomas L. Heath, 3 vols. (New York: Dover, 1956), 135-136. He gives as an example for
composition (or compounding) the ratio o f A to B transforming into A+B to B (adding original
antecedent to original consequent): separation : A-B to B; conversion: A to A-B (A being greater
than B).

8 For the purpose o f this dissertation, 1 will be considering the "parable” as a trope, even though

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thrown beyond or is in excess; parable to something that is thrown alongside or is

comparable to; and ellipsis to something that is left out, or is in deficit. Both

geometry and rhetoric are arts o f demonstration and persuasion. They are figurative

languages, nomenclatures informed by shape and space.

The revival of antiquity beginning in fifteenth-century Italy brought with it

the editing and translating frenzy for which the humanists are renowned.

Quintilian’s Institutio was found in 1416, Cicero's De oratione in 1421, and the

Rhetorica ad Herennium in 1491. Among the many mathematical texts that were

discovered, edited, and translated into Latin for the first time were the works of

Archimedes (by Niccolo Tartaglia. 1543) and Apollonius' Conics (by Commandino

in 1566). Most o f the great patrons o f Italy were actively involved in encouraging

the pursuit of mathematical knowledge. The Sforza, the Medici, the dukes of

Urbino, the Greek Cardinal Bessarion. and two Popes (Pius II and Nicholas V) all

ardently supported the revival o f ancient mathematics.

This support by Italy’s most powerful leaders facilitated the move in the

fifteenth century of the center o f mathematical study from Paris to Padua.9 At the

University o f Padua, the humanists dialogued with such mathematicians and

philosophers as Jacopo Zabarella and Pietro Pompanazzi, as well as with other

great minds who passed through the University, Nicholas o f Cusa and Copernicus

it is more commonly categorized as a genre. I do this in order to include it among the tropes o f
hyperbole and ellipsis, and as a parallel to the conic section, “parabola."
9 See John Herman Randall, Jr., The School o f Padua and the Emergence o f Modern Science
(Padua: Editrice Antenore, 1961), 21. Major fifteenth- and sixteenth-century scholars o f science and
mathematics include Paul o f Venice (d.1429), Cajetan ofThiene (d.1465), Jacopo da Forll (d. 1413),
Hugo o f Siena (d.1439), Agostino Nifo (d.1506), Bemardinus Tomitanus (d.1576), Bernardo
Telesio (d.1588), and Cesare Cremonini (d. 1631).

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among them. In the next century, Padua’s halls hosted Galileo, who brilliantly

fused the trivium with the quadrivium in such works as II dialogo sopra i due

massimi sistemi del mondo (1632).

Many o f the Italian humanist authors with whom we associate great literary

genius were passionate about mathematics and what it could do for rhetoric and

civic life. For example: Petrarch, like Cicero, held Archimedes in the highest

esteem and owned a copy o f Vitruvius* Ten Books o f Architecture'}® Marsilio

Ficino, the founder of the Florentine Academy, commented at length on Plato’s

mathematics;11 Pico della Mirandola echoed the Pythagorean belief that through

numbers, all could be known; Giorgio Valla—the first to translate Aristotle’s

Poetics into Latin and a champion o f Ciceronian rhetoric— was also among the first

mathematicians to outline the connections between math and the humanities;12

Leon Battista Alberti dedicated a book of his Intercenales to the great Florentine

mathematician Pier Paolo Toscanelli; and the poet Angelo Poliziano was an avid

collector o f mathematical manuscripts.13 Even Pietro Bembo. the champion o f

Trecento Tuscan as the best tongue for literature, was deeply interested in math, as

10 See Paul Lawrence Rose. The Italian Renaissance Mathematicians: Studies on Humanists
and Mathematicians from Petrarch to Galileo (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1975).

11 See especially Ficino’s work on Plato's "fatal" or •‘nuptial” number in his commentary on
Plato's Republic VIII.

12 See Valla’s section on geometry in his De expetendis acfugiendis opus (Venice: Aldo
Romano, 1501).

13 Poliziano also used mathematical techniques to elucidate a philological argument in his

introduction to Aristotle’s Ethics. See Poliziano, Panepistemon (1491). See also Coluccio Salutati,
Epistolario (1406) and Pier Paolo Vergerio, De ingenuis moribus et liberalibus studiis (1400-2)—
both defend the study o f mathematics as part o f the liberal arts, especially for its place in training
orators. Vergerio also happened to be a student o f Zabarella.

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we can see from his attendance at Luca Pacioli's lectures on Euclid.14 Just a half a

century later, we find the prolific writer Torquato Tasso teaching mathematics at

the University o f Ferrara. It is also worth including in our list the eccentric French

philologist and utopian thinker Guillaume Postel, who was in Venice from 1547-

49.15 Postel published a text in 1553, the De o rig in ib u s . in which he discusses how

words derive from a point, line, and triangle.16 Others—and many Italian

humanists— shared this notion: Luca Pacioli. Felice Feliciano, Damiano Morille,

and Sigismondo de’ Fanti, as well as the Englishman, John Dee, among them.17

The extensive commerce between geometry, rhetoric, literature, and language in the

early Renaissance allows late Renaissance thinkers, such as Giordano Bruno, to

extract and further develop a geometric taxonomy, using the mathematics of

measurement as a vehicle for both persuasion and metaphor.

14 Pacioli held the lectures in Venice in 1508. See Paul Lawrence Rose, The Italian Renaissance
Mathematicians, 11.

15 See Giuseppe Ellero, “Postel e Venezia," in Guillaume Postel. ed. Guy Trddaniel (Paris:
Editions De la Maisnie, 1985): 23-28.

16 See Postel, Guillaume, De originibus, seu, De varia et potissimum orbi latino ad hanc diem
incognita (Basel: Ioannem Oporinum, 1553).

17 See, for example, Luca Pacioli’s rules on the geometrical proportions necessary for perfect
lettering in Summa de arithmetica, geometrica, proportioni et proportionalita (1494). John Dee
talks about the geometricality o f words in his Monas Hieroglyphica ( 1564).

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Bruno and Renaissance Geometry

Bruno was not a great mathematician. He neither claimed, nor wanted to be

one.18 He often mocked the pedantry he saw in mathematical formulae and

calculations, considering the mathematicians o f his time petty "teoremisti" and

“archididascali.’"19 Bruno used little arithmetic, let alone any o f the trigonometry

and algebra offered by his contemporaries.20 The extent o f his mathematics was

almost solely confined to geometry, perhaps because geometry's visual component

lent itself more profitably to conveying his beliefs on the nature o f such paradoxical

entities as the minimum and the infinite. What is more, as I have already alluded to

briefly and as we shall see in greater detail later on. geometry also served his

linguistic project. But first, it is worth mentioning another special feature of

geometry that may have enticed Bruno. In geometry, the notion o f

incommensurability can be formulated without contradiction, unlike in algebra—

you can represent disproportionate area ratios or measurement ratios with figures

that you cannot with numbers (n is a good example). Such a property must have

furthered Bruno's confidence that through the language o f geometry, not only could

18 Most critics, when discussing Bruno as mathematician, have pointed out his shortcomings,
though without accounting for his ardent resistance toward traditional mathematics. Some critics,
such as Wayne Shumaker, deny Bruno’s significance as a mathematician altogether: i do not intend
to condemn Bruno as a man or to deny his intelligence, but only to say emphatically that esteem for
him ought not be grounded on the mistaken supposition that he assisted in the growth o f science”
Natural Magic and Modern Science (Binghamton: Medieval & Renaissance Texts and Studies.
1989). 67.

19 For “teoremisti,” see De I "mfinito. 466; for "archdidascali,” see De la causa, 219, 241; and
the Cabala, 916. All citations from Bruno’s Dialoghi italiani are from the following edition:
Giovanni Aquilecchia, ed. (Florence: Sansoni, 1985).

20 Major algebreists and trigonometers o f the time were Regiomontanus, Niccolo Tartaglia,
Girolamo Cardano, and Francois Vigte.

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the incommensurate, but perhaps even the truly un-measurable— the ineffable— be


During Bruno's lifetime, geometry held particular prestige. Sixteenth-

century Italy saw the proliferation o f translations, illustrations, and compendia of

Euclid.21 What is striking, however, is the sharp jum p in the publications of

mathematical works by Italians from 1561-1590. In the space o f these twenty-nine

years, 1,318 mathematical treatises were published in Italy, in significant contrast to

the mere 384 published from 1591-1620, and the 640 published from 1531-1560.22

The year Bruno published his Candelaio, De umbris idearum, and Cantus Circaeus

(1582) more mathematical works were printed in Italy than in any other year since

the invention o f the press and up through 1664. One could say that this significant

increase had to do with the previous century's rediscovery o f ancient mathematics,

or with the shift to Averroist Padua from Ockhamite Paris as the center of

mathematical study, or with such pioneering works as Girolamo Cardano’s Ars

magna. After this date, however, there is a lull in mathematical publications in

Italy until well after Descartes puts forth his principles o f coordinate geometry in

1637. With Descartes, the center o f mathematical production returns to France, and

then moves to England with Newton’s development o f calculus. Bruno thus

happened to be publishing during a time when Italy was still the stronghold of

21 See Giovanni Campano (1482), Giorgio Valia (1492), Bartolomeo Zamberti (1505), Luca
Pacioli (1509), Boezio (1516), Giambattista Politi (1529), Tiburtino Platone (1537), Niccold
Tartaglia (1543-5), Angelo Cajani (1545), Giambattista Benedetti (1553), Francesco Barozzi (1560),
Ognibene da Castellano (1561), Francesco Maurolico (1570), and Federico Commandino (1572).

22 See Pietro Ricciardi’s detailed study, Biblioteca matematica italiana dalla origine della
stampa aiprimi anni del secolo XIX , 2 vols. (Modena: Soliani, 1870-86), H, xv-xx.

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mathematical study. As Bruno was not one to follow the majority, it is no wonder

that he had such polemics with the mass productivity o f “hums tempestatis

mathematicos atque philosophos.” From Bruno’s perspective, what was old hat in

mathematics was merely being regurgitated by archididatv. and what was newly

devised by the teoremisti. only served to amplify mathematics’ abstraction from the

natural world.

For Bruno, geometry was a language that explicitly served his philosophical

project. He considered it as strong if not stronger a way to speak about the world

around us as natural language or any other system o f signs and signifies. We know

from cultural anthropologists such as Karl Menninger the complex history of the

symbols and words used to denote numbers.23 Often, words and numbers have

shared the same symbols or symbolic origins. We can see this most immediately in

the texts of the kabbalah, where aleph means both the number one and the letter A.

The relationship between number, form, and word is a theme that expresses itself

time and again in Bruno's works, whether he is doing mathematics, talking about

mathematics, or neither.24

Bruno frequently expressed deep fascination with the relationship between

number, form, and word. We need only look at his mnemonic wheels and charts to

23 See Karl Menninger, Number Words and Number Symbols, trans. Paul Broneer (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1969).

24 Though this may be open for debate, I would say that Bruno’s most mathematical works are
the Articuli, De minimo, De monade, Praelectiones geometricae, Ars deformationum, and his two
works on the compass ( Dialogo duo). Many o f his metaphysical works, however, contain
geometrical figures and mathematical functions, whether they be refutations o f Aristotelian theories
o f motion, maner, measurement, or cosmos; or descriptions o f such phenomena as the minimum and
the terminus. His “dialoghi morali” are also infused with mathematics—the Spaccio's discussion o f
squaring a circle comes immediately to mind, for example.

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see the phonetic-numeric-iconographic codes he devised to subsume, or rather to

open one's mind, onto all knowledge. In De imaginum, Bruno writes that words

themselves have neither form nor figure, and that there is no necessary link between

the form o f a word and its meaning (a foreshadowing o f the semiotic and semantic

debates of the following centuries).25 This allows words to don and dispose of

forms at will. As Bruno claims in De la causa, his linguistic project promotes an

infinity of languages.26 This not only recalls the “plurilinguism" so prevalent in

fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian literature,27 but unmistakably parallels

Bruno's cosmology, which promotes an infinity o f worlds; his metaphysics, which

envisions an infinity o f space; his mnemonics, which attempts to accommodate an

infinity o f mental associations; and his mathesis, which accounts for an infinity o f

numbers and potential figures.

It is well documented that Bruno did not consider the dialectician Petrus

Ramus in a favorable light. '"At the heart o f the Ramist enterprise." Walter Ong

notes, "is the drive to tie down words themselves, rather than other representations,

in simple geometric patterns.”' At the heart o f the Brunian enterprise, however, is

the opposite drive: to liberate words from their patterns and allow them to roam in

a space of infinitude and possibility. Such is his ars combinatoria: a dissecting o f

25 Bruno, De imaginum in Op. Lat. Il.iii, 113-5.

' 6 Bruno, Causa, 286.

27 So as not to burden the text with distracting references, I will simply note that Bruno read the
"plurilinguistic” poetry and theater o f his time and that preceding it. We need only recall Folengo,
Colonna, il Ruzzante, Aretino, and Doni as stock examples o f maccheronica and multi-languaged

28 Walter J. Ong, Ramus: Method and the Decay o f Dialogue (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1983), 89.

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words, numbers, shapes, and symbols into the minima, which can then be set free to

combine ad infinitum with other minima.

The vision Bruno has of a linguistic, numeric, symbolic, and geometric ars

combinatoria (one might even say "ethical’' as well, in light of the mixing and

matching he does when shaking up the heavens in the Spaccio) is linked, as most

students of Bruno would agree, to his cursory knowledge o f kabbalah. It is

generally thought that Bruno derived his knowledge o f the kabbalah from such

Christian kabbalists as Pico. Johann Reuchlin. and Cornelius Agrippa;29 and

perhaps from other Renaissance thinkers interested in kahbalah, such as Anton

Francesco Doni. Francesco di Giorgio, and Guillaume Postel.30 While Bruno's use

o f number symbolism may have primarily been based on the Pythagorean theories

advocated by Neoplatonism,31 there are many instances in which he hybridizes this

29 See Pico’s Conclusiones nongentae ( 1486); Reuchlin's De arte cabalista (1517); Agrippa’s
De philosophia occulta (1533). The few scholars who have discussed Bruno’s knowledge o f
kabbalah maintain this thesis. See Lewis McIntyre, Giordano Bruno (Edinburgh: R. & R. Clark.
1903), 131; Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. 1964 reprint (Chicago:
University o f Chicago Press, 1991), 258; Martin and Sarah Goodman’s introduction to Johann
Reuchlin’s De arte cabalistica (Lincoln: University o f Nebraska Press, 1983); and Karen Silvia de
Leon-Jones, Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah: Prophets. Magicians, and Rabbis (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1997).

30 See Doni’s / numeri (1562); Di Giorgio’s Trattato di architettura civile e militare (1520); and
Postel’s translation and edition o f the Sefir Yetzirah (1552).

31 The texts that use or speak o f number symbolism that Bruno probably knew would have been
those available in Latin in the first half o f the sixteenth century. The earliest texts on number
symbolism he could have had access to might have been the works o f Philo ( De opificio mundt),
Nicomachus ( Introduction to Arithmetic, translated by Apuleius between 148-153), Pseudo-
Dionysius (De mystica theologia). He may have know the third-century works o f Plotinus
( Enneads), Diogenes Laertius ( Vitae Philosophorum), Porphyry (Life o f Pythagoras), and
Iamblichus (Theologoumena arithmeticae); the fifth-century works o f St. Jerome’s commentaries,
Olympiodoros, Proclus (commentaries on Plato, Euclid, and Pythagoras’ "Golden verses”), Thieny
o f Chartes (commentary on Boethius), Macrobius (In somnium scipionis), Augustine (De musica, De
civitate, De trinitate), and Martianus Capella (Nuptiis Philologia et Mercurii); the sixth-century
works o f Boethius (Institutione arithmetica); the seventh-century works o f Isidore o f Seville (Liber
numerorum); the eighth-century works o f the Venerable Bede (De comptu vel loquela digitorum );
the ninth-century works o f Rabanus (De numero); the twelfth-century works o f Hugh o f St. Victor

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tradition with both kabbalah and his own breed o f natural philosophy (which some

might call Hermetic, but which I would hesitate to define as such). The reason the

kabbalah was particularly interesting to Bruno, and the reason it is essential for any

discussion o f Bruno’s geometry o f language, is that it is among the most explicit

examples o f the fusion o f number, shape, and word in Western literature. One o f

the kabbalah’s main expressions o f this fusion is the tree-like figure that contains

the ten sefirot {sefirah, singular) (fig. 20). The stem o f the word sefirah is related

to saper, sapir, safar, sephar, and sefer. Super means "to express or

communicate’’; sapir, “sapphire or brilliance”; sephar, "number”; sefar,

"boundary”; and sefer. "book.”

We can see the complex nature of the

sefirot: that which communicates and that

which is read; that which is a number and

that which is a boundary . As Aryeh Kaplan

writes. "The sefirot [have] two basic

functions. First, the sefirot are orot, lights

or luminaries that serve to reveal and

Figure 20: The sefirot tree according express God's greatness. Secondly, they are
to The Ari, from the Sefer Yetzirah:
The Book o f Creation, ed. Aryeh
Kaplan (York Beach, ME: Samuel kelim, vessels that limit and delineate God’s
Weisner, 1993), 29.
infinite light, bringing it into the finite realm

{Practical Geometry); the thirteenth-century works o f John Peckham {De numeris misticis); the
fifteenth-century works o f Nicholas o f Cusa {On Wisdom and Knowledge), Luca Pacioli (Summa
arithemetica; De divina proportione), Francesco Colonna (Hypnerotomachia Poliphili); and how
own century’s John Dee {Monas Hieroglyphica). Petrus Bongus (Numerorum mysteria), and Roger
Bacon {De speculum alchemiae).

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of number and boundary.”32 The sefirot are literally measures or dimensions o f

God’s infinity. They make it possible for "an infinite and transcendental God to

interact with His creation, for they allow us to speak o f what He does, without

referring directly to what He /s.”3j This description is similar to Bruno's own

thoughts on the ladder between the Divine and man and the "shadows o f ideas”

which allow man to interact with Him. Though I would not say that Bruno directly

modeled his De umbris on the kabbalistic theory o f the sefirot, he definitely knew

about the sefirot, as we can see in Saulino's long monologue in the Cabala del

cavallo pegaseo.iA The sefirot, the concept of Ein sof, and the orders o f angels and

spheres of which Bruno speaks seem to be directly from Agrippa.35 What is

uniquely Bruno's, however, is the notion that the ass is symbolic o f knowledge.

Nuccio Ordine has discussed this concept at length in his Cabala dell ’asino, as

have Karen Silvia de Leon-Jones and Michele Ciiiberto.36 This long passage

demonstrates Bruno’s familiarity with the basic structure o f kabbalistic universe

32 Aryeh Kaplan, Inner Space, ed. Abraham Sutton (New York: Moznaim Publishing Co.. 1990),

33 Ibid.. 39.

34 I will quote only part o f the passage here: “.. .ma nel profondo abisso del sopramondo ed
ensofico universo: per la contemplazione di quelle diece Sephiroth che chiamiamo in nostra lingua
membi ed indumenti, penetromo, veddero, concepimo quantum fas est homini loqui. Ivi son le
dimensioni Ceter. Hocma, Bina. Hesed, Geburah, Tipheret, Nezah. Hod, lesod, Malchuth: de quali
la prima da noi e detta Corona, la seconda Sapienza. la terza Providenza. la quarta Bonti, la quinta
Fortezza, la sesta Bellezza, la settima Vittoria, la ottava Lode, la nona Stabilmento. la decima
R egno.. . Or contemplate qua, che secondo la cabalistica revelazione Hocma, a cui rispondeno le
forme o ruote, nomate Cherubini, che influiscono nell’ottava sfera, dove consta la virtu
dell’intelligenza de Raziele, I’asino o asinita e simbolo della sapienza.” Bruno. Cabala, 865-866.

33 See both books o f Cornelius Agrippa, De occulta philosophia (1510).

36 Nuccio Ordine, La cabala dell'asino (Napoli: Liguori, 1987); de Leon-Jones, Giordano Bruno
and the Kabbalah, chapters 7, 8, and 9; and Michele Ciiiberto, Giordano Bruno (Rome-Bari:
Laterza& Figli, 1990).

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and kabbalistic metaphysics. Though Bruno did not know Hebrew and was not

deeply interested in kabbalism as was Pico or Reuchlin, he did have a general

working knowledge o f the tools it offered for describing the indescribable and

interacting with the infinite. The learned circles in the Renaissance that dabbled in

esoterica knew of the basic kabbalistic techniques of gematria. that is, giving

numeric values to letters and calculating hidden meanings in words and texts; and

temurah. the permutation and combination o f letters. Some may have even known

about the practice o f notarikon, in which the first, the median, and the last letters o f

a word are permuted and calculated. Johannes Kepler claimed to have written a

small book called Geometrical Kabbalah in which he talks about how geometric

symbols can only be used to explain what nature already reveals.37

In Italy there was a small contingent o f kabbalists who viewed the kabbalah

* 38
through Neoplatonic eyes and helped to diffuse it among Christian humanists.

Among these scholars were the well-known Rabbi Menahem Recanati. Rabbi

Yohanan Alemanno, Rabbi Isaac, Rabbi Yehudah Abravanel, and the well-known

Rabbi Abraham Abulafia. The works o f the great Rabbi Isaac Luria, founder o f the

Safed School o f kabbalah, came to Italy in the sixteenth century in the Hebrew

version o f Israel Sarug and were greatly influential on kabbalistic thought.39 Many

37 See Kepler’s letter to Dr. Joachim Tanckius o f Leipzig, May 12. 1608.

38 See Moshe Idel, Kabbala: New Perspectives (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 3,
45; and Idel, “The Magical and Neoplatonic Interpretations o f the Kabbalah in the Renaissance,” in
Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century, trans. Martelle Gavarin, ed. Bernard Dov Cooperman
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 188. There were other Italian Jewish intellectuals
who rejected both Neoplatonism and Kabbalism, such as the fifteenth-century Aristotelians Rabbi
Elijah del Medigo, Rabbi Obadiah Sfomo, and Rabbis Yehuda and David Messer Leon.

39 See Idel, “The Kabbalah in the Renaissance,” 227.

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o f the kabbalist commentaries authored and consulted in sixteenth-century Italy

were non-theurgic in nature. This helped to facilitate Christian acculturation and

acceptance o f this Jewish branch o f mysticism.40

One o f the fundamental kabbalist texts is the Zohar (the Book o f Splendor),

thought to be authored by the twelfth-century rabbi, Moses de Leon.41 The Zohar

was first printed in Italy in the sixteenth century, with editions appearing in Hebrew

in Mantova and Cremona from 1558-60.42 The early Christians who knew Hebrew

or were acquainted with the Zohar and other kabbalist works, tried to parallel its

interpretations and techniques with the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Virgin, the

name of Jesus, Original Sin. and so forth. The first time that the term sefirot

appears in Hebrew commentary is not. however, in the Zohar. but in an early

kabbalist text, the Sefir Yetzirah (the Book o f Creation), written in Palestine

between the second and sixth centuries by an unknown author who was influenced

greatly by Greek sources.43 Rabbi Alemanno advised his students, one o f whom

was Pico, to begin their studies o f the kabbalah with the Sefir Yetzirah.*4

40 Ibid.. 189.

41 Idel attributes the authorship o f the Zohar to another twelfth-century rabbi, Simeon bar Yohai.
See his Kabbala: New Perspectives, 3. It is certain, however, that Rabbi de Leon wrote the Midrash
ha-Ne’elam in 1275-80, the Zohar's earliest stratum o f Torah commentary.

42 See Daniel Matt’s introduction to the Zohar (New York: Pauiist Press, 1983), 9-11; and Aryeh
Kaplan, Meditation and Kabbalah (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1982), 188. See also
Gershom Scholem, Origins o f the Kabbalah, trans. Allan Arkush. ed. R. J. Zwi Werblowsky
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990) for a look at how kabbalistic studies moved into
Aragon and Castile in the first quarter o f the thirteenth century. It is also worth noting that the
earliest traceable kabbalist text is not the Zohar , but the Bahir (the Book o f Brightness).

43 See Scholem, Origins o f the Kabbalah , 24.

44 See Idel, ‘’Magical and Neoplatonic Interpretations o f the Kabbalah,” 198.

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The Sefir Yetzirah is a poem on the ten sefirot, the emanations or

manifestations o f Ein s o f (infinity/nothingness), God’s ultimate reality. The sefirot

and Ein s o f are a unit, or rather, a unity, along with the twenty-two letters o f the

Hebrew alphabet. The Sefir Yetzirah says that when God engraved the twenty-two

elemental letters, he ''carved them, weighed them, permuted them, and transposed

them, forming with them everything formed and everything destined to be

formed.”45 According to kabbalah, this divine combinatorics, like Bruno's ars

combinatoria, is what animates the universe. It is also what constitutes the totality

o f existence. The ten sefirot are described in the Sefer Yetzirah as ten directions

that “define a path to the Infinite Being who is beyond His creation.”46

sefirah its meaning its dimens

keter crown good
chokhmah wisdom beginning
binah understanding end
chesed love south
gevurah restraint north
tiferet beauty east
netzach dominance above
hod empathy below
yesod foundation west
malkhut kingship evil

The ten sefirot plus the twenty-two Hebrew letters equal thirty-two, or 2 ,

indicating the kabbalah’s vision o f a five-dimensional universe (three dimensions

of space, one o f time, and one o f spirit) in which the thirty-two paths correspond to

45 Sefir Yetzirah, 2:2,4-6; 6:4.

46 Kaplan, Inner Space, 45.

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the number o f apexes in a five-dimensional hypercube. The Sefer Yetzirah

categorizes the thirty-two paths in this five-dimensional universe in terms o f text

(sepher), number (sephar), and communication


(sippur). In ''text” one can draw diagrams of the

thirty-two paths; in “number” one can express

sequences o f these paths; in “communication” one

can speak of relationships between the paths.

The ten sejirot can be arranged

geometrically in a number of different ways (figs.

21,22), and Bruno must have known this. His

Figure 21: The sefirot tree according
“Archetypus” to The G ra, from the Sefer Yetzirah,

from De

imaginum compositions has a strong

resemblance to one o f these arrangements (fig.

23). Bruno also organized the Hebrew letters

(twenty-one, and not all twenty-two, however)

Figure 22: Another sefirot
arrangement, from Leo Schava, The in a chart set for permutation (fig. 24). The
Universal Meaning o f the Kabbalah
(Baltimore: Penguin, 1973), 29.
twenty-two letters can also be arranged as

47 The symbolism o f the number thirty-two goes back to Pythagoras, who noted the number’s
greatness because o f its multiple divisors. Gnostic documents also speak o f this quality, [del claims
that Cornelius Agrippa was the first author to note the semblance between Gnosticism and kabbalah.
See Agrippa, De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum (1527); and Idel, Kabbala. New Perspectives,
5-6, 123.

48 Sefer Yetzirah, 1:1.

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a r c h e t y p v s .

Figure 25: “Sigiilus sigiilorum.”

Giordano Bruno, Explicatio triginta

Figure 23: “Archetypus.” Giordano

Bruno, De im aginum com position
(Frankfurt: Johann Wechel & Peter
Fischer, 1591).

1 n p a P y D y 0 2 a b 3 * 0 n t a a 2 3 0
I 2 V P B 0 a 3 0 r a 2 K P P 0 0 a 3 0 t a 2 K
, 3 a D 2 3 n a 3 V i 0 b a i 2 n P y a » t a 0
4 P 0 3 t 2 V 9 a 0 a H P 0 3 i 2 p 9 a 0 a n
5 t 0 n 2 a 0 * a 9 b r 3 P ) a a p y 3 1 0
6 B 3 a P D e 2 P a ? II 9 3 a p a a 2 p 0 t 0
7 y 0 3 D * 2 y 3 a P b a a a i p 2 1 n 0 n 0
8 0 1 P a a P 3 1 0 0 0 e r p a a P 3 2 9 O 0
9 a 9 a n 0 a 9 a r s 2 y a 3 3 0 » n
10 a 2 0 a 9 P 0 V 3 K 0 2 0 a 0 T P 0 P 3 0
Figure 26: The
tl b (* b K b K b 0 b 0 b K b it b 0 b II b N b 0
3 P 0 P f • a 0 2 a 0 3 p a P t 0 a D 2 0 0 T etraktys. A triangular
i 12
! 13 * p 0 3 3 a f y 2 b P a 0 a a n o y a 2 K arrangem ent of circles,
14 0 D 2 3 P a 0 V i 0 0 a 0 2 3 P a o p r 0 N from G iordano Bruno,
' 15 n 0 n r ) P t 0 a a P b a 3 y 2 • 9 3 0 y «
t 0 D a 3 9 t K a P 2 0 0 P a 3 9 0
De m inimo. Bruno calls
i 16 P 1 0 V
17 t 3 y p a D i P 3 ? 9 S a a * a a 2 n a y 0 this figure the
I 18 a 0 a » r 2 r 3 e P .a 0 0 a 9 p 2 f 3 0 P * “ Isocheles Deomcriti.”
19 a r • a y P n 2 0D s » V 3 a n 3 2 0 a 0
20 a r 0 3 0 D D P V 2 0 a T 0 3 a D 9 P P 0
i 21 3 2 a a 1 t n 0 * 3 s a 2 0 y 9 y P a P a 0

Figure 24: C h a rt G iordano Bruno. Explicatio triginta

sigiilorum. (n.p., 1583).

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twenty-two points on a circle, which are connected by 231 lines; Bruno’s “Seal of

Seals” (Sigillus sigiilorum) resembles this figure (fig. 25).49 The twenty-two letters

are grouped in such a way as to form a united whole, and each of the ten sejirot is

inseparable from the preceding and following one inseparable from the preceding

and following one. There is a conceptual circularity in this geometric arrangement

that is otherwise angular. This is a reversal o f another figure dear to Bruno: the

Pythagorean Tetraktys, which offers a triangular-shaped arrangement o f spheroids

(fig. 26).

Form, number, and word: these are the fundamental components o f Bruno's

language. To appreciate Bruno’s rhetoric and literary style, we must be able to

appreciate his uses and abuses of geometry. Conversely, to appreciate his

geometry, we must know what he knew about geometry, understand how it served

his philosophical project, and see how he used it, alongside numbers and the word,

to configure the infinite and the ineffable.

The Situation of Bruno Scholarship on Geometry

There are but a handful o f studies on Bruno's mathematics, nearly all of

which focus on Bruno's limitations as a mathematician.50 On the other hand,

studies which examine Bruno's language are numerous, though limited to a handful

49 “Twenty-two Foundation Letters:/ He placed them in a circle like a wall with 2 3 1 Gates./ The
Circle oscillates back and forth,” Sefer Yetzirah. 2:4, trans. Kaplan, 108.

30 The most rigorous and in-depth studies o f Bruno’s mathematics are the studies o f Ksenija
Atanasijevic, The Metaphysical and Geometrical Doctrine o f Giordano Bruno, trans. George Vid
Tomaschevich (St. Louis: Warren H. Green, 1972);and Martin Mulsow, Introduction to De monade,
ed. and trans. Elisabeth Von Samsonow (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1991). Angelika Bttnker-
Vallon’s Metaphysik und Mathematik bei Giordano Bruno (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1995) sounds
promising, but turns out to treat Bruno’s mathematics quite superficially.

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of subjects. There are essays which trace Bruno’s poetry to the mocking of

Petrarch;51 essays which point out Bruno’s word-games;52 some which speak o f his

’'anti-aesthetics”;53 and a few which discuss how Bruno's writing ties his scientific

thought (not mathematics) together with his literary expression.54 To date,

however, there is no study on i f and how Bruno’s knowledge of geometry and his

fascination with shapes, measurement, number theory, and combinatorics have

contributed to his literary style. Giancarlo Maiorino has perhaps entered into this

discussion more than anyone else in his "The Breaking o f the Circle: Giordano

Bruno and the Poetics o f the Immeasurable Abundance,” though even he hardly

discusses Bruno’s mathematics.55 Furthermore, few Bruno scholars have given any

thought to the highly perplexing geometric diagrams Bruno draws in the Articuli?b

51 For example, Giambattista Grassi-Bertazzi, "Bruno letterato, antipetrarchista ed

antiaccademico." Prometeo (1911): 35-89: Filippo Pugliese, "Del linguaggio antiaccademico del
Bruno,” Cultura e Scuola, 22 (1983): 17-22; and Vincenzo Spampanato. Antipetrarchismo di
Giordano Bruno (Milan: Enrico Trevisini, 1900).

52 Jo Ann Cavallo, “The Candelaio: A Hermetic Puzzle,” Canadian Journal o f Italian Studies
25 (1992): 47-55: and Laura Sanguineti White. "In tristitia hilaris in hilaritate tristis: Armonia nei
contrasti,” Quaderni d'italianistica 5 (1984): 191-203.

53 A. Mariani, "La negazione bruniania dell’estetica,” Rinascimento 2 (1983): 303-327; V.

Zanone, "L ’estetica di Giordano Bruno,” Rivista d'estetica 12 (1967): 388-98.

54 Silvio Ferrone, "11 Candelaio-. Scienza e letteratura." Italianistica 2 (1973): 518-43: and a
number o f papers given at the Convegno di Storia del teatro: Filosofia in commedia, Giordano
Bruno e il teatro europeo. Rome, Nov. 1996. Many critics who discuss Bruno’s language and
scientific thought in the same breath do not mention his mathematics. Take, for example, A. Buono
Hodgart, Giordano Bruno: The Candle-Bearer An Enigmatic Renaissance Play (Lewiston, New
York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997); Michele Ciliberto, "Filosofia e lingua neile opere volgari di
Bruno,” Rinascimento ll.s.29 (1978): 151-179; R. Tissoni, "Appunti per uno studio sulla prosa della
dimostrazione scientifica nella Cena di Giordano Bruno,” Romanische Forschungen 73 (1961): 347-

55 Giancarlo Maiorino, "The Breaking o f the Circle: Giordano Bruno and the Poetics o f
Immeasurable Abundance,” Journal o f the History o f Ideas (April-June 1977): 317-327.

56 See Ksenija Atanasijevic, The Metaphysical and Geometrical Doctrine o f Giordano Bruno ;
Higgens and Dora, Introduction to On the Composition o f Images, Signs and Ideas; Martin Mulsow,
"La geometria applicata nell’opera di Bruno,” Giordano Bruno: Gli anni napoletani, ed. Eugenio

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In the last hundred years, the interpretations have ranged from dismissive to wacky.

Leo Olschki, for example, thought the diagrams were merely mnemonic devices;37

Augusto Guzzo considered them to be signs o f an unhealthy imagination;38

Atanasijevic called them bizarre figures;39 Yates hypothesized that the diagrams

were either magic talismans, or a ciphered language that Bruno developed while in


Martin Mulsow, on the other hand, has suggested that the diagrams are

complex puzzles that need to be further investigated in light o f Bruno's

philosophy.61 Similarly suggestive and not dismissive are the three jarring

proposals Ubaldo Nicola appends to his Italian edition o f Sigillis sigiilorum.62 He

asserts first that the diagrams could be archetypal mandalas that appeared to Bruno

Canone (Cassino: Universita degli Studi, 1992); Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic
Tradition; Helene Vedrine. "L'Obstacle realiste en mathematiques chez deux philosophes du XVIe
siicle: Bruno et Patrizi,” Platon et Aristotle en la Renaissance, ed. Jean-Claude Margolin and Pierre
Aquilon (Paris: Vrin, 1976): 239-248. There is nothing in Angelika BOnker-Vallon. Metaphysik und
Mathematik bei Giordano Bruno\ or in the excellent essay by Walter Pagel, “Giordano Bruno: The
Philosophy o f Circles,” Journal o f the History o f Medicine and Allied Sciences 52/310 (1951).
Carlo Monti, though referring to the Articuli as a forerunner o f De minimo, says nothing about the
diagrams they share, nor does he offer any comments on the “ornamentation." Hilary Gatti. in her
new book. Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science, has a chapter on Bruno’s mathematics, but
she, too, neglects the AniculT s diagrams altogether.

57 Leo Olschki. Giordano Bruno (Bari: Laterza. 1927).

58 August Guzzo, Giordano Bruno (Turin: Edizioni di Filosofia. 1960).

59 See Ksenia Atanasijevic ( The Metaphysical and Geometrical Doctrine. 88), who says that
Bruno’s geometry was “decorative,” mythological, and often wrong or unjustified. She also writes
that Bruno “accumulates nomenclatures, bizarre figures, and superficial analogies till the last chapter
[of De minimo]" (93), and that “A spirit exclusively intuitive, Bruno loses his way wherever a
logical or mathematical deduction is necessary” (94).

60 Frances Yates. Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 324; see also 313 and 444.

61 Martin Mulsow, “ La geometria applicata nell'opera di Bruno.”

52 Ubaldo Nicola, Giordano Bruno. II Sigillo dei sigilli, i diagrammi ermetici, trans. Emanuela
Colombi (Milan: Mimesis, 1995).

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in meditation; second, that Bruno’s passion for geometry seems to have taken off

after his meeting with Mordente in 1586, whereupon he first encountered a new

compass; and third that the diagrams might have been inspired by some

hallucinatory experience, either herbal or optical. He gives the example of

phosphenes. When you stare at a light and then shut your eyes, you see

phosphenes, luminous little shapes that often take the form o f dots, stars, flowers,

and squiggles. Such images can also be triggered by migraines or by certain drugs.

Nicola concludes that Bruno may have made his diagrams and little symbols based

on his observation of such optical phenomena.

Though we might not want to pursue such interpretations further, we should

note the dearth o f serious attempts to decipher the diagrams in the analysis of

Bruno's geometry. Even Tocco has said little about these figures. In his study on

Bruno’s Latin works, the only comment he makes on the diagrams is that they all

have mythological names, which is not even true, as seventeen have descriptive

names such as "Expansor” or “Specula.” and twelve are not named at all.63 With

regard to the “ornamental frames” o f Bruno's geometric diagrams in the Articuli

and the De minimo, I have found close to no discussion or interpretation. Only

Yates and Ubaldo Nicola have had something to say about them.64 Clearly, at

present, there is no final word as to the nature and purpose o f these celestial-

63 See Felice Tocco, Le opere latine di Giordano Bruno esposte confrontate con le italiane
(Florence: Le Monnier, 1889), 124.

64 Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, 444; Nicola, “I diagrammi ermetici
dell’Opuscolo di Praga e Del triplici Minimo,” Giordano Bruno. II Sigillo dei sigilli.

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terrestrial motifs, nor is there a comprehensive gloss or commentary on the

complex geometric diagrams themselves.

Pietro Riccardi, in his massive study o f Italian mathematicians from

Archimedes to Luigi Lagrangia (d. 1813), omits Bruno’s Articuli, but places De

minimo under the category' of “Poemi geometrici,” along with Pier Paolo

Caravaggi’s In geometria male restaurata (1650) and Pietro Mengoli’s Via regia

ad mathematicos (1655).oS He has the following to say about Bruno as a


Benche nessuna delle opere del Bruno si occupi esclusivamente di cose

matematiche, pure alcune di esse possono classificarsi fra le opere di
filosofia matematica ad ogni modo non potevamo ommettere nella
nostra biblioteca colui il quale e nelle sue lezioni e nelle sue opere, ha
costantemente propugnato il sistema copemicano, la metafisica
matematica, un nuovo sistema dell’universo, ed il libero esame della
fisica aristotelica.66

Ricciardi’s study was published between 1870-1886— a high point in Bruno

scholarship and just two years before the statue o f Bruno was placed in Rome’s

Campo de’ Fiori. And yet even with this encomium on Bruno’s importance to

Renaissance mathematics, few scholars have gone forth to investigate the

mathematics which, I believe, is integral to his writing and his thought as a whole.

