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"Sheds light on Bruno's own self-understanding as á mystical prophet

to a new age."-Choice. "This book is fascinating in its grasp and inter-

pretation of a difficult and multi-faceted philosophy that includes ele-
ments of the Platonic and Kabbalistic thought that Bruno encompassed
in his eclectic and highly individualistic~writings."-The Philosopher. ''A
fascinating Renaissance figure brought to life by de León-Jones ...
[in] .a refreshing and informative exploration ofBruno's mystical spec-
ulations."-Religious Studies Review. "De León-Jones has enriched our
understanding of the ways Jews and Christians interacted and the
effects these interactions had in shaping the philosophical, religious,
and scientific ideas ofboth communities."-S_hofor.
Giordano Bruno (1548-I6oo), a defrocked Dominican monk, was con-
victed of heresy by the Roman Catholic Inquisition and burned at
the stake in Rome. He had spent fifteen years wandering throughout
Europe on the run from Counter-Reformation inteUigence and eight
years in prison under interrogation. .'
The author of more than sixty works on mathematics, science, eth-
ics, philosophy, metaphysics, the art of memory, and esoteric mysti- · ·
cism, Bruno had a profound impact on Western thought. Until now
his involvement withJewish mysticismhas never been fully explored.
Karen Silvia de León-Jones presents an engaging and illuminating
discussion ofhis mystical understanding and use ofJewish and Chris-
tian Kabbalah, theology, and philosophy, including the famous Her-
metica, and especially his exploration and use of magic to reveal the
mysteries of the universe ana the divine.
Karen de León-Jones is a research fellow in religious studies at the
Centre d'Etudes des Religions du Li~re, Centré National de la Recher-
che Scieñtifique-Ecole Pratique des Etudes Scientifiques (París) and
at the Institute Karma Ling (Arvillard).

Cover image adapted from Christian Bartholméss,]ordano Bruno, 1846.

Illustration and design by R. W. Boeche.

University ofNebraska Press ISBN 0-8032-6646-4 $16 95

J~ ~~~~~IIUili!UIIIIIillllllllllll
Lincoln NE 68588-02S5

Giordano Bruno and

the Kabbalah
P R O P H E T S , tvJ A G 1 C 1 A N S ,


University of Nebraska Press

Lincoln and London
© 1997 b Yale nive ity
All righ re rved
ManufaCLured in the níted tates of America

Fir t ebraska paperback printing: 2004

ibrar of on re Catalogin -in-Publication Data

D León:Jone ·, Karen ilvia.
iordano Brun and the kabbalah : prophe ma "dan , and rabbis 1 Karen
ilvia d eón:J n .
p. cm.
riginaU publi hed: ew Haven: Yal nivet·sity Pre , Cl997·
lnclude bibliographi al refer nce and ind
1 8 ~032-6646-4 (pbk.: alk. paper)
1. Bruno, Giordano, 154 -1600. 2. Cabala-Hi Lor -16th centur. l. Title.
B783.Z7D44 2004
296.1'6' 92-dc22 2004 O l7

Maten al protegido por derechos de autor

In Memoriam Professor loan Culianu

Acknowledgments ix
r Nola, the Nolan, and the "Nolana Filosofia" r
2 Bruno's Kabbalistic System 17

3 The Sefirot 29
4 Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza 53
5 lgnoranza, Sofia, and Veritii 63
6 Metempsychosis 83
7 The Ass, the Asino Cillenico, and the Ca vallo Pegaseo 109

8 Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Symbol of the Ass rr8

9 The Prophet Balaam and the Prophetic Ass 128

ro The Prophet M oses r 37

rr The Prophet Solomon 146
r 2 The Prophetic Allegory r 57
r3 Prophets, Magicians, and Rabbis r 74

viii Contents

Appendix I. The Actreon Emblems from Eroici Furori 18 5

Appendix 2. The Sun Emblems from Eroici Furori 189

Appendix 3. The Emblems of the Nine Lovers from Eroici Furori I 95

Appendix 4· The Nine Orders of Blindness from Eroici Furori 200

Notes 203

Bibliography 2 55

Index 267

The initial research for this book was funded by the Dorothy Danforth-
Compton Foundation, which provided me with a fellowship to complete my
Jissertation. 1would like to thank my dissertation committee at the University
of Chicago for their dedication and help; my thesis director, Emilio Speciale,
;or his patience, advice, and moral support; Paolo Cherchi, who shared with
:ne his erudition in many subjects, for all his help throughout my tenure at the
university; lngrid Rowland for her attentiveness and enthusiasm; and the late
loan Culianu, who was also on my committee and who introduced me to
Giordano Bruno and encouraged meto explore his use of the Kabbalah.
1 would also like to thank those who have gave me encouragement in my
~esearch, which brought meto Italy, France, and the United Kingdom- espe-
.;¡ally Giovanni Aquilecchia of the University of London; Yves Hersant of the
Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris; Moshe Idel of the Hebrew
L"niversity in Jerusalem; and Nicola Badaloni of the Universita degli Studi di
Pisa for their suggestions, critiques, and insights.
Special thanks go to Pierre Blanc of the Centre d'Etudes Franco-Italiennes,
Cniversité de Savoie-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and to
Iohn Usher in the Department of Italian, University of Edinburgh.


N ola, the Nolan, and the "No/ana Filosofia"

On February 17, 16oo, an excommunicated, defrocked monk from the

Dominican monastery in Nola was burned alive at the stake in Rome. The
1ame of this man imprisoned, charged, and sentenced to death for heresy by
:he Roman Catholic lnquisition was Giordano Bruno.
Little is known about the early life of Bruno, other than the information
1e provided in his Inquisition depositions. 1 Most of his biography is recon-
>tructed backward, from his sensational death to his rather humble origins.
Bruno was born in 1548, in the small town of N ola, in the Italian region
)f Campania, of obscure parents- Giovanni Bruno and Fraulisa Savolino-
who named him Filippo (Giordano is his religious name). Even from a young
1ge Bruno distinguished himself by attracting the interest of the Inquisition. As
~arly as 1 566, as a no vice in the Dominican monastery of his home town,
roung Bruno was accused of holding heretical opinions. The exact charges are
)f Arianism, iconoclasm, and possession of heretical books (in this case, edi-
:ions of Erasmus). Many scholars attribute Bruno's flight in r 576 from the
nonastery in Nola to this first run-in with Counter Reformation Intelligence.
Flight from the restrictive life of the Dominican Order turned into fifteen years
)f wandering throughout Europe.
In exile Bruno wrote the bulk of his numerous works, which span the intel-
ectual interests of the sixteenth century: from mathematical and scientific

2 Nola, Nolan, and "Nolana Filosofia"

treatises, to moral and metaphysical dialogues, to esoteric and mystical trae-

tates. There even was a comedy. For Bruno, exile meant not only literary and
intellectual experimentation, but religious experimentation as well. It is be-
líeved that in Geneva Bruno converted ro, or at lea t actively participated in,
the Calvinist Church . He was among Anglicans at the court of Elizabeth 1,
Lutherans at the University ofWittemberg, and Catholics in Paris and Prague.
Nowhere, however, was he welcome for any extended period, because his
controversia! ideas and litigious and provoca ti ve manner of expounding them
created difficulties for him everywhere he took refuge.
In r 592, conscious of the possibiliry of arrest, Bruno accepted the hospi-
taliry (probably with the assurance of security) of a Venetian noble, Giovanni
Mocenigo, who denounced him to the local branch of the Inquisition operat-
ing in that ciry. Mocenigo was to play a key role in the first Venetian tria!,
which despite Mocenigo's vociferous interventions seems not to have been
material for martyrdom. Deemed unsatisfactory by the Roman Office, the
Roman Inquisition demanded Bruno's extradition ro the Holy City and began
the tria! anew. lnterrogations dragged on for nearly a decade with this second
fateful and fatal tria!. On February 8, t6oo, Bruno was condemned as "pre-
detro, reo inquisito, processato, colpevole, impenitente, ostinate et pertinace"
and séntenced to dea th for heresy. 2
Rather than closing thi episode of heresy, rhe condemnarion of Bruno
opened the firsr chapter of the myth of the philosopher. From contemporaries
of Bruno to the present da y, it is commonly held that Bruno died beca use he
refused to recant his philosophical and religious belief . Hi tubborn ad-
herence to the self-proclaimed "Nolan philosophy" won the admíration of
many throughout the centuries, along with the disgust of other .
From the sixteenth to rhe twemieth cenruries Bruno ha s been perceived in
myriad ways, according to the intellectual fashions of the time . Contempo-
raries of Bruno considered him an adept of the art of memory and a philoso-
pher of great stature. After his death in r 6oo, religious movements of that cen-
tury he was never to know, such as the Rosicrucians and the Masons, adapted
his philosophical ideas to their own theological ones. 3 Fairly ignored by estab-
lishment philosophers of the Enlightenment (hi work was and is, after all, on
the Index of Forbidden Books), his name was whispered but not cited.
The myth of the man burned alive at the stake for refu ing to recant his
philosophic and scienrific principie must have grown duríng the eighteenth
century, however, because in the nineteenth century Bruno was hailed as one
of the liberators ofIta! y, aman who courageously and singlehandedly opposed
the backward Catholic Church, who heroically met torture at the hands of the
Inquisition and died a martyr to the cause of science and liberal thinking.
No/a, Nolan, and "No/ana Filosofia" 3

Gíordano Bruno the man i a great myth of that period: his popularity is
anested by the erection of a monument to him on the site of his martyrdom,
Piazza Campo de' Fiori in Rome. From the late part of the last century ro
the present day, biographies of Bruno abound. lnterest in his tria! has re-
mained strong, and the first research into the Inquisition documents has been
In che twentieth century, Bruno the liberator and martyr has also been
Bruno the magus, the Hermeticist, the scientific revolutionary, the homosex-
ual, even the intriguer and the spy, as renewed interest in his philosophy has
created a bibliographical (and biographical) boom of Bruno studies. His life
and thought continues to fascínate not just scholars, but also the popular
imagination. A popular biography, fictional accounts of his last days in prison,
a movie, and two operas have immortalized Bruno in the past decades. The
myth of Bruno grows daily. To give just one example, in France there is a
"Bruno Club" thar not only publishes research on Bruno, but is also raising
funds ro erect a statue of him in París in imitation of the one that domina tes
rhe sire of his execution in Rome. A recent biographer, Bertrand Levergeois,
rightly coined rhe rerm " Brunomania" to describe thís modero reviva! of inter-
ese in Bruno. 4
The influential Warburg scholar Frances Yates offers evidence that Bruno
had a following of disciples; he was certainly admired by sorne important
contemporary thinkers, for example, Sir Philip Sydney. Bruno's influence ex-
tended beyond the circles of Neoplatonists and magi co religious rhinkers.
According to Yaces, Bruno sought ro unite the splintered Churches into a
single universal Church. Bruno failed to reform the Church with his enHght-
ened views, but he did contribure ro the development of new religious move-
ments. The founders of the Rosicrucian and Masonic movements of the seven-
teemh cenrury studied bis treatises and syncretized his theories with their
own doctrines. Certain contemporary religious movements have integrated
tbe Notan philosophy into their pursuit of renewed spirituality, chus fulfiJling
Bruno's ambition. One such group in France, che Nouvelle Acropole, dedi-
cated their center's library ro him, because rhey herald him as a defender of
knowledge, which tbey understand as a mélange of philosophíes and faiths.
This book focuses for the first time on this important philosopher and
mystic's understanding and use of the Kabbalah. lt is an alrernative interpreta-
tion of Renaissance culture in the second half of the sixteenth century, and it
explores the influence of Jewish thougbt in Italian Renaissance philosophy,
spedfically as manifested in the works of Bruno. Bruno is an extreme example
of how the Christian Neoplatonists of the r 58os incorporated - in an attempt
co find the means for a renewed and perhaps unitary spirituality- not only
4 N ola, Notan, and ''No/ana Filosofia"

jewish thought, but also alternative religious systems at a time of religious

upheaval in Reformation Europe.
The least researched or most problema tic aspects of the "Díaloghi italiani"
(the ltalian Dialogues) are the primary focus of this new "Kabbalístic" ap-
proach to Bruno. Scholarship on Bruno is in itself problematic. Although the
myth of Bruno has survived in popular, philosophical, or even esoteric imagi-
nation centuries after his death, Bruno's philosophy was neglected, misun-
derstood, or forgotten for centuries of scholarship. Only a few scholars have
tackled the problem of reediting any of his sixty or so works. 5 Bruno's opera
omnia has had only one editor since the last century, Francesco Tocco, who
predates Yates and Rossi and therefore has an antiquated and heavily Chris-
tian interpretation of Bruno. Most likely beca use of Bruno's continued pres-
ence on the Vatican Index of Forbidden Books, even reprints of Tocco's edition
of his Opera latina conscripta (r879-8r) are rare. For the Italian Dialogues,
the most widely circula red edition is that of Giovanni Gentile (192 5 ), the third
edition of which was recen ti y reedited by Giovanni Aquilecchia ( 198 5 ). Trans-
lations of Bruno's work have appeared in the past few years, but attentive,
critica! recovery of the original texts is limited ro the efforts of Rita Sturlese.
The publishing of bilingual editions of all of Bruno's works has been under-
taken in France, under the direction of Yves Hersant, who heads an interna-
tional initiative with Belles Lettres. A new ltalian and also a French edition
with facing-page translation of the dialogue essential to this study, La cabala
del cavallo pegaseo, were published in 1993, with an introduction by Nicola
Eugenio Garin, Nicola Badaloni, Frances Yates, and Paolo Rossi were the
first contemporary scholars ro reevaluate Bruno and recognize his srature as a
philosopher. Their work is invaluable and is the source of all subsequent re-
search on Bruno. Michele Ciliberto does interesting work on Bruno's thought
from the point of view of a historian of ideas. The late loan Culianu expanded
the understanding of Bruno the magician from the perspective of a historian
of religion. Nuccio Ordine focused on the image of the Ass, linking it to
Kabbalah without developing Kabbalistic themes. Only Badaloni, however,
has enríched Bruno scholarshíp with a lengthy analysis of Bruno's Kabbalah,
in the introductions of the recent editions of Cabala. No work has focused on
Bruno's mysticism as a crucial aspect of his theory of magic, or of its prophetíc
consequences. No book has heretofore been written on Bruno and Kabbalah.
1 intentionally chose an aspect of Bruno's philosophy that is little studíed
as my contribution to original research in Bruno scholarshíp. For the most
part scholars have acknowledged that the dialogue La cabala del cava/lo
pegaseo (roughly translated as The cabala of the Pegasean horse) expounds
No/a, Nolan, and "No/ana Filoso(ia" 5

certain elements, or "retains something," of Kabbalah in a satíric manner.

Bruno, however, was far more interesred in and influenced by Kabbalistic
ideas. lndeed, at rhe beginning of the dialogue Cabala Bruno states that there
is no distinction between Kabbalah, theology, and philosophy: there is only
Yates proposed what has become the most prevalent interpretation of
Bruno: that of the Hermetic Magus. Most scholars follow Yates in her catego-
rization of Bruno, or at least do not openly contend it. Yates, who bases her
knowledge of Kabbalah either on general references made in Renaissance
texts (such as che writings of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola) or on che author-
ity of the works of Gershom Scholem, rejects any in-depth understanding of
Bruno's Kabbalah. Kabbalah is rarely the focal poim of Bruno studies, but an
addendum toa different imerpretation. Badaloni was the first of the respected
Bruno scholars ro tackle directly a Kabbalistic reading of the dialogue Cabala,
for the most part outlining its Kabbalisric themes.6 I suggest that by writing the
dialogue Bruno practices the hermeneutic techniques of the Kabbalah.
The ltalian Dialogues provide the so urce for this Kabbalistic study of Bruno.
The three so-called dialoghi morali, in which Bruno expands his theory of
magic will be the primary sources. Specifically, Lo spaccio del/a bestia trion-
fante (The expulsion of the triumphant beast) presents the Egyptian and Clas-
sical cosmologies combined, along with a list of the various deitíes and virtues
that replace the ancient constellations in the reformed heavens. Characters,
ideas, even astronomical figures from this dialogue appear in the successive
two. Spaccio first introduces in a coherent, exposirory, even prophetic manner
the theory of metempsychosis- the transmigration of souls from one body to
another after death. La cabala del cavallo pegaseo and the inserted dialogue
L'asino cillenico presem the Kabbalistic cosmology of the ren se{irot. The
presentation of the names and attributes of the sefirot is straightforward, as is
their syncretic nature: they accompany che Classical cosmological hierarchy.
The Kabbalistic and Classical cosmologies are meam to be superimposed on
one another. Bruno combines che sefirotic tree with the ten spheres of heaven,
creating a clear parallel structure. More interestingly, it is in Cabala that the
negative rheology of asinita {the abandonment of humanity) is first explained.
The entire dialogue is a defense of the use of Kabbalah and of the belief in
metempsychosis as a necessary and desired consequence of the unio mystica.
Cosmological knowledge is the foundation for acquiring the tate of asinita:
the quintessential condition of the mystic, who abandons all shreds of human
mundane existence to become an Ass. Asinita assures the mystical magus or
sage ar least one transmigratíon of the soul, if not immortality. It is in Bruno's
extensive exposition of Kabbalah that prophecy comes ro the fore. L'asino
6 No/a, Nolan, and "No/ana Fi/osofia "

cillenico is often considered an appendix to the previous dialogue. Sariric

elements aside, ir provides the best de criprion of what rhe initiare-disciple
must reject philosophically to attain the true "asinine" state: rhe undersrand-
ing and acceptance of Bruno's philosophy.
The constellarions mentioned and reorganized in Spaccio are then utilized
in Cabala and De gli eroici furori (On the heroíc frenzies). Eroici is perhaps the
mosr complex of rhe dialogues, borh in its composition and in ir concepts.
Bruno declares that ir is his canricle of cantkles. Made up of emblems, che
dialogue expounds Bruno's theory of mysrical Eros. The emblems are all re-
lated ro love themes: rhe two most imporranr are the cycles dedicated ro rhe
myth of Actreon and ro the nine blind Lovers, which are allegorical descrip-
tions of metempsychosis. Seemingly whimsical, th e emblems are figurations
for a profoundly prophetic discourse. In the commentary ro the poems, Bruno
foresees rhe coming of the an,no m un di, when a cosmic renovation- a sort of
cosmíc metempsychosis- will rake place. Framed in the Kabbalistic structure
of the Song of Songs, the poetic love themes of Eroici derive from Kabbalistic
erotic mysricism. Each dialogue provides elements ro be pieced altogerher, like
different steps or srages in a manual. Indeed, the three dialogues are so ínri-
marely connected by their principie conceprs rhat they can only be understood
as a whole: the three make up a unity.
Bruno does not succinctly divide themes or topics; rather, gaps are lefr in the
each dialogue to be filled in the subsequent one, which in turn sheds light on
the previous. The presentation of the dialogues and the division of all this
complex material remains simple in the structural division of the analysis.
After this general introduction of Kabbalah in Renaissance Christian philoso-
phy and magic, each chapter is dedicated ro one of the principie themes of the
Nolan philosophy. Because Bruno grasps the fundamental aspecr of Kabba-
lah- that it is on its most basic level a hermeneutical technique- rhemes are
not labeled more or less particularly Kabbalistic. Bruno's polemical and out-
spoken personalíty ís reflected in the Nolan philosophy; thus Bruno's Kabba-
lah emerges clearly. Bruno does not mere! y present or discuss the Kabbalah, he
transforms ít, manipulares it, makes it his own, does it.

Giordano Bruno and the Kabbalistic Tradition

From the end of the fifteenth century a great interest was sparked in Ita! y
in non-Christian religions. The trend was set in the Neoplatonic circle of the
intellecrual and phílosopher Marsilio Ficino, who was immortalized in the
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Conclusions and who conrinued to develop
and gather strength and followers welJ after Bruno's execution in r6oo. By the
No/a, Nolan, and "No/ana Filosofia" 7

15 8os when Bruno wrote bis most famous and important works, the Kabba-
lah was an intellectual trend that could not be ignored; indeed, it was nearly
faddish. The Humanists studied ancient texts from Egypc and Chaldrea, and of
Jewish Kabbalah, including the famous Hermetica, which was erroneously
dated to pre-Christian times, and the Zohar, which was thought to ha ve been
written by the patriarch Abraham. Syncretism developed out of the general
Renaissance fascination with the origins and chronology of European ideas.
The term "Renaissance" was coined to define the period of the rebirth (or
rediscovery} of the Classical tradition in the arts and philosophy. However
simplistic this definition may be, there was an increasing awareness of pre- and
non-Christian thought in fifteenth-century Italy. The encyclopedíc accumula-
tion of facts and texts, paired with the study of ancient languages, opened
debates about the chronology of the development of different world religíons
in relation to the appearance of Christianity. The recovery of Greek and the
discovery of Semitic languages allowed Humanist scholars ro read Egyptian
and Jewish texts and translate them for those who had no propensity for
leaming languages. By the seventeenth century the Hermetica and Zohar- in
Greek, Latín, Hebrew, and a number of Western European languages- were
basic reading for budding philosophers and rheologians.
Like that of most of bis contemporaries, Bruno's philosophy was a syncretic
one, based heavily on ancient philosophies and theologies. A few generatíons
before him, the phílosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (author of the
famous Oration on the Dignity of Man) had popularízed the Jewish Kabbalah
amongst Christian thinkers and had easily adapted it to the Greek and Herme-
tic philosophies studied and appreciated by the Ficinian Humanists. Pico cre-
ated a philosophical fashion that was to last for centuries, a fashion to which
Bruno was not immune. Bruno is a crucial example of the diffusion of syncre-
tic thought in the intellectual circles of the 1 58os- circles that were often
divided in their expression of Christian spirituality. Divided by Christian doc-
trine, Renaissance thinkers were united in their fascinarion with non-Christian
thougbr. The mysticism of the Kabbalah, with its heavily Neoplatonic lan-
guage and ímagery, appealed to the Renaissance imagination, which was well
schooled in Humanist ideals. Many of the leading religious figures of the
Reformarían were students of Hebrew and Kabbalah: Erasmus even dabbled
in the art. The German philosopher Johann Reuchlin took Ficino and Pico's
philosophical syncretism a step further and argued that Pythagoras was a
Kabbalist. Scientists, too, were not impartía) toward Kabbalah: mathematí-
cians like John Dee developed che numerological aspect of Kabbalah, ex-
pounded on its supposed Neopythagoreanism, or argued tbeological princi-
pies from its numbers mysticism. Bruno incorporated Kabbalistic elements
8 Nola, Nolan, and "No/ana Filosofia"

into his cosmological system to serve as a foundation for his mysticism, which
he at times argued scientifically or mathematically. The greatest attraction the
Kabbalah held for Bruno was the mystical efficiency of the Kabbalistic ap-
proach ro God.
Kabbalah ís a form of Jewish mysticism. The term Kabbalah may be trans-
lated from the Hebrew as "tradition," or according to Reuchlin, ab auditu
acceptio ("receiving what is heard": divíne revelation). There ís no easy defini-
tion of the Kabbalah because there ís no single, homogeneous school of Kab-
balah. Kabbalah emerged in thirteenth-century Spain in the most sophisticated
jewísh círcles. The type of Kabbalah that is importa m to thinkers like Bruno is
theosophícal or theurgíc Kabbalah and ecstatic Kabbalah. 7 Christian Kabba-
lists tended to be more interested in the theurgic. Although theosophical-
theurgical Kabbalah was most prevalent among Chrístíans, ecstatic Kabbalah
was faírly díffuse in textual form (íf not practiced), with an important pro-
phetic element rhat Bruno was influenced by and whích he developed in his
The influence of Jewish thought on Renaissance philosophy, and more spe-
cífically on the theories of magic, is complex. Contrary tO the tradítional view
of Renaissance culture as markedly homogeneous, Jews actively contributed
to its intellectual shaping. What is essentíal to the study of Bruno is an under-
standíng not only of what schools or trends of Kabbalah influenced Christian
thinkers, but also of how Kabbalah was understood by non-Jews. Certainly,
jewish Kabbalah was known at least by name to many Christian thinker who
did not delve into its mysteries, and not all those who were interested in or
influenced by Kabbalistic thought were actual practitioners. As in the jewish
community, there were debates among Christians about the theological im-
plications of Kabbalah, especially in its theurgic form. To call oneself a prac-
titioner of Kabbalah (or be suspected of being one) could have serious reper-
cussions in both communities: Kabbalist rabbis could be branded as heretícs
and expelled, and Kabbalist monks could be imprisoned or worse. Abraham
Abulafia, one of the earliest Jewish Kabbalists (he practíced during the thír-
teenth century), spent his life wandering the world in search of disciples.
Pico's Kabbalistic Conclusions earned him a sojourn in the Parisían dungeons,
when the lnquisition caught up with him. Nonetheless, Kabbalah spread sys-
tematically, contributing ideas in the theological debates of the era. Bruno
actively argued in favor of his own syncretic religious understanding, bringíng
up his Kabbalistic-inspired principies in nearly al! of his works spanning the
r s8os. Of course, Kabbalistic ideas, based on Reuchlin's concept of "Cabala
divine revelationis," were integral to Bruno's development of his theory of
~----- -- -- -----··-·····--·· ·

No/a, Nolan, and "Nolana Filosofia" 9

For Bruno the primary structure of magic was cosmology. The focal poi m of
these studies of "Egyptian" religion (Hermeticism) and Kabbalah was magíc.
Theories of magic centered around the deíties worshipped by non-Christians
and these deities' place in the universal structure. Renaissance Neoplatonic
philosophy syncretized the Egyptian and Jewish material to crea te and utilize
new theories of magic. One prevalent conclusion among Humanists was that
che Hermetic dialogues were ancient Egyptian. Hence, many Renaissance
thínkers believed that the Judea-Christian tradition evo! ved out of the Egyp-
tian religious tradition with irs sacred mysteries. This belief was shared by
Bruno. The idea that Egypr was the cradle of religion created a revolution
in philosophy whereby mystical magic was elevated to an equal status with
Bruno defined magic as "la cognizione della scienza della natura" (the
knowledge of the science of nature). For Bruno, theurgical Kabbalah opened
the secret doors of nature. Two aspects of Renaissance magic must be empha-
sized, however, before it is becomes clear how Kabbalah, seemingly obscure
and detached from the world, can reveal rhe secrets of nature. First, the study
of magic involved djfferent cosmologies that were derived from various an-
cient sources and grounded in disparate philosophical systems. Second, the
study of magic was intimarely connected with the study of natu,ral science.
The Renaissance magus read philosophical and scientific texts whose theories
he combined to construct complex cosmologies with which one could chart
and understand the structure of the uníverse. No clear difference existed be-
tween phílosophy, theology, science, and what are now territed "esoteric arts."
Bruno, as did many of his contemporaries, considered the magus ro be a sage,
a pursuer of knowledge or wisdom; or, as Bruno repeats, "sapiente." There-
fore, in srudyíng Bruno's mysticism it is crucial ro keep in mínd that during the
Renaíssance the following beliefs prevailed:
1. Magic is the equivalent of science, beca use borh explore che very structure
of che universe.
2. Magic is also the equívalent of religion, because it provides a cosmology
and reveals God in the universe and humankind's ability to communicate
with the deity.
3· Magic is thus the equivalent of both religíon and science, because the com-
bínation reveals the mysteries of che universe and of the divine.
In short, religion and science share a common goal, and magic is the tool for
achieving that goal. Bruno carries chis belief even further, for he expands che
theological-philosophical connection to include Kabbalah, creating an insep-
arable triad: cabala-teologia-filosofia.
zo No/a, Nolan, and "No/ana Filosofia "

ln general, rhen, rhe rheurgíc Kabbalah adopted by Christians involves three

main aspects:
1. The study of the secret N ames of God.
2. Manipulation of the Hebrew alphabet and numbers through the tech-
niques of gematria, notarikon, and temurah.
3· Meditation on the sefirot.
The Names of God occupy Jewish and Christian Kabbalists alike, and will be
discussed at length in the next few chapters. They are often the subject of the
hermeneutical inquisition through gematria, notarikon, and temurah. Gema-
tria is the calculation of the numerical equivalent assigned ro each consonant
of che Hebrew alphabet (aleph, che first consonant, equals che number one, as
Hebrew characters represent both the alphabet and numbers) so chat words
that are different in linguistic significance are equivalent numerically and thus
linked semantícally. Notarikon is the representarían of an entire word by any
consonant that makes up its root (vowels are not written); this consonant is
usually che first letter of the word. Temurah is the exchange of one consonant
for another, much like a basic code, so that words are rewritten not in the
letters that phonetically represent the sound, but using other letters assigned to
represent the sounds (such as b for d, or d for (). These three techniques are
continually applied injewish Kabbalistic textual analysis, usually biblical exe-
gesis. These methods were also readily adopted by Chrístians influenced by
Kabbalah, because this form of linguistic-numerícal manipulation coincíded
with che mathematícal applications that fascinated sixteenth-century thinkers
who struggled to define che structures of the universe. The sefirot are the ten
emanations or qualities of God, derived from che biblical book of Chronicles.
For Bruno the sefirot are important because they have a cosmological struc-
ture, and me~ditation on them, rather than on the Names of God, leads ro che
mystical union of the human intellect with that of God. As Bruno believed, ín
the tradition of Reuchlin's "Cabala divine revelationis," this mystical union
with God leads to prophecy.
Prophecy, in Bruno's view, is not only a means of establishing a direct mysti -
cal re!ationship with God, bur also a means of empowering the mysric, who is
transformed by the prophetic experíence and acquires God-like qualities. An-
other sígnificant although polemical aspect of che Kabbalah is the issue of
metempsychosis, After the individual experiences mystical transformation, bis
or her soul is continually regenerated, and the mystic becomes immortal. This
new immortal prophetic being has the ability ro ínfluence God rhrough rhe
manipulation of the sefirot. Bruno's desire to acquire such powers is motivated
N ola, Nolan, and "No/ana Filosofia" I I

by his belief that the mystic-prophet can ultimately manipula te earthly events.
Bruno lived during sorne of the most turbulent years of Reformation Europe:
he hoped, through his mystical doctrine, to unite the splintered Christian sects
in a universal spiritual reform, of which he would be the main prophet. To
avoid the sectarianism of the post-Reformation Churches, Bruno turoed toan
alternative jewish model of spirituality through the Kabbalah. Essentially, the
Kabbalah provided for him not only a cosmological framework, but also a
hermeneutic structure for his theological discourse.
Bruno's Christianity ís a syncretíc cult bound up in his theory and practice of
magic. Bruno's Kabbalah is not limited to strictly cosmological factors but
rather extends itself to far-reaching religious goals based on his concepts of
mysticism and prophecy. Both Bruno's mysticism and prophecy are inexorably
linked to his understanding of Jewish thought. Attentive reading of his dia-
logues provides interna) evidence of the use of mystical terminology and a
profound interest in prophecy and prophets, especially in connection with
elements of the Egyptian (Hermetic) and Kabbalistic traditions. Bruno devel-
oped a mystical theory around the concept of asinita. Asinita is the perfect
state achieved by the prophet-sage-magus, and the examples of asinita are
associated either with Kabbalistic masrers or Old Testament prqphets. Exam-
ples of prophecy or prophets abound among figures and citations from the O Id
Testament and Kabbalah. Moses is a famous example, used even in Hermetic
writings, of a prophet magus. Legend has it, and Bruno repeats itas well, that
Moses learned the "occulta philosophia" during his years in Egypt and re-
vealed these things to the Jews. His Egyptian arts contributed also'to his ability
to communicate with God and to impart sorne of his revelation. Bruno took
this Moses myth as a model and expanded it to construct not only his own
theory of asinita, but also his role as prophet and leader of a new religious
interpretation. Two other Old Testament figures are Balaam and Solornon,
whom Brunp believed to ha ve been practitioners of Kabbalah: theír prophetic
link with God derived from contemplation of the sefirot. Close reading of
Bruno's ltalian Dialogues reveals the preponderance of references in key parts
of his philosophical argumencation ro Old Tesrament books and figures. For
instance, Bruno was convinced that the Book of Job revealed the secrets of
nature and the structure of the universe. The signjficance of Bruno's emphasis
on the Old Testament is that he applied one of che fundamental techniques of
the Kabbalah to his own philosophy: biblical exegesis. Bruno also introduced
a strong "Judaic" element ro the discourse of ecclesiastic reform.
New research in jewish culture and relations between Jews and Christians
in Europe provides Renaissance scholars wíth a more complete picture of
r2 N ola, Nolan, and "No/ana Filosofia"

the philo ophical and religious trends that shaped the beginning modern era.
Considered a minority in Western Europe, jew hadan influence on the philo-
sophical and scientific development of Europe that is truly underrated.
As a religious agenda, many Christian thinkers hoped to convert Jews to
Christianity by proving that che Kabbalah prophesies the coming of Christ.
Many of the Renaissance magi had a purpose other rhan pure intellectual
enlightenmenr for studying magic. Ficino, a model and source for later magi,
was perhaps the most cautious pracritioner. As one of the first Neoplatonists
to delve into Egyptian, Chaldrean, and Kabbalistic material, Ficino was oc-
cupied in accumulating and rranslating, as well as interpreting, the texts. His
Latín translations of rhe Hermetica and of the Zohar were read for many
generations. Bruno was certainly familiar with both of Fícino's translations.
Ficino was cau tious: he limited his interpretation of magic to the theoretical,
and he was careful notro appear too imerested in jewish texts out ide of their
speculative interest. Unlike Bruno, he did not expound controversia! theories
that could easily be interpreted as unorthodox but balanced ably enough
within Church doctrine.
Pico had sorne trouble with the Inquisition, despite his rather pious agenda
for studying Kabbalah. His Oration on the Dignity of Man, Conclusions,
and Declarations alternately defend and criticize the "occult arts." Pico's fa -
mous seventh Magical Conclusion inspired the thinkers that followed, such as
Bruno (who ignored the Christological reference ): "Nulla est scientia, que
nos magis certificet de divinitate Christi , quam Magia & Cabala." 8 Pico re-
jected certain aspects of magic that contradicted Church doctrine, such as
astrology. Prophecy, in the form of the Chaldrean oracles and Egyptian talking
starues, fascina red him, however, as did Kabbalah. Through the application of
Kabbalistic doctrines to Christian thought Pico hoped to convert Jews to a
form of Catholicism that incorporated Kabbalistic ideas.
Two famou Jewi h sixteenth-cemury Kabbalists were members of Pico's
inner circle. Sorne scholars, notably Idel, think Pico corresponded with Yoha-
nan Alemanno, an influential ltalian thinker who was not a practirioner of
Kabbalah but knew it well and commented on it. The convert Flavius Mithri-
dates taught Pico Hebrew, and together they translated and circulated in Latin
the Kabbalistic manuals of one of the earlie t and most ínfluential Spanish
Kabbalists, Abraham Abulafia (d. after I 292). Pico in turn directly inspired
Reuchlin, who met Pico in ltaly, and imitated Reuchlin by studying Hebrew
and Kabbali tic rexts with two prominent Jews: Jacob Loans (príva te physi-
cian ro Emperor Frederick ID} and Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno (founder of a
talmudic school in Italy). Reuchlin sang the praises of Ficino and Pico in the
dedication of De arte cabalistica to the Medici Pope Leo X, and he certainly
No/a, No/an, and "No/ana Filosofia" IJ

knew Pico's and Mithridates's works. Bruno was probably acquainted with
the Mithridates translations, which were widely circulated, and perhaps with
Reuchlin, who was himself wel1 known and specifically influential for Dee,
whom Bruno admired. This series of relationships leads me to speculate on
Abulafia's indirect influence on Bruno's mysticism, via che Christian Kab-
balists. Abulafia was a practitioner of mysrical Kabbalah, and taught that
through the Kabbalah the disciple could achieve a state of union with the
Divine and become transformed into a personal messiah. 1 hesitare to suggest
that Abulafia was the model who inspired Bruno in his self-perception of the
Kabbalist-prophet, but 1 would suggesr rhat there are similarities between
Abulafia, specifically, and other mysr.ical Neoplaronic Kabbalists and Bruno.
Union with the intellecr of God is a fundamental aim of Neoplatonic philos-
ophy rhat was inherited by both Kabbalists and magi. Bruno took an extreme
view: he aspired to convert philosophers (and potentates) to his particular
interpretarían of Christian magic. With che rise of Protestantism, what be-
gan with rhe Humanist interest in the chronology of different religious tradi-
tions developed into a further search into the origins of Christianity. Hebrew
thereby became a significant factor in the attempt by various Christian sects to
appropriate the prophetic elements of the Old Testament, which were inter-
preted as a foreshadowing and a confirmation of the arrival of Christianity.
Control of the Hebrew language meant control of translations of the Bible
(which often challenged Gerome) in order ro creare a faithful version of the
ancient texts rhat could lead to both a return ro Early Christian practices anda
reform of the Catholic Church, as well as the establishment of Protestantism.
The major thinkers of the Renaissance- Tiho Brahe, John Dee, and johannes
Kepler- were fascinate·d with Jewish texts and wem so far asto seek to recon-
cile rhe Kabbalah with the current Copernican revolution in science.
The full extent of the influence of Jewish Kabbalah on Christian Renais-
sance thought is unclear. Documentation of Jewish-Christian relationships in
this period is scarce. Pico and Flavius's relationship is known because Flavius
was a convert. Common sense dictated littJe advertisement of such relation-
ships with a few notable exceptíons, such as Reuchlin's defense of Jews, which
earned him vicious attacks from reformers and conversos. The fascination
with Kabbalah among Christian thinkers; their often profound knowledge of
its mysteries, evident from their texts; as well as the surprising number of
Christians who at least studied Hebrew, suggest that intellectual exchange
occurred between Jews and Chrisrians. lt is possible that given the precedent
of Pico's relationship with Mithridates philosophers like Bruno discussed or
even studied Kabbalah with Jewísh masters or conversos. Until there is proof
of chis interaction, however, 1 lea ve itas a thought.
14 No/a, Nolan, and "Nolana Filosofia"

That Bruno had direct contact with Kabbalists,Jewish or Christian, is often

difficult to preve. Jewish Kabbalists were present at various comemporary
courts becau e even monarchs were intrigued by the Kabbalah and other
"esoteric arts." Certainly Rudolph U of Poland, one of Bruno's many illustri-
ous hosts, was an aficionado, and sorne famous Kabbalists were present at his
court about the time Bruno visited- notably the famous R. Yehudah Loew,
known as the Maharal of Prague and the leader of the city's tlourishing Jewish
community. At the court of Elizabeth 1 the Christian Kabbalist Dee practiced
astrology for the queen and delved into Kabbalistic, alchemical, mathemati-
cai, and philosophic studies. At the very least, discus ions of su eh maners were
part of the interoational intellectuallife, and apparently Bruno in volved him-
self eagerly in philosophical and scienrific debates and polemics.
Though Bruno cannot be proveo to have ever studied with jews or con-
versos, it is tempting to postulare sorne encounters at the various courts with
which he was associared. For example, he was at the court of Rudolph JI in
Pragueat the time of Brahe and Kepler, who were interested in the Kabbalah
and may ha ve had jewish contacts, beca use Jews were allowed at court (and of
course the famous Maharal was there as well). It is significant thar Bruno -
unlike Ficíno and Pico, who had well-known relationships with jewish Kab-
balists like Leone Ebreo, Alemanno, and Mithridates- had no such direct
connection ro jewish culture. This fact anests the widespread importance of
the Kabbalah in Christian intellectual drcles by the r 58os, as well as Bruno's
intellectual independence.
Hebrew srudies united many Christians andjews. Hebrew was fairly widely
studied among Renaissance intellectuals. As early as 1506 the scholar Reuch-
lin published a Hebrew grammar guide and dictionary intended for Christian
scholars De rudímentis hebraicis, among other texts in Hebrew (his texts
were the first in Hebrew to be printed in Germany). By r 5 24 Roben Wakefield
petitioned Henry VII1 to establish a chair in Hebrew at Cambridge and elo-
quently argued the importance of learning Hebrew for theological, philosoph-
ical, and historical purposes beca use Hebrew was the language of Genesis and
hence the first language. Protestant Reformers like Luther and Erasmus read
Hebrew as well.
Bruno himself could not read Hebrew but rather relied on Latín (or ltalian)
translations of Jewish texts such as Mithridate's translation of the Kabbalistic
manuals of Abraham Abulafia, the Líber redemptionis, or simply Christian
Kabbalistic texts such as those of Raymond Lull, Reuchlin's De arte cabalis-
ticll!, or Henricus Cornelius Agrippa's De occulta philosophia. Severa! Kabba-
listic works are known to ha ve circulated widely in Christian circles during the
Renaissance, notably the manuals of Abraham Abulafia, the works of Ale-
Nola, Nolan, and "No/ana Filosofia" 15

manno and Isaac Luria, and the fundamental medieval texts of the Sefer Yetzi-
rah (Book of creation}, the Sefer ha-Bahir (Book of illumination), and the Sefer
ha-Zohar (Book of splendor) .9 Extensive research on the Kabbalah in Chris-
tian drcles has been published in the 199os, so there is a recent and rich fount
of secondary sources based largely on the historical and intellectual experience
of Italian jews during the period under consideration. lrnportant scholarly
research in the field of Jewish Studies from Moshe Idel, David Ruderman, and
Leo Goodman are of great assistance.
None of this new research on Christian Kabbalah reveals Bruno's under-
standing of Kabbalah: therefore, in this study I focus primarily on Bruno
rather than on rus sources. Much is written on the Christian texts most influ-
ential to Bruno- those of Lull, Pico, Agrippa, Reuchlin, and on che Kabba -
listic concepts they held. The syncretic nature of sixteenth-century thoughr,
which unites Neoplatonism, Neopythagoreanism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah,
and Christianity, is also well documented . Thus 1 prefer to provide necessary
references throughout and a topical bibliography at the end, so as to concen-
trare on Bruno and the Kabbalah .
Kabbalistic ideas are most prevalent in Bruno's cosmological ordering be-
cause he finds them compatible with Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean doc-
trine. Jewish Neoplatonism is perhaps more ancient than the Christian form,
hence Jewish Kabbalah was steeped in Neoplatonic ideas by the Renaissance.
lnterest in Kabbalah is not limited for Bruno to strictly cosmological facrors,
but rather extends itseU to the far-reaching religious goals based on Bruno's
concepts of mysticism and prophecy. Both his mysticism and prophecy are
inexorably linked ro his understanding of Jewish thought through the Old
Testament. His examples of prophecy are grounded in Old Testament figures
and bíblica) allusions. Close reading of Bruno's Italian Dialogues reveals the
preponderance of references in key parts of bis philosophical arguments to
Old Testament books, mainJy the three books attributed to Solomon: Eccle-
siastes, Proverbs, and the Song of Songs. Bruno goes so far as to appropriate
the title Camicle for Eroici. In the Bible Bruno finds expression of his funda-
mental principies: for example, the Book of Job, whích Bruno was convinced
reveals the secrets of nature and the structure of the universe; the Cantícle,
whose eroticism expresses the Kabbalistic unio mystica; or Ecclesiastes, which
sustains the theory of metempsychosis. Bruno prefers the Poetic books be~
cause poetry is related to prophecy in Neoplatonism- and because the au-
thors, especially in the case of Solomon, ha ve a long tradition of being consid-
ered magicians, or in Bruno's víew, Kabbalísts.
Bruno's ltalian Dialogues are the culminarion, and perhaps the most ex-
treme phenomenon, of Renaissance Kabbalistic theoríes of magic. A thinker
r6 Nola, Nolan, and 'Nolana Filosofia"

like Bruno, able to reconcile religion and science, easily accepted the precedent
of religious syncretism. Bruno believed himself to be the quintessential magus:
scientist, mystíc, keeper of the key to the mysteries of the universe (clavis
universalis ), and prophet of this revelation. Further, he framed his beliefs
within a margin of orthodoxy. During che tría! Bruno repeatedly insisted that
he was a Catholic, that his beliefs were within the boundaries of doctrine.
Whether this is so is a source of debate among scholars and a question that
distracts from a careful analysis of his (many) works. Yates in Giordano Bnmo
and the Hermetic Tradition puts forth the theory that Bruno wished to found
his own religious reformation. Her argument is a va luable one, and the in-
spíration for the conclusion put forth in this paper: that Bruno considered
himself a mystic, a prophet of a spirirual renewal.

