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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Giordano Bruno’s Bad Experience at Oxford

Stature of Bruno, Rome
Giordano Bruno went to England in April 1583 with royal letters of recommendation to the French Ambassador in London, Michel de Castelnau, Marquis de Mauvissièr. Before he had settled down in the home of the ambassador, he was invited to participate in a discussion at the Oxford University. The results were disastrous.

In Go To Oxford, Bruno offers his perspective on the kind of discussion that he had with the Oxford intellectuals. Here’s an excerpt:
and let them recount to you what happened there to the Nolan when he disputed publicly with those doctors of theology in the presence of the Polish prince Alasco [sic] and others of the English nobility. Would you hear how they were able to reply to his arguments? How fifteen times, by means of fifteen syllogisms, a poor doctor whom on this solemn occasion they had put forward as a very Corypheus of the Academy, was left standing like a chick entangled in tow? Would you learn with what incivility and discourtesy that pig comported himself, and the patience and humanity of him who shewed himself to be born a Neapolitan and nurtured under a more benign sky? Are you informed how they closed his public lectures, both those on the Immortality of the Soul and on the Five-fold Sphere?
“The Pig” that Bruno talks about is Doctor John Underhill, Rector of Lincoln College and Chaplain to Her Majesty. But in the archives of Oxford there is no record of Bruno’s visit to the university. This is probably because his visit did not create any significant impression on the officials there. Bruno also tried to seek a teaching position at Oxford, but was unsuccessful.

In his Explanation of the Thirty Seals, published in London in 1583, there is brief letter which he wrote a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford. In the letter he asserts that his philosophical claims are right and those who reject him are propagators of folly and hypocrites. “[Bruno] whom only propagators of folly and hypocrites detest, whom the honourable and studious love, whom noble minds applaud."

Mordechai Feingold, in his essay, “The occult tradition in the English universities of the Renaissance: a reassessment,” says that "Both admirers and critics of Giordano Bruno basically agree that he was pompous and arrogant, highly valuing his opinions and showing little patience with anyone who even mildly disagreed with him.” Feingold also notes that the cause behind Bruno's bad experience at Oxford “might have been his manner, his language and his self-assertiveness, rather than his ideas.”

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