65 Riccardi, Biblioteca matematica italiana, 59.

66 Ibid., 197-199. Similarly, Guillaume Libri, in his history o f Italian Renaissance mathematics,
says about Bruno’s mathematics, “malgre des imperfections qui iui sont communes avec tant
d’autres philosophes, on doit reconnaitre en Bruno un des hommes les plus remarquables de son
stecle.” See Guillaume Libri, H'tsloire des Sciences mathematiqves en Italie depuis la renaissance
des lettres jusqu'a la fin du dix-septieme siecle (Paris: Renouard, 1838-41), 145.

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While historians such as P. L. Rose have studied mathematics in the period

o f Italian humanism, and critics such as Umberto Eco have explored the

Renaissance obsession with mathematically encoded language, there has yet to be

an extensive study on the reception, or rather, the appropriation o f mathematics into

the literature and rhetoric o f the Italian Renaissance. There is no question that it is

extremely fruitful to keep mathematics— and especially geometry— in mind when

reading any text o f the Renaissance. A continued investigation into the connections

made between these two languages in the early Renaissance is necessary, not just

for the study of Italian humanism and for Bruno scholarship, but also in order to

develop tools for geometric readings o f literature before and after the Renaissance.

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Chapter Two: Curves

A Repertoire of Curves

Circles, spheres, parabolas, hyperbolas, ellipses, ovals, spirals, helices,

moebius strips: these are just a few o f the kinds o f curve designated by geometry.1

There are countless others, many named for the general idea their form suggests,

such as the heart-shaped cardioid, the star-shaped astroid, the kidney-shaped

nephroid, and two snail-shaped figures— the lima?on and the cochlioid.2 In art and

architecture we see forms like the mandorla, the cupola, the arch, and the rotunda,

to list but a few. In nature, the horizon, the track o f a meteor, a waterfall, the

concentric circles o f electron diffraction and those of waves display beautiful

curves. In music there are fugues and rounds; in poetry, the corona and the rondo.

The array o f named curvilinear shapes is staggering, and the number o f all possible

curvilinear forms is infinite. In the discussion o f the La cena de le Ceneri that

follows, I will focus on only four kinds o f curve: the circle, the hyperbola, the

ellipse, and the parabola. By making this selection I do not claim that there are no

other curvilinear forms in the text, but rather wish to highlight the importance of

these four curves to Bruno’s writing and thought.

1Other beautiful and complex curves are catalogued in E. H. Lockwood, A Book o f Curves
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963). See also a manual published by Bruno’s fellow
Neapolitan and near contemporary, Giambattista della Porta, Elementorum curvUineorum libri tres
in quibus altera geometriae parte restituta, agitur de circuit quadratura (Rome: Bartholomaeum
Zannettum, 1610).

2 The lima^on was named by Albrecht DQrer in 1525, the cardioid by Philippe de La Hire in
1708, the astroid by Leibniz in 1715, the nephroid by Proctor in 1878, the cochlioid by Bentham and
Falkenburg in 1884.

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Few geometrical and rhetorical terms are more closely related than the pairs

circle-circumlocution, hyperbola-hyperbole, parabola-parable, and ellipse-ellipsis.

A consultation o f classical Greek and Latin texts, etymological dictionaries, Greek

and Latin glossaries, early manuals of rhetoric and geometry, and contemporary

books o f rhetoric and geometry yields, however, no discussion recognizing the

kinship of these terms; nor does such consultation reveal which set o f terms (the

rhetorical or the geometric) was first employed.3 The most likely conclusion is that

the two sets o f terms developed independently from one another, leaving the

question o f priority and derivation moot. What is interesting to observe, however,

is how rhetoric has appropriated conceptually what geometry has displayed

graphically. The expression “figurative language" could not be more fitting.

Giordano Bruno wrote La cena de le Ceneri in 1584, dedicating it to his host

in London, Michel de Castelnau, the French ambassador to England. Some claim it

is the first philosophical essay in the vernacular to be written in Italy or in all of

Europe.4 The dialogue begins by recounting the difficult journey that the Nolan

(Bruno himself) and a few friends undertook on Ash Wednesday, 1583, from

Castelnau's house to Sir Fulke Greville's house for a dinner-debate with two

Oxford professors. At the meal, the Nolan and his adversaries scrutinize a number

of astronomical phenomena: the axial motion o f the earth and other celestial bodies;

3 For the etymological dictionaries, Greek and Latin glossaries, early manuals o f rhetoric, and
contemporary books o f rhetoric I consulted, see the section entitled “Rhetoric, Language, and
Etymology” in the bibliography.

4 See Roberto Tissoni, “Appunti per uno studio sulla prosa della dimostrazione scientifica nella
Cena di Giordano Bruno,” Romanische Forschungen 73 ( 1961): 359, who also cites Leo Olschki
and Antonio Corsano as holding this view.

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the circular orbits of planets around the sun; how to measure the size o f luminous

stars; the infinite circumference o f the universe; infinite worlds; life on other

planets; and the distance between heavenly bodies. Bruno’s belief in a heliocentric

universe, as well as his critique o f scholastic physics, are the main scientific forces

at work in the Cena. On another level— that of moral philosophy— the Cena offers

a scathing critique of English society. On the religious level, Bruno condemns

certain Protestant doctrines, pointing out the errors in reading the Bible literally or

scientifically. On the aesthetic level, he subtly alludes to the issue o f the reciprocity

between word and image. On a candidly personal level, Bruno offers an unabashed

panegyric o f the Nolan (that is, of himself) as person and philosopher.

In addition to these and other elements present in the text, I would suggest

that Bruno's Cena is full o f figurative language—and more specifically, figures that

are ’"curved.” such as circumlocution, hyperbole, parable, and ellipsis. There is

circumlocution in the circuitous journey to the supper and in the circular argument

between the Nolan and the Oxford professors on the physics and metaphysics o f the

heliocentric universe. There are hyperbolic exaltations in the dedicatory epistle and

the first dialogue; the parable o f the pilgrimage in the second dialogue; and the

elliptical speech and confounding geometrical figures o f the final three dialogues.

Bruno’s imitates the form o f its content. He seems to have deliberately constructed

much o f the dialogue in such a way as to express a sense o f philosophical,

astronomical, moral, religious, and personal "curvilinearity.”

In his “Dedicatory Epistle,” Bruno writes that while reading his text we

should visualize it; “leggete e vedrete quel che voglio dire,” conflating the reader

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and the spectator.3 What is more, Bruno tells us that every word o f the Cena is

significant. Even in the passages that seem most unlikely, he says, "non v’e parola

ociosa; perche in tutte parti e da mietere e da disotterrar cose di non mediocre

importanza, forse piii la dove meno appare" (15). For a dialogue that is filled with

such oblique tropes as circumlocution, hyperbole, ellipsis, and parable,6 this is quite

a claim indeed. What is more, Bruno points to how the Cena contains comedy,

tragedy, poetry, rhetoric, pedagogy, natural philosophy, mathematics, ethics, and

logic. There is no sort of knowledge “che non v'abbia di straccP (15).

Interestingly, however, even though the Cena is a melange o f voices,

registers, nomenclatures, and modes o f discourse, it is one of Bruno's more unified

works. The Cena is a tightly organized narration o f a journey and a discussion (or a

metaphor for a pilgrimage and a conversion through a conversation). It is different

from the more fragmentary schemata o f his mnemonic works and mathematical-

metaphysical poetry. It is also unlike either the staccato, speedy scenes o f the

Candelaio or the dreamy lyrics o f the Eroici. And yet, even within its overarching

unity, the Cena has a series of inconsistencies and quandaries. Bruno's reasoning is

often obfuscated; it is convoluted and winding. His assumptions about physical

principles are frequently wrong, as he attempts to fit these principles into his

mathesis even at the cost o f incoherent and illogical results. At other times,

3 Bruno, La cena de le Ceneri in Dialoghi italiani, ed. Giovanni Aquilecchia (Florence: Sansoni,
1985), 11,15. All citations o f the Cena and Bruno’s other Italian dialogues are from this edition.

6 The parable is often categorized in present day as a genre, but would not have been considered
as such in Bruno’s time. I will therefore include it in the loose category o f rhetorical tropes for this

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however, Bruno seems to be unclear precisely in order to protect the essence o f his

ideas from those unwilling or unable to make the effort to understand them.

The sympathetic reader of the Cena must face head on Bruno's complicated

discourse and problematic argumentation without dismissing them as burdensome

or impenetrable. Geometry is a tool for us to scrutinize one strand o f Bruno's

argument for logical knots and kinks. It helps us to envision Bruno's vision o f the

universe. When the Cena is conceived as a metropolis o f curves— spheres and

circles, peaks and troughs, ovals and spirals— we come to see how' these curvilinear

forms not only give the text its shape, but are the vehicles for the scientific, ethical,

aesthetic, and religious ideas themselves.


Circumlocution is a trope of concealment and avoidance. Had Bruno used it

more, he might have saved himself from the hands o f the Inquisition. But

circumlocution is also a trope of unknowing— used when something is

indescribable. In either case, by circumlocuting we travel around a topic when we

do not want to, or cannot, reveal something for what it actually is. Take, for

example, the very opening phrase of the Dedicatory Epistle o f the Cena, in which

Bruno attempts to describe what kind o f banquet the Nolan attended:

Or eccovi, Signor, presente, non un convito nettareo de l'Altitonante. per

una maesta; non un protoplastico, per una umana desolazione; non quel
d’Assuero, per un misterio; non di Lucullo, per una ricchezza; non di
Liacone, per un sacrilegio: non di Tieste, per una tragedia; non di
Tantalo, per un supplicio, non di Platone, per una filosofia; non di
Diogene, per una miseria; non de le sanguisughe, per una bagattella; non

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d’un arciprete di Pogliano, per una bemesca; non d’un Bonifacio

candeiaio, per una comedia; ma un convito si grande, si piccolo; si
maestrale, si disciplinale; si sacrilegio, si religioso; si allegro, si colerico;
si aspro, si giocondo; si magro fiorentino, si grasso bolognese; si cinico,
si sardanapalesco; si bagattelliero, si serioso; si grave, si mattacinesco; si
tragico, si comico; che, certo, credo che non vi sara poco occasione da
dovenir eroico, dismesso; maestro, discepolo; credente, mescredente;
gaio. triste; satumino. gioviale; leggiero, ponderoso; canino, liberale;
simico, consulare; sofista con Aristotele, filosofo con Pitagora; ridente
con Democrito, piangente con Eraclito. (7-8)

After reading such a winding list o f "is-nof s” and "is"s." I do not believe any

reader would be able to say with confidence what the Ash Wednesday Supper

attended by the Nolan actually was like. Perhaps only the generic "a bit o f

everything” and “a lot o f nothing” would be appropriate. The via negativa

expressed in this circumlocutory mode o f speaking about a single event leads me to

think that the "cena” itself stands for something beyond the actual convito and

conversation. Does this passage subtly mock the theology and liturgy o f Ash

Wednesday, aggrandizing and belittling it at the same time? Is the meal in and o f

itself emblematic of sophistical, pedantic, and opportunistic discourse— arguing a

position because it suits you at the moment? We know from a colorful, satirical

passage about the "ceremonio di quell’urciuolo o becchieri” at the end o f Dialogue

II that Bruno pokes fun at the ritual o f transubstantiation (82-83). Bruno's

circumlocutory description in the opening pages o f the Cena is a herald o f circles to


We can see an extensive circumlocution in the very path the Nolan and his

entourage take to get to the Ash Wednesday Supper. It is a muddy, dark, unguided

trek which leads the group back to its point of departure: the Nolan’s residence.

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Teofilo cries, in regard to this circular detour, "O varie dialettiche, o nodosi dubii, o

importuni sofismi, o cavillose capzioni, o scuri enigmi, o intricati laberinti, o

indiavolate sfinge, risolvetevi, or fatevi risolvere” (60). The journey itself is

enigmatic, likened to “dialectic,” "doubts,” and "sophisms.” Is there, perhaps, even

a critique of sauntering Peripatetics? This difficult ambulation to the supper is also

a means by which Bruno lambasting English society for what he perceives as its

xenophobia, rudeness, and backwardness. Between the lines, or rather footsteps,

however, we find yet another critique: one o f Protestant intolerance and o f

scholastic pedantry. Bruno indicates these issues obliquely under the cloak o f more

superficial complaints about English society. The Nolan's circum-ambulation as

retold by Teofilo is enhanced by Bruno-the-author’s circum-locution.

When thinking about circumlocution in Bruno it is essential to understand

his concept of the circle, as it is the most prominent form in his mathematics,

physics, and metaphysics alike. If we first take the time to consider the nature of

the circle, we will then be able to expose and appreciate the "circularity" o f the

Cena. Variations on the word “circle” show up in all eight o f Bruno's Dialoghi

italiani. but most frequently in De la causa principio et uno, De I 'injinito universo

et mondi, and the Cena. Using Michele Ciliberto’s Lessico di Giordano Bruno for

my calculation, I have found nearly one hundred occurrences o f circularity in the

Dialoghi.7 The words “circonferenza/ circumferenza/ circunferenza” appear thirty

times; “circolo” twenty-two times; “circolare/ circulare” thirteen times; "circuire”

nine times; "circolazione/ circulazione” seven times; "circonferenziale” seven

7 Michele Ciliberto, Lessico di Giordano Bruno (Rome: Edizioni dell’Ateneo & Bizzarri, 1979).

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times; “circuito” three times; “circularmente” two times; and “circonforare,"

“circonferenzialmente,” and “circonscrizione” one time each. These “circle

variations” are terms that occur often enough in Bruno's Italian lexicon to warrant

study, and yet, with the exception o f Walter Pagel's article for the Journal o f the

History o f Medicine and Allied Sciences, no one has given the concept o f the circle

in Bruno ample consideration.8

Bruno also drafted— literally and conceptually— innumerable circles. We

see them in his geometric diagrams, in his discussion of celestial orbits, in his

notion of minima as the form-givers to matter, in his memory wheels, his wheel o f

fortune, his wheel o f time, his wheel o f metamorphosis, his wheel o f elocution, in

the notion o f a circular movement o f all things in nature, and in his intuition o f the

“perfect” circle— impossible to see or understand—as the basis o f all form.‘, That

Bruno also maintains a notably “circular” rhetoric throughout his Italian dialogues

and Latin works is not surprising. His discussion o f the circle's power and nature

8 Walter Page!. “Giordano Bruno: The Philosophy o f Circles and the Circular Movement o f the
Blood.” Journal o f the History o f Medicine and Allied Sciences. 52/310 (1951): 116-124. Georges
Poulet. in his Metamorphoses o f the Circle, trans. Carley Dawson and Elliott Coleman (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966), does talk about Bruno’s fascination with the circle, but only
briefly, and does not consider Bruno’s geometric diagrams.

9 All the citations from Bruno’s Latin works, except for Praelectiones geometricae e Ars
deformationum. Testi inediti, ed. Giovanni Aquilecchia (Rome: Editore di Storia e Letteratura,
1964), are from the following edition: Giordano Bruno, Opera latine conscripta, ed. F. Tocco, et al.
8 vols. (Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1962). For geometric diagrams, see especially the
Articuli and the Frankfurt poems; for a discussion o f celestial orbits, see the Cena, the Causa, and
the Infinito; on the minimum, see De minimo; for memory wheels, see De umbris idearum, Cantus
Circaeus, and Explicatio triginta sigiilorum; for the wheel o f fortune, see the Eroici and the
Spaccio; for the wheel o f time, see the Eroici, 1089 and Michele Ciliberto’s La ruota del tempo
(Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1992); for the wheel o f metamorphosis, see the Eroici, 1003; for the wheel
o f elocution, see Artificium perorandi in Op. Lat., vol. Il.iv, 380-381; for circular motion in nature,
see De rerum principiis and the Causa; and for the circle as the basis o f all form, see especially De
minimo, De monade, and De immenso.

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appears in 1582, in his first mnemonic text, De umbris idearum .l0 By the time

Bruno was writing his Dialoghi italiani in 1583-4, he was already speaking of the

circle as the figure o f all figures, almost like the “Seal o f seals,” which is also,

coincidentally, a circle (see fig. 25). In the Spaccio, Bruno writes that “si possono

far tutte l’altre figure uguali ad altre figure con l'aggiunto e relazione del circolo,

che fate misura de le unsure.”11 This Pythagorean/Platonic vision o f the circle is

also a comment on the perfect spherical “minima” that move matter into the forms

and shapes it ultimately takes within a universe that is at once all center and all


In the Articuli Bruno speaks o f two curious circularities— curves which

signify “curviness” both spatially and linguistically—circxdarecto and

rectocirculare (circularlystaight and straightlycircular).12 Even earlier, in De la

causa principio et urxo (1584), he writes that the “linea retta infinita venga ad essere

circolo infinito.” Earlier still, in Sigillus sigiilorum (1583), he speaks o f the three

faculties of the mind in a similar light: sense, which he envisions as a straight line;

the intellect, as a circle; and the imagination, as an oblique line neither straight nor

circular.13 Though at first glance, one might seem to see Nicholas o f Cusa's wise

10 See De umbris idearum in Op. Lai., vol. Il.i.

11 Bruno, Spaccio, 759.

12 Bruno, Articuli in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 25; see also De minimo in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii.

13 Bruno, Causa, 336; Explicatio triginta sigilli in Op. Lat., vol. II.ii, 21.

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layman, or a forerunner to Thomas Browne’s "mortall right-lined circle,” 14 Bruno

has taken the rhetoric of the ineffable to another level. When he writes that the

monad is, in its state o f simultaneous minimum-maximum, a figure that should be

considered circularlystraight and straightlycircular, he means it literally.

Describing phenomena including the invisible and the incommensurate requires a

language that can imitate the inherent contradictions in the perception/conception o f

the ineffable, a language that is itself a coincidentia oppositorum and oxymoronic.

Writing about the invisible and the incommensurate also requires a language that

can bend and twist itself around the unnamable and the inexplicable in a kind o f

circumlocution. It is useful to recall that the word tropos itself implies a “twisting"

and a “turning” of words.

In his 1587 private lectures on Aristotle’s Rhetorica ad Alexandrum,

published in 1612 by John Henry Alstedt under the title o f Artificium perorandi,

Bruno speaks of the complex, twisty rhetoric needed to “measure” the infinite

perfection of the Divine, given that the Divine is:

.. .incomprehensibile, infinitum, incircumscriptibile, omnia implens,

super omnia, infra in omnibus, supra quern nihil, infra quern nihil, intra
quern nihil, extra quern nihil, omnia tangens, ubique praesens, omnia
comprehendens, nihilo indigens, omnia exteme complectens, omnia
interne gubemans, omnibus occurrens, super omnia ascendens. in quo
non maius neque minus, qui est to tu m .. .l5

14 Thomas Browne, Hydrioiaphia (London: Hen. Brome, 1568), as cited by Eve Keller, “The
Certain Sign: The Language o f Geometry in Seventeenth-Century English Literature,” (Ph.D. Diss.,
Columbia University, 1991), 101.

15 Bruno, Artificium perorandi in Op. Lat., vol. Il.iii, 400-401.

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This use o f paradox and circumlocution to address the Divine— that is, the

infinite— harks back to the via negativa o f thinkers such as Pseudo-Dionysius and

Thomas Aquinas: God is all that remains after we determine that which He is not.16

Such circumlocution should immediately call to mind the circumference o f a circle.

•‘Speaking around,” or “carrying around,” both imply a movement that could be

considered a return to a point o f departure, as in the case o f the initial journey o f the

Nolan and his group to the Ash Wednesday Supper.

For Bruno, the circle is the matrix of all form and motion: all other forms

derive from it, and all forms in nature, he says, move circularly.17 The Brunian

circle is at times a center, at times a circumference; at times it resembles a point,

and at times a sphere. It is simultaneously all and part; beginning and end; all o f its

dimensions are “uguali” and “medesime.” 18 All the circles and spheres that we

see— the moon, an orange, a plate, a drawing by a compass— are not, however, as

Bruno tells us, perfect. The perfect circle or sphere is infinite, hence invisible to the

human eye and inconceivable to the human mind.19 The perfect circle is a paradox,

for as Nicholas o f Cusa wrote, a circle o f infinite circumference must have an

infinite diameter, and mathematically, a circumference and a diameter cannot have

one and the same measure. Thus the circumference would be the diameter, and the

16 See Pseudo-Dionysius, Mystical Theology; Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles. See also the
Cloud o f Unknowing.

17 See De monade in Op. Lat.. vol. I.ii, 306.

18 Ibid.; Eroici, 1059.

19 Bruno, Articuli in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 24, 145. See also the Heraclitan idea o f panta rei in De
minimo in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 148, 152, 155.

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infinite circle would be a line. In infinity, the line is the circle and the circle is the

line.20 Subsequently, the infinite is circularlystraight and straightlycircular.21

Bruno also speaks o f “spherical circularity” (circum sphaeraliter), a motion

which animates the mineral, natural and spiritual worlds.22 Atoms, fluids, the

winds, the soul— everything in nature, according to Bruno, moves circularly in

imitation of the heavens and with the purpose o f sustaining life. In Bruno’s

lifetime, Kepler had not yet proved that the planets moved in elliptical paths, and

thus spherical-circularity was still considered the basis for all motion, heavenly and

natural. The planets moved in circles, the heavenly spheres moved in circles, as did

the soul, the winds, and everything that was alive. Bruno even envisioned the

frenzied hero’s ascension toward the Divine as a circular passage.23 He wrote that

all turns in a circular line and imitates the circle: to walk, to swim, to fly. to grow,

to feel, to comprehend, to endow with life, to live, to die is a circle.24 What he says

here—though beautiful in its directness and simplicity— is nothing new; we know

from innumerable medieval and Renaissance sources that such forces as love, for

20 Cusa, Idiota de sapientia, 11.42. See also Bruno, Causa, 336; Infinito. 390; and Articuli in
Op. Lat.. vol. I.iii. 59.

21 De minimo in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 63; Articuli in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 25.

22 For circum sphaeraliter, see Bruno, De magia in Op. Lat., vol. Ill, 419. See also Bruno’s
ideas on the circular motion o f nature in Sigillus sigiilorum in Op. Lat., vol. H.ii, 192-193; Eroici,
1002: Infinito, 4 5 0 ,4 8 7 ,4 9 0 ; Cena, 75, 173; De principiis rerum in Op. Lat. vol. Ill, 521 ; De
monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 309.

23 Bruno, Eroici, 1026

24 Bruno, Articuli in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 53,60; see also De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 308.

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example, move in a circle, and “il cielo e un cerchio e anche l’animo e un circolo

perche l’anima sua e un circolo.’’23

Bruno’s reflections on the circularity o f form, motion, and time seem to have

their origin in Heraclitus’s theory o f perpetual flux (panta rei) and Plato's theory o f

the dissoluble-but-not-dissolving.26 Teofilo in the Cena says, "Non e cosa della

quale noi siamo, che tal volta non debba esser nostra, come non e cosa la quale e

nostra, della quale non doviamo talvolta essere, se una e la materia-’ (55-56). And

yet, this cycling and recycling are not to be taken in a deterministic sense. They are

a guarantee o f change and transformation, closer to Lucretius's concept of

dinam en: the swerve o f an atom that provokes the creation o f a form, situation, or

characteristic.27 The dinam en implies that there is a randomness to nature— even

in its cycles and order—and that there is room for chance and free will. These ideas

are consistent with Bruno’s discussion o f the constant vicissitudes o f the world

around us, and his praise o f “Occasione” in the Spacdo,28

The significance o f the circle to Bruno’s geometry, language, and

philosophy is unmistakable. Bruno was fascinated with circles, as Georges Poulet

25 Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Heptaplus, ed. Alberto Cesare Ambesi (Camagnola: Arktos.
1996), 75.

26 Though the idea o f panta rei is more o f an epistemologica! theory, its first premise, which
deals with the metaphysics o f form and matter, is very much akin to Bruno’s philosophy (see
Bruno’s discussion o f vicissitudes in De minimo in Op. Lat., vol. II.v, 151). Given Heraclitus’s
dictum that you can never put your hand in the same river twice, Bruno writes that it is impossible to
reproduce the same figure twice (see De minimo in Op. Lat., vol. II.v, 152). In Plato, see the
Timaeus, 4 lab.

27 See Lucretius, De rerum naturae, 11.216ff and II.290ff. See also Harold Bloom’s chapter on
'“Clinamen or poetic misprision” in The Anxiety o f Influence: A Theory o f Poetry (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1973).

28 Bruno, Spaccio, 697.

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notes in his book on the Metamorphoses o f the Circle?9 Poulet places Bruno

among the most '‘circle-obsessed” o f the sixteenth century, alongside the Huguenot

scientific poets such as Maurice Sceve, Jacques Pelletier du Mans, Guy Le Febvre

de Boderie (who translated Ficino, Pico, and Zorzi), the seventeenth-century

Englishman Thomas Traherne, and the German Jacob Boehme. I find it telling that

one of the early editions of the Cena was bound together with two o f Boehme’s

"theosophicall letters.”30 In the Clavis, Boehme refers to Jesus as a

"circumference” through which the name of God speaks.31

Bruno was among the loudest voices of the Middle Ages and Renaissance to

pronounce the circle as the source o f all forms.32 Though he never specifically

considers the rhetorical device o f circumlocution as a manifestation o f the power of

circles, he uses it nonetheless in much the same way he uses circles in his geometric

diagrams to refer indirectly to his philosophy o f nature. In Bruno’s physics and

metaphysics lies a supremely circular entity: the "minimum.” The minimum has no

form or parts, and yet is the origin o f all forms and parts.33 Minima are the

29 Poulet, Metamorphoses o f the Circle, xxiv.

J° See Cambridge University’s Emmanuel College edition (S. 10.5.40), as cited by Rita Sturlese.
Bibliogrqfia censimento e storia delle antiche stampe di Giordano Bruno (Florence: Olschki
Editore, 1988), 44.

31 Jacob Boehme, The Key, trans. William Law, ed. D.A. Freher (Grand Rapids: Phanes Press,
1991), 22.

32 Others include Campanella, Pico, Patrizi, Charles of Bovelles, Pelletier o f Mans, Ramus, La
Boderie, Yves o f Paris, Mersenne, Paracelsus, Kepler, Eckhart, Boehme, Kircher, Leibniz, the
Cambridge Platonists, and the English metaphysical poets. See Poulet, Metamorphoses o f the
Circle, xxiv.

33 See De minimo in Op. Lat.. vol. I.iii, 284. For an excellent discussion o f the concept o f the
minimum, see Martin M uslow’s essay in the German translation o f De monade , trans. and ed.
Elisabeth Von Samsonow (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1991), 181-271.

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invisible building blocks o f matter; like atoms, they are circular, but unlike atoms,

they are infinite in number. What Bruno calls the minimum for geometry and all

forms o f nature, is parallel to the classical notion o f the "monad” for number. The

monad is the elusive source from which all numbers proceed. Like the minimum,

the monad is simultaneously a non-dimensional point and a perfect circle. As the

minimum transcends all figures, the monad transcends all numbers— the minimum

and the monad circumscribe figures and numbers respectively, and are everywhere

inscribed in them.34 Though the minimum and the monad are points o f departure,

neither the minimum nor the monad is or has a discernible center. Centers are

constantly shifting. The human soul— perfect in its own right— is bom from one

center, becomes another center, then, via metempsychosis, goes to yet another

center.35 Every geometric shape also has a kind o f center, and yet the true

geometer, who is also a philosopher o f nature, knows that "a” center is not “the"

center o f anything; it is, rather, an elusive minimum.

The Brunian universe has its circumference nowhere and its center

everywhere, or conversely, its center nowhere and its circumference everywhere.36

The paradoxical images we find in Bruno's thought o f “circularlystraight.” all­

circumference, and all-center are key to his metaphysics and the epistemology o f

coincidentia oppositorum and vicissitudes. In De monade he dedicates a section o f

3,1 See, for example, the comprehensive Pythagorean list o f the m onad’s qualities in lamblicus’s
The Theology ofArithmetic: On the Mystical, Mathematical, and Cosmological Symbolism o f the
First Ten Numbers, ed. Robin Waterfield (Grand Rapids: Phanes Press, 1988), 35-40.

35 See Plato, Timaeus; Plotinus, Enneads VI.9-8; Augustine, Liber de spiritu et anima (which is
thought to be falsely attributed).

36 See Causa, 185, 321; Infinito, 406, 520.

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the poem to lauding the circle: he exalts its equivalence to the great monad; speaks

of its symbolic value o f oneness and its freedom from plurality; and points out that

it is actually the ultimate "a-gon”—a figure without angles. In the circle, he writes,

opposites coincide: chord, arc, spike, point, end, nothing, everything... right and

left, arriving and returning, movement and rest.37 The coincidence o f opposites,

then, fuels the motion and mutation o f all forms.

Not surprisingly, Bruno was as obsessed with the instrument used to draw

circles as the circles themselves. He was so viscerally attached to a new compass

he came across in Paris in 1586 that he dedicated two entire dialogues to it and its

fabricator: Dialogi duo de Fabricii Mordentis Salernitani prope divina

adinventione adperfectam cosmimetriae praxim. Bruno was convinced o f his

ability to see the myriad o f possibilities o f this compass and he wrote Dialogi duo

not only as a praise o f the instrument’s merits and use, but as a critique o f its

inventor’s inability to understand the greatness o f what he had created. When the

maker of the compass, Fabrizio Mordente. got wind o f Bruno’s publication he

responded with rage and indignation. Bruno retaliated promptly and in no few


37 Bruno. De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 335-345. See also Praelectiones and Articuli.

38 See Bruno’s Dialogi duo de Fabricii Mordentis Salernitani prope divina ad inventione ad
perfectam cosmimetriae praxim (Paris: Petri Chevillot, 1586).

39 See Bruno’s reactions in Idiota triumphans (1586) and De somnii interpretatione ( 1586).

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What exactly was this compass that inspired such ardor in Bruno (fig. 27)?

In his study o f Renaissance Italian mathematicians, Paul Lawrence Rose speaks

only briefly about it, and does not even

■ j mention Bruno or the fiery debate that

ensued between him and Mordente.

Rose merely records that Federigo

1 Commandino40 was asked by anatomist

Q Bartolomeo Eustachio in 1568 to design

Figure 27: Bruno's woodcut of Mordente’s a reduction compass (a forerunner o f
compass. Giordano Bruno, D ialogi duo de
Fabricii M ordentis Salernitani (Paris: Petri
the proportional compass designed by
Chevillot, 1586).

Galileo in 1598), and that in the same year Fabrizio Mordente published an

intcigliato in Venice announcing a new kind o f compass, though he did not describe

how to build it.41 Rose cites the correspondence between Commandino's student.

Guidobaldo del Monte, and the Venetian patrician Jacomo Contarini, which

indicated that Mordente— in collaboration with Michel Coignet— invented the

compass.42 Giovanni Aquilecchia, in his 1957 introduction to Due dialoghi

sconosciuti e due nod, as well as in his 1990 essay ’’Bruno e la matematica a lui

40 Federigo Commandino (1509-1575), mathematician to the Duke o f Urbino, translated many

Greek mathematical treatises, such as Archimedes’ Sand-Reckoner and Apollonius’s Conics.

41 P. L. Rose, The Italian Renaissance Mathematicians: Studies on Humanists and

Mathematicians from Petrarch to Galileo (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1975), 204. Rose most likely
got this information from the historian o f science, Giuseppe Boffito, who, in his study entitled Gli
strumenti della scienza e la scienza degli strumenti (Florence: Libreria Intemazionale Seeber, 1929),
wrote about Commandino as the inventor, and gives just a sentence to Mordente and not even a
footnote to Mordente’s debate with Bruno.

42 Rose. The Italian Renaissance Mathematicians, 204.

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contemporanea,” concords with Rose, though he concludes that Mordente’s

intagliato was printed by Paolo Forlani in 1567 and draws his information from the

extensive Corbinelli-Pinelli correspondence.44

Bruno met Mordente in Paris in 1586 and was immediately struck by the

compass’s possibilities for his own meta-mathematical exegeses. He greatly

admired Mordente, and because his compatriot did not know Latin well, he decided

to announce the invention to the Latin-speaking world. But Bruno did not merely

exalt the man whom he had considered so great a geometrician. He went on to

reprove Mordente for his limited vision, for his inability to see the compass's full

potential, much in the same way Bruno claimed in the Cena to understand

Copernicus’s discovery of the heliocentric universe and its implications more

deeply than Copernicus himself. Mordente was infuriated. He burnt as many

copies of Bruno's publications as he could find.

In critiquing Mordente. Bruno disparages pedantic mathematicians. Bruno

wanted mathematics to be organic and dynamic: a mathesis, which is something o f

a fusion o f number, figure, religion, love, art and magic.44 I have spoken at length

about Bruno's mathesis in the Introduction. What we need to recall here is that

mathesis is Bruno’s “figuration" o f the universe's nature, its functioning, and its

parts. That Bruno appropriated Mordente’s compass as his own is indicative o f his

43 Aquilecchia, “Introduction’’ to Due dialoghi sconosciuti e due dialoghi noti: Idiota

triumphans - De somnii interpretatione - Mordentius - De mordentii circino (Rome: Edizioni di
storia e letteratura, 1957) and Aquilecchia, “Bruno e la matematica a Iui contemporanea: In margine
al De minimo," Giornale critico della filosofia italiana (May-August 1990): 151-159, cited from
Schede bruniane (1950-1991) (Rome: Vecchiarelli, 1993).

44 See Bruno’s Sigillus Sigillorum, Op. lat., vol. I.iv, 255; and Yates, Giordano Bruno and the
Hermetic Tradition, 296.

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desire to vivify infertile fields such as logic and dialectic and infuse them with a

greater purpose. The compass— its function o f drafting circles and reducing or

expanding figures in proper proportion—provides no small contribution to Bruno’s

geometry and thought. Understanding why Bruno had such a hostile attitude

toward Mordente and why he provoked this unfriendly episode helps us to

appreciate further his special affinity for geometry, and in particular for the circle.

Had Bruno been a more able mathematician and technician. I do not doubt that he

would have tried to invent the compass himself.

It is interesting to note, as Aquilecchia does, that Bruno renewed his passion

for the workings o f Mordente's compass in the Euclidean chapters IV and V o f De

minimo in 1591 and in the later 1591 Paduan Praelectiones geometricae.

Aquilecchia concludes that he did so in order to position himself for a job in the

mathematics department at the University o f Padua, which had been left open after

the death of Giuseppe Moletti in 1588.45 Bruno did not get the position and it

remained vacant until 1592 was given to Galileo. It is also worth noting, as

Leonardo Olschki did. that Bruno came upon Mordente's compass when he was

developing his theory of the minimum and was thinking about the mathematical

and physical limits o f divisibility.46 This information further strengthens the idea

that Bruno respected traditional geometry enough to teach it and use it in the

43 Aquilecchia. “Bruno e la matematica a lui contemporanea,” 316-317.

46 See Olschki’s Vierteljarsschrift fu r Literaturwissenschaft urtd Geistesgeschichte (2) 1924, 1-

78, as cited by Aquilecchia, Due dialoghi, viii.

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construction o f his metaphysical doctrine. What is more, he sought to expand

geometry into a symbolic language for discussing the ineffable.

When thinking about the figure o f circumlocution in Bruno, and hence

circular patterns, it is important to keep in mind that in traditional numerology,

certain numbers had a circular quality. Numbers such as six, sixty, and 360 show

up often in Bruno’s work, not the least in the Certa. In a regular hexagon inscribed

in a circle, in fact, each of its six sides (with six angles o f 60° each) is equal to the

radius. Six is a “perfect” number, according to the Pythagoreans (it equals the sum

o f its factors, 1, 2, 3), and it is a circular number, for when multiplied by itself it

produces itself ( 6 x 6 = 36). According to lamblicus. there are six directions

(forward, backward, up, down, left, and right). Also according to lamblicus. the

number six is the “form of all forms,” in that, like the circle, all forms (that is.

numbers) derive from it. since it is the product o f the first female number [2] and

the first male number [3].47 Bruno confirmed this in De monade, much in the same

way as Cornelius Agrippa did in his De philosophia occulta.A%

In nature, we see that the snowflake always has six comers (as Kepler

noted),49 as do most crystalline and mineral molecules. Similarly, the beehive

47 lamblicus. The Theology o f Arithmetic, 75-77.

48 See Bruno, De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii. 421. See also Cornelius Agrippa, De philosophia
occulta, bk. II.

49 See Johannes Kepler, De Niue Sexangula (Frankfurt: Godfrey Tampach, 1611). Kepler was
not able to explain the physical cause o f six-sidedness in snowflakes; it was another 200 years before
the mystery was solved by crystallographers. Kepler concluded that the reason for this six-fold
symmetry had to be found in a universal Galenic facultas formatrix (or an anima terrae or Lucretian
daedala tellus). Though Bruno never spoke o f hexagons in terms o f planar tight-packing, he did
explore the minimum number o f spheres circumscribing another sphere, which he found to be six.
See De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 250.

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utilizes the extremely efficient planar packing system o f hexagons. These

occurrences in nature have inspired thinkers to develop certain geometrical

mysticisms; the Greeks and Neoplatonists were not alone, and even Descartes had

some ideas about the divinity o f mathematically simple forms. Six is associated

with the ring finger on the left hand, on which the wedding band is placed (the

finger was believed to have a vein running through it leading directly to the heart;

sixty, by the way, is Plato’s “marriage number”).30 The first finger-counting book

in the west. Venerable Bede’s De computo vel loquela digitorum, shows the ring

finger being bent down on the left hand to indicate the number six, as does the

Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli in his Summa de A rith m etica l Six is

also called the “Amphitrite,” for it yields two separate triads (amphis, meaning

separate or two, and trite, implying three), and we know that Bruno often referred

to Queen Elizabeth as the Amphitrite.32 In the Cena he speaks o f her benevolent

reign encircling the world. Teofilo asserts:

Certo, se l'imperio de la fortuna corrispondesse e fiisse agguagliato a

l’imperio del generosissimo spirto ed ingegno. bisognerebbe che questa
grande Amfitrite aprisse le sue fimbrie, ed allargasse tanto la sua
circonferenza, che si come comprende una Britannia ed Ibemia, gli desse
un altro globo intiero. che venesse as uguagliarsi a la mole universale...

30 See Karl Menninger, Number Words and Number Symbols, trans. Paul Broneer (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1969); and Annemarie Schimmel, The Mystery o f Numbers (New York: Oxford
University Press. 1993).

31 Venerable Bede, De computo vel loquela digitorum, eighth century A.D.; Luca Pacioli,
Summa de Arithmetica (Venice: n.p., 1494).

32 For other references in Bruno to Queen Elizabeth I as “Amphitrite,” see especially his Eroici.

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Ovid’s Metamorphoses describe the goddess Amphitrite as the wife o f Ocean and

the fountain o f all numbers.53 This fits well with both the symbolism o f the number

six, and the image o f Queen Elizabeth as queen o f the seas and abundant lands.

