Giordano Bruno


Translation by Paulo Eugene Memmo, Jr., 1964

Third Dialogue

T. There are many species of frenzies and these may be all reduced to two sorts. The first accordingly displays only blindness, stupidity, and an irrational impulse which tends to bestial folly; the second consists in a certain divine rapture which makes some become superior to ordinary men. The frenzies of the last sort are divided into two species; for some of those who experience them, because they have become habitations of the gods or divine spirits, speak and do admirable things for which neither they themselves nor anyone else understand the reason; and these commonly have been raised to this state from having first been undisciplined and ignorant and void of any spirits and sense of their own; in them, as in a room which has been scoured, is introduced a divine sense and spirit which has less chance of revealing itself in those who are endowed with their own sense and reason, for sometimes it is necessary that the world devoutly believe that it is given to some men to speak and act under the influence of a superior intelligence, inasmuch as their speech does not arise from their own study and experience; consequently, the multitudes may justly show her greater admiration and faith in men so endowed. Others, because of a custom or habit of contemplation, and because they are naturally endowed with a lucid and intellectual spirit, when under the impact of an internal stimulus and spontaneous fervor spurred on by the love of divinity, justice, truth and glory, by the fire of desire and inspired purpose, they make keen their senses and in the sulphurous cognitive faculty enkindle a rational flame which raises their vision beyond the ordinary. And these do not go about speaking an acting as mere receptacles and instruments, but as chief inventors and authors.

C. Which of these two species do you esteem the superior?

T. Those who are of the first sort have within them a great dignity, power, and efficacy inasmuch as they harbor the dignity. But those who belong to the second class are of their very selves more worthy, powerful, and efficatious; they are divine. Those who belong to the first are worthy in the same way as the ass who carries the sacraments; those who belong to the second have a worthiness that is truly sacred. In those of the first class the divinity is considered and viewed according to its effect and is admired, adored, and obeyed; in those of the second, the excellence of their special humanity is considered and brought to light.

Now we come to our purpose. These frenzies of which we speak, and whose manifestations are seen in these dialogues, do not arise from forgetfulness, but from a remembrance. They are not undirected frenzies, but love and desire for the beautiful and the good, a model of perfection one proposes to attain for himself by being transformed into its likeness. It is not the rapture of one caught in the snare of bestial passion under the law of an unworthy fate; but a rational force following the intellectual perception of the good and the beautiful comprehensible to man to whom they give pleasure when he conforms himself to them, so that he is enkindled by their dignity and light, and is invested with the quality and condition which makes him illustrious and worthy. By intellectual contact with that godlike object he becomes a god; and he has thoughts of nothing but things divine and shows himself insensible and impassible to those things which ordinary men feel the most and by which for they are most tormented; he fears nothing, and in his love of divinity he scorns other pleasures and does not give any thought to his life. It is not the melancholy frenzy which -- beyond counsel, reason, and prudence -- will make him stray at the mercy of chance and carry him in the flow of its ruinous tempest, as those who, having transgressed certain laws of the divine Adrastia, were condemned to the butchery of the Furies and to the loss of all peace by a conflict that was physical, arising from seditions, ruin, and maladies, as well as spiritual, arising from the loss of harmony between the rational and appetitive powers; but it is a heat enkindled in the soul by the sun of the intellect, and a divine force which sets wings upon him; so that always bringing him closer to the intellectual sun, rejecting the rust of earthly cares he becomes gold proven and pure, acquires the feeling of divine and internal harmony, and conforms his thoughts and acts to the common measure of the law innate in all things. He is not as one inebriated by the vessel of Circe who goes from ditch to ditch and from rock to rock, plunging and stumbling; nor is he like a variable Proteus always changing himself from one appearance to another, without ever finding any place, or mode, or manner of settling or fixing himself, but without disturbing his balance he conquers and overcomes the terrible monstrous; and if he happens to decline, he returns easily to the sixth sphere, thanks to those profound instincts within him which are like the nine Muses who dance and sing around the splendor of the universal Apollo; and beneath sensible images and material objects he perceives the laws of divine wisdom. It is true that sometimes, having for an escort Love, who is twofold, and because he sees himself often defrauded of the fruits of his efforts by some rising obstacle, then, like one insensible and frenzied, he overthrows the love of what he cannot understand; and thus confused by the abyss of divinity, sometimes he gives up the contest. Then he returns, nevertheless, and forces himself to attain by his will what he cannot obtain by his reason. It is also true that he usually wanders at random and transports himself now toward one and now toward another form of twofold Eros, for the chief lesson love teaches him is to contemplate the shadow of the divine beauty (when he cannot contemplate its direct reflection), as, for example, the suitors of Penelopy amused themselves with her servants when they were not permitted to converse directly with the mistress herself. Now to conclude, you can understand from what has been said, of what species this frenzied one is, whose image is shown us in these verses:

If the butterfly wings its way to the sweet light that attracts it, it is because it knows not that the fire is capable of consuming it; if the thirsty stag runs to be brook, it is because he is not aware of the cruel bow.

If the unicorn runs to its chaste nest, it is because he does not see the noose which is prepared for him. In the light, at the fount, in the bosom of my love's light, I see the flames, the arrows and the chains.

If my languishing is so sweet to me, it is because the heavenly face delights me so, and because the heavenly bow so sweetly wounds;

And because in that knot is bound up my desire, I suffer eternally through the fire of my heart, the arrow in mind brest, and the yoke upon my soul.

Here he shows that his of is not like that of the butterfly, the stag or the unicorn, who would run away if they had some idea of the fire, of the arrow and the noose, and who perceive nothing but what pleases them. He, on the contrary is guided by a most keenly felt and only too lucid frenzy, which makes him love that fire more than any other consideration, that wound more than any state of health, those chains more than any other freedom. For this evil is not an evil absolute; it is an absolute evil only with respect to what is held good according to a certain opinion. And this opinion is as fallacious as the condiment old Saturn used (for his dinner), when he devoured his own sons. For this evil in the eyes of the absolute and of eternity is understood either as a good, or as a guide leading us to the good; for this fire is the burning desire for divine things, this arrow is the impact of the ray of the beauty of the divine light, these yokes are the species of the true and the good which unite and join our minds to the primal truth and the supreme good. I spoke in this sense when I said:

By so beautiful a fire and so noble a yoke, beauty enkindles me, and chastity entangled me, so that I must be happy in fire and in slavery; liberty I must flee and I must dread the ice.

The conflagration is such that I burn yet am not consumed, and the yoke is such that the world celebrates it with me; neither am I frozen by dread, nor undone by grief; but my ardor is tranquil, my burden sweet.

I perceive so lofty a light that I am enkindled by it, and a noose devised of such rich yarn, that as contemplation grows, desire dies.

Because so beautiful a flame enkindles my heart, and the desire for so sweet a bond compels me, darkness is my servant and my ashes glow.

All loves (if they are heroic, and not purely animal, the physical means by which those enslaved by nature are called to procreation) have divinity for their object and tend to the divine beauty, a beauty which first communicates itself to the souls and is resplendent in them, and then, from the soul, or better still, through the souls, is communicated to the body. Thus a well-ordered passion loves the body, or corporeal beauty, only because it is a sign of the beauty of spirit. In fact we become enamoured of the body because of a certain spirituality we see in it, a spirituality called beauty, and a beauty which does not consist in larger or smaller dimensions, in determined colors or forms, but in a certain harmony and concordance of the bodily members and hues. To the most acute and penetrating senses, this harmony of members shows a certain sensible affinity to the spirit; consequently, those who are so endowed fall in love more easily and more intensely and they also fall out of love more easily and are more intensely provoked. This ease and intensity can be explained by a change that takes place in the beloved object as it expresses an ugly spirit made evident in some gesture or in some expressed intention; so that as such ugliness passes from the soul to the body, the body no longer seems beautiful as it once seemed. The beauty of the body, then, has the power to enflame, but certainly does not have the power to bind the lover and keep him from fleeing from it, if that body is not assisted by the grace of spirit he desires or by chastity, courtesy, and sagaciyy.

C. Do not believe that this is always so, Tansillo; for sometimes, although we discover a vicious spirit, we remain none the less enflamed and ensnared by it; or although the reason recognizes the evil and baseness of such love, it does not have the virtue of throwing off the disordered appetite. I believe the Nolan found himself in a like disposition when he wrote:

Ah me, a frenzy constraints be to cling to my evil; which makes love appear to me as a supreme good.