Bruno 's Kabbalistic System

In chapter 14 {"Giordano Bruno and the Cabala") of Giordano Bruno

and the Hermetic Tradition Frances Yates says of Bruno: "In his Cabala del
cavallo pegaseo he appears to be totally rejecting Cabala for his purely Egyp-
tian insights," 1 and then she proceeds ro qualify the statement a bit by admit-
ting his attitude was not "consistent." Yates downplays the significance of
Kabbalah in Bruno's thought. A brief outline of Yates's understanding of it is
in order, because hers is the most influemial interpretation of Bruno. Yates's
chapter provides guidelines for many subsequent inrerpretations of Bruno's
Kabbalah, aH of which attempt to define Bruno's Kabbalistic system without
really achieving their purpose. Nowhere has it been observed that Bruno does
not merely "define" or "use" the Kabbalah in his writings. Rather, his dialogue
Cabala is exactly what irs tide claims to be: a work of Kabbalah.
Bruno belongs to what Yates terms the "Hermetíc-Cabalist tradition," inso-
far that he dearly syncretized the two traditions (like other magi, 2 or sages,
before him). She ascribes particular importance to Bruno's rhetorical empha-
sis, however, in an earlier dialogue on Egyptian religion, Spaccio della bestia
trionfante (I 584). Her insistence on highlighting this aspect of his work is ne-
cessitated by Yate's persistence in considering Bruno in terms of the preestab-
lished category of "Hermetícísm." Yates thus claims Bruno considered Egyp-
tian reiigion the 'earliest and best" as opposed to Judaism and Christianity,

18 Bruno 's Kabbalistic System

which were "later and worse." There are many reasons for objection, not the
least of which is tbat in Spaccio, which is the dialogue upon which Yates bases
much of her Hermetic criteria, Bruno lea ves unresolved gaps in his cosmologi-
cal reordering that are la ter resolved in Cabala. Themes from Cabala ( r 58 5)
are further resolved in the following dialogue De gli eroici furori (1 58 5).
The gaps in Spaccio take the forro of rwo constellations that are not re-
placed in the celestial reform, rhe discourse on metempsychosis, and rhe unan-
swered Lament of Hermes from Asclepius. Left out of rhe general reformare
the constellations of the Ursa Major and the river Eridanus, which Jove or-
dains will be "subsequently filled" (this is implied, though not explicitly stated,
in Cabala). jove's speech at the beginning of Spaccio on the necessity of the
transformation of all things, even the gods, is not only a ca talyst of the celestial
reform, but also an introductíon to rhe themes of the vicissitudes of existence
and metempsychosis. The theme of metempsychosis is only alluded to in Spac-
cio and only truly developed in the figure of Onorio, in Cabala.
These purposely unresolved gaps in Spaccio indicare that the dialogue pre-
cludes a second one to follow, so that it is a "preparatory" dialogue for Cabala,
where rhe themes anticipated in Spaccio are fully revealed and expounded. In
Spaccio the constellation of the Ursa Major is replaced with that of Asinita;
the river Eridanus remains, to serve as a new link between earth and heavens.
In Cabala, Onorio, once an ass, recounts to his fellow interlocutors (among
whom is the same Sebasto who was the only mortal privileged to witness the
celestial reform) his numerous human incarnations that prove the possibility
of metempsychosis. The "Hermetic Lament" of Spaccio on the inevitable de-
cline of Egyptian religion, so important to Yates, is balanced in Cabala by the
derivation of Jewish cultic practices and religious ideas from Egypt. A signifi-
cant example of this resoiution of themes from Spaccio in Cabala is the con-
cept of asinita, which was introduced in the celestial reform, dívulged in the
comext of Kabbalistic cosmology, and culmínated in the mystícism of the
"new Canticle," Eroici. Thus the Hermetic evídence of Yates becomes Kabba-
listíc in nature.
Yates did not carry out to íts logical extreme her conclusion that Bruno held
a "highly unorthodox view of the history of prisca theologia, oc prisca magia."
Nor did she fully develop the extent to which Bruno "retained something of
Cabala" 3 in his reform. A Kabbalistic ínterpretation of the three dialogues
mentioned provides a new reading of Bruno, a reading with mystical and
prophetic dimensions for the Kabbalah serves to describe the ineffable, the
supra-real. The prophecy of Spaccio is the decline of religious cultic worship.
The prophecy of Cabala is the possibility of physical rebirth. The prophecy of
Bruno's Kabbalistic System r9

Eroici i the spiritual renewal in the reform that wíll come with rhe anna
mun di.
A part of the retained superficial Kabbalah that Yate ignore is the praise of
the rabbis and Kabbalists that runs through many of Bruno's warks, and the
repeatedly expressed interest in the Old Testament, as well as the importance
of biblical figures such as Balaam, Job, Mases, and Saloman. All af these
rhemes within Bruna's interpretarían af the Kabbalah serve to introduce the
nature af Bruno' thaught and af his refarm. Kabbalists are praised in direct
contrast to Talmudic scholars, and biblical figures serve as models in comrast
to Christian figures (notably Christ and Christian saints). By invoking unar-
thodox Jewish examples, Bruno is rejecting symbols of institucionalized reli-
gion, whether they are Talmudic schalars or defenders of the Church. Herein
Hes the essence of Bruna's refarm, his "alarming departure from the norm": a
conscious departure from the strict Judea-Christian tradition that is the foun-
datíon of rhe institutional practice of religion. In essence, he strove ta creare
a new religious discourse under the farm of a syncretism of prisca theologia
with the new theological possibilities available in che complex world of the
sixteenth-cemury, a world where theology, philosophy and science have the
common goal of revealing the structure of the universe.
The Egyptian origins af religian stressed by Yates are important in Bruno's
works because rhey provide in Spaccio a cosmological and ethical system that
anticipa tes the revelation of the Ass. Kabbalah is an important system because
ir provides the mystical revelarían af the Ass and af asinira. Kabbalah also
provides the cosmological and demonic "links" ("vincula") for the mystic that
Yates claims far her Hermetic magus. 4 Bruno's syncrerism funcrians on che
basis of systems that can either interconnect with each other or be superím-
posed anto one anather, and whose end product, in his mínd, produces a new
and unique system: hence the "cabala-filasofia-teologia." Therefore, to say
that Bruno 'retains something of Cabala" and that he consíders it an "inferior
Jewish revelation and magic" is a misinterpretation and simplification of how
Bruno's syncretism works, and what his "magic" consists of.
Certainly Bruno believed in the Egyptian origins of religion, but in his mind
the Kabbalah derived from these origins. Part of Bruno's religious reform was
the return ta the Egyptian or Hermetic origins of the Church, through the
Kabbalah and through the mystical concept af asinita. Kabbalah is essential
for the cultivation and definition of asinira, precisely i.n terms of rhe manipula-
rían of the sefirot and the accompanying angelic orders and celestial hier-
archies, which are not all accounted for in Spaccio.
Yates's categaries af discussian provide a good introductian co the íssues af
20 Brnno's Kabbalistic System

how Bruno utílizes the Kabbalah: his sources, and the importance of Kabbalah
and its relationship to the larger body of Bruno's ltalian Dialogues. Yates un-
derestimares Bruno's developmenr and manipularion of Kabbalistic thought,
however, because she would wish to find in him an original definition of
superficially Kabbalistic themes, such as the sefirot; an attentive philological
study of Kabbalistic texts, as in Pico; an erudite embracing of these texts, as in
Reuchlin; or an encyclopedic accumulation and analysis of this system, as
presented by Agrippa.
Ultimately, consistent with the categories she applies to the issue, Yates
judges Bruno's Kabbalah to be derivative of Agrippa and Pico, whom she
assumes to be his main sources;5 although on the authority of the librarían of
St. Víctor, she seems to imply that Bruno disliked and thus dismissed Pico.6
Bruno may eem to di mi Pico' Kabbalah because he is not interested in
claiming that the Kabbalah reveals a Judea-Christian truth or in using ir as a
theological means of converting Jews to the True Catholic Religion. Rather,
Bruno's Kabbalah reveals the Nolan Truth, and no other.
What Yates fundamentally misses is that Bruno's use of the Kabbalah is not
the simple matter of listing and perhaps manipulating the sefirot; it does not
concern their cosmological significance per se. In the dialogue Cabala, Bruno
is practicing Kabbalah. Bruno uses the Kabbalah as a hermeneutic device to
introduce and explícate his own theories. Kabbalah allows Bruno to apply a
consistent hermeneutic system to hís diverse philosophícal and theological
le must be remembered that from the earliest texts, che Kabbalah is also a
form of bíblica! exegesis. Bruno expands the exegetical aspect of the Kabbalah
to comment and interpret what Yates terms prisca theologia in order to ex·
pound his own doctrine. Thís is the genius of Bruno's use of the Kabbalah. It is
also che rea on for the lack of serious criticism and analysis of the dialogue
Cabala. Bruno appear to be derivative in his pre entation of the Kabbalah,
because he apparently is only (and nominally) interested in the sefirotic sys-
tem. In reality, Bruno is not merely defining or presenting the Kabbalah: he is
wriring a Kabbalisríc texr. He is practicing the Kabbalah as hermeneutics.
Understanding that Bruno is applying Kabbalistic hermeneutics, the symbol
of the As takes on a new dimension, for ít is the key symbol for Brunian Kab-
balah. Here again, Yates offers a simpler interpretation of the symbol of the
As , for he i unable to perceive the Kabbalistic aspecrs inherent in the sym-
bol. Yates's misunderstanding occurs because she labels Bruno's Kabbalah as
his "Cabalistíc-Pseudo-Dionysian system," a label that limits his use of Kabba-
lah simply to a Jewish forro of the Christian negative theology of Pseudo-
Dionysius, with the Ass as its symbol: "The Ass, in short, symbolizes all nega-
Bruno's Kabbalistic System zr

ti ve theology, whether Cabalist or Pseudo-Dionysian and Christian, but Bruno

has a new, or rather an old Egyptian, Cabala, which is his religion and which is
expounded in L'Asino Cillenico del No/ano. " 7 Yates is on track, but 1 will
expand her interpretation from a differem approach. Her sole focus on the
significance of the Ass leads her to skip a step in her conclusíon, a step 1 believe
. significa m: she omits the role of the sefirot and their meanings, the part played
by the angels and the celestial hierarchies associated with them. She fails to
develop their importance, beca use she describes them under the headiog of the
"Cabalistic-Pseudo-Dionysian system." The heading itself provides only tbe
searcb for possible sources of Kabbalah, not its function in Bru.no's overall
system of thought. Ancient models seem to be Yates's only interest, as if the
Renaissance meant only a return to the old, rather than a discovery of tbe
new. The new interests Bruno much more than tbe old. Kabbalah, old or new,
is a bermeneutic device, an exegetical method, that Bruno applies to bis own
Because she does not tborougbly investigare the actual Kabbalist system,
Yates draws the conclusion that Bruno has done away with the sefirot and
hence with the Kabbalah by rejecting metaphysics for "natural philosophy."
Yates arrives at this conclusion partly because she tends to lump everything
under the label of Hermeticism, pardy beca use she is not very familiar wirh the
Kabbalah, and pardy because she insisrs on reducing Bruno's thought to (Her-
metic) magic.8 Bruno was undeniably influenced by Hermeticism, and Yates's
arguments are convincing in tbis regard, if exaggerated in the extent of its
Kabbalistic ideas are crucial for understanding how Bruno's Hermeticism
functions within bis overall cosmological system. The Hermeticism of Spaccio
serves to demonstrate the inevitable transformation and loss of the religious
cult, the inevitable process of decline and renewal whose cosmological cycle
involves gods as well as humans. Metempsychosis has a strong Hermetic vein,
but the so-called Hermetic hypothesis from Spaccio is developed and proven
only through the Kabbalah of the la ter dialogue.
Cabala is a dialogue of cosmological superstructures. The "natural phi-
losophy" and "natural magic" of Yates's Hermeticism do not exclude the
metaphysically based angelic superstructure of Bruno's Kabbalistic "demonic
magic." She arrives at the misleading conclusion that "by outlining the system
of the Sephiroth and tbe related Christian celestial hierarchies, Bruno is con-
sciously evoking che position of the Christian Renaissance Magus and con-
sciously departing from it. Not only was Bruno's Magia entirely wichout the
safeguards wirh which Ficino's hesitations bad surrounded natural magíc, bis
Magia stood alone, without those angelic superstrucrures through which (ir
22. Bruno's Kabbalistic System

was hoped ) the demons were controlled by higher spirirual forces." 9 Quite
the opposite is true. Bruno is implementing those "angelic superstrucrures"
rhrough which demons are controlled, and this is precisely demonic magic.
Bruno's inrerest in demonic magic is developed in the la ter treatise De magia,
but his interest in the subject is detected in rhe earlier Ital ian Dialogues.
At the very beginning of Cabala, the sefirot are carefully outlined and are
explicitly connected ro an angelic superstructure, where each sefirah has a
corresponding angelic arder. They serve to introduce Bruno's complex cos-
mology and mystical theory. As will be seen in rhe following chapter, rhe
sefirot serve as a ladder of ascenr and descenr for the unio mystica between rhe
human and divine intellects, as well as a mechanism ro call clown the influxes
of the various sefirot. Ultimately, the discourse on demonic or natural magic,
established by D. P. Walker and Yates and furthered by the Warburg School, is
too limited in scope to fully comprehend the extent of Bruno's concept of
magic. For the Kabbalah is also magical, beca use it reveals the structures of the
universe, the First Cause and Principie from which the universe emanare . As a
hermeneutic device, Kabbalah serves to reveal the rrue essence of magic: it is
nothing more than rhe knowledge of the secrets of nature, with the intention
of imitating the works of nature. 1o Here, r.hen, is Bruno's "natural magic or
philosophy." Yates does not recognize that the function of the sefirot is em-
blematic of her misevaluation of the Brunian Kabbalah within a form of "nat-
ural magic."
Hence Yates labels Kabbalah as natural magic, in part because she misin-
terprets the crucial passage she quotes from the asinine protagonist of the
dialogue L'asino Cillenico (an appendix ro Cabala ): "He cannot be more than
a physicist: beca use it is not possible to know of superna rural things, except in
so far as they are reflected in natural things; thus it does not occur to an
intellect other than the purified and superior one to contemplare these things
in themselves." 11 Without going into great detail at the moment, because this
issue will return la ter in the chapter, Yates interprets this statement as a nega-
tion of metaphysics in favor of natural philosophy, whereas this can be read
more at face value: that most people, unlike the Ass and his imítators, cannot
transcend the physical plane. lndeed, when asked íf there is no metaphysics in
the Academy of Asses, the Cyllenic Ass retorts that what others vaunt as
metaphysics is parr of logic. ln Cabala Bruno calls the Cylleníc Ass "ideal" and
"cabalistic." Bruno never negares meraphysics, one of the celestial virtues of
Spaccio: rather, he continually reexplicates the metaphysical and reworks and
reelaborates his metaphysical theories.
Through the image of rhe metaphyical Ass, Bruno asserts the Platonic con-
cept that supernatural things may be conceived of only in their reflecrion in
Bruno 's Kabballstic System 23

natural things, rather than in rheir true state, by those whose intellect is impure
and inferior: that is, by those who ha ve not studied Bruno's "cabala-theologia-
philosophia." The distinction is vaJid for all magic, and indicares that only
what enriches knowledge is worthy of contemplatíon by the highest intellect. 12
As a hermeneutic device, the purpose of the Kabbalah for Bruno is precisely to
serve as an enrichment, a supplement, a revelarion: knowledge.
Kabbalah offers an alternative method for the contemplation of nature,
whose allegorical vocabulary can extend a mere "scientific" or metaphysic
discourse into a mystical one. Rich in nearly Baroque allegorical and meta-
phorical language, Bruno is at the cusp between the Humanist tradition of
Ficinian magic and the scientific or philosophical discourse of the modero era.
The language of Kabbalah suirs Bruno well, for it is a hermetically sealed
vocabulary, understood only by an elite few initiated into its hermeneutic
Elitism appeals to Bruno, whose polemic is generally directed against ped-
ants and other ignorant people who should not involve themselves in debates
they do not fully comprehend. The study of philosophy and magic, in his víew,
should be limited to those who are able to comprehend them, and this is a
select and elite group.U Those who ha ve studied it are purged by their diligent
study of the "Nolana filosofia" and their meditation on the mystical dimension
of asinita, symbolized by the Ass and embodied by the Asina Cilienico. There-
fore they arrive at the divine through the sefirot.
Through the sefirot Bruno arríves at the concept of asínit.a. In Cabala, Bruno
defines asinita in terms of the sefirah of Wisdom, Hokhmah. The dialogue
begins with a description of the sefirot, which is a fundamental precept of rhe
type of theosophical Kabbalah that Bruno is interested in, because it combines
so nicely with his syncretic cosmology and his elemental theory.

Premíse and Purpose of the Dialogue Cabala

In the "Epístola dedicatoria," or Dedicatory Epistle of the dialogue
Cabala. Bruno provides his initial definition of Kabbalah. From the beginning
of the work it is evident that Bruno has a multifaceted concept of the Kabba-
lah, beca use he does not límit his definition of it toa purely theosophical one.
Naturally, Bruno's definirían of the Kabbalah is inclusive, combinatory, syn-
cretic, in keeping with the fundamental nature of the " Nolan philosopby."
Bruno makes clear from the start that Kabbalah is a phílosophical system, a
theological system, a hermeneutic system .
The "Epístola'' is dedicated to a certain Don Sapatino who, according to
Gentile, was a cleric in the parish of Santa Prima. Bruno addresses him as a
24 Bruno's Kabbalistic System

theologian, a philosopher, and a Kabbalist, inexorably and equitably uniting

the three rerms: "I do not know if you are a rheologian, a philosopher, or a
Kabbalist; however, 1 know very well that you are all of these rhings, if not in
essence, than in participation: if not in act, than in potential; if not in prox-
imity, than distantly." 14 Here Bruno dearly unites physics and metaphysics,
taking the traditional Aristotelian dichotomy ro mean rhat a philosopher is no
different than a theologian or Kabbalist, or vice versa. Tbe statement implíes
that Sapatino may be one or the orher, but Bruno immediately asserts that he is
all three in essence or participation. 1 interpret it to mean that although these
terms are generally conceived as separate and mutually exclusive intellectual
stances, in actualiry they are complementary, if not fundamentally synon-
ymous. Science is in essence philosophy (based on hypothesis and proof);
through philosophy (or science) theological truths can be proveo; and Kabba-
listic discourse serves the intereses of both philosophy and theology by provid-
ing a mutually intelligible vocabulary.
Bruno goes on to further define the potential oí all three as present in
Sapatino at least from a distance, if not up close. 1 interpret this section as a
reflection on the potentia.lity of the reader, not necessarily just of Sapatino, to
reconcile rhe three mind-sets into a uniry (a triniry of sorts). This is a subtle and
early example of how Bruno tends to unite all opposites into a composite uniry,
according to the principie of colncldentia oppositorum. Bruno rends to be
consistent almost to the letter in applying his physical theories to his metaphys-
ical ones. This is the essence of the previous quotation. And it is in the concept
of unity, in its reconciliation of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum, that
Bruno defines "cabala.,: "Here then is Cabala, theology and philosophy: 1
mean a Cabala of theological philosophy, a philosophy of Cabalistíc theology,
a theology of Cabalistic philosophy, such that 1 am uncertain whether you
ha ve these three either asan entirery, or in parts, oras nothing; however, 1 am
quite certain thar you have in part all of nothing, part of everything in nothing,
and not any part oí everything." 15 Typical of Bruno's literary sryle, which is
rích in plays on words, the reader is forced to reread statements to keep track
of what is being said as Bruno rearranges his syntax to redefine his key words.
In the end, Bruno's prose renders his meaning incomprehensible if the parts are
not taken within the context of the whole phrase, or if the key terms are not
considered together as weU as separately. Kabbalah, theology, and philosophy
are aspects of an integrated unity. The three cannot be analyzed separately, but
must be considered as a whole.
The linguistic game of recombining the three rerms is itself Kabbalistic: a
permutation of terms rather than of the Hebrew alphabet to reveal hidden
possibilities or definitions deriving from the same matter. Whether letters of
Bruno 's Kabbalistic System 2 5

the alphabet or terms, the permutation reveals the potential inherent in the
basic elements. 16 Bruno knew well how to manipulare language and styles of
discourse; hence his attraction for the hermeneutics of Kabbalah. Taking the
three elements separately, their fundamental unity becomes apparent.
In Cabala, KabbaJjsric hermeneutics provide a key for biblical exegesis as
well as for rereadings of Aristotle, Plato, and other significant philosophers.
Biblical exegesis is the basis of Judea-Christian theology, and Bruno was a
well-trained, if excommunicared, Dominican . His religious training reveals
itself in the dominant presence of figures such as Thomas Aquinas and Au-
gustine, not to mention his propensity to quote from the Bible. Bruno was not
only well versed in theological arguments, bur was also quite capable at rheo-
logical argumentation.
During the tria) interrogarions, Bruno insisted repeatedly that everything
he ever stated was done so "philosophically speaking!' A subtle distinction
(through which Bruno hoped to save himself without recandng}, rhis caveat is
evidence of the level of power that discourse had for Bruno. Discourse, lan-
guage, offers the potencial inherent in argumentation. The applícation of vari-
ous types of discourse, through the various dialogues written by Bruno, con-
sistently express recurring conceprs that are recombined according to the laws
of the type of discourse applied in the specific dialogue. Even the faet that
Bruno wrote almost exclusively dialogues, rather than treatises, indicares the
rich manipulation of discourse and the diversity of hermeneutic approaches of
which Bruno was capable.
To use the three main dialogues of interest, Spaccio is rhen "Hermetic,"
Cabala "Kabbalistic," and Eroici "emblematic." These terms signify the her-
meneutic approach of each dialogue's expression of the "Nolana filosofia." By
insisting that "cabala-teologia-filosofia" are aspects of a unity, Bruno under-
scores how philosophy (say, from Plato to Aristocle, and so forth} rnerges with
theology (scholasticism, the exegetical tradition) in Kabbalah because all three
are hermeneutic devices that serve rhe same purpose (dívination of the struc-
tures of che universe) in fundamentally the same way (discourse).
Kabbalah can better serve the purpose because ir is based on both Aristo-
telian and Platonic concepts, as well as on biblical exegesis: within its struc-
tures, the Kabbalah performs a perfect synthesis of che Classical, Egyptian,
and Judea-Christian traditions. The diversification of Kabbalistic discourse,
with its preoccupation with the order of the sefirot, aims at union with che
single Entity, which Bruno calls the First Cause and Principie. In his metaphys-
ical dialogues, Bruno upholds the principie of rhe unity of all things, and of the
reconciliation of opposites. Given the philosophical basís for Bruno's thought,
1 do not find it irreconcilable that he united theology, philosophy, and Kabba-
26 Bruno's Kabbalistic System

lah. Certainly by the sixteenth-century the combination of the three is not in

itself unique ro BrunoY
A linle further in the dedicatory epistle, Bruno mentions various aspects of
rhe dialogue that follows: these aspects hint at the function of the cosmology
conrained inside, in what is often considered a purely sacirical manner. The
first aspect is to consider che book "come cosa sacra" ("as a holy thing") that
corresponds to the theological (and Kabbalistic) narure of the discourse. The
"sacred" knowledge contains allusions to magic when Bruno goes on to fur-
ther describe the book as an image or mirror, all three of which are magical
items.18 The sacred aspect of the work in question also alludes to or preludes
the later dialogue Eroici, which Bruno wished to entitle the Canticle. He
restrained himself from doing so, but not from informing the reader that it
should be considered a Canticle; which implies, of course, that if it is not itself
a cosa sacra then the subject matter of the dialogue is such .
The scientific aspect appears in the declaration that the book, should it be
found to contain a mathematical aspecr, may then be offered toa cosmogra-
pher.J9 Bruno alludes to the scientific theories prevalent in many of his dia-
logues and demonstrates how they are connected to cosmography, because
they pertain to the fundamental structures of the universe. Also, he alludes to
the union not just of philosophy to science, but of philosophy to cosmology, as
weU asto che limits of "pure science" or "pure religion."
All these paths lead to the Kabbalah. The cosmological structure of the
sefirot opens up multiple discourses: from the vincula magica (Yates's de-
monic links), to Old Testament exegesis, to the establishment of law (secular
or religious), to che nature of Truth, to metempsychosis. According ro both
sixteenth-century scientific theory and the Kabbalah, the cosmos is in motion.
This is the Kabbalistic theory of tsimtsum, the concraction of the Godhead and
thus of the uní verse. In Bruno's words iris the "continuous motion, that could
ha ve been more efficaciously of the type of the megacosmos, in which from the
intrinsic soul dangles the concordance and harmony of linear and circular
motion.''20 Philosophicallanguage, derived from Bruno's metaphysical dia-
logues, is appropriate in the dedicatory epistle toa cosmological book because
of the intima te link during this time between the "scientific" knowledge of the
motion of the spheres and the philosophical application of this knowledge to
understand not only the motion of the gods and demons that populated the
cosmologies of che Renaissance Neoplatonists, but also their nature.
Bruno follows the introductory presentacion of "cabala-teologia-filosofia"
with the rhetorical question "What is it that 1send you?" 2 1 The answer is given
in apparendy codified language. The book is the gift of the Ass, later described
as "l'asino cabalistico." 1 will return to the question of the Ass, which is
Bruno's Kabbalistic System 27

intimately linked ro Bruno's Kabbalistic doctrine, for the Ass represenrs the
ideal of the Nolan philosophy and philosopher.
The tripartí te grouping of "cabala-teologia-filosofia" is related to the micro-
megacosmíc ideas present in many of Bruno's magical treatises. Bruno even
mentions the "asino cosmografo," which is akin to its human counterpart. The
image of the Ass ís rhe central theme of the dedica tory epistle of Cabala. Bruno
intenrionally connects rhe mystical image of the Ass with rhe cosmology of the
Kabbalah. lt is evident, upon furrher srudy, that ro attain the state of asinita
one muse scudy Bruno's Kabbalistic ideas. The first descríption is of the Ideal
Ass- rhat is, of rhe Platoníc Idea that permeates through the cosmological
hierarchy. The second is of the cosmological hierarchy of influences, from the
human intellect to that of God. All the levels from rhe elements ro the demons
and the uní verse are present in the permeation of the Archetypalldea from the
mind of the First Cause to that of the Ideal Ass: "The Ideal A s ... in che prima
mente is the same as che Idea of che human species, the same as the species of
the earth, of the moon, of che sun, che same as the species of intelligences, of
demons, of gods, of worlds, of the universe. " 22 In the Archecypal Intellect, the
"prima mente," the Idea of the world, ís conceíved. The world itself is a
reflection of chis Idea, according ro eoplatonic theories. Therefore all the
elements of the "cabala-teologia-filosofia" reconnect to the cosmological hier-
archy of influences, which is connected to concepts of micro-macrocosm and
ascent/descent that are not alíen to the Kabbalah. The intellect of the mystic-
Kabbalist ascends the hierarchy of influences (the sefirot) to attain union with
the Archetypal lntellect.
Bruno utilizes the image of the Ass ro metaphorically represent the mystic:
"Wherever that blessed animal is mentioned, in morality ofletters, allegory of
sense and anagogy of intention, is meant the just man, the saintly man, the
man of God."2 The mystic is the "man of God," because it is the mystic who
attains the union with the Archetypal Intellect. The mystic that Bruno ha in
mind is a mystic with magical and prophetic tendencies, with an intimare
knowledge of the cosmos and of the divinity acquired through attentive study
of philosophy, theology, and science: "cabala-teologia-filosofia."
The Ass-mystic is not the Catholic penitent or religíous who lives ourside of
society to escape from earthly reality into the world of Ideas; nor the Protes-
tant who has dírecr communion with God void of philosophical díscourse; nor
the Talmudic scholar steeped only in books; nor the príest of lsis dedícated to
the cult. All of the examples given are cases of the mystic dedicated toa cultic
image of God. The Nolan mystic is radical: the man of letters and ideas who
can recognize, judge, and manipulace the di vine, even for material ends such as
everlasting cycle of life within the phenomenon of merempsychosi . lt is the
28 Bruno's Kabbalistic System

man who is able to articulare the powers and experience of the cosmos. For
Bruno, Kabbalah, with its rich images and complex terminology, provides the
alternative mystical strucrure thar is not cultic and instirutionalized. The facr
that the Kabbalah is a system based on language and imagery (storytelling, as
well as philosophical and biblical commentary) makes it appealing ro Bruno,
whose immense opera omnia attests ro his !ove of language and writing.
The examples provided by Bruno of his definition of rhe "just, holy man of
God" are all Old Tesramem and rabbinical examples. The examples inrro-
duced in the beginning of the dedicatory epistle are Old Testament stories
where asses are protagonists, or rhar concern asses, or that allude to situations
where a human can be substituted by an ass. For Bruno rhe significance of
these examples lies first in the Old Testament figures of prophets and magi-
cians, and second, on his perception of rabbinical or Old Testament figures as
Kabbalists. Bruno purposely considers these figures as Kabbalists and distin-
guishes between rabbi-Kabbalists and Talmudic scholars; the former are ele-
vated ro rhe leve! of just men of God, and the latter are derided for their
ignorance and pedantry (due to their rejection of rhe Kabbalah}. Bruno also
uses the image of the ass and colt ("!'asina e íl pulledro" ) as symbols for the
synagogue and Church, the institutions that may benefit from the Kabbalah. 24
The use of rhese symbols is important to demonstrate the unity of ynagogue
and Church through the Kabbalah; two institutions brought rogether by the
Old Testament and its Law-and two institutions that resisted what Bruno
believed was a needed reform that sought ro form a new religion from their
common roots in antiquity. The image of the she-ass and colt recurs con-
tinually in the description of the Kabbalah that follows.

The Sefirot

From the presentation of the material in Cabala, it is evident that Bruno

is familiar with at the very least the vocabulary of the sefirotic system derived
from Jewish Kabbalisric sources and used by Pico, Reuchlin, Agríppa, and
most of the Christian Kabbalists of che sixceenth century. Various ínterpreta-
tions of the sefirot influenced Jewish and Christian Kabbalistic texts. Gershom
Scholem provides a number of different theories on the sefirot in medieval and
Renaissance Kabbalah in his encyclopedic work Kabbalah. Sorne of Scholem's
categories for discussing rhe sefiror are importanr and relevanr ro how Bruno
interprets the doctrine of the sefirot. The sefirot are the common language of
cosmology for both Jewish and Christian Kabbalists, and for Bruno they are
the common hermeneutic key ro the Kabbalah from which all theories radiare.
Bruno focuses particularly on the sefirah Hokhmah to introduce and develop
his discourse on Wisdom. For Bruno, Hokhmah, or Wísdom, is the basis of a
revelatory structure of the cosmos: iris the key rung in che ladder of ascent to
the Ein sof, the Kabbalistic Nothing, which Bruno interprets as che First Cause
and Principie, where the mystical union of the intellects takes place.
Scholem describes the various definitions of the sefirot according ro dif-
ferent jewish schools of Kabbalah. According to rhe main lines of interpreta-
tion, the sefirot are the emanations and manifestations of ten qualities or
aspects of God. These manifestations conrain rhe forces of creation, and they
~-------- - -----··-·····--·· ·

30 The Sefirot

represent the intermediary state between all of creation and God. The emana-
tions represent all existence in the Creator. According ro Scholem, the inter-
pretation of rhe efirot utilize caregorie derived from jewish philosophy that
distingui h between the doctrine of divine "active" and "essential 'anributes.
In Neoplatonic thought, adapted by jewish thinkers, the concept of emana-
tion is not understood as a process within the Godhead; the tendency in Kab-
balist system , however, i ro understand emanation as a process within the
Divine, and as an intermediary srage between God and his creation. 1 This
distinction i u eful because it point out one of the difficulries of interpreta-
tion pre ent in Bruno' work: the tension between the theoretical systematiza-
tion of philosophy and theology (compounded in Bruno by his syncrerism)
and the de cription of a contemplarive experience.
Moshe Idel offers a further perspective on the Neoplatonic influence on rhe
doctrine of the sefirot in jewish Kabbalah. His informative anide "Jewish
Kabbalah and Platonism" 2 argues that the concept of the sefirot and the pow-
er of the Hebrew alphabet are eoplatonic ideas within the Kabbali tic tradi-
tion. The firsr mention of the sefirot appears in the hort treati e called the
Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation). ldel points out the derivation from the
Sefer Yetzirah of two elements in the theory of Creation crucial to the later
development of Kabbalah in both Jewish and Christian circles: the sefirot and
the manipulation of the Hebrew alphabet. Originally the sefirot were che ten
mythic numbers of Creation. The numbers and alphabet, one and the same in
Hebrew, were pre ent before the act of Creation, and through them the world
was not only created, but is also maintained. The efirot are very much con-
nected ro the concept of the power of language (Hebrew), not only as dis-
cour e, exegesi , or interpretation, but also as a creative force: the golem 3 i
created by reciting permutations of the Hebrew alphabet. Later Kabbalistic
texts unite the concept of the sefirot ro that of the emanations through which
God is revealed. Thus the vocabulary of the Kabba lah and the discourse on the
sefirot describe a certain reality- that of the srructures of the universe, and of
God- while also describing the upra-real, for God is indefinable and ineffa-
ble. The development of the theory of the sefirot is traced by ldel parallel with
the developmeot of eoplaronic ideas in Jewish Kabbalah .4 In general, the
concept of the sefirot as emanations andas manifestations of the Di vine leads
to the tbeory of the sefirot as God's essence or substance. The system of the
sefirot can be seen as a means to contemplare the essence of God. The sefirot
are manifestations of real forces that connect the Creator ro the created, and
this connectíon reveals the Divine to the human mínd. This Kabbalistic con-
cept fit well wirh Bruno's overall phílosophical and cosmological ourlook.
In the Kabbalah, whether Jewish or Christian, the sefirot have specific
The Sefirot 3r

names, a specific number (usually ten), anda hierarchical arder and structure.
These elements are fairly consistent, and certainly they are o in sixteenth-
cenrury Christian Kabbalah: Bruno merely inherited the name , order, and
structure of the sefirot. One of the three common groupings of the sefirot is
that of rhe "tree of the efirot," with a special emphasis on the role of Hokh-
mah, whose imagery is important in Bruno's work.
The sefirot are al o interprered as ames or attribures of God. According to
Scholem, the names of the sefirot themselves are influenced by the verse from
Chronicle that li t rhe attribures of God: "Thine, O Lord is the grearness,
and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in
the heaven and in rhe earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art
exalted as head above all." 5 The N ames of God can be interpreted as reflecting
the essence of the divinity through rhe verse in Chronjcles which seems to
"define" the essence of the deiry. The influx of the sefirot can descend and
ascend from heaven and earth: it is the link between the worlds. A further
branch of the concept of the sefirot directly links the ames of God ro the
sefirot. The distinction to be made is between the Hebrew Divine Names,
which must never be spoken, and the Names of the sefirot as Names for
aspects of God's es ence. Scholem gives these Names of God in Kabbalah as
"the ten Names which must not be erased" and points out that seven of rhe e
names are found in the Talmud. 6
The particular Kabbalistic theory of the names or attributes of God held a
great attracrion for Christians, from Dionysius the Aeropagite to john Scotus
and other medieval Christian mysticai-Piatonic thinkers. Yates asserts that the
"principies" in Lull's ars combinatoria that deal wirh the essences of rhe Divine
and of Creation are based not only on rhese early Christian works, but also on
the Kabbalistic sefirot. The N ames of God "never to be erased" held particular
imeresr for Neoplatonic thinkers like Ficino or devoted Christian Kabbalists
like Pico and Reuchlin, and certainly in De occulta Agrippa wa fascinated
wirh Hebrew Names for overtly magical purposes. Overall, the rheory of the
sefirot was developed from Lull onward in Christian philosophical circles,
into the eighteenth century. The categories of doctrine of di vine "essence" and
"substance" were commonly derived by jews and Christians alike from Neo-
platonic sources, alrhough the obvious influence of Kabbalah is a later phe-
nomenon connected wirh the Humanist interest in Jewish philosophical and
magical sources.
The mosr direct ource for Bruno's interest in the N ames of God is probably
Agrippa: here l agree with Yates. In De occulta, book 3, chapter 10, Agrippa
discu se the sefirot in hi book on ceremonial magic. Agrippa links the sefirot
to number rheory like gematria, where the number is associared with the

Matc•1a1 orotcaido por dC'•echos d autor

32 The Sefirot

essence. Agrippa, unlike Bruno, tre ses the numerological aspect of the eso-
teric systems he incorporares in De occulta. But the system developed by
Agrippa i in turn incorporated into Bruno's system, where the numerological
and mathematical undercurrents develop differemly: numerology i replaced
in Bruno with geometrical ora tronomical theories.
Agrippa opens his chapter on the sefirot with the statement that God, de-
spite his unity within the Trinity, has numerous emanations, called "gods" by
the pagans and "numerations" or "attributes'' by the Jews. 7 The term "at-
tribute" is interchangeable with the term "Name of God," and both terms
refer to the ten efirot. Agrippa introduces the sefirot as the ten principie di vine
names that are pan of the divinity, and as elemems of the Archetype that
influence all living things. He alternately refers ro the sefirot as divine names,
parts of rhe divinity, numeration , instrument , and clothes. Agrippa was a
convenient source for Bruno of the definitions of the sefirot, which were al-
ready linked ro Neoplatonic language. He also provided Bruno with rhe imer-
laced structure of the efirot and the angelic and celestial structures that Bruno
summarized in his own presentation- as well as the sefirotic link between
heaven and eanh.
The profound difference between Agrippa and Bruno is Agrippa's under-
standing of the sefirot as "numerations." In the opening paragraph of book 2.,
chapter 1 of De occulta, Agrippa posits mathematic {numerology) as the ba-
sis of all magic. The book is on celestial magic, and it oudines the foundations
of Agrippa's understanding of Kabbalah. umerology is not unique to the
Kabbalah, and Agrippa him elf tra es the history of its importance in philoso-
phy. Most of Agrippa's mathematics are Greek in origin, from Pythagoras ro
Plato and Aristotle. Like most thinkers after Ficino, Agrippa regarded mathe-
matics as integral ro magic, and he claimed that everything in the uní verse is
governed by number, weigh.t, mea ure, harmony, and so forth. Nothing partic-
ularly original is to be found in Agrippa's claims on the underlying importance
of mathematics to natural Neoplatonic magic. This is clearly true for rhe
Kabbalah, with its three techniques of gema tria, notarikon, and temurah. Fur-
thermore, Reuchlin claims throughout De arte cabalística that Pythagorean
mathematics were derived from rhe Kabbalah, and this interprerarion, or at
least the association between Kabbalah and Pythagorean mathematics, was
popular well into rhe next century.
In contrast to Bruno, Agrippa clearly emphasizes the mathematical basis of
magic, which Bruno does not defend in Cabala. Agrippa's mathematics, how-
ever, resemble more closely numerology than modern mathematical theory. 8
Bruno who e imerest in mathematics is more developed (in his metaphysical
dialogues and in the many mathematical treatises written by him ), effortlessly