Sixty, like six, is "circular.” We find sixty minutes in the cycle o f an hour,

sixty seconds in the cycle o f a minute, 360 degrees in a circle. Sixty was the first

“great unit” used in Babylon, and the sexagesimal system was more popular than

the decimal system in the Middle East and Far East for centuries. Sixty, as Bruno

shows, is also a number that can be easily used to create a numeric and geometric

progression series. In De minimo, he gives a "ladder o f succession” with sixty as

the minimum, proceeding as a

Sclula progteflionis foucenarii in paribus ad
minimum, iuiti vulgaremcvculidi-
succession of squares o f sixty (fig.
( 0 4 ( 0 7 ( 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 o o 't
28).54 We can see how this expanding 1 0 0 7 7 ( 9 ( 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 }
1 6 7 9 6 1 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 9

repetition of identity (60 x 60 x 6 0 ...) * 7 9 9 J < > 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

4 6 6 f 6 o o o o o o
7 7 7 6 0 0 0 0 0
would have been conceptually and 1 1 9 6 0 0 0 0
a 1 6 0 0 0

aesthetically attractive to Bruno, as it } 6 00

6 o

demonstrates numerically and

Figure 28: “Schala progression is.” Giordano
Bruno, De m inim o.
geometrically how forms potentially

proceed out from the minimum. He does not explain his "ladder o f succession,” nor

does he include numeric ladders like this one anywhere else in his works. We

should note, thus, the privilege he gives sixty as an "expansor”— the gnomic

expansion o f figures that share the same center (like concentric circles) or do not

53 Ovid, Met. 1.14-15.

54 See De minimo in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 268.

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share the same center but repeat the same form (like the figure Bruno names

"Expansor” in the Articuli\ see fig. 3). This flexibility and re-flexibility was

undoubtedly its attraction.

By speaking o f the circularity o f the numbers six, sixty, and 3 6 0 ,1 do not

wish to negate the circularity of other numbers. The number one, for example, is

the monad, a point or "perfect circle” from which all other numbers spring. The

number nine is a round number: when multiplied by any number it will produce a

number whose digits equal itself (9x2=18, 1+8=9; 9x3=27, 2+ 7= 9...). In the

musical octave, eight notes complete a cycle. Bruno uses the numbers fifteen and

thirty in many o f his memory wheels, and the number five often shows up as a

pentagon inscribed in a circle, which is in turn inscribed in a pentagon, and so on.

Following in the tradition of Agrippa and Leonardo, Bruno also drew an ideal man

in a pentagon, inscribed in a circle.55

Why then even bother to talk about the link between the circle and number

in Bruno if it is so prevalent? After only reading a few pages o f Bruno's work, the

question becomes, rather, how we can not consider this link. The very frontispiece

to the first edition o f the Cena heralds the presence o f numbers and number-games

in the text to follow (fig. 29).56 Five dialogues, four interlocutors, three

considerations on two subjects, dedicated to the sole refuge o f the Muses, Michel

de Castelnau. This echoes Bruno’s metaphysics o f cycling between the Many and

the One, and announces other number games to come.

55 See Bruno, De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 417.

56 Bruno, La cena de le Ceneri (n.p., 1584).

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Figure 29: Title page. Giordano Bruno, La cena de le Ceneri (n.p.,


Circumlocution is a way o f “speaking around." or “carrying around." It

implies a movement that could be considered a return to a point o f departure, such

as the initial journey o f the Nolan and his group to the Ash Wednesday Supper. It

is interesting to note that Bruno included the trope o f circumlocution in the

discussion o f Mercury’s qualities in De imaginum compositione. Here, the trope—

though called by the Greek name, amphibolia— is included in a long list o f

Mercury’s language-related qualities.57 Terms such as “circuitio,” “circumventio,”

57 “Tertii ordinis ad dexteram adstat similitudo rivi, cui adest Gratia, Lenitas, Liquiditas,

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58 i
and “circumscriptio” also turn up among Mercury’s characteristics. There

appears to be something inherently circular about Mercury, the god o f language,

medicine, and thievery and the fastest orbiting planet around the sun. Though

Bruno never established the relation between the circle and to Mercury explicitly, it

is clear in his description o f the god that language and circumlocution are intimate


The significance o f the circle to Bruno's geometry, language, and,

subsequently, his philosophy is unmistakable. The device o f circumlocution is

present in the Cena in the form o f the journey, in the careful tiptoeing around

critiques o f English society, in the indirect manner o f describing the nature o f the

banquet, and in the very Copemican cosmology Bruno champions. If we keep in

mind the notion o f the “infinite circle” and the circle as a matrix for all forms when

reading the Cena, we will see how his language invites us to envision worlds (and

worlds o f words, as Bruno’s friend John Florio might have put it) that could

potentially continue on ad infinitum,59

The following figures that I consider are all conic sections. Although they

are not figures that Bruno discussed or made in his woodcuts, they are conceptually

present in his writing. I will, once again, use the Cena as a model for this

Celeritas, Argutia, Amoenitas vag, dulcis Conspicuitas, iucunde labens Oratio, Dissertio,
Concinnitas, Facundia, Periclea Argutia, nectareum Eloquium, suave stillans Tersitudo,
Flexanimitas. emoliens Culture, Nestorea Lingua, aurea C o p ia.. . ” See Bruno, De imaginum
compositione in Op. Lat., vol. Il.iii, 227.

58 Ibid., 232,237.

59 It has been documented that John Florio and Bruno were friends. See, for example, Roberto
Tissoni’s article, “Appunti per uno studio sulla prosa della dimostrazione scientifica nella Cena de le
Ceneri di Giordano Bruno,” 55.

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“figurative” analysis o f curves in Bruno’s writing, but want to note that these

rhetorical figures can be found in all o f Bruno’s Dialoghi and in nearly all o f his

Latin works as well.


Let us take a look at the history o f the word "hyperbole.” In Antiquity it

was used as an adverb to mean "immoderately, or excessively.”60 We find this in,

for example, Theognis.61 It meant "throwing beyond, overshooting, or superiority”

in Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Philostratus. and Archytas Tarentinus.62 It referred

to something that was "beyond, high in price, or extreme” in Isocrates.63 In

Aristotle’s Rhetoric, we find the first appearance o f the word as a figure o f speech.

It continued on as a figure o f speech in the works o f the early rhetoricians

Demetrius and Strabo, and finally, in the comprehensive manuals o f the Roman

60 From the CD ROM program fbicus I was able to find hundreds o f occurrences o f this general
sense o f the word hyperbole in classical Greek texts. Though for an in-depth study o f the origins
and development o f the term all o f these entries would be essential, I shall not undertake such a task
in this dissertation, for my intention is merely to discuss how the “figure’’ o f hyperbole is expressed
rhetorically and geometrically in Bruno. I would, however, like to note some o f the authors who
used the word most frequently, as it might be useful for gleaning a quick insight into who was most
instrumental in the term’s genealogy o f meaning: Aeschines (iv B.C.), Dionysius Halicarnassus (i
B.C.), Aelius Aristides (ii A.D.), Herodianus (ii A.D.), Longinus (iii A.D.), Libanius (iv A.D.), and
Themistius (iv A.D.).

61 Theognis (vi B.C.), 484.

62 Hippocrates (v B.C.), Viet. 2.65; Plato (7425-328 B.C.), Protagoras 356a; Aristotle (384 -322
B.C.), Meter. 342b 32, and PA 668b 14: Philostratus (ii-iii A.D.), Im., 2.19; Archytas Tarentinus (iv
A.D.), 1.

63 Isocrates (v-iv B.C.), 4.5.110.

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became a rhetorical trope meaning "an elegant straining o f the truth."65

In contrast to circumlocution, which speaks around a topic, hyperbole

throws itself beyond the topic. The former conceals and the latter— in its

indirectness— amplifies, exalts, and magnifies. The image of language being

thrown above and beyond itself is, however, not easy to envision. Looking at the

geometric hyperbola may help us to graph the shape o f this figure in our minds.

The hyperbola is a conic section, a curve that is created when a cone is sliced in a

particular way (fig. 30).

Figure 30a: Graphs of hyperbolae.

Quintilian. Institutio Oratorio. trans. and ed. H. E. Butler (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press. 1966). 339. In his Institutio Oratorio Quintilian talks about hyperbole, but not about the
figures o f parable or ellipsis. What do these lacunae indicate about the development o f the three
tropes and about the nature o f the rhetorical manual? I would not like to hazard any guesses here,
but rather to recall that since the birth o f rhetoric and oration, there have been debates about
terminology , the prioritizing o f oratorical skills, and the purpose o f rhetoric itself. Almost every
manual— even those we find in bookstores today—has its own method o f instruction, grouping o f
devices and tropes, interpretation o f the an. and so forth. It would require a massive investigation o f
Quintilian's Institutio and the history o f rhetoric to understand why he includes the trope o f
hyperbole, but not those o f parable and ellipsis. 1 must leave the question unanswered, and as one
for turther study.

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The fourth-century B.C. mathematician Menaechmus,

a pupil o f Eudoxus and teacher o f Alexander the

Great— is reputed to have discovered the hyperbola,

ellipse, and parabola through cutting a right-angled

circular cone by a plane perpendicular to the point o f

the cone.66 Menaechmus was looking for an answer to

the Delian problem o f the duplication o f the cube,

Figure 30b: Slice of a
cone into a hyperbolic which had stumped mathematicians for ages (and

which he did not find). In Greece, the next mathematicians to discuss conic

sections at length were Aristaeus (ca. 320 B.C.), Euclid (ca. 300 B.C.), and

Apollonius of Perga (ca. 225 B.C.). It was Apollonius, however, who first

discovered that one did not have to cut sections perpendicular to the element o f the

cone to obtain the three conic sections; instead, one could get the conic sections by

varying the inclination of the cutting plane. Apollonius was also the one who

determined the double-branched curve by which the hyperbola is pictured today.67

Even more relevant to our discussion, however, is this: it was Apollonius (perhaps

upon the suggestion o f Archimedes) who gave the three conic sections the names

hyperbola, parabola, and ellipse. Before him. the figures had been generically

66 See, for example, Carl Boyer, A History o f Mathematics (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,
1991), 93-95.

67 Ibid., 145-146. E.H. Lockwood supposes that the lost works on conics by Aristaeus and
Euclid only considered a single branch o f the hyperbola, and that Apollonius was the first to treat it
as a double-branched curve. See Lockwood, A Book o f Curves, 32-33.

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called “acute-angled cone” (oxytome), “right-angled cone” (orthotome), and

/ o

“obtuse-angled cone” (amblytome).

It was not, however, until Kepler’s time that the fascinating principle o f

conic section continuity emerged. This principle shows that when one o f the

hyperbola’s two foci moves farther away from the other, eventually becoming

infinitely distant, the double-branched hyperbola turns into the parabola.

Subsequently, when that focus moves beyond infinity and approaches the fixed

focus from the other side, an ellipse will form until the two foci coincide at the

center point o f a circle. Kepler's discovery established a new relationship between

the three conic sections and the circle. It was also Kepler who invented the term

“focus” (which derives from the Latin term for “fire” [focum], or “hearth”) for the

position of “being at the center.”09

Bruno died before Kepler named the “focus” and gave geometry the

principle of conic section continuity, and he would not have had full access to

Apollonius’s Conics, as it was not translated into Latin until 1710 by Edmund

Hailey. He probably got his information on the conic sections from Giambattista

Memo or Commandino’s studies o f Apollonius.70 Archimedes's Quadrature o f the

Parabola and On Conoids and Spheroids were translated by William o f Moerbeke

68 Boyer, A History o f Mathematics, 146.

69 Ibid., 325. See also Steven Schwartzman, The Words o f Mathematics: An Etymological
Dictionary o f Mathematical Terms Used in English (Washington, DC: Mathematical Association o f
America, 1994).

70 Memo’s text on Apollonius, Apolloni Pergaei, was printed in 1537 (Venice: Bemardium
Bindonum), Commandino’s in 1556 (Venice: Aldi Romani and Ioanis Pietri Vallae). See Pietro
Riccardi, Biblioteca matematica italiana dalla origine della stampa ai primi anni del secolo XLX, 2
vols. (Modena: Soliani, 1870-86) for more information about the diffusion o f these texts.

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around 1270, and Giorgio Valla wrote about conics in 1501.71 That Bruno knew

about conics is almost certain— he knew Euclid, o f course— and he taught Johannes

Sacrobosco's (a.k.a. Regiomontanus) Sphaera in Noli in 1577.72 Nonetheless, it is

not evident that he was particularly interested in this subject, in spite o f his desire to

teach mathematics at Padua. Not surprisingly, there are no conic sections in

Bruno’s diagrams, nor does he ever talk about them. Consequently, Bruno does not

mention the "coincidental” similarity between the mathematical terms and the

rhetorical devices.

All of this notwithstanding, the dual conceptual figuration o f the geometrical

hyperbola and the rhetorical hyperbole is present in Bruno’s work, especially in the

Cena. Take for example a monologue by Bruno's mouthpiece Teofilo. He gives a

lengthy, hyperbolic praise o f the Nolan (himself) in Dialogue I. all o f which I

include here:

Or che dirro io del Nolano? Forse, per essermi tanto prossimo, quanto io
medesmo a me stesso, non mi converra lodarlo? Certamente, uomo
raggionevole non sara, che mi riprenda in cio. atteso che questo talvolta
non solamente conviene, ma e anco necessario, come bene espresse quel
terso e colto T ansillo... [How shall we honor this man] che ha ritrovato
ii modo di montare al cielo, discorrere la circonferenza de le stelle,
lasciarsi a le spalli la convessa superficie del firm am ento?.. . II Nolano.
per caggionar effetti al tutto contrarii, ha disciolto l’animo umano e la
cognizione, che era rinchiusa ne 1’artissimo carcere de Faria turbulento..
. Or ecco quello, ch’ha varcato l’aria, penetrato il cielo, discorse le stelle,
trapassati gli margini del mondo, fatte svanir le fantastiche muraglia de
le prime, ottave, none, decime ed altre, che vi s’avesser potuto
aggiongere, sfere, per relazione de vani matematici e cieco veder di

71 Giorgio Valla, Placentini viri clariss: de expetendis. elfiigiendis rebus opus (Venice: Aldo
Romano, 1501).

72 See Canone, ed. Giordano Bruno: Gli anni napoletani (Cassino: University degli Studi,
1992), 80.

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filosofi volgari; cossi al cospetto d’ogni senso e raggione, co' la chiave

di solertissima inquisizione aperti que’ chiostri de la verita, che da noi
aprir si posseano, nudata la ricoperta e velata natura, ha donati gli occhi
a le talpe, illuminati I ciechi che non possean fissar gli occhi e mirar
l’imagin sua in tanti specchi che da ogni lato gli s'opponeno, sciolta la
lingua a ’ muti che non sapeano e non ardivano esplicar gl’intricati
sentimenti, risaldati i zoppi che non valean far quel progresso col spirto
che non puo far l’ignobile e dissolubile composto, le rende non men
presenti che si fiissero proprii abitatori del sole, de la luna ed altri nomati
o peggiori quei corpi che veggiamo lontano a quello che n'e appresso ed
a cui siamo uniti, e n’apre gli occhi a veder questo nume, questa nostra
madre, che nel suo dorso ne alimenta e ne nutrisce, dopo aveme produtti
dal suo grembo. al qual di nuovo sempre ne riaccoglie, e non pensar oltre
lei essere un corpo senza alma e vita, ad anche feccia tra le sustanze
corporali. (29-33)

The Nolan's accomplishments sound almost miraculous, virtually Christ-like. And

yet, this hyperbole is not intended to make the Nolan a spiritual savior: rather it is

intended to glorify his knowledge o f the cosmos and his ability to enlighten his

interlocutors (adversaries, in this case) about the true structure o f the universe.

That it is Bruno writing the words o f Teofilo, who is speaking about the Nolan,

who is himself Bruno, amplifies this hyperbolic passage dramatically. Bruno

praises himself through two figures, both his mouthpieces. Teofilo muses that it

might not be appropriate for him to praise the Nolan, since the Nolan is as close to

him as he is to himself. Such a statement leaves no shadow o f a doubt as to

Bruno’s intentional self-promotion, which he justifies by citing Tansillo’s belief

that one must praise oneself when praise is due. Teofilo’s hyperbole is like the

double-branched hyperbola Apollonius had unveiled a millennium before Bruno

wrote the Cena. With Teofilo at the focus, one branch praises the Nolan while,

simultaneously, the other praises Bruno. There could not be a more precise and

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true-to-the-geometry form o f hyperbole than this. I find it especially fitting that it is

in Bruno’s praise of himself that such a “perfect” hyperbole-hyperbola relation is


Few other hyperbolic passages in the Cena can match Bruno’s exaltation o f

himself. Though Quintilian characterized hyperbole as an elegant straining o f the

truth, he also says— along with Aristotle— that we should be "the first to blame our

own hyperbole.”73 I assume he means we should be careful when using this trope

of exaggeration, given its ring of implausibility and sarcasm. But what would

Quintilian have thought about Bruno’s hyperbolic encomium o f him self through a

character who was meant to represent him, recited by another character who was

supposedly his voice?

Bruno’s self-directed hyperbole bears another unusual quality; it is not

sarcastic, as are most of his hyperbole, and as is his other self-laudation in the

Antiprologue of the Candelaio.74 And yet it is still a hyperbole in its “far-reaching”

nature. In some sense, it is even a self-parody. In the other hyperbolic passages of

the Cena we can immediately detect an irony, or a critical bend to the hyperbolic

branches. Take, for example, Bruno's praise o f English women. It begins tamely

as a list of their beautiful features and qualities, but develops into a raving

aggrandizement o f their effect on him. Clearly, this is the very hyperbole that

73 See Quintilian, Ins. Or., Vll.iii.37, 231; and Aristotle, Rhet., IIl.vii.9.

74 “L’autore. si voi lo conosceste, dirreste ch’ave una fisionomia smarrita: par che sempre sii in
contemplazione delle pene dell’inferno, par sii stato alia pressa come le barrette: un che ride sol per
far comme fan gli altri: per il piii, lo vedrete fastidito. restio e bizzarrro. non si contenta di nulla,
ritroso come un vecchio d’ottant’anni, fantastico com’un cane ch’ha ricevute mille spellicciate,
pasciuto di cipolla. . . ” 31.

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Quintilian warned against, but the kind that many orators and writers often use

when seeking favor, or to throw a backhanded criticism. Teofilo begins:

Altre, altre sono che m ’hanno incatenata I’alma. A voi altre, dunque,
dico, graziose, gentili, pastose, morbide, gioveni, belle, delicate, biondi
capelli, bianche guance, vermiglie gote, labra succhiose, occhi divini,
petti di smalto e cuori di dimante; per le quali tanti pensieri fabrico ne la
mente, tanti affetti accolgo nel spirto, tante passioni concepo nella vita,
tante lacrime verso da gli occhi. tanti suspiri sgombro dal petto e dal cor
sfavillo tante fiamme; a voi. Muse dTnghilterra, dico: inspiratemi,
suffiatemi, scaldatemi, accendetemi, lambiccatemi e risolvetemi in
liquore, datemi in succhio, e fatemi comparir non con un picciolo,
delicato, stretto, corto e succinto epigramma, ma con una copiosa e larga
vena di prosa lunga, corrente, grande, e soda: onde, non come da un arto
calamo, ma come un largo canale, mande i rivi miei. (26)

Teofilo does not want to be inspired by the Greek muses, who as foreigners, he

jokes, would not be welcome in England. Instead, he wants to be inspired by the

English muses, who are stunning and visible (unlike those from Mount Olympus).

He wants to be able to see his muses, and have them inspire him through their

beauty, not through their genius. In fact, this is one o f the most explicitly sexual

passages in the Dialoghi, surpassed only by those of the Candelaio. “Breathe on

me,” he pleads, “warm me, ignite me, distill me into a liquor, turn me into juice.”

This is not a chaste list o f requests from a former Dominican monk. He wants the

English muses to help him produce a text that is '‘abundant, broad, lengthy, and

fluent,” with a prose that is like “a series o f rivers fed by a large channel.” This

orgasmic hyperbolic request echoes the Petrarchan and Petrarchesque amorous

expressions that Bruno so harshly critiques in the Eroici furori and in the

Candelaio. Though it is probable that he, too, like Erasmus and John Florio, felt

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the sway o f English women’s beauty, Bruno is once again mocking those who lose

their heads over such diversions instead o f directing their minds towards the Divine

Diana, knowledge o f the supreme truths o f nature and the universe.75 This ecstatic

prayer is, on the surface, directed to the vision o f beauty and sensuality. Beneath

the surface, it condemns just such a vision. As such, Bruno has crafted this

hyperbole to be double-edged—a figure he will continue to reproduce throughout

the Cena's first dialogue.

But a curiosity now arises. Why does Bruno use the device o f hyperbole

with such abandon in Dialogue I? A quick answer might be that the other dialogues

are more focused on explicatio (of the Copemican universe) than eloquatio. It is in

Dialogue I that Bruno describes the participants o f the dinner-debate (the Nolan.

Nundinio, and Torquato), and it is in this arena that Bruno can laud himself as the

Nolan, can lustfully and ironically exalt English “muses,”’ and can sarcastically

diminish the power o f his Oxford adversaries. Dialogue II, on the other hand,

describes the circum-stances involved in the journey to the supper. Dialogue III is

Nundinio’s debate with the Nolan, and Dialogue IV is Torquato’s debate with the

Nolan— both o f which are more elliptical and parabolic than the first two dialogues.

With great humor and an exceedingly clever form o f hyperbole, Bruno

shows his disdain for the “doi dottori” from Oxford. Teofilo expounds on how they

75 See Aquilecchia’s footnote (Cena, 26) citing Vincenzo Spampanato’s documentation o f the
“fancy” in the Vita di Giordano Bruno, 368. See also the Anonimo Gesuita’s account, Giordano
Bruno: scene storiche-romantiche del secolo XVI (Rome: Edoardo Perino, 1890), anastatic copy by
Anieilo Montano (Naples: Istituto Grafico Editoriale Italiano, 1998).

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must be great scholars because there were two o f them, and the number two is. as

Teofilo jokes, "un numero misterioso”:

Perche due sono le prime coordinazioni, come dice Pitagora, finito ed

infinito, curvo e retto, destro e sinistro, e va discorrendo. Due sono le
spezie di numeri, pare ed impare, de’ quali Tuna e maschio, l’altra e
femina. Doi sono gli Cupidi, superiore e divino, inferiore e volgare, Doi
sono gli atti della vita, cognizione ed affetto. Doi sono gli oggetti di
quelli, il vero ed il bene. Due sono le specie di moti: retto, con il quale i
corpi tendeno alia conservazione, e circulare, col quale si conservano.
Doi son gli principii essenziali de le cose, la materia e la forma. Due le
specifiche differenze della sustanza. raro e denso, semplice e misto. Doi
primi contrarii ed attivi principii, il caldo e il freddo. Doi primi parenti
de le cose naturali, il sole e la terra. (22-23)

Frulla improvises on this sophisticated list o f binaries, dissolving the elevated,

seemingly sincere hyperbole into a ridiculous series o f condescending images:

Le bestie entromo ne l'arca, a due a due; ne uscirono ancora a due a due.

Doi sono i corifei di segni celesti: Aries e Taurus. Due sono le specie di
nolite fie ri: cavallo e mulo. Doi son gli animali ad imagine e
similitudine de Fuomo: la scimia in terra, e i barbagianni in cielo. Due
sono le false ed onorate reliquie di Firenze in questa patria: i denti di
Sassetto e la barba di Pietruccio. Doi sono gli animali, che disse il
pro feta aver piu intelletto. ch’il popolo d’Israele: il bove perche conosce
il suo possessore, e l’asino perche sa trovar il presepio del padrone. Doi
furono le misteriose cavalcature del nostro redentore, che significano il
suo antico credente ebreo ed il novello gentile: l’asina e il pullo. Doi
sono da questi li nomi derivativi, ch'han formate le dizioni titulari al
secretario d’Augusto: Asino e Pullione. Doi sono i geni degli asini:
domestico e salvatico. Doi i lor piu ordinarii colon: biggio e morello.
Due sono le piramidi, nelle quali denno esser scritti e dedicati all’etemita
i nomi di questi doi ed altri simili dottori: la desta orecchia del caval di
Sileno, e la sinistra de l’antagonista del dio degli orti. (23-24)

This bestial hyperbole is replete with donkeys, Jews, fake relics, and pyramids

engraved for eternity with the names o f such ignoramuses as the two doctors being

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‘"praised.” In fact, the only thing the two Oxford doctors are actually being praised

for is that there were two o f them!

Praise o f the number two is not uncommon in Neoplatonic and

Pythagorean writing. John Pecham, for instance, in his thirteenth-century work De

numeris misticis, described manifestations o f the "‘mysterious number” two much in

the same manner as Teofilo did in the Cena.lb For Pecham, lamblicus, and the

many thinkers— pagan and Christian alike— interested in the symbolism o f

numbers, the dyad indicated differentiation and duality.77 It had the characteristics

of formlessness and the feminine— in other words, of matter and receptivity (the

monad being the source o f all form and number, and masculine). The dyad had to

do with opinion, with truth and falsity; and with dichotomy and divisibility. It was

linked to movement, generation, change, division, ratio and proportionality. In

Pythagorean numerology, two is not the first even number (four is. as three is the

first odd); in fact, it is not a number at all, for it is not actual, but potential, like the

monad. We know that 2+2 = 2x2. two being the only number besides zero (if you

consider zero a number) whose sum and product equal each other. In this respect,

the dyad was considered perfectly balanced, or a midpoint. And two, as it is the

76 “ De binario iuxta numerum numeratum plana sunt sacramenta in moribus enim duo caritatis
mandata. Hem: duplex vita Rachel et Lia. Hem: duplex popuius circumcisio et preputium; duo
scilicet viri portantes botrum. Hem: duo talenta intellectus et operatio. In scientialibus duo
testamenta que sunt duo seraphim clamantia Dei magnalia et duo cherubin obumbrantia
propitiatorium: que sunt dup ufera capreis comparata. Irem: in credendis duo sponsi omamenta,
scilicet candor et rubor, id est articuli divinitatis et humanitatis. Hem: in naturalibus corpus et anima
que sunt duo minuta in gazophilacium mittenda. Hem: duo oculi sponse intellectus et affectus; nel
due partes anime, scilicet rationaiis et irrationalis. Et huius modi infinita.” John Pecham, De
numeris misticis, ed. Barnabas Hughes (Rome: Coilegio San Bonaventura, 1985), 360-361.

77 See lamblicus, The Theology o f Arithmetic, 40-47.

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first manifestation o f length and divisibility (as the line is from the point), was also

associated with infinity.

Bruno was aware o f such symbolism, having himself written many pages

* * 78
on the dyad similar to those o f lamblicus and Cornelius Agrippa. What, then, do

we make o f this sarcastic hyperbole for the number two? Perhaps the double­

branched hyperbola will remind us o f the dual nature o f the rhetorical trope o f

hyperbole: praise and criticism. Perhaps also noting how the pedant Prudenzio

argues against calling a four-person dialogue a t//-alogue, and would rather call it a

quatrologue, will give us a bit more insight into the sensitivity Bruno demonstrates

with regard to duality (24-25). Duality implies fragmentation from the whole. One

must find identity in diversity, Bruno reminds us in the Sigillus. and one must

remember that all partakes o f the “unum, ens, verumque, bonumque.’*79 On the

other hand, it is through duality in the form o f coincident ia oppositomm that all

forms, numbers, and situations come about.80 “Pars totum. simplum duplum,

sursum, atque deorsum./ Ante retro, internum externum, dextrum atque sinistrum;/

Millia quae mox sunt positis fundata duobus/ Millia quae secum advectat substantia

bini”— all contraries exist because o f duality, and it is through duality that we come

78 See Bruno’s De monade in Op. Lat.. vol. I.ii, 349-357; and Agrippa’s De philosophia occulta,
bk. II.

79 See De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I .ii. 350.

80 Bruno gives a hefty list o f the initial divisions o f an entity. He provides fifty-five contrary
terms, ranging from “absolute-relative” to “hidden-evident,” in two groupings. The first group is
numbered with only odd numbers (1-55), as these divisions emanate from the monad. The second
group is numbered with only even numbers (2-56), as these divisions emanate from the dyad.

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to understand unity and infinity.81 There is division within unity and finitude

within infinity.

Everything is composed o f contraries, Bruno says. “ Even the movement

o f the planets includes forward and retrograde motion, shadows and light.83 Duality

is natural and the necessary resolution o f unity (for how can one know unity

without knowing its opposite, duality?). The double-branched hyperbola is an

excellent model for duality and for the dual nature o f the trope hyperbole. By using

the number two to poke fun at the Oxford pedants, Bruno not only points to the lack

o f unity in their thought, but to the fact that they do not know how to search for

unity, only how to play with c//-alectic. Frulla’s animalocentric di-version on the

number two is a further critique o f their kind o f ignorance, o f those who think they

are unified (pairs o f animals; the donkey who carries Christ on his back and thinks

the people who are bowing are bowing to him; the Jews and their /woflo-theism; the

"true” relics; the "true” inner figure o f the Silenus).

Bruno’s opposition to dualism is, thus, an opposition only in part—only

inasmuch as it detracts from the ebb and flow between unity and plurality, the

prime number and all numbers, the infinitely one and the infinitely many. In the

Cena. he even makes sure that the readers know that the Nolan sees the world

through his own two eyes, neither those o f Copernicus, nor those of Ptolemy (27).

The “double-branched” shape of the hyperbola and the “double-edged” sword o f

81 Bruno, De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 350.

82 See especially De monade in Op. Lat., vol.I.ii., 537; De imaginum compositione, in Op. Lat.,
vol. Il.iii, 31-32.

83 Bruno, De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 537.

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hyperbole are clear figurations o f duality. Hyperbola and hyperbole display a kind

o f “beautiful exaggeration,” as Prudenzio proclaims, but also an “ugly

exaggeration,” as we could imagine Bruno-the-writer retorting (116). The branches

o f the hyperbola that reach out toward infinity, and the words o f hyperbole that

throw themselves out into the beyond are figures that wind around the characters o f

the Cena. Their excesses, teach us about balance and how to see the double nature

of all people and things.


Geometrically and etymologically speaking, the ellipse is the inverse o f the

hyperbola and ellipsis is the antithesis to hyperbole. In rhetorical terminology,

however, the antithesis to hyperbole is not ellipsis, but litotes, and the antitheses to

ellipsis are tropes of accumulatio. Hyperbole is an exaggeration, litotes an

understatement; the ellipsis is a deficiency o f words, accumulatio a long list o f

words. Given the fact that the tropes o f hyperbole and ellipsis do not have a

directly inverse relationship, one cannot consider ellipsis in terms o f its contrast to

hyperbole. I will, however, consider the geometric hyperbola in contrast to the

ellipse, as the two inverse conic sections help to define one another. In the Cena, as

we will see, the relationship between the ellipse and ellipsis, though covert, is

striking. But first, to facilitate this discussion o f the pair o f terms in the Cena, a

little background on the geometrical ellipse is necessary. The ellipse is an easy

figure to recognize. It is oval, and looks like a compressed or elongated circle.

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We see ellipses in the orbits of the planets around the sun, in cathedral domes, in

the distorted illusion o f a circle viewed from any perspective but straight on, in the

patterns drawn in the sand by a moving pendulum. An ellipse, contrary to a circle,

has two foci. If, however, the two foci o f an ellipse are so close together that they

coincide, they become the center point o f a circle (fig. 31). The Greek word ellipse

means “to fall short or leave out" (e«=in; leipein=lo leave out). “Eclipse" is a

related word, literally referring to what happens when the sun is “ left out” o f its

usual activity because it is blocked by the moon. The ellipse was given its name by

Apollonius to describe the conic section that results when “a square constructed on

the ordinate has the same area as a rectangle

whose height is equal to the abscissa and whose

base lies along the latus rectum but falls short o f

it.”84 This is a rather complicated-sounding

requirement for an otherwise uncomplicated-

Figure 31a: A graph of an
ellipse. looking shape, but conics are not simple.

Actually, the ellipse has other properties that are

easier to envision. For example, the ellipse is a

curve in which the sum o f the distances o f any

point on the curve from the two foci is a constant

quantity. The ellipse has an eccentricity that is

Figure 31b: Slice of a cone into less than one (distinguishing it from the
an elliptical section.

84 See Apollonius, Conics', Schwartzman, The Words o f Mathematics.

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hyperbola, which has an eccentricity greater than one; and the parabola an

eccentricity equal to one).83 An ellipse similarly results when the cutting angle o f a

vertical cone centered in a three-dimensional coordinate system "falls short o f ’ (is

less than) the angle between the xy plane and an element o f the cone. I present all

o f this information to show how inherent in the geometry o f the ellipse is a “falling
• 86
short” or "leaving out” o f something relative to the other conic sections.

Though Kepler’s 1602 discovery o f the elliptical orbit o f Mars with the
sun at one focus was not anticipated by Bruno, it is worth mentioning. It comes

only a few years after Bruno’s death and most likely would have been embraced by

him, especially since it supports his belief that there are no “perfect circles” to be

found in the sensible universe, and— as he wrote in the Cena—that the planets do

not actually move in perfectly circular orbits (166). Newton's discovery— that the

earth itself was not a perfect sphere, but rather an ellipsoid— would also have been

interesting to Bruno for the same reason.

Turning our attention now to the rhetorical trope o f ellipsis, we will

immediately note that it is etymologically and conceptually equivalent to that o f the

geometrical figure. Though the words have come to be spelled differently, and both

have been spelled “eclipsis” by rhetoricians such as Philip Melancthon and Richard

85 See Lockwood, A Book o f Curves, 13-23.

86 On the ellipse meaning “falling short by an area,” see, for example. Plato, Meno 87a and
Euclid 6.27.

87 Kepler did not publish his discovery until 1609. It was Newton in 1680, however, who proved
that the elliptical orbit was a consequence o f his inverse square law o f gravitation and could only
occur with such a law present in our universe.

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Sherry, they share the same fundamental meaning.88 In pre-Roman literature,

ellipsis meant alternately “defective/’ “incomplete,” “falling short,” and

“omission-” In Theognis we find an early use o f the word meaning "defective,”

which is used also by Lysias, Plato, and Eustatius.89 In Plotinus it came to mean

“incomplete”; and in Aristophanes, Aristotle, and Polybius it means "falling

short.”90 Athenaeus and Apollonius Dyscolus are among the first to use ellipsis to

mean a grammatical omission o f a letter.91 We do not find the trope fully

assimilated in rhetorical manuals, however, until Bruno’s time in the works of

English rhetoricians such as George Puttenham and Henry Peacham.92

Interestingly, Rhetoric, the handmaiden o f Philology in Martianus Capella's De

nuptiis PhUologiae et Mercurii, includes “ellipsis” in her list of figures o f speech,

but omits “hyperbole” and "parable.”93

88 See Philip Melancthon, Elementorum Rhetorice Libri Duo (Paris: Simonen Colinaeun. 1532),
114; Richard Sherry, A Treatise o f Schemes and Tropes (London: John Day. 1550).

89 Theoghis (vi B.C.), 1.120; Lysias (v B.C.), Oration 12.99; Plato (427-328 B.C.), Timaeus 17b,
Republic 362d, Craytlus 43 lc-d, Philibus 18d; Eustatius (xii A.D.), 66.24.

90 Plotinus (b. 205 A.D.), 1.3.6; Aristophanes (448c-380 B.C.), Plutus 859; Aristotle (384-322
B.C.), Nich. Eth 1108; Polybius (202-120 B.C.), Rhet. 15.3.5. There are many fewer instances o f
the word ellipsis in ancient Greek literature. The three authors I have found who use the term most
often— and primarily in the sense o f deficiency or lack— are Aristotle (esp. in Eudemian Ethics,
Nicomachean Ethics, Magna Moralia, Metaphysics, and Rhetoric), Herodianus, and Themistius (in
his discussion o f Aristotle’s De anima).

91 Athenaeus (ca. 200 A.D.) 14.644a; Apollonius Dyscolus (ii A.D.) Synt. 117.19, Pron. 56.28.

92 See George Puttenham, The Arte o f English Poesie (1589); and Henry Peacham, The Garden
o f Eloquence (1577).

93 Martianus Capella, The Marriage o f Philology and Mercury, trans. and ed. Richard Johnson,
William Harris Stahl, and E. L. Burge (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 199-203.
Like Quintilian’s inclusion o f hyperbole but omission o f ellipsis and parable, this is a matter for
further philological research.

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In grammar, an ellipsis is an incomplete expression, a phrase lacking a word

or words needed to complete the sense o f the sentence. It differs from aposiopesis

(“becoming silent”) in that its break-off point is either an external interruption, or

one in which a word or words are still implied. Ellipsis is also different from

adynaton, a device in which the speaker breaks off to say that words cannot convey

what he or she wishes to say. We consider "elliptical thought” to be thought that

arrives at an unusual or unexpected conclusion without delineating its steps.

Ellipsis leaves something out (of a sentence, o f a thought process)— something to

be understood by the reader, or intentionally lost to the reader. Sometimes the

meaning is hinted at by the lack o f words. Sometimes the meaning becomes

entirely inaccessible because of the missing words. Sometimes ellipsis serves to

consolidate or abbreviate a long quotation, economizing words. And sometimes

ellipsis is present because a sentence has been interrupted by another speaker or

another thought, or even by a lapsus o f the author’s memory.

There is another interesting component to the term "ellipsis” with regard

to the evolution o f its meaning and use as a rhetorical device: its relationship with

the number zero. The earliest symbolic representation o f zero has been traced to

Indian Brahmi numerals o f the eighth century A.D. The “0” from the Greek ouden

(meaning “nothing”) was used in 150 A.D. by Ptolemy as a sign for a missing place

value.94 The Brahmi numeral was not a “0,” but rather a dot or a point, a sunya

bindu. In the European Middle Ages, the zero was not readily assimilated due to its

implication o f nothingness and as a creation o f the Devil. Eventually, however,

94 See Karl Menninger, Number Words, 400-401.

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market forces and mathematical advancement saw the utility o f the zero, adopted it,

and derived its name from the Arabic assifr, which came to be zefintm, then

cephirum, and the Venetian zero.95 The three dots that ellipsis uses to indicate a

missing word or words originate from the zero as standing for an empty numeric

value. Unlike the n-dash, which indicates a missing letter in words that should not

be pronounced, such as “G-d,” the dots o f ellipsis do not necessarily specify a

certain word or words. The “punct-uation” implies open-endedness, indeterminacy.

Ellipsis is, thus, simultaneously empty in its lack o f words, and full in its

potential for words. This particular idea o f emptiness-fullness is elementary to

Bruno’s philosophy o f the infinite. Ellipsis is a figurative representation o f

linguistic possibility. In set theory, ellipses are used as a kind of abbreviation. For

example, the set o f all odd numbers between one and 101 is (1 ,3 ,5 , 7 . . . 101). The

twentieth century mathematician George Cantor, who developed the set o f infinite

progression (0, I , . . . °°, 00 + 1. ~ + 2 , . . . , « x 2 , . . . , 00 x 3 , . . . , 00 2, . . . , °°3, . . .

, 00 ”, . . . , ) however, did not use the dots o f ellipsis as an abbreviation. The

quantities that the dots stand for are not, as Cantor noted, determinable; we cannot

write them out. What would we write between one and infinity (0, 1. . . «)? Here

the symbols used to indicate an infinite series are indeterminate, both linguistically

and mathematically.

