17 February 2019

17 February 2019


 17 February 2019 is the Day of Giordano Bruno’s Martyrdom for Science according to one popular interpretation of events. The philosopher, mystic, and convicted heretic was in fact burned at the stake on 17 February 1600, and he was certainly accused of believing in the plurality of worlds in an infinite universe (or something of that sort)—but what exactly he was burned for is not clear, since the specific charges have been lost. Since he apparently did not believe in the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, or the transubstantiation, there was plenty of fuel for that fire without getting into his cosmological beliefs. That he believed in magic, and that both Moses and Jesus were magicians, probably didn’t help his cause any. That he died a martyr for the freedom of belief is beyond question—at least in the general sense that anybody who was executed for holding opinions contrary to the authorities of that time and place is such a martyr—but he was not really a martyr for science, as such. My views on Bruno were formed decades ago, when I still had access to a real library, and doubtless much has happened since then. For a reasonable current perspective I suggest Tim O’Neill’s “The Great Myths 3: Giordano Bruno Was a Martyr to Science” and “Giordano Bruno—Gaspar Schoppe’s Account of his Condemnation.” I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with all the details of his interpretation—I’d have to reacquaint myself with the evidence and catch up with current scholarship to be certain of where I stood, honestly—but I am saying that his presentation matches the evidence that I am aware of and should serve as a decent starting-point for anybody who is curious about Bruno.

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