'P ';¡l nrnl n1tin nn tiP ,., nc: ti 11 n

The Se(irot 33

merges mathematics into his philosophical system. Mathematics is another

element in the complex puzzle of Bruno's thought. A mere statement defend-
:ng the mathematical basis of magic, as in De occulta, is too elementary for
Bruno, who prefers to dedica te an entire work to mathematical problems orto
drop an erudite allusion in the middle of a more specific aspect of philo-
sophical or magical theory. Certainly Bruno emphasized the importance of
:nathematics for the power of the magus-sage, especially in Neopythagorean
:erms, beca use it lends credence to many of his theories, such as atomism, the
:nfinite universe, and metempsychosis. Already Reuchlin had touched on the
Kabbalistic-Pythagorean theory of metempsychosis, although only specula-
:ively: Bruno is among the few, as will be seen, to openly support the pos-
sibility of the transmigration of souls. For Bruno, mathematics is a branch of
;:nowledge necessary to, but not independent of philosophy, as in the case of
adopting (or adapting) Pythagorean mathematics and (Neo)pythagorean phi-
~osophy. Mathematics is another approach to understanding the structures
of the universe (Bruno upheld the Copernican theory of the solar system,
ior example). It is an alternative system, an alternative method of discourse,
"philosophically speaking," that has the advantage over language of not being
1 subjective hermeneutic practice. Wonders are worked in Kabbalah through
:he numerical values assigned to the consonants of the Hebrew language.
Because the power of Creation lies in the language, and hence in the symbols
:hat represent the spoken word, the power of the Kabbalist lies also in num-
bers, because the alphabet and number systems are equivalent. Gematria, or
numerological interpretation of the Torah, was a common form of Jewish
hermeneutics: this explains in part Bruno's interest in the Kabbalah as a cos-
mological, magical, mystical, and hermeneutic system.
Al! of the Christian Kabbalists were familiar with the practice of gematriot
on the Di vine N ames- that is, of speculating on the numerical value of the
ietters of the names, a practice already present in Pico and imbued with Chris-
::ological meaning, so that from the Divine Names is derived the name Jesus
Christ. Thinkers from Pico to Agrippa are careful not only to provide their
sources, but also to link the pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources: hence, in De
occulta Agrippa traces the development of the concept of the "attribute" (or
whichever term is desirable in al! the sources). Thus Agrippa states that it is
:1ecessary that the reader of De occulta make the proper analogy between the
various traditions: the terminology may differ, but the spirit or intention is
rhe same. Bruno is not interested in reducing his system .to mathematical
· terminology. Nor is he as interested or dedicated as were his predecessors in
dearly tracing his sources, reiterating other people's theories, or pointing out
rhe analogies to be made. Rather, Bruno's focus is on developing his own
34 The Sefirot

interpretation and system, and on forcing the reader to draw his own analo-
gies. Certainly, the syncretism present from Ficino to Agrippa manifests itself
in Bruno's union of Kabbalah, theology, philosophy.
Given the ease with which the sefirot compared with and influenced
Christian mystical systems, Yates's definition of Bruno's use of the sefirot a's
Cabalist-Pseudo-Dionysian is not too far off: "[Bruno] outlines the Cabalist-
Pseudo-Dionysian system, giving the names of the ten Sephiroth, their mean-
ings, the Hebrew orders of angels which go with them, and the nine celestial
hierarchies to which they correspond. He makes up the number of hierarchies
to the necessary ten, by putting with Malkuth, the tenth Sephiroth, and its
corresponding Hebrew angelic order, the Issim, an order of 'separated souls or
heroes.' All this he too k straight out of the De occulta philosophia. " 9 Bruno
may have taken the "facts" from Pseudo-Dionysius, Agrippa, or others, but he
also adds elements of his own, not to mention the application of his own
philosophy or metaphysics. Pseudo-Dionysius's use of the sefirot is for a pur-
pose different from Bruno's, based on theological issues concerning the es-
sence of the Divinity, not the manipulation of the forces of creation for magical
purposes. Agrippa was fascinated by the names of gods and demons, and the
numerical equivalents of the names for magical purposes, but he did not ha ve
the same philosophical, mystical or prophetic scope as Bruno.
Bruno mentions the use of divine names in De magia as the eighth category
among the "XX vincoli magici," 10 along with the names of the divine orders.
The inclusion is an allusion to Agrippa, who emphasized the power of names
in book I, chapter 70 of De occulta. In this eh a pter Agri ppa claims that the
proper names of things are essential for magical operations because they en-
compass the vital properties of things. The transference of the property of
things occurs in sequence from the senses to the imagination and then to the
mind, where it is first conceived and then vocalized. Therefore, according to
Platonic principies, the vital property or the essence of things is contained in
the vocalization- in the name or utterance- which is born first from the
mind. Bruno follows Agrippa and his predecessors in assuming that the name
retains the essence of the thing named. Thus the sefirot, if they are the N ames
of God, must retain the essence of the deity, and they can be used to call clown
influence from the attributes of God represented by the sefirah. Again, the
power of language, or discourse, is evident.
Bruno's interest in the sefirot and the angelic orders, however, fits too conve-
niently within his system to be a mere reiteration of his source. The repetition
of the number ten that Yates notices derives from a long mystical and philo-
sophical tradition, but it is significant in Bruno's expanded system beca use it is
the link between the hierarchy derived from Agrippa and Pico of the sefirot,
The Seforot 35

the orders of angels, and the planets. To rhis hierarchy Bruno adds the Muses
and the nine levels of blindness mentioned in the dialogue Eroici furori.
Bruno does not explicirly develop an original rheory abour rhe sefirot.
Rather, he presents them in a straightforward manner. But Bruno can be at his
most complex precisely when he seems simple or straightforward. The Italian
definirions of the Hebrew names Bruno provides are conventional, and 1agree
here with Yate that they derive from Pico and Agrippa, 11 a long with the
ltalian translarion of angelic orders. But alrhough Bruno may accepr conven-
cional Kabbalistic ideas, what he does with the ideas- rhe manner in which he
is able to incorporare rhe most seemingly disparate beliefs imo a coherenr
system- is truly original. Following a Lullian example (utilized by Lullists
before and after Bruno) in which Lull combines his "principies" with elemen-
tal theory, the sefirot are associated with rhe elements and rhe planets. The
significance for Bruno of this long list of names is again the importance of the
possible alternative terms for the same concept rhat makes up the syncretic
nature of Bruno's philosophy.
Bruno follow an ordering of rhe efirot popular in Spani h Kabbalah 12 that
probably derives from Abu lafia via Flavius Mithridates ro Pico, 13 or possibly
from Ficino via the Zohar. Given the circulation of rhe sefiror in rhe Renais-
sance, it is impossible to confirm where the arder originated. Bruno gives che
following order and names of the sefi.rot, which he calls' dimensions": "le di-
mensioni Cerer, Hocma, Bina, Hesed, Geburah, Tipheret, ezah, Hod, lesod,
Malchurh." 14 The order mayal o derive from any number of Kabbalist texts,
or even from encyclopedias that were circulating by rhe sixteenth century. The
order of the sefirot is not consistent in all the Kabbalist rexts, and so ir narrows
clown slightly which model was utilized by Bruno Pico, Agrippa, and so forth.
A significant difference, for example, is the inclusion, or in this case the exclu-
sion, of Daat 15 among the sefirot. The interpreration of the attributes of the
sefirot, or the power of their influences, is somewhat determined by their
placement in the celestial hierarchy. Two popular groupings of the efirot are
the "tree of emanarían" (or "rree of the sefirot") and the "sefirotic man" (much
like the medieval images of the consrellarions or rhe cosmogony). 16 Bruno
probably had the former in mind, because the image of the tree of the sefirot is
developed by him into a mystical image of asinita later in the dialogue. The
rree of the sefirot is also the most common formation depicted in Kabbalistic
illustrarions. Furthermore, the concern with the dimensions of the universe is
associated in Kabbalistic writings with the formation of a tree.
The term "dimensioni" appears right before Bruno's list of the names of the
sefirot. 17 The definition of the sefirot as ''dimensions" is interesting, because
ir indicares Bruno's use of the Kabbalah as a system for understanding rhe

Material prole>11do por derechos de autor

36 The Sefirot

structure of rhe universe and reinforces his definition of magic as " la cog-
nizione della scienza della natura." It also reinforces his stance away from
gema tria in favor of speculatíve mathematics that form the ba is of such scien-
tific theories as the Copernícan solar system. The term "dimen ioní" i not
speci.fically linked to Kabbalah. lt is linked rather co philosophy, and Bruno
consísrently uses it in reference ro the constitution of the universe, or in the
mathematical sense to the dimensíons of a geometrical figure.
Generally, the term ''dimensioni" has a restricted and literal application in
Bruno's works. Given Bruno's consistency, there is no reason to believe this is
not the case in Cabala, when Bruno states: "According ro all rhe doctrines and
sects the body is made up of many dimensions, reasons, differences and cir-
curnstances."1 8 Dimensions signify the terms used to define a concept of thing;
the inherent qualities that make up its essence. Either the "dimension" or the
name reveals the essence of God. To call the sefirot " dimensioni" underscores
that they represent the "dimensions" of God and hence are equivalent to the
Na mes of God. In Bruno's mind the N ames of God are equal to the aspects of
the divinity they represent, and therefore they define the dimensions of the
divinity, beca use they describe the qualities that constitute God. Therefore, for
Bruno to say thar rhe dimensions are "raggioni, differenze e circostanze" (rea-
sons differences, and circumstance ) ís to say that they are a socia red with the
Shadow of the Idea (umbris idearum). In Spaccio the constellations are re-
placed by Virtues, or qualities that constitute its "dimensione, raggione, dif-
ferenza e costanza." In Cabala, the planets are also defined as a sefirah, angelic
counterpart, or Greek deity. The terms themselves only provide an idea of the
Idea, a vestige of the incomprehensible essence or Archetype, and thus they are
interchangeable as sefirah, angel, or deity. Bruno can therefore evoke Greek
gods in Spaccio and the sefirot in Cabala as hermeneutic devices to explicare
hís philosophical theories, which are again, "cabala-filosofia-teologia."
To darify further, Bruno also translates the term sefirot as "membri" (mem-
bers) and "indumenti" (garmenrs}Y The latter term is basically synonymous
with the former, and derives from Pico: " ulla res spiritualis descendens in-
ferius operatur sine indumento." 20 The term garments is more of an inter-
pretation than a translation, meaning "clothed in flesh," beca use according to
Pico no spiritual matter descends to earth without a covering. This is reminis-
cent of Bruno's discourse stating that the physical and metaphysical are linked.
Another possible Hebrew translatíon of the term is "emanation," because the
sefirot are emanations of the Divine. Agrippa uses the term 'abiti," which is
clearly related to "indumenti," and "strumenti" (instruments}, which may be
related to "membri." In De occulta "abiti" (garments) is synonymous with
"esemplari dell 'archetipo'' (examples of the archetype).
The Sefirot 37

The term "indumenti " appears in Causa, and here as well Bruno presents it
as a Kabbalistic nomenclature for the di vine substance, which is closely associ-
ated with the Platonic concept of umbris idearum (that the human intellect can
only perceive the shadow of the archetypal idea ). Thus the divine substance
muse be dothed in sorne manner, and in the case of the Kabbalists it is dothed
rhrough the sefirot. 21 The divine substance is infinitely distant from human
conception beca use the human faculties cannot conceive of the realm of pure
spirit. The refore, the human mind can conceive of the divine substance only in
recognizable, concrete term . These terms are a "clothing in flesh" of the spirit.
The moment the spirit i made flesh, so ro speak, it is a mere vestige of its true
self. The process exists without quesrion in Bruno's mind. The only question
possible is what to call it, which term ro use: the Neoplatonic "vestige," the
Peripatetic "remote effect," or the Kabbalistic "garment." For Bruno, aU three
terms are merely interchangeable names for a manifestation of the First Cause
and Principie.
Perhaps the best way to explain this idea is to also consider the term "mem-
bri." Bruno u es rhe term a bit further in the dialogue Cabala as a means to
describe how there is a part of the universal spirit in everything. 22 " lndumenti"
renders better the concept of an infinite universe and an infinite divine Intel-
lect: what the Kabbalisrs call the Ein sof ("l 'ensofico universo"). 23 Because
knowledge of divine can only be indirect ("per modo di vestigio," the vestiges
of the Idea), rhe manifestation of the divine muse be "clothed" ro be recogniz-
able ro the human mind. The term "membri" is strongly associared with the
concept of "part."
A clearer cosmological explanation of the concept, and of the possibility
of interpreting the "membri," i illu trated again in Causa, where Bruno de-
clares rhat the philosopher contemplares the salid body or che rational animal
through irs parts.24 ln the contexr of the statement, these parts include the four
elemenrs, and thus fit in precisely, as will become evident, with Bruno's cos-
mological theory of the Kabbalah. The philosopher and Kabbalist engage in
the same speculative activity: "cabala-filosofia-reologia." Both attempt to de-
fine the structure of the universe. Bruno underscores that the spirit is presenr in
all its members- that is, in literally everything. Therefore the sefirot may be
ten distinct aspects of God, but they are precisely ten aspects, or parts, of a
single entity. The sefirot, like the celestial hierarchy of the planets, are the
descriptíve vocabulary through which the human mind can most easily con-
ceive the mystical realm. What is relevant here is that Bruno memions, in a
manner typical of medieval and Renaissance ph.ilosophy, how the elements-
the heavenly region and the stars as well as the typical micro-macrocosm- are
reflecte·d in rhe human figure. The manipulation of image of the "racional
38 The Sefirot

animal" (or "animale razionale") i relevant la ter in Bruno's discussion of the

"intelligences" as anorher meraphor of the unity of all rhings in the micro-
megaco mo . Bruno ha a vision of totality that define members or "membri"
as any a pect of the First Cause. Ir makes sense then rhat the sefirot should
also be called thus, beca use they are rhe aspectS or emanations of rhe Di vine, of
God, or of the Ein sof. Agrippa imitares Pico a nd defines the Ein sof as "the
fear of God, ' whereas Reuchlin defines itas alpha and omega: the definitions
underscore the do e a ociation of che sefirot, as the e ence of God, with
God's power.
The efirot allow the Kabbalisr ro form a mental image (the vestige of the
Idea) of whar in ome way constitute God. For Bruno, mental images a re
exceedingly important as memory triggers, as well as for their magical pur-
poses. In rhe ca e of the sefirot, Bruno used the name as memory triggers
when contemplating the arder of the cosmological system, or perhaps as medi-
tative devices. The difficulty of imagin ing God makes it necessary in a sense ro
break clown how God is defined, as in Causa.25 The efirot provide access to
God, beca u e they are a means of conceptualizing the deity. ot only a linguis-
ric device in Bruno the efirot erve as a contempla ti ve image a well (although
in themselves the sefirot are less uccessful a uch, which may explain why
Bruno later expressed dissatisfaction with the dial gue Cabala ). As an image,
the efirot are most successful in their tree configuration, but Bruno may ha ve
had a wheel configuration of rhe Lullian type in mind, as can be found in the
dialogues De umbris and Cantus circtl!us. The efirot reveal to the Kabbalist
the limit of what God i . The individual sefirot break down into components
the concept of rhe deity, but in combination, in rheir rotality, they represenr the
complete perspective of God's essence. That i the power of the individual
sefirah and of the ten sefirot rogether.
The concept of "aspect " functions similar! y. If the efirot are the a pects of
the e sence of God, then the e aspects in themselves define or describe a part of
the essence, and in combination they describe or define the total essence of
God. Thu dimen ion, a defined in Causa, refle·cts essence: it reflect the
interna! makeup of what i described, and it i notan imposed or useful term
for describing the external. 26 The dimensions radiare from the essence inas-
much a number and proportion are traces of divinity; rhey are not randomly
applicable ro any form. Granted, rhe definition is given here in rerms of matter,
and ir musr be kept in mind thar God is not matter. But like matter, God is
nor alterable. The analogy work well with the efirot, because it underlines
the definition of the sefirot as rhe emanations of the divine. For them ro ema-
nare, they must originare in God, and they are therefore encompassed by His

Mut 1... protegidO por derechos d :..tor

The Sefirot 39

Bruno limits his interpretation of the sefirot to a fairly accurate translation

of their names from the Hebrew, wirhout much elaborarion. For example,
Bruno introduces Keter (the fust sefirah; the Crown) with the explanation " la
prima [Ceter] da noi detta Corona,' which implies Bruno's awareness that he
is reiterating the translation of the term from the original Hebrew, despite the
fact that Bruno probably knew no Hebrew. Bruno knew the Hebrew alphabet,
which he uses in illustrations of sorne magical treatises. The alphaber was
common enough in magical treatises that any attentive reader could learn it; it
was certainly present in De occulta. Bruno may also ha ve been able ro read the
names of the sefirot in Hebrew, because they also appear frequenrly in magical
treatises and images, which were often translated into Latín or a vernacular
language that appeared underneath the Hebrew. lt does not require much
grasp of the language to decipher themP By I 58 5 Kabbalistic terminology
was rather common. The list is as follows (from top to bottom):

1. Corona (Crown)
2. Sapienza {Wisdom)
3. Providenza (Providence)
4· Bond. (Goodness)
5. Fortezza (Strength}
6. Bellezza (Beauty)
7· Vittoria (Victory)
8. Lode (Praise)
9· Stabilimento (Establishment)
10. Regno (Kingdom)28
From the translation of the sefirot or the attributes they represent, Bruno
turns to the angelic arder, or the "dieci ordini d'intelligenze." Once more
Bruno is not using the Hebrew or Kabbalistic term but the Neoplatonic equiv-
alent, derived from Agrippa: "intelligence." Bruno makes clear his use of the
term in his introductory statement, before he lists the names, when he writes:
"Dove dicono rispondere dieci ordini di intelligenze." 29 Bruno connects the
Kabbalah with the other cosmological systems by breaking clown the individ-
ual elemenrs of various systems into what he deems is the essential correspon-
dence between them: this was a common practice among Medieval and Re-
naissance thinkers. Ficino had already syncretized various traditions through
analogy and had linked together the sefirot with the angelic arder and celestial
spheres. Bruno's unorthodoxy and originality stem from the fact that he did so
to demonstrate the validity of his own philosophy.
Bruno defines the angelic beings, so that the Hebrew na me of the first intel-
ligence, Ophanim, translates into "Cherubini o ruote formami." 30 He presents
40 The Se{irot

che angelic name, as well as the corresponding theoretical or e platonic

definition,' ruote o forme, ' which derives from the eoplatonic discourse on
the soul that animare rhe univer e. Bruno omit rhe overtly Christian refer-
ence found in hi predece sors's work that portrayed Christ a the fulfillment
of Kabbalistic messíani m, as well as rhe clear hierarchical pas age of influ-
ences. The names Jod and Tetragrammaton probably do not appear in Bruno's
version beca use rhe N ames of God are nece ary only to prove Chri tological
arguments like those presented by Pico; for exegetícal purposes based on rhe
gema tria and other rechniques such as rhose offered by Reuchlin, or ro imple-
ment the magical ceremonies described by Agrippa. Bruno is not interesred
in transmitr1ng this type of informarion because his purpose is to integrare
the Kabbali tic system into the " olana filosofia." By presenting the angelic
name, Bruno i inserting rhe angelic uper trucrure into his Kabbali tic system
to be man ipulated according ro rhe magical applications of his cosmological
sysrem. Ultimarely, the purpose in learning rhe mysteríes of rhe Kabbalah is to
achieve a prophetic relarionship wíth th e First Cause, notro merely dabble in
magical ceremony.
The re t of the angelic name given by Bruno corre pond clo ely to rho e
given by Agrippa, although Agrippa also further elaborares these according to
his own riteria, which are based on ceremonial magic. The name given by
Bruno are rhe following:

1. Haioth Hecados- S rafini (Seraphim )

2. Ophanim-Cherubini (Cherubims )
3· Aralin- Angeli ro bu ri Troni (Robu t angels, Thrones)
4· Hasmalin- Effigiatori (lmagemakers}
5. Choachin- Porestadi (Poten tates or Powers)
6. Malachim- Virtudi (Virtues)
7· E /ohim -Pri ncipati, dei (Principalitie or Prince , gods)
8. Benelohim- Arcangeli, figli de dei (Archangel , children of rhe gods)
9· Maleachim-Angeli lmbasciatori (Angels, emissaries)
10. Issim- Anime separa te, Eroi (Separa te souls, heroes) 31

In De magia Bruno presents the types of demons, and he terms the "good"
demons as angels. Even in this treatise of demonic magic, with its many echoes
of Ficino, traces of Kabbalah are evident. Bruno give a long discourse on "i
vincoli degli spiriti " and in this discourse he specifically mentions, with a
synonym, the "intelligences." The context of the di course is the categories of
spirits: ome are good, sorne are bad. One category of spirits is that of the
elemental spirits- that is, the spirits as ociated wirh rhe four elements . Bruno
is particularly interested in the fiery spirit , which he calls gods, heroes, and
The efirot 4r

ministers of God: "The Kabbalists call them Fissim, Seraphim, Cherubim : of

whom the prophet of the Psalms says "he who makes the winds his messengers
and the blazing flames his ervants." 32 Th roughout De magia Bruno uses
interchangeably rhe rerms intelligentia, spiritum, dii, and heroes, which are all
famíliar as terms used for rhe sefiror. Thc case of interchange of term can only
mean that they are synonymous. In Ficinian magic, given the importance of
the proper use of language, the incorrect term would produce an undesired
effect or none whatsoever.
Also Ficinian in origin is the discussion in De magia of the effects of lan-
guage and song on spirits and soul, where Bruno state that the divine intel-
ligences do nor accord their ear to just any language. The comment indicare
why Bruno imitares Agrippa by presenting the Hebrew names of rhe sefirot
and the angels: language is crucial in most magical practice. Kabbalistic magic
required that the magus make his summons in the originallanguage for it to be
efficacious. A little further on in the same paragraph, Bruno rues the invention
of writing and praises images, which he calls "the language of che gods. " 33
Bruno's comment indicares his preference for the manipulation of images both
in the art of memory and in magic, a carryover from his Hermetic idea .
Images are a universal codification of ideas, something language is not, and
although it would be interesting to read his description of images asan allu-
sion to the use of the image in relation to the Lullian or sefirotic trees discus ed
in the next chapter, there is no clear evidence chis is what Bruno incended.
There is a continua[ tension between Bruno's use of both language and images
for the transmission of his philosophical concepts and the attainment of the
mystical state.
Bruno distinguishes the two terms, "imelligentia" and "dei," according ro
rheir status ín regard to "spirit." The body of certain pure pirit i of the
purest substance: fire. And these spirits clothed in fire are angets, or gods
("dei"). 34 That is an angel or god is the corporeal manife tat.ion of an a pect of
divine intelligence. Bruno classifies the angelic order as "minísters of God,"
which indicares thac che angels are noc the same as the sefirot, although they
are associated wich one anorher. Bruno creares a hierarchical sy tem whereby
che sefirot represent che essence or substance of the Divine, and the angels,
planets, deities, and so forth associated with them are linked to the same rank
or level in the celestial hierarchy, but represenr different powers in che cosmol-
ogy. The latter are the ministers of che essences.
Later in rhe trearise Bruno states rhat every body i or ha an emanation.
The statemenr is made in the contexr of the third category of movement
("moto"). This type of movement is called an emanation, or spherical move-
menr ("moco sferico"). 35 Here is a clear connectíon between the Kabbalah and
42 The efirot

che spiritual magic already found in Ficino's De vita. The Platonic representa-
tion of che infinite i , of course, the sphere or circle. The Ka bbali tic oncept of
Ein sof is related to thac of the inlinite. The very noríon of che ten efirot
encornpassed in one lends itself to conceptualization of thern in a spherical
form. The Ein of i related ro the fir t efirah Keter, whose influence through
che Primum Mobile encompasses all things a a sphere. The notion of the
pherical rnovernem of che heavenly bodies is obviously related to Bruno's
Lullian rnernory wheel .
In almost all of hi works, Bruno reiterare time and again that all spirits are
part of the infinite, of che First Cau e, Principie, and Unity. J6 The sefirot are
rays that emanare from the Ein sof. As will be shown, Bruno places the sefirot
within the Ein sof, a is customary, but discusses it under the form of the
Amphitrite or Ocean of Soul , as if it were a eparate concept. The terms used
by Bruno in his Kabbalah make more sense when seen in the context of magi -
cal terminology. Ar the very least, Bruno must have had in mind hi previous
dialogue, Cabala (1 5 84 ), when he wrote De magia {r 592) sorne seven years
la ter. Clearly, Bruno equates che sefirotic emanations with spirits.
The intelligences from De magia are connected to the hierarchies of beings
basic to Humanist magic from Ficino on. Each rung of the hierarchicalladder
dire dy influence the next lowe t one. The intelligence , as the efirot, func-
tion a intermedia ríe ro the Ein sof, which in Kabbali tic term represent che
infinite or supreme Cause. Bruno asserts in De magia that every soul and spirit
is a continuity of the Universal Spirit in accordance with Platonic and Pythago-
rean views. 37 For Bruno, the "en ofico univer o" i the Fir t Cau e, Principie
and Unity discussed in his metaphy ical dialogue , norably in Causa. More
importantly, in his mystical terminology, the Ein sof is embodied, or "clothed
with flesh" in the image of the sea goddess Amphitrite.
Bruno separare the pre entation of the sefirotic and angelic hierarchy and
the planetary spheres by dividing the ensof1c universe ("ensofico universo" )
from the sensible wocld. Therefore he no longer uses terms like "rispondere"
("correspond ' ), nor does he give the ltalian equivalenr. The correspondence
between the sefirot, angels, and celestial spheres is given in De magia as a
hierarchy with ten elements, descending toman from the Supreme Cause and
likewise ascending from man to the Supreme Cause. Bruno describes this as a
ladder and attributes it to the magias a descent and ascent of influences from
God toman (and vice versa ) via the lesser gods, celestial bodies, demons, ele-
menes, senses, and soul. 38 De rnagia (r 592) is a later work than Cabala (r 584),
but the concept of hierarchy of influence is developed from the earlier work.
The parallel tructure of sefirot, angels, planets, and elements fits imo the
schema quoted above. But the first two are part of the insensible world accord-
The Sefirot 43

.:1g to Neoplatonic theory: that is, they belong to the contemplative world.
The celestial hierarchy is the mirror of the sefirot in the sensible world- or, as
Bruno puts it in Cabala, "where in the sensible world derive the ten spheres." 39
The correspondence is emphasized by the repetition of the number ten in each
:-resentation. The celestial spheres are well known: they range from the Pri-
::mm Mobile to the sublunar Chaos, which divides into the four elements.
But the correspondences in Cabala do not end here. Ten souls or motors
:~o m the negative aspect of the Other Side of the sefirot connect to the celestial
-:-heres. These are also connected to the sensible world. Bruno words it in
:;:rms of "to which ten motors or souls assist":
r. Metattron
' Raziel
_;. Zaphciel
4· Zadkiel
5· Camael
6. Raphael
- Aniel
S. Michael
9· Gabriel
:J. Samael

The lowest celestial sphere, the Sublunar Chaos, divides into the four elements
~re, air, water, and earth). These in turnare matched with the demons of the
Sublunar World: the four "terribili principi" 40 (terrible principies). The inclu-
>lün of the elements in the celestial hierarchy functions as another leve! of
.:1fluence befare the direct one of the spirit on the soul. The elements are the
:naterial from which the universe was created. They are the lowest rung or link
.:1 the hierarchy of being. To understand how the elements function in the
.drger cosmic structure is the first step to reaching the Divine. 41
Knowledge of the actives and passives is a form of magic. According to the
second definition of a magus, a magus is one who can achieve things with the
~pplication of actives and passives; this Bruno defines as natural magicY The
~ourth definition of magic expands on the definition of natural magic to in-
-:lude a spirit or soul present in everything. 43 These principies are a sort of
··soul" for the elements: each principie domina tes one of the elements. For ex-
dmple, Behemoth domina tes fire; Beelzebub, air; Leviathan, water; and Satan,
Bruno believes that Job knew of the existence of demons and spirits, 44 and
states that he derives these names and other aspects of his cosmology from the
Book of Job. The Book of Job presents the interaction of angels like Satan with
44 The Sefirot

God. The reference ro Job offers a clue as ro why these principies are "terrible."
Certainly they endure in the Sublunar Chaos, are lowe t on the hierarchícal
ladder and are thus associated most dosel y with the earth. Bruno "translates"
the biblical name of the terrible principie in shon definition : Beelzebub is
the Prince of Flies ("príncipe delle mosche, idest de volanri immondi") and
Satan i the "Prince of the Earth" ("e presidente ne la terra,la qual spasseggia e
circuisse tutta"). 45 In terms of Bruno's own writing on demon and pirit ,
these figures from Job give rhe Hebrew name of rhe pírít whose e ence or
substance represents the four elements on earth.
To clarify how sefirot, intelligences, spheres, and soul ínteract 1 devised a
chart (fig. 1 ). After listing all the various component included in thi figure,
Bruno make it clear rhat these are combined horizonrally in term of each
category' vertica l placement in the hierarchy. From Yate ' co mological dia-
grams46 it i clear that Bruno also meant for the charts ro function like Lull's
combinatory wheels. Like the Lullian wheels, Bruno utilizes the Neoplaroníc
harmonious circle, which he divides imo segment ba ed on the principies of
his art of memory. Yates quotes Bruno's De compendioso architectura artis
Lulli. In thís treatíse Bruno's system expands the Lullian model based on the
ten N ames to thirty egment on the wheel. Thírty element are traced by Yates
to variou related works by Bruno of this period. he attribute the repetition
of the number thirty ro its magical property, but she is unable to provide a
good explanation for Bruno's expansion of the model. Magical and mystical
propertie are a ociated with the number ten and nine in the ltalian Di-
alogue in question based on the systems Bruno integra tes into hi own. Yates
asserts that Bruno interpreted the Lullian ar combinatoria wi.th the Kabbalah
and ub tituted the Lullian digníties with the sefirot. 47 Alteration made by
Bruno of the Lullian model suggest that he expanded the Kabbalistic elemenrs,
a change probably motivated by his belief that the Kabbalists could manipu-
la te the structures of the universe through the sefirot. Cenainly the correspon-
dences of the sefirot do not end here. As I will demon trate, Bruno also incor-
pora tes Greek cosmology and the orders of Muse and blindne s from Eroici
into the configuration described in figure r . Bruno did not organize hi order-
ing of the sefirot and their corre pondence in a imple vertical to horizontal
interrelation. Rather, he used a pherícal diagram like the ones used ro presenr
the beavens in astronomical diagrams. Such diagrams consist of circles within
circles and represent the heavens and planees. Bruno added the angelic beings
and the sefirot toa sy tem prevalent in Renai sanee thought. lt i a quesrion of
the accretion and expansion of a working model.
A in Spaccio and Eroici, Bruno propose in Cabala yet another memory
fie ld, closer to the Lullian model of De umbris and Cantus circteus than the

; 1 - .-. ... ..J -h -

Fig. r. CosmologyofCabala

Sefirot Translation Intelligence Order Heavens Angels
membri forme motori
indumenti dimensioni intelligenze n,¡ote sfere anime

Ceter Corona Haioth- Animali santi Primo mobile Metattron

Hecados Serafini Príncipe de

Hocma Sapienza Ophanim Ruote Cielo stellato Raziel

formanti 8a sfera
Cherubini Firmamento

Bina Providenza Aralin Angeli Saturno Zaphciel


Hesed Boma Hasmalin Effigiatori Giove Zadkiel

Geburah Fortezza Choachin Potestadi ole Camael

Tipheret Bellezza Malachim Virtudi Marte Raphael

ezah Vitroria Elohim Principati Venere Aniel


Hod Lo de Benelohim Arcangeli Mercurio Micha el

Figli de dei

Iesod Stabilimento Maleahim Angeli Cielo deUa Gabriel

Imbasciatori Luna
Malkuth Regno lssim Anime Chaos- Sama el
separa te sublunare
Fuoco Behemoth
Aria Beelzebu b
Acqua Leviathan
Terra Sathan

Source: Author.

46 The Sefirot

other two. Thi model works not on the statues of the god but on the princi-
pies or abstraction of the Lull's ar combinatoria. Both Yates in Arto( Mem-
ory and Giordano Bruno, as well as Culianu in Eros and Magic in the Renais-
sance, successfulJy argue that the mnemonic devices in Spaccio and Eroici are
the statue of the god , which were combined with rhe constellations and the
zodiac in the first, and with rhe emblemaric tradition in the second. Borh
authors also point ro Bruno's belief in what he terms the "Kabbalistic" field of
mnemonícs, which were derived from rhe ars combinatoria. A detailed de-
scription of the Lullian art is given by Yates in her book on artificial memory,
but oddly enough she never states that Cabala is a mnemonic dialogue. Yet it is
evident from her discussion of Lu!lism that Bruno's Kabbalistic cheme is not
wholly original and derives not only from Lull but also from the Dominican
memory treatises and Rombrech's Congestorium artificiose memorie.
That there was always a Kabbalistic side to the ars combinatoria is Yates's
own suspicion. Dominican artificial memory did not include the sefirot in its
schemes, but Rombrech certainly incorporated the angelic hierarchy into the
spheres of the universe of his memory system. 48 True ro his Dominican t.rain-
ing, Bruno combines the two fields- the Kabbalistic Lullian wheels and the
Dominican celestial spheres- a combination easily achieved beca use both ar-
tificial memories are structured on the circle.
During the Renaissance, Lull was considered a Kabbalist and magus, and
the widely circulated and cited treatise De auditu kabbalistico was errone-
ously attributed to him. Lullism is synonymous with Kabbalah, according ro
Yates, and has resulted in the confusion of the ars combinatoria's Principies
and letters with the sefirot and the angelic na mes. Religious conceptíon are in
fact fundamental to the Art, as is the interna) movement of the elements of the
wheels, which result in religious answers revealing the cosmological struc-
tures. Given Bruno's fascination with Lullism, he must ha ve recognized within
the Art the possibilíty of expanding the Classical memory system with its
statues and orher images ro incorporare more directly cosmological structures
through the manipulation of the concepts themselves. Furthermore, the struc-
ture of the ars combinawria itself allowed not only the syncretic íncorporarion
of multiple concepts, but also the manipulation of rhese concepts in any order
desired by the manipulator, within the bounds of the system. Kabbalah is
almost the natural language for the presentation of the mnemonic devices,
beca use it i nearly synonymous with Lullism. And the sefirot are limited in
number, which facilitares their the introduction into the mystical realm. A
mnemonic system manipulating Kabbalistic ideas also introduces the theolog-
ical questions dear to Bruno. Finally, Lullian Kabbalah affords Bruno various
mnemonic possibilities beyond the wheels, such as the famous Lullían trees.
The Sefirot 47

The completed model of Bruno's syncretic cosmology adds two more ele-
ments to the figure 1. At least by the end of the Middle Ages with its en-
cyclopedíc constructions, and certainly in the fourteenth century, the Muses
were included in cosmological groupings wich che planees. Jean Seznec pro-
vides various piares depicting chis assoc iationY Encyclopedic knowledge or
memory images from che Middle Ages were transformed by the Renaissance
Magi imo personificatíons of magical principies.
In book 2, chapter 58 of De occulta, Agrippa liscs the Muses with the
celestial spheres and credits che system co Orpheus. The underlying theory
Agrippa is attempting ro prove is thac the names of the celestial souls díffer in
accordance with tbe in1luences they exhibir on worldly bodies. Orpheus at-
tributes rwo virrues to each soul: knowledge and its corporeal control. Among
che celestial spheres, the first is known as one of the attribuces of Bacchus, the
second as one of the Muses and they add up to a total of nine Bacchuses and
nine Muses. Thus, for example, in che ninth sphere Baccus Cribonius and the
Muse Calliope are paired up; in the eighth, Baccus Piconius and Urania are
linked; in the sevemh, Baccus Amphietus and Poliminia are associated with
Saturn, and so forth. Bruno himself reiterares the order in the short treatise
known as De magia mathematica, in words that strongly recall Agrippa. 50
From the diagrams provided by Seznec and others, the order of the Muses and
planets is fluid. 51 Bruno does not hint at what che order of che Muses may be in
conjunction with che planetary spheres in his own system. Assuming that the
presence of the Muses is a memory image, then Bruno may have devised his
own order based on a diagram he had seen or construcced himself.
J include che Muses in che complex cosmological outline on the basis of
allusions co them in the lcalian Dialogues. The actual presence of che Muses is
subde in Spaccío; it is only alluded to for the attentive reader or would-be
cosmographer to infer. In Eroici, cheir presence is excessive: Bruno nearly
coUapses the cosmological sphere under the weight of the seemingly intermi-
nable accretions, he tests che limits of his cosmology through the accretions.
Certainly, logic would have it that if the universe is infinite, and there are
infinite worlds, the cosmological manifestations should be infinite as well- or,
at che very least, that in an overall syncretic system the cosmologies that reflect
the true orders of the cosmos can be superimposed.
As an introduction ro the dialogue, in a section entitled "Argomemo del
nolano" (The Nolan's Argument), Bruno summarizes the content of each dia-
logue of Eroici. Arnong various elements that Jead to the "waters of knowl-
edge"- this image of Amphitrite, who is crucial for Bruno's cosmology and
the discourse on metempsychosis, will be explained in the next chapter -
Bruno mentions the nine Muses in association with the nine intelligences and
48 The Sefirot

rhe nine celestial spheres, among others. 52 The inclusion of the Muses balances
nicely the "Greek" elements of the co mology. The hierarchical order of the
Muses is never ourlined, bur only alluded ro in rerms of rhe planet beca use .it is
in itself unimportant. What is important is the anthropomorphic memory
image of thc statues of the gods (note thar Mnemosyne or Memory is the
mother of the Muses, Apollo their father) construcred around the vision of
Diana and Amphitrite, in perfect harmony.
ine orders of blíndness are listed in Eroici to represent the inability of the
human eye ro glímp e and comprehend the divine, which i symbolized by
Amphítríte. 53 What the blind do not perceive is the relation between the díf-
ferent orders, which are united by the number nine imo a spherical proportion
whose final unity is the temh element in the cosmological hierarchy. The un ion
of the nine results in the tenth leve!, which encompasses the nine subordinare
levels like the nine Muses in Mnemosyne, or like the nine lower sefirot in
Keter: "These are divided by Kabbalists, Chalda:ns, magi, Platonists and
Christian theologians in nine orders because of the perfection of che number
that dominares the universality of things and in a certain manner gives form to
it all .... All the most illustrious rhinkers, whether they are philosophers or
theologians, or speak from faith and superior enlightenment, ee in the e
intelligences the cycle of ascent and descent. " 54 The basís of nine orders is the
perfection of the number nine, a perfecr number beca use it is the number that
dominares the ensible world. The tenth elemem is the ineffable. The temh
element is no longer part of the sensible world, but part of the Archetypal
realm. For Bruno, the recognition of this concept in disparate religious and
philosophical traditions proves the validiry and truth of the statement. Bruno
draws in each system from Kabbalists ro Plaronists ro underscore the syncre-
tization of the systems into his cosmology. He unifies the disparate approaches
into one philosophy and insísts on the divinely inspired origin of the concept.
Each independent system is one possible approach, but all the ystems are
fundamemally and significantly the same in their essemial divine structure
(which is based on the mystical-magical number nine) and in their efficacy in
reaching the mystical-magical goal: communication and union with the di-
vine, the ascent and de cent of di vine influence.
Ficino discusses the importance of the number ten in his Commentum cum
summis capitolorum, his famous commentary on Plato' Phcedrus, perhaps
the most widely influential of the Platonic texts. Chapters 24 and 25 of rhe rexr
summarize the nine live of the soul and the transmigration of souls (a theme
developed by Bruno in Spaccio and L'asino cillenico). In chapter 25 Ficino
attributes to Plato the concept that nine lives are possible for men. The oul
that returns nine times is compelled toa tenth incarnation as a philosopher. 55

M>l n 1n + r
The Sefirot 49

In orporati n of atl the y rem into one creare better under tanding and
grearer power in the magu .
Bruno accepts Ficino' understanding of Plato, but he doe not stOp at the
Phredrean oncept of u e ive in arnations: Lull offer yet anorher model,
widely appropriated by Renaissance philosophers and magi: rhat of rhe Lul-
lian trees. The trees of the ars combinatoria match rather nicely the tree of the
efirot. One efirah in particular, Hokhmah, is rhe key ro Bruno's system.