Though similar in so many ways, an intriguing conceptual difference

separates the rhetorical ellipsis and the geometric ellipse. While the rhetorical

ellipsis, as we have seen, implies both a falling short and a “boundlessness,” the

95 Ibid., 401.

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geometrical ellipse and set theory ellipsis designate a falling short and a

“boundedness.” The oval-shaped conic section is a bounded figure and the dots

enclosed in a set are by nature representative o f a finite group. The three sequential

dots used rhetorically, conversely, are indicative o f an unspecified series o f words

(or numbers) which force the reader to extrapolate, to imagine, to guess, or to

ignore the possibilities. What continues to tie these two terms together, however, is

that they both represent a sort o f deficiency.

Looking at early editions o f the Cena (the manuscript o f the Cena was lost,

disposed of, or destroyed), we do not find a single typographic expression o f

ellipsis. Yet the modem definitive edition o f the Cena incorporates many ellipses

into the text.96 Why? The editor. Giovanni Aquilecchia, o f this modem edition

offers no explanation o f his choice to use this particular punctuation, and to use it

with such abandon. He felt that there did not need to be an explanation, as the

“elliptical sentences” are conceptually apparent when you read the text.97 The

modem type-setter o f the Cena edition used the three dots to represent a break in a

sentence, as that is the graphic punctuation with which the modem reader is

familiar. In the 1584 Charlewood edition, however, there are no ellipses or dashes.

In fact, besides a dash or a blank space, there seems to have been no formal graphic

symbol used for an ellipsis in the sixteenth century. Orazio Lombardelli, a

96 There are thirty-nine extant exemplars o f the first printed edition o f the Cena (London: John
Charlewood. 1584). See Rita Sturlese, Bibliografia censimento. 44-50. I have consulted the
editions o f the Cena held in the following collections: University o f Glasgow (Db.3.19) and
Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek (BE.2.T.6).

97 Interview with Giovanni Aquilecchia, London, June 10, 1998.

98 Ibid.

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sixteenth-century grammarian, does not even mention ellipsis among his

• 99 •
comprehensive study o f the use o f punctuation in Latin and Italian. He lists

nearly thirty authors whom he consulted, and who had written on punctuation.

They include Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini. Agnolo Firenzuola, Aldo Manuzio,

Giordio Trissino, Susenbrotus, Pierio Valeriano. Lorenzo Valla, Ludovico

Castelvetro. Ludovico Dolce, Juan Vives, Pietro Bembo, Diomedes Gramaticus,

and Quintilian.100 I assume that these authors, too, had little or nothing to say about

the punctuation for ellipsis.

Though it is difficult to determine what Bruno's thoughts on the use of

ellipsis were, and impossible to retrieve his manuscripts to see if and how he used

any punctuation to indicate breaks in sentence, there are numerous "elliptical'’

passages in the Cena. They are worth investigating in order to determine how

Bruno conceived o f "deficiency," "omission." and "interruption" in relation to the

the themes of the text. If we break the kinds o f ellipses into categories, we might

come up with a list that includes: 1) the interruption or continuation o f a phrase; 2)

a segment o f a quotation; 3) an intentional omission o f words by the author; and 4)

a thought meant to continue on indefinitely. The ellipses (three dots) that we find

in the Belles Lettres edition of the Cena, however, are only o f the first and second

99 See Orazio Lombardelli, L'arte delpuntar gli scritti, formata, ed illustrata (Siena: Luca
Bonetti, 1585). The punctuation marks he addresses in his study are the sospensivo [,], mezopunto[;],
puntodoppio[:], punto mobile [sort o f period], interrogativo [?], affettuoso [\], parentesi [()],
apostofo ['], [and] periodo [.].” There is no ellipsis mentioned, nor is there a discussion o f the then-
in-use "etc.,” the dash, or forms o f quotation marks.

100 See Lombardelli, L 'arte del puntar , 27-31.

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categories. There are eleven interruptions or continuations, and one segment o f a

quotation. An example o f the interruption/continuation ellipsis is as follows:

Prudenzio. Lubentissime.
T eofllo.. . . il Nolano avendo aspettato sin
dopo pranso, e non avendo nuova alcuna, stimo quello gentil’uomo per
altre occupazioni aver posto in oblio, o men possuto proveder al
negocio: e sciolto da quel pensiero, ando a rimenarsi, e vistar alcuni
amici italiani; e ritomando al tardi dopo il tramontar del sole...
Prudenzio. Gia il rutilante Febo avendo volto al nostro emisfero il
tergo, con il radiante capo ad illustrar gli antipodi sen giva.101

Teotilo's dialogue is interrupted by the archpedant Prudenzio, as is the case for

eight out o f the other eleven occurrences o f this kind of ellipsis. The other four

occurrences are Prudenzio’s interruptions o f either Frulla or Smitho. Perhaps we

can make the connection between ellipsis as interruption and the pedant as an

expression of fragmentation. Another kind of ellipsis we find in the Belles Lettres

edition of the Cena is a segment o f a quotation signaled by italics and three dots:

"Tune ille philosophorum protoplastes. . .?” 102

In Aquilecchia’s 1985 edition, it is marked by italics and dashes, and by nothing in

the Trivulziana 1584 edition. These variants between the exemplar o f the Cena and

the modem editions must be attributed to the changes in punctuation over the

101 Bruno, Cena, Les Belles Lettres edition (Paris, 1994), 77. In Aquilecchia's 1985 edition (51-
52), the first ellipsis is not included, but the second is. For the Charlewood 1584 edition, see the
anastatic reprint by Michele Ciliberto o f the copy held in the Biblioteca Trivulziana in Milan (Pisa:
Giardini, 1994), 24-55.

102 Les Belles Lettres edition, 205; Aquilecchia’s 1985 edition, 128; the Trivulziana edition, 88.

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centuries, and to the editors’ belief that it would be better to “adjust” the text to suit

a modem reader’s eye. If one wants to speak about the notion o f ellipsis in Bruno’s

writing, however, such editorial decisions prove misleading and need to be revised.

An examination o f early exemplars o f Bruno’s Latin and Italian works will

demonstrate that these editions contain no

typographic ellipses whatsoever. There are also

no geometrical ellipses anywhere. So why,

then, investigate the “ellipticality” of Bruno's

thought? Because much o f his thought, and the

Cena in particular, has to do with falling short.

being defective, omission, and open-endedness.

In the Cena, Bruno shows himself via the Nolan

to feel “omitted” and “unaccounted for” in ■ ft‘ 4

> ■ * /. ' w -

English society. lost in the “absence” o f light

and guidance on his journey to the supper, and

Figure 32: Giordano Bruno, La cena de
“left out” because he had not learned to read or le Ceneri (n P-'l584)-

speak English. He responds to this feeling o f “deficiency” with vigor in his critique

of the “defective” cosmological arguments o f the “closed-minded” pedants; and one

might say that he also responded by writing the Cena—the first o f his Dialoghi— in

Italian, to prevent most English readers from having access to his thought, thus

leaving them out.

Bruno also “leaves out”— as he does often, especially in Articuli—points in

his diagrams about which he speaks in the text. In Dialogue III, for example, Bruno

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talks about number “4” and letter “D,” neither o f which happens to be in the

diagram, but with little trouble one can figure out where they should be (fig. 32).103

Bruno made these woodcuts himself, as well as corrected the proofs, and one would

think that he would have made sure that the text and the image corresponded.

Apparently not. This has led a number o f Bruno scholars, such as Edward Gosselin

and Lawrence Lemer—as I mentioned in the Introduction— to wonder if Bruno

intended such incongruities to be a way to involve the reader in the relationship

between text, image, and idea. This diagram, like many others, is in itself a visual

and linguistic ellipsis.

There are a number o f other conceptual ‘'lacks” in the Cena. For Bruno,

Copernicus’s theory of the heliocentric universe was insufficient because it “left

out” the idea of infinity and infinite worlds. With even more disdain, Bruno saw

as insufficient the literal readings o f the Scriptures because they “leave out” the

metaphorical, “open-ended” meanings imbedded in the sacred words (121-127).

Similarly, we could point to the argument o f the Nolan, or to those o f any o f the

interlocutors in the Cena. and note their elliptical thought, their voli pindarici. and

leaps in logic.

Ellipsis is not about speaking in circles or around something, nor is it about

double-edged exaggeration, but rather about that which is missing, that which is not

said, that which is possible and potential. The Cena is steeped in the

phenomenology o f the “bounded” and “unbounded,” and o f “absence.” Realizing

103 Aquilecchia’s 1985 edition, 95; Les Belles Lettres edition “corrects” the diagram, 140-141.
In the Trivulziana edition, see 56.

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this will encourage us to read the text constructively, to look for lacunae and

deficiencies, and to imagine a series o f possible ways to fill in the gaps.


In Latin, the word for the geometric parabola and the rhetorical parable are

one and the same: parabola. The Greek terms para, meaning "beside.” and b o lh ',

meaning "casting or throwing,” together imply a "placing side by side.” "equality,"

or "comparison.” The rhetorical device, parable, has come to be synonymous with

allegory and analogy. From parabola has also come the word parola, meaning

"speech word.” In essence, a parable is a "saying” or narration in which something

is expressed in terms o f something else. Parables are at times enigmatic, at times

short and lucid illustrations of a larger issue, used for religious or didactic purposes

Figure 33a: G raph of a parabola.

Figure 33b: Slice of a cone into a

parabolic section.

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The geometric parabola is a curve that looks like a tunnel-arch, or like a

hanging chain. Its two arms (n.b. not branches, like the hyperbola) form a parallel

structure resembling railroad tracks— two lines that will never meet, not even in

infinity (fig. 33). Unlike the ellipse and the hyperbola, which can vary in shape, the

parabola does not. The parabola partakes o f the nature o f the hyperbola in that it is

made with one focus, but if placed on an infinite axis, its "other focus” would be at


The term parabola has had a variety of meanings—both rhetorical and

mathematical— since antiquity. It meant "comparison,” "juxtaposition,” or

"equality” in Plato. Aristotle, and Isocrates.104 In Iamblicus, Proclus, and Plotinus

it took on the astronomical value o f "conjunction” (of stars and planets).105

Curiously, in Diophantus and Nicomachus it was used to mean "division” (as

opposed to multiplication).106 In the Latin rhetoricians, such as Quintilian and

Seneca, the parable is intended as an explanatory illustration, and assumes the

meaning that it has today.107 In his Italian-English dictionary. Bruno's friend John

• 108
Florio cites both the parabola's designations, as both a trope and a conic section.

104 See, for example, Plato, Philibus 33b: Aristotle. Top., 104a 28 and Rhet., 1420a 4. 1393b 3;
and Isocrates, 12.227.

105 See Iamblicus (iv A.D.), Myst., 9; Proclus (ii or v A.D.), Timeaus, 3.146d; and Plotinus (iii
A.D.), Enneads, 3.1.5.

106 See Diophantus (iii A.D.), Arithmetica, 4.22; Nicomachus (ii A.D.), Arithmetica, 2.

107 See Quintilian, Ins., 6.3.59; 8.3.77; Seneca, Ep„ 59.6.

108 See John Florio, A Worlde o f Wordes (London: Arnold Hatfield, 1598), 256. Florio explains
that the parabola is "a parable, a similitude or comparison, a resemblance. Also a certain crooked
line comming (sic.) o f the cutting o f a cone or cilinder.”

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This is worth noting, as not many lexicons, rhetorical manuals, or mathematical

treatises mention the two terms together.

One o f the most interesting characteristics o f the parabola is its hypothetical

focus at infinity. In the section on circles earlier in this chapter, I mentioned

Kepler’s principle o f continuity, and how when one o f the parabola’s foci moves

beyond infinity and approaches the fixed focus from the other side, ari ellipse will

form until the foci coincide to form a circle. The conceptual, invisible foe is at

infinity is the point at which the two parallel arms o f the parabola will meet to form

an ellipse. That two parallel lines can meet is. o f course, impossible; and thus their

union is impossible at an impossible-to-determine point.

Parable evokes, I believe, a similar architecture. A parable is a simple story

intended to parallel another, more significant one. The two together are supposed

to teach us something: they point to a distant meaning which lies beyond both the

parallel stories, or, rather, arms o f the parabola. "Meaning,’” when elusive, is like

an invisible focus at infinity. In the same vein, the two stories are but two

curvilinear lines directing our thought to this invisible meaning. Bruno’s

epistemological-semantic position on “meaning” was, in fact, that it is elusive. We

can see this throughout his works. In De umbris idearum and the Eroici. for

example, “meaning” appears as the elusive knowledge o f the Divine; in the

Candelaio, meaning manifests as slippery and fertile ground for perpetual


We know from passages in Bruno’s writings that his stance on the use o f

parable was ambiguous at best. At times he viewed the device as an awful,

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pedantic attempt to be clever and mysterious. Such is his position in the very first

sentence o f Dialogue I o f the Cabala, “E il peggio che diranno che metti avanti

metaffore, narri favole, raggioni in parabola, intessi enigmi, accozzi similitudini,

tratti misterii, matichi tropologie.” 109 At other moments, he seems to hold parable

in high esteem, such as in the introductory epistle to the '•heavenly” cleansing about

to be recounted in the Spaccio:

Dove persevera ed e confirmatio nella sua sacristia il semideo Centauro,

si ordina insieme la divina Parabola, il Misterio sacro, Favola morale, il
divino e santo Sacerdocio con gli suoi institutori, conservatori e ministri;
da la cade e bandita la Favola anile e bestiale con !a sua stolta Metafora,
vana Analogia, caduca Anagogia, sciocca Tropologia e cieca Figuratura.
con le lor false corti, conventi porcini, sediciose sette, confusi gradi,
ordini disordinati, difformi riforme, immonde puritadi, sporche
purificazioni e pemiciosissime forfantarie che versano nel camp de
I'Avarizia, Arroganza ed Ambizione: ne li qiali presiede la torva
Malizia, e si maneggia la cieca e crassa Ignoranza.110

Parable, when used for sacred purposes, is an acceptable and even “divine” device.

But when parable falls into mere parabolare. it becomes a flurry o f useless words

and no longer a helpful method for facilitating or exalting a religious teaching.111

Clearly, Bruno believes that his use of parables will benefit humankind,

illuminating truths of nature and the divine.

In the Cena, the Eucharist and the Last Supper, however, take on a

parablesque role and a dangerous intricacy. They become inversions o f this divine

109 Bruno, Cabala, 861. emphasis mine.

1,0 Bruno, Spaccio, 569-570, emphasis mine.

111 See the Spaccio, where Bruno condemns pedants and “parabolani” in the same breath, 659.

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parallelism, negations o f spiritual value instead of edifying exempla. Many o f

Bruno’s interrogators, in fact, found these references to sacred Christian doctrine

heretical.112 What is worse, one could even construe Bruno's placing o f the

archpedant Torquato to the left o f the Nolan (that is, himself) at the dining table—

and the Nolan himself at the center o f attention, guiding his fellow diners to

knowledge o f the true cosmology— as a blasphemous identification with Christ,

much like the hyperbolic monologue on the Nolan in Dialogue 1 (82). Whatever the

case, the parable is there; the Nolan’s experience parallels that of Christian

ceremony. It is used to critique, instead o f to glorify, the institution o f the

Eucharist. Is this a '‘divine’’ use, or is mere parabolarel

In another parable— that o f the passing o f the wine cup— we can see Bruno’s

condemnation o f the quarrels between the Christian sects over the precise meaning

o f the Eucharist:

Qua. per grazia di Dio, non viddi il ceremonio di quell’urciuolo o

becchieri, che suole passar per la tavola a mano a mano, da alto a basso,
da sinistra a destra, ed altri lati. senza altro ordine che di conoscenza e
cortesia da montagne; il quale, dopo che quel, che mena il ballo, se l’ha
tolto di bocca, e lasciatovi quella impannatura di pinguedine, che puo
ben servir per colla, appresso beve questo e vi lascia una mica di pane
beve quell’altro e v ’affigge all’orlo un ffisetto di came, beve costui e vi
scrolla un pelo de la barba; e cossi, con bel disordine, gustandosi da tutti
la bevanda, nessuno e tanto malcreato, che non vi lasse qualche cortesia
de le reliquie, che tiene circa il mustaccio. Or, se a qualcuno, perche non
abbia stomaco, o perche faccia del grande, non piacesse di bere, basta
che solamente se Taccoste tanto a la bocca, che v’imprima un poco di
vestigio de le sue labbra ancora.. .cossi, applicando tutti la bocca ad un

112 See Luigi Firpo, 11processo di Giordano Bruno (Rome: Salerno Editrice, 1993) for a
discussion o f the accusations o f the Inquisition and Bruno’s subsequent execution, as well as for a
rich collection o f documents o f the trial. With regard to the accusation that Bruno did not believe in
the miracle o f the Eucharist, see especially Giovanni Mocenigo’s pronouncements o f May 23-26,
1592 (143-8) and Document V: Circa transubstantiationem et sacram missam (264).

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medesimo bocale, venghino a farsi una sanguisuga medesima, in segno

d’una urbanita, una fratellanza, un morbo, un cuore, un stomaco, una
gola, e una bocca. (82-84)

The common practice of passing a cup o f wine around a dining table, which

parallels the drinking o f Christ’s blood in church, is used here as a blatant parody o f

the belief in transubstantiation. But how are we to read this parable-parodyl Are

we to read Bruno's parables as truths or as metaphors? To complicate things

further, in the Cena Bruno scolds people who read the Bible in terms o f the "truth,"

and also scolds those who read metaphorically where no metaphors lie (124). If

Bruno does not permit us to read the Bible literally, and does not permit us to read

it metaphorically, how are we to read it? In her essay on the Cena and Galileo's

Dialogue o f the Two Major World Systems, Hilary Gatti argues that according to

Bruno, the Bible should be read as "a moral message for the masses, and not as a

scientific text at all.”113 By implication, the Bible is not to be read literally.

Consequently, nor is it to be read metaphorically. The Bible is to be read morally.

If we agree with Gatti, as I do. we can deduce that Bruno's parables are to be read

in the same way. This "moral” reading would then account for his derision o f

transubstantiation and the Last Supper, in which the first transubstantiation was

said to have taken place.

In paralleling the short story and the teaching— the two branches o f a

parabola—Bruno figuratively points to a third reading: the focus on the directrix,

which is the moral. But he does not do only this. He also points to a fourth

113 Hilary Gatti, "Giordano Bruno’s Ash Wednesday Supper and Galileo's Dialogue o f the Two
Major World Systems," Bruniana & Campanelliana 3, no. 2 (1997), 286.

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reading, which is the metaphysical “elusive meaning” hovering somewhere beyond

the grasp of human comprehension, like the invisible second focus o f the parabola.

This designation o f two kinds of meaning for the respective foci is not arbitrary—

the tacit, didactic moral meaning is accessible, it is locatable at the place in which

the two arms o f the parabola (the two stories o f the parable) meet. The elusive

meaning, on the other hand, must lie somewhere beyond our visual and conceptual

grasp. When Bruno speaks o f coincidentia dimensiomim in the Articuli, he is

referring to how possibility and reality coincide in infinity.114 Elusive meaning and

the moral converge with the short story and the teaching.

This geometric reading of parable in Bruno’s writing shows how he plays

with meaning on two levels: the moral-graspable and the metaphysical-beyond-our-

grasp. Bruno would say that we can never fully grasp the '"true” meaning o f

mysteries such as the Eucharist and God’s being; we can only approach their

shadows. Though the parabola, like the hyperbola-hyperbole and the ellipse-

ellipsis, is not a figure Bruno discusses in terms o f geometry or rhetoric, it appears

and reappears throughout the Cena in the form of the parallel story, or parody, and

as yet another tool for describing the ineffable.


As Bruno’s language curves, so must our thought processes. His

circumlocution carries us surreptitiously around a topic, concealing and revealing as

our reading winds back from the point o f departure to the point o f arrival. His

114 Bruno, Articuli in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 72.

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hyperbolic passages lift us into two coterminous realms, one o f praise and one o f

sarcasm— we can choose to follow one branch or the other, but both asymptotic

branches extend out simultaneously in the flight o f exaggeration. His ellipses, with

their two foci, indicate emptiness, but they also imply a universe o f possibilities.

His double-armed parable displays parallelism, framing the accessible meaning on

the directrix and the ineffable meaning on the focus point at infinity. Bruno uses a

conic section rhetoric in which to speak around, beyond, incompletely, and next to

his topics at hand.

By noticing the twisting and turning tropes of Bruno's writing along with

their graphic origin, we can see the text take shape and metaphoric meanings

emerge that might have been invisible before. Using geometry as a stencil, we can

trace out patterns in the text, following the undulations o f Bruno's linguistic

expression. The imperfect circular motion of the earth, the sense o f boundedness

and boundlessness, the parallel tales linked by elusive meaning— these curves and

swerves decorate the language and thematics of Bruno's Cena. Seeing the

rhetorical tropes o f circumlocution, hyperbole, ellipsis, and parable in the Cena for

what they actually are— geometric metaphors—transforms our reading o f this

complex metaphysical dialogue.

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C hapter Three: Angles

Angulation in De gli eroicifurori

Bruno wrote the Eroici in 1585. toward the end o f his stay in England. This

final Italian dialogue is also one o f his longest and most poetic. It is divided into

two parts with five dialogues per part. The first part treats the contrariety inherent

within the hero as he desires the divine and discusses the hero’s quest, mannerisms,

characteristics, and state o f frenzy. In the second part, Bruno extends a discussion

of why the hero searches for the divine, why he suffers, and why he must succumb

to love. The last dialogue of Part I and the first of Part II— the two middle

dialogues of the text—are filled with sonnets, emblems, mottoes, and

commentaries. After completing this arc o f twenty-eight mini-contemplations,

Bruno includes a dialogue between the Eyes and the Heart (cognition and appetite).

Through these two interlocutors, he shows how each comes to agree that the one's

suffering derives from the other’s; he also shows how the mind must eternally

strive for truth in the same way that desire must eternally strive for the good. Bruno

follows this exchange with his presentation o f the Nine Blind Men, who represent

nine reasons for the limits o f the “umano squardo,” that is, for man’s inability to

understand the Divine. Bruno calls the final dialogue o f the Eroici an allegory as

well as an argument. Here he introduces Circe, once again, as the mother of matter,

and the one who demonstrates that the interplay between generation and corruption

is the cause o f forgetfulness and blindness.

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The last o f the Dialoghi italiani, the Eroici shows a heightened interest in

the impossibility o f measuring and comprehending the infinite. While De I ’infinite

proposes an infinite universe, and the Cena focuses on proving the Copemican

theory—thus preparing for a theoretical measurement of the distance between the

earth and the infinity o f worlds— the Eroici describes a relationship even more

difficult to quantify: that between a human soul and God. The most intimate and

the most elusive, the distance between the hero and the Beloved is immeasurable.

It is as if God and man were part o f the same line. There is no "right” angle o f

approach, and yet the impassioned hero wishes to strategically align himself with

the Divine, at the correct angle o f inference, in order to intersect Him and obtain

knowledge o f Him. The Nine Blind Men, examples o f frenzied heroes, are

unsuccessful in their attempts to unite with the Beloved. If there is a frank message

in the Eroici. it is this: there is no way for man to unite with God because He is

paradoxically beyond measure and is all measure. No matter which angle one

chooses to approach God, God will never reveal Himself in His entirety. For

Bruno, this is not a defeatist stance, nor a cynical conclusion. Instead, this shows

his conviction in God’s infinity. He grants man the capacity to approach God

asymptotically, but never to intersect Him.

Bruno’s De gli eroici fu ro ri is a study in angles. Perspective, degrees o f

inclination, and vectors derive from opposing origins and coincide momentarily

before being flung in opposing directions. These angulations jut out like peaks on a

topographic map. Without a single diagram, chart, wheel, or design, the Eroici is

one of Bruno’s most visual texts. Bruno spotlights vision through the Actaeon

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myth, through the dialogue between Eyes and Heart, and through the Nine Blind

Men. He forces us to visualize the emblems he describes, and to en-vision the

hero’s arduous journey. This visual text is fundamentally about angles of

“inference”; it displays the ways in which the frenzied hero infers the journey

toward the object o f desire. Ultimately, Bruno’s hero will come to understand that

the object o f his desire lies on an ever-vanishing horizon line. He will never obtain

his goal; all he can do is continue to advance toward the Beloved (that is, God)

from ever-changing angles o f approach. The impassioned hero o f the text comes to

realize that the Beloved can only be perceived as a diffracted image, a fragmentary

glimpse. Through each different angle o f inference—each diverging perspective—

the lover attempts to infer the Beloved. The Nine Blind Men are examples o f those

who cannot escape the prison o f their desire, and whose goal will never, and can

never, be attained. The angle o f inference— the point o f view— between oneself

and God cannot be measured, for it is infinite. To explore this paradigm o f the

frenzied hero requires a careful consideration o f his visual impairment; an

impairment that involves some o f Bruno’s fundamental, recurring ‘‘geometric”

concerns: perspective, numbers, symmetry, and coincidentia oppositorum. These

concerns express themselves as problematic conceptual angulations, manifest

through structural and literary manipulations o f text.

What does it mean to say that the Eroici is an “angular” text? Simply put,

it means the text exhibits an unusual amount o f conceptual angles. Before

elaborating on this notion, a quick look at the nature o f the angle is due. An

“angle” is the number o f degrees that results when two straight lines meet at a

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point, or when two planes meet along a line. An angle can be a vertex, or an axis.

It can be two-dimensional, like the comer o f a square; three-dimensional, like the

comer o f a cube; or multi-dimensional, like a hypercube. An angle can be acute,

obtuse, or right. When determining the reflection or refraction o f an image, it is the

angle’s degree that is calculated. Determining an image in perspective involves

calculating the angle’s degree in relation to the observer’s eye or to a fixed

vanishing point. When determining the specifics o f a shadow, we calculate the

angle formed by the relation o f the sun to an object. Bruno’s definitions o f an angle

are in precisely these Euclidean terms, as we can see in his mathematical poem. De


In more metaphorical terms, an angle is a place o f union or departure. It is a

comer, a forking path, a bend, or a branch. When two “lines o f thought” coming

from different directions encounter one another, they form an angle o f discourse or

debate. Actually, two lines o f thought cancel each other out when they meet. If

two lines are coming from precisely opposite directions, the angle at which they

coincide will be zero degrees (or 180°). They will unite to form a single line. This

1 Quid angulus punctualis ct linealis.

Angulus est coitus filorum vei facierum
Corporis aut piani, ut sunt inclinata vicissim.

Quid angulus rectus, linca perpendicul., etc.

Anguius est rectus su supra consimilare
Curvum vel planu iniectum suspenditur aeque.

Quid angulus obtusus et acutus.

Hie, quem declinans linquit perpendiculars,
Dicitur obtusus; cuique inclinatur, acutus.

Bruno, De minimo in Opera latine conscripta, ed. F. Tocco et al., 8 vols. (Stuttgart: Friedrich
Frommann Verlag Gunter Holzboog, 1962), I.iii, 286. All citations o f Bruno’s Latin works, except

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"single line” is a perfect expression o f coincidentia oppositorum. When contraries

collide and then “run away” from each other, Bruno says in his De magia, their

motion forms a straight line, like smoke ascending from fire, or vapor from water.2

Bruno’s concept o f “contraries” assumes these characteristics o f angles and


The Eroici is a commentary on the differing angles used to approach the

unattainable. It investigates the degrees that separate the frenzied hero from his

Beloved, and celebrates the hero’s freedom to desire and to seek the Beloved

eternally. The notion that man should measure himself against the Infinite Godhead

instead o f against dogma is one o f the most ardent forces driving Bruno’s

philosophical and linguistic project, both in the Eroici and throughout his other

works. This chapter will offer a consideration of the “rhetoric o f angles” in the

Eroici, looking primarily at Bruno’s expressions o f coincidentia oppositorum,

symmetry, and vision. It will also consider the symbolic and structural

contributions certain numbers make to the Eroici's rhetoric. The Eroici is, as I

hope to show, replete with rhetorical devices that syntactically simulate the

semantic idea of “co-incidence” or “union.” This is. ultimately, what the Eroici is

about— the attempted, though ultimately futile, union o f lover with the Beloved. I

have selected only a few of many possible tropes with an angular quality: oxymoron

and syneciosis for their direct merging o f contrary terms; chiasmus and syllepsis for

for Praelectiones geometricae e Ars deformationum: Testi inediti, ed. Giovanni Aquilecchia
(Rome: Editore di Storia e Letteratura, 1964), will be from this edition.

2 Bruno, De magia in Op. Lat., vol. Ill, 104.

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their criss-cross syntax; and anaphora, epanados, and traductio for their

symmetrical reflection-rotation-translation o f words.

The Eroici, like a polyhedron, is a work with many faces. These faces are

textual: prose, dialogue, verse, mottoes. They are symbolic and iconographic, as

we see in the twenty-eight emblems described in I.v and in n.i. They are

numerological: there are seventy sonnets, two canzoni. nine sestine (eighty-one

poems altogether); twenty-eight emblems. Nine Blind Men, ten interlocutors.3

Such groupings are not random. It seems clear that Bruno intended this multiplicity

to work together as a whole, integrated figure. As such, the multiplicity o f formats

in the Eroici reflects themes o f division, separation, fragmentation, and unity. The

text fragments itself structurally in order to unite itself conceptually. Here, in the

tectonics of the Eroici, we find the first o f many coincidences of opposites:

fragmentation and unity. Echoing this format through metaphor is the Diana-

Actaeon struggle between unification and fragmentation. Bruno’s Actaeon, in an

attempt to unite with his beloved, is tom to pieces by the very thought o f his

beloved.4 The pull towards unification— which will never happen, as there remains

nothing left of the demolished Actaeon to be united—ends in further fragmentation.

3 Eight sonnets in I.i; two in I.ii; six in I.iii; seven in I.iv; one in H.ii; eight in II.iii; nine in II.iv.
Two canzoni in II.v; and nine sestine in II.v.

4 See Bruno, Eroici, 1123-1126 in Dialoghi italiani, ed. Giovanni Aquilecchia (Florence:
Sansoni, 1985). All citations will be from this edition. Hilary Gatti notes the ongoing debate as to
whether Bruno’s Diana in the myth is meant to represent a vision o f a fleeting and unattainable
divinity, or an authentic representation o f God as Nature. She cites Octavio Paz arguing the former,
and Michele Ciliberto as arguing the latter. See Octavio Paz, Apariencia desnuda: La obra de
Marcel Duchamp (Mexico: Ediciones Era, 1973); Michele Ciliberto, “Bruno, Duchamp, Paz,”
Rivista di storia della filosofia 49 (1994): 315-21; and Hilary Gatti, “Giordano Bruno's Ash
Wednesday Supper and Galileo's Dialogue o f the Two Major World Systems." Bruniana &
Campanelliana 3 no. 2 (1997): 283-300.

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Conversely, fragmentation implies within it a potential for unification. Like the

emblem “Hostis non hostis” (in which a fly is attracted to a flame, the very thing

that will kill him, should he get too close), that which can destroy us is both an

enemy and not an enemy (1036-1038). The hero’s journey in the Eroici focuses on

the goal o f unification, which can only begin— and will never actually end—

through fragmentation and destruction.

In order to envision these various conceptual and structural coincidentia

oppositora, the reader must have at hand Bruno’s ideas about how contrary, or even

merely contrasting, entities coincide and what happens when they do. The Eroici is

full o f rhetorical devices that appear like angles on a finely cut gem— edges that

lend themselves to multi-faceted interpretations. What the reader perceives on his

journey through the Eroici, like the hero on his, depends on his or her angle of


The first dialogue o f Part I is a discussion o f the hero's psychomachia, the

battle within him self o f contraries: love and hate, hot and cold, joy and sadness, and

so forth. The stage is set immediately for mental coincidentia oppositorum. The

poet Tansillo says that ‘tutte le cose constano de contrarii.. . se non fiisse l'amaro

nelle cose, non sarrebe la delettazione.. . la separazione e causa che troviamo

piacere nella congiunzione.. .un contrario e caggione che l’altro contrario sia

bramato e piaccia” (974), and that ‘*il fine d’un contrario e principio de l’altro, e

1’estremo de I’uno e cominciamento de l’altro” (976). Contraries are inherent in all

things o f the universe, and are especially striking in the battling hero.

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In II.i, the interlocutor Maricondo— who presents the dialogue’s emblems,

as well as their mottoes, poems, and interpretation—extends the discourse on

coincidentia oppositorum to the infinite. He says that the infinite is where 'Tunita

e l’infinita son la medesima cosa” (1084). The infinite is the ultimate expression o f

joined opposites. It is the One and the Many, the Minimum and the Immense. This

statement on the infinite is bracketed by the discussion o f the image connected to

the third poem: a phoenix burning in the sun. The accompanying motto is neque

simile, nec par. The phoenix, representing the hero in his process o f

transformation, or even transmutation, from earthly love to divine love, is neither

similar nor equal to that with which he is uniting. This image, I believe, gives

support to the notion that Bruno was not a mystic. The mystic experiences union—

or believes one can experience union—with the Divine while still alive. Bruno,

instead, indicates that such union is impossible. There is tangential acquaintance,

but no fusion. The phoenix does not become the sun, though it is transformed by it.

A lover does not merge with the beloved, but is transformed by her. Two lines

meeting on a plane do not become one and the same line, but an angle, a joining of

discrete vectors. Bruno's frenzied hero will never become one with his Beloved,

never entirely merge with infinite perfection. Through his longing, however, he

may intersect the Beloved, and thereby create an angle that transforms him from his

past one-dimensional existence to a two-dimensional one (a line into a plane).

When contrasting forces coincide, they produce change. The infinite could not be

infinite without the existence o f the finite, nor the finite without the infinite.

Bruno’s metaphysics allows for both the minimum and the infinite. His language,

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thus, must somehow accommodate this system. Language, too, must have its

contraries, its means to change and transform.

Bruno understood the physics o f optics well enough to think

“perspectivally.” The Eroici displays the complexities o f man’s relation to the

Divine— the infinite angles o f inference through which to attempt to deduce the un-

deducible. The hero infers the journey toward obtaining the object o f desire

through angles o f perception and interpretation. And. as we shall see, Bruno’s

language does the same.

Oxymoron and Syneciosis: Tropes of contradiction

The very nature o f the frenzied hero, like that o f any lover (though Bruno

makes it clear that his hero is in love with the Divine and not with another human

being), is oxymoronic and syneciotic.$ Tansillo explains that the hero is “morto

vivente, o vivo moriente”. He continues, ' i n v i v a m o r t e m o r t a v i t a v i

v o [quoting from the poem he is glossing]. Non e morto, perche vive ne l’oggetto;

non e vivo, perche e morto in se stesso: privo di morte, perche parturisce pensieri in

quello; privo di vita, perche non vegeta o sente in se medesimo” (980). The hero is

simultaneously dead and alive, living in a liminal space of contradiction.

Bruno, too, showed him self to be a kind o f oxymoronic hero: a Dominican

monk who became Lutheran and then Calvinist, but claimed only to love the

5 Bruno writes that “quest! F u r o r i e r o i c i ottengono suggetto ed oggetto eroico, e pero

non ponno piu cadere in stima d’amori volgari e naturaleschi, che veder si possano delfini su gli
alberi de le selve, e porci cinghiali sotto gli marini scoglF’ (932). He is citing from Horace, Ep. ad
Pis., v. 30. Note the use o f syneciosis.

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Catholic faith;6 an ardent enemy o f dogma who created myriad hierarchies,

methods, and devices; a lover o f mankind who showed such disdain for so many

people. This back-and-forth quality we find in Bruno’s person, in his choice o f

subjects, and in his rhetoric must be taken into account when analyzing his thought

and expression. The motto o f the wheel o f time (Emblem V. Il.i), concisely

portrays the contradictory nature not only o f the hero’s struggle to obtain what he

desires, but of Bruno’s own struggle to put into words (or into diagrams,

calculations, mnemonic devices, emblems, or charts) what is ultimately beyond

human comprehension or representation. “Martens m o v e o r he writes, “when

standing fixed I am moved” (1089). Motion coincides with stillness, with “quiete,”

as Maricondo explains to Cesarino (1089). The wheel o f time, “che si muove circa

il centra proprio” (1089), is simultaneously in motion and fixed. Time is circular

(1089), and yet it is also linear. Tansillo explains, “[I]l tempo a l’etemita ha

proporzione come il punto a la linea” (976). A measure o f time is like a point;

eternity, a line. Time is, thus, both a point and a line. It is an oxymoron.

Maricondo elucidates this paradox, saying that “nel moto orbiculare sopra il proprio

asse e circa il proprio mezzo si comprende la quiete e fermezza secondo il moto

retto” (1089). Stasis coincides with dynamism, as pain coincides with joy, as a

heart is "rinforzato da la speranza [e] indebolito dal timore” (1090). Bruno’s

thought is inherently oxymoronic. He believes that it is only through contradictory

forces that physical or psychic motion can occur, and only through the play of

6 On Bruno’s claims to be devoted to the Catholic religion, see especially the documents to his
trial in Luigi Firpo, II processo di Giordano Bruno (Rome: Salerno Editrice, 1993).

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coincidentia oppositorum that a hero can approach the ultimately unapproachable;

and only through pu l l ing language that infinity can be addressed with the finite

signs and symbols o f human creation.

The Nine Blind Men in Il.iv serve to demonstrate the impossibility o f the

human being to obtain his goal, if that goal is knowledge of, or fusion with, the

Divine. These Blind Men exemplify "le nove raggioni della inabilita,

improporzionalita e difetto dell'umano sguardo e potenza apprensiva de cose

divine” (942) and Tansillo, the mouthpiece for Bruno, says that, in fact, the infinite

cannot and should not be known:

. . . non e cosa naturale ne conveniente che l’infinito sia compreso, ne

esso pud donarsi finito, percioche non sarrebe infinito; ma e conveniente
e naturale che l’infinito, per essere infinito, sia infinitamente
perseguitato, in quel modo di persecuzione il quale non ha raggion di
moto fiscio, ma di certo moto metafiscio; ed il quale non e da imperfetto
al perfetto, ma va circuendo per gli gradi della perfezione, per giongere a
quel centro infinito, il quale non e formato ne forma. (1012)

The hero finds himself in the paradoxical position o f desiring and approaching, and

yet never attaining or arriving. He is, essentially, running in place. The ailing soul,

Tansillo says, “corre dove non puo arrivar. si stende dove non puo giongere, e vuol

abbracciare quel che non puo comprender; e con cio perche in vano s’allontane da

lei, mai sempre piu e piu va accendendosi verso 1’infinito” (1011). And yet, despite

the futility o f his journey, he continues to travel toward his goal.

In addition to oxymoron, the principle o f coincidentia oppositorum

manifests itself through the rhetorical trope o f syneciosis. Like oxymoron,

syneciosis places concepts or images that are contradictory, or apparently unrelated,

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together in one breath. Two differing ideas, like two vectors originating in different

places, converge at a particular point, forcing the reader or auditor to infer the

degree of incidence, that is, the angle created by this encounter. An example o f

syneciosis is the quotation from Horace that Bruno places in the opening

"Argomento” to the Eroici: “delfini su gli alberi de le selve, e porci cinghiali sotto

gli marini scogli” (932).7 Dolphins on treetops and boars under the sea—

contradictory images that indicate logical impossibility, or at least absurdity. Bruno

uses this syneciosis to describe carnal love. He is implying that this kind o f love is

an absurdity. Here, syneciosis poses a great contrast to the nature o f the frenzied

hero's love for the Beloved, a love that is not in the least carnal.

