Home » FEBRUARY 17, 1600: “MY OLD FELLOW NOLANO”, GIORDANO BRUNO & JOHN FLORIO

FEBRUARY 17, 1600: “MY OLD FELLOW NOLANO”, GIORDANO BRUNO & JOHN FLORIO

by Resolute John Florio
giordano bruno

420 years ago Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake by the Roman Inquisition.  He was a major influence in John Florio’s life who changed his way of thinking, his approach towards life, and his works. But how did John Florio know Giordano Bruno and when did they meet?

Italian philosopher, astronomer, mathematician whose theories anticipated modern science, Giordano Bruno was one of the most adventurous thinkers of the Renaissance.

Supremely confident in his intellectual abilities, Giordano Bruno ridiculed Aristotelianism, especially its supporters, and rejected the traditional geocentric astronomy and intuitively went beyond the Copernican heliocentric theory, and provided a starting point for his exposition of what he called a “new philosophy”, disproving Aristotle’s principal argument for supposing that the universe was finite. Animated and populated by numberless solar systems, for Bruno the universe was infinite, and eternal.

BRUNO’S WORKS PUBLISHED IN LONDON

Very few seem to know that Giordano Bruno spent two years in London at the French Embassy with John Florio, where he wrote and published works which had a huge influence in John Florio’s works: La Cena delle Ceneri, Lo Spaccio della bestia trionfante, Gli Eroici Furori, De la causa, principio et uno.

Living with Giordano Bruno under the same roof for two years, John Florio embraced Bruno’s philosophy. Above all, the thesis upon the infinite universe, the post-Copernican, heliocentric theory and the possibility of life on other planets. Florio also got to know other important themes that Bruno discussed in his works:

  • The strong and decisive condemnation of a corrupt and arrogant power.
  • The fiercely satirical treatment of the pedants. (Pollinio is a pedant in De La Causa principio et uno, Corambis is a pedant in La Cabala del Cavallo Pegaseo, Manfurio IS A pedant in Il Candelaio.)
  • Anti-Petrarchism.
  • Death as a pure moment of passage in the courses and appeals of a universal vicissitude discussed in De La Causa, Principio et Uno.
  • The arduous search, within this new infinite universe, for a new historical and civil role for the man of thought.
  • The theme of madness, seen as the protagonist of a new way of seeing life and as the freedom of cultural renewal within a world full of old principles of preservation of a power that is corrupt and covered by a bloody violence as explained by Bruno in La Cena delle Ceneri. Bruno, through his works, bring the hope to see a new world, new characters not morally corrupted than those who have caused desperation and madness in men who tried to bring new ideas and theories of renovation in the world.
  • Shadows is a dearly theme to Bruno who considered the infinite universe a shadowy seal of the divine infinity, and the shadows of thought in the human mind susceptible to infinite combinations in an art of memory that opened up new horizons of potentially limitless knowledge.

John Florio’s personality has been distorted throughout the centuries, and he has been often described by some critics as a pedant. It’s absurd only to imagine that Giordano Bruno, the most rebellious mind of the Renaissance, would be such a close friend of John Florio, if he was really a silly pedant, as he is sadly described by some critics still today.

JOHN FLORIO & GIORDANO BRUNO

Giordano Bruno and John Florio lived together at the French Embassy for two years. 

John Florio was the schoolmaster of Catherine Marie, the daughter of the french ambassador Michel De Castelnau. John Florio also worked as the ambassador’s legal representative, secretary, notary, and attending audiences with Queen Elizabeth. Bruno, on the other side, found at the French Embassy a pleasant atmosphere and an oasis of peace where he could freely write.

The friendship that linked Florio to Bruno is particularly rich and significant: Florio in fact appears in La Cena delle Ceneri as one of the messengers that brings to Bruno the invitation to dinner by Fulke Greville. In another scene Bruno and Florio are on a boat at night. They burst into song chanting stanzas from Ludovico Ariosto‘s Orlando Furioso.

‘Oh feminil ingegno’ warbled the Nolan, following Messer Florio’s rendering of ‘Dove, senza me, dolce mia vita’ which he sang as though thinking of his loves.” 1

Later, Florio will return the compliment by introducing the figure of Bruno, called ‘Il Nolano’ in his bilingual dialogues entitled The Second Fruits. The portrait painted by Florio is undoubtedly that of a friend: in fact, Bruno appears in his pages in a positive light, like a satirical and healthy whip of pedants.

Florio never forgot Bruno, even after the long years of the trial and their tragic outcome at the stake. He was motivated by a sincere desire to honour and commemorate Giordano Bruno, and in 1603 he paid tribute to Bruno in the notes The Corteous Reader prefixed to his English translation of Montaigne’s Essays, in which John Florio recalled his old “fellow Nolano”, who had taught him the cultural value of translations:

“’Yea but my olde fellow NOLANO tolde me, and taught publikely, that from translation all Science had its of-spring”

John Florio, Montaigne’s Essays

And later still, in 1611, in the second and increased edition of his Italian-English vocabulary entitled The New World of Words, which Florio will dedicate to Queen Anne of Denmark, will list Bruno’s Italian works among the texts he used for the composition of the dictionary, those written at the French Embassy.

Bruno scholars Gentile and Spampanato have both proved Florio’s indebtedness to the philospher’s writings. Many of Bruno’s thoughts are undeniably shaped in Florio’s work Second Fruits. Also, in his two dictionaries Florio added many terms as well as Neapolitan dialect words taken from Bruno’s works. 2 Michael Wyatt also suggested that both Bruno and Florio shared the passion for words, and it was actually Giordano Bruno who suggested John Florio to publish a dictionary. 3

John Florio had the luck and chance to meet and live with an extraordinary man called Giordano Bruno for two years, and was inevitably influenced by him. He truly cared about Giordano Bruno’s fascinating work and he was devastated and saddened by Bruno’s terrible fate.

420 years ago Giordano Bruno’s adventures in free thought ended when the Roman Inquisition condemned him for heresy, and he was burned at the stake. His last words were:

“You may be more afraid to bring that sentence against me than I am to accept it.”

  1. “Messer Florio (come ricordandosi de suoi amori) cantava il Dove senza me dolce mia víta. Il Nolano ripigliava: Il Saracin dolente, o femenil ingegno”. – Giordano Bruno, La Cena delle Ceneri.
  2. Spampanato, V., Giovanni Florio, Un amico del Bruno in Inghilterra, La Critica. Rivista di Letteratura, Storia e Filosofia diretta da B. Croce, 21, 1923; 22, 1924.
  3. If you want to know more about the influence of Bruno in Florio’s dictionary, read 2. New World of Words: Giordano Bruno’s infinite worlds

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