The Tree of the efirot

The connecrion between sefirot and asinit3 is further illustrated in Ca-
bala in Bruno' di cu ion of the three types of lgnorance. Bruno pre ent a
complex argument rhat i nicely ummed up in rhe image of the tree. cholem
mentioned the popular image of the efiroric tree in Jewish Kabbalah. The
image wa adopted by Chri tian Kabbali t , and diagram of the efirot in rhe
tree formarion are ommon. Part of the ucce of the e diagram i the a o-
ciation drawn in Chri rían ircle between the efirotic tree and the Lu llian
trees of the Art.
Raymond Lull is famou in the hi rory of phi lo ophy for hi tree , a well a
for his combinatory wheels. The first rreatise by Lull ro introduce this system
was tbe Arbor scíenti/1! (r 29 5). He wrote this work, according to Yates, 56 a an
explanatory addendum ro hi Ars inventiva veritatis. The latter work is one of
the treatise of Lull' ar combinatoria, which assigns nine or sixteen values ro
the lerters of the alphaber. A cording ro Lull, the e va lue or principl s can be
combined wirh the planets and the zodiac to produce answers ro any philo-
sophical, theological a trological, or mathematical problem. Bruno was cer-
tainly familiar wirh Lull' Art. The ullian wheel are the models for Bruno's
mnemonic wheels in De umbris and Cantus. Bruno him elf wrote various
dialogues and rreatise on the Lullian Art: De architectura /u/liana, Animad-
versiones in lampadam lullianam, and Medicina /u/liana, ro name a few.
Lull' tree diagram is imple. Each tree is divided inro rhree main egmenrs:
roots, trunk, and branche . In a more complex tree diagram, rhe branches can
split into twig , rwig into lea ves, and lea ves into blossoms or fruits. Each di vi-
ion has an a signed significance. The roots represent rhe nine principies of the
Art and the nine relata. The trunk, or hy/e, repre ent Chaos. The brancbe.s are
the elements, the lea ves the "accidents," the fruits, elementata. The function of
tbe diagram i ro di play not only how the parts of rhe Arr are broken down
bur also how rhey are an organic whole. And of course the visual image of the
cree erves as a memory trigger ro remember the assigned part of the ArtF
Bruno imitated rhe concept of the tree by utilizing the simple tructure of rhe
so The Sefirot

trees as a simplified diagram of the key elements of his Kabbalistic-mystical

theory. The elements are the sefirot, asinita, and the three types of mystical
ignorance. The three categories of Ignorance are broken clown by Bruno as
I. Negative Ignorance ("ignoranza negativa") -that of the Kabbalists and
mystics, signified by the colt of the ass.
2.. Doubting Ignorance ("ignoranza dubitativa")- that of the Pyrrhonians

and Cynics, signified by the she-ass.

3· Manifest Ignorance ("ignoranza manifesta") -that of Christian theolo-
gians, signified by the she-ass and her colt. 58

Bruno is clearly alluding here to different schools of philosophy and the man-
ner in which the union of the human intellect with the Di vine is understood in
the different systems. In Cabala Bruno places the three categories oflgnorance
as the branches of a tree, adding asinita as the trunk and the sefirot as the
roots: "These three types of Ignorance, like three branches, are reduced to
one trunk, in which from the Archetype depends asinita, and which is firmly
planted on the roots of the ten sefirot. 59
The imagery of Bruno's Tree of Ignorance is simple, and has a simple func-
tion. The sefirot are fundamental to the Kabbalist system, and represent the
fundamental importance of Wisdom to Bruno's overall philosophy. As funda-
mental principies, they are the roots or foundations of the tree. The sefirot are
the vehicles for uniting the human intellect with the Divine, they are the ema-
nations or essences of the Divine: in short, they are the reflected Archetype
of the Di vine intellect that then influence the human intellect. The roots-
sefirot- also represent the cosmological basis for the philosophical system in
all its complexity, as seen in this chapter. The main body of Bruno's mysticism
is the concept of asinita, therefore it is the trunk. As the trunk upholds the
branches of the tree, asinita upholds the mystic in the spiritual endeavor. The
trunk of asinita is connected to the Archetype, thus as a mystical concept it is
the link between the human and divine realms. The spiritual quest has three
possible paths that branch out from asinita. One of Bruno's favorite meta-
phors for the branches of Ignorance is that of the she-ass and the colt at the
crossroads- an image that signifies the two branching paths taken by the
synagogue and the Church and that will be discussed further in chapter 8. The
branches of lgnorance are the categories of the human intellect which repre-
sent the systems that strive to unite the human and the Divine.
The image of the Tree of Ignorance serves as a hrief sumrnary then of thc
complex Kabbalistic system and the overall syncn·1 Í1 ~y~ll'lll dt'vdopcd hy
The Sefirot 5r

Bruno. The use of the image is easily traced to the Lullian theories present
throughout bis works. It is also part of his general interest in the use of images
for magic. In this case it is evident that Bruno is not using the image of the Tree
of Ignorance as a constructed illustration, but I propase that the image of the
tree serves as a mental illustration of Bruno's key theories. Therefore the image
of the Tree is a memory tool. The structure of the Lullian tree is probably
simplified for easy recollection, and so that the student of the "Nolana filo-
sofia" can expand on the tree as necessary.
The tree of the sefirot just described is an alternative ladder of ascent to the
unio mystica. It is essential to keep in mind that the traditional configuration
of the ten sefirot themselves is called the sefirotic tree, and that the Lullian Tree
of the Art is a derivative of the Kabbalistic arrangement of the sefirot. By
placing the sefirot at the root of the Lullian model of the tree, Bruno is empha-
sizing the cosmological basis for his mystical experience. Bruno offers an
expanded tree configuration to demonstrate how the Lullian tree model serves
to build up the philosophical principies on the cosmology. In a sense, Bruno
has inverted the sefirotic tree by placing the sefirot at the roots of asinita. The
Jownward placement indicares that knowledge of the structure of the uní-
verse, knowledge of the technical aspects of the mysteries of the Kabbalah, or
the configuration of God's emanations, is insufficient. The interior quality of
usinita must be present in the mystic. From the qualities of the sefirot, or from
thc Divine N ames or Emanations (however the sefirot are defined), the mystic
1s influenced. And beca use these are Divine Emanations, the roots lead to the
trunk, where the Archetype influences asinita. The three types of Ignorance
~te m from asinita. That they are all part of a single trunk suggests that they are
111! cqually reduced to the same concept. I believe, however, that the three are
not cqual, that Bruno is directing the reader to the third type of Ignorance.
Thcy are perhaps three different types of mystical states, and are certainly
t lm·c categories of mysticism, that might start off the novice. One path is more
likdy to cometo fruition: that of the Nolan philosopher.
'1() rcturn to the sefirot, it is clear that by placing them at the root of the
lonnation, Bruno is taking a key element from the cosmological system devel-
uprd at the beginning of the dialogue and transferring it to an alternative
lnt·nmry construction. Bruno is stating that the cosmological chart serves as
thr loundation (literally the "root") of acquisition of mystical knowledge. The
udrpt must lcarn the cosmological interconnections discussed in the previous
~ h.1ptt·r ami piccc togcthcr thc philosophical discourse presented in the re-
lll•lllllln of (:a hala (not to nwntion the other dialogues). Without understand-
lllfl, how tlw planl'tary structiiiT ol tlw univcrsc functions, without knowing
52 The Sefirot

the sefirotic system with its accompanying angels and deities, the student of
philosophy cannot begin to collocate (in memory or in practice) the more
abstract mystical suppositions.
In another words, Wisdom or Sofia rests on cosmology. In the previous
chapter it was made clear that Sofia is the representation of Neoplatonic
Wisdom which rests on the sefirot, beca use Sofia is intimately connected with
the second sefirah, Hokhmah. Once this connection has been established, the
scheme of the tree serves to reinforce understanding of the progression of
mystical awakening. From the roots to the trunk is a progression in the prepa-
ration of union with the Intellect. Asinita, or the mystical state itself, is repre-
sented by the trunk of the tree. This state of Wisdom, or Sofia, is reached
through the roots of the tree, composed of the sefirot, in particular, Hokhmah.
To attain the mystical union there are various paths that have been used by
various philosophical schools. These paths are the branches of the tree.
The development of a Lullian-type tree image in Cabala may be interpreted
as a polemic against both the encyclopedic approach to magic and the reliance
on mnemonics as a means to acquire magical knowledge; it may also be seen as
a criticism of the dabbling interest in Kabbalah by many of Bruno's contempo-
raries. The first case would be exemplified by Agrippa's De occulta, a form of
accumulated information of innocuous Ficinian type magic. Encyclopedic ac-
cumulation of magical knowledge only leads, in Bruno's view, to a pedantic
ability to discuss theories en passant, as Se basto does in Cabala. There is none
of the rigor and discipline that Bruno expects of his "magus." More signifi-
cantly, there is no uniting mystical vision, such as Bruno's vision of Acta:on, to
serve as a mystical model. Mnemonics may be a disciplined field of training,
but it has a limited praxis. To simply remember the intricate cosmological or
philosophical points still does not guarantee ascent out of the sensible real m to
the Archetypal. Memory does not bring about experience of the unio mystica.
If it could, then there was no need for Bruno to expand his mnemonic treatises
into the ltalian Dialogues. Bruno continually reformulates his approach to the
Di vine in every work.
Finally, the curt introduction of the Kabbalistic cosmology versus the much
more in-depth analytic discourse on the tree of asinita is a clear indication of
where Bruno's priorities lie. Kabbalah offers an easy cosmological system, and
it also offers a challenging mystical system, one that can bring to fruition the
mystical quest. But the Kabbalistic system must ha ve a mystical school behind
it for the novice to follow. Here is where the Nolan philosophy comes into

Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza

The key to the Kabbalistic concept of the Nolan philosophy hes in the
second sefirah, Hokhmah, which is translated as "sapienza" (Wisdom). The
key opens two doors: one door is the meaning of Hokhmah, the other is the
therne of "sapienza." In De magia Bruno defines the magus first as "sapiente,"
calling the Kabbal.ists the "sapienri" or "magi" amongst the Hebrews, 1 and
again later repeating the term "sapiente" and adding "operative." Bruno sepa-
rares "sapienza" as a form of magic apart from natural magic.
Hokhmah has a long history of irnportance arnong the Neoplaronic doc-
trines of the sefirot. Idel proves that for Medieval jewish Kabbalists like R.
Isaac the Blind Hokhmab encompassed a Uthe essences of the other sefirot and
"plays the role of the divine intellect and thus comprises the world of ideas."
Hokhrnah is identical then to the Will and lntellect of God. The sefira h also
encompasses the letters of Creation. Thus the aspects of Hokhmah mosr im-
portant ro Bruno began in the jewish literature of the Middle Ages. Wirh time
Platonic parallels with the sefiror were openly discussed among jews, so rhar
rhinkers like Ben Sheeted reinrerpret Plotinian schemes inro Kabbalistic terms:
"with Will as the first Sefirah, Intellect as the second, Soul apparently identi-
fied with the third, and Na tu re consigned to the lower Sefirot." The identifica-
tion of Hokhmah with the lntellect continued weU into Jewish Renaissance
wrirings, and certainly was observed by Christian Kabbalists. Idel even cla.ims


Maten al proteg1do por derechos d autor

54 Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza

that the first Jewish writer ro point out the close association between the
sefirot and Platonism was an Italian jew, R. Yehudah Romano. 2
In short, Hokhmah was the key ro the Divine Intellect long befare Bruno
began writing on Kabbalah, and in most cases it was discussed by authors ro
which Bruno never had access. The origins of the importance of the sefirah in
the cosmology of Neoplaronk Kabbalah predate Bruno, although his em-
phasis on Hokhmah is un usual in Christian circles. I suspect Bruno was aware
of other, perhaps more elaborare writing on Hokhmah. He could in ert the
sefirah inco his own philosophy with greater ease if the precedent were already
established and Hokhmah were an easily recognizable symbol.
The key opens doors that lead ro the same place because Hokhmah unites
the magical and cosmological theory of the sefirot, the sefirotic and Lullian
trees, planetary influences, "sapienza," and asinita. This is evident from the
text of Cabala, in the manner in which Hokhmah is singled out after the
long presentation of the sefirot: "Now contemplare this: that according to
the Kabbalistic revelation, Hokhmah, to which correspond the forms or
wheels narned Cherubim, that influence the Eighth Sphere, which consists of
the power of the intelligence of Raziel, rhe Ass or asinita is the symbol of
Wisdom."J Bruno reiterares the horizontal correspondence of his cosmology,
Hokhmah-Cherubini-ottava sfera-Raziele, and thu provides the clue to piec-
ing together the different parrs into one- just in case his presentarion of the
sefirot, angels, planets, and so forth was too subtle. This presentation follows
the rules of mnemonics: once the corresponding parts are aligned, the cos-
mological order can be remembered not just vertically according to the hier-
archy of the sefirot or the planets, but also horizontally according to which
sefirah marches which planer.
Hokhmah is used as the example beca use it serves as a mnemonic sign of the
theories or virtues to be associated not only with the particular sefirah, but
also with the overall system. Hokhmah, after all, is Wisdom or Knowledge
("sapienza"), which is the key to the "Nolana filosofia" and to Bruno's type of
mysticism (Bruno la ter calls the magus "sapiente"). Bruno zeroes in on Hokh-
mah accord.ing to "Kabbalistic revelation" and .. Kabbalistic lgnorance"; this
is important when Bruno begin ro define hi mysticism. Another aspect of
Bruno's memory system is borrowed from the Lullian trees, and according to
Scholem the sefirah Hokhrnah was the root of the Tree of the Sefirot, which
may be one interpretation of what Bruno means by "Kabbalist revelation." 4
There is a short work by Bruno in which he casually refers ro Hokhmah in
the precise context of Cabala: in the Oratio valedictoria, given at the Univer-
sity of Wittenberg in I 588, Bruno mentions Hokhmah in a long oration on
"sapienza." The oration is set up as a comrnentary to the myth of Paris and
Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza 55

the three goddesses (Minerva, Juno, and Venus). The argument put forth by
Bruno is that he (and the scholars at the University of Wittenberg who gave
him a job), unlike Paris, would choose Minerva not Venus, preferring Wisdom
over Beauty. When Bruno explains his choice, he begs, in a lengthy and re-
markably liturgical or biblical way reminisccnt of writings of that period, to be
given Wisdom. 5 Given Bruno's monastic training, it is not surprising that he
should employ such language. lt would be natural for a religious man, espe-
cially one interested in ecclesiastical reform, to employ liturgical rhetoric, 6 and
perhaps Bruno employed this rhetoric to appeal to the Lutheran professors
attending his lecture. The rhetorical style of the Oratio is fitting because the
Book of Job is a crucial part of the discourse of the oration; Genesis, which is a
recurrent source in Bruno's writings, is featured as well.
Liturgical rhetoric underscores the aspect of Bruno's discourse that is in
effect biblical exegesis. Biblical exegesis is the basis of most Kabbalistic writ-
ing, and the context of the Oratio is highly Kabbalistic, with its emphasis on
Hokhmah. In chapter 5, Bruno's knowledge and manipulation of the Bible
will become evident. Notice the cosmological reference to God the Creator,
who created with his word ("verbum") and his wisdom ("sapientia"). Cre-
tltion is associated with the numerological speculation found in Agrippa, who
in turn found it in numerous ancient sources, such as Augustine's De genesi ad
litteram or Phi! o of Alexandria's De opfice mundi- texts that Bruno probably
kncw. The Christian speculation on Creation focuses on the moment before
( :reation as the locus in which the multiplicity of God can be pinpointed, and
thus as the moment when the possibility of an inherent or postpartum Cre-
•ttion from the existence or presence of God is revealed. In Kabbalah the
ll1rah, as God's word, is the blueprint for the universe, so that the Torah
rKistcd before Creation. Thus everything derives from the Torah.
The theory of Hebrew as the language of Creation is so predominant in
ltt•naissance Christian thought that it is not necessary to speculate on the
possiblc sources for Bruno.? Given Bruno's belief in the efficacy of certain
htn~-:uages for magic, and that Hebrew was the language of Creation in the
1\thk, this may further explain his interest in the Old Testament, especially
Joh. Furthermore, as will be seen, Bruno often confuses Torah and Kabbalah;
ht• doesn't distinguish the Old Testament from Jewish Kabbalistic works. It
"'' Y he that Bruno conceived of Hokhmah as present before the act of Cre-
llltun; thus thc cosmological sefirah would be an essential part of the Arche-
tv¡w: 1ruly ancmanation of "divina sapicnza." Bruno believed that cosmology
l\ 1111' luundaliott for Knowkd~!' and Wisdom hecause it reveals the secrets of
N.tturl' .111d ol ( .od. 111' lutknl 1he wisdom he wishcd to receive from Minerva
111 ( 111d\ W1~dt1111, whll h 1> .111 llllelt'~liiiJ', ll!'W l'll'llll'llt: an clcmcnt that wil!
56 Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza

recur in the vision of Actreon, who represents the mystic's quest for divine
Wisdom, in Eroici.
Minerva is present in Spaccio, and her presence in the Oratio is a sign for the
memory system- that which recalls specific information that unites the hu-
man mind to the Divine. Certainly the references to the heavens and the throne
of God through which Wisdom descends are reminiscent of Gnostic and Kab-
balist elements. The explanation of how Wisdom descends from the divine
mind to the awaiting human one utilizes the Hokhmah as a symbol for Wis-
dom: Bruno claims that the Kabbalists call the divine essence Hokhmah,
whereas the Orpheans call the substance of the world Minerva and the human
capacity Sofia. These three figures correspond to the three types of cognition,
from the Archetype to the human intellect, which are represented by three
types of Sun, which range from the inaccessible to the comprehensible. 8
Bruno upholds his argument by quoting Job, but 1 shall stop here to discuss
the complex significance of Hokhmah and solar imagery. 1shall also put off for
the moment the analysis of Minerva, other than to point out that a possible
source for this passage, especially for the presence of Minerva, is Egidio da
Viterbo. In his Sententice ad mentem platonis, he associates the mens or Sa-
pientia with Juno. Juno, Minerva, and Venus are the three goddesses of the
Judgment of Paris that Bruno elaborates in the Oratio. Bruno attributes the
prize of Sapientia to Minerva, and Egidio most likely had in mind these three
goddesses when he assigned to Juno the figure of Wisdom. What is most
interesting is the extent to which the Classical deities and mythological epi-
sodes are integral to the way in which these thinkers express their theological
and philosophical ideas. 1 shall briefly mention, however, that Bruno here
presents three different names or symbols for the concept of Wisdom, pre-
sented as the three manifestations of the sun (for a discussion of the imagery of
the Sun, see app. 2). These three names-Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-
represent the three grada tions of Wisdom in the real m of lntellect. All three are
mnemonic signs with a long history of associations.
Hokhmah is identified in the Oratio as a sefirah, and Bruno clarifies that it is
a Kabbalistic term. Hokhmah is defined as the "primo grado" (first stage),
which is equal to the "essence of the divinity." The context of this definition
lies within the description of the "solem intelligentire" (the Sun of lntelli-
gence). The three divisions of intelligence recall the three worlds that corre-
spond to the three levels of magic in De magia: the archetypal world (of di vine
magic), the physical or sensible world (of physical magic), and the rational or
mathematical world (of mathematical magic). 9 The third world is created
from the first through the second; that is, the divine world produces thc ra-
tional world vi a the physical world. Thu.o; tlu· r.1t1c 111.11 wc11·ld rdkcts the di vine,
Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza 57

the Archetype, through the physical world. Hokhmah inhabits the divine,
archetypal realm. By defining Hokhmah as both a divine essence and the Sun
of intelligence, Bruno reinforces his argument that human wisdom derives
from divine wisdom, from the di vine realm. Therefore, to tap in,to Hokhmah is
to call clown the di vine influx to the rational world, but humans must strive to
call clown di vine wisdom by means of a mystical system such as Kabbalah, and
that Wisdom descends through the celestial hierarchy. This is the essence of
Bruno's mystical magic. Therefore, Bruno defines Hokhmah, the emanation of
Wisdom, in the context of a summary description of how divine wisdom
descends to the human intellect.
The description of the descent is the same theory of umbris idearum that is
so fundamental to Bruno's metaphysics. It is also described in a highly Kabba-
listic manner that underscores the deeply Neoplatonic organization of the
Kabbalah, whether Jewish or Christian. Light imagery (the Sun of intelligence)
is a telltale sign of the Platonic origin of the Kabbalah and of Bruno's use of it.
In essence the Platonic descent of influx follows the path described in the
()ratio: the human mind is incapable of absorbing the archetypalluminous
di vine Idea, but absorbs only its shadow; therefore the essence of the universe
lit•s in the Idea, the world as humans know it is the image of the Idea, and
linally the image resides in the mind of humans. This is pure Platonism. Hokh-
mah is here defined as the essence and therefore as the Idea of Wisdom in the
divine mind: it is the Sun, the luminous source. Like the rays of the sun that
rmanate from their origin, this sefirah emanares to the human mind: it is the
first leve! of intelligence, and in defining itas the "S un of Intelligence," Bruno
wnveys in mystical language the ineffable status of the emanation. The ema-
llntion is ineffable because it reflects the mind or essence of God.
Bruno points out that the first leve!, Hokhmah, is "neither dispatched, com-
nuulicated, apprehended nor comprehended because it is totally detached
lmm things." 10 In Kabbalah, however, the sefirot influence the human mind
1111d unite the human intellect with the divine Intellect. In Bruno's system the

-rlirot unite the first and third worlds. The sefirah Hokhmah unites with the
human intellect direct!y as the archetypal essence of Wisdom, and in this
wntcxt Bruno quotes Job 28:12.-23 (omitting verses 20-21). By doing so, he
n•lrt•s on thc book he believed revealed the secrets of nature, and rhetorically
lllll'l'rogatcs himself about where Wisdom is to be found. The answer is hinted
111 111 thc cnd of Bruno's reworking of the omitted verses. Bruno changes Job
1 H: .1.0- 2.1 to rcad: "Whence thcn cometh wisdom? and where is the place of

undl'l'slanding? Sceing it is hid from thc cyes of allliving, and kept clase from
IIIC" lowls ol tht· air." Bruno\ par;tphrase of ,lob 2.!! is odd and can be under-
-lood 111 t w1 1 w a y~. 11 Thr lir~t n·.llllll¡', ~~ t ha t tlll' hirds a re al so the sta rs, gods,
58 Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza

spheres, and so forth. If this were so, then the statement is important as an
allusion to the demonic magic of De magia, and as an example of how Bruno
integrares many theoríes into one by manipulating the symbols so that the
birds of Job become the stars and spheres of physics as well as the demons of
metaphysics. The manipulation of symbols is also possible in the second read-
ing, which is that the stars, demons, and spheres are simply mentioned along
with the birds. Both readings reflecr Bruno's interpretation of Job in light of the
Rena issance culture of the magus. The sense is read by Bruno in terms of the
occult or hidden nature of Hokhmah, whose e sence is not directly discernible
to the human mind (or any creature, because all are part of the First Cause)
beca use communication necessitates the mediation of the physical world.
The answer to the question on the origin of Wisdom is given by Bruno in
job's words: "Dominus novit locum illius." 12 The origin ofWisdom is the seat
of eternity; therefore to learn the hidden path is to reach directly to the divine
essence. In Bruno's own words in Oratio, Divine Wisdom has three Houses
(described further in app. 2). The first is the seat of eternity itself, the second is
the visible world, and the third is the human soul. 13 These three Houses are
again the tripartite division of worlds related to the three levels of magic and
are present in Kabbalistic co mology. The seat of eternity i the archetypal
world; the visible world is the physical world; and the human soul is the ra-
tional world. 14 Hokhmah represents the first House, the first leve! of Wisdom,
whereas Minerva and Sofia represent the second and third "Houses" or levels.
Both Minerva and Sofia are interlocutors in Spaccio, so their association
with Hokhmah in this later work completes the syncretism begun in Cabala.
In Spaccio, Minerva brings up the replacemenr of the con tellation Pegasus,
which is associated by Bruno with Kabbalah in the title of the dialogue (Cabala
del cavallo Pegaseo ). 1S The goddess is described at the beginning of the work as
"la Sofia celeste, chiamata volgarmente Minerva o Pallade." 16 Essentially, by
presenting Minerva and Sofia as the second and third Houses in the Oratio,
Bruno repeats the reorganization of the heavens begun in Spaccio. There is no
mention of Minerva in Cabala, although Sofia is present in the dialogue notas
an interlocutor bur as an element of asinita. Minerva appears in various of
Bruno's works, notably as one of the images to crea te in De compositione, and
in the context of che Judgment of París in Eroici. There i consistency and
continuity in the use of figures such as Minerva throughout Bruno's works, as
there is continuity and consistency in the fundamental philosophical concepts
represented by these figures. In book 2 , chapter 7 of De compositione, Bruno
describes Minerva thus: "Since she was born from Jove's brain, a far more
difficulr fa te than if she had been born from a mother without a father certainly
she bears the majesty of privileged divinity." 17 She is the image reflected di-
Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza 59

rectly from the divine intellect onto substance, the Shadow of the Idea. Mi-
nerva is the embodied manifestation of the Wisdom that derives from the first
source. Imagery involving the strange birth of the goddess was associated with
Platonic ideas in the mythological encyclopedias written in the Renaissance.
Traditionally, Minerva was first the goddess of Wisdom for the ancient
Greeks and then the symbol ofWisdom for Christians. Bruno is simply manip-
ulating a traditional symbol whose Platonic interpretation was well estab-
lished.18 The unusual link with Kabbalah is wholly Bruno's invention, how-
ever, born of his attempt to syncretize his system. Minerva is manipulated
through out his works according to Bruno's needs. At Wittenberg in r 588
(Oratio), Bruno supports the goddess of Wisdom as Paris's chosen goddess,
hut in Paris in I 58 5 (Eroici), he claimed that it is impossible to choose among
the goddessesY
Tansillo, the main spokesman for the Nolan in Eroici, recites a poem on the
Judgment of Paris and follows his reading with a long commentary. In the
pocm he presents the usual attributes of the three goddesses, Minerva, Juno,
11nd Venus: Wisdom, Majesty, and Beauty. In the spirit of Brunian unity of
flllrts, it is pointed out that the goddesses all possess these attributes- it is only
11 matter of degree. Likewise, all things are contained in the di vine essence that
111 pcrfect and infinite. The mystic furor enables comprehension of a part of this
lntinitc, according to the capacity of the individual. In the end, it is to the
&ltvinc essence that contains all- not to any of the goddesses- that Bruno, as
&lrNnibed by Tansillo, would bestow the golden apple. 2 From the emblematic
"mnct the interlocutor Tansillo moves on to philosophical categories, and
wndudes with cosmological concepts fundamental to the "Nolana filosofia."
ltnn~cs of goddesses are transformed into the abstract geometrical dimensions
nf u sphcre and then back into anthropomorphic symbols. Images work within
hnu~cs in Bruno's system, connecting all the disparate and sometimes contra-
lltrtory clcments into a unity to reach again and again the conclusion echoed
tht·ou~hout Bruno's works that the infinite divine essence is present in all
__ -.,

thln~s. Without unity of the qualities of Goodness and Power infinite Wisdom
1 11nnot l'XÍst, justas the sefirah Hokhmah cannot exist separare from the other
lllnr sdirot. The language of the passage is reminiscent of the Platonizing tone
uf thr e>ratio valedictoria, with its emphasis on the "intelligible species" and
thr "dr~rces" of ascension toward the divine essence. Bruno utilizes as many
llthljo\rs as possiblc to explícate his ideas. However unconnected these images
llttd Nymhols appcar at first, a tenuous connection exists that can be traced if
thr p.u-1s of the pu:~.zk •trl' picccd togcthcr. The three goddesses are united in
thr l'l.ttotll~· /\rclwtypt·, in tlw Platonit·ldca that, as will he seen, is Amphitrite:
lltr 1 ltu·r.tp.thlt• uf 11111tinv, thrtT.
6o Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza

The Platonic Minerva, symbol of Wisdom, is united in a seemingly contra-

dictory Trinity, which is traditionally compared and contrasted to the perfect
Platonic sphere, which is the symbol of harmonious infinite unity. Thus Mi-
nerva is awarded the "pomo sferico" as her prize of recognition (the attribu-
tion of the prize of the fruit recalls Bruno's manipulation of the Edenic myth of
the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, discussed in chapter 8). In case there
should be any doubt about the plausibility of the connection between goddess
and sphere, Bruno here only reiterares his argument about how all the poly-
gons comprise the sphere2 1 - an explanation present in other dialogues but
conspicuously introduced by Minerva herself in Spaccio: "But 1, in order not
to seem less courteous to the Muses, want to send the geometricians a gift in-
comparably greater and better than this and any other that up to now was ever
given, for which the Nolan, to whom it will be first revealed and by whose
hand it may be spread to the multitudes, should owe not only one but one hun-
dred hecatombs. Because by virtue of contemplation upon the equality that is
found between the maximum and the mínimum, between the outermost and
innermost, between the beginning and the end, 1 shall give him a method that
is more feéund, richer and more secure." 22 The passage is Bruno's encomium
to himself, put in the mouth of the goddess. The Muses wish to place Nicholas
of Cusa in charge of the constellation of Delta, but Minerva is arguing for
the preeminence of Bruno in mathematical argumentation. Minerva-Wisdom
overrides the Muses in the celestial hierarchy. As for Minerva's preference of
Bruno o ver Nicholas of Cusa, in a modified] udgment of philosophers, this can
also be explained in terms of the attributes of the goddess that Bruno probably
believed to ha ve himself. In De compositione, the list of her assistants in eludes
Elucidation, Fame, Example, Demonstration, Exploration, Certitude, Sense,
Reason, Intellect, and Mind. Her handmaidens include Contemplation, In-
quiry, Memory, Meditation, and Expansion. The symbolic value of Minerva's
statement is of course that Bruno has achieved even more than the Cusan,
beca use he has not only perfected the understanding of geometry, but also has
had it revealed to him by his intima te attainment of Wisdom direct from tht
source, and with all of its attendant attributes. Bruno has gane beyond geomc-
try to mysticism. The words of Minerva have a prophetic tone: they werr
revealed to him and will be diffused by him to the multitude.
Already in this brief passage the prophetic bent of the Nolan philosophy i~
made clear not by Bruno speaking for himself, but from the lips of the goddes~
of Wisdom herself, the source of the revelation. Bruno has penetrated thr
mysteries of geometry here in the sensible world, and has also reached into
the Archetypal world from where Wisdom has been revealcd to him. Discus
sions of geometry, astronomy, and mathcmatics in gcnn.d .1p¡war in many ol
Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza 61

1\runo's works, including of course the dialogues in question. For a rhetorical

dcfense of the necessary philosophical-theological use of mathematics, see the
dinlogues that polemicize against Mordente: Idiota triumphans, De somnii
¡,terpretatione, Mordentius, and De mordentii circino. Idiota triumphans
( 1 586) is full of Ka bbalistic references.
1 venture to state that the "Kabbalistic" cosmological hierarchy Bruno sets
IIJl may correspond loosely to the tripartite division of worlds. The Muses, as
will be demonstrated, are part of the planetary leve! in Bruno's cosmology;
thus they inhabit the second House. Minerva, as the embodiment of celestial
~olia, inhabits the first House. The sefirot (despite their origin in the first
llouse), the angelic orders, the ten spheres, and the intelligences are all, in their
, .• ,~mological manifestation, part of the physical world. The distinction be-
IWt'l'll Minerva as the celestial Sofia, and the figure of Sofia that is a character
111 rlll' dialogues, distinguishes between Minerva Sofia in the first House and
'-ofia in the third. The distinction is clarified in Bruno's comment, quoted in
'h.1ptrr 5, that the human intellect resides in Sofia and thus must in ha bit the
,..,dnt of the rational mind, the third House. There are crossovers between
worlds; hence the dialogue between the Muses and Minerva, between the
1111 ht'lypal and sensible worlds. The higher sefirot, Hokhmah, Binah, and
11. ,.,,.,., torm the cusp into the archetypal realm. Hokhmah is the source of the

,¡,, e·• 1 link between the human and divine intellect.

llc•k hmah is also the link to Bruno's cosmology, through the eighth sphere it
lt1h,d111s and into the angelic world through the Cherubim and Raziel, the
"llll'~porH.Iing intelligence. Raziel is called by Bruno an intelligence, and he
¡J.·,IIIY si ates that its virtue resides in the eighth sphere of the planetary order.
11 1lu· hypothesis that the cosmology corresponds to the tripartite division of
wc •tlds is corrcct, then Bruno lists the celestial hierarchy to teach the potential
rll-• li'lc· che ordcr of ascent for attaining union with the Divine. The human
lllillcl111ust rdlcct on the Shadow of the Idea, on the intelligence of Raziel.
l<.tm·l is pcrccived through the eighth sphere in the physical world, which
wtlllc·.td lo thc sccrcts of the Archetype- first through the arder of the Cher-
ul•llll, tiH'n 1hrough Hokhmah, and finally to the Archetype itself, the Ein sof.
l\1111111 ~la les it conciscly, in explicit language that indicares precisely what the
u•.ull'l "le' do with thc information ("Or contempla te qua"), as the conclusion
ollm ptl'~('lll:ltion of thc scfirot. 23 Tracing the connections explicitly made by
l\t111111, 11 ts dt'ar that any onc of the elements equals the Ass or asinita: Hokh-
llhth, 1 hnuhtm, :tnd Raziel are mcmory kcys. The Ass or asinita is a symbol
ltu Wt•.dtlln; dwrdorc, if llokhmah is Wisdom, than the Ass or asinita is a
'\'111l11d lc11 llokh111.dt.
"IIIH'I v.1 1\ .1',\llll.ltnl wtth llold111L1h for llw ohvious fl':ISOil that shc is thc
62 Hokhmah, Minerva, and Sofia-Sapienza

celestial Sofia, and "Sofia" translates as Wisdom. As usual with Bruno, the
relationship between the three is complex: it certainly goes beyond the name
game. In part, the association provides one of the links between Spaccio and
Cabala, through the presence of Sofia as an interlocutor in both dialogues;
it also establishes the connection between Minerva and the fonte caballino
(which spans both dialogues) via the Muses. Minerva is in a clear relationship
with the Muses in Spaccio, and again in Eroici, where the Muses are given
their celestial placement in the cosmological hierarchy and where the myth of
the Judgment of Paris is taken up; the myth, in turn, provides a link with the
Oratio. From Minerva's praise of the Nolan, it is clear that she serves as a
mediator between worlds for Bruno himself, and thus fulfills the same role as
does Hokhmah. The connection between Minerva and Hokhmah is explicitly
made in the Oratio valedictoria. In Spaccio the mediation is through mne-
monic statues as devices for contemplation, as in De compositione; in Cabala
it is through the sefirot. Essentially, their function is the same in each work.

Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita

The sefirot are part of a larger system in Bruno's mind. This is a typical
rxample of how Bruno superimposes different philosophical systems to fit a
l~~r~cr plan. In essence, Bruno subordinares various cosmological systems to
his own Nolan cosmology. It is useful to think of these systems as stcps in a
htr~cr system whose goal is to attain asinita. The first step is to learn the names
11ml qualities of the sefirot. Step two is to learn the Other Side of the sefirot.
~tcp three is to connect the sefirot with the planets and heavens. The steps are
l'ltrts of the cosmological setup that leads to the mystical understanding. Step
tour is to connect the sefirotic tree with the Lullian type of ars combinatoria.
This fourth step is really an elevation of the leve! of understanding to the
mystical rather than to the strictly cosmological system. The different leve! of
ciiiKoursc at this point in the dialogue reflects the shift in mental diagram. The
l.ullian-type Tree of Asinita described by Bruno serves not only to reinforce
thr scfirotic trce, but also to reveal how the image of the sefirotic tree is
lt'iiiiSformcd for mystical enlightenment with the addition of the paths of
IMIIC 1ra llCl'.
·J'lw ljliL'stion of how Bruno defines Ignorance, Truth, and Wisdom has been
llpproadll'll hy many scholars. Michclc C:iliberto dedicares a chapter to the
pt ohlc·nr of Trut h ;rmll .a w ("Vl'rit;ll' lcgge") in his important study of Bruno,
1,, '""''' dr·l ft'lll/'"· likc· rnost o;dmLtrs, ( :ililwrlll focuses on La cena del/e

,, 1
64 Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita

ceneri and Spaccio (the metaphysical dialogues). Ciliberto discusses these

themes only briefly in Cabala, except in contrast or comparison to the other
dialogues. Ciliberto states that in his cosmological dialogues Bruno attempts
to delineate clearly the differences between philosophy and religion. He be-
lieves that the separation is particularly important in terms of the indepen-
dence of philosophy from Scripture. 1 The point is well made, and it adds an
interesting dimension to the biblical imagery heavily used in Cabala.
In Ciliberto's interpretation Bruno tends toward a desire for unity and for a
civic function for philosophy. 2 Ciliberto argues that Bruno distinguishes be-
tween "truth" and "metaphor" ("verira" and "metafora"). According to Cili-
berto, Bruno perceives Scripture as having practica] functions that are related
to establishing laws rather than leading to the contemplation of Truth. Cili-
berto argues his point convincingly, using Cena as the main source for his
argument. The issue is to understand how Bruno argues for Truth without
arguing for a Catholic interpretation of the term. Ultimately, Bruno is inter-
ested in the philosophical question of the definition of truth. Bruno's interest in
establishing laws is intimately connected with the establishment of religious
law, as seen in Bruno's fascination with the Hebrew Bible as Law for the Jews.
The definition of Truth or Law provided in the dialogues is his own "Nolan
In light of Ciliberto's argument, it is expedient to look at Bruno's threc
categories of lgnorance more closely according to this new approach. Thc
tripartite division of lgnorance, as defined in Cabala in a passage also quoted
by Ciliberto, is as follows:

That which unites our Intellect, which is in Sophia, to Truth, which is thl'
Intelligible Object, is one type of Ignorance, according to the Kabbalists and
certain mystical theologians .... The first type always negates: thus it is called
Negative Ignorance, that never dares affirm. The second type [according to
Christian theologians] doubts, and never dares determine or define. The third
type holds all principies to be known, approved and with certain argument
manifested, without any demonstration or appearance .... These three typn
of Ignorance, like three branches, are reduced to one trunk, in which from thl'
Archetype depends asinira, and which is firmly planted on the roots of the ten
sefirot. 3

The purpose of these types of lgnorance is to unite the human intellect, whicli
occupies the realm of Sofia, with Truth, which is the object of the intellect .'
Sofia is of course the manifestation of Wisdom in the third House, whid1,
according to Bruno's O ratio valedictoria (as argued in thc prcccding chaptcr).
is that House occupied by the human intcllcct. Wi'idonl is also thc sdirah,
Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita 65