Bruno uses syneciosis to demonstrate verbally and graphically the

universe’s omnipresent coincidentia oppositorum and the seemingly “absurd”

conglomerations o f conjunctions that can occur. In ll.ii Cesarino exclaims, “O

anima grassa, o fecondo spirito. o bello ingegno, o divina intelligenza. o mente

illustre, o benedetta ipostasi da far un convito a gli leoni, over un banchetto a i

</og.s” (1120). These objects (soul, spirit, ingenuity, and hypothesis) are paired with

adjectives with which they are not usually associated. A "fat soul”? A "fecund

spirit”? A "beautiful ingenuity”? A "blessed hypothesis”? Clearly, Cesarino is

joining these terms in a moment o f satire, poking fun at both poets and

philosophers. Such a syneciosis, such an odd combination o f images, forces the

reader to reckon the angle (that is, the meaning) these two diverging categories

create when they are joined. What, then, is the meaning of these curious pairs?

7 See also Bruno, Spaccio, 754.

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They are examples o f ineffectual combinations— like a tepid, lazy love— that will

not propel one forward on the path to knowledge o f the Divine.

Bruno says that the images in his poems are supposed to make the reader

search for knowledge, search for '‘occolto sentimento” (933). In referring to the

anatomy o f English women, for example, he takes a series o f commonplace images

from the Song o f Songs: "occhi di colombe, quel collo di torre. quella lingua di

latte, quella fragranzia d’incenso. que’ denti che paiono greggi de pecore che

descendono dal lavatoio, que' capelli che sembrano le capre che vegnono giu dalla

montagna di G alaad..." (933). Metaphors. Bruno asserts, no matter how complex

or simple, unique or hackneyed, will always impair the image o f the object being

described. The reader can only see as much as the metaphor allows, for the

metaphor cannot accommodate every ”fola, romanzo, sogno e profetico enigma”

(934). As an author devises his metaphor, he distorts the image he is conveying.

The reader’s interpretation o f the metaphor is a step further removed, and thus even

more distorted. Bruno anticipates the reader’s misconceptions o f his metaphors and

provides a disclaimer:

Ma pensi chi vuol quel che gli pare e piace, ch’alfine, o voglia o non, per
giustizia la deve ognuno intendere e definire come I’intendo io e
definisco io, non io come 1’intende e definisce lui: perche come gli furori
di quel sapiente Ebreo hanno gli proprii modi, ordini e titolo che nessuno
ha possuto intendere e potrebbe meglio dechiarar che lui, se fusse
presente; cossi questi Cantici hanno il proprio titolo, ordine e modo che
nessun puo meglio dechiarar ed intendere che io medesimo, quando non
sono absente. (934)

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Clearly, we readers cannot profess to understand Bruno’s metaphors “better” than

he did, nor can we presume to grasp with ease their subtleties o f meaning. Yet

Bruno wishes us to envision and comprehend his images and intentions; provoking

us, daring us, inviting us to try.

To read the Eroici furori one must take a “heroic” approach, a sort o f

hovering point between what one knows and what one does not know, between

what is human and what is divine. The hero himself is a hybrid o f contraries: he is,

by nature, part human and part divine.8 In addition, Bruno’s hero is one who lives

in a precarious balance between perpetual joy and agony: in the point at which two

opposing lines (of thought, o f feeling, o f intention, o f forces, etc.) meet. The hero's

journey is a sort o f schizo-frenzy. The devices of oxymoron and syneciosis

describe his state well: he who is propelled by the encounter o f opposite forces to

continue his journey toward an unattainable goal. It does not matter whether we

consider the hero to be located at an angle of 0° or 180°. at the beginning or at the

end. These two degrees are inverses o f each other, lying along the same line.

8 Critical discussions on the nature o f the hero are extensive. See for example John Geerken’s
“Heroic Virtue: An Introduction to the Origins and Nature o f a Renaissance Concept,” Ph.D. diss.,
Yale 1967; and Mark Rose, Heroic Love: Studies in Sidney and Spenser (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1970). Bruno’s notions o f the term “hero” would have come from commentaries
on Plato’s discussion in the Cratylus, where he links the etymology o f the word “hero” to that o f
“eros” (398c). This false etymology was accepted as true throughout the Middle Ages and
Renaissance, scholars such as Isidore o f Seville in his Etymologiae VIH.97-8 perpetuating this idea.
Other sources from which Bruno would have gained a sense o f the hero’s “daemon-like” nature,
halfway between human and divine and linked to love, would be, for example, Plato’s Symposium;
Proclus, Lessons on Plato's Craytlus; Pico, De hominis dignitate; and Leone Ebreo, Dialoghi

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Chiasmus and Syllepsis: Axial tropes

The chiasmus is a trope that gets its name from the Greek letter chi and

as the character suggests, a “placing crosswise.” It is a beautiful example o f a turn

of phrase, an intersection o f lines that invites us to assess new angles o f meaning in

a text. Similarly, the trope o f syllepsis, literally a “taking together,” refers to a

yoking, twirling, angular manipulation o f syntax. Though syllepsis is often

considered a species o f zeugma, it can be more powerful than zeugma as a trope of

literary and linguistic angulation. Zeugma uses one word to yoke two objects or

subjects, and has them agree both grammatically and semantically. Syllepsis, while

it yokes in the same way, only causes the two particles to agree in one way: either

grammatically or semantically. The “yoking word” o f syllepsis, thus, can have two

different senses, one asserted and one implied, like a double-entendre. The angles

of interpretation, o f inference, are multiplied. Bruno liked to play with double or

multiple meanings, with ambiguity, and with puns and hence the attraction to a

trope like syllepsis (as opposed to zeugma). In this section on “axial tropes,” I will

focus on the figures o f chiasmus and syllepsis and how they further Bruno's

discussion of coincidentia oppositorum in the Eroici.

The trope o f chiasmus is not to be found in medieval rhetoric manuals,

though used by such Greek rhetoricians as Hermogenes. Medieval rhetoricians

called the device antimetabole or commutatio, and the Latin transliteration o f the

Greek term did not appear until rather late.9 So while Bruno would have known the

9 See George Tate’s research, “Chiasmus as metaphor The ‘Figura Crucis’ Tradition and ‘The
Dream o f the Road,’ ”Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 79 (1978): 116.

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device o f chiasmus, he most likely did not know its Greek name, and thus its

connection to the Greek l e t t e r ^ But as chiasmus was a vehicle for conveying such

notions as homo-deus, deus-homo, Bruno would have seen many occurrences in the

Old Testament, especially in Isaiah and the Psalms.10

Ralf Norrman, in his book on chiasmus in Samuel Butler, suggests that the

themes o f dualism, antithesis, inversion, and reciprocity are to be found as much in

the form as in the content o f Butler’s work. He argues that chiasmus is not

decorative or ornamental, but a way of thinking: a way that embraces opposites,

that "both creates and frustrates the longing for fusion.” 11 He defines chiastic

structure in the standard way, as AB-BA, or ABC-CBA, calls it bilaterally

symmetrical and stops there. I think, however, we need to give the symmetrical

structure o f chiasmus a wider scope.

Verse 12 o f the poem in Dialogue I.iii o f the Eroici provides a simple

chiasmus to analyze. "Un'uva Bacco. Apollo un corvo furno” [a grape Bacchus,

Apollo a crow] (1002) shows a “grape” in relation to “Bacchus” and a "crow” to

“Apollo.” Instead o f defining the chiasmus as A-B as B-A. I think we should think

of it in terms o f analogy, like this: Ai:Bj as Bi:A 2. Graphically, then, the chiasmus

has four terms, and not two:

10 Nils Lund, “The Presence o f Chiasmus in the Old Testament,” American Journal o f Semitic
Languages and Literatures 46 (1930): 104-26.

11 Ralf Norrman, Samuel Butler and the Meaning o f Chiasmus (London: Macmillan Press,
1986), 23.

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Un’uva Bacco, Apollo un corvo fumo

Ai Bi B2 A2

(grape) >2 (Apollo)

i (Bacchus) .2 (crow)

The X shape o f the chiasmus contains four angles and together they form a

symmetrical motif with a fourfold rotocenter. With four terms we get four right

angles: AiOBi, A iOB2, B|OA2, and B2OA2. The relationship between A| and B|

(grape and Bacchus) is equal in measure to that o f B2 and A2 (Apollo and crow).

The 0° (or 180°) angles o f A iOA2(grape and crow) and B iOB2 (Bacchus and

Apollo) coincide to create this X. this chiasmus. Yet A|OB2 (grape and Apollo)

and B|OA2 (Bacchus and crow) also have a relationship that is equal in measure.

Can we say that these unrelated entities, too, have a relationship? Are they the fifth

and six angles created by the X? Can we deduce six relationships from four terms?

Bruno thought that readers could, and should, ask questions about language in this

way. Bruno’s rhetorical tropes, numerics, and textual structure provoke and

challenge the reader to think spatially, graphically, and figuratively. Even the

simple chiasmus, the crossing o f analogous terms, can challenge the very structure

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and limits o f language. It can force us to revise our view o f symmetry in language,

in form, and in content.

Furthermore, Bruno’s writing poses examples o f chiasmus that do not fall

into the common AB-BA structure we generally attribute to chiasmus. For

example, the phrase "Gelate ho spene e gli desir cuocenti” (973) turns out to have a

triangular form. "Spene” and "desir,” hope and desire, are synonymous here—one

and the same thing at the vertex o f the chiastic axis— and yet “gelate” and

"cuocenti” are contrasting adjectives. Unlike the previous chiasmus in which

grapes and crows are neither synonymous nor antinomial (though Bacchus and

Apollo can certainly be considered opposing forces), this chiasmus has a central

axis and a different structure. If we assume that spene = desir (thus they are one

term. B), then A:B {gelate is related to spene) in the same way that B:C (desir is

related to cuocenti), which is a simple syllogism reducing to the conclusion that

A:C (gelate is related to cuocenti). Are these opposing terms meant to be related in

some way? Given that spene and desir can be considered one thing (and thus one

term and like the "yoking word” o f the syllepsis) it loses its fourfold symmetry, and

becomes a triangle:

B (spene/desir)

A (gelate) C (cuocenti)

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In 1.5 o f his Elements, Euclid gives a name to the theorem which states that in an

isosceles triangle the angles opposite the two equal sides are equal: pons asinorum,

the bridge o f asses. He chose this name because the proposition is difficult for

beginning students o f geometry, and students often make "asses” o f themselves in

trying to prove it. In the chiasmus we have just considered— in which two terms

collapse into one, thereby creating a triangle instead o f a cross— we should think

about how it relates to the pons asinorum. The two equal sides o f the isosceles

triangle create a bridge over a base, and figuratively the pons asinorum represents

something to be crossed over before proceeding. We know that Bruno knew his

Euclid, and we know from studies such as Nuccio Ordine’s Giordano Bruno e la

cabala dell 'asino that the donkey is a complex symbol o f negative and positive

knowledge.12 The structural relationship we see in this three-termed chiasmus, like

many other rhetorical or geometric triangles in Bruno’s work, emblematizes the

way in which things apparantly antithetical or seemingly unrelated, such as gelate

and cuocenti, actually create a bridge. This bridge is as much another example o f

coincidentia oppositorum as it is a model for the movement between ignorance and

knowledge. Bruno wanted the heroes o f the Eroici, as well as its readers, to attempt

to cross mentally such bridges.

12 The first translation o f Euclid in Latin was by Bartolomeo Zamberti, Euclidis megarensis
philosophu platonici. . . (Venice, 1505). See Margaret Daly Davis, Piero della Francesca's
Mathematical Treatises: The “Trattaro d'abaco ” and “Libellus de quinque corporibus regularibus ”
(Ravenna: Longo Editore, 1977), 6-7. For Nuccio Ordine’s study on donkeys, see Giordano Bruno
e la cabala dell’asino (Naples: Liguori, 1987).

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The range o f chiastic structures we see in Bruno suggests that we cannot

limit ourselves to defining its structure as simple bilateral symmetry. The chiasmus

is not merely a dualistic, antithetical figure for Bruno, but rather one which extends

to a variety o f mental angles. Bruno’s use o f chiasmus, like his use o f oxymoron

and syneciosis, pushes us to see relationships between things that are not apparently

related (grapes and crows, for example), or to conceive o f new structures of

opposition (a triangular reciprocity instead o f an axial one). For Bruno, it is the

coincidence o f opposites, not of similarities, that fuels our actions and the motion

of the universe. Language itself should be flexible, not fixed to formulaic

structures. The Eroici is fundamentally about the different angles of approaching

the Divine and the confluence o f opposing forces that move the hero toward the

Divine. The angles o f approach and the meeting o f opposites are many; in fact,

infinite. Bruno's language in the Eroici is angular and flexible; it mirrors the hero’s

journey toward the ultimately unattainable.

The other axial-structure trope that I would like to discuss in reference to

Bruno’s Eroici is syllepsis. As discussed above, in syllepsis, a single word applies

to two other words in different senses, ‘i o da Cupido. hai tu da Febo il foco,” says

verse 5 o f Emblem Vi’s poem (1042). Here the vertex is fo co , one axis is “lo-

Cupido,” the other “tu-Febo.” These two contrasting axes converge grammatically

at a vertex. foco. Semantically, however, the word “foco” implies two different

fires. This verse illustrates the motto to the emblem o f a boy’s face burning in

flames and a flying phoenix, with the inscription, Fata obstant. Their fates run

contrary; one is burning in Cupid’s amorous flames, the other transmuted by the

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sacred flames o f Apollo. Though the fires may seem different, and their fates

contrary, Bruno shows how two opposing entities coincide in the general concept o f

■‘fire.” Once again, we have a verbal representation o f coincidentia oppositorum

that can be graphically conceived.

The etymology o f syllepsis (syn, together; lambanein, to lay hold of),

implies a combining, a putting together. It shares chiasmus’ axial image o f the X.

In the following sentence from the “Argomento del Nolano,” Bruno applies four

phrases to a long list o f other phrases in what is conceptually a sylleptic. axial


Ecco vergato in carte, rinchiuso in libri, messo avanti gli occhi ed

intonato a gli orecchi un rumore, un strepito, un fracasso d'insegne.
d'imprese, de motti, d’epistole, de sonetti, d’epigrammi, de libri. de
prolissi scartafazzi, de sudori estremi, de vite consumate, con strida
ch’assordiscon gli astri, lamenti che fanno ribombar gli antri infemali,
doglie che fanno stupefar Fanime viventi, suspiri da far exinanire e
compatir gli dei, per quegli occhi, per quelle guance, per quel busto, per
quel bianco, per quel vermiglio, per quella lingua, per quel dente, per
quel labro, quel crine, quella veste, quel manto, quel guanto, quella
scarpetta, quella pianella, quella parsimonia, quel risetto, quel
sdegnosetto, quella vedova fenestra, quelFeclissato sole, quel martello,
quel schifo, quel puzzo, quel sepoclro, quel cesso, quel mestruo, quella
carogna, quella febre quartana, quella estrema ingiuria e torto di natura,
che con una superficie, un'ombra, un fantasma, un sogno, un Circeo
incantesimo ordinato al serviggio della generazione, ne inganna in specie
di bellezza. (928-929)

Here Bruno says his Eroici will contain material that is ‘Vergato in carte,”

“rinchiuso in libri,” “messo avanti gli occhi,” and “intonato a gli orecchi.” These

items are “noises” o f emblems, mottoes, letters, sonnets, epigrams, books, and the

like, accompanied by cries, laments, and desirous sighs for the female anatomy.

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Perhaps Bruno’s sentence is too long and involved to be considered a syllepsis, and

perhaps because it lacks a single word for a vertex it cannot be plotted in an axial

format. Yet the question o f this sentence’s visual, graphic nature remains. How

would one draw such a complex, combinatoric figure? Is it possible to visualize

this rhetorical expression? The sentence ends with references to a surface, a

shadow, a ghost, a dream, a Circean spell— all o f which trick us into thinking

something is beautiful. Bruno alludes to the notion that terrestrial beauty, after

which the mundane hero pines, is a false vision. The truly frenzied hero, who pines

for the sublime beauty o f the Divine, is not tricked into thinking he knows what

beauty is, but rather knows that he can never fully know it. In the same way, this

“sylleptical” sentence shows a structure that associates the apparent content o f the

text with the traditional interpretations o f a lover’s terrestrial desire. It cautions the

reader not to interpret the hero’s desires and laments as terrestrial or carnal, but

rather as subtle and exalted. The reader must shift his angle o f interpretation,

revising (re-seeing) what he thinks he knows about love and longing.

Anaphora, Epanados, Traductio: Tropes of Symmetry

Another set o f devices Bruno uses to give an angular shape to his text falls

under a rubric I would call “tropes o f symmetry.” While chiasmus and syllepsis

have a distinctly axial quality to them, and oxymoron and syneciosis a flat angle o f

0° or 180°, both groups display simple bilateral symmetrical aspects. The tropes o f

anaphora, epanados, and traductio, however, display a larger range o f angular

symmetries: reflection, glide, and translation. The taxonomy o f symmetry is most

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appropriate for the visual project o f the Eroici, as reflections, translations,

repetitions, rotations, lattice-work, and kaleidoscopic images populate the hero’s

journey toward knowledge.

In classical rhetoric, the trope o f anaphora falls under the category o f

'‘repetition”. As a concept, anaphora does not itself imply any sort o f spatial

division. The etymology of the word, however, does prove visual. It indicates a

figure that manipulates the syntax o f a phrase by multiplying a particular word or

words. Anaphora means “carrying up or back” (ana= up. back + pherein= to carry).

Such an etymology creates an image o f a vector moving in one direction, and

another parallel vector moving in the parallel opposite direction. In this case, the

motions do not coincide as in chiasmus or oxymoron, but those motions display at

times mirror and rotational symmetry, at times a translatory symmetry.

Bruno uses anaphora in a variety o f ways in the Eroici, each time for

amplification or emphasis of a thought. The simplest example is the repetition o f a

single word at the beginning o f subsequent verses o f a poem:

Perche quell’alta face si m ’appaga,

Perche l’arco divin si dolce impiaga,
Perche in quel nodo e aw olto il mio desire... (990)

The “perche” is carried up and back— it is mirrored and rotated in each subsequent

verse. Another simple use o f anaphora in the repetition o f a short phrase; in this

case, “time to time,” “place to place,” “part to part”:

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Dovete considerare che il sole, benche al rispetto de diverse regioni de la

terra per ciascuna sia diverso, a tempi a tempi, a loco a loco, a parte a
p a rte .. . (1032)

Not only are the words doubled, but their constructions communicate the idea that

each person’s perception o f the sun relative to the time o f day and his or her

position on the earth. One word translates (tempiDtempi) and then the structure o f

the phrase translates.

In the following sonnet, the internally repeating words further display a

translatory symmetry. Words are directly transposed along a line (a verse) without

changing graphic orientation:

Destin. quando sara ch’io monte monte,

Qual per bearm’a l’alte porte porte,
Che fan quelle bellezze conte conte.
E 'I tenace dolor conforte forte
Chi fe’ le membra me disgionte, gionte.
Ne lascia mie potenze smorte morte?
Mio spirto piu ch’il suo rivale vale;
S’ove Terror no piu assale. sale.
Se dove attende, tende,
E l a ’ve Talto oggett’ascende, ascende;
E se quel ben ch’un sol comprende, prende,
Per cui convien che tante emende mende,
Esser facile lice.
Come chi sol tutto predice dice. (1027-1028, emphasis mine)

One word slides to the right and appears again. At times the part o f speech

changes, but the word “looks” the same. At other times, a prefix is removed and a

meaning altered. But the effect is the same: a canyon o f echoes, or a doubling o f

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verbal motifs that amplify the struggles the hero encounters in his upward (monte,

sale, ascende) journey toward the Divine.

Yet another curious use o f anaphora is the pattern o f alternation that Bruno

establishes between two pronouns, “lui” and “lei,” love and jealousy respectively,

in this stanza:

Lui mi tolga de vita, lei de morte,

Lei me l’impenne, lui brugge il mio core,
Lui me 1’ancide, lei raw ive l'alma.
Lei mio sustegno, lui mia grieve salma. (971, emphasis mine)

The pattern is (lui = X, lei =Y):


This looks, graphically speaking, like a snaking pattern or a braid. In geometry, the

symmetry o f this pattern would be considered rotational and translatory. The motif

XY rotates 180° to yield YX, but then repeats in its original form. “This thing” and

“that thing” work both against each other and together in dynamizing the hero's


A final interesting anaphoric pattern can be found in a sonnet attributed to

the “Nolano” by Maricondo in Il.i:

Convien ch’il sol, donde parte, raggiri,

E al suo principio i discorrenti lumi;
E i ch’e di terra, a terra si retiri,
E al mar corran dal mar pariti fiumi,
Ed ond’han spirto e nascon i desiri
Aspiren, come a venerandi numi.

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Cossi dalla mia diva ogni pensiero

Nato, che tome a mia diva e mistiero. (1096, emphasis mine)

The repeating words ‘‘terra,” “mar,” and “diva,” are accompanied by alternating,

contrary prepositions o f direction: “di” / “da” and “a.” We see “di terra” and then

“a terra”; ”al mar” and then “dal mar”; “dalla mia diva” then “a mia diva.” This

pattern, like the previous one, is one of rotational and translatory symmetry. It

conceptually refers to the same psychomachia inside the hero as we just saw in the

previous exampie. What is particularly interesting about this sonnet is its pointedly

spatial imagery. Its “going to” and “returning from” is like an endless cycle, an

eternal return. There is a sense o f exchange, or changing o f orientations, in order to

keep the “mistiero” (of the “diva,” o f nature) intact and the desire perpetual. The

way Bruno uses anaphora in the Eroici is peculiar to his vision o f the world of

contraries. Anaphora becomes a figure not only o f repetition, but o f rotation and


The trope of epanados, which repeats a word or phrase at the beginning and

middle, or middle and end o f a sentence, displays similar graphic characteristics to

that o f anaphora. It is like the echoing effect o f translatory symmetry. There is a

straightforward use o f epanados in Cicada's discussion o f the hero as a poet:

O m o n t e Pamaso dove a b i t o, Muse con le quali c o n v e r s o, f o n t

e eliconio o altro dove mi n o d r i s c o, monte che mi doni quieto
alloggiamento, Muse che m’inspirate profonda dottrina,/o n te che mi fai
ripolito e terso, monte dove ascendendo inalzo il core, Muse con le quali
versando aw ivio il spirito,/bn/e sotto li cui arbori poggiano adomo la
fronte, cangiate la mia morte in vita, gli miei cipressi in lauri e gli miei
infemi in cieli: cioe destinatemi immortale, fatemi poeta, rendetemi
illustre, mentre canto di morte, cipressi ed infemi. (961, emphasis mine)

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In showing how “monte” represents the heart o f the hero, “Muse” the beauty of his

desired object, and “fonte” his teary eyes, Bruno uses a translatory symmetry

format: XYZ-XYZ-XYZ. He transposes the "monte-muse-fonte” motif again and

again— three times, to be precise. This repetition takes on the form o f a prayer on

the part o f the hero to “fatemi poeta,” to become a famed poet who writes o f death,

cypress trees, and multiple hells. There is something distinctly supplicatory about


Bruno also uses the symmetric nature o f epanados to assert some ethical

judgments. In H.i he offers a most interesting critique o f science's contributions to

society. Through the voice o f Cesarino. Bruno writes:

Pero ora che siamo stati nella feccia delle scienze, che hanno parturita la
feccia delle opinioni. le quali son causa della feccia de gli costumi ed
opre, possiamo certo aspettare de ritomare a meglior stati. (1073.
emphasis mine)

Cesarino's scourge is graphic in more ways than one. Here, the “feccia” o f the

sciences leads to the “feccia” o f opinions, which consequently leads to the "feccia”

of society’s habits. This linear progression o f “feccie” is a translatory symmetry, in

that a motif (the term “feccia”) is repeated at regular intervals. Particularly

interesting about this example, however, is that in each case the “feccia” o f one

entity is the cause for the “feccia” o f the next, with the Platonic idea, if you will, o f

“feccia” remaining constant, as a perfectly repeated wallpaper motif. It is almost as

if the subsequent “feccie” were augmented in force, though not in form. Somehow,

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the linear progression no longer seems entirely linear, but rather like a spiral in

which each subsequent set o f coordinates increases the spiral’s measure both

vertically and horizontally. Once again, the issue of angles arises. Are the “feccie”

increasing or decreasing in size? Is the “feccia” o f the sciences less fetid then the

“feccie” that it yields, or vice versa?

This sort of “graphic” analysis not only shows that a rhetorical figure can be

ambiguously non-linear (and therefore open to more potential angles o f

interpretation); it also forces us to think about Bruno’s ethics. Which does he view

as the greater evil: that of science, or that o f a society that builds itself on the

“feccia” given to it by science? If Bruno is not thinking linearly, can we assume

that he finds science and society equally culpable— both vectors arising from the

same source o f ignorance, and both feeding o ff each other? In his hands, the trope

of epanados becomes not merely a figure o f repetition, of translatory symmetry, but

another curious figure of possible angles o f interpretation and perspective.

The trope o f traductio, like epanados and anaphora, is a trope o f repetition.

Traductio’s particularity, however, consists in repeating a word stem and changing

its ending (case, part o f speech, mood, or tense). Here again, what seems like a

simple rhetorical figure becomes in Bruno’s writing a multi-faceted, multi-angled

figure. Bruno uses traductio to amplify his combinatoric project o f coincidentia

oppositorum, to leave the reader (and the hero) continually aware o f change and


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Traductio, also known as translatio, implies a translation o f sorts.

Translatory symmetry is that in which a m otif is moved in some direction relative

to an identical motif without being rotated or reflected (like in a mirror):




If we consider the “G” at the center as the initial motif, each o f the

surrounding six "G 's” is a translation, in six different directions. The distance

between each progressive "G” is 60°. We can measure the translations in terms o f

angles relative to one another. Similarly, a figure o f traductio, can potentially be

"translated” in an infinite number o f ways with an infinite number o f angles. The

original word (or motif) does not change its orientation when translated. In a sense,

it allows for replicas, or "‘shadows” o f itself, but never its real self, and never a

complete alteration o f self.

Emblem XIV (I.v.) (a burning dart surrounded by a noose) bears the motto,

“Amor instat ut instant'— a good example o f Brunian traductio. Cicada asks

Tansillo to explain how “I’amor come istante o insistente, inste” (1067). How does

love as an instant, or insistent entity, persist? Tansillo begins a metaphysical

discussion on the nature o f the instant and how it is simultaneously eternal and a

point in time. You need instants in order to have time, he says, as you need points

in order to have a line (1067). Yet contained within the instant, Tansillo explains.

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is all time, just as “io son medesimo che fui, sono e sard” (1067). Agreeing

generally with Aristotle’s idea that all o f eternity is an instant, Tansillo indicates

that the poem of Emblem XFV further develops this theory. 13

Though the beginning o f this poem sounds much like Ecclesiastics 3, the

tone and person change at precisely the middle of the sonnet, verse 7. The poem is

now in the first person. It is the hero— noosed and burning with desire— who

speaks. There is no longer the sense o f the positive, the joyous, the respite offered

by a contrasting emotion or state. This shift parallels the hero’s frenzied

relationship to time. Initially the hero believes that in time, the goal will be

attained; later, he realizes that he is destined to suffer eternally, that each instant is

as painful as the last and as painful as the one to come— all instants are one in

eternity. Love is what makes one persist in the instant, and equally, persist in the

eternal. "Amor instat at instans” is a play on words, a play on the inherent

relationship between an instant and persistence, and on the heroic lover’s status as

one who persists, burning with desire in every instant.

Un tempo sparge, ed un tempo raccoglie;

Un edifica. un strugge; un piange, un ride:
Un tempo ha triste, un tem po ha liete voglie;
Un s ’affatica, un posa; un stassi, un side:
Un tempo porge, un tempo si ritoglie;
Un muove, un ferma; un fa vivo, un occide;
In tutti gii anni, mesi, giom i ed ore
M ’attende. fere, accend’e iega amore.
Continuo mi disperge,
Sempre mi strugg’e mi ritien in pianto,
E mi triste languir ogn’o r pur tanto,
in ogni tempo mi travaglia ed erge,
Tropp’in rubbarmi £ forte,
Mai non mi scuote, mai non mi da morte. (1068-1069)

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But how is “Am or instat lit instans” a symmetrical construction? How is

keeping the stem but changing the ending a kind o f symmetry? The motto builds

on itself, like the atria o f a shell growing larger, or a flight o f steps seen rising into

the distance, or like the “feccie” in Cesarino’s speech above. I see epanados as a

literary equivalent to the geometrical gnomon— by adding an ending or changing

one, the original word grows proportionally but keeps its same shape (fig. 34). If

Figure 34: A gnomon. Here, each additional figure (in this case, a
square) that is added to the original figure (a golden rectangle) does not
change the original shape. Only magnitude increases as the figure
expands. This particular gnomon is a representation of the growth of a
logarithmic spiral.

we look at the example in which Tansillo notes that the apostrophized words in the

poem of Emblem VII (I.v.) leave the words open for a variety o f possibilities, we

might begin to see the “gnomonic symmetry” o f traductio. “Mi scald’, accend’.

ard’. aw am p’ in etemo,” are the apostrophized words. Tansillo writes:

.. .in virtu di quelle apostrofl, che son nel verso ottavo, possete leggere
mi s c a l d o, a c c e n d o, a r d o , a v a m p o ; over, s c a l d i, a c c e
ndi, a r d i , a v a mp i ; o v e r , s c a l d a , a c c e n d e , a r d e , a v v a
m p a. Hai oitre da considerare che questi non son quattro sinonimi, ma
quattro termini diversi che significano tanti gradi de gli effetti del fuoco.
II qual prima scalda, secondo accende, terzo bruggia, quarto infiamma o
invampa quel ch’ha scaldato, acceso e bruggiato. E cossi son denotate
nel furioso il desio, I’attenzione, il studio, Taffezione, le quali in nessun
momento sente variare. (1047)

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Beyond simply considering what person the four verbs should be in, Tansillo

explains that the four kinds o f “burning” are not mere synonyms, but four entirely

different words, describing the various degrees o f passionate “burning.” Degrees o f

heat, degrees o f an angle— Bruno is asking us to think in terms o f degrees.

Degrees, or gradi. may be like steps o f a staircase, or the measurement o f a

geometric figure. The hero's journey is always a paradox o f degree; degree in

terms o f the thermodynamism o f his psychomachia, in terms o f his orientation and

angle o f approach, and in terms o f his immeasurable relation to the unattainable,

incommensurate Beloved.

Traductio, interestingly enough, is also a trope that can be employed when

attempting to refer to something impossible to describe or to pinpoint. Responding

to poem XI (II), Maricondo says, “perche non e cosa piu retta ch'il dritto, non e

cosa piu bella che la bellezza. non e piu buono che la bonta, non si trova piu grande

che la grandezza. ne cosa piu lucida che quella luce, la quale con la sua presenza

oscura e cassa gli lumi tutti” (1107). Adjectives turn into substantives in an attempt

to describe the indescribable (retta-dritto, bella-bellezza, buono-bonta, grande-

grandezza, lucida-luce). Here again we see the gnomonic quality o f traductio. In

the kabbalah, when combining the four letters o f the name o f God, YHVH, in order

to arrive at fuller expression o f His essence, one alternates the position o f one letter

at a time. YHVH goes to YVHH, then to YHHV, and so on. In the same way. the

traductio we see in Maricondo !s commentary is an alternation o f one part o f a word

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in order to indicate the greater essence o f the word— a word that cannot be fully


Shadows are measured by the angle o f incidence between the sun and the

opaque body blocking the sun's rays. The hero, like the Nine Blind Men, comes to

recognize that that for which he is striving as a mere shadow. The Beloved is a

horizon, an infinite number of letters to be combined, a term that has no perfect

translation, a perpetual coincidence o f opposites with infinite vertices, a motif with

uni- but infinitely-lateral symmetry, much like the "line” we will consider in the

next chapter.

These tropes o f symmetry— anaphora, epanados. and traductio— are

primarily expressions o f reflection and translation. By repeating a word or a

phrase, or altering it to some "degree,” Bruno amplifies a thought, or stresses that

the thought needs multiple angles o f approach. In the final section o f this chapter I

will discuss a few o f the recurring numbers in the Eroici, showing how they, too,

display degree and an angular geometry o f symmetry and axiality.

Nine, Four, and Three: Angular Numbers and the Eroici

In the introductory section o f this chapter I mentioned a few o f the

proliferating numbers present in the Eroici (the eighty-one poems, twenty-eight

emblems, ten interlocutors, and Nine Blind Men). I will now look at a few numbers

that recur with notable frequency in Bruno's Eroici—as well as throughout his

other works— and will highlight their symbolism and relevance to a discussion o f

angular rhetoric in the Eroici. Like Boccaccio and Ariosto, who praised their

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female readers and asked their pardon for shocking content, Bruno includes an

“Iscusazion del Nolano alle piu virtuose e leggiadre dame” immediately before the

first dialogue o f his Eroici. Especially relevant to the discussion o f angles is the

angular rhetoric of this sonnet, and the sonnet’s hinge in verse 9. Though Bruno

addresses all women, he had a specific woman in mind when he wrote the

“Iscusazion”: Queen Elizabeth I, his “Diana,” whose support he hoped to gain

while in England.

De lTnghilterra o vaghe Ninfe e belle,

Non voi ha nostro spirto in schifo. e sdegna,
Ne per mettervi giii suo stil s’ingegna,
Se non convien che femine v’appelle.
Ne computar, ne eccettuar da quelle
Son certo che voi dive mi convegna,
Se l’influsso commun in voi non regna.
E siete in terra quel ch’in ciel le stelle.
De voi. o Dame, la belta sovrana
Nostro rigor ne morder puo, ne vuole,
Che non fa mira a specie sopraumana,
Lungi arsenico tal quindi s’invole.
Dove si scorge Tunica Diana,
Qual’e tra voi quel che tra gli astri il sole.
L’ingegno, le parole
E i mio (qualunque sia) vergar di carte
Faranvi ossequios’ il studio e Tarte. (951, emphasis mine)

Verse 8 contains a chiasmus: “E siete in terra quel ch’in ciel le stelle”; so does

verse 14: “Qual’e tra voi quel che tra gli astri il sole.” Here the crossing o f the X

traces its path between earth and sky, between English women and stars. The

vertex between the earth and the sky, however, is the sun— Queen Elizabeth I. She

is the hinge o f the sonnet, the “belta sovrana” o f verse 9, reigning over the poem’s


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The number nine— this important, sovereign number—proliferates

throughout the Eroici. Recall the Nine Blind Men and their nine sestine, the nine

intelligences (946-947), the nine muses (946-947), the nine spheres (943, 946-947),

and the nine dialectics o f Pietrus Ramus that Bruno discusses in the final dialogue

of the Eroici (1115). Is it pure coincidence that there are eighty-one poems in the

whole of the Eroici, eighty-one being the square o f nine?

The meaning of the number nine in the Eroici is clarified and complicated

by other nine-fold items in Bruno’s thought. In De monade— Bruno's

numerclogical-geometric poem— the number nine is associated first with the

Muses, then with Diana and the mind . 14 Nine is the number, he says, that expresses

knowledge o f Divine reality. He calls the ennead a triple hierarchy o f the number

three, and relates nine to— among many other things— the nine strings o f Apollo's

lyre, the nine cognitive powers, the nine ways in which the word of God manifests

(historically, physically, metaphysically, ethically, legally, anagogically.

prophetically, mystically, and tropologically), the nine-step passage o f knowledge

through the mind. In De umbris idearum and De magia. Bruno proposes a nine-

step ladder to connect the human to the Divine. In De imaginum compositione, he

creates memory atria that are divided into nine loci. 15 The shape and organization

o f these atria, in fact, is as significant as the images they frame. The following

atrium, which Bruno called “Forma atrii et nomina locorum particularium ,” 16

14 Bruno, De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 450-461.

15 See De imaginum in Op. Lat., vol. Il.iii, bks. I.ii.6 and I.ii. 13.

16 Ibid., 131. Here is an example o f an atrium, (132):

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displays Bruno’s conception o f the arrangement

Forma A trii et nomi-
n a lo c o r u m p a r t i c u ­
of topoi in terms o f angles o f orientation (fig.
la r s m.

35 ) . 17 This particular mnemonic exercise is

A ncv. O R u An g v .
based on the relation between angles and images. lvs O ri E N s lvs Me

Bruno explains:

Septen Atri i M er i »
Sit figura loci ut eius membra ad TRIO I mago DIES
aequalitatem et conformitatem eorum.
quae ulterius iuxta nostram viam
apponuntur (qui in univeris numerum
trigenarium observamus), sufficere A n gv- O cci- A ngvl .
lvs Se­ DENS 0 c c i«
possint; ut in proposito atrio ab angulo pten. DENTIS
utroque ad utrumque oppositum
duplici coniecta diametro quatuor in
intervallorum medio, quae a centro et
angulo quadruplici aequaliter distent.
sedes et adiecta intelligantur. in centro fig u re 35: "Forma Atrii.” Giordano Bruno,
vero duobus adiectis dexteram
sedem T ([ r‘n,™n
Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer, 1591).
atque sinistram tribue.

Aqua Lavacrum Palma

Aratrum Thorax Anchora
Catena Ampho. Currus

Scrinium Stabulum
Scapha ALTARE Fruges
Solium Fumus

Career Fornax Arbos

Cadus Ensi Globus
Sella Ignis Epulae

17 Tocco and Vitelli’s version uses lines to separate each angle. The English translation does
not. The first edition, published in Frankfurt in 1591, also has lines to separate each angle. See De
imaginum compositione (Frankfurt: Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer, 1591), from the Koninklijke
Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 E 36.

18 Bruno, De imaginum compositione in Op. Lat., vol.II.iii, 156.

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These nine orientations provide the framework for cataloging and memorization.

The directional angles not only enhance the multiplicity o f the text’s meanings, but

support the mnemonic project. The relationship between the number nine and

“angles of memory” in Bruno is fundamental.

In the Eroici, Bruno notes that the number nine is. according to many

Kabbalists. Chaldeans, magicians, Platonists, and Christian theologians, “il numero

che domina nell’universita de Ie cose ed in certa maniera formaliza il tutto; e pero

con semplice raggione fanno che si significhe la divinita, e secondo la reflessione e

quadratura in se stesso, il numero e la sustanza de tutte le cose dependenti” (943).