Ah me, my soul is not troubled that it is always bound by contrary counsels; with that cruel tyranny which nourishes me in torment and has had power to exile me from myself, I am content more than with my freedom.

I hoist my sails to the wind, which pulls me toward the odious good and leads me to sweet tempestuous damnation.

T. This occurs when both souls are vicious and as though spotted by the same ink, so that, because of their likeness love is aroused, enkinded, and confirmed. Thus the vicious meet each other in a practice of the same vice. And here I shall not be silent about what I know from experience. I have had occasion to discover in a certain soul vices particularly abhorrent to me such as sordid avarice, a most gravelling appetite for gain, ungrateful disregard of favors and courtesies granted, and an affinity for certain thoroughly vile persons (the most displeasing of all vices, because it leaves the lover with no hope of ever being or becoming more worthy of his beloved, or of becoming more acceptable to her); none the less I did not fail to burn for her corporeal beauty. But the reason? I loved her without good will, and if this had not been the case, I would have been made sad rather than happy by her shamefulness and wretchedness.

C. That distinction between loving and having good will toward the beloved is very apt and to the point.

T. Yes. For toward many do we have good will, which is to say, that we wish them to be wise and just, but we do not love them, because they are iniquitous and ignorant. And many we love because they are beautiful, but we do not wish them well because they do not merit it; and among those things he deems his beloved does not merit, the first is the love he as for her. For that reason he regrets loving her the more he is unable to refrain from doing so. This is the regret he refers to when he says, Ah me, a frenzy constrains me to cling to my evil. But he was in an opposite frame of mind when he said, either referring to another corporate object in similitude, or to a truly divine subject:

Though you inflict upon me such cruel tortures, even so I thank you, and owe you much, Love, for you opened my breast with so generous a wound and have so mastered my heart,

that it truly adores a divine and living object, most beautiful image of God on earth. Let him who will, think my fate cruel because it kills in hope and revives in desire.

I am nourished by my high enterprise; and although the soul does not attain the end desired and is consumed by so much zeal,

it is enough that it burns in so noble a fire; it is enough that I have been raised to the sky and delivered from the ignoble number.

Here his love is completely heroic and divine. And I would understand it as heroic and divine, even though because of it he speaks of himself as afflicted by such cruelty tortures; for every lover who is separated from the beloved (to which, joined by his desire, he would also be joined in act) finds himself in anguish and pain, crucifies himself and torments himself. He is so tormented, not only because he loves and is conscious that his love is most worthily and nobly employed, but because his love is deprived of that fruition which it would attain if it had arrived at the end toward which it tends. He does not suffer because of that desire which enlivens him, but because of the difficulty of the labor which martyrs him. Thus others consider him as being in an unhappy condition because of the fate which seems to have condemned him to these torments; as for himself, despite these torments, he will not fail to recognize his debt to Love and will not fail to render thanks to it, because it has brought an unintelligible form before his mind. For in that intelligible form, although he is enclosed within the prison of the flesh during this earthly life, bound by his sinews and confined by his very bones, he has been permitted to contemplate an image of the divinity more exalted than would have been possible had some other species and simitude of it been offered him.

C. The god-like and living object of which he speaks, then, is the highest intelligible aspect of the divinity he is able to experience for himself; and it is not some corporeal beauty which would obscure his thought as it appears superficially to the sense.

T. True, because no sensible thing or species of it can be elevated to so much dignity.

C. Then hope is it that he mentions the intelligible form as the object (of his love) if, as it seems to me, the true object is the divinity itself?

T. The divinity is the final object, the ultimate and the most perfect object, but it certainly cannot be found here below where we can see God only as in a shadow or a mirror; and for that reason the divinity can be the object only in similitude, and not a similitude abstracted and acquired from corporeal beauty and excellence by virtue of the senses, but a similitude the mind can discern by virtue of the intellect. When it has reached this state, the mind begins to lose love and affection for every other sensible as well as intelligible object, for joined to that light it becomes that light, and consequently becomes a god. For the mind draws the divinity unto itself, being in God by the effort to penetrate the divinity (as much as it can); and God is in that mind, for after having penetrated the divinity the mind will conceive the dignity and (as much as it can) will receive the divinity and retain a concept of it. Now the human intellect feeds itself upon species and similitudes in this inferior world, inasmuch as it is not permitted to contemplate the beauty of the divinity with purer eyes. Thus he who arrives at some most excellent and most beautifully adorned edifice and considers it in each detail, is pleased, contented, and filled with a noble wonder; but then should it happen that he also see the lord of these images in his incomparably greater beauty, he would abandon every concern and thought of such images, turn and become completely intent upon the contemplation of that lord. Such is the difference between the state in which he see the divine beauty in its intelligible aspects which are drawn from the divine beauty's effects, operations, designs, shadows, and similitudes, and that other state in which we might be permitted to see it in its own unique being.