Hokhmah; the sefirah that Bruno pointed out as signifying Wisdom and that is
also connected to asinira, which he calls the symbol of Wisdom. 5 Hokhmah
lnhabits the second House, the sensible realm. By calling asinira a symbol of
Wisdom, and by placing itas the trunk of the Tree of Asinita, Bruno is locating
lt in the same House as the sefirah. On the tree schema, the three types of
lgnorance are the branches, and they correspond to the first House, the realm
uf the Archetype. Thus it is Ignorance that propels the human intellect into
tnystical union with the Divine Intellect. The dichotomy exists between Wis-
dom and Ignorance, with Truth as the ultima te goal. A definition of what these
trrms mean for Bruno is necessary befare a clear analysis of the categories of
IJ&norance can be made.
Bruno declares that science is the closest thing to Truth. 6 His definition of
-l'it•nce and Truth calls to mind another crucial statement by Bruno made at
htN tria!, one that equates magic with science. In one of his depositions, it is
trmrded that Bruno claimed that magic is nothing more than knowledge of
thr ~ccrets of N ature with the faculty of imitating Na tu re in her work? Thus
11111~ic is nothing more than the knowledge of the science of Nature. If science
&'IJUals magic, and science equals Truth, than Truth is attainable by what Yates
111114ht term natural magic.
Thc initial difficulty lies in acquiring the knowledge of science. So far Bruno
•rc·ms to imply it is attained through Wisdom. Our original definition of Wis-
''"''' as science omitted Wisdom's other component, however: Ignorance is
Wt~dom's perfect opposite and it balances the equation for attaining Truth:
"hc·l·ause Sophia created without lgnorance or foil y, and consequently without
"""itú, which means and is the same as these things, cannot grasp the Truth;
tllltll'thcless she must be the mediatrix; beca use, as in the act of mediation the
utn·mcs or limits converge, object and potency, so in asinita do Truth and
""owlcdge converge, called by us Sophia." 8 The argument that Truth is ar-
11\lt'd at through folly or ignorance has a long history: it originated in one the
l'l~tonic furors and continued throughout the Medieval mystical tradition.
llt11no's most immediate source is probably Nicholas of Cusa's De docta igno-
"'"'"'· although the possible influence of Erasmus cannot be ruled out. (As is
11-tt.tl with Bruno, nothing is as straightforward as it at first seems.) The step
hc•twt•t•n Truth and Wisdom is asinita, or the mystical element. But this mysti-
' ,,¡,.¡,.IIH'IIt must be present in Wisdom from the beginning; Wisdom in itself is
ltt~ttlfiril'nt. Thcreforc, to reach the mediator or the mystical element, lgno-
ltltlll' lltllst h!' prcscnt.lgnorancc is not herc understood as stupidity or lack of
~ 1111w lnl1:'· ¡wr si'; on t he contra ry, it is the oppositc extreme of Wisdom that
11111~1 ilt' lltlltl'll wilh 11 lor Wt-.donl to ll(' llllltpil'tc. Thc thcory of contraries is
h,,_" 111 lltlltt<l\ pliil.,,opht~.tl WDtk'>. lln111o\ synlTl'tisnJ is foundcd on thc
66 Ignoranza, Sofia, and Veriúi

union of opposites: here he is applying his Aristotelian philosophy to his

mystical doctrine as an example of the reconciliation of opposites.
The presence of folly ("pazzia") as equated with lgnorance reconciles Aris-
totelian and Platonic philo5ophy. The Platonic concept of Di vine foil y or Igno-
rance is a state receptive to the union of the human intellect with the divine
one. The definition of "furor divino" derives from the Phe2drus and is found in
Ficino's commentary to his translation of the work, Commentarium in Phe-
drus, where Ficino presents the four Platonic categories of folly: prophecy,
hieratic art, poetry, and love. 9 According to Ficino, Plato places wisdom im-
parted from divine madness above merely human acquired wisdom. This is a
rather simplistic explanation of Bruno's use of these terms. A more in-depth
analysis is required, but 1 should like to postpone it for a better overview
of how the three elements- Wisdom, lgnorance, and Truth 10 - interlock. A
clearer presentation of the three categories of lgnorance is necessary befare
delving into asinita, beca use the point here is to show the connection with the
Kabbalah and Bruno's cosmology. The essence of the argument is that the
rational acquisition of knowledge or Wisdom is insufficient. True Wisdom is
divinely inspired: as Plato insists, Wisdom comes only after the divine infu-
sion, or what Bruno calls the influx.
Doctrine, the rational approach, is itself insufficient to achieve understand-
ing and union with the Divine, but the type of lgnorance practiced by thc
mystic is also insufficient. Bruno undermines both approaches by having Sau-
lino state that "our knowledge is ignorance." The passage from Cabala con-
tinues as follows: "Because our Knowledge is lgnorance, either because it ¡,
not the Science of anything nor is it the comprehension of any Truth, or
beca use even if there is access to that [Truth] it is only through the door opened
by Ignorance, which is at once the path, the doorman and the doorway. Now,
if Sophia discerns the Truth through lgnorance, she discerns it consequently
through folly, and consequently through asinita. Therefore, whosoever pos
sesses such Knowledge possesses something of the Ass, and takes part of tha t
Idea." 11 lgnorance is the path to Knowledge. Knowledge cannot be acquiml
except through lgnorance. Furthermore, Wisdom is to understand the distinc
tion between Truth and lgnorance. Hence, to cultivate Truth through rational
thought alone is not Wisdom; neither, however, is the cultivation of mystical
Ignorance. To open the door to foil y or frenzy is to allow the Divine to desccnd
into the intellect.
Folly is a form of rapture; Ficino, in his chapter on Platonic Lave, describl'·.
itas an alienation of the mind, adivine furor. 12 The entire discourse on folh
("furore") is a prelude to the "eroici furori" described in the ominously tltlt·•l
dialogue, especially in terms of the power of Eros. Posscssion by di vine fn·nt 1
Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita 67

makes men godlike, and in this godlike state Wisdom- and with it, revelation
of the Truth- is attainable. The rest is abject ignorance.
What is immediately striking is how Bruno defines the first category of
lgnorance in his dialogue Cabala as a "Kabbalistic lgnorance," one associated
with "certain mystical theologians." What is meant here is not immediately
apparent. lt seems logical that Bruno begins with the type of lgnorance that is
"Kabbalistic" simply beca use the preceding discourse was on the Kabbalah. 1
would like to preface the following by returning to Bruno's definition of terms.
Bruno states, through Saulino, that "il saper nostro e ignorare. " 13 This decla-
ration reinforces the concept of contraries (it is, after all, an oxymoron), which
in the case of lgnorance break up into three categories: negative, doubting, and
Repeatedly, Bruno insists throughout the dialogue Cabala that the first and
third categories of lgnorance are crucial. Se basto, the sympathetic interlocutor
rcady to absorb the "Nolana filosofia" from Saulino, makes a provocative
Ntatement that forces Saulino to extemporize on the first and third categories
And posit their essential unity-their dependence from "an incomprehensible
11nd ineffable principie that constitutes that Knowledge that is the discipline of
disciplines, doctrine of doctrines and art of arts." 14 After this statement, Sau-
lino continues his discourse by describing how the Holy Fathers and enlight-
rlll'd rabbis ("santi dottori e rabini illuminati") metamorphosed into Asses. 1
'hnll return to this transformation in my next chapter, where the significance
ol the metamorphosis for the theme of metempsychosis will be made clear.
'1(1 return to the point made above, Saulino claims that the first and third
nHcgories of lgnorance are united. This concept fits well with Bruno's insis-
trn~:c on a numerical outlining of his philosophy based on triads that in reality
11rr a single unit. Only the second type of lgnorance is rejected (insofar as
l\runo does not elaborate on it). Most likely, this rejection is due to the fact
tluu Bruno has no patience with doubt or skepticism, for doubt leads to in-
llltion. The images used by Bruno in Cabala to dismiss the Pyrrhonian-Cynic
ll(tiOrance reveal somewhat his impatience: "In the second kind there is always
tlouht, and one never dares decide or define .... The first is designated by the
1111~ mlt, flceting and errant; the second by a she-ass, stuck at a crossroads,
nrvt·r lmdging from the middle, unable to decide on which she should travel;
lhr t hird by thc she-ass and her colt, who carry on their backs the Savior of the
wmld: whcrc thc shc-ass, as is taught by the Holy Doctors, represents the
lc•wi~h ¡wopk, and the colt thc Gcntilc people, that, like daughter ecclesia, is
hc1111 of nlothcr Syna~o~uc." 11 Tlw divided branches of the tree reflect nicely
notonly tlw divergl'nt paths of l¡:norann·, hut also thc image of the ass stuck at
~ •111\\lll.ld\, 11o1 know111g whll h p.11h lo dwosc. Rejection of thc sccond
68 Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita

category is necessitated by a magical system that forces an active encounter

between the human and di vine intellects. That is to say, the student of philoso-
phy must choose a path to follow actively, studiously, and with great dedica-
tion. There is no room for hesitation in the "Nolana filosofia," and those who
doubt are the pedants ridiculed throughout Bruno's dialogues. On a more
philosophicallevel, Bruno interestingly dismisses in this particular argument
the effect of Greek schools of thought: instead he concentrares on the Judea-
Christian mystical tradition and even repeats the ancient image of Mother
Synagogue and daughter Church.
This emphasis represents not a sudden split from the syncretic weave of
thought typical of Bruno, but rather a studied insistence on emphasizing pre-
cisely the Hebraic contribution. At the same time, Bruno must contrast this
Hebraic aspect with the competing philosophical trend, which is the Classical
and the Christian. His resolution of the issue is to unite the negative lgnorance
of the Kabbalists and mystics with the manifest Ignorance of the Christian
theologians. That is why Bruno alludes to the "santi dottori e rabini illumi-
nati" in Saulino's discourse. Emphasis on the first and second categories un-
derlines the Kabbalistic or mystical part of the Nolan philosophy while under-
scoring the elements of Christian theology that are also present. For Bruno,
synagogue and Kabbalah are synonyms. His interest in Kabbalah as a man-
ifestation of the first category of lgnorance lies in the fact that Judaism is a
religion based on revelation. Hence the Kabbalah is a doctrine of revelation
whose purpose is to bring the mystic to God. What is revealed through the
Kabbalah is Truth, because it is grounded in the Mosaic Law, which in turn
was revealed directly by God. Thus the Kabbalah is a means of acquiring the
rapture or folly that leads to divinely inspircd Wisdom. These two categories,
however, also absorb much of the Hermetic and Classical elements of Bruno's
philosophy, beca use it is understood that these are inherent in the very struc-
ture of Judea-Christian religion: Egypt is the cradle of religion, or, to appropri-
ate Bruno's imagery, she is the Mother Ass that gave birth to the She-Ass that
gave birth to the colt. Ultimately, the categories of lgnorance serve to school
the disciple in the possibilities open to him. These are the choices that have
been narrowed clown for the follower of Bruno.
The choice in Cabala of the three categories of Ignorance (negative, doubt-
ing, and manifest) functions as a means to understanding Truth. They are only
types of Ignorance beca use they are simply the vehicles or states of mind that
direct the intellect to Truth: "Sorne proceed to the contemplation of Truth via
doctrine and rational knowledge, through the force of the Agent lntellect that
intrudes on the soul, exciting in it the internallight. And rh·y are rarc ....
Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita 6~

Others turn to it via lgnorance and force themselves to attain it. And of these
sorne are affected by that which is called lgnorance of Simple Negation- the)
neither know nor presume to know- others by that which is called lgnorancc
of Deprived Disposition- these people, the less they know and the more the)
are imbued with false information, the more they think they know." 16
Bruno includes a comment on the pedants who think they know more thar
him and know nothing. Those who can reach Truth through the rational sou
are rare; for the most part those who strive for such contemplation mus1
follow one of the paths of lgnorance. But the rational route is difficult, becausf
it excludes the mystical element. The negative lgnorance means to negatf
knowledge of the Truth, and the reason why Bruno puts Kabbalists and mys-
tics in this category is that the Judea-Christian tradition (in sorne cases) denie~
the ability to know God completely. Thus Truth can be revealed and striven
for, but the divine mind cannot be tapped or influenced on a whim. That is, the
rational acquisition of knowledge is insufficient because it does not reveal the
Divine Truth, which can only be revealed by God. Kabbalah is a means oi
achieving union with the Divine Intellect, but it is a mystical union: the adept
may study the Kabbalah, but union with the Intellect is achieved only by those
who are deemed worthy; therefore the possibility of union is controlled di-
rectly by God. Christian mysticism, however varied its forms may be, does
presuppose someone chosen by God.
Bruno does not offer a technique of mystical union with God in the ortho-
dox Catholic sense. He instead utilizes Kabbalists and mystics as models for
une in three ways to achieve union with the first cause and principie: that is,
with Bruno's Truth. Bruno la ter links the first and third types of ignorance as
une, a link that will be significant in clarifying the mystical aspect.
Those who will achieve contemplation ofTruth are those marked by "di vine
uéquisition," those who are humble about their knowledge and are often
~onsidered ignorant by pedants who misguidedly believe in their own knowl-
rJgc. To continue the above passage from Cabala: "Others by that [means]
which is celebrated as divine acquisition; and in this [category] are those
pC'ople that neither saying nor believing they know, and what is more being
thought of by others as extremely ignorant, are truly knowledgeable forre-
dm:ing themselves to that glorious asinita and folly." 17 These are of course
1hr mcmbers of the three types of lgnorance that merge with asinita, and of
which thc Kabbalists are members. Bruno distinguishes between those schoi-
IHN who dedícate thcmsclvcs toa limited interpretation of Aristotle and schoi-
IHN likt· himsclf who dl'llil·atc themsclves to alternative interpretations of Aris-

lol k l'llridwd hy a lt nn.1t 1v1· plulosophical systems, such as Hermeticism and

70 Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita

Kabbalah. "Divine acquisition" refers to the nature of the philosophies or

sciences studied, which reveal the structures of nature and the universe, and
through the study of nature and the universe reveal the Divine.
Bruno divides these "chosen" into two categories. Sorne are "naturals"-
that is, they innately conceive of such things and others are guided by faith.
Ciliberto offers a definition of the "natural" in Bruno's philosophy that is
helpful when considering the passage to be quoted. In his discussion of "truth"
versus "metaphor" in the Cena, Ciliberto states that for Bruno nature is the
basis of comparison between the two concepts. Without an understanding of
nature there can be no understanding of Scripture, or of the various commu-
nicative levels through which Scripture communicates. Therefore, it is through
the ignorance of the workings of N ature that the confusion between Truth and
metaphor arose in the beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
The understanding of Nature is the foundation of Bruno's philosophy and
the point of union between philosophy and religion. 18 Ciliberto's analysis of
Cena can be transferred to Cabala in Bruno's definition of the "naturals."
According to Ciliberto's interpretation of Bruno, the "naturals" are the people
who make the same connection Bruno makes in terms of the need to study
Nature to attain Truth. Those who are beyond the "naturals," those who are
guided by faith, are people who understand the workings of Nature and ha ve
beheld the vision of Truth. Bruno thus concludes his long discourse in Cabala
on who achieves the contemplation of Truth, and determines that it is those
blessed with di vine acquisition:

And of these, sorne are naturals, like those who walk with their own rational
light, with which they negate with the light of sense and reason al! light of
reason and sense. A few others walk, orto state it better allow themselves to
be guided by the Lantern of Faith, capturing the intellect of he who ascends to
it and in his beautiful place straightens it and guides them. And they truly are
those that cannot err, for they do not walk with their own fallacious under-
standing but with the infallible light of superna! intelligence. They, they truly
are capable and predestined to arrive in the Jerusalem of beatitude and open
vision of Divine Truth: for there hovers above them that without which therc
is no one worthy of cond ucting them there. 19

There two possible meanings in the Italian term "errare," upon which Bruno
plays. First, it can signify both "errant," as in "to stray," and "to err," which is
how 1 translated the term, without wishing to omit the alterna ti ve possibilit y.
The image of the Lantern ofFaith, which infallibly guides rhe C:hosen, is not to
be read solely as a Christian image (despite Bruno's use of s•·rmon-stylc rhet
oric), but as thc Neoplatonic Light of Reason CIILIIl.Jilll!'. 1"'''' tiH" ldl"a. Tlu·
Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita 7r

Lantern of Reason is another image for the Sun, a symbol for Wisdom de-
scribed earlier (see the quote from the Oratio valedictoria in chap. 4) and
whose complex iconography is depicted through the images and emblems of
appendix 2. In the earlier quote Bruno clearly ties in the sefirah Hokhmah with
Wisdom in the divine essence. Like the sefirah, the lantern symbolizes the
emanation from the divine source. The symbol is an elaboration of Neo-
platonic light imagery, which in turn was given Christian interpretation by the
Christian Neoplatonists. Bruno is not denying Christian interpretations; actu-
nlly he reinforces the strength of Christian elements in the speech to the Lu-
therans and at other moments when he finds it expedient to do so. In the
immediate context of the passage quoted above, Bruno is adding dimensions
of interpretation, as is customary in his writings.
The interpretation of the image of the lantern as a discrete reference to
llokhmah leads to a further analysis of the passage in terms of the interplay of
Kabbalistic and Neoplatonic terminology. Those who allow themselves to be
I(Uided by the lantern of "faith," as understood in this context, are those who
ilrc guided by the divine inspiration of the sefirah, or whatever label is given to
Wisdom or Sofia. The guidance "captivates" the intellect of the faithful- that
IN, the emanation of the essence from the di vine intellect unites with the human
fnlcllect. The receiver of such is therefore in mystical union with the Idea, with
lht• lntellect, with the Ein sof. Because the human intellect is joined to the
11ivinc Intellect, the person who has achieved this union cannot err, beca use the
t·~~t·nce itself is Truth.
In contrast, those who are "naturals," those who "walk with their own light
uf rt•ason," participare only in the second leve! of acquisition. They are the
um·s who in the Oratio valedictoria Bruno puts in the realm of substance. The
tt•¡dm of substance is the world, and it is the reflection of the di vine essence or
uf tlw di vine Intellect. Hokhmah is the image of the essence, and Pallas Athena
111' Minerva is the image of the substance of the world. Those who walk the
Jhtth to enlightenment guided by their own reason are in a sense guided by
Muwrva, by the wisdom that is recognized and acquired in the world. These
Jll'opk are schooled in negation, whether by their own intuition or by the
•lluly of different schools of thought (Bruno is not to be taken literally that
thry arc nccessarily unschooled). Those who are still at the level of negation of
rriiNon pcr se, howcver, are not linked to the Divine lntellect and remain in the
rr,tlrn of substance. These people ate many, for Bruno postulares nine orders
ul hl111dness, ninc catcgorics of rcfusal or incapacity to perceive the light of
1111' '-11111 of lntelli~clKl'. Thcs1· nine typcs of blindness are counterbalanced in
1'"" 1 hy ;111 equalllllllllll'r of lovcr~. whose ht·arts, whosc "faith," are opened
lo tlw d1VIIIl" f11rors th.ll lt-.1<1 tolhl' IIIV~tll.d vision.
72 Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita

Bruno indica tes that those at the second leve! may never achieve union with
the Divine. The image of the "blessed Jerusalem," which again is an ancient
mystical Christian image, is the symbol for the final vision of the di vine union.
Bruno makes it clear that if the emanation has not penetrated the intellect and
radiated back to the &o urce, then the vision of Jerusalem- that is, the vision of
the di vine Truth- is impossible.
The image of the holy city of Jerusalem as an image of Paradise or ascension
is ancient. The image of the celestial city is rare in Bruno's works, however.
Within the Italian Dialogues it appears only in the Cabala, and two out of the
three passages in which it is mentioned relate to the image of the Ass. It is also
interesting to contrast this image of the celestial city with that of the Tower of
Babel in Cabala, which is presented in Saulino's explanation of the meta-
morphosis of the rabbis into divine Asses. The Holy City clearly represents the
order and vision brought about by Wisdom for those who seek out the Truth
through the path of the chosen, whereas Babel represents the disorder and
blindness of the pedants whose arrogance and ignorance leads them to at-
tempt direct access to God without divine inspiration. The symbol of Jeru-
salem associated with the Ass is the entry of Christ into the Holy City, which
represents the triumphant entry of the humble to the final vision of the Di vine.
Entrance into Jerusalem is part of the prophecies surrounding the coming of
the Messiah, and this is how Bruno utilizes the image. Those that see the Holy
City are the chosen, the naturals, those who have the divine spark or influx
within them. These are the prophets. 20 The symbol turns on the concept of
lgnorance, of negative theology, although it appears to contain contradictory
interpretations. In the passage quoted above, Bruno recalls the mystical apoc-
alyptic image of the celestial city in Revelation 21-22.
The image of the Heavenly Jerusalem is a symbol that reflects a state of
existence, because it is the center of being and in that center is contained the
anima mundi_ The image of Jerusalem is connected with the evangelical ex-
pression "the realm of God, that is within us," which indicares the presence of
the anima mundi. Alfonso Ingegno interprets the anima mundi asan image for
salvation, a salvation formula red by an existence that exceeds the normal span
(although he is careful not to mention metempsychosis). 21 Ingegno does men-
tion reincarnation, in terms of the Resurrection, but 1 hesitare to read such
Christological meaning into Bruno. What 1 do agree with is Ingegno's inter-
pretation of the anima mundi as a cyclical conception of the cosmos, where at
the end of the cycle there is a restitutio. Present already in Plato, the idea of a
cosmic cycle is prevalent in Ficino, and certainly not alien to KabbalahY
According to Ingegno, the anima mundi symbolizes the prohlems of fate i11
general, as well as the destiny of the individual soul. 23 Thus tiH' IH'a Vl'nly city ~~
lgnoranza, Safia, and Verita 73

also a locus for metempsychosis, for the continuous cycle of rebirth; hence the
association, in terms of where it is mentioned, with the Ass, symbol of the
transmigrarían of souls.
The city also contains the Tree of Life, which Bruno associated with the Tree
of the Sefirot. This is the tree of the Garden of Eden that Bruno discusses in
Cabala and that 1 discuss in chapter 8. The allusion is tenuous, beca use Bruno
does not mention the tree (although, as an excommunicated monk, he must
have been very familiar with Revelation), but it is consistent with the light
imagery Bruno manipulates, because the Tree of the Sefirot emanares their
light and enlightens the lovers that contemplare it with divine furor. Bruno
discusses the image of the tree in terms of the possibility of a return of a
11piritual golden age, one of prophecy through the contemplation of the divine
cmanations. And in Eroici, the contrast between the (blind) eyes and (faithful)
hcart, symbolic of the opposing orders of blindness and the enlightened lovers,
t~tkes place under the shade of a tree. 24
The vision of Jerusalem is not, however, the final vision for the adept.
J{ather, Bruno's brief allusion to it serves to strengthen the Neoplatonic light
hnagery that is important for the vision of Act::eon and Diana. It is a compli-
nttcd task to trace how this Greek myth functions as the quintessential mysti-
rlll vision within a Kabbalistic framework, so the reader must bear with me as
lnttcmpt to catch the loase threads in Bruno works and reweave them into a
more salid fabric.
'Ji> return to the Tree of Asinira, a significant question has neither been
IINkcd nor answered. The question is this: once he has climbed the limbs of the
l'rc-c, the branches of Ignorance, what is the adept to do? Where will the
dwscn path lead? Despite the alternative paths Bruno seems to offer, he has
t'lnnned a specific trajectory, a trajectory that leads to a realm somewhat
~liNtinct from the Kabbalistic one inhabited in the dialogue itself. The limbs of
1\runo's Kabbalistic Tree branch out into a world populated by personages
lmm Classical mythology. I have already demonstrated how the complex
lllsmology of the sefirot relates to that of the planets and Muses. Once again,
thr link between dialogues is established through allusions that must be sorted
1111d ~:arcfully followed. The Muses are the key to the final destinarían of the
11111 hs that branch out from the Tree.
Tht• final destination is in actuality the final mystical vision,2 5 the union of
thr intdlcct with the divine Intellect in the guise of Amphitrite. To attain this
v1~1on, the mystic must first prepare himself and gain the knowledge and
ltl~ll{hh !\runo offns, and tht·n pmcecd down the path of the "faithful." A
tlvrr w1ll :tp¡w;tr, :t ¡..; .t hh.t ¡..,,u 1 ,., hl', lalwlnl by Bruno as the fonte caballino
(tlm nvnt-. ntt< i.tl t. u ttii'I<'IIIJ'W• hmt-., .tnd rlw <:yllenian Ass dcscrihed in the
74 Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita

appendix to Cabala is proof of its existence and efficacy). Past the Kabbalistic
river is the playground of Diana, where Actxon enacts the transformation of
the mystic into a spiritual being through his metamorphosis. By glimpsing the
goddess in her revealed state, he has dared to penetra te further into the Di vine:
he has come to the second leve!, that of Binah, or Understanding (for the
Kabbalist); he has seen the Shadow of the Idea (for the pure Neoplatonist) and
has only the Idea itself to discover.
The Idea itself, appropriately, is an incarnation of Oceanía, the essence and
true so urce of water, Amphitrite. All the loase ends come together in Eroici, in
a long passage that provides a nice summary of the arguments presented so far.
In short, the vision of Diana and her nymphs is associated with the Judgment
of Paris, because she too possesses the three virtues embodied in the other
goddesses (here given as Beauty, Wisdom, and Truth). These attributes are
revealed in Amphitrite: in her incarnation as Ocean, Diana bathes in her
waters, and Amphitrite represents Wisdom and eternallife. The nymphs that
accompany Diana are intelligences; hence they are associated with the orders
of nine Muses, the celestial spheres, and all the rest discussed in the previous
chapters. In this way, Bruno brings us full circle to his cosmological hierarchy
and with it to the Kabbalah integral to the system. 26
To recapitulare, Bruno alludes to the importance of the triad containing
Wisdom seen in the image of the Judgment of Paris, the "ternario delle per-
fezioni." After establishing the importance of Wisdom (Sapienza-Minerva-
Hokhmah), Bruno introduces another allusion: to the four rivers of the Other
World, found in Dante's Terrestrial Paradise. The reference is not to the Chris-
tian Eden, however, but to the more ancient Source, the Ocean or Amphitrite.
This shift represents a rather logical transference of mythological locus-
logical, that is, within the perimeters of Bruno's though processes. Lethe, the
Classical underworld river of forgetfulness housed in the Christian Terrestrial
Paradise, is the river from which the soul must drink befare ascending to the
Otherworld. In Eroici, Bruno defines the image of the souls drinking the wa-
ters of the Lethe as a metaphor of generation and corruption: "Perché la
generazione e corrozione e causa d'oblio e cecita, come esplicano gli antichi
con la figura de le anime che si bagnano ed inebrian o di Lete." 27 There is notan
equivalent river to Lethe in Bruno's cosmology precise! y beca use it is crucial to
retain memory to attain asinita (forgetfulness leads to blindness, the cause of
Ignorance). 28 Lethe is an allusion to the phenomenon of metempsychosis,
where the soul that wishes to transmigrare does not drink the waters of Lethc
and thus in its new body recalls previous incarnations: as, for ex a mpie, Onorio
or the Cyllenian Ass.
Water imagery a \so undcrlines in Bruno\ statcllH"ll1 1lw d••.pr• ~1011 of tlw
Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita 75

Shadow of the Idea. Amphitrite or Oceanía represents the Platonic Idea,

whereas Diana, the Shadow of the Idea, is more comprehensible to the human
intellect. To glimpse Diana is to glimpse the possibility of transformation, of
metempsychosis. 29 In the myth of Actaeon, his metamorphosis into a stag is
punishment for glim psing the goddess as she emerges from her bath in a sacred
pool. His punishment or transformation is the result of his having directly
looked at the reflection of the Amphitrite, the Source or Idea. According to

The universe (Diana), which appears as a simulacrum of primary nature (Am-

phitrite), is all that can be, since it contains all matter, but is not all that can be
because of the difference between the forms assumed by individual beings. lt
is only the shadow of the first action and power; in it, action and power are
not the same thing, not being the same in its parts. The universe is "deployed"
(explicato), supported, distinct, whereas the first principie is "entangled"
(complicato), uniform, one. Corruption, death, vice, the monstrous, stem
from the shortcomings and impotence of things which are obliged to be many
things simultaneously, trying to attain being through their power to be, which
exceeds action and is thereby realized only imperfectly. But, since it is absurd
that something be severa! things ata time, the individual being only succeeds
in exchanging his being for another being.
So it happens that the universe, Diana, is the shadow of the universal soul,
of Amphitrite: a shadow that swarms with beings but nevertheless can be
envisaged as an indistinct unity. To surprise Diana naked is to perceive this
shadow, to allow oneself to be absorbed by it, giving up the limitations be-
longing toa particular state of being. Acta:on, who thought he hada separa te
existence, finally realizes- while he is still able- that he is only the shadow of
a shadow: at one with the whole. 30

'11tat Amphitrite represents the universal soul is clear from the manner in
which Bruno speaks of her. Farther on in Eroici Bruno calls her the Monad,
tlw source or origin of all numbers, thereby sealing her function as a represen-
tuti<m of the First Principie, which is discussed in the metaphysical dialogues. 31
Thus Actaeon sees the true essence of Amphitrite. I shall return to this passage
-hortly, for it is taken from Bruno's interpretation of the myth (See appendix r
fm thc full passages of Eroici concerning Actaeon). For the moment it is neces-
_,try to reconnect the image of Amphitrite with the cosmology of Kabbalah
1111ll its power of revelation.
FarliL·r, in chaptcr 1 lme1Jtioncd that the Bah iris the first text to describe the
1rrt• of t!ll' Sl'firo1 :ts w.1tnnllrom the watcrs of Wisdom (the sefirah Hokh-
lltotlt). lt '' pos-.1hk tl1.11 111111111 w.~'> :twan· of thc image of the tree being
Wolll'l'cd fmn11h(' •.n<>lld '>l'ill.lil,lwt.IJI\1' :11 tlw vcry k·ast illustrations ofthe
76 Ignoranza, Sofia, and Verita

image may ha ve existed, even if the image itself was not well known in Kabba-
listic circles. This hypothesis is not provable. But it is not so much in the literal
or explicit reapplication of the image of the watered Tree of the Sefirot that the
connection between the Tree and Amphitrite exists: Bruno's thinking is too
sophisticated to remain on the obvious interpretive leve!.
Nowhere does Bruno mention the waters that nurture the Sefirotic Tree, but
he does mention "un fonte caballino." The name, given Bruno's incessant
propensity for manipulating language, suggests a play on the words "caval-
lino" (horselike) and "caballino"(Kabbalistic). This fount, Bruno's source for
poetic inspiration, is clearly associated with Amphitrite on close reading. The
winged Pegasus ("il cavallo pegaseo" of the dialogue) drinks at this fount, and
Pegasus is one of the constellations rearranged in the celestial reform of Spac-
cio. Once again Bruno builds various layers of interrelationships among not
only the dialogues themselves, but also the elements of his philosophy, for in
Spaccio the Cavallo Pegaseo represents Divine Furor and in Cabala it is thc
quintessential transformation of the Ass- Onorio. The quintessential incar-
nation of the Ass is highly Kabbalistic, as will be seen in chapter 6.
The location of this fountain is the haunt of the Muses, Mount Parnas-
sus. From antiquity, poets and philosophers had sought inspiration from thc
Muses. According to the Platonic Phcedrus, it was the poets who first sang thc
praises of God. Pythagoras, even in the writings of lamblichus that described
his life and philosophy, believed in the intima te connection between poet ami
philosopher and called upon the inspirations of the Muses. Ficino clearh
upheld this concept as well: he called on the Muses in his writings and claimed
in De vita that the path toward Wisdom ascends to the summit of the Muse>.
Therefore Bruno does not establish a precedent by insisting on the importann·
of Mount Parnassus. Nor is he significan ti y deviating from the Neoplatonic or
Pythagorean path by locating the fount of inspiration, or even of the regenera
tion of the soul, on the summit of the Muses. Bruno's originality must limit
itself in the depth of his syncretism, in the profundity of his Kabbalistic sym
bolism of a Neoplatonic and Neopythagorean theme. This is due, of course, t< 1
the powers of the "fome caballino." For Mount Parnassus is not only tlw
so urce of poetic or philosophical inspiration (neither of which Bruno seems 1' 1
lack); it is also the source of regeneration, of metempsychosis: "I found mysc\1
on Mount Parnassus, and it is not a tale that by its (ante Caballino it r·.
consecrated by their Father A pollo to his daughters the Muses." 32
The narrator of this event is Onorio, the Ass whose various incarnatior1·.
include Aristotle, no less. He is able to remember his various lives hecaus1· l11
does not drink from Lethe but proceeds to the fotttll, wlwtT IH' is transiorlf~<·,l
again into an ass, into thc Ass, ami hrL·onH'S wor1l11 '" lw.11tlu· tl.tllll' l'q~a.,tt·.
Ignoranza, Sofía, and Verita 77

The description of the process of metempsychosis is important for it describes

the mystical transformation of the soul leading to the prophetic state. The
locus is the birthplace of the Muses, and this locus places Onorio within the
cosmological system. For now, the relationship with the Amphitrite, source
uf souls, 31 and the fountain is a Kabbalistic one. As Oceania, Amphitrite is
quite literally the source of al! waters. As Spirit, she is the Source of its re-
¡¡cnerative powers. If she is the One, the Monad, then she is also the source
from which the sefirot numbers emana te. In that case, the powers of the waters
11rc Kabbalistic.
Amphitrite-Oceania-Monad: the One that embodies all numbers and al!
•t'rcies, the so urce of al! waters. Like the limbs of the Kabbalistic Tree, Amphi-
lritt• is the great body of water whence al! rivers branch out. She is the watery
-lnKture of the universe, an image of the sefirotic structure of the cosmos. All
ttuuls branch out from her vital trunk- all species, all of nature. Like the limbs
ul thc Kabbalistic Tree, al! numbers radiare from the ten principie branches
ul thc Monad. Amphitrite is, in essence, the sefirotic tree. In her the three
rt•lllms are united: the archetypal, the physical or sensible, and the rational or
111111 hcmatical.
Thc darification of the relationship is given succinctly in the definition of
Atuphitrite quoted above. If the nymph Amphitrite is the Monad, the origin of
llllnttmbers, then she must also have an alternare manifestation as the com-
t•l•·~ structure of the sefirot, beca use they are the numbers, the dimensions that