Agrippa recalled that Jesus died in nine hours on the cross. 19 Nine in Pythagorean

doctrine is also the number o f the ephemeral horizon— an image that is implied in

the hero’s journey toward the ineffable, as the ineffable is by nature fleeting like a


As I noted earlier. Bruno associates Queen Elizabeth I with the number

nine. Bruno also associates the Queen with Diana, the chaste goddess who

exemplifies the goal of the hero’s contemplation and possesses the power to

transform him. The “belta sovrana” o f the “Iscusazion” is simultaneously Queen

Elizabeth and Diana. The Diana-Actaeon myth is central to the Eroici—cited time

and again by Bruno. It is analogous to the hero’s desire to envision the Divine, and

his inevitable destruction and transformation if he attempts to see what cannot be

fully seen. The numerology o f Diana, the fact that there are twenty-eight emblems

19 Agrippa, Dephilosophia occulta, vol. 2, bk.ll.xii.

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in the Eroici, is a hidden clue to a force that drives the text. Twenty-eight is one o f

Diana’s numbers: she is the goddess o f the moon, which completes its cycle around

the earth in twenty-eight days. And Diana, the moon, reflects the light o f Apollo,

the sun—yielding a light that is not a perfect one, but one that man can view

directly .20 On the surface, Eroici is a tribute to Queen Elizabeth. Underneath, it is

a tribute to Diana-as-Beloved and the journey toward the transformation o f the

lover into the beloved. Twenty-eight is a "perfect” number, as it equals the sum o f

its factors (1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14).21 There are also twenty-eight times (for love, for

hate, etc.) described in Ecclesiastics 3:2-8. By putting twenty-eight emblems in his

Eroici, Bruno suggest that the hero’s desire to envision/unite with the Beloved

should be perfect in the same way as the number twenty-eight is perfect. If the

desire is perfect and infinite, the journey will follow suit. The problem with the

Nine Blind Men is that their desire for the Beloved is flawed. Motion along the

journey comes through the coincidence o f opposing forces; as in the phases o f the

moon, however, one force leads to the revelation o f the next, ad infinitum. The

moon mediates between the earth and the heavens, as does the "belta sovrana” o f

Bruno’s “Iscusazion”; and the hero, he who also hovers between the human and the

divine, is no less a perpetual mediator.

20 Nine is a factor o f sixty-three, the year o f the “Grand Climacteric,” a supposedly important
year in Elizabethan numerology— Queen Elizabeth I actually died in her sixty-third year. Queen
Elizabeth I was called the “Amphitrite” by her court, and Bruno calls Diana by the same name in the
Eroici (II.v). In Lampas triginta statuarum he describes the Amphitrite as being the one, the monad,
and that which is reflected in each human soul (Op. Lai., vol. Ill, 59).

21 Albertus Magnus said that the mystical body o f Christ appears in the Eucharist in twenty-eight

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Just as the phases of the moon fall into four groups, so the Eroici's second

most frequent number is four. Both numbers are perfect squares and what the

Pythagoreans termed planar reflections .22 Many o f the twenty-eight emblems are in

groupings of four. The first of the emblems consists o f a shield with four colors

(I.v); the second is also a shield with four colors (I.v); Emblem XII (I.v) is

described as a head with four faces that blow in the four comers o f the sky,

crowned with two stars: Emblem IV (II.i) is a fire in the form o f a heart with four

wings. The dialogue between the Eyes and the Heart (Il.iii) includes four

propositions and four responses.

The number four is often related to the four directions (north, south, east,

west) and, in the biblical tradition, to the four angles through which God's power

extends over the word. Adam’s name consists o f four letters in Greek (anatole,

dusis, arkto. mesembria), which are also the words for the four directions, showing

Adam to be a microcosm o f the universe. There are four extremities to the cross.

The Pythagoreans considered four, in the form o f the holy tetraktys (tetra =

••quatemity.” act is = "beam’’: as Johann Reuchlin puts it, a ‘'sunbeam” or "my own

beam”23), as the starting point for all other numbers, the basis o f the perfect number

ten (the sum o f the first four numbers equal ten: 1+2+3+4 = 10).24 Neo-

22 See Plato, Timeaus 35b-c, and lamblicus, The Theology o f Arithmetic.

23 Johann Reuchlin, De arte cabalistica (1517), bk. II. See the translation by Martin and Sarah
Goodman (Lincoln: University o f Nebraska Press, 1983), 155.

24 On the divinity o f the tetraktys, see Pythagoras, The Golden Verses, verse 45. See also, for
example, Plato’s Republic, 10.617b; Porfiry’s Life o f Pythagoras, Par. 20; Macrobius’ Insomnim
scipionis, ch. 6; and Augustine’s De musica, Bk. 6. On the number ten as the sum o f 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 ,
see Aristotle, Metaphysics, 966a 8-10; Aetius, 1.3.8; Theon o f Smyrna’s Mathematics Useful fo r

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Pythagoreans and Neoplatonists attributed to the number four qualities such as the

four elements, the four humors o f the body, the four seasons, the four ages o f man

(childhood, youth, adulthood, old age).25 The number four represented the harmony

o f the spheres: the tetrachord. Four was also symbolic o f stability and solidity, as it

was considered to be the first number to display these characteristics in the shape o f

the tetrahedron .26

Hermeticism attributed the number four to the god Hermes. Hermes' day is

the fourth day of every month: the ithyphallic, four-corned herm is his symbol:

quatemity is a constituent o f his image .27 A statue o f Hermes was often placed in

the square cut of crossroads to watch over the intersection. Martianus Capella in

his De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii speaks of Hermes as the quadratic god. And

in the kabbalah, the world is divided into four parts: atsilut (world o f emanation),

beriah (creation), yet sir ah (formation), and asiyah (visible things), and God’s name
< )0

is written as the tetragrammaton.'

Understanding Plato: Sextus Empiricus. Adversus Mathematicos, 4.3; Lucian, Vitarum Audio. 4;
and Hippolytus’ Refutatio omnium haeresium , 12.8-9.

25 See Vincent Foster Hopper, Medieval Number Symbolism (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1938), 31; and Iamblicus, The Theology o f Arithmetic, 59.

‘6 Iamblicus, The Theology o f Arithmetic, 63.

27 See Karl Kerenyi, Hermes Guide o f Souls, trans. Murray Stein (Dallas: Spring Publications,
Inc., 1992), 22. See also Monica Fintoni’s discussion o f Hermes in “Images o f Mercury between
Guillaume Bude and Giordano Bruno,’’ Bruniana & Campanelliana 1-2 (1995): 103-20.

2S YH VH = yod. heh. vav, heh. Arych Kaplan notes how the four Hebrew letters o f the Name
contain the mystery o f charity: mm yod is like a coin, heh a hand that gives and
receives, vav an arm that reaches out to give. See Aryeh Kaplan, Inner Space, ed. Abraham Sutton
(New York: Moznaim Publishing Co., 1990), 10.

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Four is the number o f the tetrad, the square, the tetrahedron (the Platonic

solid with the fewest angles and faces). There are four geometric progressions:

point, line, plane, and solid. Iamblicus associated the number four with

astronomy .29 Empedocles was the first to speak about the four humors as parallel

to Plato’s four cosmic substances (fire, water, air. earth), and four was considered

the cosmic substance o f fire . 30 Galen called the four humors and the four cosmic

substances by the same name, stoichion, meaning “element” or “letter."31 Early

man thought in four groups o f five, using his fingers and toes on which to

calculate.32 From the Indo-European word quetrum, meaning “peak,” and not

quattuor, came the Latin quadra, meaning “square” or “cross .”33 A squadra is a

“battle square,” or a group/team o f fighters; a quaterna is four papers folded and

bound into sixteen pages; a quarry a place where rocks are broken into little

squares. In Greek, the word for four is tessera, from which came the terms for dice,

stamps, and tessellation. In Bruno's geometric diagrams there are innumerable

squares inside circles, or circles inside squares—a common paradox, or mystical

expression o f the impossibility o f knowing/creating perfection (figs. 36,37).

29 Iamblicus, The Theology o f Arithemetic, 56.

30 Timeaus. 3 1a. 32c.

31 See Leo Spitzer, Classical and Christian Ideas o f World Harmony (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
Press. 1963), 65.

32 See Karl Menninger, Number Words and Number Svmbols, trans. Paul Broneer (Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1969).

33 Ibid., 148.

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Figure 36a: Giordano Bruno, Figure 36b: Giordano Figure 36c: Giordano
A rticuli adversus mathem aticos. Bruno, A rticuli adversus Bruno, A rticuli adversus
m athematicos. mathematicos.

Figure 37: Squaring the circle. Drawings done

for the modern edition of Giordano Bruno,
Spaccio de la bestia trionfante in Dialoghi
italiani, ed. Giovanni Aquilecchia (Florence:
Sansoni, 1985), 756-759. There are none in the
early exemplars.

In his study o f the principle o f quatemity, Robert Berner suggests that the number

four is symbolic of matter/earth/man— the fourth composite element to the

Trinity.34 Jung talks about the Trinity's “missing fourth,” though by the fourth he

means Satan and the dark, repressed material world .35 I do not believe that Bruno

would have thought that the Trinity was missing a fourth element,36 but he certainly

34 Robert Berner, The Rule o f Four: Four Essays on the Principle o f Quaternity (New York:
Peter Lang Press, 1996), ix, 39.

35 C. G. Jung, The Complete Works o f C. G. Jung, 1:59.

36 Bruno does not mention the Trinity in his numerologic-geometric poem, De monade, in the
chapter on the number three.

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was attracted by the solidity of the number four, and considering his theory o f

shadows, he might not have been adverse to Jung’s idea that the opposite of

Divinity, evil, should be part of the mystery o f a triune God. Cornelius Agrippa

noted that many cultures name God with four letters: YHVH (Hebrew); Thet

(Egyptian); Alla (Arabic); Sire (Persian); Orfi (Magian); Agdi (Maomettan); Oeos

(Greek); Esar (Etruscan); Deus (Latin ) / 7 Bruno follows suit in De monade by

listing “ IeOVaH et ADONai enim Hebraeis. 0 EUT Aegyptiis. ORSI Magis. SIRE

Persis. 0 EOS Graecis. DEUS Latinis. ALLA Arabibus. GOTT Germanis. DIEU

Gallis. DIOS Hispanis. IDIO Italis.”j8 Motion, too, in Bruno’s cosmology, is

fourfold, as are many other things: generation, the ways reason moves to

comprehend the infinite, the worlds (divine, archetypal, spiritual, and corporeal),

essence (absolute, ideal, unified, divided), being (metaphysical, physical,

mathematical, rational).

The occurrences o f the number four in the Eroici are more symbolic of

direction than anything else—a major theme o f this work being the movement of

the hero toward the Divine from different angles o f approach. With regard to the

fourfold argument between the Eyes and the Heart, it is possible that Bruno was

guided by still another quality o f the number four: the fourfold faculties o f the mind

(sense, imagination, reason, and insight) o f which Boethius spoke. In Bruno’s

gnoseology, the mind is divided into these four discrete “atria” through which

37 Agrippa, De philosophia occulta, vol. 2, bk.II.vii.

38 Bruno, De monade in Op. Lat., vol. I.ii, 387.

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thought passes.39 Though Bruno never diagrammed these atria, his other atria were

quadrilaterals (squares and rectangles), and a good model for Bruno’s atria o f the

mind is one o f concentric squares. With the faculties o f the mind in such an

arrangement, there is more freedom for each faculty to move a thought into the

preceding or succeeding square than if there were only one "doorway” or access

point, as would be the case in a line or sequence o f squares. The movement o f

thought between the faculty of sensation and that o f insight— from the heart to the

eyes— is a fourfold process. Thought does not jump from discrete faculty to

discrete faculty in a linear fashion, but rather moves into each from the preceding

one from a variety of possible angles. The "mind” for Bruno is both heart and

intellect. The hero is both human and divine. The journey to the Divine is both

glorious and torturous. The hero’s mind, the hero's journey, and the hero himself

are oxymoronic indeed.

There is one final number in the Eroici that Bruno uses liberally: three.

Although one might immediately think o f the Christian Trinity, I believe that in the

Eroici three holds other symbolism, a symbolism primarily related to Diana. The

goddess Trivia is Selene-Diana-Prosperine ,40 with her triple-zoned designation o f

(respectively) earthly, lunar, and infernal realms. Perhaps Elizabeth I, the "belta

sovrana,” would have liked to think o f herself as a sovereign with such a far-

reaching rule. Trivia is present in the Eroici as a triple-angled figure, or even a

39 See Bruno, De umbris idearum and Cantus Circaeus.

40 On the figure o f Trivia, see Virgil, Aeneid VI.20-55; Horace. Ode 22; Fulgentius, H.xvi;
Martianus Capella, The Marriage o f Philology and Mercury, Vl.341-5: Macrobius. Saturnalia,

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critique o f the “triviality” o f the Trinity. The word “trivial,” which came into

English usage in the sixteenth century, is based on the idea o f the trivium as

common, everyday knowledge. The term “trivium,” on the other hand, originates in

the idea of three roads meeting (tri via). This again makes us think o f the three-fold

domain of Trivia. It also might make us think o f Hermes at a crossroads (fourfold)

and Janus at a bridge or threshold (twofold). Associating Hermes with the number

four, Janus with two. and Diana with three, one might think o f Janus as planar (2-

d). Diana as solid (3-d), and Hermes as a hypercube (4-d). Interestingly, in his

Saturnalia, Macrobius cites Nigidius as saying that "Diana” derives from "Jana,”

the feminine of “Janus” (the addition o f the letter “d” to the letter "i” for the sake

of euphony ).41 If this is so, then we can imagine Diana arising from Janus; and

from Diana, Hermes.

What else is Bruno communicating with his use of the number three in the

EroicP Is Bruno saying that the Trinity somehow reflects the pagan Trivia? Is he

saying that there is something insufficient or trivial about the concept o f the

Trinity? Is he thinking o f the medieval trivium o f grammar, rhetoric, and logic as

related to the nature o f Diana or the Christian Trinity? Though I do not want to

discount these possible interpretations o f the connection between the number three

and the Trinity in Bruno, I will not focus on any of them here. Instead, let us look

l.ix.8; Isidore o f Seville, Etymologiae, VIlLxi.; and especially Dante, Divina Comedia , XXM.25-7,
•‘Quale ne’ plenilunii sereni/ Trivia ride tra le ninfe etteme/ che dipingono lo ciel per tutti i seni.”

41 See Macrobius, Saturnalia, I.ix.8.

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at a few triple sequences Bruno includes in the Eroici. He includes, for example,

three poems which contain repeated groupings o f three:

Un alan, un leon, un can appare

A l’auror, al di chiaro, al vespr’oscuro.
Quel che spesi, ritegno e mi procuro,
Per quanto mi si die', si da, puo dare.
Per quel che feci, faccio ed ho da fare
Al passato, al presente ed al futuro.
Mi pento, mi tormeto. m’assicuro,
Nel perso, nel soffrir, nell'aspettare.
Con l’agro, con I'amaro, con il dolce
L'esperienza, i frutti, la speranza
Mi minaccio. m'affligono. mi molce.
L’eta che vissi. che vivo, ch'avanza.
Mi fa tremante. mi scuote, mi folce.
In absenza, presenza e lontananza.
Assai, troppo. a bastanza
Quel di gia, quel di ora. quel d’appresso
M’hanno in timor. martir e spene messo. (1073-1074)

Se da gli eroi. da gli dei. da le genti

Assicurato son che non desperi:
Ne tema, ne dolor, ne impedimenti
De la morte, del corpo. de piaceri
Fia ch'oltre apprendi, che soffrisca e senti:
E perche chiari vegga I miei sentieri.
Faccian dubio, dolor, tristezza spenti
Speranza, gioia e gli diletti intieri.
Ma se mirasse. facesse, ascoltasse
Miei pensier, miei desii e mie raggioni.
Chi le rende si ‘ncerti, ardenti e casse.
Si graditi concetti, atti. sermoni.
Non sa, non fa, non ha qualunque stassi
De l'orto. vita e morte a le maggioni.
Ciel terr’, orco s’opponi;
S'ella mi spend'e accend'ed emmi a lato,
Farammi illustre, potente e beato. (1090-1091)

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Assalto vil. ria pugna, iniqua palma,

Punt’acuta, esca edace. forte nervo,
Aspra ferita, empio ardor, cruda salma,
Stral. fiioco e laccio di quel dio protervo.
Che punse gli occhi, arse il cor, lego Talma
E femmi a un punto cieco, amante e servo.
Tal che orbo de mia piaga, incendio e nodo
Ho ' 1 senso in ogni tempo, loco e modo.
Uomini, eroi e dei,
Che siete in terra, o appresso Dite o Giove,
Dite, vi priego, quando come e dove
Provaste. udiste o vedeste unqua omei
Medesmi o tali o tanti
Tra oppressi. tra dannati. tra gli amanti? (1152)

These incessant triples are grouped into categories, much like the groupings we see

throughout Bruno's mnemonic charts and wheels. The groups are at times

synonymous elements— "oppressi, dannati, amanti”—and at times, entities that are

often thought o f together— "uomini. eroi. e dei”—at times, expressions o f temporal

sequence— "quel che feci, faccio ed ho da fare.” Triples seem to be inherent in the

hero's project— perhaps because o f the binding power o f the number three, perhaps

because o f the angularity they imply .42

42 A proliferation o f triples as extravagant as those in the Eroici's sonnets characterizes a

sixteenth-century English building with which Bruno may have been familiar. Sir Thomas Tresham
(1545-1605), an ardent Catholic convert o f Northamptonshire, designed what he called the
Triangular Lodge. It is not documented that Bruno ever traveled to Northamptonshire (though we
know he went to Oxfordshire in 1583) and the construction o f the Lodge did not begin until 1593.
but it is possible that he would have heard about the plan for the Lodge while in England. The
Lodge has three thirty-three-foot sides, three stories, three gables on each side, nine gargoyles,
exterior trefoils, a three-sided chimney, a coat o f arms at the entrance that says “Tres. Testi.
Monium. Dant” from John L5.7. and friezes with thirty-three letters apiece. Tresham and Bruno,
like many before them, did not hesitate to express their fascination with the number three and their
belief in its aesthetic, religious, mystical— and for Bruno— rhetorical power. One still wonders,

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In Giovanni Aquilecchia's 1958 edition o f the Eroici. one notices a

particularly "angular” part of the dialogue. Aquilecchia organized the exchange

between Filenio and a pastor (a tormented lover), which is in the form o f a sonnet

in a series of triangles (fig. 38).


t eofduan rim ane per la riheUloa del w nao. che lo rp n x u
F tlnto. liaaa e *
Ut d'onde la raggton ra flrtn a , e per d c o n trv io . n tnede- Potton. Nob an
timo affatto u dim oetr* o d la a a g tm ta *eatenia, dove la F lin t* Sm full*.
i m l n n r m nam e d e F ikm o d in u n d a , ed il hm m n rtwoond* Potion. Ch*. m cocalfoUia * 1'aitn* piec# ‘
in no me di P asture, che alia cura dei gregge o a m e n to —- Film** P m o itta )
iuoi pension ai travaclia, q u u peace in a a a q n lo e sa rrig p o
Potion. S*.
Ftlnto. Ktcgft *
do la m a runfa. ch’ i I'aifexiooe di queQ'aggetto eOe a d Potion. SO ism o.
ouervaaxa i (a tto eattivo. Film* Tace >
PAlton. Si. perehd arttir ta a t’ooaetA o i toll*.
FtUmto Vaaefgl.
''tint*. P is tu rt
Che vuut t Potion In ch# ‘
Cbe (ai > F lin t* Set itititt.
Doftto. Patton. Tottto >1 w o « W no. pro che m m tu rm o il.
F ilm *. Perchd i
Ponun. PercM nua m ha |x r too vita, ad ao rta . dice che tpasm a lam en ta u deU'am ere, non p i
Film *. O u tello > prrcM u n i (atteao che t nessuno v m m r a t e u w a t e di­
Poiton. Amor. splace I’u n a r t ) a u p m h d m feheem ente u n i, m entre
Flint*. Quel rio J eacono q o e ' strmli che son gli raggi di q u a ham . che n o d * ’
Potion. Qua! no.
Dow' 0 * simi. w condo cbe son protervi e ritro a , overam ente beaigro
Potion. N d ccatro dal mio cor a* tieo U forte. e graatosi, vcgnono ed ouev porta che gtttdaiM a i belo,
F tlnto Che ta f ovenunente 4 I’ Inferno. Coo q u u t o men m a n tm u to in
P ttton . Pm •p e ra n ia di fu tu re ed rnccrU mere*. ed in efletto d. pre*
Ftlnto. Chi ? •an te e eerto aurttrw . E quan tu o q u e m oito s p a ta m e n te
Potion. Me.
To * vefgu la i u i foUia, non per ta n to i w m che in punto
Potion. SL eicuno « cocreg*. o che el m en poeea c u n a pcm c Uuprocere;
Flint*. Coo cbe f perchd u n t o ne m ence, che pTO tanto m m i si com puce.
Poiton, C*o |11 occhl. d* 1’ ialeruo e del oel poetr. com e nw etr* dove dice
Flint*. Span ’
Potion. Speco. Mei Aa the tMTvBur m an tam ale,
Flint*. MarcO I Stas* 6*1 qu*l aaa vofU'wear Mice*
Potion. Mercd.
Ftlnto Da c h i} • a t r * m m t. w r,t r* m m .
Potion D* chi n mi m anor* ao c re dt. i t pnmt v*m itMm r r M i del potato aaJugo (p i*T71. dove
ui nut* la probabtle o n f K
m ft»D tw. ii. U7t il . ;c .' ii. jim <c.» n .
i& [6o -r i <w. ii. j«r) (L. *ist <g.» ii. jai-oi iC.» n . ju ).

Figure 38: Giordano Bruno, De g li eroicifu ro ri in D ialoghi itaiiani. ed. Giovanni Aquilecchia (Florence:
Sansoni, 1985), 981-982.

however, if Bruno had the idea o f “triviality” in mind when he used this waterfall o f triples, and
whether he was “trivializing” the symbolism o f three as he did with respect to the number two in the

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Consultation o f one o f the first editions o f Bruno’s Eroici shows that, in fact, this

angular arrangement does not at all resemble the shape that Bruno originally gave

to his sonnet-dialogue.
The sonnet looks, fiuleck wife 1‘inferno impiomba : oade
trouandofi tabncnte poggiar, et dcfcendcxc,
ftntencl' ilma ilpiu gran diffidio chcftn-
instead, like this (fig. ni fi poffa. Etcoofufo ridunc per la ribdli-
on del fcnfo.che lo brona la d'oadcla raggi
on laaffrcna, et per il concrario.
45). The lattice-work 11 mcdefimo afEuto fidimoftr* ad Laft.
gucnte ftotenxa doue la Raggione in nome
deFileniodinunda, ctilFurioforifpondc
structure of this ranomediPaftoretdieallacuiadcl gregge
6armento dcfuoi penfieri £ trauagia • quii
pafee in oficquio et feruiggio de la baain&,
exchange is like a eb'dl'allcttioae di qneiT oggctto alia cni
offentanza i fauo cauioo.
question and answer

session, or like a chart F- P. F. P. F.

Paflor, Che tuoi? Che fail Doglo. Pctchcr
P. Pcrchc non m* ha per fuo rha,nc morte.
that tracks the two F. P. F. P. F.
Chi fallolAmor.qncl rio ? Quel rio.DotrVf
P. Nel centro del mio cor ft tien fi force.
interlocutors' F. P. F. P. F. P. F.
Che (a. Fete. Chi! Me. Te! SL Co che!
P. C6 gl'occhi de finferoo et del ciel pone.
interventions. Though F P F P F
Speri? Spcro. Mcic& Mercd. Da chit
P. Da chi fi mi mattoranott' ct dr.
it saves space and F P F
Haonc! Non (6. Sci folic.
provides a quick- P. Che fc total foliii a 1' alma piacc!

stepped rhythm to the Figure 39: Giordano Bruno, Degl’heroicifuori (Paris:

Antonio Baio, 1585).
dialogue, it is difficult

to read: it forces one's eyes to move not only horizontally but vertically, to keep

track o f who is speaking. It is like a criss-crossing chiasmus or syneciosis. It is an

axial format, I believe, that offers a formidable example o f Bruno’s intention to

display the fundamental coincidentia oppositorum in the hero's journey. I find it

most curious that Aquilecchia and later editors o f modem editions o f the Eroici

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have chosen to lay out this exchange in such a peculiarly angular way. The format

actually serves— unwittingly— to enhance the textual and contextual angularity of

the hero's journey; that is, the angles o f inference, angles o f approach, and angles of

coincidence the hero will traverse.

De gli eroci furori is a substantially quantitative and tectonic project: a

vertiginous itinerary conceived by the likes of a Zeno. The reader joins the ranks of

such renowned (and ultimately unsuccessful) crusaders as Theseus, Ulysses, and

Orlando, but it is without a thread, a map. or help from the gods, sorceresses or

friends that he must plot the path to his goal. He is led into a textual labyrinth, full

of discrete alcoves: poetry, commentary, dialogue, descriptions o f emblems,

mottoes, and incantations. In each textual space there are numbers with which to

tinker, and paradoxes to unravel. The language o f this palatial maze is visionary,

and it is visual. The discourse between Eyes and Heart is not limited to H.iii. but

radiates through the whole work. Bruno's Eroici is a colloquy between vision and

desire: desiring to see the desired. It is about points of reference, angles o f

approach, angles o f incidence, symmetry, and the prismatic, fragmented journey

one must travel to gain knowledge o f an ultimately elusive goal.

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Chapter Four: Lines

"Nulla dies sine linea."

Mamfurio quoting Pliny, Candelaio I.v.

Lining the Candelaio

Recti linearity— conceptual and rhetorical— dominates Bruno's Candelaio.

Delineations, lists, and inversions o f direction line the com edy's pages in the guise

o f brachylogia, systrophe, and hyperbaton. The Candelaio is. like many

Renaissance plays, a comedy o f intrigue and deception, o f crossing boundaries, of

inverting order, of vacillating registers, and o f uni-dimensional characters. The uni­

dimensionality of the characters is the best point from which to enter a discussion

o f rectilinearity in Bruno's Candelaio. The characters are flat, non-psychological

personae who serve one o f two purposes: to ridicule, or to be ridiculed. During the

single night in Naples in which the comedy weaves itself, the characters stretch

across the stage, crossing over one another, at times tying knots, at times just

inducing friction. The three protagonists. Bonifacio, Bartolomeo, and Mamfurio—

the three most incorrigible o f these characters— parallel one another in terms of

their ceaseless, exaggerated passions: Bonifacio's love for Vittoria. Bartolomeo's

love for alchemy, Mamfiirio's love for pedantic knowledge. In a sense, all three are

"candlestick bearers.” holding an unwavering flame for their beloved. They are

rigid columns, inviting the antagonists to punish, or rather, bend them, tease them,

trick them, reveal to them their narrow-mindedness. Through trickery and ridicule

they are violently forced to widen their tunnel-vision. or slacken their linear stance.

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Bonifacio is imprisoned, Bartolomeo is bound, and Mamfurio is beaten. It is not

clear, however, that even after these tortures, they will modify their uni-dimensional


Similar to the protagonists, the cast as a whole portrays linearity in the way

they use and abuse o f language. They all have a tendency to make awkward lists

and to invert speech and thought that is otherwise mono-dimensional. The

excessive literal- and narrow-mindedness o f the characters' speech allows Bruno to

critique linear thought, to challenge a certain kind o f conceptual and behavioral

“rectilinearity.” Throughout the text, Bruno undermines (and under-lines) what I

would call uni-directional rectilinearity in favor o f multi-directional rectilinearity.

The Candelaio satirizes the kind o f rectilinearity that is always on the straight and

narrow: it confuses role-delineation, continually sets up deceptions o f self and

others (not telling the “straight’' truth), and includes passages that move non-

linearly from one thought or situation to the next. It is precisely Bruno's critique of

uni-directional rectilinearity. in contrast to his notion o f multi-directional

rectilinearity. that I will be considering in this chapter on “ lines" in the Candelaio.

Numerous rhetorical tropes display the linear and non-linear linguistic

manipulations exemplified in the Candelaio. but the tropes Bruno employs most

often in this text will clarify the nature o f his contention with uni-directional

rectilinearity. I will look at brachylogia and systrophe under the rubric o f “lists” : at

hyperbaton under the rubric o f “inversion”; and at both as expressions o f Bruno's

philosophy o f the multi-valenced. But first, I will give some background on two

topics that serve as a point o f departure for my geometric reading o f the Candelaio:

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an overview o f Candelaio criticism, and a discussion o f the nature o f the line and


A Few Words on Candelaio Criticism

There are a handful o f topics in the Candelaio on which critics repeatedly

focus.1 Structural observations begin with Bruno's conservative spelling, his

neologisms, his use of multiple registers and languages, his obscenity, his linguistic

inventiveness, and his peculiar division o f the prologue into a "proprologo." an

“antiprologo," and a "bidello." Regarding the Candelaio's position in the

genealogy of Renaissance Italian theater, we are usually reminded o f his debts to

Folegno. Bemi, Aretino. Belo, Doni. Franco, Bandello. Machiavelli, and Ariosto,

and o f his challenge to Aristotelian poetics and Donatus' outline for classical

comedy. Also typically mentioned are the play’s critiques o f Petrarchan poetry, o f

science-for-profit, of academic pedantry, o f humanism, o f ecclesiastic dogma, and

o f contemporary mores. Similarly, critics see Bruno himself in the character o f

1 So as not to weigh down this recapitulation o f past criticism with names and footnotes. I will
list here the major studies on the Candelaio that have provided the material for my summary: Mario
Apollonio, Dtionario delle opere e deipersonaggi (Milan: 1956); Giovanni Aquilecchia.
“Giordano Bruno.” Storia della Leiteratura Italiana, ed. Enrico Malato (Roma: Salem o. 1997);
Alan Bar, “ Extension and Excision: Imagistic and Structural Patterns in Giordano Bruno's
Candelaio." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 13 (1971): 351-363: A. Buono Hodgart,
Giordano Bruno's The Candle-Bearer: An Enigmatic Renaissance Play (Lewiston, New York:
Edwin Mellen Press, 1997); Jo Ann Cavallo, “The Candelaio: A Hermetic Puzzle,” Canadian
Journal o f Italian Studies 15 (1992): 47-55; Sirio Ferrone, "11 candelaio: scienza e letteratura,”
llalianistica 2 (1973): 518-543; Francesco De Sanctis, Storia della letteratura italiana (Naples: D.
Morani, 1871); Isa Guerrini Angrisani, Introduction to Giordano Bruno: Candelaio (Milan: BUR.
1988); Luigi Russo, Compendio storico della letteratura italiana (Messina-Florence: G. d ’Anna.
1961); Laura Sanguined White, “ In tristitia hilaris in hilaritate tristis: armonia nei contrasti,”
Quaderni d'italianistica V (1984): 191-203; Vincenzo Spampanato. Antipetrarchismo di Giordano
Bruno (Milan: Enrico Trevisini, 1900); Roberto Tissoni, “Saggio di un commento stilistico al
Candelaio." Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 37 (I960): 257-267.

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Gioan Bernardo the painter, orchestrator o f the evening’s buffoonery. They also

note how the "Academico di nulla Academia” and the “ Fastidito” (Bruno’s self­

proclamation at the play’s beginning and in the Antiprologo) are titles that signal

Bruno’s intent o f parodying the religious/pedantic world he has just left and the

morals o f contemporary society. In considering certain themes within the play

itself, a common concern has been the term "candelaio” and its relationship to the

homosexuality o f Bonifacio and perhaps o f Mamfurio as well. The "candelaio" has

also been conceived as a figure that illuminates the "shadow o f ideas." Finally,

critics discuss why Bruno decided to set the play in Naples and why he chose

commoners for all the characters. Responses have ranged from his nostalgia for a

city he loved, to the notion that these common folk and thieves represent the

organic, instinctive natural world Bruno favored over the oppressiveness o f

educated society.

Other scholars have made more controversial observations. Giorgio Barberi

Squarotti. one o f two scholars to have provided a modem, fully annotated edition o f

the play, and A. Buono Hodgart are among the authors o f this more provocative

Candelaio criticism .2 Barberi-Squarotti— perhaps the most prolific writer on

Bruno's Candelaio— posits that there is a “prophetic” quality to the Candelaio and

that Bruno intended the text to serve as a forecast for the ominous future o f

society.3 Barberi-Squarotti’s decision to offer this remark as a matter for further

2 See Candelaio , ed. Giorgio BArberi Squarotti (Turin: Einaudi, 1964), and Isa Guerrini
Angrisani’s edcition (Milan: Rizzoli, 1976).

3 See Squarotti’s preface to the Candelaio (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1993).

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reflection suggests that the Candelaio is more a critique o f contemporary sixteenth-

century society than a doomsday prediction o f what society might become if certain

changes are not made. Bruno is a visionary, without being a prognasitcator, the

likes o f a Savonarola or a Campanella. What is more, hardly a single character in

all o f the play is redeemable; no one serves as a lighthouse directing the dissolute

onto the right path.

Buono Hodgart, following closely in the footsteps o f Barberi-Squarotti.

discusses Bruno's grotesque-mannerist use o f language.4 Arguing that Bruno's

play anticipates the theater o f the Baroque, Buono Hodgart outlines the impact it

has on Baroque authors. She details the way in which the Candelaio breaks with

sixteenth-century theater, and yet is influenced by a number o f authors above and

beyond the usual list (Bibbiena, Bulgarini, Ranzo. Barizza. Comazzano.

Caracciolo. and Braca). Oddly, Buono Hodgart notes that both the Candelaio and

the Spaccio are part o f Bruno's "critical phase.” while the Cena and the Eroici are

part o f his “constructive phase.”3 Though it is true that the Candelaio and the

Spaccio attack social mores, it does not seem necessary to call this mode a "phase.”

The Candelaio was written in 1582 and the Spaccio in 1584. The Cena was

published in between, and the Eroici following on the heels o f the Spaccio. What is

more, the Cena and the Eroici can hardly be called non-critical and merely

“constructive.” They, too, attempt to dismantle current ideas, such as that o f

cosmology and the traditional itinerary to knowledge.

4 See her study, Giordano Bruno's The Candle-Bearer.

5 Ibid.. 9.

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This aside, Buono Hodgart does make incisive contributions to Candelaio

criticism both by her detailed account o f Bruno’s borrowings from Aretino and

Bemi and by her analysis o f Bruno’s neologisms. Regarding the latter. Michele

Ciliberto’s Lessico di Giordano Brnno is the only concordance to Bruno's Italian

work available; thus her synthesis o f the play's Italian and Latin neologisms is

much appreciated.6 She writes convincingly about the desecration and corrosion of

the text's language— plebian and pedantic. She argues that Bruno's attack on

pedantry is concentrated in his depiction o f Mamfurio.7 Though not a new

observation, it is an important one, and one that she treats meticulously and at


Having sketched this arc o f criticism. I now diverge from it. My discussion

o f the Candelaio will not touch on most o f these issues; instead, I focus on the

play’s function as a critique o f uni-directional rectilinearity. More specifically. I

argue that the comedy's characters, themes, language, structure, and underlying

philosophical content consistently challenge straight, narrow, and rigid thought.

Because Bruno conceives o f pedantry as rigid and self-contained, he renders the

characters of the Candelaio uni-dimensional in order to mock such limitations and

delineations. If pedantry has to do with the “foot” (ped). then its positive, non-

pedantic counterpart may be considered the "hand.” Bruno discusses at length in

his Cabala del cavallo pegaseo why the hand is an appendage that distinguishes

6 A CD ROM o f Bruno’s opera omnia is forthcoming with Zanichelli.

7 Buono Hodgart. Giordano Bruno's The Candle-Bearer, 114.

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man from other beasts, and gives him superiority.8 He links true intelligence to the

hand, not to the foot, and the "ped-antic.”

Bruno may very well have thought o f ‘"pedant” as deriving from the term

ped, meaning ‘‘foot,” or perhaps even from the word "child” (given the pederasty o f

Mamfurio the pedant). He jokingly proposes a few false etymologies: “pedant.” as

Mamfurio would have it. means “Pe. perfect os, —Dan, dans, — Te. thesauros..

or “Pe pecorone. -- Dan. da nulla, -- Te, testa d'asino,” according to Gioan

Bernardo (79).9 The pedant is thus associated, in Bruno's mind, with the obstinate,

pedestrian, unintelligent thinker. The range o f things one can do with one's feet is

minuscule in comparison to what one can do with one's hands. The pedantic is

thus to be rejected in favor of the "man-ual”: the uni-directional in favor o f the


The Nature of Rectilinearity

Though it is obvious to think o f a curve as a kind o f line (which it is), it is

counterintuitive to think o f a line as a kind o f curve, but so it is. Mathematical

terminology has minimized potential confusion by distinguishing between

rectilinear lines and curvilinear lines. Rectilinear implies a straight line, as

opposed to a curvilinear line, which is. obviously, a curvy line. Besides being one­

8 See Bruno, Cabala del cavallo pegaseo, 732, 887. See also Michele Ciliberto, La ruota del
tempo: Interpretazione di Giordano Bruno (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1992).

9 All citations from the Candelaio refer to the following edition: Candelaio, ed. Giorgio Barberi
Squarotti (Turin: Einaudi, 1964).

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dimensional, rectilinear lines can be parallel, oblique, or perpendicular with respect

to one another, and tangential with respect to curvilinear lines.

In the Pythagorean hierarchy o f number and form, the line corresponds to

the number two (as the point does to the number one, the plane to three, and the

solid to four). Pythagoras is said to have claimed that 216 lines o f words form a

textual cube.10 This "cube” was supposed to be a perfect form for text and an aid

for memory.11 Daniele Barbara, in his 1556 translation o f Vitruvius* Ten Books o f

Architecture, extended the Pythagorean hierarchy o f number and form to include

the literary. Barbara related the geometric line to a line o f text, the point to a word,

the plane to a chapter, and the solid to a treatise.

In the fifteenth century, post-Vitruvius and pre-Barbara. Marsilio Ficino

added another rubric to this relationship o f number, form, and text: "quality.**

According to Ficino. the line represented "being” (as did the point "essence,” the

plane "virtue,” and the solid "action”).12 Though rather abstract, this concept does

not represent a departure from Pythagoras* hierarchy, nor from that o f Vitruvius,

nor even from the architecture o f a classical column, in which the line is associated

with a "bounding step” (just as the point is associated with a column base, the plane

with an order [Corinthian. Doric, Ionic], and the solid with the whole structure).13

The line as “secondary”— as a line o f text, as a bounding step, or as "being"—

10 Vitruvius. Ten Books on Architecture. bk.V.3.

11 See George Hersey, Pythagorean Palaces: Magic and Architecture in the Italian Renaissance
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1976). 49.

12 Ibid., 33.

13 Idem.

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seems a logical progression from the point as “primary,” the word, the base o f a

column, and essence.

Whether Bruno knew the hierarchies o f number and form o f Vitruvius.

Ficino, and Barbara is not certain, as Bruno had no library o f his own that we can

consult. He never mentions Vitruvius and Barbara in his writings, and the

“Libreria” o f San Domenico Maggiore. which Bruno used, does not appear to have

had copies o f either author.14 He knew Ficino's works— he was even accused by

professors at Oxford o f plagiarizing from them— and we can assume that through

his reading o f Ficino and Iamblicus he knew o f Pythagoras' hierarchy. These

numeric and geometric associations are relatively straightforward, and the leap to

architectural and literary connections is not a difficult one.

The “line” in Bruno's thought has two expressions: one as a closed system.

uni-directional rectilinearity. and one as an open array o f exploding trajectories,

multi-directional rectilinearity. Metaphysically speaking, for Bruno the ideal kind

of line (the latter o f the two types) is also associated with the "in between.” It is

preceded by the formlessness o f the point (monad, minimum) and followed by the

multiplicity o f all forms. The line is a limen. hovering between no form and all

forms. In fact, it is like Ficino’s idea o f “being,” which rests between essence and

virtue/action. It is like the "bounding step” between a colum n's base and its

14 O f course it is difficult to reconstruct the exact library o f San Domenico Maggiore at the time
Bruno was living there. Professor Eugenio Canone, Maria Rosaria Grizzuti o f the Biblioteca
Nazionaie di Napoli, and Vincenzo Trombetta o f the Biblioteca Universitaria di Napoli have done a
laudable jo b o f putting together a list o f the manuscripts, incunabula, and sixteenth-century texts that
are now at these two libraries but were housed at San Domenico Maggiore during Bruno's stay.
Others have collaborated on this impressive reconstruction as well. See Giordano Bruno e gli anni
napoletani, ed. Eugenio Canone, 199-245.