Then he says, I am nourished by my high enterprise because (as the Pythagoreans knew) in this way the soul is turned and moves toward God, as the body moves toward the soul.

C. The body, then, is not the abode of the soul?

T. No; for the soul is not in the body locally, but is in it intrinsically as its form, and extrinsically as creator of its form, similar to that which forms the members and shapes the composite from within and from without. It is the body, then, that is in the soul; the soul is in the mind, and the mind either is God or is in God, as Plotinus said. And just as by its essence the mind is in God who is its life, similarly by its intellectual operation and the consequent operation of the will, the mind refers itself to its own light and its beatific object. It is therefore with dignity that this passion of the heroic frenzy feeds itself upon so high an enterprise. Although the beatific object is infinite, and in act perfectly simple, and although our intellective potency is unable to comprehend the infinite, except in speech or in a certain manner of speaking, or, as otherwise said, by a certain potential reason and natural disposition, he of whom we speak does not differ from one who would aspire toward the immeasurable as an end where in fact there is no end

C. And this is most nobly as it should be; for, in fact, the last end ought not to have an end, otherwise it would not be the last. Therefore it is infinite in purpose, in perfection, in essence, and in every matter possible.

T. You speak the truth. Now in this life the peculiarity of such nourishment is that it enflames the desire more than it can satisfy it, as that divine poet shows us well in the words, My soul languishes in the desire for the living God; and elsewhere when he who says, "My eyes are diminished as they gaze into the heavens" (Isaiah 38:14). This is why our own poet says, And though the soul does not attain the end desired and is consumed in so much zeal, it is enough that it burns in so noble a fire. He means the soul is consoled in this ardor and receives all the glory possible to it in its present state, and participates in that ultimate frenzy of man, inasmuch as he is a man in the state in which he finds himself presently as we see him.

C. I imagine the Peripatetics (as Averroes explained) have this in mind, when they say the ultimate happiness of man consists in attaining perfection in the speculative sciences.

T. It is true, and they put it very well. For in this condition of ours we cannot desire or attain greater perfection than that which is ours when our intellect through the medium of some noble intelligible species is united either to the separate substances, as some say, or to the divine mind, if we employ the idiom of the Platonists. And I shall omit discussion about the soul, or man in another state and mode of existence in which he may find or believe himself.

C. But what perfection and satisfaction can man find in a cognition which is not perfect?

T. Cognition can never be perfect to the extent that it shall be able to understand the highest object; but only to the extent that our intellect has the power to understand this object. It suffices that in this state of ours and in any other our intellect may perceive be divine beauty to the degree that it extends the horizon of its vision.

C. But all man cannot reached that point, but only one or two.

T. It is enough that all attempt the journey. It is enough that each one do whatever he can; for a heroic mind will prefer falling or missing the mark nobly in a lofty enterprise, whereby he manifests the dignity of his mind, to obtaining perfection in things less noble, if not base.

C. Certainly a worthy and heroic death is preferable to an unworthy and vile triumph.

T. A similar thought inspires the following sonnet:

Since I have spread my wings toward sweet delight, the more do I feel the air beneath my feet, the more I spread proud pinions to the wind, and contemn the world, and further my way toward heaven.

Nor does the cruel fate of Daedalus's son burden me, on the contrary I follow his way the more: that I shall fall dead upon the earth I am well aware; but what life compares with this death?

I hear the voice of my heart upon the wind: Where do you take me, adventurous one? Resign yourself, for too much temerity is rarely without danger.

I reply: fear not boble destruction, burst boldly through the clouds, and die content, if heaven destines us to so illustrious a death.