· _·
lllltkl' up the structure of the universe. Amphitrite is the deified sign of the
lllh'lltgcntial world- the Idea, the One, the Ein sof. Kabbalistic reading could
hl' that the trinity of characters- Amphitrite, Diana, and Acta:on- represent
:~ 1111' 1irst three sefirot: Keter (closest to the Ein sof), Binah, and Hokhmah, if the
lllt•,t, thc Shadow of the Idea, and the Shadow of the Shadow are considered
111 ht~ thc three Houses. Acta:on represents the humanly attainable Wisdom,
tlokhmah; Diana represents the understanding of the Divine as a reflection of
tlw Ard1ctype, faintly perceivable to the human intellect; and Amphitrite rep-
Ff'-t'llls thc Archetype itself, the unintelligible realm.
A 'l'l'Ond possible Kabbalistic reading, truer to the solar imagery of Hokh-
IHIIh 111 thc Oratio, places Amphitrite in the position of the third sefirah. If
Hukhmah is taken as the Sun, as the symbol for the archetypal realm, the Ein
.. 11, liu·•• Amphitrite equates the Sun as symbol of that realm. A passage of
~'"'' 1 supports thc association of Amphitrite as a solar image. The initial
~~~-111p1 ion of thc universal so urce lists thc attributes of Amphitrite as eterna!
' "' 111 t',l'll'l'll;ll gt'llt'l'alrix, lorntol lomts, sourrc of light, truth of truth, god
ttll\111h, .tnd lullol dtvlllllV, lntlll, ··~~•·tHl', .tnd goodncss. 14 Thesc attributes
111' 11'111.11 k.thlv .tk1111o il1o~,. ol ti, ... ,,·fllol ll~t· ~•Htrn· of light is of roursc thc
78 lgnoranza, Sofia, and Verita

Sun, whose imagery has already been discussed in terms of Hokhmah (see also
app. 2). Bruno explicitly calls Amphitrite "absoluta luce" in Eroici, where he
also replaces Amphitrite, the absolute light, with Apollo or the Sun and situ-
ares his sister Diana into his shadow. Thus the Platonic enlightening Idea and
the Shadow of the Idea are transformed into their Kabbalistic nature. 35
Bruno masterfully merges solar imagery with water imagery in the figure of
Diana. Diana is the reflection of Amphitrite both in solar and aqueous terms:
she is the Moon, which reflects the light of the Sun, 36 and she is the pool whose
source is the Ocean. To return to the solar-Kabbalistic imagery, if Hokhmah
is the Sun, is Amphitrite, then Amphitrite is the Divine, the Archetype, the
incomprehensible. Diana is then the physical world, the comprehensible: 3 is
another figuration of the Minerva from the Oratio. Acta:on, the intellect in
search of the Di vine, is, like Sofia, a symbol of Wisdom in the rational realm.
The protagonists of the Classical myth thus are embodiments of the three
The systems fit together precisely: they are carefully numerically based to
reflect the dimensions of the universe. The tenth element is powerful in its lack
of mention, because it is the Monad-the number of power, of perfection, of
magic. All the cosmologies Bruno unites add up to ten elements. There are ten
sefirot. The number ten is the Monad, the One that unites all and is the Sourcc
of all. Amphitrite is, then, the tenth and first element of the "Greek" category
of deities, made up of Diana and her accompanying nymphs. Of all the sys-
tems Bruno manages to unite into one, however, the Kabbalistic system under-
scores most the fundamental importance of numbers not only to Bruno's cos-
mology and magic, but also to his overall philosophical approach. Bruno is
unwilling to separate the so-called scientific or metaphysical approach from
the "moral," "cosmological," "religious," or "magical" one: in his mind these
multiple approaches are unified.
Thus, to return to the long excerpt from the introductory argument ot
Eroici, the repeated nine elements listed as categories are equivalent not only
numerically, but al so conceptually or essentially. The nine intelligences a n·
most probably an allusion to the sefirot that emanare from the first sefirah,
Keter. Nine sisters, the Muses, are born of Mnemosyne (Memory), anothct
sign or representation of the Idea because it is there, in the intelligential world,
that all Wisdom is contained; Memory is the key to Wisdom, because thn
cannot exist apart-especially because metempsychosis is impossible without
memory. Nine spheres or planets make up the scientific category for the struc
ture of the universe, and these also derive from the Primum Mobile. Niw
orders of blindness culminare in absolute lgnorance, wh1d1 ·~ tr;lnsformcd h1
the Nymphs into nine figures of lovers that culmin.ltt· 111 nillt•,htt'IIIIH'llt. Tht"•'
lgnoranza, Sofia, and Verita 79

Fig. 2. Cosmology o( Cabala United with That o(Eroici

Cause of
Deities Sefirot Muses Heavens Blindness Instruments

Anfitrite Ceter Mnemosyne Primo mobile lgnoranza-cecita illuminati

Diana Hocma Urania 8a sfera-stelle cieco mutolo rebecchina
ninfe Bina Poliminia Saturno ferita strale viola ad arco
He sed Terpsicore? Giove ardor del core arpa
Geburah Melpomene? Sol e l'organo visivo Jauto
Tipheret Calliope? Marte per lacrime tímpano
Nezah Erato Venere per l'unita viola
Hod Euterpe Mercurio per intensa luce lira
Iesod Talia Luna per gelosia mandara
Malkuth Clio? Chaos per nativita citara

Srmrce: Author.

fiKures of lovers sing and accompany themselves on instruments, much like the
l1idnian magus who sings to the stars.
Each of the orders of the blind and each of their transformations into en-
IIKhtcned lovers has an accompanying musical attribute (fig. 2). The names of
thr nymphs are not given, although the Nereids are mentioned both in the
trsponses of the heart to the eyes, and in the emblems of Eroici of the no-
lcm~cr-blind lovers who conclude the dialogue. According to the logic of Spac-
!'lrJ and De compositione, these nymphs are the accompanying Virtues or
Attributes of the goddess. If this supposition is correct, then it is not essential
thut the names be provided in the schema presented in Eroici, because the
tnngus must decide which attributes he wishes to cal! u pon when forming the
•r•ds and signs of the goddess in his practice. The Names of Diana and her
llttrihutes are means for opening the magical seals of Amphitrite's powers. A
IIIIIKIIS who wishes to attempt this by practicing demonic magic must use the
llppropriate N ame for the sea! he wishes to create.
A~ lor the precise arder of the Muses, Bruno is inconsistent. In De magia
,,,rlm1111tica he reiterares Agrippa's ordering, which follows the Orphic out-
ltttt•. Calliopc would then appear in conjunction with the "ninth" sphere,
Whtl h is not part of the planetary arder of Cabala. The dialogue uses the
JtllltH·tary systl'lll with thc eighth sphcre following the Primum Mobile, other-
Wht' ktloWtl as thc stdlar hl':IVt'll. llrania rules in the stellar sphere, so to
'"'' 1111 ,¡,. tiH' t wo 'Y'' t'lll'> t hl' "111111 h" ,plwrc 111ay rcplacc thc Primum Mobile
Uf tlil' '>!1'11.11 ,p\wn· (.d•.o, .r\1,·.1 1\w t'lf'.l•lh 'JliH·n·). 'J'IH"reforc, cither Urania or
8o lgnoranza, Sofia, and Verita

Calliope is misplaced in the tentative positions of figure 2.. lt seems most

logical that Mnemosyne should be placed within the sphere of the Primum
Mobile. Even if this is the "ninth" sphere, Calliope is still ousted from the
Orphic position. Again, perhaps the specific order of the Muses is unimpor-
tant. No "standard" order seems to have existed, and the Orphic one men-
tioned in De magia mathematica may not necessarily ha ve been uppermost in
Bruno's mind when he wrote the Italian Dialogues. 1 added the nine orders of
blindness to the figure as a means of pointing out Bruno's contrasting ap-
proach to attainment of Wisdom. Ignorance is the missing tenth element. The
orders of blindness are not part of Bruno's cosmology. They are steps in the
initiatory process of attaining Wisdom rhat represent the antirhetical, rhe pe-
dan tic: rhe Other thar Bruno vehemently rails againsr in nearly every work.
Their rransformation atrests rhe efficacy of rhe Nolan philosophy, which can
enlighten even those who refuse to see, if they are among rhe eh osen.
Blindness is an imporrant concept in Bruno's mysrical thoughr. Mases must
wear a veil ro protect rhe eyes of rhose unworthy of glimpsing rhe di vine light.
He who was worthy of direcr communion with God, who was worthy of
seeing the Burning Bush, is imbued wirh lighr himself: Moses is transformed
inro and emanares a blinding ray. Unril Actreon sees Diana, he is blind to rhe
narure and significance of his stare of being. The sight of Diana emerging from
the pool reveals (in the very mystical and religious sense of a revelation, with
all rhe senses rhe rerm connotes) the essential doctrines of Neoplatonic magic:
his existence is a mere shadow of a shadow- he is one with the One. Until that
moment, Actreon lives in a state of ignorance. At that moment he ascends to
an enlightened state of Wisdom. The ascension, however, forever transforms
him. The transformation as the result of revelation symbolically leads into thc
material for the second half of this book: prophecy.
Once he has artained the stare ofWisdom, the magus or initiare has direct ac-
cess ro the Idea, to the Universe, ro rhe One itself. This ultimare union empow-
ers rhe magus-mystic not only ro manipulare the forces of the universe, but also,
through knowledge of its essence, to artain a prophetic foresight of the sensory
world. Bruno's prophetic understanding is heavily associated with Kabbalist1•
and Chaldrean undercurrents. Prophet-magicians extolled by Bruno are oftru
figures from the O Id Testament, such as Balaam. Bruno thereby links himscll
with a long Christian tradition of seeking prophecy with the Old Testament,
but (as always) his interpretation of the material is unorthodox.
Hidden in the lament of the blinded lovers is the process of enlightenment
The story they tell is an epilogue to the myth of Actreon, to the tales of Onori<'
and the Cyllenic Ass, or even to the bíblica] story of Mm::·s. In content :111<l
context, thc expcricncc of thc lovcrs is thc trul' l'XIll'tl!'ll< ,. uf tlw initJ<llt',
lgnoranza, S afia, and Verita 81

without the mythological transformations that Bruno's previous examples

provide. For this reason, I will briefly present the episode of the blinded lovers
before entering into the issue of metempsychosis, which is more complex but
atems from the same principies.
In terms of plot, the story is simple. 38 It is told by two female interlocutors,
laodamia and Giulia, in the fifth and final dialogue of Eroici. Nine lovers
leave Campania (the land of the Nolan) to seek a beauty equivalent to that of
(iiulia, who has turned away their !ove. On the third da y of their journey they
arrive in the region of the Circeo (southern Italy), traditionally the home of
Circe 39 (and hence the locus of the mnemonic work Cantus circceus). Circe,
daughter of Apollo, receives the homage of the nine lovers, andas a sign of her
aratitude blinds them all, condemning them to wander the earth until they find
IUtneone who can restore their sight. Such a being is found on the distant
1hores of the Thames River, home of the Nereids. One of them, after hearing
thc lament of the lovers, takes the waters of the rivers, anoints the lovers, and
rrNtores their sight. Those who were blind can now see. In a state of joyous
furor, they express their gratitude and beatitude by each singing a song and
IL'I."Ompanying himself on an instrument, and by uniting their voices in a tenth
Hnnl chorus (see fig. 2).
Thc epilogue to Eroici can be read as a prelude to the myths of metempsy-
' hosis. The experience of the lovers contains the nucleus of the mystical trans-
lol'lllation of the initiate; its clearly autobiographical elements contain the
ttlldl·us of the experience of the Nolan philosophy. For the locus of both the
111lr of the lovers and the myth of Actreon is the Italian region of Campania,
wltrrl' Bruno was born. 4 From the "Argomento del nolano" that opens the
&1111lo~ue Eroici, the collocation of the orders of blindness and of the restored
luvrrs in the Brunian cosmology is evident (see figs. 1 and 2). Within a cos-
nu-•lu~ical context, the association of the blinded and then restored lovers with
}; lhr nttcndant Nymphs and Amphitrite is evident. Cosmologically, the cast of
~ thlll'ill'tcrs is the same; the usual gods make an active appearance orare called
l upu11 to pcrform, such as when the restored lovers sing the song of thanks to
. Juvt•. l.itcrally, from the tale of the lovers, it is the Nymphs who restore the
IIKhl takt·n away by Circe (a Sun image), and they use the restorative proper-
11•- ol thc waters of the Thames, whose source is clearly the Amphitrite.
' Thrtllilti~o:ally, the moral of the story is similar to that of Acta:on. Indeed, the
,,.,.,llrls are striking. On a thematic leve!, the misguided lovers penetrate
lhr ~.llll't u;l ry of thc goddcss (he re Circe, not Diana, but still a reflection of

1~::~';·,·.::::.':,·:·,~::: ::·:~~~.::··:.: ::,~:~: ,;:.': ·;,: ·,: : : :.: : :::·::r~,:::;: :~;,:::~:~~~:0~;

A¡,ullo), witncss thc goddcss hersclf, and are punished for their transgression.

8z lgnoranza, Sofia, and Verita

blindness. Their delight in travel becomes a painful quest to regain their sight.
Eventually, through the regenerative waters of Amphitrite, they regain their
sight and are thus transformed into true lovers.
Finally, the nine are true lovers beca use their blindness was caused by their
own misguided profane object of !ove. Allegorically, the nine lovers represent
the profane Eros, the misguided impulse toward earthly beauty and !ove that
leads not to the di vine furor but to blind worship of the terrestrial world. If, as
I will show in the following chapter, Actxon is the symbol of the intellect
seeking divine Wisdom, then the lovers are in essence blind from the begin-
ning, for they sought only worldly beauty and worldly love. 41 The lovers thus
represent those who refuse to be enlightened by mystical Eros, by di vine !ove.
Only through the purging process of experiencing physical blindness, and
through the divine intervention of the Nymphs and Amphitrite, are the lovers
enlightened: finally they gain true sight. The Nymphs attendant on Diana are
called by Bruno the "multitudes of other species, form and ideas": 42 the same
definition is applicable to the Nereids of the Thames, because the Amphitrite
contains all species in herself. Thus, the recognition of speciation, of the in-
finite manifestations of the Infinite, is the key to revelation. Once the secret is
revealed, the initiate is transformed, physically and spiritually. In their re-
stored and enlightened state, the lovers form a circle, and possessed by thc
divine furor they sing songs of praise for their newfound sight (their newfound
understanding of the cosmos). The circle of singers accompanying themselves
on instruments recalls Ficinian magic: notably, the hymns that were sung to
the stars in imitation of the Orphic hymns in an attempt to call clown the influx
of the music of the spheres. 43


From Bruno's complex Kabbalistic cosmology derives an equally com-

plcx prophetic-mystical system. To comprehend how the system functions
nt·cessitates an examination of the Old Testament and of Kabbalistic elements
of Bruno's prophetic mysticism. By using biblical examples, Bruno under-
Mcores the Judaic origins of his revelation and syncretizes it with the Hermetic-
Egyptian, Greek, and Christian components. Thus the theoretical conse-
quences of the cosmological system outlined in Cabala cannot properly be
understood without now placing it in the context of the previous dialogue,
S¡1accio. The two dialogues are intima te! y linked by the celestial reform itself.
A fcw constellations are left "empty," to be filled in ata la ter time and place, in
(:a hala. Nicola Badaloni, in his introductions to the recent Italian and French
r,litions of the dialogue, has a similar view of the relationship between the
works. 1 The empty spaces are the constellations of the Ursa Major, the Erida-
nus, and the stars in Cancer where two types of asinita will reside. These
~·onstellations, replaced in Cabala with symbols that are key to Bruno's Kab-
htllistic philosophy, are integral to the postreform celestial organization (and
ur~anism) of Spaccio.
TIH' decís ion to il':1 V(' t lw~t' opt·n loci in Sfwccio, according to Badaloni, is
hll~l'd on tht· dl'vt·I"JHIH'tll "' .111 .l~Jll'lt ot his thought that Bruno wished to
tlC'Vl'lop sl'p.lr.tlt'h· 111 f ,¡/,,¡/,¡ ¡,,., .lll'·•· 11! tltt' vastnl'ss and "delicacy" of thc
84 Metempsychosis

subject. 2 Badaloni identifies the delicate subject matter as Bruno's Neopythag-

orean theories concerning metempsychosis. These same theories are consid-
er~d Hermetic by Yates, but both terms signify the same phenomenon, regard-
less of which school of thought one wishes to rely on for one's interpretation. 3
Metempsychosis could just as easily be considered Kabbalistic: indeed, the
philosophical boundaries are sometimes difficult to distinguish in Bruno.
Bruno goes so far in his attempt to prove the universal belief in metempsy-
chosis that he even reinterprets the doctrinal position of the sect of Sadducees
(who rejected the concept of the resurrection of the body) to mean that they
accepted the transmigration of souls. Bruno never really develops the idea, but
he does mention it often enough so that it is clear he is inserting a Jewish-
Kabbalistic presence among the ancient supporters of metempsychosis.
The Sadducees appear only in Cabala and Eroici, and only twice in each
dialogue. Twice only, but always in places where Bruno highlights the phe-
nomenon of metempsychosis and its function in the cosmos. The fact that the
Sadducees first appear in Kabbalah, and are featured as an approved sect of
Jews, implies that Bruno recognizes them as Kabbalists. By doing so, Bruno is
reinterpreting the New Testament, for the Sadducees are among the Jewish
sects who do not recognize Christ as the Messiah (see Matthew, Mark, and
Luke). This negation of Christ probably makes them more authentically "Jew
ish" in Bruno's mind, and for him it most likely tied the Sadducees more to thc
Old Testament than the New. Bruno never alludes to the role the Sadducecs
play in the Evangelical books, but introduces them as sharing the opinions ot
the Pythagoreans in regard to metempsychosis: "Therefore, from experiencc
an memory of the event you deem true the opinion of the Pythagoreans,
Druids, Sadducees and others like them, concerning that continuous metem
psychosis or transformation and transcorporation of all souls?" 4
Pythagoreans, Druids, and Sadducees believe in the transmigration of hu
man souls into the bodies of animals. The Sadducees are mentioned in twD
other places, and are usually coupled with the Pythagoreans. Bruno must
have seen an affinity between Kabbalistic or Jewish thought and Pythagorean
thought, because these theories are also attributed to Solomon. Two possibk
ties exist between the otherwise di verse and divergent traditions of metempsy
chosis and prophecy. When speaking of metempsychosis in Cabala, Brutw
calls it "que] profetico dogma" (that prophetic dogma), a belief expounded h1
the Sadducees precisely in their recognition of John the Baptist as a reincarn.t
tion of the Prophet Elijah: "Hence sorne of the Sadducees believed that John
the Baptist might be Elijah, not only in the same body hut thc same spirit 111
another body." 5 Prophecy is thus linked to mctclllJl'-Yl hmt'-, for thc spirit 111
prophets transmigra testo diffcrcnt hodics in dil krrr11 ltttw· •.
Metempsychosis 85

After the statement that the Sadducees uphold the theory of metempsycho-
:t sis (which tellingly appears in Cabala), Bruno offers his most succinct and
. ·.'·
scientific explanation of it given, most significantly, by someone who has expe-
rienced the phenomenon many times, Onorio (the once Ass). Sebasto-asks
Onorio if the above citation implies that in substance, the soul of aman is the
same as that of a beast, differing only in form. Onorio replies, "The specific
and generic essence of man is identical to that of flies, marine oysters and
plants, and any other thing that is animated or has a soul: as there is no body
that does not ha ve more or less vivacious and perfect communication of spirit
in itself. Now, this spirit, according to fate or providence, arder or fortune,
unites now to one species of body, now to another; and according to the reason
for the diversity of compositions and parts comes to ha ve di verse grades and
perfections of intelligence and operations." 6
In Eroici Bruno es pauses the theory of cosmic cycles of renovatio, of univer-
IRI regeneration. Here again, the Sadducees, whose only distinction in Bruno's
mind is their adherence to the belief in metempsychosis, are among those who
IUStain the belief in the cosmic cycle. 7 The cycle involves the ascent and de-
llC:Cnt of influences, such as the influxes of the sefirot. Bruno ties in the cycle of
rcnovatio, the ascent and descent of influences, with metempsychosis, which is
11 regeneration of the so u!. The soul is purified in its ascent and descent, during
which the mysteries of the universe are revealed to it (this will be clear in the
~·11sc of Onorio).
Once again, the Sadducees uphold Bruno's syncretic theory of metempsy-
~·hosis, this time in Eroici, as Bruno states in his usual cosmological terminol-
llKY and imagery: "As therefore happens that these particular souls are .vari-
ously affected, according to different degrees of ascent and descent, in terms of
lheir garments [abiti] and inclinations, so are they inclined to show different
lypcs and orders of furor, !ove and senses; not only in the ladder of nature,
.trmrding to the orders and the different lives assumed by the soul in different
hodies, as is explicitly intended by Pythagoreans, Sadducees and others and
hnplicitly by Plato and others that delve further into such matters, but also in
llll' ladder of human effects, which has as many rungs [or degrees] as the ladder
ol na tu re; given that man in all his power manifests all the species of the
r~scncc. "H These theories would not be accepted easily by any reform-minded
( :llllrch, and Bruno had to be careful about how he presented the materiaJ.9
Pn·scntation of thc Ncopythagorean and "Kabbalistic" theories of metem-
I'HYl·hosis is cou<.."hcd in two tlwmcs from Spaccio. Bruno's fascination with
physio~nomy, a ~m·nn· Wl'll dl'vl'lllpnl hy (;iambattista della Porta in his fa-
1111111' 1ract;llt' 1¡,. ''"'"'111.1 ¡•l• \'''' •XII<>III<>IIitl ( 1 e¡ H6 ), runs throughout his Ital-
11111 1)&alll)',lll'\. 1\.,,J.¡J,,,,, .d•,,, ,,~,¡J., .., lhl' <llllllt'l'tio&l hetwcenmctcmpsychosis
86 Metempsychosis

and physiognomy.w It is a theory from which is derived both the symbolism of

the Ass and the myth of Acta:on, the man-stag. Both Onorio the Ass and
Acta:on the stag represent the necessary transformation of the mystic-prophet
from the human into the bestial: "da furor animale questa anima descritta e
promossa a furor eroico." 11
The final vision of Acta:on, with its Classical imagery, is meshed into thc
Brunian cosmology and thus associated with if not actual Kabbalistic images
(Pegasus, the "fonte caballino," and so forth), at the very least certain Kabba-
listic ideas that Bruno utilizes to express his own philosophy and theology.
Therefore, it is necessary to return to the myth of Acta:on asan introduction to
the issues that concern the second part of this book: asinita, metempsychosis,
and prophecy. With the myth of Acta:on, Bruno moves away from the realm of
cosmological expostulation into that of visions, "images," or "ideas." In thr
end, to achieve union with the First Cause and Principie, with the Archetypal
Idea, it is in that pure realm of fantasy (presided over by the river Eridanus)
that the human mind must function. Acta:on's mythic transformation func
tions as a nonverbal, nonexplicative method of transmitting the "mystical
Bruno retells the myth of Acta:on in such a way asto enlighten those who do
not function in the realm of ideas and images, who struggle to interpret tl1<
myth so asto comprehend its underlying philosophical structures that lead '"
revelation. The retelling of thc myth begins in Spaccio and Cabala, and Bruno
continues in Eroici to expand on the image of Acta:on. Various emblemat ll
sonnets of the dialogue are dedicated to Acta:on, and they must be interpretl'd
in connection with not only the Kabbalistic themes present in the dialogll<'.
but also the theme of metcmpsychosis developed in Cabala. In the fourth
dialogue of part r of Eroici, Bruno starts off the discussion about the quest for
knowledge with a poetic emblem dcdicated to Acta:on. In the analysis of tlw
poem, Bruno states that "Atteone significa l'intelletto intento alla caccia drll.r
divina sapienza." 12 The Acta:on emblems of Eroici describe the mystical ex¡)('
rience throughout its initiatory stages and until the attainmcnt of Wisdom, , >1
This open declaration of the significance of the figure of Acta:on appears 111
the third of the Italian Dialogues in question beca use the final development ,,¡
the Kabbalistic concept of Wisdom, begun in Cabala and continued throu¡•.h
the sefirah Hokhmah, is embodied in Eroici in connection with the prophl't 11
figure of Solomon. Solomon, the wisest of the Hebrew doctors and Kabbali~t ·..
is the Brunian figure who most represents thc attainnwnt not only of Kabbalr·.
tic knowledge, but also of the highest form of Wi"l11rt1: tlw rl'vdation 11f ¡]¡,
First Cause and Principie. The writing..; 11! --~~~~~~~'"11 '''111 •·•.c·nt for Hn1no t ]¡,

Kabbalistic form of this revelation, and they are recorded in the text that is
·~ the foundation for Christian spirituality: the O Id Testament. If Solomon is the
t figure of perfected Wisdom, he is a figure to imitare; hence Bruno's desire to
entitle Eroici after the Canticle. In this configuration, Act:ron is the figure of
the imitator, of he who is still in pursuit of Wisdom. Still in pursuit in human
form, Act:ron attains Wisdom in his stag form.
One of the fundamental underlying principies of the Nolan philosophy is
Rruno's belief in metempsychosis. The transmigration of souls proves Bruno's
thcories, expressed in the metaphysical dialogues, that expound the inalter-
lloility of matter and the plasticity of form. Ultimately, if all beings are part of
thc universal soul, of primary nature, of the First Cause and Principie, then
thcre is no limit to the incarnations possible. Metempsychosis itself does not
lrnd to revelation, however much the philosopher-magus must know to enter
rhc cycle of changes. Therefore, Act:ron's transformation should not be con-
luscd with metempsychosis, although there exists an obvious link: it is a step in
tht• process. Act:ron's transformation is the apex, the ultimare in metamor-
rhoses, because in the end he is consumed by or united with the One. At the
moment when Act:ron realizes that he is part of the One, he becomes a stag,
""d he returns to the universal soul when his is released into death by his own
hounds. Only after physical death is metempsychosis possible.
Aa:ron's final and violent end is part of a long tradition of "mystical dis-
lllt·mhcrment." As a topos, the visionary, magus, shaman, or prophet often
1111dergoes a form of violent death in which he or she is torn apart and recon-
"ttutcd by the divinity. 13 The "mystical death" represents the end of one state
uf lll'ing and the beginning of another. Usually, especially in Christian visions,
thi~ Jcath implies an attainment of a state of grace: a preparation, if you will,
for wntact with the divine. For Bruno, the "mystical death" is expressed by
thr "dcathly kiss" of Eroici. Mystical death thus represents two important
th111~s: ( r) union with the divine, and (2) true immortality of the soul, which
through metempsychosis can return in a different form. Each of these points
lr~tds to the overcoming of physical death through the study of the "secrets of
lllllure." 14 Thus, the cosmological theories presented by Bruno in the so-called
lltmal dialogues are united with the metaphysical theories of the others to
j't'lldttl'c a mystical theory. Bruno's intentions are thus shown to be rather
j'lllrtil'al in nature, almost as if the sometimes bizarre dialogues were meant as
lltltt.llory manuals.
htllll the dialogues it stTim that Bruno mcant to expound his "Nolana

lllmnlia" in tcrms that ,.,H,Id hl' IIIHin,lnod and emulated by followers. Thus
111- 11n1 m dilfindt to 'c'"IJ'I«'III·IItl lhl' J•1opl11·11r nalure of Bruno's works.
l1t11plwl\ MI' hv ,(tofilllllllll' ¡...... ''' d1v111111' 11 l•.lhrc•t•¡:h tht·nt that thc Divinc
88 Metempsychosis

reveals itself to the rest of humanity. Prophets are the models that Bruno
upholds in his reformist dialogues, because they embody the quintessential
mystic: they are Actreons that ha ve seen Diana emerge from the waters, have
been transformed, and have lived to tell of it. Prophets come in many guises
that crossed and included all the boundaries of religions known toa sixteenth-
century philosopher. But the prophets most often mentioned by Bruno are
biblical figures (here he reveals perhaps his Dominican training).
Moses is a key figure. Bruno follows a long Judea-Christian tradition of
linking prophecy with the Old Testament. This tradition was so strong that
Jews, by the Middle Ages, practically gave over the prophetic books of the
Bible to the Christians, who were so insistent and dedicated in their perusal of
them as proofs of Christian doctrine. But in particular, Bruno demonstrates
his interest in the O Id Testament, in its magical figures and hidden secrets.
Another key bíblica! figure is Balaam. He is an odd figure, distant from the
scriptural world of prophecy usually associated with the Old Testament by
Christian writers, and certainly not part of the "traditional" (no pun intended)
Jewish Kabbalah, or one of those "established" prophets who ha ve their own
bíblica! books. Interest in Balaam is not, of course, unique to Bruno, and many
late Medieval-Renaissance encyclopedias or works concerned with magir
mention him. For Bruno, the interest in this enigmatic figure is linked to tht·
presence of the ass on which Balaam rides on his way to the king. Indeed, it i\
through the mouth of the ass that the angel sent by God speaks. Here, in thi\
biblical tale, are present two elements dear to Bruno: the ass and divine revela
tion (with a little "dernonic" magic thrown in with the presence of the angelit
being). For it is the ass, protagonist of the appended dialogue L'asino cillenzn '·
that reveals- indeed embodies- the functioning of rnetempsychosis. Thr
state of revelation is called asinita. Etymologically, it is evident that the tenn
Bruno chooses to designare attained perfection of the rnystical state derivl''
from the Italian for ass ("asino"). lt is also apparent that the word indicare-.
the underlying confidence in physiognornic laws that "scientifically" sustai11'
Bruno's belief in metempsychosis. 15
From Bruno's works it is clear that he believed in transmigration into anim.1l
bodies: it is even one of the recorded accusations made against him in durin¡•,
the Inquisitional tria!. Meternpsychosis is not mentioned explicitly by Brun"
himself in the documents of the tria! that record his depositions, but i1 1•.
mentioned by sorne of the witnesses testifying against hirn and appears as o111
of the accusations from the first testimonies. 16 In thc third deposition givcn In
Bruno (Venice, ]une 2, 1 592), he states simply: "ho111 1his spirit then, tlw ,.,
called the life of the universe, derives in m y plulmc •phv 1lw hfl· and soul of t',1< },
thing that has a soul ami lifc, whit·h how,·v,·r 1 1111t'lld ·" lllllllorLd: "·'.Ji·...
Metempsychosis 89

bodies. As for their substance, all of them are immortal; death being nothing
else than division and congregation. This doctrine seems expressed in Eccle-
siastes, where it says: 'There is nothing new under the sun: what is there but
what there was' and the rest that follows." 17 This is hardly an open declaration
of Bruno's belief in the transmigration of souls, but seen in the context of
Bruno's writings the veiled reference is clear. Most of the admissions he makes
!¡' in the transcriptions of the tria! are carefully worded so as not to complete! y
. ~r
negate his philosophy or admit to unorthodox views. (A recent posthumous

edition of the tria! documents has been published with detailed commentary
. by the eminent scholar Luigi Firpo.) In his depositions, Bruno repeatedly as-
lerts that he derived his philosophical ideas from biblical sources. The concept
. of "there is nothing new under the sun," one of Bruno's favorite sayings (men-
tioned above as originating from Ecclesiastes), is often attributed by Bruno to
Solomon, who we shalllater see in detail has sorne Kabbalistic associations
fnr Bruno.
Both Firpo and Badaloni underline Bruno's insistence to the lnquisition that
thc nature of his discourse is philosophical on themes like metempsychosis:
lndced, this theme is the focus of the entire eleventh interrogation. 18 The need
to be careful, even writing in Protestant England, explains in part the nature of
thc dialogue itself, whose post-Inquisitorial destiny was to seem merely a
•11tiric dialogue- and one not terribly well conceived beca use it failed to truly
A scrious and well thought out introduction to the question of metempsy-
dwsis is given by Sofia in Spaccio while relating a conversation between ]ove
1111ll Venus. There is also a subtle allusion to the dialogues themselves, each of
which is dominated by a particular school of thought: Spaccio adopts the
~.j&yptian-Greek-Hermetic school, Cabala argues for the Judeo-Christian-
l(¡¡hhalistic school, and Eroici defends the Neoplatonic school. Along with the
rhysical changes of the deities, their cults and worship must inevitably change.
( :oming from the mouth of ]ove, at the beginning of a dialogue that describes
thr l·clcstial reform of the Classical pantheon, this is clearly an allusion to the
d11111Ring religions and philosophies over the centuries, 19 which ha ve all con-
lrlhutcd to the "Nolana filosofia." Each system revealed the Immutable Truth,
""'' cach in its own manner contributed to the ultima te revelation of this truth,
"rniiiSl' "only Truth is immutable as well as immortal." And in all cases
throuRhout S{Jaccin, it is through her "handmaiden," Sofia-Sapienza-Wisdom,
th111 Truth is rcsurrcctL·d:

Yo u .,,.,. 1ht·11, .1 ... 11 \1'.1<'1. """' 11 c·.1c hl'lcou' 111111' ,uhdul's us, how we are all
'llhJ<'\'1 111111111.1111111 1\1,.1 ilu1 "l11c le 111"'•1 .1flllll' 11\ .11111111'~ \11llla11y things is
90 Metempsychosis

that we have neither certainty nor any hope of at all reassuming that same
being in which we once found ourselves. We depart, and do not return the
same; and since we ha ve no recollection of what we were before we were in
this being, so we cannot ha ve a sample of that which we shall be afterward.
Thus fear, piety, and our religion, honor, respect, and love leave, after
which depart strength, providence, virtue, dignity, majesty, and beauty, which
fly from us not otherwise than the shadow together with the body. Only
Truth, with Absolute Virtue, is immutable and immortal. And if she sorne-
times fa lis and is submerged, she, necessarily, in her time rises again, the same,
her servant Sophia extending her arm to her.
Let us beware, then, of offending the divinity of Fa te by wronging this twin
god, so greatly entrusted to it and so favored by it. Let us think of our futurc
state, and not, as if we were little concerned with the universal deity, fail to
raise our hearts and affects to that lavisher of all good and distributor of all
other fates. Let us beseech it that during our transfusion, or passage, or
metempsychosis, ir grant us happy spirits; since, although it is inexorable, wc
must indeed await it with prayers, in order either to be preserved in out
present state or enter another, better, or similar, or little worse.
I say that to be well affected toward the highest deity is like a sign of futurc
favorable effects from it. Justas for him who is prescribed to be a man, ir ¡,
necessary and ordinary that destiny guide him as he passes through his moth
er's womb, so, for the spirit predestined to incorporare itself into a fish, ir t•.
necessary that it first plunge into the waters; likewise for him who is about t<>
be favored by the gods, it is necessary that he submit himself to prayers at~<l
good works. 20

Jove's description of metempsychosis includes severa! key points. First, lu

stresses that the gods themselves are subject to the laws of nature and Fa te, and
thus they too will undergo a physical transformation of their immortal soul
immortality is nota stagnant state. 21 Second, he illustrates the possibility "'
"transfusion" into an animal body of not only a human soul but also a divttll
one. Sofia mentions repeatedly the different bestial incarnations assumed ¡,,
]ove in his amorous pursuits: the longest list is mentioned directly after h,.,
refusal to answer Saulino concerning the death of the gods. Her associatiott ,,¡
the two themes, death-regeneration and metamorphosis, implies the mett'tll
psychosis of the gods. This supposition is supported by the myth of Act;t'llll,
whose amorous pursuit of Diana causes his metamorphosis-metempsychmt·..
and by the experience of the nine blind lovers of Eroici. At the end of Caf,,¡¡.¡
Onorio (who remembers his past lives, and who has cmhodied al\ ol ti"
contributing philosophies that followed rlw rdonn ;111d dcmise of rhc illtf't
locutors of Spaccio) also brings up tlll' pm~.thtltl\' ol "transit" into an .1111
mal statc. An animal e<>nfinn~ thi~ P""'htltt\ wtlit ltt~ l''~'~t'nn· and l111111.tll
Metempsychosis 9I

articulation in the appended dialogue L'asino cillenico. Third, Jove describes

the inevitability of mutation and, conversely, of the fact that all beings are part
of the same matter. Metempsychosis is accepted as not just a fact, but an
inevitable fact as well, for it is part of the cycle of (re)generation decreed
by Fate.
Fa te is symbolized by the river Lethe, the river whose waters cause forgetful-
ncss of life when drunk by the souls of the dead. Most souls cannot bear the
memory of life. Indeed, most beings cannot bear the memory of past lives, as is
pointed out by Sophia in Spaccio: "In addition Fate wills this: that although
,Jove himself knows that it is immutable and that there can be nothing else ex-
~cpt that which must be and will be, he cannot by means of this knowledge
~tvoid meeting his own destiny. Fa te has ordained prayers, as much for obtain-
in~ as for not obtaining; and in arder not to burden too much the transmigrar-
In~ souls it interposes the drinking from the Lethean river in the midst of the
mutations, so that thraugh oblivion everyone may be especially affected and
ril~cr to preserve himself in his present state." 22 Only Fate is immutable and
unavoidable: cosmic law prevents any saul from escaping the incessant muta-
hility of form. Not even the powers of the river Lethe are unavoidable, beca use
( lnorio avoids drinking the waters. He thus escapes the loss of memory of past
ltvc·s, but not the necessary mutations of form that cover all possible states
111 lwi ng.
'l'hc last two points are confirmed by Onorio's retelling of his lives in Cabala.
11" srory begins with his "asinine" state and revolves around the river Lethe.
'-•·hasto asks him if he remembers carrying burdens, and from this the reader
••lllll'rs that his name reveals (as it shauld) his natural state. For Onorio
l"malicious ass") was an ass before he was a philosopher (which implies that
111' was an ass befare he was human, unlike Apuleius's protagonist, who was
human befare he was an ass). Many af the key elements of Jave's description
tUr prcscnt in Onaria's tale: far example, the sameness of the matter of which
•1n1ls are made, and the involvement af Fa te who decides whether to shape the
•11111 imo an animal ora human (or, according to Onorio other things). The
lt411MIIólgc of Onorio's account of his first transformation is full af scientific
INrninology. Onario pravides the philasophical terms of classification and
rllll ia lit y in his description af the experience, in arder ta pro vide allusians ta
tlw philosophical principies that explain the phenamenon. He alsa provides an
fllplnllation for why he rcmcmbers his past incarnations, a phenomenon Jove
atllll'd lo he impossihlc and that Sofia states tabea necessity. Allusians ta the
hlltlll.lltl·osmology are pn·o,,·nt 111 illl' llH'Iltion of thc Amphitrite as the repasi-
'"' ~· .111d nlatni;tl of .di •,oul·. 1 lul 11/ ghlltony, Onorio-ass tumbles over
~ll'lll'l<l',llld 1h11' 111111.11<"• .11''"1'. "''"·'f'.'' .11 re,,, htllltanlivcs:
92 Metempsychosis

Free of the corporeal prison of life 1 became a limbless vagrant spirit; and 1
carne to consider how 1, in accordance with the spiritual substance, was no
different either in genus or species, from all the other spirits that from the
dissolution of other animals and composite bodies transmigrare. And 1 saw
how the Parches not only in the genus of corporeal matter renders no different
the body of aman from that of an ass, and the body of an animal from the boy
of things deemed without souls, but also in the genus of spiritual matter
retains the lack of difference between the asinine soul an the human one, and
the soul that constitutes the said animals from that which is found in all
things. As all humors are in substance one humor, all the aerial parts are in
substance one air, all the spirits are from Amphitrite one spirit, and all return
to it. After a while that was retained in this state, ir happened that "[All those
others whom you see) are called out by God ro come in great columns ro the
river of Lethe, so that they may duly go back and se e the va ult of heaven again
remembering nothing, and be willing to return to bodies." So, escaping from
the fortuna te fields through the multitude whose principal guide was Mercury
without absorbing the rapid waves of Lethe, 1pretended to drink that humor
in the company of the others: but 1 did nothing more than go near it and touch
it with m y lips, so that the overseers were fooled for it sufficed for them to see
my mouth and chin wet. 23

In the midst of a Virgilian landscape, Onorio ascends into the Amphitritc.

Mercury (Hermes), who in classical mythology leads the souls of the dead to
Hades, is conspicuously present here as well as in the story of the "asino
cillenico" or Cyllenian Ass ("cillenico" is an adjective referring to Hermes). 2·'
Given Bruno's propensity to make allusions with a simple name or reference, it
is possible that the mention of Mercury as the principal guide indicares thl'
Hermetic basis of the theory of metempsychosis: this will be discussed in thl'
next chapter. The reader recognizes the Aristotelian classifications in the ter m~
"membra," (limbs) "geno," (genus) and "specie," (species) provided in tlw
description. The so u! of the man who studied the teachings of the Trismegistus
immediately recognizes in Hermes the "guide of souls" and hence the pm
sibility of being guided back into another existence.
The Classical elements of the description fit in nicely with the landscapc ol
Spaccio, where not only is metempsychosis first mentioned, but also the heroi,
incarnation of Onorio-Pegasus is introduced. His heroism is narrated by Jovl',
through the lips of Sofia, in the tale of Perseus's liberation of Andromed;<.
Europa, and so forth. 25 Much could be said about the use of the imagc ol
Perseus. Suffice it to say here, in the interest of limiting digressions, that tl1<
hero is intimately linked to the question of metempsyd10sis. In the cclcsiLd
reform of Spaccio, the constellation Perscus is also l'l'plan·d hy compar;thl ..
virtues. To say that these qualitics are nol o11ly t h< 1\t' • ,¡ t 111' lw1' 1 h111 also t ht ,.,,
Metempsychosis 93

of the diligent student of philosophy is to make an obvious point. The entire

dialogue, however, describes the necessary ethos for the magus in a detailed
fashion th~t would distract too much from the main argument to explain he re.
In Jove's version, Pegasus is boro of the blood of Medusa, killed by Perseus. 26
This, of course, does not disprove Onorio's claim, because it could ha ve been
fated that he should be boro in such a manner.
The presence of the winged horse (or ass) in the heavenly sphere is con-
firmed in the explicatory epistle of the dialogue. During the celestial reform,
the constellations are replaced with virtues, which in turo eliminate the vices
that had crept even into Heaven. The constellation Pegasus is found between
the Swan and Andromeda: "Where formerly was the horse Pegasus, behold
Divine Fervor, Enthusiasm, Rapture, Prophecy, and Contemplation, which
move about in the are a of Inspiration; whence escape afar Ferine Fury, Manía,
lrrational Impetuosity, Dissolution of the Spirit, and Dispersion of the Inner
Sense, found in the area of Intemperate Melancholy, which is the Cavero of
Perverse Genius." 27 The Virtues represent qualities needed in the magus to
11ttain enlightenment about metempsychosis. Only those who have already
nccepted the cosmology of the "Nolana filosofia" and the precepts for asinita
can then achieve what Onorio has achieved. That is, unlike the ass, who is
IIUddenly enlightened by its union with the Amphitrite, the human who wishes
lo prepare for the (not necessarily) final encounter with the One must first
npply himself to mystical un ion of the intellect with the Di vine Intellect.
"Furor divino" (di vine furore) is necessary once the cosmological setting has
lll'cn properly understood. That is, after the rational part of the mind has
n>mprehended the direction it must take, the irrational part of the mind (in the
llt'llse of beyond-rational), that part given over to the "furor," must be present.
Wisdom must be accompanied by Inspiration, which in itself originares from
tlw Divine and also seeps into the human through the sefirotic system. All of
lht• virtues mentioned are in the language of mystics: terms like "furor divino"
havc a Neoplatonic basis (Ficino uses the term), but terms like "entusiasmo"
1IIHI "rapto" could be found justas easily in the writings of Teresa of Avila. The
lrrm will appear again in Eroici, for it is one of the links between the three
1l11llogues. Also, in the case of the vices that flee in the face of the virtues, the
lllu~uage is that of the attribute precise! y opposite to the mystical. Contrary to
1ht• divincly inspired furore is the animal-like state, mania or insanity, the
lrn·prcssihle irrational impulse, and so forth. The saturnine or melancholy
11•1llll'l' is thc cncmy of tlw mystil· hecause it robs men of their sense of self ("il
~l'll'io lll!niorc"), and •~ IIH· •·•••·•ny of thc asinine state precisely because the
1111111 .t'is in its nq~.lt•v•· '"''''"'·'''"11 '' thc Saturninc, thc phlcgmatic pedant.
Wlll'll lh111111 WI,IH"• ' " ll'J'Il''.o'lll 1lu· ¡wd.1111 .tss, lw oftcn does so with the
94 Metempsychosis

image of the Saturoine, which also represents the "perverse" side of the mind
("il Genio perverso"). There is a strong connotation of anti-Semitism linked
with the saturoine or melancholy nature; a connotation that will be explored
in the following chapters. Sebasto, in Cabala, uses the physiognomic theories
to liken Jews' facial features to those of an ass- and beca use the ass is associ-
ated with Saturn, whose astral influence on the humors dominates the melan-
choly personality, the Jews as a race are described as melancholy. This melan-
choly nature, in Sebasto's opinion, explains Jews' various "faults," not to
mention their insistent adherence to their religion. In terms of the religious
association between Saturo and the jews, both represent the Old Law, beca use
Saturo is older than ]ove.
Saturn is in fact conspicuously absent in the cast of gods that participare in
the dialogue of celestial reform in Spaccio. The absence of the god is in part
explained by his association with melancholy natures, those least open to the
divine influx: "This will be considered, accepted, and agreed upon by all, and
among all the gods, when the virtues and powers of the soul rally to favor the
work and the act of whatever that efficient light defines as just, good, and true,
which directs the sense, the intellect, the discourse, the memory, love, the
covetous and irascible faculties, synderesis, and will, faculties signified by
Mercury, Pallas, Diana, Cupid, Venus, Mars, Momus, ]ove, and other di-
vinities."28 Human qualities are represented by the deities: therefore the main