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manifest order. It is the one-dimensional form that shares qualities with both the

dimensionless and the multi-dimensional. And it most certainly is equivalent to a

sentence: a sequence of words which may or may not be preceded or succeeded by

another sequence o f words. The line can stand on its own, like the sentence ”Nihil

sub sole est novum,” one of Bruno’s favorite one-liners. It can join a series of

sentences to form a text, and is bom from the magma o f all possible words. The

sentence harbors the potentiality o f language.

An exploration o f the rectilinear line in Bruno’s thought must begin with the

observation that all of his diagrams, with very few exceptions, are made up of

straight lines and circles or parts o f circles. In De minima. Bruno defines the line as

both a minimo and a termine, specifying it further as “retto” and able to be

paralleled.15 Though he does not speak directly o f its dimensionality, the fact that

he conceives of it (in its pure state) as something that has extension and is in itself a

place of union, implies a figure o f at least one dimension.

The primary quality of a line is its extension. It remains a minimo inasmuch

as it is the smallest possible example o f extension; it remains a termine inasmuch as

it lacks depth and serves as a demarcation between other figures. Bruno says in the

Articuli and again in Praelectiones geometricae that we apprehend a line only

because it is what distinguishes two things on a plane, much in the same way as two

15 Bruno. De minimo in Op. Lot., vol.l.iii, 284. See also the section entitled “Problemata de
linea” in Praelectiones geometricae where he looks at how to draw parallel lines and perpendiculars,
and to divide perpendiculars, 39-47.

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different colors, allow an observer to distinguish between one figure and another.16

Furthermore, to Bruno, while the infinite line is an infinite circle in infinity, the

finite line is implicitly straight. In the Artictili, Bruno gives a long and involved

description o f the nature and function o f the line.17 Here, he adheres to the

generally accepted notion that the line is composed o f many parts but cannot itself

be considered a part. He agrees that it has longitude but not latitude. He does not.

however, follow Zeno and Aristotle in the notion that a line is infinitely divisible.

Bruno's position on infinity and infinite divisibility with regard to the

micro/minimum is very difficult to unpack; hence the crux of the issue is that while

minima are infinite in number, they are finite in form. A line that is not infinite in

extension (in other words, all lines in the natural world) will perforce have a finite

number o f minima and be divisible only to a certain point.

In the exploration o f lines and the linear in the Candelaio that follows, I will

be referring primarily to the rectilinear line, the one-dimensional figure which

springs from the dimensionless point and gives rise to the multiplicity o f forms.

Curvilinear lines were treated in Chapter Two. All lines discussed in this present

chapter, unless otherwise noted, refer to straight lines— both as uni-directional and

multi-directional. In geometry, an edge is rectilinear, as are diameters, tangents,

radii, secants, segments, vectors, perpendiculars, horizontals, verticals, and

diagonals. Very few things in nature, on the other hand, are truly rectilinear. Even

16 "Quomodo Iongitudinem sine latitudine sensu apprehendam? Lineam intelligendo terminum

in piano, atque inter duos colores differentiam.” Articuli in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii, 36. See also
Praelectiones geometricae e Ars deformationum , 40; and De minimo in Op. Lat. vol. I.iii, 305.

17 Bruno, Articuli in Op. Lat., vol.I.iii, 33-36.

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light rays, which seem to move in straight lines, have been shown to share

properties o f waves and particles rendering them non-linear. The straight line is

actually an "approximate” form, like the circle, as Bruno theorized. Only the

infinite line is perfect, he said; but then again, the infinite line is a perfect circle, for

• 18
in infinity the line and the circle are one and the same thing.

In literature we find myriad expressions o f linearity, including the lines o f a

text, a line o f thought, a linear (or non-linear) thematic progression, a story line,

reading between the lines, or even liner-notes. Writing and reading in their

technical sense are linear acts. Lines o f text, however, cannot be considered

rectilinear lines in the strictest sense, as a geometric rectilinear line has only one

dimension, and letters— even if they are "lined up” with each other—must

necessarily have a second dimension to allow for the writer-reader to distinguish

between them. And yet. lines o f texts move rectilinearly— left to right, right to left,

or top to bottom depending on the language—as in boustrophedon. which is based

on the concept o f an ox plowing a field up and down in successive rows. By doing

an analysis o f recti linearity in a specific work o f literature, I am not claiming that

the straight line is the only form a text can take; hopefully, my preceding chapters

have shown otherwise. The rectilinearity of the Candelaio emerges as a critique o f

the negative connotations attached to the notion o f the straight line— narrowness,

rigidity, and uni-directionality. Bruno puts forth this critique in order to indicate

that rectilinearity does not have to have such characteristics. Instead, it can partake

18 Ibid., and De minimo in Op. Lat., vol. I.iii.

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o f infinite extension and multi-valencedness, accommodating within it infinite

possible and potential routes, meanings, and expressions.

Lists: Brachylogia and Systrophe

Bruno is a list-o-maniac. Each one o f his works contains myriad lists: items

and/or rules for memorization, human qualities and characteristics, the gods'

symbols and roles, geometrical figures, geometrical definitions, encomiums,

slanders, emblems, paths to wisdom, and so on. Why, we may ask, so many words?

Why does Bruno use twelve adjectives to modify a noun instead o f one or two? I

think the answers lies, in part, in his desire to reach out toward all knowledge o f the

infinite universe and catch it in his mnemonic net. In part it lies in the opposing

awareness that all cannot be “‘recalled” (a la Plato) or known, and certainly not

understood, or expressed in language. This being so, he is never satisfied with just

a few descriptive words— he needs to employ many terms in order to feel like he is

approaching— asymptotically—the ultimately indescribable. To speak about the

unspeakable, Bruno talks around things, winds innumerable words around them,

and hopes to hit on some truth.

Considering Bruno's passion for lists, it is unfortunate that he did not

include a “list o f characters” somewhere in the Candelaio. In the explanatory

epistle, Bruno offers a summary o f the characters and their roles, but no simple list

o f the characters followed by a few words o f description, which would have helped

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the reader keep track of the nineteen characters.19 This lack aside, the Candelaio is

as filled with as many lists as any o f Bruno’s works. What is different about these

lists is that they satirically exemplify people who do not understand the ideal

purpose o f making lists, which for Bruno, is ultimately a multi-directional activitiy,

leading the lister to view the world from multiple perspectives. The Candelaio's

characters, instead, list uni-directionaily. They accumulate experiences without

expanding their knowledge laterally.

Brachylogia and systrophe are common devices for accumulation,

amplification, progression, or repetition o f a given subject. Brachylogia consists o f

a long list of single words or phrases one after the other; systrophe, o f a long list of

19 There is no «uch list in the 1582 editions I have consulted (Biblioteca Universitaria
Alessandrina, Rari 13; and Biblioteca Palatina, Parma, GG.III.205), nor in any o f the modem
editions. All o f Bruno’s manuscripts either lost or destroyed, we will probably never know if he
intended there to be such a list. For the sake o f easy reference for the reader, 1 will construct the
absent list here. This list, o f course, is neither an expression o f brachylogia, nor o f systrophe. A list
o f characters is merely pragmatic, not rhetorical.

Bonifacio: candle-bearer in love with Vittoria

Bartolomeo: alchemist, Marta’s husband
Mamfiirio: pedant, scholar
Lucia: Vittoria’s servant
Vittoria: prostitute; loved by Bonifacio
Gio. Bernardo: painter; in love with Carubina
Carubina: Bonifacio’s wife; loved by Gio. Bernardo
Marta: Bartolomeo’s wife
Scaramure: magician
Sanguino: chief thief and “scholar” who studies with Mamfurio
Cencio: fake alchemist who robs Bartolomeo
Consalvo: sells fake powder to Bartolomeo
Ascanio: Bonifacio’s servant
Ottaviano: thief
Barra: thief
Pollula: thief
Corcovizzo: thief
Mochione: thief
Marca: thief

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definitions. There are many other tropes o f accumulation, such as synathrismos,

peristasis, and auxesis, that perform similar or identical functions to the

aforementioned tropes— and that Bruno also uses— but 1 will limit my discussion in

this section to these two. I hope that my analysis o f the tropes will not seem like a

tiresome Mamfurian exposition that wants to ”dirvelo, insegnarvelo. declarvelo,

exporvelo, propalarvelo, palam farvelo, insinuarvelo, et—partictila coniunctiva in

ultima dictione apposita,— enunclearvelo... ” (78). Such brachylogia is most

tedious, indeed.

Brachylogia and systrophe channel a succession o f words or phrases into a

list-like format. These tropes evoke images o f the repeating arches o f an aqueduct

or the graph-paper look o f windows on a skyscraper. Such images hint at

indeterminate extension. Like the definition o f the line that Bruno provides in De

minimo, these rhetorical devices serve to extend an idea, and are neither beginnings

nor ends in and of themselves. They act, instead, as “fillers," and in this they are

like termini, whose function is to fill in the space between minima and hold them

together. Like an ellusive threshold, or an indeterminate limen. they have only

longitude and are void o f latitude.

Both Bruno’s conception o f the line as the combination o f ephemeral termini

and minima particles, and his use o f these rhetorical figures echo Sebastiano

Serlio’s linee occulte. Sebastiano Serlio, the sixteenth-century architect, coined the

term “linee occulte” in his 1584 work, On Architecture, to describe the unmarked

or partly marked axes, edges, and coordinates o f cubic architecture.20 These

20 See Hersey's discussion o f Serlio’s linee occulte in Pythagorean Palaces, 64.

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invisible or semi-invisible lines were used as a practical guide in the formation o f

geometric plans; they were a sort o f “imagined scaffolding,” serving as a

continuous invisible network to define the spaces in an architectural drawing.21

In proper Neoplatonic fashion, Serlio’s linee occulte represented the

“secret” connections between separate geometric elements.22 In Book II we see that

Serlio conceived of these lines as resembling those influssi which linked different

Platonic worlds.23 They were, essentially, “lines of influence,” like Bruno’s

concept o f vinculi, developed in his works on natural m agic.24 Invisible lines, linee

occulte, and vinculi are implicit in a line o f text, the function o f which is to connect

words to ideas and meaning. Similarly, rhetorical figures o f accumulation are

rigorous enforcers o f this function, stringing together words or phrases into a linear

structure, with the aim o f influencing or persuading the reader to follow a

particularly exaggerated line o f thought.

These lines, or limen, are equally present in Bruno’s geometry, working as

“imagined scaffolding” to influence the viewer/reader to think about the interstices

or the spaces “between the lines.” George Hersey discusses how the lines Bruno

draws in the diagrams o f his Articuli “show the invisible, multiple-imaged

21 Idem. See Sebastiano Serlio, On Architecture, trans. and ed. Vaughan Han and Peter Hicks
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 458.

22 Hersey, Pythagorean Palaces, 84.

23 See Serlio, On Architecture, Folio 25r.

24 Bruno’s works on magic consist o f the following texts, composed in 1589-90 and published
posthumously: De magia, De vinculis in genere, and Theses de magia.

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structures of the cosmos and its worlds.”25 I agree with this observation and wish

to follow Hersey’s lead in analyzing the metaphoric and metaphysical qualities o f

Bruno’s lines. I believe that implicit within Bruno’s geometric drawings— his

combinations of circles and lines, for that is primarily what they are— lies his

philosophy of the infinite. Each o f Bruno’s diagrams points beyond itself to a

larger vision of the architecture o f the universe. Bruno’s geometric lines, his

invisible termini, his vinculi— like Serlio’s linee occulte— serve as the "imagined

scaffolding” for much o f Bruno’s thought. Equally, I believe, his lines o f text— in

particular his lists—serve the same function.

At times Bruno’s lists are detailed descriptions of metaphysical or physical

qualities that appear to be indispensable philosophical catalogues, as in the

Frankfurt poems.26 At other times, as in Bruno’s mnemonic works, the lists are

suggestions of things to organize into given memory wheels and chambers. At still

other times, as in the Spaccio, they manifest as enumerations o f traits, actions, and

roll-calls. In the Candelaio, the primary purpose of lists is that o f satire: the use of

lists indicate people who misunderstand the quality o f the line, viewing it as merely

mono-dimensional and a closed system. Numerous instances o f brachylogia and

systrophe serve to exaggerate and amplify, to pile words and phrases together in

order to mock the extravagant language Bruno perceived in such forms as

Petrarchan sonnets, avaricious alchemy, and pedantic ravings. As such, these

25 Hersey, Pythagorean Palaces, 84.

26 For example, see Bruno’s long lists o f the mathematical, mythological, physical, metaphysical,
and symbolic qualities attributable to the first ten numbers in De monade.

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satirical lists “underline” Bruno's particular imagined scaffolding, serving

ultimately as a critique of uni-directional rectilinearity.

Bruno’s own description o f himself at the beginning o f the Candelaio

borders on that o f a satirizing systrophe. In the Antiprologo he writes:

L’autore, si voi lo conosceste, dirreste ch’ave una fisionomia smarrita:

par che sempre sii in contemplazione delle pene dell’inferno, par sii stato
alia pressa come le barrette; un che ride sol per far comme fan gli altri;
per il piu, lo vedrete fastidito, restio e bizzarro, non si contenta di nulla,
ritroso come un vecchio d’ottant’anni, fantastico com’un cane ch’ha
ricevute mille spellicciate, pasciuto di cipolla. (31)

He repeats this sort o f self-critique in a much more positive light, though, in the

Cena?1 One wonders if the self-deprecation or self-pity Bruno displays in the

Candelaio is mocking the style o f the fretful Petrarchan lover, or whether it is

merely a humorous insertion by the young author to introduce himself to his


It is as if Bruno-the-author becomes a character, invisible but present,

somewhat like Serlio’s architectural linee. In parodying himself, as he does all his

characters, he too becomes a “vector.” as Barberi-Squarotti puts it. for a larger

critique.28 Bruno’s “systrophic vector,” if I can call it that, points toward the

“fastidito,” the rebellious young man who has just shed his Dominican habit and is

dissatisfied with everything around him: the religious life, the pettiness o f society,

un-enlightened academe, and so forth. He pokes fun at his own peevish character,

27 See the Cena, 29-33.

28 See Squarotti’s introduction to the 1993 Les Belles Lettres edition o f the Candelaio (the
Chandelier), Ixxviii.

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as he knows that he, too, is inescapably part o f life’s intrigues and vicissitudes. He

thus makes his audience aware that he is— though invisibly so— part o f this teatro


Similarly, Bruno brings another invisible character into the script: Signora

Morgana B., the recipient of the dedicatory letter (invisible like the fata morgana1?).

We know nothing about her; perhaps she is no one in particular. And perhaps it is

because she is no one in particular that Bruno could freely fill the letter with

satire— exaggerated descriptions and unwieldy systrophic lists. To whom, Bruno

asks, will he dedicate this play? To

quel che dal sirio influsso celeste, in questi piu cuocenti giomi, ed ore
piu lambiccanti, che dicon caniculari, mi han fatto piovere nel cervello le
stelle fisse, le vaghe lucciole del firmamento mi han crivellato sopra, il
decano de’ dudici segni m ’ha ballestrato in capo, e ne l'orecchie interne
m’han soffiato i sette lumi erranti? (21)

This sentence— one of the many grandiose, parodic gestures of the letter— along

with the self-satirization of the author, and the sonnet that opens the play, “A gli

abbeverati nel Fonte Caballino,” should leave no doubt that the scaffolding o f satire

is firmly in place.

Additionally, in the Proprologo, Bruno sets up the systrophic list o f

horrendous defects the characters in his play will demonstrate:

Eccovi avanti gli occhi ociosi principii, debili orditure, vani pensieri,
frivole speranze, scoppiamenti di petto, scoverture di corde, falsi
presupposti, alienazion di mente, poetici furori, offuscamento di sensi,
turbazion di fantasia, smarrito peregrinaggio d’intelletto, fede sfrenate,
cure insensate, studi incerti, somenze intempestive e gloriosi frutti di
pazzia. (32)

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And again, though this time in a more brachylogic fashion and with a marked slant

on the Petrarchan terminology o f a suffering lover (which all the three main

characters are, in fact):

Vedrete in un amante suspir, lacrime, sbadacchiamenti, tremori, sogni,

rizzamenti, e un cuor rostito nel fuoco d’amore; pensamenti, astrazioni,
colere, maninconie, invidie, querele, e men sperar quel che piu si desia.
Qui trovarrete a l'animo ceppi, legami, catene, cattivita, prigioni, eteme
ancor pene, martiri e morte; alia ristretta del core, strali, dardi, saette,
fuochi, fiamme, ardori, gelosie. suspetti, dispetti. ritrosie, rabbie ed oblii,
piaghe, ferite, omei, folli, tenaglie, incudini e m artelli... (32ff)

Bruno continues this list of the lover's torments for another two pages. There

seems to be no end to the lover’s suffering (or to Bruno's list), and yet there is. In

the Eroici Bruno will discuss how desire (love) for something o f the natural world

is limited, as the natural world and all its components is finite (recall his idea that

while there may be infinitely many parts to something, each part is finite and that

you cannot divide a line infinitely). But if you desire something infinite, i.e. the

Divine, then you will desire and suffer infinitely: such is the fate o f the frenzied

hero. Bonifacio’s love for Vittoria is certainly limited, though he dramatizes it as

unlimited. The fact is that he is homosexual, and his love can never be true or real

for this woman. Bruno is poking fun not only at Bonifacio, but at all mundane

lovers. Equally, Bartolomeo’s love for the material product o f alchemy and the

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Mamfiirio’s love for pedantic knowledge and young boys are ridiculed by Bruno as

finite passions o f mundane lovers.

The Candelaio is also a biting commentary on many aspects o f the society

of Bruno’s time. What I find especially interesting, however, is Bruno's copious

employment o f these tropes of accumulation and amplification early in the comedy;

that is, in the dedicatory letter, in the multiple prologues, and in the initial

encounters with two o f the three protagonists. As the play progresses, the intrigues

develop and the space for long lists dissipates. Even the monologues contain less

listing. The superlative is truncated in favor of quick exchanges, pleas,

punishments, excuses, and forced apologies.

The extensive lists, systrophic and brachvlogic, that line the initial pages o f

the comedy are not complex figures, but rather simple tropes intended to amplify

the pointed satire. Bruno even has Mamfurio, the supreme pedant, say that lists are

closed systems. Once a list is finished, he lectures, you must not add a single more

thing to it: '"factae enumerationis clausnlae non est adponenda unitas” (61,

emphasis by Bruno). In putting such a statement in Mamfiirio’s mouth. Bruno is

clearly parodying the notion o f the list as finite. Ottaviano, a thief who studies with

Mamfurio, further emphasizes this parody in brachylogizing what could have

otherwise been a simple “si.” He nods, “ Utique, sane, certe, equidem, utique,

29 Bartolomeo’s wife laments his devotion to the laboratory, and in ll.i, Mamfurio describes his
young students with the ample systrophic exaggeration o f a p e d o p h i l e : . .di pueruli, di teneri
unguicoli, lenium malarum, puberum, adolescentulorum: eorum qui adhuc in virga in omnem valent
erigi, flecti, atque duci partem, primae vocis, apti al soprano, irrisorum denticulorum,
succiplenularum carnium, recentis naturae, nullius rugae, lactei halitus, roseorum labellulorum,
lingulae blandulae, mellitae simplicitatis, in Jlore, non in semine degentium, claros haberuium
ocellos, puellis adiaphoron." (57) Emphasis by Bruno.

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utique” (62, emphasis by Bruno). This repetition o f “certainty,” in its repetition, an

exaggeration o f the peremptory and the closed. It is worth asking why Bruno uses

thieves such as Ottaviano, who later in the play actually masquerade as other

thieves, to take part in satirizing the notion that lists are closed systems— uni­

directional rectilinearity. Is it because the thief is associated with multiplicity,

duplicity, and deception, rather than the strict “straight and narrow”? Is it because

thievery is subversive? Is it because, having a patron god such as Mercury (who

rules over rhetoric), a thief is bound to be more “curvy," indirect, and persuasive

than one who exacts a closed, straight language?

Bruno throws the same satirical device at us again a few pages later when

Barra, another thief, relays the manner in which a woman refused to sleep with him:

“no, no no, non non. non, none, none, none. nani. nani, no n e.. .va’ via. va' via. via,

via, via, via. via, via. via, mal uomo” (67). Barra muses that if the woman had only

said “va’ via” once, then perhaps he would have been more convinced that she

meant it. By saying “no” and “go away” so many times, he sensed that she actually

wanted to sleep with him. For Bruno, these brachylogies are examples o f

statements that actually end up saying nothing, or even the opposite o f what they

imply. Ottaviano’s “utique” is actually a “no,” and Barra’s woman’s “no” actually

a yes. The two thieves seem to read truth more successfully than the pedant or the

protesting woman. Why? Because in their art o f duplicity, they see more than one

meaning at once.

We know that Bruno did not envision a world o f closed systems, and

equally that his lists are not meant to be closed systems. For Bruno, lists are

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dynamic; they expand and contract at will. Given Mamfurio’s perverse

understanding o f the list as a fixed, unalterable form, in conjunction with the

satirical use o f tropes o f accumulation and amplification throughout the comedy.

Bruno shows the unproductive nature o f uni-directional rectilinearity.

The image o f ‘‘series” further amplifies Bruno’s critique o f rectilinearity.

Mochione, yet another one o f the thieves and certainly not a fount o f wisdom, says

that bad things happen in series and never one at a time (120). This displays, once

again, not only exaggeration, but the idea o f a series as a fixed, pre-ordained

system. One bad thing following another—a chain reaction or domino effect— is

not the same as envisioning a line o f infinite possibilities. It is closer to the image

of blow-by-blow events that have happened, than events that will or could happen

in the future. Gioan Bernardo looks back on the events o f the one night in Naples

and relays how “da cqua tutti gli altri svariamenti sono accaduti 1’uno dopo l’altro.

come figli e figli di figli, nipoti e nipoti di nipoti” (152). The “line-age” o f events

is misunderstood. It is just as closed a series— as uni-directional a rectilinearity—

as any of those who champion finitude.

In Bruno’s philosophy, the “ideal” list is multi-directional and organic in its

growth. Through his satirical use o f lists in the Candelaio. Bruno pointedly

criticizes the accumulation and amplification o f a single “line o f thought.” The

rhetorically linear figures o f brachylogia and systrophe become part o f the

repertoire of instruments that Bruno uses to critique the straight and narrow, the

one-pointed. Bruno prefers “pointlessness,” or “multi-pointedness.” The

metaphysics informing Bruno’s notion o f the ideal line, or multi-directional

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rectilinearity, calls for extension without boundaries or set directions. Bruno’s

critique of uni-directional rectilinearity in the Candelaio is a critique of that which

builds in order to limit. Thoughtless repetition o f Petrarchan conceits, or o f a single

idea force thought to travel along only one path. Ideally, lists can encourage multi­

directional rectilinearity, transcend stifling geometry, extend far into the realm o f

the potential and possible. The true Brunian list can move from the pedantic limes

to the expansive limen.

Inversion: Hyperbaton

"Sia, voga; voga sia,” says the announcer o f the Antiprologue in reference to

the drunkenness of Bonifacio (30). He depicts the image o f a man pushing and

pulling a boat— an example of the undirected motion o f a dissolute brain. As a gay

man in love with a female prostitute, he does not know which direction to go. This

“reversal” is a hyperbaton, and indicates an inversion or changing o f direction. The

floating boat, in the open space between shores, is tossed by the waves in

unexpected directions.

The Candelaio, like many Classical and Renaissance plays, liberally

employs both rhetorical and conceptual figures o f inversion. There are numerous

disguises: the “master scholar” is made to look like a fool, thieves like lawmakers,

a prostitute like a wise woman, and a “bidello” like an omniscient herald. Bruno

places an “antiprologue” before a “proprologue,” leaving out a “prologue”

altogether. He inverts roles, the traditional format o f a play, and the order o f words


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Inversion is another expression o f linearity—broken linearity, that is.

Through inversion, the course o f events, a person’s self-identification, or a line o f

thought is broken and re-directed. It is a liberation from the "straight and narrow”

o f the closed system, a redirecting o f the expected and pre-conceived. It is the flip,

like an image in a mirror, a negative to a positive, a shadow with respect to light.

Inversion has to do with reflection and reciprocity. By inverting something, you

still have that something, but in a state that implies what it is and is not, at the same

time. Unlike coincidentia oppositorum, in which opposites meet, inversion merely

re-arranges that which is already there, already implicit. Inverting a line effects a

change in its direction, while maintaining its dimensionality and its extension.

Inversion only alters the path that a line is traveling.

The rhetorical trope o f hyperbaton transposes words from their usual order.

Bruno uses hyperbaton in the very opening quotation to his play: “In tristitia hilaris,

in hilaritate tristis.” While on the one hand the phrases "'sadness in cheerfulness”

and "‘cheerfulness in sadness” display a typical Brunian coincidentia oppositorum,

on the other hand they imply that cheerfulness follows sadness in the same way as

sadness follows cheerfulness (it is not simply that there is some o f the one in the

other, but that one follow s the other). This relationship o f reciprocity and sequence,

which fills the pages o f the Candelaio, is not always easy to stomach. While we

like the idea o f cheerfulness in or following sadness, the inverse is generally not

appreciated. In one o f the more dreamy moments o f the comedy, Vittoria muses on

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how “i savi vivono per i pazzi, ed i pazzi per i savii” (64).30 Why would the mad

live for the wise and vice versa? What is Bruno saying here? Can we only judge

wisdom by contrasting it to madness? Is madness only relative to wisdom? In a

universe o f contrasts such as Bruno’s, the answer to the questions is yes. We can

conclude with Vittoria, thus, that Bruno perceived all things to be conglomerates o f

inverses, multi-faceted and multi-directional. When we come to realize this, and

see the “ideal” line as simultaneously moving in different directions— like the

vicissitudes o f divine, natural, and human motion— we can imagine a universe that

transcends the traditional constraints o f time and space. To think in an “ideal linear

fashion” is to gaze, like Janus, in two directions (at least) at once.

Gioan Bernardo speaks to this multiple nature o f time and space when he

teases Bonifacio for doing something that he had never done before:

Voi dite di gran cose. E possibile che quello che hai fatto oggi, abbi
possuto far ieri o altro giomo, o voi o altro che sii? O che per tutto
tempo di vostra vita possiate dare quel che una volta e fatto? Cossi, quel
che facesti ieri, non lo farai mai piu; ed io mai feci quel ritrattro ch’ho
fatto oggi, ne manco e possibile ch’io possa farlo piu; questo si, che
potro fame un altro. (47)

An anticipation o f modem phenomenology! Here, Bruno is postulating that time,

thought, and action are not finite, pre-ordained, or linearly constrained. They are,

instead, expressions o f potential and possibility. To Bruno, time is like Lucretian

30 This notion o f one thing existing because its opposite does shows up frequently throughout
Bruno’s works. Cesarino, in the Eroici, says, “Bisogna che siano arteggiani, meccanici, agricoitori,
servidori, pedoni, ignobili, vili, poveri, pedante ed altri simili: perch6 altrimente non potrebono
essere filosofi, contemplativi, coltori degli animi, padroni, capitani, nobili, illustri, ricchi, sapienti ed
altri che siano eroici simili a gli dei,” (1113-1114).

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matter, or the Second Law o f Thermodynamics: ”‘il tempo tutto toglie e tutto da;

ogni cosa si muta, nulla s’annichila” (22). This conceptual hyperbaton, this

inversion, is the foundation o f Bruno’s philosophy. He explodes uni-directionality

in a way not dissimilar from his confounding diagrams, "Theuti radius” and “Theuti

circulus” (figs. 40,41).

The camivalesque inversion

of roles throughout the Candelaio

B serves to satirize linear thought and

action that moves in only one

direction. Hyperbaton is the

subversion o f hierarchy and

perspective, and since the

Figure 40: “Theuti radius.” Giordano Bruno,
A rticuli adversus m athem aticos. mastermind o f the evening’s events

is Gioan Bemanrdo, a painter,

themes o f perception and perspective

m are o f some import. By

masquerading as someone else, each

character is two characters at once;

he or she is liberated from the usual,

uni-directional role and transformed

Figure 41: “Theuti circulus.” Giordano Bruno, into something else. By seeing their
A rticuli adversus m athem aticos.

roles inverted, we also come to

realize how the three main characters actually intertwine. We see the “artificiosa

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testura” that Bruno describes in the “Argomento.” The insipid lover, he writes,

“non e senza goffaria e sordidezza, il sordido [Bartolomeo] e parimente insipido e

goffo, ed il goffo [Mamfurio] non e men sordido ed insipido che goffo” (23). Each

character shares characteristics o f the other two. As the intrigue progresses, so does

the intertwining. Even these one-dimensional characters have a multiplicity to

them— and this is what they need to learn. They are more than lust, greed, and

authority alone.

Even Fortune herself is not uni-directionally rectilinear. She is far from

predictable. Gioan Bernardo, the most positive force in the play, argues in the last

act that Fortune is actually fond o f irony, which is by nature a device o f multiple


Fa onorato chi non merita, da buon campo a chi nol semina, buon orto a
chi nol pianta. molti scudi a chi non le sa spendere, molti figli a chi non
puo allevarli, buon appetito a chi non ha che mangiare, biscotti a chi non
hadenti. (150)

She gives to people precisely that which they cannot, or will not use. Bruno, via

Gioan Bernardo, does not explain why Fortune chooses to do this, but a long

tradition of the personification o f Fortune includes two prominent traits, blindness

and cruelty, which undoubtedly Gioan Bernardo attributes to her. In part, Bruno

may be responding to his own fate, in part to the fate o f the poor he saw around him

in Naples and who populate his play. But more profoundly, perhaps, Fortune’s

unpredictability and “hyperbatonal” nature is exemplary o f the multi-valencedness

o f the Brunian universe. Everything has the potential o f going one way or another.

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In the Spaccio, which Bruno would compose just a few years later, he clearly

professes his position on Fortune. He has her describe herself as “aperta aperta”

and “occolta occolta.” She says that “con incerta successione e raggion irrazionale,

che mi trovo (cioe sopra ed estra le raggioni particolari) e con indeteminata misura

volta la ruota, scuoto l’u m a ... .”31 She is the embodiment o f vicissitudes. She

asks that her companions be Wealth and Poverty, Annoyance and Joy, Happiness

and Unhappiness, Toil and Rest, Appetite and Satiety, and many other binary pairs.

But her most important companion is Occasione: ■■occasion/’ “chance,” or ■“topic,”

as Machiavelli employed the word.32 Fortune commands Occasion to perform the

following incredible tasks:

Tu, Occasione. camina avanti, precedi gli miei passi. aprime mille e
mille strade. va incerta. incognita, occolta, percioche non voglio che il
mio advenimento sia troppo antiveduto. Dona de sghiaffi a tutti vati,
profeti, divini, mantici e prognosticated. A tutti quei che si attraversano
per impedime il corso nostro, donagli su le coste. Togli via davanti gli
miei piedi ogni possibile intoppo. Ispiana e spianta ogni altro cespuglio
de dissegni che ad un cieco nume possa esser molesto. onde
comodamente per te, mia guida, mi fia definite il montare o il pioggiare,
il divertir a destra o a sinistra, il movere, il fermare, il menar ed il ritener
de passi. lo in un momento ed insieme insieme vo e vengo. stabilisco e
muovo. assorgo e siedo, mentre a diverse ed infinite cose con diversi
mezzi de l’occasione stendo le mani. Discorre, dunque da tutto, per
tutto, in tutto, a tutto: quivi con dei, ivi con gli eroi; qua con gli uomini,
la con le bestie.33

31 Bruno, Spaccio, 696.

32 See Niccold Machiavelli, IIprincipe , chs. VII and XXI.

33 Bruno, Spaccio, 697-698.

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In this remarkable and powerful passage, Bruno reveals his frustration with

Fortune’s brutal maneuvering and his sense that she is inevitable and all-pervasive.

O f course Fortune and Occasion would despise prognosticators— prognostication

destroys the mystique o f chance, and may alter how someone plays out his or her

fortune. But what this unforgiving image o f Fortune ultimately says is that she and

Occasion, like matter, course through everything and are everywhere. The

plasmatic, metamorphic, unpredictable quality to both Occasion and Fortune is yet

another means for Bruno to express his notion o f linear inversion and multiplicity.

The trope of hyperbaton, like those o f brachylogia and systrophe, pulses

through Bruno's works, and especially the Candelaio, as a device to illuminate the

intimate workings o f rectilinearity. Rectilinearity is problematic when it is rigid

and closed— when it is uni-directional. It is useful to the philosopher, on the other

hand, when it allows for aperture, multi-directionality, and fluidity.


As Bruno envisions a universe in which Chance, Fortune, time, space, and

thought are elastic, he creates a language which exhibits such a trait. There is a

plasticity to Bruno’s writing, to his way o f extending a discourse into a non-linear

format, or rather, into a linear format with multiple directionality implicit within it.

Whether he is using brachylogia, systrophe, hyperbaton, or other devices to create a

sense o f exaggerated accumulation or inversion, his syntax and semantics both

imply a sort o f “hyper-linearity.” The one-dimensional sentence-on-the-page bursts

into radiating vectors o f potential and possibility.

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The straight and the rhetorical— the retto and the retorico— have much in

common in the context o f Bruno’s philosophy. While a rhetorical trope manifests

in a straight line on a page, and while a straight line looks as if it is uni-dimensional

and uni-directional, in fact, both can be seen as containing multiple directions and

meanings. Bruno’s critique o f the rectilinear is a critique o f the fixed, closed-

system line. It is a critique o f literal, superficial reading, like that discussed by

Dante in his letter to Can Grande. The dual nature of the line expresses itself in

Bruno’s geometry, metaphysics, his prose and his poetry. While Bruno favors the

multi-directional to the uni-directional, it is not to say that the uni-directional has

no place in his philosophy. What readers o f Bruno's works should note is a

“hyperlineariy" in his writing and thought. As such, one avoids the pitfall o f

reading Bruno as a closed system.

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Conclusion: The Point

My thesis on Giordano Bruno’s “geometry o f language” has attempted to

show that Bruno’s use o f geometrical language is a means by which he reflects and

intersects his philosophy o f nature, man, and the universe. As geometry aims at

understanding and imitating the symmetry and harmony of the world, Bruno’s

language imitates geometry. This is why, I believe, his work must be read with

careful attention to the figurative.

After exploring Bruno’s geometry o f language, the following questions

might arise: could a geometric analysis work for any literary’ text; could it be as

valid and significant as it is for reading Bruno; does all language reflects geometry

in some way? To each one of these questions I would answer, “Yes.” What

follows is a preliminary theory that attests to geometry’s presence in literature, and

why its exfoliation is important to the project o f literary criticism.

Three-fold display of geometry in literature

There are three techniques that authors seem to use with frequency

(consciously or unconsciously) when integrating geometry into their works— the

graphic, the litdic, and the metaphoric. Together these techniques form what I call

a Three-fold display o f geometry in literature. I use the word “fold” with the rubric

o f rotational symmetry in mind, but also as a nod to both Deleuze’s idea o f the

spatial intricacies o f the “fold” and Nicholas o f Cusa’s theory o f knowledge as

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something folded-up (complicatio), which needs explanation (explicatio) to unfold

it. 1

Before I address these three folds, I want to discuss two distinct components

o f geometry: application and expression. By application I refer to the setting up o f

axioms and principles, the interpretation o f data, and the doing o f proofs.

Expression, on the other hand, consists o f actual geometric shapes and notation.

Through the process o f application we get the product o f expression; by measuring

and proving, we get figures (be they numeric or diagrammatic). Geometric

application in literature generally manifests itself as logical proof—and thus with a

philosophical argument; Spinoza’s Ethics— with its definitions, axioms,

propositions, and demonstrations— provides an excellent example. Geometric

expression, instead, emerges as a form o f symbolic or metaphoric language .2

When Plato asks Socrates to invite an uneducated young slave to prove

certain facts about squares and triangles in the Me no, he is using geometric

application to prove that we are bom with knowledge o f certain truths that can be

recalled. When, however, in the last canto o f the Divina Comedia Dante talks

about squaring the circle, he is using geometric expression— shapes and a classical

geometric puzzle— to describe, or rather, to express the incomprehensibility of

1 See Gilles Oeleuze’s The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis:
University o f Minnesota Press, 1993); Nicholas o f Cusa, On Wisdom and Knowledge, trans. and
ed. Jasper Hopkins (Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1996).

2 We need to be responsible in our understanding o f geometric theoiy and the ways in which
we talk about it, so as not to become unwitting perpetuators o f the Alan Sokal scandal; see his
article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics o f Quantum
Gravity,” Social Text 46/47 (Spring 1996); and his subsequent expose, “A Physicist Experiments
with Cultural Studies," in Lingua Franca (July-August 1996).

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God’s effulgence. Geometry serves each text in different ways— in the Meno's

case, as an example o f recollection; in the Comedia's case, as a metaphor, or even a

symbol, for the ineffable. Generally, when literature uses geometry, it uses

geometric expression, and not geometric application. Although geometric

application is contiguous to a discussion o f geometry in literature, it is geometric

expression that is more relevant to a discussion o f reading literature geometrically,

and that upon which I have based the notion o f the Three-fold display o f geometry

in literature.

The graphic

A “graphic” display o f geometry in literature emerges when a text is infused

with, or built around something graphic, calligraphic, typographic, or

technographic .3 For Italianists, the first examples o f graphic text that might come

to mind are the Futurists’ “words-in-freedom” poems. Their parole-in-liberta

diverged from such French symbolist forms o f pattern poetry as the calligramme

and ideogram, however, in their attempt to explode syntax and linear constraints in

order to allow for a structure that would communicate revelry, noise, subversion,

and expansion. The “geometric splendor o f speed,” as they defined their aesthetic,

was a mechanistic synesthesia; an expression o f the severity o f pure geometric form

on pages filled with racing lines and bold, sharp-edged shapes.

3 By “technographic” I refer to the technologized words o f the computer screen/internet.

Mark Dery’s book Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End o f the Century (New York: Grove
Press, 1996) is an excellent account o f this phenomenon.

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Pattern poetry, also known as technopaigneia or carmina figiirata (literally

“shaped poetry ”),4 has its roots in the Middle Ages, with sacred literature presented

in such forms as a crucifix, a circle, or a rosette .5 The seventeenth century in

particular shows a

proliferation o f pattern poetry,

as we can see in the

metametrica o f the Cistercian


Figure 42: Caramuel tie Lobkowitz, Primus

bishop Juan Caramuel de
calamus ob ocuiis ponens metametricam
(Rome: Fabius Faiconis, 1663) in Giovanni Lobkowitz (figs. 42,43,44).
Pozzi, La parola dipinta (M ilan: Adelphi,
1981), 249.
With Lobkowitz, pattern

poetry moved away from

shapes associated with religious iconography and toward more abstract motifs—

shapes for shape’s sake. With the Scientific Revolution already in motion, and

mannerism’s passion for fine and fantastical detail, it is not surprising that

geometric figures began to emerge explicitly in literature at this time. Geometry

4 Graphic poetry is generally called pattern poetry, visual poetry, or concrete poetry. It is also
referred to as optic, chromatic, permutational, kinetic, plastic, and spatial. In the twentieth century
we see such poetry coming from the Futurists, Cubists, Surrealists, Dadaists, the Lettrists, Group
63 and Group 70, etc. Carlo Belloli is supposed to have first used the term “concrete” to refer to
graphic poetry in 1943, and to have given it its name in 1948. See La Biennale di Venezia: Mostra
di Poesia Concreta, ed. Dietrich Mahlow and Arrigo Lora-Totino. (Sept. 25 - Oct. 10, 1969).