C. I understand when he says, It is enough that I have been raised to the sky; but not when he says, and delivered from the ignoble number; unless he means that he has come out of the Platonic cavern, removed from the condition of the stupid and most vile multitudes; for it is understood that those who profit from this contemplation can be only a very small number.

T. You have understood it very well. Moreover, by the ignoble sod it is possible that he means the body and the sensual cognition from which he who would become united to a nature of a contrary kind must raise and disengage himself.

C. The Platonists speak of two kinds of knots with which the soul is tied to the body. One is a certain vivifying act which like a ray descends from the soul to the body; the other is a certain vital quality in the body which results from this act. Now in what manner do you understand that this most noble moving number called the soul is disengaged from that ignoble number which is the body?

T. It certainly was not meant that the soul can detach itself from the body in some physical way, but in a way peculiar to its potencies, which, not enclosed and enslaved within the bosom of matter, are sometimes as though lulled and inebriated and find themselves nevertheless occupied in the formation of matter and in the vivifaction of the body. Sometimes these potencies, as though reawakened and remembering themselves, recovering consciousness of their principle and origin, turn themselves to superior things and force themselves toward the ineligible world as to their native home; but sometimes the potencies tumble from the intelligible world by a conversion to inferior things beneath the fate and necessities of generation. These two drives are represented by the two kinds of metamorphoses which the present sonnet describes:

That god who wields the resounding thunderbolt Asteria saw as a furtive eagle, Mnemosyne saw as a shepherd, Danae saw as gold, Alcmena saw as a fish, and Antiope as a satyr;

to the sisters of Cadmus he was a white bull, to Leda he was a swan, and a dragon to the daughter of Demeter. I, because of the loftiness of my object, from the most vile subject become a god.

Saturn was a horse, Neptune a dolphin, Ibis took the form of a heifer, and Mercury became a shepherd,

Bacchus a grape, Apollo a raven; and I by the mercy of love, am changed from a base thing into a deity.

There is in nature a revolution and a circle in virtue of which, for the perfection and aid of others, superior things incline toward the inferior, and for their own excellence and felicity inferior things are raisedto the superior. But the Pythagoreans and the Platonists hold that souls, not only by a spontaneous will which brings them to an understanding of natures, but also by the necessity of an inward law written and recorded by a fatal decree, at certain times set out to seek their own destinies justly determined. And these say that if souls separate themselves from the divinity, it is not so much from a rebellious will of their own, as from a certain order in virtue of which they become inclined toward the material. Therefore, not from a voluntary intention, but from a certain mysterious consequence, they begin to fall. And this is why their tendency leads them toward the lesser good called generation. (I will use the word lesser insofar as it pertains to a particular nature; but not at all as it pertains to universal nature, where nothing happens without the highest purpose which disposes of all things according to justice.) Once they and occupied themselves with generation, the souls (by a new conversion which follows in turn) return once again to their superior states.

C. Would those have it, then, that the souls are impelled by the necessity of fate, and that they have no counsel of their own to guide them at all?

T. Necessity, fate, nature, counsel, will, in things justly and impeccably ordered, all concur. Besides, according to the inference of Plotinus, some would have it that certain souls can escape their peculiar evil, those souls which, before they are confirmed in their corporeal garb, recognizing the danger, take refuge in the mind. Because the mind raises them to sublime things, as imagination debases them to interior things; the mind maintains them in rest and identity as the imagination in movement and diversity; the mind forever understands the one, as the imagination forever goes about inventing varied images. In the middle is the rational faculty which is composed of everything, as that in which concurs the one and the many, the same with the diverse, motion with position, the interior with the superior.

Now this conversion and change is symbolized in the wheel metamorphoses, in which a man is placed at the top, a beast lies at the bottom, one half-man and half-beast descends from the left, and one half man and half beast ascends from the right. This transformation is shown in which Jove, according to the diversity of the affections and their manifestations toward inferior things, invests himself in varying appearances, which assume the forms of beasts; and the other deities likewise transform themselves into ignoble and alien forms. And on the other hand, because of the sense of their own dignity, they recover their own divine forms; just as the heroic lover, raising himself by his conception of the species of divine beauty and goodness upon the wings of his intellect and intellectual will exalts himself toward the divinity, abandoning the form of more ignoble thing. And for that reason he said: From a more vile creature I become a God, I change into a deity from a base creature.

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