interlocutors represent aspects of human nature. At the beginning of the expli-
catory epistle, Bruno makes clear that ]ove represents the intellect, 29 Momo
the ethical-religious conscience, and so forth. Spaccio is then a dialogue for thc
initiate to prepare himself for the asinine state. The deities themselves indica te
the major qualities necessary (such as intellect, memory, and synderesis). In
fact, it is Momo who represents synderesis, which is perhaps the most impor
tant quality in the development of the proper mystical state.
The case of Onorio, whose revelation and transformation is nothing short
of miraculous, is the inverse of the case of Actreon. Both are transformed thc
moment that they understand they are part of the Amphitrite, that vast Ocean
of soul. 30 Both are reboro in a new state. Actreon's revelation is a form ol
punishment: he is transformed into a stag to be devoured by his dogs, and JH •
more is known of any consequent incaroations. Actreon remains within tlw
realm of mythological characters; he has no personal voice. As Culianu statc'
"The mnemonic 'statue' of Actreon is the phantasm of the subject in search ni
truth, a search in which he uses all the irrational and rational resources of 111'.
soul." Onorio is in a sense rewarded: he is transfmmnl into Pegasus aJ1d
destined not only to immortality in that incarnation, h111 ~d~o lo he thc "fathc·J
of philosophy" in the truc scnsc of the cxpn''""ll, hn ·'"'''he· 111 lal'l cmhodJc".
Metempsychosis 95

all the philosophical schools from ancient Greece to sixteenth-century Eurape.

In a lengthier passage, Culianu points out that Actreon represents the moment
of revelation and the absorption of the soul in that moment:

The contemplation of the nude goddess is tantamount to the death of Act::eon:

he loses all the attributes of the human condition- sociability, sensibility, and
phantasy. But death is only the terrible side of an initiation, of a rite of passage
toward the subject's intellectual state. This is marked by direct knowledge of
the intelligential world, transcending public opinion, sensory information,
and pneumatic phantasmagoria. Act::eon, the subject, will henceforth be a
"dead man alive," a being whose existence is paradoxical since it no longer
has existence according to the preestablished states of his species. Fundamen-
tally, the traumatic experience he has undergone has transformed him into the
object of his own quest, into the divinity itself. Acta:on is no longer aman, he
has become a god. That is why the continuation of his social existence among
men who are no longer his like is a paradox. That is why the symbols of
coincidentia oppositorum abound in Bruno's work: because he actually en-
visages the possibility of existence of a man who, emptied of his humanity, can
fill himself with divinity without thereby exiling himself complete! y from his
terrestrial abode. Like the subject who loses his subjectness, he is dead; but
like him, he regains existence insofar as, ando ni y insofar as, he is lo ved by the
object who becomes thus transformed into himself. In the traumatic process
undergone by Act::eon when he surprises the naked Diana bathing in the
spring, the goddess really gives herself, lets herself be possessed, but in the
only way possible: by changing Act::eon into a stag, her familiar animal,
someone who has left the leve! of his old existence to attain a form of exis-
tence in which he can enjoy his companion, the naked goddess. 31

Actreon becomes the object of his own quest, a god: a mere symbol. He be-
wmes, in essence, the stag. Onorio represents the life after revelation; he rep-
rrscnts the manipulation of the secret of nature that is true magic. The miracle
lit's in the ability of the Ass, which is uninitiated into the mysteries of the
Amphitrite, to grasp in the moment of revelation not only the key of Knowl-
rd~c or Wisdom (I am part of all) but also the implication and application of
thut knowledge. Onorio is able todo so in a way that Actreon is not precise! y
hrcause he is an ass. Onorio is an ass in the sense that he is the asinine state in
IIN ~pccific form (according to the established laws of speciation), without the
wi~dom that the human mind (or the animal mind, apparently) can attain
In un tlw divinc lntclln·1. <>nn· wisdom is rcvealed to the asinine intellect by its
1111'1·~·• sourcc, ;Jnd :1, ,.,.,,, ·" IIH' ,1\lltÍIH' intdlect preserves its memory (for
thnl' "no wi,dottt Wlilt"tll tttnll<ll\'1, tl11· "'s is tr:msformcd-through the
Jll'rp.H.liiOil ol ltt' ltt·t<<t< ··l.lf'.'. wlu·11· lw .11 ll""''' n·rtain virtucs-into thc
96 Metempsychosis

philosopher. Actreon in his human incarnation lacks the asinine state and the
preparation to attain more than the revelation in itself, to be transformed and
then be consumed by it.
Hence, the seeming digression into the long list of virtues that makes up the
frame work of Spaccio is not in va in. The laborious point to be made is that the
dialogue serves as a mnemonic scheme and that, in turn, that scheme serves as
an exercise to remind and prepare the initiate for the qualities or virtues
needed to move onto the next leve!:

Justas aman, in order to change his way of life an customs, is first invited by a
certain light that resides in the crow's nest, topsail, or stern of our soul, which
light is called synderesis by sorne, and here, perhaps, is almost always signified
by Momus.
He, then, proposes to the gods, that is, he exercises the act of ratiocination
of the interna! council, and goes into consultation regarding what is to be
done. Now he calls for prayers, arms his faculties, and adapts his purposes-
not after supper and during the Night of Inconsideration, and without thc
Sun of lntelligence and Light of Reason, not on an empty stomach in the
morning, that is to say, without fervor of spirit, and without being well-
warmed by the superna! ardor, but after dinner, that is, after having tasted of
the ambrosía of Virtuous Zeal and imbibed of the nectar of Divine Lovc;
around noon, or at the point of noon, that is, when Hostile Error least out
rages us and Friendly Truth most favors us, during the period of a more lucid
interval. Then is expelled the triumphant beast, that is, the vices which prr
domínate and are wont to tread u pon the di vine side; the mind is repurged of
errors and becomes adorned with virtues, beca use of !ove of beauty, which ''
seen in goodness and natural justice, and beca use of desire for pleasure, consr
quent from her fruits, and beca use of hatred and fear of the contrary defor
mity and displeasureY

As usual with Bruno, there are severa! layers of meaning in the images lw
chooses. Like the rules for health written by the monk-doctors of Salcrno,
there is a certain amount of good sense in the cautioning about the proper ti m•·
of day to contemplare a change of life. Like thc Kabbalistic manuals of Abul.1
fia and others of the Spanish school, there is a certain amount of relcva111
information regarding ritual times of day and preparations to go through
before attempting a mystical rite. Like Agrippa's practica! manual of magH.
enough information is given so that proper influxes can be absorbed. Noo11
has been, from time immemorial, one of the most important hours of the d.11
for magical purposes. At that time thc sun is at it s ¡w.tk. din"l't ly ovnhead ;111.!
at its most powerful. Solar influences are al"nrlw.I IH".t .11 th:tl time of d;ty, .1·.
lunar oncs are absorbed hest at IIIÍlhll¡~ht. 1\,th .11<"•1 '"'""'' hn111'' <Jr po1111' 111
Metempsychosis 97

the movements of the stars (hours ha ve been calculated differently in different

periods in different places, but the course taken by the stars and planets in
their movements has remained unaltered over the centuries) when the apex is
achieved and with it, change. Noon marks the high point of the day, but that
shift between morning and evening, like midnight, represents the shift be-
tween evening and morning. Sun imagcry in Bruno, as we saw in the preceding
chapters, has a strong association with Wisdom, as well as with the descent
and ascent of influences between the human and divine intellects.
Exchange between the intellects also denotes exchange of the qualities in-
hcrent in the divine and human. He who wishes to alter life and who contem-
""i. plates the divine to prepare himself for union with it, must at the same time
that he makes the effort to attain and perfect within himself the qualities
nccessary for absorption into the Amphitrite call clown u pon himself the quali-
rics inherent in the deity or sefi.rot that represents that aspect of the One.
Here is another point of union between the Hermetic and Kabbalistic, not
only on the cosmological leve! but also in terms of the mystical implication
dcrived from it. For the Hermeticist, to know God is to become God. For the
Kahbalist, to unite with the Divine means not only to cal! clown the emana-
lions of the sefi.rot but also to send back up emanations from the human mind
or soul. Essentially, this is the split between Actxon and Onorio. The one
c•)(pcriences a more Hermetic ascension, the other a more Kabbalistic one.
Al·t;eon becomes a god in his transformation and absorption into Diana-
'1 C> understand the Kabbalistic nature of Actxon's experience, it is necessary
11, loo k at the emblems in Eroici. Kabbalah in the dialogue is intima te! y linked
with Eros, or heroic !ove ("!'amor eroico") -the !ove that tends toward Truth,
loward union with the One. 33 The One is the Amphitrite, the Ein sof. 34 Em-
hll'lliS demonstrate this tendency of the heroic intellect. All five center on the
fiKIII'l' of Actxon. The complete emblems appear in appendix r: 1 limit myself
hnr to the discussion of the central themes that tie the emblems together.
Thc first of the fi.ve emblem series that describes the course of heroic !ove
1111roduccs the discussion of Actxon in Eroici (see The Actxon Emblems,
l'lllhll'lll 1, app. r ). Tansillo, the main interlocutor of the dialogue and Bruno's
f1ul'llll'oce. analyzes the sonnet line by line. The lengthy and attentive discus-
_,.,11 of the mcaning of the emblematic poem demonstrates the signifi.cance
lh 11110 placcs on thc imagc of Actxon and on the themes he represents. As
_,,,,,.d t';trlicr, Act;t·on symholi;.t·~ thc intcllcct in pursuit of divine Wisdom.
''" l1 lllollll'lll of t lw ~'' 1'<'111'11< ,. dc,nihnl in thc cmhlcm has a specific signifi-
<•111<1' 111 r<'g:ll'd lt>llw <1111"·1 l••1 \X 1 1·.d .. 111. lndcl'd, a L·arcful reading ofthe six
l'lllhlt·lll'> t>l tlw l~>1111h d1.1l"l',111 "' )•.111 10111' ,.¡ ¡.,.,,,., yiclds a stcp-hy-stcp
98 Metempsychosis

description of the process of "pursuit of Wisdom"- that is to say, the six

emblems provide an accurate summary of Bruno's concept of how the intellect
attains the unio mystica.
The mystical union cannot take place without metempsychosis. The meta-
morphosis of the form that manifests outwardly the transformation of the soul
is a key moment in the mystical and prophetic experience. But for the soul to
undergo even the transformation into the bestial state, it must be inspired by
Love (Eros). To be inspired by heroic !ove, the individual must embody thl'
essential virtues described in Spaccio. He who has these virtues is the hero, thl'
one who is motivated toward Wisdom in his state of Platonic furor and excitcd
by Platonic Love; like Actreon, he is overcome by the beauty of the chastl'
Diana at her bath.
The metaphor most used for the heroic furor or frenzy is that of the huntn
(Actreon), whose youth shows the brevity and instability of the state of furor.
Every element of Actreon's experience has its symbolic value. His dogs, faith
fui companions of the hunter and enchanted catalysts of his death and meta
morphosis, represent the "operation of the will" that acts upon the inte!lect
The forest, the mysticallocus, represents the isolation of the individual and ol
the soul that is necessary for the transformation to take place (Onorio's expen
ence is analogous in this regard). Animal tracks left in the forestare the intell1
gible species of the ideas, which are hidden in the solitary place. The waters a n·
of course the Shadow of the Idea (Amphitrite), the mirror of the divine splcn
dor. The very faculty of sight that permits the hunter to hunt and Actreon '''
see the goddess is the faculty of the intellect that contempla tes the Di vine. 11
Bruno not only permeates with meaning each image and each verse of th.·
emblema tic poem of the hunter hunting, he also plays on the concept of th.-
hunter as hunted. For the hunter transmuted in prey is the intellect transmutt·d
by its capacity to absorb, the intellect transformed by what it comprehend•.
and learns through an act of will that converts it into the object of its ow11
quest. This is a fundamental Platonic theme: Love transforms the intellect int•'
the object of its desire. Bruno transforms the basis of Platonic contemplatin11
by asserting its fundamentally bestial nature- the fundamental need for ti~<
human soul to beco me an animal, a stag, oran Ass. 36 Love is motivated by ti w
beauty of the object of desire, by the inherent goodness of what is beautihil
But if Actreon is converted into the object of his desire and !ove, and l11·.
conversion takes the form of a stag, then there is an essentially bestial qual1t1
of the object desired: Wisdom, the ultima te good. Bestial qualities are inlll'l ('111
in man, and thus in the divinity, or vice versa: for thc huntl'r is umvcrtcd int• •
the hunted beca use there is no need to search for d1vll111 v o111 'ildt• of thc nwrt.il.
beca use the realm of God is within us. ~"
Metempsychosis 99

Consequentially, tied to the concept of the hunter become prey is the idea of
death. Souls transmigra te after death. Souls transform into the object of their
'quesr after death, for death liberares the essence from rhe form. Death, brought
about by Actreon's dogs, liberares him from his mortal and terrestrial form.
Through dearh, his dogs, which are emblematic of thought, libera te his intel-
lecr for the contemplation and comprehension of the Infinite. At the very least,
the furor is a kidnapping of the soul outside of the body, so that ir can explore
the lnfinite and discover thar it is wirhin all beings and rhings. Only the mysti-
cal dearh, the separarion from the world and worldly concerns, allows for the
revelation to take place. Death frees the intellect from the darkness of the
world, from the "selva oscura," and brings enlightenmenr. 38 He who is blind
1hall see: a concepr both Platonic and bíblica!. The blind, as defined by the nine
nrders of blindness, are the anrirhesis of the orders of lovers in Eroici and are
p1ut of the complex cosmology of the Nolan philosophy.
Platonic in origin, the motivation of Eros in the mystical quest has its Kab-
hlllistic basis as well- specifically, in the mystical death by kiss, the Mors
mtuli of severa! emblems of Eroici that is the outward manifestation of the
prime mover of the cosmos, Lo ve. The object of the quest can only be achieved
1f thc mischievous, democratically blind, and slightly crazy Greek god Eros has
hiN inspirational way. 39 In the analysis of the second emblem of the fourth
&li"logue of Eroici, Bruno mixes the metaphor of the hunter and his dogs with
thnr of the heart soaring on the wings of !ove from its gilded cage. Again the
1111rllcct is liberated from the world, soaring on Platonic wings to a higher
ll~tc. 40 In addition, there is again a bestial element in the image of the winged
hrnrt. Bruno calls ita baby chick, to underline the role of metempsychosis and
tu rmphasise the otherness of the higher state- a state attained by the death of
thr soul, the Mors osculi: "Subsequently he describes the death of the soul,
thnt thc Cabalists call the death by kiss, represented in the Canticle of Sol-
umon. " 41 The death of the soul is also caBed "Sleep" ("sonno "). Sleep is the
f~tthl·r of the Greek god MorpheusY
In thc reform of Spaccio, Sonno is declared to no longer embody sleep, so
th111 he may be considered among the virtues. 43 This allusion anticipares the
rolr of Sleep as a state of the death of the soul in Eroici. Sleep induces a state of
urrfrcc peacefulness that is optimal for the mystical experience because it
frrrs thc soul from the body. All of the attributes of Sonno in Spaccio derive
hom Ovid's Metamorphosis. 44 To cite Ovid is to underscore the connection
hrlwt•t·n Slecp anda transfornLllion of form. After all, Morpheus derives from
thr <;rt•t•k tl'rm for forl11,/llf!l}'iw; tlll' gml is so called beca use of the forms that
hr liliiSI'S to ;lp¡war 111 dn·.1111~. 1'111~, nlltHTtioll is intcrcsting for our under-
lll•llldutv, ol l\n11111\ IH'ill'llll tiH' l'"wc·t oltlll.ll-',1'~ .111d fanl;lsy.ln fact, thcthree
roo Metempsychosis

sons of Sleep, according to Bruno, are Morfeo, Icilone, and Fantaso. The
description of the palace, with its fountain and garden, recalls the Kabbalistic
imagery of metempsychosis described earlier. The fountain in the middle of
the garden takes its waters from the Lethe, 45 the same river of forgetfulness
from which the ingenious Onorio refuses to drink and thus instigares his own
transmutation of form. Sleep is the guardian of the terrestrial source of the
infernal river: his proximity to death is evident already in Spaccio. Also appar-
ent is Onorio's proximity to his site of metempsychosis, the river Lethe, to the
gardens of Mount Parnassus that he sees, as well as to the forest where Ac-
treon's undergoes metamorphosis in front of another aspect of Amphitrite,
Diana's bathing hole.
To return to the emblems of Actreon after following Bruno's own digression
referring to the death of the soul as sleep, it is important to understand the
Kabbalistic nature of the image, as well as Actreon's role in the mysticism of
Kabbalah. Accompanying the reference to the Song of Songs and Solomon,
Bruno's description of sleep in Eroici derives not from Ovid, but from Psalms
132:4-5 (KJV): the psalm in question contains a prophecy for the Zion. 46 True
to the syncretic nature of his philosophy, Bruno manages to combine the
Kabbalistic mystical death of the soul with the Greek concept that sleep in-
volves a carrying off of the soul. The Greek god of love, Eros, merges in
Bruno's thought with the erotic sentiment of the biblical Canticle. Syncretism
serves to prove Bruno's point that al! is One, that Eros is the prime mover of
the universe, the source of true and eternallife.
The third emblem of the series describes the true life of the soul, which
languishes as if dead in itself but lives on in the object of its love. 47 Befare
attaining the state of enlightenment, the soul suffers in the pursuit of wisdom,
suffers in the recognition and comprehension of beauty, of the true good, and
thus, by reflection, of its own limits in its terrestrial state. Later in Eroici,
alluding to Solomon, Bruno declares that suffering increases knowledge. Here
Bruno reconnects the biblical-Kabbalistic concept with the Greek myth of
Actreon, who must suffer a painful death and dismemberment to free his soul
in the form of a stag.
Also Classical in imagery is the locus of Actreon's transformation, in front of
the forest pool where Diana bathes in the waters of the Amphitrite. In waters
that are symbolically also those of the river Lethe, Actreon, unlike Onorio,
forgets his human existence, and his stag forro merges with Eternity. In the
analysis of this third emblem, Bruno clarifies that Actreon, the intellect in
pursuit of divine knowledge, has beheld and understood the eminence of the
fountain (or source) of Ideas, the ocean of Truth and <;oodtH·ss. In short,
Actreon has grasped the Infinite, as di(l Onorio.
Metempsychosis ror

To grasp such an unnatural concept, metempsychosis is required, for the

; human intellect alone is notable to comprehend Infinity, and the human must
be transformed into a different, "unnatural" form that reflects its altered
state. 48 A seemingly incongruous interpretation of a poem, this explanation of
the Infinite demonstrates that the series of Acta:on emblems of the fourth
dialogue of part r of Eroici serves as a description of the progress of the soul
toward the unio mystica. Bruno utilizes the language of the hunter that pur-
sues the prey ("perseguitare") to discuss metaphysics. This description is es-
sentially that of the ascent of the cosmological hierarchy; one rises through
the grades of perfection to reach the center of the infinite. These grades are the
sefirot of Bruno's cosmological ladder, and the center of the infinite is the
Ein sof. When the argument is understood using this interpretative key, then
Acta:on is in fact hunting Hokhmah, and his vision of Diana opens up his
intellect to the Ein so f.
Bruno provides the key to the Kabbalistic reading of the Acta:on emblems
through his insistence on the image of the Mors osculi, which he inserts be-
tween the emblems with the appellation "cabalistic." Lave penetrares the
heart through the eyes, and a lovers' embrace leads to death: so does the vision
of Diana, for Acta:on. Kabbalists call the union of the human and di vine intel-
lect the death by kiss, which unites them through the sefirot to the Ein sof. 49

Astrological Implications of Metempsychosis

Bruno gives precise information as to the celestiallocation of the trans-
formation of Onorio. The space in which Onorio the ass undergoes the experi-
ence of revelation and metempsychosis is among the constellations rejected by
Bruno in the previous dialogue. 5° The stars themselves, as has been seen, are
replaced by virtues or by mythological figures. The locus first mentioned by
Onorio in his description was Mount Parnassus, home of Apollo and the
Muses. In Spaccio the Muses ha ve their cosmological-astrological space in the
~onstellation of the Lyre: "There, where one sees the nine-stringed Lyre, as-
~cnds the Mother Muse with her nine daughters, Arithmetic, Geometry, Mu-
sic, Logic, Poetry, Astrology, Physics, Metaphysics, and Ethics; whence, as a
wnsequence, fall Ignorance, Inertia, and Bestiality. The mothers ha ve the uní-
verse as their area; and each of the daughters has her particular subject. 51
The Lyre is symbol of Apollo the sun-god and thus is symbol of the Idea, as
Nl't'O earlier in the discussion of Bruno's cosmology. The Muses ha ve their own
p]¡~ec in thc cosmologil·.tl sy<;ll·m, ami it is interesting to note that the attributes
~tnd not the nanw., ol tlu· Mnw., .11"1' r,ivt'n in the citation from Spaccio. Bruno
111 n·sst·s tlw ;11 t nhnt ,..... t t lu· t\ '"'•'"• 1wu·"a ry for the devotce to master. Toa id
102 Metempsychosis

the devotee the locus of the Muses is given: next to the constellation of the
Swan, which is where Onorio-Pegasus is allocated as a constellation that rep-
resents the furor divino. Without overly extending the digression on the com-
plex astrological structure Bruno is constructing, suffice it to say that he not
only applies his mnemonics to the metaphysical question of metempsychosis,
but also crea tes a cosmological- quasi physical- space for the metaphysical
issue. The entire passage, with the constellations mentioned, could also be
interpreted in terms of the images to create for contemplation of the Divine
and other magical practices, discussed in other works. The constellations dis-
carded in favor of the virtues or figures they represent not only serve as mem-
ory devices by which to remember the information (that is, information neces-
sary for the mystic), but also provide an image to stimulate the fantasy of
the mystic toward contemplation of these virtues. This concept will become
clearer as the case of the constellation of the river Eridanus is analyzed in terms
of the power of the image and the fantasy.
Notice the astrological place assigned to the phenomenon of metempsycho-
sis: Mount Parnassus. Giving an exact point in the heavens where Onorio
ascends is Bruno's way of connecting the two dialogues and locating the cos-
mology and metaphysics of Cabala with the astrological mnemonics of Spac-
cio. Badaloni points out in the introduction to the most recent edition of
Cabala, which he also edited, that certain issues that the gods insist on leaving
unresolved in Spaccio are resolved in Cabala. 52 One of the issues resolved in
the later dialogue is that of the constellations that are not replaced in the
celestial reform. These reappear in Cabala, where their true nature is revealed.
Badaloni mentions the three majar constellations discussed here, to which 1
add the surrounding constellations also mentioned by Bruno in Spaccio to
complete the picture. Naturally, these are all water symbols that recall thc
powers of the Amphitrite within the cosmological space. By stating the con
stellations as a celestial point of reference, Bruno can allocate the phenomenon
not only within his cosmology, but also within the ethics of the virtues and
vices attributed to the signs. The constellations also provide a contemplativc
space within which to project the images necessary for mystical ascent. Ea eh (,¡
the constellations represent virtues associated with knowledge.
It is useful to look more closely at the constellations mentioned by Onorio
and at the significance of the various loci. The constellations all reflect virtut"\
associated with the furor divino, virtues that the mystic should absorb into lm
own being through contemplation. Andromeda is the first mentioned. Shc 1\
located directly after Pegasus in the celestial rcform of ."ifltlccio, in thc spal e
filled by one of his incarnations: "Whcre i\ndrouwd.1 vwld.,, with Obstillóll v.
Perversity, and Foolish Pcrsuasion, whid1 ;m· ·'1'1'' clw11dl'd 111 tlw an·a of l>o11
Metempsychosis 1 o3

ble Ignorance, succeed Facility, Hope, and Expectation, which show them-
selves in the area of Good discipline." 53 Andromeda, daughter of the king of
Ethiopia, is saved by Perseus (another constellation), mounted on Pegasus-
she is rescued from the rock to which she was chained as an offering to the sea
monster. Therefore the rescue of Andromeda represents also one of the heroic
feats mentioned in Cabala of Pegasus-Onorio. Clearly, here too there are
qualities that can be associated with the question of the mystical state, such as
the replacement of Ignorance with Discipline. Again, 1 do not wish to make
too much of these allusions, because the arrangement in Spaccio is a study
in itself.
A quick look at the other constellations reveal for the most part virtues
related to the preparations necessary for the appropriate state of being in
which to receive the furor divino. Next to the Lyre and before Andromeda is
the Swan, a symbol of purgation and cleansing: "Whither the Swan spreads its
wings, ascend Repentance, Purification, Palinode, and Cleansing; hence, as
a consequence, fall Selfish Regard for Oneself, Impurity, Sordidness, Impu-
dence, and Obstinacy, with their en tire families. They m ove about and through
the area of Error and Fault." 54 Aquarius and Pisces are also featured:
In the place of humid and distempered Aquarius, you see Temperance, the
mother of many and innumerable virtues, who particularly shows herself
there with her daughters, Civility and Urbanity, from whose area escape ln-
temperance of Affects, with Wildness, Harshness and Barbarity.
Whence, with Unworthy Silence, Envy of Knowledge, and Defraudation of
doctrine, which move in the area of Misanthropy an Baseness of Mind, the
Pisces are removed, there are placed Worthy Silence and Taciturnity, which
m ove in the are a of Prudence, Continence, Patience, Moderation, and others,
from which flee to contrary shelters Loquacity, Multiloquence, Garrulity,
Scurrility, Buffoonery, Histrionics, Levity of lntentions, Vain Talk, Whisper-
ing, Complaint, and Murmuring. 55

llrsa Major, the constellation of the Big Dipper, necessitates a longer discus-
~ion. She is not mentioned in Onorio's account, but is mentioned repeatedly
horh in Spaccio and in Cabala. In particular, the Ursa Major is the constel-
lurion that represents Truth. Thus she symbolizes the key not only to the
"Nolana filosofia" but to the "Nolana cosmología" as well. The Ursa Major
l't•prcsents perfection: "There, then, where the Bear was, by virtue of the
l'hll'l''s being the most emincnt part of the heaven, Truth is place first, who is
tlu· highcst and most worthy of all things, rather, the first, last, and mile;
hr,·a use shc fills tiH' ;Ht-;1 ni Fnt it y, Nl't.:essity, Goodness, Beginning, Middle,
hal, a11d Pnfntin11. \ll<' ~~ 'n11, t'lvt·d of in thl· contcmplative, metaphysical,
phy.,llal, l'thil.d, .11111 I"I',H.ti lwld·... 111d w1th tiH' lkar dcsccnd Dcformity,
ro4 Metempsychosis

Falsity, Defect, lmpossibility, Contingency, Hypocrisy, Imposture, and Felony.

The seat of the Great Bear, for a reason not to be stated in this place, remains
vacant." 56 The Big Dipper is the first constellation to be altered in the celestial
reform. The constellation is found in the "most eminent" part of the sky,
which highlights its significance. Of the Ursa Major nothing is known until
Cabala, so it is probable that Bruno meant to allocate in the place of the
constellation the two conditions of asinita. The constellation, like Pegasus and
the satellite stars around it, is intimately connected to the symbol of the Ass.
With the symbol of the Ass, Bruno offers an interpretive key to the dialogue
Cabala. He thereby opens a door between the dialogue and the others, whose
fundamental assumption rests always on the concept of the First Cause and
Principie, however many incarnations it may ha ve. Hence the cava/lo pegaseo,
which is the symbol of classical mythology but also of Kabbalah- with the
pun resting on the title of the dialogue and that of the "fonte caballino," both
mentioned also in Spaccio. Or the Asino Cillenico, the Hermetic symbol that
connects not only to Spaccio, but also to Bruno's last work, De compositione
(1 592). 57 In De compositione Bruno adds to the mnemonic space dedicated to
Mercury a locus called Asinus cyllenicus. Among the positive qualities of the
Ass, the mandible, the weapon of Samson, is mentioned first, along with the
waters that sustained the wandering ]ews, as well as the Gigantomachy and
the constellation Cancer. Cancer is among the first constellations of Spaccio
removed when the new order is established in the heavens. Cancer is the
constellation and the zodiac sigo represented by the Crab, and in the celestial
reform the Crab is the "just Conversion" ("la Conversion retta"). 58
Only once in Cabala is the zodiac symbol mentioned, but it appears in an
extremely interesting instance in which Saulino recapitulares the celestial re-
form of Spaccio (for which, it must not be forgotten, he was present, and
where the knowledge he demonstrates so eloquently to his companions in
Cabala was attained), in conjunction with the two Dippers. The description in
Spaccio of the constellation Cancer is as follows:

Cancer drags along with himself Wicked Repression, Unworthy Retrogres-

sion, Lowly Deformity and Unpraiseworthy Restraint, the Lowering of thc
Claws and the Retraction of the Feet from the good thinking and doing,
Penelope's Reweaving, and similar consorts and companions, which with-
draw into and keep themselves in the area of Inconstancy, Pusillanimity, Pov-
erty of Spirit, Ignorance, and many others; and to the stars ascend Righteou.'>
Conversion, Repression of Evil, Retraction from the false and iniquitou.,,
with their ministers, which rule themselves in the arca of lloncst Fear, Reg
ulated Love, Righteous Intention, Laudahk RqwnLIIIl e, .111d othcr asson
ates, opposed to Bad Progress, to Wickl'd i\dv.1n, ''1111'111, .111d to l'rotltahk
Pcrtinacity. 1'1
Metempsychosis ro 5

Ignorance seems the only connecting vice in the list of negative and posi-
tive qualities associated with Cancer, and with the Asino Cillenico that in the
later work takes its seat. Triumphant generic virtue, truth, and honesty seem
to connect the positive qualities. Although 1 do not wish to make too much of
the association between Ass and Cancer, it is likely that Bruno hadan associa-
tion in mind (albeit not a very clear one) six years later when writing De
The constellations mentioned in Cabala, of all those replaced in Spaccio, are
the key ones: the Ursa Major, the Eridanus, and the Crab: "Let it be known
that in the seat immediately next to and arrived at the place where the Little
Bear was, and in which you know Truth to be exalted; having the Ursa Major
been removed by the providence of the fateful counsel in the manner which
you have heard, it was succeeded by Asinita in abstraer: and there where you
still see in your fantasy the river Eridanus, it is to the liking of the same counsel
that is now found Concrete Asinita, so that from each of the three celestial
regions we may contemplare Asinita, which in two stars was as hidden in the
way of the planets, where is the lair of Cancer." 60
All the created world has its cosmological-astrological space. Even the mys-
tical concept of asinita must have its own. The structure of mysticism and
magic is cosmology: Bruno unites the cosmology of Spaccio with that of Ca-
bala, uniting the planetary, angelic, and sefirotic orders of the latter with the
astrological and ethical ones of the former. Within the heavenly spheres are the
stars and constellations themselves, with their own virtues and influences on
humans. The cosmologicallocus of asinita, hence of the symbol of the Ass, is
hetween the constellations of the two Dippers and the Eridanus, and is thus
ma de up of three points, consistent with the triads that recur in Bruno's philos-
ophy. The astrologicallocus is that of Cancer.
Water is therefore central as a mnemonic device: the river Eridanus becomes
!:; symbol of the river Po in the Renaissance mythology and symbol of the Am-
phitrite, source of waters in Bruno's mythology: "Where there still remains the
rcpresentation of the river Eridanus, we must find something noble of which
wc shall speak at other times; because its venerable theme does not fit in
nmong these others. " 61 Thus the river Eridanus is first mentioned, almost in
passing, in the list of the constellations at the beginning of Spaccio, and then
further described at the very end of the dialogue. In this first presentation of
tfw river and its properties, the attributes given to it by Bruno are those of the
rivcr Po, whosc wa tcrs and fish cannot truly be drunk orea ten:

"l.ct 11' '111111'," •.. 11.! lov•·. "¡., tlu· rivn Fridanus, with which 1 do not know
lww '" ,1.-.d ,,1,,1 wh1• l1 1•. lutth 1111 1'.11tl1 .111d in tlw lwaven, whercas the other
tlung' th.ll w• ·"' .J .... 11'•'•1111\. l..lt ti ... •·.nth, maku1g tht·lr way toward the
ro6 Metempsychosis

heaven. But this Eridanus, which is here and is there, which is within and is
without, and which is high and is low, and which has the nature of the celestial
and has the nature of the terrestrial, which is down there in ltaly and is here in
the austral region, now does not seem tome to be something to which we
should give a place, but rather seems to me to be something from which it is
fitting that sorne place be taken away." "Rather, oh Father," said Momus, "it
seems to meto be fitting (since the river Eridanus has the property of being at
the same time supposititiously and personally in various parts) that we let it
be wherever it will be imagined to be, named, called upon, and revered. All of
this can be done with very little expense, without any interest and, perhaps,
not without good gain. But Jet it be in such a manner that he who will eat of its
imagined, named, called u pon, and revered fish will, for example, be as if he
did not eat, that he who will drink similar! y of its waters will be like him who
has had nothing to drink, that he who will in like manner ha ve the Eridanus
on his mind will be like him whose brain is vacant and empty, that he who in
the same manner will have the company of its Nereids and Nymphs will be
not less alone than even he who is out of his mind."
"Well," said Jove, "in this there is no prejudice at all, since it will not
happen that, beca use of it, the others will remain without food, without water
to drink, without something remaining in their brains, and without compan-
ions; beca use for them, to have it in mind and to keep it in their campan y, in
imagination, in respect, in prayers, in reverence, is to drink and eat of it. Let it
be, however, as Momus pro poses, and I see the others affirm. Let Eridanus be
in the heaven only in belief and imagination, so that it may not prevent sorne
other thing from being in that same place, u pon which we shall determine on
another of these forthcoming days; for we must think about this seat as well as
about that of the Great Bear. 62

In his Italian Introduction to the dialogue Cabala, Badaloni attributes to the

Po-like characteristics of the river Eridanus the symbolic representation of
religion. The Eridanus remains in the heavens in a provisional capacity thanks
to the imagination and to the attributes. From the statements made in the pas-
sage quoted, it may be again deduced that Bruno already had in mind the con-
nection made in Cabala to not only add the two Bears to the locus of the river
Eridanus, but also to assign to it the space of asinita. Although the constella-
tions derive from Greek mythology, the fact that Bruno twice insists that thl"
significance of the river must be discussed in a more appropriate place also
suggests that their replacement, asinita, is associated more with the Kabbalis
tic principies of the la ter dialogue. This does not mean that as in ita is inherently
Kabbalistic, but rather that the framework of the discoursc is hctter structurt·d
on the Kabbalistic principies. Badaloni's expbnation rcsts on thc idea that d
the river Eridanus represents religion, thcnthc ~~~h~t•t••t•c•••c·nat·tcd in Ca/Ja/,¡
represents Bruno's hattlc against error and ~u¡w••,tlllllll llu· purposc tht'll ol
Metempsychosis 107

the solutions offered later is to valorize asinita and substitute "true religion"
for the "false" beliefs. Badaloni poses three questions of interest, to which he
states that Bruno provides ambiguous answers. The three questions that theo-
retically could be answered if Cabala were a dialogue written with the clear
and precise terminology of philosophy are the following:
1. What does the ideal sublimation of asinita mean?
2..Why does it multiply in abstraction and in actuality?
3· What is the true religion that should substitute the false one? 63
These are difficult questions: questions that generations of scholars have
asked and attempted to answer. Yates more or less tackled the same issues,
especially that of the question of religion. Her answer was that Hermeticism
was the religion Bruno proselytized, a Hermeticism that was a return to the
original "Egyptian" Church, a Christian Hermeticism that was profoundly
based in magic. Spaccio, as Yates observes, is a Hermetic dialogue, and at any
rate, the purpose of the mnemonic work is grounded in ethics and a different
type of magic.
An imaginary river more than a material constellation, the Eridanus is the
focal point of the pneuma and the celestiallocus of the Amphitrite. As the uni-
versal Ocean, the Amphitrite is (in) al! waters, in everything. Different names
and properties indicate the different parts of the Amphitrite, the Monad, the
One. 64 The Eridanus has the unique property of being everywhere on Earth or
in the sky beca use it exists in the imagination: This property is also the unique
tie between the Eridanus and the Amphitrite or universal soul, as well as the
Kabbalistic element of the constellation-symbol that reconnects it to the Kab-
balistic Ass. As will be seen later, it is the concept of unity that Bruno under-
lines as fundamental to the Kabbalah, and which is the fundamental reason for
his incorporation of Kabbalistic elements in his philosophy.
The locus Eridanus reveals a function of magic: the power of fantasy. Bruno
is applying to magical mysticism the theory of the phantasmic pneuma of
Aristotle, a theory that forms the basis of Neoplatonic magic in the Renais-
-llnce.65 Of the twenty magical bonds (vinculis) enumerated and discussed in
l>e magia, the fourth is that of the soul of the world and the universal spirit
that unites all things. 66 The fourth bond derives its power from the fantasyP
hlntasy is the door by which the influxes of the spirits enter into the human
mind: it is the source of power in demonic magic. The key that opens the door
IN fnith, the fifth magical bond, as understood by Bruno, meaning the belief in
tht• systcm or tlw proplll't tl~;lt n·vcals it; in this case faith in the "Nolana
filosofia."'•H 'lil :t•liv.11c· 11 ... f.1n1.1~v. wl11ch activares the cogitative faculty of
th(· mind and 111111111 .11 111',11<"• f.1ttl1, lltl' proplwt or magician must stirnulate
tlw la11t.1sy ollllt' 111<1111tl11.d w11lt .111 tlll.tp,•· 111 ~y111hol in tlus ctst', tlw river
ro8 Metempsychosis

Eridanus. Contemplation of the Eridanus is equivalent to direct contempla-

tion of the Amphitrite beca use it is simply another part of the universal Ocean
that has, so to speak, a fixed address near the two Dippers. The net effect of
Bruno's placement of asinita in the loci of the constellations is to reduce the
astrological emphasis of religion to a mnemonic system, where the zodiac and
constellations become symbols or images for the abstraer concepts that make
up Bruno's philosophical-religious system. Culianu argues that in Spaccio
Bruno attempts to impart Christian abstraction to the astrological memory
system. 69 I think he does not merely reject the signs of the zodiac, but re-
manipulares the system for other means. Too often Bruno alludes to asinita as
the nobler thing that will replace the constellation or zodiac sign in question.
Rather than a simple rejection of the idea of Christianizing the sky, I see this
allusion as a means to "Nolanize" the sky. Bruno repeats too often in Cabala
the Judea-Christian link to, and thus the Judaic element of, the concept that
holds such a key place in the supposed "Christian sky" of Spaccio: asinita, a
concept that I would not call Christian, and that Bruno considered to be the
immutable Truth. Like the cosmology of the Kabbalah the constellations are
the structure upon which Bruno superimposes his own ideas, but unlike the
Kabbalah the zodiacal system does not offer for Bruno the mystical possibili-
ties for revelation. Bruno's reorganization of the heavens has the effect of
"Nolanizing" the sky, thus preparing the way for the prophetic experience.
Prophecy cannot emerge from the contemplation of the stars themselves; it
must ha ve a religious system as a foundation. Prophecy can, however, emerge
from the contemplation of images whose power activa tes the part of the hu-
man mind that can unite with the Divine Intellect and absorb what is revealed:
fantasy or imaginative faculty, which is the ultima te source of all magic. 70 The
most potent effect on the fantasy of the individual is the word; hence the long
cosmological importance of names, discussed earlier, and the fundamental
importance of the texts that describe the "Nolana filosofia." Bruno provides
the contemplative images in his texts, but he must also explícate them. Tht
symbol of the Ass has no power if it is not understood correctly. Therefort
Bruno's lengthy presentation of the symbol of the Ass and of asinita is in
actuality necessary for the proper use of the symbol.
One way of interpreting the interconnection of the symbol of the Ass in its
varied manifestations is of course to stress precisely the syncretic nature of thl'
symbol- and hence its very mutability of form within the constancy of its
essence as a symbol of the Archetype or Idea. This is an interpretation tha 1
paraphrases Bruno himself, for it works within the principie of the immu
tability of Truth.


The Ass, the Asina Cillenico,

and the Cava/lo Pegaseo

There is a long history of the literary image of the Ass. 1 Giovanni Gentil e
dtes Agrippa's chapter "Ad encorniurn asini digressio" in his book De incer-
titudine at vanitate omnium scientarum et artium as the immediate source for
Bruno's image of the Ass and the asini mysteria. Already in Agrippa the He-
hrew element is present,so that the irnage of the Ass is associated not onlywith
the Jews, but also with the Kabbalah. Allusions to the prophetic Cumani,
Apuleius, and Balaarn, which became significant for the discussion of proph-
l'Cy, are also present in Agrippa's passage. Nuccio Ordine dedicares La cabala
dcll'asino to the symbol of the Ass, and he traces in this work its the literary
antecedents: Ordine not only situares the dialogue Cabala within the tradi-
tion, but he also stresses the positive interpretation and irnportance of asinita
within the cornplex totality of Bruno's thought. 2 Ordine provides a vast lec-
tura brunonis on the subject, whereas I will concentrare on the Hebraic ele-
IIH.'nts, beca use 1 do not intend to recio work well done. Therefore 1 shall begin
with the introduction of the Ass in the Dedicatory Epistle of the dialogue
Allusions to thc Ass, or to asinine qualities, appear in many of Bruno's
works. For the sakl' ol ¡>r• •vid in¡~ somc cohcrcnce and arder for the analysis of
llu· ~ymhol :111d 11~ ""1''" .1111111•, f.,r Hru11o\ mystical thcory of asinita, itis best
lo lwg111 w111i ilw 1n1 111.11 1· •• 111 .1 "''11' n·.d ~('liS(', dedicated to this syrnhol.

I I o Ass, Asina Cillenico, and Cava/lo Pegase o

After Bruno's discussion of "cabala-teologia-filosofia," he immediately intro-

duces the symbol of the Ass, declaring that the dialogue, presented to Don
Sabatino, is in fact the gift of the Ass. Bruno responds to the imagined and
anticipated queries of the Bishop of Casamarciano: "What is it that is being
sent tome? what is the subject of this book? of what gift amI made worthy?" 3
Bruno's response is that this is the gift of the Ass, an Ass that will bring him
honor and include him in the book of eternity: "And I reply to you that I offer
you the gift of an Ass, the Ass is presented to you who shall honor you,
increase your dignity, inscribe yo u into the Book of Eternity. "4 The last state-
ment can be alternately interpreted to mean that the gift of the Ass will make
Sabatino famous ad mternum, beca use it is dedicated to him, or that the gift of
knowledge will provide him with the secret of eternity (metempsychosis).
As seen in the preceding chapter, the symbol of the Ass has a strong associa-
tion with metempsychosis through the characters of Onorio and the Cyllenian
Ass (I'Asino Cillenico). Hermetic associations of the symbol of the Ass are
ancient, notably concerning Apuleius's Golden Ass: Yates has done an excel-
lent job of tracing them in Giordano Bruno, and Ordine dedica tes a good part
of his book to the sources of the symbol. In his summary of Agrippa's ancient
sources, Gentile points out in his notes to Cabala that Agrippa claims Jewish
sources for the symbol. Here again, Agrippa is most likely Bruno's immediate
source; therefore it is through Agrippa that the link between the symbol of the
Ass and Kabbalah, and hence between asinita and Kabbalah, is made.
Gentile quotes Agrippa in a long passage that establishes a complicated
history of the image of the Ass- a history that includes all of the philosophies
dear to Bruno. Presentare the Hebrews, the Old and New Testaments, Ap-
uleius, Origen, and Tertullian. Agrippa begins with the Hebrew sources and
establishes the direct link between the Ass and the sefirah Hokhmah, which is
always given as the Hebrew term for Wisdom. 5 He next implies that the
virtues of patience and clemency are inherent in the symbol. Agrippa describes
the virtues mentioned by the Hebrew philosophers that the disciple must ac-
quire to attain Wisdom. This description is couched in the mysticallanguage
of cultic (albeit heavily Christian), mysteries, and Agrippa states that the Ass
carries the mysteries. 6 This list of qualities necessary for the seeker ofWisdom
recalls those listed by Bruno in Spaccio. Certainly, Agrippa provides an overall
Christianizing tone to his description, as is typical in his writings. The qualities
listed by him are somewhat those of the Christian mystic or ascetic, who learns
patience and endurance and rejects worldly preoccupation for the spiritual
life. Discipline for Bruno and Agrippa alike is represented by asinine qualirie~
that lead to Wisdom, even if these qualities differ a bit for Bruno from those