5 Scholars such as Giovanni Pozzi have written at length about graphic text and its evolution
in European literature. See Pozzi’s Laparola dipinta (Milan: Adelphi, 1981); see also Emmett
Williams, Anthology o f Concrete Poetry (New York: Something Else Press, 1967); Friedrich W.
Heckmanns, ed., Visuelle Poesie, Westf&lischer Kunstverein, Mflnster, Jan. 29 - March 9, 1969;
Lamberto Pignotti and Stefania Stefanelli, eds., La scrittura verbo-visiva: Le avanguardie del
novecento tra parola e immagine (Italy: Espresso Strumenti, 1980); Vincenzo Accame, Pittura
come scrittura (Milan: Spiral!, 1998); and Johanna Drucker, Figuring the Word: Essays on Books,
Writing, and Visual Poetics (New York: Granary Press, 1998).

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appealed to the growing

rationalism and mechanistic

philosophy that would find one

o f its greatest proponents in


Figure 43: Caram uel de Lobkowitz, 118.

0 > « iU » k * /» * . f c * f.£ e | f .a , t l \

geometric figures began to be Vmji C y*"< C > i i |

R P H lP P O lY T O M a R RA CCIO U - C I N i l . i C O N O A C l I R R .tC C 'lA R H M
|r * » * *m * i f t i

removed from their classical,

Renaissance association with

harmony and examined for

ulterior aesthetic and

metaphoric values. The

geometric expression o f

pattern poetry demonstrates

that poetic form can sustain

Figure 44: Caramuel de Lobkowitz, 42.
non-linear text, and that in

some cases, geometric shapes can even enhance the hermeneutic and heuristic value

of the poem. Take, for example, Severo Sarduy’s “Espiral Negra” (fig. 45),

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% Piet Mondrian bailando

al woogje-boogie
al boogie.woojic
con elegguaj al Haig
a la G gale
ea to* tobilloa
ca ju buesos botcilas al Cottoo O ub
con campanulas
bambti de las AnttUai
cn las raurtecas al Chari o tn vex
frascos Uenos de piedras
a Nueva Orleans
a La Habana
al Tio Angel
uuiiadas de cabalfo de U C am de Ora
_ _ , , „ «... al Riverside
a Congo Square del Congo a Virginia
de Nigeria a Rio

triingulu banjo cue res del centro negro al Saint Germain

de Rio a Recife
con cnjii de labaco dcl rio “ » a K 3 b tlc ‘ ,1 Tabou
al Eddie Condon lus reyes sometidoi con eastillos de plumat
las mciillai taiuadas con pulseras de. oro al Cameieon
al Central Ptaza
inmuvil como un ho ipiruual/ipirai al Half note
al Stuyvesant Casino al Chori
wasn't dat a wide ribber al Cafe Dobemia
tl Jimmy Ryan's Ucchu rojas. mmiisculai il Nick's
al Ember's
Figure 45: “ Espiral
al Voyager's room Society
negra." Severo
al Composers * 0 , 6 M“ ro'>o1'
al Savoy ballroom al Slrdland
Sarduy, Big Bang
al Apollo Theater al Carnegie Hall
al Eeole fuiUard Tudquela Editor,
1974), 43.

which disorients the eyes and the expected path o f reading. Beginning, end, and

center are uncertain. The “centro negra” seems to be the vortex around which all

the words swirl and into which they are being pulled. Language is at the mercy of

emptiness. The graphic display o f geometry in literature extends even toward the

black hole-like funnel o f hyperspace. Hypertext, which is constructed through

mathematical algorithms, emerges as maps o f bits and bytes— no longer manual,

nor mechanical, but electronic and cybernetic. The notion o f (echnopaigneia is

taking on a whole new meaning: technology and the written word are merging in

new ways to form new geometric expressions.

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The ludic

The ludic fold has to do with geometry as a medium for play, for games, and

for hidden patterns in a work o f literature. The Oulipo group, a literary movement

founded in France in the 1960s, has made an immense contribution to the

geometricizing o f literature— a contribution that, unlike the “graphic display” o f

geometry I just discussed, does not look to reveal the measurement and division o f

space visually, but rather to utilize it as a playground for potential narrative

structures and themes. We need only recall Georges Perec’s La vie: Mode

d'emplo’r, Raymond Queneau’s Exercises de style', and the catoptrics o f Calvino’s

Se ima node d ’inverno un viaggiatore.6

As an example of this geometria ludens in literature, let us consider the table

of contents o f Calvino’s Le citta invisibili (fig. 46). Clearly, this table o f contains

sustains a certain numeric progression. Is it a recursive series? An algorithm?

Could the sixty-four chapters (fifty-five cities and nine dialogues) merely be an

allusion to the chessboard? Some sort o f mathematical constraint is being

employed. One way to decipher this constraint is to graph the dialogue chapters

against the city rubrics (memory, desire, signs, thin, trading, eyes, names, dead, sky,

continuous, and hidden) and order the numbers o f the cities formulaically, as

Michael Palmore did in a 1990 article for Forum Italicum (fig. 47 ) .7

6 Georges Perec, La vie: Mode d ’emploi (Paris: Hachette, 1978); Raymond Queneau,
Exercises de style (Paris: Gallimard, 1979); Itaio Caivino, Se una notte d ’inverno un viaggiatore
(Turin: Einuadi, 1979). For a discussion o f the concept o f the ludic in literature, see Giuseppe
Mazzotta’s The World at Play in Boccaccio’s Decameron (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1986), and his chapter on “Theologia Ludens” in Dante’s Vision and the Circle o f Knowledge
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993): 219-241.

7 Michael Palmore, “Diagramming Calvino’s Architecture,” Forum Italicum 24 (Spring 1990):

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33 Le d t d c i acini. 4. 77 L e d id eg fio c d u . 4.
*•«* .... 37 L edtdao cd lL 3. n L e d t d e i l a i M . 3. M«> .....
t j Le d t d e U m m oria. i . 101 Le d t d ai aai a. M7 Le d i d « i morti. 3.
37 L a d i d c |l i acambi. a.
«< Le d t d < la araw ria a. to) L e d td e U d d a . 1. 130 U o u a e tl ctelo. 4.
39 La d i d a §B oochL 1.
•7 U d i d a l l Jetttttift. i. 4i ........ »J ........ iji Le d t d continue, j.
it L e d td t i e nacinoria, 3. ij« Le d t d n u catte. 2.
m Le d t d e fl I n iiir in . i. tj 4 L c d r d e ild c f a . 3.
at La c u d a I aefoi. i. nr
13! L e d td continue. 4.
*3 Le d i d e la w a a o ik . 4.
«J ..... *«9 ......... tlo U d i d neacooc. 3.
•3 U d t U e i l iteahfaile. 3. ii( L a d td c tD a c d a . 3. ttfj Le c u d continue. 3.
<7 L a d i d e i a a p L 3.
>7 L c d td o ie a g a i j . in L a d td a B o o M . 4.
4p L a c U d m tflL 4 . i<4 la d td n aac B ste. 4.
•• L td td a o ttS i. 2. 113 L e d id a i M R L 3. tM L c d tii iw co iit. 3.
70 U d d c ^ l n a U . 3.
»t .... 7* L e d ed eg M o cd d . a. 117 Le d t d a A d d * 1. »<* ....
73 l e d a l a i l i o a a . 1. uf L e d td c a n d M . 1.
7$ ........ it) ....
>1 ....
J7 I c d t d t la wawaHa. 7.
i» l e d t t i i i i M a i e . 4. 117 .....
79 ........
«• L e d td e i ia ja L 3.
<1 La d i d aottfll. 3. t) i L e d td e U o o m . 7.
41 Le a i d aocuJL a.
la La d a d a gft acambi. 4. DI L e d t d e l a w r i . 4.
4i L a d c d « |B K B a f a L 2.
13 La d a d e gfi occKL 3. 134 Le ck d « A d d o . 3.
47 .........
14 L a d e d a il d o m . a. 133 Le d i d ( M d n . a.
14 La d i d c i aaoiti. 1. t)4 Le d i d aMoosae. s.

d ..... >79.... .........

Figure 46: Table of contents, Italo Calvino. Le cittd invisibffl (Turin: Einaudi, 1972).


Reproduced with perm ission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

CU'Hi 6nk*

Figure 47: Michael Palmore, “ Diagramming Calvino’s Architecture.” Forum Italicum 24 (Spring
1990), 28.

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A zig-zag pattern thus emerges. The index shows itself to be a construction, not a

list: it is a diagonal range o f cities beginning with city yi (Diomira) and ending with

city Z5 (Berenice). If we extend this algebraic analysis, we will actually see that it is

possible to hypothetically construct other cities, such as (y-l)i, or (z + lh , etc.

These cities are, then, in the strictest sense, “invisible.” New cities, however,

cannot be added to the extremities o f the text, but must be woven into the text

itself. Where would we put a new city, (z+l)^? We could not just tag it onto the

last city in Chapter 9 (Berenice), as that would disrupt Calvino’s strict pattern of

expansion-maintenance-contraction. Instead, we would have to put it after

Berenice, but before the invisible city (z+1)s Thus we would also have to add

(z+l)i, (z+ l) 2, (z + l) 3, and (z+l)s if we were to add (z+l).». Calvino did not create a

closed galaxy o f cities, but rather a dynamic spiral. In fact, the first edition of

Calvino’s invisible cities had a nautilus shell on the cover, and furthermore, spirals

are everywhere present within the cities themselves.

Without thinking about the mathematical implications o f this table of

contents, the hugely important figure o f the spiral would be lost, as would

Calvino’s game. We have to make a concerted effort to see the geometric

expression o f the spiral hidden inside the geometric expressions o f graphs and

recursive series. We thus augment and deepen our reading o f this text by engaging

the author’s playful use of the geometric paradigm.

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The metaphoric

The final fold I will examine has to do with what happens when literature

takes something from geometry and places it inside its framework, making it

figurative, metaphoricizing it. Even if an author simply lifts the geometric element

from its mathematical context and puts it into a fleeting discussion, the geometry is

no longer being used mathematically. It takes on a new function, by either

clarifying an idea, adding prestige to it, condemning it, exalting it, or mutating it,

and so on. We see this borrowing in such works as Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones,

in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, Julio Cortazar’s

Rayuela, Don DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star, and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity ’s Rainbow.

In everyday English we can immediately come up with lists o f geometric metaphors

or sayings: calling someone a square, two-dimensional, linear, or a round peg in a

square hole; being involved in a love-triangle, talking in circles, o r getting to the


The 1985 novel Atlante occidentale by Daniele Del Giudice is an excellent

example o f a text that not only displays a systemic borrowing o f geometric

metaphors, but uses a geometric expression as the foundation o f the text itself.9

The figure o f the “line” in this novel about the meeting o f two airplane

1 Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (Buenos Aires: Sur, 1944); Lewis Carroll, Alice in
Wonderland (London: 1865); Edwin Abbott, Flatland (London: Seeley & Co., 1884); Julio
C ortizar, Rayuela (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1963); Don DeLillo, Ratner's Star
(New York: Knopf, 1976); Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (New York: Viking Press, 1973).

9 Daniele Del Giudice, Atlante occidentale (Turin: Einaudi, 1985).

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enthusiasts— one an author and one a physicist— is expressed in the parallel and

contradictory lines o f thought these two friends share. Del Giudice uses the word

“line” everywhere: he speaks o f asymptotic lines, penned lines on blueprints,

wrinkle lines, lines o f thought, lines o f footprints, trajectory lines, lines o f sheet

music, lines o f energy, wavelengths, demarcation lines, and time lines.

Interestingly, Lines o f Light is the title the English translators gave to Atlante

occidentale . l0 A line, as we know from Archimedes, is a one-dimensional figure

that can be straight or curved. Light, as we know from nineteenth- and twentieth-

century physics, is also both straight and bendabie, due to forces o f gravity, and due

to its complex dual nature, which exhibits both wave-like and particle-like

characteristics . 11 Del Giudice’s Atlante occidentale makes the notion o f the

properties of light and lines into a metaphor for the geometry o f life: intersections,

moments o f flexibility, long stretches o f unchanging routine. He borrows the

geometry o f the line to line his text, and to underline the importance o f viewing the

trajectories o f one’s life.

* * *

10 Daniele Del Giudice, Lines o f Light, trans. Norman MacAfee and Luigi Fontanella (New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988).

" Thomas Young (late eighteenth, early nineteenth century) was the first to consider light
wave-like (see his double-slit experiment). Einstein was the first to note the particle-like
characteristics o f light (he called these light particles “photons,” packets o f energy sufficient to
knock o ff an electron); he also thought that it was not light that bends, but space. Richard
Feynman, in his book QED: The Strange Theory o f Light and Matter (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 198S), defines light as composed o f particles with wave-like characteristics.

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I want to point out that while many French critics have theorized about

space, shape, and number— Bachelard, Serres, Derrida, de Certeau, Deleuze, to

name a few—more work remains to be done in Italian criticism . 12 Not even

Umberto Eco, with his interest in signs and codes, has dedicated much thought to

the presence o f geometric shape in language and literature. While Italian literary

theory has responded to linguistics and the geometry o f generative grammar, while

it has become active in the ‘‘spatial discourse” o f hypertext and cyberculture, and

while it has— as all literatures do— a rich history o f authors who have used

geometry in their writing, there is no tradition o f doing geometric readings of

literature. This is surprising, especially given Italian visionary authors such as

Bruno, who strove to integrate word and image. It is time that Italian scholars re­

discover the radical novelty o f this geometric tradition. I hope that through a

continued discussion o f the taxonomy o f geometric tropes, a serious consideration

o f shape and space in Italian literature will begin to evolve. It is precisely the lack

o f such a body o f work that has motivated me to propose a “geometric reading” o f

literature. Giordano Bruno’s writing not only provides a wealth o f instances o f

geometric language, but champions a renegade style and philosophy o f the infinite

that demand such figurative reading.

As mathematics takes us into the realm o f fractals and the fourth dimension,

our conception o f the world around us changes, forcing us to create new metaphors.

12 The few titles o f Italian criticism that seem to promise some discussion o f geometry in
literature are deceptive. See Remo Bodei, La geometria delle passioni (Milan: Feltrinelli, 19 9 1).
One would think that the critics who work on the poetry o f Maria Luisa Spaziani, Geometria del
disordine (Milan: M ondadori, 1981) and Leonardo Sinisgalli, Ellisse (Milan: Mondadori, 1974)
would also be interested in such a consideration o f shape and space.

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This is what language has done since, as Giambattista Vico theorized, the first

human upon noting the rumbling o f thunder in the sky, became aware o f something

big and mysterious, and by pointing to it, made the first sign . 13 Nature’s patterns

fill the world in which we live: the Fibonacci series o f seed-packing in sunflowers

and daisies, hexagonal beehives, concentric circles on a disturbed lake, the perfect

sphere o f a soap bubble. We imitate this geometry in our architecture, in our art,

and express it in the symmetry o f our own bodies— why should it not also be in our

writing? If we can look at a text to deconstruct it, if we can read it through a

feminist, psychoanalytic, or political lens, we can just as well read it through the

kaleidoscope o f geometric figures. 1 believe there is much to be gained from

observing the geometry present in literature, and hope that as we continue to

develop technologies o f writing that displace the linear, uni-dimensional formats of

the printed page, the more we will see language’s geometric heritage, its implicit

figurative plasticity, and the manifold rewards o f reading geometrically.

13 See Giambattista Vico, La scienza nuova, ed. Fausto Nicolini (Milan: Mondadori, 1992), §

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List of Figures

Note: A ll fig u res from G iordano B ru n o 's Articuli adversus mathematicos are from the
fo llo w in g ed itio n : Prague: G eorgii D acziceni, 1588. T h e ex em plar consulted is from the
B ib lio teca co m u n ale di C om o, Sala B enzi 7.6.93. an d the im ages reproduced are from
G io rd an o B runo, II sigillo dei sigilli. Idiagrammi ermetici, trans. E m anuela C olom bi, ed.
U baldo N ic o la (M ila n : M im esis, 1995).


1. "Scala vitae.” Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

2. "Specula.” Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

3. "Expansor.” Giordano Bruno. Articuli adversus mathematicos.

4. "Prometheus.” Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

5. "Zoemetra.” Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

6. "Theuti circulus.” Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

7. On the left, Bruno’s woodcut ("Lucifer seu reportator”) from the Articuli
adversus mathematicos; on the right, the version in Giordano Bruno, Opera
latine conscripta, ed. F. Tocco and G. Vitelli, (Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann
Verlag, 1962), vol. I.iii.

8. Sun, moon, and star motifs. Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

9. Various diagrams with symbols. Giordano Bruno, De triplici minimo et

mensura (Frankfurt: Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer, 1591), from the
Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 E 38.

10. Text with motifs interspersed. Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus


11. The first diagram. Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

12. The second diagram. Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

13. The third diagram. Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

R eproduced with perm ission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

14. “Atrium Apollinis.” Giordano Bruno, De minimo (Frankfurt: Johann Wechel

& Peter Fischer, 1591), from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. The Hague, 1709 E

15. “Atrium Veneris.” Ibid.

16. “Atrium Minervae.” Ibid.

17. “Auctor.” Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

18. "Geometra." Ibid.

19. Giordano Bruno. De umbris idearum (Paris: Aegidium Gorbinum. 1582),

from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. The Hague, 1709 E 16.

Chapter One

20. The sefirot tree according to The Ari. from Sefer Yetzirah: The Book o f
Creation, ed. Aryeh Kaplan (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1993), 29.

21. The sefirot tree according to The Gra. ibid.. 30.

22. Another sefirot arrangement, from Leo Schaya. The Universal Meaning o f the
Kabbalah (Baltimore: Penguin. 1973), 29.

23. “Archetypus.” Giordano Bruno, De imaginum compositione (Frankfurt:

Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer. 1591), from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The
Hague. 1709 E 36.

24. Chart. Giordano Bruno. Explicatio triginta sigillorum (n.p.. 1583). from the
Bibliotheque nationale de France, Res. PR 746.

25. “Sigillus sigillorum.” Ibid.

26. The Tetraktys. A triangular arrangement of circles. Giordano Bruno, De


Chapter Two

27. Mordente's compass. Giordano Bruno, Dialogi duo de Fabricii Mordentis

Salernitani (Paris: Petri Chevillot, 1586), from the Bibliotheque nationale de
France, Res. PR 745 (2).

-£<£ , “ScWtftltX ( l " C -^ c > ^ o S r u 'v t 0 , p g

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29. Giordano Bruno, La cena de le Ceneri (n.p., 1584), from the University o f
Glasgow, Db.3.19.

30. A hyperbola.

31. An ellipse.

32. Giordano Bruno, La cena de le Ceneri.

33. A parabola.

Chapter Three

34. A gnomon.

35. “Forma Atrii.” Giordano Bruno, De imaginum compositione.

36. Squares in circles, circles in squares. Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus


37. Squaring the circle— drawings done for modem edition. Giordano Bruno,
Spaccio de la bestia trionfante in Dialoghi italiani, ed. Giovanni Aquilecchia
(Florence: Sansoni, 1985), 756-759.

38. Giordano Bruno, De gli eroici furori in Dialoghi italiani. ed. Giovanni
Aquilecchia (Florence: Sansoni, 1985), 981-982.

39. Giordano Bruno, De gl 'heroici furori (Paris: Antonio Baio, 1585), from the
University o f Glasgow, Cm.3.26.

Chapter Four

40. “Theuti radius.” Giordano Bruno, Articuli adversus mathematicos.

41. “Theuti circulus.” Ibid.


42. Cube-shaped poem. Caramuel de Lobkowitz, Primus calamus ob oculis

ponens metametricam (Rome: Fabius Falconis, 1663), in Giovanni Pozzi, La
parola dipinta (Milan: Adelphi, 1981), 249.

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43. Rhombus-shaped poem. Caramuel de Lobkowitz, ibid., 118.

44. Circular poem. Caramuel de Lobkowitz, ibid., 42.

45. Severe Sarduy, “Espiral Negra,” Big Bang (Barcelona: Tudquets Editor,
1974), 43.

46. Table of contents. Italo Calvino, Le citta invisibili (Turin: Einaudi, 1972).

47. Michael Palmore, “Diagramming Calvino's Architecture.” Forum Italicum 24

(Spring 1990), 28.

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Glossary of Mathematical Terms1

algorithm: a procedure for solving a problem in a finite number o f steps.

analytic geometry: developed by Descartes, also called coordinate geometry; a

geometry in which lines, curves, etc. are represented by numbers, equations, and
points on a coordinate system.

asymptote: a curve that approaches a straight line but never touches it; hyperbolae
have asymptotes.

axiom: a self-evident statement.

chord: a straight-line segment joining any two points on a curve or surface.

circumcircle: a circle circumscribed about a polygon.

collinear: sharing a common line.

conic sections: the ellipse, the parabola, and the hyperbola.

coplanar: sharing the same plane.

corollary figures: figures that emerge out o f diagramming other figures.

differential geometry: developed from differential calculus by Gauss in 1827, it is

concerned with the intrinsic properties o f curves and surfaces as found in
differential calculus.

duplication of the cube: also called the Delian problem, the ancient puzzle
of how to construct, using only a straightedge and a compass, the edge o f a
cube having twice the volume o f a given cube; it is impossible.

eccentricity: the ratio, for a point on a conic section, o f its distance from a
fixed point (the focus) to its distance from a fixed line (the directrix).

ellipse: a conic section with an eccentricity between 0 and 1.

golden section: a division o f a line into 2 segments such that the ratio o f the larger
segment to the smaller segment is equal to the ratio o f the whole line to the larger
segment; the ratio is approximately 1.618.

1 Definitions are modification o f those in the Penguin Dictionary o f Mathematics, ed. John
Daintith and R.D. Nelson (London: Penguin Books, 1989).

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gnomon: a portion o f a figure which has been added to another figure so that the
whole is o f the same shape as the smaller. The logarithmic growth that we see in
the expanding chambers of a nautilus shell is an example.

hyperbola: a conic section with an eccentricity greater than 1.

non-Euclidean geometry: a geometry that does not depend on the fifth postulate o f
Euclid (that only one line can be drawn through a point outside a line that is parallel
to that line). The postulate cannot be proved, and mathematicians since the early
nineteenth century have been developed new axioms and new geometries (see
Lobachevsky, Bolyai, Gauss, Riemann) in an attempt to account for the parallel

orthocenter: the point of intersection o f three lines drawn from each o f the vertices
of a triangle perpendicular to the opposite sides.

orthagonal: at right angles.

parabola: a conic section with an eccentricity equal to 1.

parallel postulate: the fifth postulate o f Euclidean geometry which says that for a
given point not on a given line, only one line can be drawn through the point that is
parallel to the given line; this has been disproved in non-Euclidean geometry.

polygon: many angled- (must have more than 3 or more vertices), many-
sided figure.

polygram: many-angled, many-sided figure,

polyhedron: many-surfaced figure.

projective geometry: developed by Girard Desargues in the seventeenth century, it

is a study o f the perspectival projection o f conic sections; Desargues worked from
the notion that parallel lines meet at infinity, and like Kepler, believed the parabola
to have a second focus at infinity.

rectifiable: describing a curve that has a finite length.

regular polyhedra: tetrahedron (4 faces o f equilateral triangles), cube (6 faces o f

squares), octahedron (8 faces of equilateral triangles), dodecahedron ( 1 2 faces o f
regular pentagons), icosahedron ( 2 0 faces o f equilateral triangles).

skew lines: lines in space that are not parallel and do not intersect; they cannot lie
on the same plane.

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straight angle: a 180° angle.


translation: a kind o f symmetry in which a m otif moves up or down, left

or right, or diagonally while keeping the same orientation.

rotation: a kind of symmetry in which a motif turns a number o f degrees

reflection: a kind of symmetry in which a motif is reflected as if in a


glide: a kind o f symmetry in which a motif both translates and reflects


2 Definitions (modified) and images from Peter Stevens, Handbook o f Regular Patterns: An
Introduction to Symmetry in Two Dimensions (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982), 4.

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triangular number: an integer that can be represented by a triangular array o f dots;

3 , 6 .1 0 are triangular numbers.

• • •

• • • • • •

3 • • • • • •

6 • • • •

vector: a line that indicates direction as well as magnitude.

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A Select Bibliography

1. Giordano Bruno:
Collected works

Dialoghi italiani. Edited by Giovanni Aquilecchia. 2 vols. Florence: Sansoni. 1985.

Le opere italiane di Giordano Bruno ristampate da Paolo de Lagarde. Gottinga:

Universitatsbuchhandlung, 1888-9.

Opera latine conscripta. Edited by Francesco Fiorentino, F. Tocco. H. Vitelli. V. Imbriani.

and C. M. Tallarigo. 8 vols. Stuttgart: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1962.

2. Giordano Bruno:
Early Exemplars Consulted (ordered by year of publication)

De compendiosa architectura. Paris: Aegidium Gorbinum, 1582.

• Bibliotheque municipale Nantes. Res 61 134.

• University of Wisconsin, D 305.

De umbris idearum. Paris: Aegidium Gorbinum, 1582.

• Koninklijke Bibliotheek. The Hague. 1709 E 16.

Candelaio. Paris: Guglielmo Giuliano. 1582.

• Biblioteca universitaria Alessandrina. Rari 13.

• Biblioteca Palatina. Parma. GG.III.205.

Explicatio triginta sigillorum. n.p.. 1583.

• Bibliotheque nationale de France. Res. PR 746.

Ars memoriae, n.p.. 1583.

• Biblioteca nazionale centrale, Florence, Guicc.2.42 .61.

La cena de le Ceneri. n.p., 1584.

• University o f Glasgow, Db.3.19.

R eproduced with perm ission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without perm ission.

• Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, BE.2.T.6.

De la causa principio et uno. Venice: n.p., 1584.

• Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 F2.

• Universitatsbibliothek Bremen, VII.c.168.

De Vinjinito universo et mondi. Venice: n.p., 1584.

• Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 FI.

• Zentralbibliothek, Zurich, RP 111 (1).

Spaccio de la bestia trionfante. Paris: n.p., 1584.

• Universitatsbibliothek Rostock, Eb.3307.

• Biblioteca nazionale di Florence, Landau Finlay 473.

Cabala del cavallo pegaseo. Paris: Antonio Baio, 1585.

• University of Glasgow, Db.3.20.

De gl'heroici furori. Paris: Antonio Baio, 1585.

• University of Glasgow, Cm.3.26.

• Biblioteca comunale di Como, Sala Mochetti 64.8.58.

• Houghton Library, Harvard University, STC 3937.

Figuratio Aristoteliciphysici auditus. Paris: Petri Chevillot, 1586.

• Biblioteca nazionale di Turin, Ris.28.8.8 (2).

Dialogi duo de Fabricii Mordentis Salernitani. Paris: Petri Chevillot, 1586.

• Bibliotheque nationale de France, Res. PR 745 (2).

• Biblioteca nazionale di Torino, Ris.28.8 (2).

De lampade combinatoria lulliana. Wittenberg: n.p., 1587.

Reproduced with perm ission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
• Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 E 34.

• Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Wroclaw, 451065.

De progressu et lampade venatoria logicorum. n.p., 1587.

• Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 E 34.

• Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Wroclaw, 411790.

Articuli adversus mathematicos. Prague: Georgii Dacziceni, 1588.

• Biblioteca comunale di Como, Sala Benzi 7.6.93.

• Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Res.D2.5278 (1).

De triplici minimo et mensura. Frankfurt: Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer, 1591.

• Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 E 38.

• Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit. Y h 15.

De monade numero et figura. Frankfurt: Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer, 1591.

• Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 E 37.

• Biblioteka Uniwersytecka. Wroclaw, 411787.

De innumerabilibus, immenso, & infigurabili. Frankfurt: Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer.


• Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 E 37.

• Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Wroclaw, 411787.

De imaginum compositione. Frankfurt: Johann Wechel & Peter Fischer, 1591

• Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1709 E 36.

Reproduced with perm ission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

3. Giordano Bruno:
Modern Editions and Translations

Candelaio. Edited by Giorgio Barberi Squarotti. Turin: Einaudi, 1964.

Candelaio. Edited by Isa Guerrini Angrisani. Milan: Rizzoli, 1976.

Chandelier. Translated by Yves Hersant. Edited by Giovanni Aquilecchia and Giorgio

Barberi Squarotti. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1993.

De rerum principiis. Translated and edited by Nicoletta Tirinnanzi. Naples: Procaccini,


De umbris idearum. Edited by Rita Sturlese. Florence: Olschki Editore. 1991.

De umbris idearum. Translated and edited by Nicoletta Tirinnanzi. Milan: BUR, 1997.

Due dialoghi sconosciuti e due dialoghi noli: Idiota triumphans—De somnii

interpretatione—Mordentius—De mordentii circino. Edited by Giovanni

Aquilecchia. Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1957.

Praelectiones geometricae e Ars deformationum. Testi inediti. Edited by Giovanni

Aquilecchia. Rome: Editore di Storia e Letteratura, 1964.

On the Composition o f Images, Signs and Ideas. Translated by Charles Doria. Edited by

Dick Higgins. New York: Willis, Locker & Owens, 1991.

Opere latine: II triplice minimo e la misura - La monade, il numero e la figura - L 'immenso

e gli innumerevoli. Translated and edited by Carlo Monti. Turin: UTET, 1980.

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4. Studies on Giordano Bruno

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_______ . “Bruno e la matematica a lui contemporanea: In margine al De minimo.”

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_______ . “Giordano Bruno." In Storia della Letteratura Italiana. Edited by Enrico Malato.

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_______ . “Giordano Bruno in Inghilterra (1583-1585). Documenti e testimonianze."

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_______ . Le opere italiane di Giordano Bruno: Critica testuale e oltre. Naples:

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_______ . Schede bruniane (1950-1991). Rome: Vecchiarelli, 1993.

Atanasijevic, Ksenija. The Metaphysical and Geometrical Doctrine o f Giordano Bruno.

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Bertini Malgarini, P. “Giordano Bruno linguista.” Critica letteraria 8 (1980): 681-716.

Bonker-Vallon, Angelika. Metaphysik und Mathemaiik bei Giordano Bruno. Berlin:

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fdosofia 3 (1950).

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MLN 94 (1979): 321-42.

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Ciliberto, Michele. “Bruno. Duchamp, Paz.” Rivista di storia della fdosofia 49 (1994): 315-

21 .

_______ . “Filosofia e lingua nelle opere volgari di Bruno.” Rinascimento 2 .S . 2 9 (1978):


_______ . Giordano Bruno: Un'autobiografia. Naples: Procaccini, 1994.

_______ . Giordano Bruno. Rome-Bari: Gius. Laterza & Figli. 1990.

_______ . La ruota del tempo: Interpretazione di Giordano Bruno. Rome: Editori Riuniti,


_______ . Lessico di Giordano Bruno. Rome: Edizioni dell'Ateneo & Bizzarri, 1979.

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Croce, Benedetto. “Insulti a Giordano Bruno.” La Critica 40 (1942): 283-4.

D’Antonio, Claudio. II primo libro della Clavis Magna. Rome: Di Renzo Editore, 1997.

de Bemart, Lucia. Immaginazione e scienza in Giordano Bruno. Pisa: ETS Editrice. 1986.

de Leon-Jones. Karen Silvia. Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalah: Prophets, Magicians, and

Rabbis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

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Garin, Eugenio. “Un eretico contro i pedanti.” II Messaggero (27 April 1993): 19.

Gatti, Hilary. “Giordano Bruno's Ash Wednesday Supper and Galileo's Dialogue o f the Two

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_______ . Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


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Prometeo (1911): 35-41.

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_______ . Introduction to Giordano Bruno: Cause, Principle, and Unity. Essays on Magic.

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Immeasurable Abundance.” Journal o f the History o f Ideas (April-June 1977):


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Mulscw, Martin. “La geometria applicata nell'opera di Bruno.” Giordano Bruno: Gli anni

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_______ . “Kommentar.” Uber die Monad, die Zahl und die Figure. Translated and edited

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Ordine. Nuccio. La cabala dell'asino. Naples: Liguori, 1987.

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Blood.” Journal o f the History o f Medicine and Allied Sciences, 52/310 (1951): 1 lb-


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Polisensky, Josef. “Le relazioni tra la Boemia e 1’Italia al tempo di Giordano Bruno e

Galileo Galilei.” Philologica Pragensia 34 (1981): 6-12.

Previti, Luigi. Giordano Bruno e i suoi tempi. Prato: Tip. Giachetti Figlio e C.. 1887.

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_______ . “Giordano Bruno e F. Mordente.” Pro Modica. Numero unico. Salemo: F.lli

Jovane, 1902.

_______ . Vita di Giordano Bruno. Messina: Giuseppe Principato, 1921.

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Sturlese, Rita. Bibliografia censimento e storia delle antiche stampe di Giordano Bruno.

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Tissoni, Roberto. “Appunti per uno studio sulla prosa della dimostrazione scientifica nella

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_______ . “Note sulla grafia e la punteggiatura bruniane e proposito di recenti edizioni.”

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_______ . “Saggio di un commento stilistico al Candelaio'' Giornale storico della

letteratura italiana 37 (1960): 257-67.

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_______ . “L'Obstacle realiste en mathematiques chez deux philosophes du XVIe siecle:

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S. Geometry: Antiquity-1700

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6. Geometry: Secondary literature

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Erasmus. De duplici copia verborum ac rerum. The Hague: Thomas Anselm Badensis,


Florio, John. A Worlde ofWordes. London: Arnold Hatfield, 1598.

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piii copioso e eloquente dicitore nella lingua volgare. Venice: Vincenzo Valguisi,


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Puttenham, George. The Arte o f English Poesie. Edited by Gladys Dodge Willcock and

Alice Walker. Folcroft: Folcroft Press, 1969.

Quintilian. Institutio Oratorio. Translated and edited by H.E. Butler. Cambridge: Harvard

University Press, 1966.

Ramus, Pietrus. Dialecticae libri duo. Paris: n.p., 1555.

Russell, D.A. and M. Winterbottom, eds. Ancient Greek Criticism. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1972.

Schwartzman. Steven. The Words o f Mathematics: An Etymological Dictionary o f

Mathematical Terms Used in English. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association

of America, 1994.

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Gainsville: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1961.

Smyth, Herbert Weir. Greek Grammar. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966.

Sonnino, Lee A. A Handbook to Sixteenth-Century Rhetoric. London: Routledge & Regan

Paul, 1968.

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Susenbrotus. Joannes. Epitome troporum ac schematum. London: H. Wyke, 1570.

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Valesio, Paolo. Novantiqua: Rhetorics as a Contemporary Theory. Bloomington:

R eproduced with perm ission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

University o f Indiana Press, 1980.

8. Renaissance Printing and Printers’ Ornaments

Chappell, Warren. A Short History o f the Printed Word. New York: Knopf. 1970.

Clair, Colin. A Chronology o f Printing. New York: Rederic Praeger, 1969.

Goldschmidt, E. P. The Printed Book o f the Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1950.

Hind, Arthur. Introduction to a History o f Woodcut. 1935 Reprint. 2 vols. New York:

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Typography and the Cooper Union for the Advancement o f Science and Art. 1988.

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Morison, Stanley. Early Italian Writing Books: Renaissance to Baroque. Edited by

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_______ . Four Centuries o f Fine Printing. London: Ernest Benn, Ltd., 1924.

_______ and Esther Potter. The Splendour o f Ornament and Specimens Selectedfrom the

Essempio di recammi o f Giovanni Antonio Tagliente. London: Lion & Unicom

Press, 1968.

_______ and Kenneth Day. The Typographic Book. London: Ernest Benn, Ltd.. 1963.

Offner, Elliot. “Renaissance Typographic Ornament: Origins, Use, and Experiments.”

R eproduced with perm ission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
Patterns o f Symmetry. Edited by Maijorie Senechal and George Fleck. Amherst:

University o f Massachusetts Press, 1977: 50-73.

Plantin, Christopher. An Account o f Calligraphy and Printing in the Sixteenth Century

from Dialogues Attributed to Christopher Plantin (1567). Edited by Ray Nash.

Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940.

Roylance, Dale. Printers' Ornaments. New Haven: Carl Purlington Rollins Printing Office

of Yale University Press. 1967.

Ryder, John. Flowers and Flourishes. London: Mackays, 1976.

Swann, Cal. Techniques o f Typography. London: Lund Humphries, 1969.

Warde, Frederic. Printers' Ornaments Applied to the Composition o f Decorative Boarders,

Panels, and Patterns. London: Lanston Monotype Corp.. Ltd., 1928.

9. Other Works Consulted: Antiquity-1700

Agrippa, Enrico Comelio. La filosofia occulta o La magia. Translated by Alberto Fidi.

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Augustinus, 1990.

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Freher. Grand Rapids: Phanes Press, 1991.

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Bonner, Anthony, ed. Doctor Illuminatus. A Ramon Lull Reader. Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1985.

Browne, Thomas. Hydriotaphia. London: Hen. Brome, 1568.

Dee, John. The Heptarchia Mystica. Translated by Christopher Upton. Edited by Robert

Turner. Wellingborough: The Aquarian Press, 1986.

_______ . Monas Hieroglyphica. Antwerp: Guliel. SilvusTypog. Regius, 1564.

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Kepler, Johannes. Harmony o f the World. Translated and edited by E. J. Aiton, A.M.

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Turner, 1984.

_______ . Meditatio Prooemialis: Mathesis bisceps, vetus. et nova. Edited by Julian Velarde

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_______ . Praecursor logicus grammaticam audacem. Edited by Ramon Sarmiento.

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_______ . Saturnalia. Translated and edited by Percival Vaughan Davies. New York:

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_______ . Sefer Jetzirah. Edited by W olf Peter Klein. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich

Frommann Verlag, 1994.

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_______ . Versi Aure seguti dalle Vite di Pitagora di Porfirio e Fozio, da testi Pitagorici, e

da lettere di donne pitagoriche. Edited by Stefano Fumagalli. Milan: Mimesis. 1996.

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10. Other Works Consulted: 1700-Present

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Allen, M.J.B. “Marsilio Ficino, Hermes Trismegistus and the Corpus H erm eticim T New

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_______ . Numerology. Westport, Connecticut: Hyperion Press, 1933.

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_______ . The Legitimacy o f the Modern Age. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983.

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stampa. Turin: Einaudi, 1995.

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_______ and Pietro Corsi, eds. La cultura della memoria. Bologna: II mulino, 1992.

Borges, Jorge Luis. Ficciones. Buenos Aires: Sur, 1944.

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_______ . Se una notte d ’inverno un viaggiatore. Turin: Einaudi. 1979.

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1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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Fuiano, Michele. La stampa nel cinquecento. Naples: Libreria Scientifica Editrice, 1967.

Garin, Eugenio. Astrology in the Renaissance: The Zodiac o f Life. Translated by Carolyn

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_______ . Meditation and Kabbalah. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1982.

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Kerenyi, Karl. Hermes.Guide o f Souls. Translated by Murray Stein. Dallas: Spring

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_______ . The World at Play in Boccaccio’s Decameron. Princeton: Princeton University

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McClain, Ernest. The Pythagorean Plato: Prelude to the Song Itself. Stony Brook: Nicolas

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