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   entry May 2012

ommaso Campanella

There are three persons from southern Italy often called representatives of great "pre-scientific" thought, meaning before Galileo (1564-1642). The three are Bernardino Telesio (1509-1588) from Cosenza in Calabria, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) from Nola near Naples, and Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) from Stignano in Calabria. Two of them have relatively clear stories. By today's standards, Telesio is the most modern. He was an outspoken critic of metaphysics, magic and the occult, and readers will recognize in the phrase "pre-scientific" the beginning of what we now call the scientific method. There is a direct line from Telesio to Galileo. Then, Giordano Bruno is one of the best-known names in our history. He was a rebel monk, believer in the occult and, above all, a pantheist who spoke of an infinity of other worlds with other inhabitants. He was burned at the stake in 1600 when believing such things amounted to heresy, a capital offense. Executing people for heresy offends us today, but Bruno was consistent and clear in expressing his views:
The construction of the world and the magnitude of the bodies contained within it, and the nature of the world, is to be searched for not by reason as was done by the ancients, but is to be understood by means of observation. (from De Rerum Natura Iuxta Propria Principia/On the Nature of Things according to their Own Principles, 1563.)
Tommaso Campanella            
The third name, Tommaso Campanella is, however, little known to English-language readers. He was one of those great encyclopedic polymaths of the late 1500s, the last period in which you could know everything if you had enough brains, time and persistence. In his 71 years, Campanella wrote over 100 books on metaphysics, philosophy, natural science, medicine, mythology, history and political science. Rousch* echoes others when she says, "He preceded Francis Bacon in the experimental method; Descartes in the theory of the perception of the senses; Leibnitz in the theodicy [the attempt to reconcile a benevolent God with the existence of evil]; Vico in the philosophy of history;...[and] Kant in the categorical imperative...". Campanella wrote remarkable poetry, as well, many of which Kay* has said "can be compared to the divine Psalms of David." Campanella's life, however, was full of inconsistencies that puzzle scholars in their attempts to understand him.

He was born Giovanni Domenico Campanella. He took Dominican monastic vows at fourteen, adopting the name of Tommaso in honor of Thomas Aquinas. Very early on, Campanella was so taken with the ideas of Telesio that his first work (when he was 24) was in eight-volumes (!) and was called  Philosophia sensibus demonstrata/Philosophy Demonstrated by the Senses. It was a defense of Telesio and essentially a refutation of Aristotelianism and of Thomas Aquinas, Campanella's own namesake. Here is where one of the many paradoxes in Campanella's strange life crops up. One might say that in terms of orthodox Roman Catholic teachings of the day, Giordano Bruno really was a heretic. Campanella was not. He remained a devout Dominican monk his entire life. But, following Telesio, he believed that observation was at the basis of human knowledge. This made him an anti-Aristotelian.
For this brief discussion, we note simply that Aristotle's ideas presupposed eternal matter and form. That concept was not based on observation but on reasoning through to what had to be. (A human being is, thus, a fusion of eternal matter and pre-existing human form.) These fusions (humans, ducks, trees) were also teleological (that is, they had built-in purposes —goals). If you apply that concept to human society, you can easily defend the idea of a "natural order of things" —even a "revealed truth" with rulers and workers and a one true faith with churches and priests, each in an assigned place. Aristotelianism was at the heart of medieval Catholicism (Aquinas) and early Islam (Averroës). Their proofs of the existence of God and their defense of hierarchies within religions and human societies are thus said to be Aristotelian. Telesio and then Campanella rejected that. Telesio's works were banned, but he was not physically harmed. Campanella's fate turned out quite differently. A monk who says that we know only what we can observe and who dismisses Aristotle's eternal matter and form is on a collision course with the "revealed truth" of his own church. [For another discussion on Telesio, Aristotelianism, and the scientific method, see this link.]
Two years after his defense of Telesio, Campanella wrote De monarcha Christianorum/Christian Monarchy in which he set out his ideas on the reform of the church and society. It was a harbinger of a later work, his best-known work and perhaps the only one known at all to English readers, The City of the Sun, from 1602. It describes an ideal world in which religion, science, and occult knowledge regulate society. All property (including women!) is shared in a kind of communist state, though it is ruled by a moral and intellectual elite who are able to interpret God's design for the world. Malcolm* says of The City of the Sun that it was "almost a retrospective manifesto for the revolt in Calabria —an idealized representation of the sort of perfect, rational, and hierocratic state that Campanella had been hoping to establish in the mountains of Calabria." That is a reference to an episode in 1599, the so-called Calabrian Revolt, a scheme to break Calabria away from the Spanish vicerealm of Naples and turn it into a large theocratic commune. (Campanella was one of those behind the revolt; the plan was so bizarre that it called for enlisting help from the Muslim world, an invasion fleet from Turkey!)
This was just another inconsistency in Campanella's life. In his earlier writings, he had urged the King of Spain to extend rule to the entire world, yet now he fomented a plan to liberate Calabria from the Spanish vice-realm in Italy. Campanella also wrote about how wisdom and love should guide human affairs and, indeed, was a harsh critic of Machiavelli's politics of pragmatism; yet he advised the King of Spain to put down revolt in the Spanish Provinces. And for many, his anti-Aristotelian defense of Telesio contrasted with his own devout Christianity and interest in converting Jews and Muslims and the recently discovered natives of the New World. It seems odd that he could have derived from rational observation and the evidence of his senses the need for the universal theocracy of The City of the Sun. There was never any doubt about his faith. Some scholars who have written about Campanella simply say that he seemed to change his mind a lot!
Campanella was arrested numerous times during his travels in the 1590s by the authorities of the Holy Office and always acquitted of the charge of heresy. The crucial episode was in 1601 in Naples. He was subjected to excruciating torture to get him to confess his heresies. Instead, Campanella feigned insanity well enough to save his own life (they couldn't execute the insane). His life was spared, but he spent the next 25 years in prison where he wrote many of his works including The City of the Sun and an articulate defense of Galileo, including congratulations to the Father of Modern Science for having invented the telescope!
Campanella was released in 1626 and went to Rome where he lived for five years. Then, a new revolt in Calabria reminded the civil authorities of his earlier rebel activities in the south, and they came looking for him. Campanella fled to France where he was received benevolently at the Bourbon court of Louis XIII. He lived in the Dominican convent of Paris, Saint-Honore, and became an adviser to Richelieu on Italian affairs during the Thirty Years War. His last work was an eclogue to celebrate the birth of the future Louis XIV, Ecloga in portentosam Delphini nativitatem. It was portentous, indeed, for Louis XIV turned out be the Sun King, Louis the Great. (Campanella seemed to have changed his mind about the Spanish Hapsburgs and now urged a universal Bourbon theocracy.) Tommaso Campanella died in May of 1639 and was interred on the premises of the Saint-Honore monastery. His remains were scattered during the French Revolution when the monastery was destroyed. In 1968, on the 400th anniversary of Campanella's birth, the little house where he was born in Stignano was marked with a plaque noting that he had come "to defeat tyranny, sophism, and hypocrisy", words from his poem "On the Roots of the Great Evils of the World."

—Headley, John M. Tommaso Campanella and the Transformation of the World. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton. 1997.
—Malcolm, Noel . "The Crescent and the City of the Sun: Islam and the Renaissance Utopia of Tommaso Campanella" in the British Academy Lectures 2003. Oxford University Press 2004.
—Roush, Sherry. Selected Philosophical Poems of Tommaso Campanella. University of Chicago Press. 2011.
The Penguin Book of Italian Verse. Edited and translated by George Kay. Penguin Book, 1958.

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