,,, that Agrippa describes. In association with the qualitit·s list1·d in Agrippa\

Ass, Asino Cillenico, and Cavailo Pegaseo I I I

account, the Nativity and the triumphant entrance of Christ into Jerusalem are
mentioned. But even these New Testament references are given in association
with prominent Old Testament figures: Zechariah and Abraham. Therefore,
even for Agrippa the Christological implications of the symbol of the Ass are
intimately tied to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Bruno expands
precise! y this association between the symbol of the Ass and prophecy that is
built into the Christian interpretation of the O id Testament.
From the beginning Bruno acknowledges his biblical sources to stress the
syncretic nature of the Ass.7 Syncretism is expressed in the various icono-
graphic images of the Ass, or in its various incarnations. Naturally, the Kabba-
listic one is emphasized: given that Cabala is in essence a dialogue devoted to
the Ass, it provides the most evolved image of the symbol of the Ass: "What do
you think is the ideal and kabbalistic Ass described in the corpus of sacred
writings? What do you believe to be the Pegasean Horse, portrayed in the
poetic imagination? What do you imagine of the Cyllenic Ass worthy of being
placed in croceis in the most honored academies? Leaving aside for now con-
sideration of the second and third, and putting on center stage the first, equally
Platonic and theological, 1 wish to know that there is plenty of evidence from
divine and human writings dictated by sacred and profane doctors that speak
from the shadow of science and the light of faith." 8
Both Ideal (Platonic-Archetypal) and Kabbalistic (theological-biblical), the
Ass is clearly syncretic in its symbolism, encompassing sacred and profane
doctrines. For this reason Bruno both mentions first and underscores these
two qualities of the Ass. The Pegasean Horse and the Cyllenian Ass are incar-
nations of the Kabbalistic and Hermetic aspects, rather than the inherent
qualities, of the symbol. Bruno presents the two incarnations as the fulfillment
of the prophecy of the sacred texts. From the biblical texts Bruno ostensibly
derives his theory of metempsychosis, as well as the indications that the asi-
nine qualities, leading to asinita, willlead to the creation of a prophet. Both
the Pegasean Horse (an incarnation of Onorio, the ass) and the Cyllenian Ass
(un incarnation of all the major philosophers ofWestern civilization) are "pro-
phetic" figures, insofar as they ha ve undergone the process of metempsycho-
Nis. Onorio's death and metamorphosis fulfill the Kabbalistic-biblical proph-
l'~Y of a cyclic "eterna! return," and his detailed account of the process of
mctempsychosis serves to renew the ancient prophecy for Bruno's contempo-
ratrics. The Pegasean Horse and the Cyllenian Ass are the "living proof," the
hrst-hand testimony to th(• indisputable Truth of the Nolan philosophy. Both
IIIHl'd and profane wrillt'll rcsrimonies offcr themselves as sources for the
•ymbol of tlw i\ss. Tlw 11'1111 "o1nhr;1 de scit·nze" (shadow of sciences) suggests
tluu rht· profane r,·sl~ .11r NnoJ1l•'"'""· wlud1 stands to rcason, bccause most
Ir 2 Ass, A sino Cillenico, and Cavallo Pegaseo

of the nonbiblical or Kabbalistic references Bruno utilizes derive from Classi-

cal sources such as Apuleius. Most of these non-Kabbalistic sources are em-
bodied in the sundry incarnations of the Cyllenian Ass.
I mentioned earlier that the adjective "Cyllenian" refers to attributes of the
god Hermes. The Cyllenian Ass is the image at the heart of most of Yates's
arguments in favor of a Hermetic interpretation of Bruno's thought, and cer-
tainly of metempsychosis. Of course, the syncretic nature of Bruno's philoso-
phy does not exclude a Hermetic reading of the image. On the contrary, the
image is clearly intended as a "Hermetic" one. As a Hermetic being, the Cylle-
nian Ass is a philosophical balance to Onorio, who is associated with the
"fonte caballino," a clearly Kabbalistic figure. Given this neat syncretic bal-
ance, I offer a different suggestion than Yates's dogmatic interpretation of the
figure of the Ass. On the basis of Bruno's syncretism, the two apparently
contrasting figures of a Hermetic anda Kabbalistic Ass suggest that the role of
the image of the Ass per se is more importan! than the merely philosophical
implication of its name. Not that 1 wish to den y the significance of the appella-
tions; rather, I wish to delve further into the actual role of the two figures that
embody metempsychosis. This role is very much linked to the etymological
significance of the Cyllenian Ass. The most obvious Hermetic trait that a being
undergoing and representing the process of death and mutation of form can
ha veis that of a "guide of souls." Onorio's description of his initial recollec-
tion of his experience of metempsychosis places Mercury (Hermes) at the
scene, near the banks of the river Lethe. As living testimonies of the truth ot
metempsychosis, Onorio and the Cyllenian Ass function as guides of soul~
beca use their stories can prepare others for the ordeal to come.
As guides, the two figures are united. Bruno's !ove of coincidentia opposi
torum, however, complicares the matter. Onorio and the Cyllenian Ass are
also complementary opposites. Whereas Onorio is a source of revelation to be
believed, the Cyllenian Ass's tale is undermined by irony, so that ultimately he
'1,1 is rendered ridiculous. His desperation to enter into an academy, where he i~
finally accepted, marks him as a pedantic version of Onorio. Further, as ,¡
having his lack of wisdom displayed to all through the dialogue L'asino cillc
nico were not enough, in De compositione the image of the Cyllenian Ass "
disparaging. The image occurs among those associated with "the busiest ol
gods," Mercury. Mercury embodies many positive images and attendant vir
tu es: he is a speaker, messenger, "insider" with Jo ve, artisan, fisher, hunter, ;1111 1
;¡ bird catcher. His attributes of wings, eyes, rod, and hands are treated sep.1
rately and given particular significance. At first glance, the image seems il
anything to support Yates's claim toa "purely Hcrnwt il· insigh t" on thc pa rt 1 ,¡
Bruno. Closer inspection, however, revcals that tiH" 1111pm1.1111 ckmcnts o! 1111
imagc of Mcrcury could be as casily lalwlt-d 1\..rhh.dr·.t" f\l1'11 ury tht· or.rl•"
Ass, Asina Cillenico, and Cava/lo Pegaseo rI 3

:;, corresponds better to Onorio than to the Cyllenian Ass. Even a herald of the
gods, or one close to ]ove, would better suit Onorio, to whom the mysteries of
Fate that trouble ]ove in Spaccio are not only revealed, but also better under-
stood. Mercury's physical attributes are more closely tied to the mysticism of
Eros in Eroici than to Cabala. But in De compositione there is an image of
Mercury and Perseus that recalls the heroic exploits of the Pegasean Horse.
In the long lists of Mercury's attributes, a separa te section is dedicated to the
Cyllenian Ass. Here Bruno alludes severa! times to a suppressed text on the
Cyllenian Ass, which Dick Higgins interprets in bis notes to be a lost text and
which 1 believe are allusions to the dialogue L'asino cillenico: "Certainly Mer-
~: cury would be nothing if he hadn't made off with a certain driveable flock.
There is the animal image of a donkey and a well-known figure, concerning
which various people ha ve written, and we ha ve written about it in a particu-
lar style which, beca use of its sinister meaning, had to be suppressed. " 9 There
are various reasons for m y belief that the allusions are to Cabala and L'asino
cillenico- reasons that hinge on the interpretation of the lengthy presentation
of the Cyllenian Ass and that will be discussed in due time. 1 willlimit my
comment at the moment to the remark that the "sinister meaning" of the
image may very well be Bruno's own comment about the reception not just of
the dialogues, but also of the question of metempsychosis.
Bruno presents the Cyllenian Ass as a sort of nemesis of Mercury or of
uctual Mercurial ideals with a clear methodological application of coinciden-
tia oppositorum: "N ow we will recall only those who stand beside Mercury.
Their qualities are contrary to the qualities of Mercury, but, since contraries
do not exist without contraries, and contraries are recognized by contraries,
thcy are nourished and run together in the same genus, it will not be altogether
unworthy and rather profitable that it become conspicuous in the same court
liS if in a theater scene, where at least by means of opposite reasoning sorne of
Mcrcury's qualities that are not named and perhaps unnamable may be con-
•illcred."10 Sorne distance is created, so that the Cyllenian Ass is notan aspect
uf Mercury, but a figure that stands by the god. The distance is maintained in
tht< negative reflected image of the god in the Ass. The Ass reflects the negative
unagc of the god himself, a sort of ineffable negativity of the di vine.
Not simply a negative image, but a distorted or grotesque image of Mer-
mrial qualities, is reflected in the Ass. His physical description, for example, is
1111itl' unflattcring: "In this animal the notable qualities are tough hide, bristly
1111l; pointed, dense, l'oarsc, long, hroad, shaking tiny ears; flatness of fore-
hritd, narrownl'ss, thl' .qwlik1· dtaractl'r, hroadness of nostrils; coarse, thick
-.¡tlarl' tl'l'th; long Jlllllllf: e>lll ¡.aw, wath whirh Samson could have killed a
tlacHI\,tlllll'ltill'.lciH'o., (wh.al .¡, \e>lllillllk,l w.a~ going to say that he could have
dnnl' 11 warlt .1 ""111'¡,.,,. '' ..1 .1111! ill'lltp, ,¡•,•,n," 11 lln~;lvory in ltis physical
r r4 Ass, Asina Cillenico, and Cava/lo Pegaseo

aspect, according to the principies of physiognomy the Cyllenian Ass should

also ha vean unsavory character, which in turn would indica te unsavory quali-
ties. From the physical description, the characteristics of the Ass are very
similar to those featured in stereotypical caricatures of Jews: bristles, flat fore-
heads, long ears, jutting jaws. In Cabala the comparison between asses and
Jews is favorable, because Bruno claims that even the Jews themselves con-
sider the ass to be a symbol of the Wisdom of the sefirot and hence of the
Kabbalah. 12 This reference to Samson, as well as others that follow, are further
allusions to the text of Cabala. 13 At times the allusions seem satirical; at other
times they seem to contain a profound symbolic value.
Within the presentation of the Cyllenian Ass the image is contradictory, a
"contrary of contraries" devised to demonstrate the ambiguity of the symbol
of the Ass. Ambiguity can also be understood as the multiplicity of qualities
in a unity. As often is the case with Bruno, he hides in satire the elements ami
principies of his philosophy. An able manipulator of language and symbols,
Bruno never limits his use of an image to a single possible interpretation,
but exploits the multivalency inherent in the image he chooses. Thus, thc
Cyllenian Ass of De compositione expands on the Kabbalistic significance that
the proximity to Cabala bestowed on the Cyllenian Ass described in the ap
pendix to the dialogue. In addition, the image itself is heavily imbued with
Kabbalistic undertones: "Also from this jaw spouted waters with which peo
pies, as they wandered, could be refreshed, and many other things about
which we spoke elsewhere in the proper book. The ass has as well thick lip,
adorned with very tough and fine hair, a vehement voice that terrifies, scatter\,
overcomes giants, that is, the princes and wise of the world (who ha ve rebellnl
against the gods)." 14
Waters spouting from the jaw of the Ass can only be those of Amphitritr.
That these waters refresh wandering peoples could be an allusion to either tlw
Jews, who wandered in the desert for forty years and during their wanderilw.
set up a cult of the Golden Ass (see chapter 8), or else an allusion to the fatc ol
the nine blind lovers, who after years of wandering regain their eyesight wht'll
the Nereids sprinkle the waters of the Amphitrite on their eyes (see chap. '1.)
From the context of De compositione, the former theory seems the most likcl v.
because Bruno again alludes to the previous book Cabala, where he mentiolt'.
Ramath-lechi, the place where the waters spout from the jawbone of the Av.
(Bruno may also have in mind the waters at the base of the Tree of the Scli
rot). 15 Again the physical description of the Ass is similar to anti-Semit 11
stereotypes, with a clear allusion to both Cabala and Sf>accio in the allusion '' •
the Gigantomachy, when the gods defeated thc Tita m with thc voicc of thc .tv.
that scared away the enemies of Olympus. 1''
Ass, Asina Cillenico, and Cavallo Pegaseo I I5

As there are parallels to Cabala, there are a few to Spaccio. All the images of
De compositione ha ve their attendant virtues and vices, much like in Spaccio.
Only in a few cases do these images also have an accompanying constellation,
in this case Cancer, which was previously associated with the Ass in Spaccio:
"Therefore not undeservedly it is permitted to astronomers to contemplare the
enclosure with asses' colts in the constellation of Cancer, so that we can also
understand that the gods are by no means ungrateful, as they ha ve been liber-
ated by that support." 17 Because this is an important allusion, repeated only in
these two dialogues, I will give the passage from Spaccio as well:
Concerning the upright majesty of those two Asses, who sparkle in the space
of Cancer, 1 do not dare to speak, because to these, especially belongs the
Kingdom of Heaven, by right and by reason, as on other occasions, with
many most efficacious arguments, I propose to show you. For of so great a
matter I do not dare to talk, as it were, in passing. But for this alone 1 grieve
and greatly lament: that these divine animals ha ve been given such niggardly
treatment. They are not made to feel that they are in their own borne, but in
the asylum of that retrograde aquatic animal. They ha ve been rewarded with
the pittance of no more than two stars, one star being given to the one, and
one to the other, the two stars together being no larger than one of the fourth
magnitude. 18

Asses are the two stars that adorn the top of the constellation of Cancer,
11lrcady named thus by Hyginus. These are probably part of the nine stars that
Juno bequeathed to the constellation to illuminate the toils of Hercules. 19
These nine stars explain the allusion to the Ass as the sefirot in Cabala. Thus,
11 celestial locus is found for the Ass, reflecting not only the cosmology of
C:abala, but also the two contrasting figures of the Ass embodied in Onorio
11nd the Cyllenian Ass; while simultaneously balancing the two categories of
tuinita. 20
Given the appearance of the constellation in every dialogue, and the consis-
trnt interpretation of it as incorporating the celestial Asses, then the virtues
1111d vices attributed to Cancer and the Cyllenian Ass should match up. Unfor-
tunately they do not, 21 although Bruno states that the virtues present in De
C'ompositione are absent from the court of ]ove (that is, Spaccio ):
Therefore, standing very close to the ass are Victory, Triumph, Honor, Glory,
Majesty, and many (no, perhaps even all are absent) fromjove's court, except
that a long with supreme majesty Exhaustion is joined, as well as Humility and
Ahjcction, and, l)('l';HI.~•· of pcoplcs' obsequiousness and certainly our domes-
til· happincss, triumph.un Vill'm'ss of all Vileness and Ignorance. Perhaps so
that frorn th" th<' 1~1.1111' 11111'.h1 ... , op,n11.1' him, no matter how confused, over-
<<~IIH' an.l·.ul"l''"" tl.n· ""H'" ¡,..¡,,. tlw, •ntuttTfcit. Thcrcforc ncxt to him are
r r6 Ass, Asina Cillenico, and Cavallo Pegaseo

(so that I can be brief about this) silly Hebetude, stony Gravity, leaden Ob-
tuseness, tenebrous Obscurity, misty Deliberation, shady Conception, pitch
black Squalor, Getic Frigidity, Syrian Stupidity, stolid Slowness, rude Tardi-
ness, listless Idleness, inert Torpidity, supine Dullness, slothful Acedia, reluc-
tant Relaxation.
Disgraceful braying, gaping of the N ose, hanging Lippiness, pecorine Slow-
ness, hoarse vociferation, rough Bellowing, sterile Monstrousness, mud-
smeared Hebetude, rural disagreeability, unhappy Prodigiousness, fourfooted
Shamefulness, astonished Eye, huge brainless Head, Chest without a heart,
soul without sense, shorn Reason, circumcised Fancy, empty Property. These
from the Predotribe stand nearby: in a circle there are wandering Roaming,
falling Deviation, raving Delirium, Lapse wandering off, hallucinating Cred-
ulity, sleeping Vision, unpleasant Mockery, ambiguous Delight, impinging
Error, deflecting Perdition, fanatic Perplexitude, pack saddled Rashness,
backward Evasion." 2 2

The new virtues and vices seem to derive from the victory or defeat of the Ass.
Actually, the virtues mentioned- especially Victory, Triumph, and Glory-
are very clase to those attributed to the jawbone of the ass in Cabala, shortly
after the mention of the Gigantomachy and Samson. 23 Because in Cabala thc
colt of the ass represents the synagogue, it is safe to assume that the sensc
carries over to De compositione. Hence, the Cyllenian Ass has many peculia1
characteristics that are connected to the image of Jews and to the Kabbalah.
Even the contradictions inherent in the image of the Ass are associated with
the contradictions inherent in the image of the Jews, as will be demonstrated i11
the following chapter. The vices or negative qualities displayed by the Cyl
lenian Ass center around the theme of lgnorance and Stupidity more tha11
around martial failings. Whereas the virtues derive from Cabala, the vice'
derive from the constellation of Cancer in Spaccio. Of course, the constella
tion of Cancer and its accompanying vices are replaced by the twin Asses and
their accompanying virtues, so Bruno is not inconsistent in separating lll\
sources. At any rate, the context of the vices does remain martial, with tlu·
braying of the ass that procured its victory over the Titans now a disgracrflil
quality. Bruno brilliantly reconnects through the image of the Cyllenian f\, ..
sorne of the most important of the multiplicity of meanings present in a singl1
image or unit, thus illustrating one of the fundamental principies of his phi le 1'
ophy: multiplicity is inherent in unity.
All of the sources balance in Bruno's definition of the symbol of thr f\,.,
which is expressed in the terms of his own metaphysics and cosmology. Bru11•'
claims that his definition is the true one, whcn he ddiJil'S thc Kahhalistic /\-.·.
Ass, Asina Cillenico, and Cavallo Pegaseo I 17

The Ideal Ass is the productive, formative and supranaturally perfecting prin-
cipie of the asinine species, which however much it is evident in the capacious
bosom of Nature is distinct from other species, and is counted among the
secondary minds and discerned with a different concept, not that same one by
which other forms are discerned; nonetheless (and this is of the greatest im-
portance), in the First Mind prima mente it is as the idea of the human species,
no different than the species of intelligences, demons, gods, worlds, the uni-
;' ' verse. As a matter of fact, it is from that species from which not only Asses,
but men, stars, worlds, and terrestrial animals all depend: of that 1 say, in
which there is no difference of form or subject, of things or things, but is
simple and one.24

This passage provides a summary of Bruno's metaphysics. The Ideal or Arche-

typal Ass is symbol of Amphitrite, of the First Cause and Principie, of the
10urce and origin of al! things. Therefore to reveal the nature of the Ass is to
reveal the secrets of the universe, for it is to reveal Amphitrite. After al!, the
C:yllenian Ass, or even the simple jawbone of a dead colt, spouts the regenera-
tive waters of Amphitrite. When the celestial Ass replaces Cancer in the celes-
tial reform, the Crab returns to the Ocean: thus the archetypal Ass in heaven
has a counterpart in the earthly waters.
To be called an Ass is to be recognized as part of the universal One. A key
concept is that in the Divine Intellect ("prima mente"), because everything is
thc same and equal to everything else, then even the human species is part of
1hc cosmological structure of the universe. This is the assumption upon which
1\runo's magic rests. In brief, the Ideal Ass as part of the Idea is indistinguish-
lhle from al! other things; it is only distinct on the second leve! of intellect, in
the form the primary matter takes on or in the human mind's necessity to
diNtinguish things from each other and not perceive their essential oneness.
The would-be Ass, devotee of the Kabbalistic system presented in Cabala,
cuuld not influence the sefirot, nor cal! clown their influx, if the essence of the
¡mKtitioner and the emanation were not the same in the Divine Intellect.
M11gic is manipulation, and manipulation functions on the basis not only of
knnwledge but also of likeness. Onorio's reincarnation is possible beca use it is
rrvcaled to him that he is part of the Amphitrite- that he is an ass, but could
hr just as easily something else. Once he has grasped his likeness in essence to
111 things- once he has acquired this fundamental information as well as the
knnwlcdge that the river Lethe is the source of forgetfulness-then Onorio
¡;1111 manipulare the powcrs at work in his situation and maintain life and the
knowlcdgc to preserve it l'tl'rnally. In essence, metempsychosis is the manip-
uhuion of tht· systt'lll.
'1' 11'




' 11'

: 11¡1

,1¡'; 1


• .11!'
'li Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the
Symbol of the Ass

Bruno wished to establish an important link between the symbol of the

Ass and the Jews to emphasize the Kabbalistic significance of the symbol
because, as will be demonstrated, the image of the Jews in Bruno is inextrica-
bly linked to the Kabbalah. This connection is due primarily to the fact that
Bruno traces the sources of the Kabbalah back to the Old Testament and
therefore does not distinguish much between Kabbalistic texts and biblical
ones. 1 Taking in consideration the historical context in which Bruno wrotc,
the the way in which he presents Jews as representatives of his mystical philos-
ophy is rather interesting. Beca use of the popular belief that Jews were satur-
nine characters; the passage from Genesis 49:14-I 5 in which Jacob presents
his son Issachar with the attribute of an ass; as well as Bruno's Kabbalistic
interests deriving from the Old Testament, it is necessary for him to defend
certain practices and certain elements of Judaism. For Bruno, this defense is
centered on the rabbis, or "Hebrew doctors," who preserved what is known in
Christian circles to be the Kabbalah; whereas he rejects the Talmudic scholars,
who are clearly dedicated to preserving Jewish religious practices that, unlih
the Kabbalah, cannot be universalized.
To the Talmudists usually disdained by Bruno, he attributcs, through Sau
lino, the original relation between the Ass and the sefirot: "( :ntain Talmudist-,
attribute the moral reason for such an influx, trcc, i:Hidc·¡ "' dc·pl'lldl'lllT hv

1 ¡/1
Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass LI9

saying that the Ass is the symbol of Wisdom in the divine sefirot since he who
wishes to penetrare into the secret and occult recipes of it [Wisdom] must
necessarily be by disposition saber and patient, and have the mustache, head
and back of the Ass: he must ha ve a humble soul, contained and squat and lack
the sense to distinguish cabbage from lettuce." 2 In this brief paragraph, Bruno
reminds the reader of the various systems through which the cosmology of the
Kabbalah may be remembered: influx, tree, ladder, emanation, and Ass. The
Ass, as the symbol of Wisdom among the sefirot, must also be the sefirah
itself-the symbol or embodiment of Wisdom, Hokhmah. Indeed, Bruno
claims that Hokhmah influences the sphere of the Ass, or of asinita. The
qualities listed are again those essential for attaining the state of asinira.
For Bruno to attribute this theory to the Talmudists is puzzling, but the
explanation is probably quite simple: it is a generic term, in this context,
for Jewish religious scholars. Talmudists are presumably, in Bruno's mind,
the men who are knowledgeable about the mysteries of their religion. Bruno
wished to establish the distinct separation of the Kabbalah from Egyptian
religion, as well as the preeminence of the Judaic tradition. The Talmudists are
distinct from the rabbis or "Hebrew doctors." For Bruno, the Talmudists
rcpresent institutional Judaism, the attachment to the cult, rather than philo-
sophical or mystical Judaism, which can have a universal application. lt is
possible that Bruno took literally the term "Talmudist," believing that there
was a distinction between scholars of the Talmud and scholars of the Bible
(rabbis). But it is most likely that Bruno is applying a distinction of his own to
cmphasize the more independent, Kabbalistic bent of the rabbis.
The dichotomy between Talmudists and rabbis probably originares in
1\runo's account of the establishment among Jews of the cult of the Ass. Se-
hasto's response to Saulino's lengthy presentation of the sefirot and attendant
Nymbols (cited above) is to tell his version of the tale of the origin of the cult of
thc Ass, which naturally originated in Egyptian circles:

St•l)asto: 1 believe, rather, that the Jews borrowed these mysteries from the
Egyptians; and they, to cover up a certain ignominy, thus wished to exalt
to the heavens the Ass or asinira.
C:oribante: Declara.
St•IMsto: Ocus, king of Persia, having been portrayed by his enemies the Egyp-
tians in the effigy of an ass, and afterwards, being victorious over them
and capturing them, he forccd them to worship the lmage of the ass and
sacrifice lo hi111 lht· hull.drl"ady greatly worshipped by them, reprimand-
ing thl"lll 1h.11 In 1lw .1·.~ 1la·11· h11ll Opin or Apin would be immolated.
ffl'nn·, lll liiiiiCll Jill'll vd1· 1 1111 .111d UIVl"l' lheir shallll', thcy ÍllVCilted
r 20 Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass

reasons for the cult of the ass; thus from that which was a matter of
criticism and mockery became a matter of reverence. Only consequently,
as an object of adoration, admiration, contemplation, honor and glory,
did they make it cabalistic, archetypal, sefirotic, metaphysical, ideal and
divine. What is more, since the ass is the beast of Saturn and Luna, and
the Jews are by nature, genius and fortune saturnine and lunar- a vile,
servile, mercenary, solitary, incommunicative people, unable to converse
with other peoples, whom they bestially disdain and by whom for every
possible reason they are rightly despised- now they found themselves in
captivity and slavery in Egypt, where they were destined to be in the
company of asses in carrying burdens and assisting construction. And
l, 1

there, sorne who were lepers and others who overheard the Egyptians
say that in the plague victims reigned the saturnine and asinine influence
dueto the interaction they had with this race desired to chase them from
!11:'1 their territory, leaving the idol of the ass in their possession: who, among
all the gods, seemed most propitious to this people, inimical and hostile
11!111¡¡1 to all others, like Saturn to all the planets. Therefore, remaining with
,1¡11111'' their own cult, leaving aside other Egyptian festivals, they celebrated
their Saturn as manifest in the idol of the ass and in the Sabbaths, and

·'.11 1
their Luna the new moons, so that in consequence not just one but,
,,¡ furthermore, all the sefirot may be asinine to the cabalisticJews. 3
Apart from providing every current anti-Semitic stereotype, Sebasto's version
of the Ass-sefirot connection provides an alternative reading to the "Nolana
,!,,, filosofia." The alternative reading stresses the Egyptian origins not only of thc
symbol of the Ass but al so of Kabbalah. This is nota new idea, but stems from

'1[·' the popular trend of claiming that Mases was initiated into the Egyptian
mysteries, so that the jewish mysteries are a simple derivation of the Hermetic
sciences. In terms of the dichotomy between Talmudists and rabbis, there are

two important implications made in the passage. One is Sebasto's belief that
il¡lll,· the Jews are religiously misguided. From a theological point of view, Bruno
'l'li'[ may agree- insofar as the Talmudists, who were perceived by him to be thl'
1.. 11.1111·1 bastions of institutional judaism, represent the preservation of stubborn He
braic tradition without enlightenment. 1stress the institutional aspect, becaust·
Bruno strongly associates enlightenment with universally applicable systems,
such as Hermeticism and the Kabbalah. Traditional judaism, like traditional
Catholicism, cannot be easily syncretized. The second implication is that thr
', 1lr¡
mysteries, and 1 stress the term, of the Kabbalah are derived from the Egyp

~ !:
tians (via Moses). The moral of the story, as told hy Srhasto, is that tlw
Jews are merely derivative. The underlying messagt· ()f tlw ~tmy as implicd hy

Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass I 2I

Bruno, however, is that the best is always preserved of the mystical Truth,
whether in Hermetic or Ka bbalistic terms.
Badaloni's reading of the passage emphasizes the role of lgnorance in the
acquisition of knowledge, in relation to the theme of the Golden Age, even in
religious terms: it is the emphasis on ignorance that he believes is most original
in Bruno. According to Badaloni, it is precise! y the saturnine element associ-
ated with the Jews that undermines any certitude. Interestingly enough, he
reads the Jewish attribute of the Ass as a modernization of the theme of the
Gol den Age. 4 Badaloni's underscoring of the positive-negative split in the sym-
bol of the Ass, and the link he makes with the "saturnine" qualities attributed
to the Jews and Judaism, are useful- not only beca use the asinine-saturnine
association reenters within the physiognomic theories discussed earlier, but
also because Bruno takes a symbol anda quality that traditionally have nega-
tive connotations and imbues not merely with opposite and therefore positive
ones, but with a dualism that derives from his !ove of coincidentia opposi-
torum. The theme of the meeting of opposites is also inherent in the Talmud-
ists versus rabbis dichotomy. The origins of both are the same- they derive
perhaps from the same cultic origins- but there is a fundamental split in their
interpretation of the sacred. That the split is only apparent or useful to Bruno's
philosophy is irrelevant: Bruno is a great manipulator of systems, and ul-
timately he is concerned with making his point. Sebasto's confusion or misin-
lcrpretation of the Nolan principies (Saturo and Moon worshipped by the
.Jcws) is the result not only of a misconception of the cosmology of the Kab-
halah presented earlier by Saulino (who incorrectly associated the Moon-
1>iana- with the cult of the Ass, not understanding that she is the Shadow of
the Idea) but also with Sebasto's inability to perceive the inherent dualism of
the symbolic value of the myth of the cult and the ramifications thereof. The
"modernity" of the Nolan philosophy lies in syncretism taken to its fullest
utcnt on a symbolic leve! as well. "Dualism" and "positive versus negative"
11rc perhaps insufficient definitions for the symbol of the Ass: better to say that
thr symbol itself is syncretic or syncretized. As it appears in Cabala, the sym-
hol of the Ass is no longer what it was for the Egyptians, the Jews, or the
( :hristians: the retelling of the myth serves precisely to demonstrate the new
"Brunian" character of the symbol.
Hruno immediately corrects the misunderstood (Brunian) version of Exodus
through Saulino, who puts the pedantic Sebasto in his place with a careful
rrhutta 1:

You s;ly IIJ.rnv '"'ll'<l 1111111~'· rn.ury that ;nc close to correct, others that are
"mil.11· lo 111<' '""''' 1 lhtllf'.'• ·'".1 ""''<' tha1 are contrary to the correct and
I 22 Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass

approved stories. Hence you state a few true and good propositions, but you
say nothing well and truthfully, disdaining and mocking this saintly people
from whom all the light found toda y and that promises to illuminate for many
centuries radia tes. In this manner yo u persist in believing the ass and asinita as
a lugubrious thing; which, for whatever it may ha ve been among the Persians,
Greeks and Romans, it was never a vile thing among the Egyptians and Jews.
Thus, among other falsities and untruths is also this one: that that asinine and
divine cult originated in force and violence rather than being ordained by
reason and selected as a principie by election. 5

Sebasto's confused pedantry disturbs Saulino's sensibilities and causes him to

claim that the cultic worship of the Ass, and thus the symbolism of the Ass,
originated in violence. A brutal origin of the cult-symbol implies the opposite
of what Bruno wishes to propase: the divinely inspired, mystical significance
of the symbol. So Bruno must emphasize not only the divine origins of the
worship of the Ass, but also the divine inspiration of its worshippers. In this
way the theme of the Jews as the elect (or chosen) enters the discussion. Or,
better yet, the concept of the "naturals" reenters the discourse.
To counterbalance the Egyptian origins, which Bruno does not deny alto-
gether, he stresses the specific importance and holiness of the Jews ("questa
santa generazione") and their unique form of worship in the Kabbalah. Earlier
in Spaccio Saulino had defended the Jews against Jove's jealous accusations by
calling them "angels": "They are deservedly called and cal! themselves holy, on
account of their being a generation heavenly and divine, rather than terrestrial
and human. And since they do not ha ve a worthy part of this world, they are
approved by angels as heirs of the other, which is not so worthy that there is no
man either great or small, either wise or foolish, who cannot acquire it and
most securely hold itas his own, by the power of either will or destiny." 6 Sau-
lino's rebuttal to Sofia, who repeated to him Jove's slander of the Jews, shows
how Bruno picks up on one of the common anti-Semitic taunts and turns it
around to justify his own vision: beca use they are a people without a country,
the Jews are heirs to the next world. Through the Kabbalah the Jews know thc
path to and are accepted in the higher spheres, the Amphitrite-Ein sof, and thcy
go there rather than remaining in the chaotic sublunar world. Saulino's an
swer to Se basto in Cabala is: "lo dico divina inspirazione, natural bontade ed
umana intelligenza." 7 He demonstrates this divine inspiration by citing Gen
esis 49:I4-15, where Jacob prophesies to his sons and bestows an animal
attribute to each of them. Issachar is given the attribute of an ass. 8 In anoth('r
Old Testament passage the Ass represents the "simple man" ("l'uomo serrr
plice"), the one often understood in religious terms to be the inspired man wlr•'
receives divine grace. 9 The "simple man," the inspirl'd rrrarr, i~ !la· Natura 1A"
Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass 123

Inspired men are the "enlightened" Hebrew doctors and rabbis who apply
themselves to the Kabbalah, as opposed to the Talmudic scholars. They are
"'r- enlightened because for Bruno in De magia the Kabbalist is a magus, and a
magus is a sage: "Magus primo sumitur pro sapiente ... Cabalist.:e apud
Hebreos." 10 And they are inspired because they understand the vanity of the
pedants who, like Se basto in Cabala, are confused about the nature of divinity.
Confused pedants are likened in this dialogue to the builders of the Tower of
Babel, an image or symbol to be juxtaposed with the Heavenly jerusalem 11
seen and entered by the "enlightened"; that is, those rabbis and doctors that
transformed themselves into Asses:

Those holy doctors and enlightened rabbis saw and considered that the proud
and presumptuous sages of the world, who trusted in their own intellect and
with temerity and inflated presumption dared to raise themselves to the sci-
ence of the di vine secrets and those penetrations of the deity, were none other
than those who constructed the Tower of Babel and were then con fu sed and
dispersed having they themselves blocked the path, being less able towards
the divine wisdom and the vision of the eterna! truth. What did they do?
Which path did they take? They halted their steps, opened or extended their
arms, closed their eyes, banished any concern and preoccupation for them-
selves, dismissed any human thought, denied any natural sentiment: and in
the end they considered themselves asses. And those who were not, trans-
formed themselves into this animal: they raised, extended, pointed, enlarged
',l" and magnified their ears; and all the powers of the soul they concentrated and
united in their hearing, by listening and believing only: like he of whom is
said: In auditu auris obedivit mihi. There, concentrating and captivating the
vegetative, sensitive and intellective faculties, they fused the five fingers into a
hoof, so that they could not, like Adam, reach out a hand and pluck the
forbidden fruit from the Tree of Science, and thus be deprived of the fruits of
the Tree of Life, or, like Prometheus (that is a metaphor for the same inten-
tion), reach out a hand and snatch the fire of ]ove, to awaken the light in the
power of reason. Thus our divine asses, deprived of their own sentiment and
affection, cometo hear only what is whispered in their ears through revelation
or by the gods or by their messengers." 12

llcre Bruno launches yet another warning to the unworthy pedants who
,j¡¡llble in the divine mysteries, and at the same time he furnishes another
rrvt·lation of these mysteries to the apprentice disciple. Negation of corporeal
l'rl&lity, of natural scntinwnts and nceds, leads to the transformation of the
torpon:al from lwnu11 ht'lllf~ tu Ass. This straightforward metaphor recon-
nn ts t he ta ks of IIH'I t'llll''·\'l l1t•~1' .111d ti u· nwta morphoscs of Onorio, Act::eon,
1111d tiH' < :yill'lu.ttl 1\·.· •. "11la tlw lt',lt hlllf',' of thl' Kahbalah: for thc rahhis,
124 Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass

through their practices (negation of the worldly and worldly sciences) are
transformed into, if they are not already born (in soul) as, Asses. Metempsy-
chosis is really only the metamorphosis of the substance that makes up the
form of the human body to reflect the asinine nature of the soul, or the trans-
formation of matter enclosed by form.
As Badaloni points out, the essential difference between a Kabbalistic con-
cept of transmigration of souls and a Pythagorean one is that in the case of the
former the phenomenon is real, not symbolic: matter is truly transformed. 13
And al! matter or soul is part of the Amphitrite; thence it is part of that
"ensofico universo" of the Kabbalah. That is the key to the mysteries, which
the rabbis-Kabbalists understood as the sefirot. As for the question of metem-
psychosis, it is a hot topic of debate among sixteenth-century Jewish scholars
and Kabbalists. Sorne Christian Kabbalists were aware of the debate; sorne,
like Reuchlin, had also connected the theme of metempsychosis in Kabbalah
to the Pythagorean principie. Whether Bruno knew of the Kabbalistic teach-
ings on metempsychosis, Jewish or Christian, is impossible to gauge from his
writings: certainly metempsychosis is not limited to the Kabbalah, but is pres-
entas a theological issue among biblical scholars, as for example in the case of
the Sadducees. It is much more likely that the symbol of the Ass has so many
associations with Jews through the Old Testament, and Jews had been so
frequently described as saturnine, that the symbol of the Ass carne to be con-
nected with Jews as well as with the Hermetic materials. Bruno even attributcs
to the Sadducees a metaphysical description of metempsychosis followed hy
an almost "scientific" one: the three faculties- the vegetative, sensitive and thc
intellectual- fu se, and their fusion is the catalyst for metamorphosis.
The Kabbalah, then, allows Bruno to postulate in "scientifically concrete"
philosophic terms whose basis is in the Bible. Unlike Pythagorean theorics,
concepts traceable to the Bible are theologically defensible. Perhaps Bruno
hoped that a Kabbalistic interpretation could not be as easily attacked or
refuted as a purely philosophical one of pagan origins. Even on a metaphoril
leve!, a discourse that can be presented as theologically "kosher" beca use therc
is a biblical precedent is easier to defend.
To return toa metaphysical or metaphoric leve! of interpretation, the imagc
of the tree recurs in the passage where the rabbis become Asses, and it 1'
interesting to note that in Bruno's retelling of Genesis metamorphosis is nen·,
sary to prevent the repetition of Adam's transgression. In Bruno's versio11,
Adam violated the commandment of God that prohibited him from tasting t lw
fruit of the tree- a tree that is identified once as the Tn·t· of Scicnce and t h('ll
again as the Tree of Life, recalling Genesis 2:17 (thr t n·¡· ( >1 t he k nowlcdgr .,¡
Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass r25

good and evil) and Genesis 3:3 (the Tree of Life). An alternative tree, one that
is within reach of the would-be Asses, is that of the sefirot. This is the tree that
reveals the state of asinita, that provides ascent to the Di vine beca use it is itself
a reflection of the Di vine. The knowledge it offers is not that of the sciences,
but of the emanations and influxes of the Divine. Therefore, it is not the Tree
of Knowledge, but the type of Ignorance that is cultivated by the Ass, that
reveals true Wisdom. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is dangerous
and prevents attainment of asinita because there is such a thing as "Holy
lgnorance" ("O santa ignoranza, o divina pazzia, o supraumana asinita!"). 14
Or, in the words Bruno attributes in Cabala to Dionysius the Aeropagite:
"La ignoranza euna perfettissima scienza; come per !'equivalente volesse dire
che l'asinita e una divinitil." 15 Like Actreon, who when the Divine is revealed
to him is transformed into a creature that seems to have no reason, the rabbis
who studied the Tree of the Sefirot are transformed into Asses when the Di vine
is revealed through the sefirah Hokhmah. In De umbris idearum Adam is not
,, transformed by eating the forbidden fruit because his sin was to desert the
.~ state of ignorance in which he lived in the garden of Eden and instead pursue
i knowledge of the world. Eden is in the first realm or House, and the world is in
f~i the third. Adam fled from the "ensofic universe" into the sublunar chaos.
Adam's impulse was opposite to that of the Ass. Adam fled from the presence
ttnd intimate knowledge of the Divine to negation of it for knowledge of the
worldly. 16 From direct contact with the Divine, from the first House, Adam
was banished to the material world; and like him Prometheus, who is the
IIJCarnation of the same myth among the Greeks (and is cited al so in Spaccio ).
In Cabala Bruno accuses Prometheus precisely of wanting to "light the fire
of reason" rather than that of di vine furor necessary for prophecy- or, as
1\runo puts it, of being one of those who believe what is revealed to them by
thc gods or their messengers (another allusion to revelation through the sefi-
rot). The ears of the Ass are much more sensitive then those ofhumans, as shall
ht• seen in the case of Balaam. Adam's punishment for his transgression is
rnortality and humanity, rather than the immortality offered by the Tree of the
.~dirot (in his Edenic state, 1 think Bruno would ha ve considered Adam to be,
111 fact, an Ass in essence).
l.ike Adam andE ve in Eden, who were called simple by Bruno beca use they
wuld not distinguish Good andE vil, the Jews are loved by God when they ex-
IM!t•d in a state of ignorance, during an imaginary Golden Age. To counterbal-
'"ll'l' Schasto's interprctation of thc worship of the Ass, and to offer an inter-
pret i Vl' kcy, Bruno s1 n·~~~ .., 1hr ~¡ lll pi it:i t y of thc .Jcws in their archaic worship of
t ht· 1.ord, in 1 he "1 >.-, 1.1111.111111 u· .d '>llldio't 1, d ivoto l' pi o lettorc" of Cabala:
126 Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass

Remember also that God loved the Jewish people when it suffered, in servi-
tude, vile, oppressed, ignorant, onerous, ominous, beasts of burden, when all
that was missing was the tail for them to be natural asses under the dominion
of the Egyptians: then were they called by God His people, His race, His cho-
sen generation. Perverse, nefarious, reprobare, adulterous they were called
when under the discipline, dignity, greatness and similitude of the other pea-
pies and kingdoms honored throughout the world. There is no one who does
not praise the Golden Age, when men were asses, did not know how to work
the earth, did not know how to domina te one another, understand better than
others, with caverns and caves for roofs." 17

The Jews as rhe chosen people are a symbol for all of humaniry, a people
willfully fallen from a state of di vine revelarían: rhe closesr Bruno comes to an
idea of a state of grace. Grace as Bruno understands it is proximity to the
Divine. Without emphasizing the Jews as a representarían of humanity in
general, Badaloni comes to essentially the same conclusion about the impor
tance of rhe recollection of the lost Golden Age as an expression of certain
values that are represented in the symbol of the Ass.
Badaloni, in his introductions, reconnects the values of the Golden Age with
those of Spaccio, in lighr of a civic consideration on Bruno's part. In his ltalian
lntroduction, he argues that Bruno is concerned with allowing all peoplr,
according to rheir ability, ro participare in rhe experience of asinita and find
more civil means of coexistence. 18 This interpreration of the imporrance of .1
civic awareness is closer ro Ciliberto's reading than ro mine. Badaloni, in lm
la ter writing on rhe subject of the adamic myth, seems to contradictor at lea\t
to qualify his statement that there is a possible rerurn to the values of !11<·
Golden Age. 19 In the second scenario, iris possible thar Sofia, who also con
!¡i tains within herself the Asinita in concreto, could instigare the human racc to
1 ¡
cruelty, should she fail to conrain the preadamic and adamic impulses. FurtlH·r.
,, the return to the Golden Age would be a return to a precivilized state, d
Prudence, a quality contained in Sofia, were ro be losr. According to thr·.
scenario, the triumphant beast that is alive and well in Cabala is the secn·t
1 1
weapon against doomsday.
The scenario is rroubling, but what Badaloni underlines is not so much .111
apocalyptic vision, but the crucial role of asinita and of the Ass, which hr
believes represents an interna! contradiction in 5ofia-Wisdom. 20 Badaloni \t't ·.
in the Ass the symbolic residue of the ancient values. If the Jews werc on•,
perfect and natural "asses," it was because they reflected the imagc of ti11
Archetypal Ass. Their captivity is an allegory for rhe influential Gentilc tt\h Ir
ings that lead them from the true religious path. Thi~ split is interesting 111 .r
thinker like Bruno, whose philosophy is fund.riiH'IIt.dl~· 'Yill'l'l'tic; it Lllr J,
Rabbis, Hebrew Doctors, and the Ass r27

explained as an emphasis precise! y on the aspects of the Kabbalah- as a

representation of acceptable Jewish teaching (or of Hermeticism, or any other
of the numerous sources of the "No lana filosofia") that is somehow "purer."
The revealed Kabbalah that leads to the conclusions Bruno has cometo is the
acceptable one. To integrare Badaloni's interpretation with mine, the Kabba-
lah is the link between the past Golden Age and the Renaissance. It is the
vehicle for transforming the age in which Bruno lived and reconciling the
beliefs of this age with past values. There is a definite split in Bruno's insistence
lt certain moments on the significance of the Jews and their teachings- a split
that creares, as is usual in Bruno, ambiguity. But the symbol of the Ass, as
Ordine and others point out, is itself a highly ambiguous image because of
lts nature of coincidentia oppositorum, another favorite theme in Bruno's
works. Captivity also signifies the pedantic institutionalized religion with
which Bruno is continually and consistently at odds.