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De Triplici Minimo et Mensura ad Trium Speculatiuarum scientiarum & multarum actiuarum artium principia, Libri V: Ad illustriss. & reverendiss. principem Henricum Julium, Brunsuicensium & Lunaeburgensium Ducem, Halberstatensium Episcopum. Capita cuisusq; libri, proxime post praefationem sunt exposita: Schematum item & definitionum praecipuarum INDEX alphabeticus in fine additus.


Francfurt, Iohannes Wechel & Petrus Fischer, 1591. 12mo. Lovely full calf binding from ab. 1800, with five raised bands and gilt ornamentations to spine. Blindstamped line-borders with gilt corner-pieces to boards. Inner gilt borders and all edges of boards gilt. Marbled end-papers. Old book-plate to inside of front board and a small stamp to title-page (from the Beltrame-library). A bit of wear to extremities and leather at hinges worn, otherwise very nice. Apart from a slightly dusty title-page, only minimal browning or spotting internally. A very nice copy indeed. Some leaves slightly shaved at top, just touching a few headers. With numerous woodcut illustrations throughout. (8), 217, (3) pp. ¶ The extremely scarce first edition of one of Bruno's main works, one of his key cosmological texts, being the earliest and most important of his three long Latin poems with prose accompaniment and thus one of the most influential works of the Renaissance. It is in this foundational work that "the greatest thinker in Italy during the sixteenth century" (Paterson) defines the triple minimum, which consists in the monad (being the basis of metaphysics), the mathematical point (being the basis of geometry), and the atom (being the basis of physics) and thus presents the basis for his theory of nature and the universe. It contains much of the author's ripest thought and his first description of his seminal doctrine of the minimum, by which he was the first Western thinker (since Plato) to introduce the atomistic theory of space. The work was extremely influential and directly influenced Leibnitz, Kepler, Spinoza, Descartes, Kircher, and many others.

First editions of Bruno's works are of the utmost scarcity, although it has turned out that more than the mere 6-12 copies of each that Salvestrini had assumed to have survived actually have been preserved. According to Sturlese, 133 copies of the "De Triplici Minimo" have been recorded (almost all being in institutions), still giving truth to Norov's statement that "Giordano Bruno's first editions are more rarely found than a white crow" (see Hayward).

With his groundbreaking and highly controversial works of cosmology, Bruno prepared the way for the rise of modern philosophy and became a forerunner of modern philosophy and science. All of Bruno's work are of importance to the understanding of his philosophy and cosmology, but among the most influential, we have the trilogy of Latin poems, of which the "De triplici Minimo" is the first and most fundamental.

Adopting from the ancient Greeks a theory of the atom and turning it into the atomistic theory upon which modern atomic physics stems, Bruno created his great cosmological work "De Triplici Minima", which finally explained the order of the universe. The "minimum" that is here described for the first time is put at the root of existence. It is from this that everything starts, to which everything returns, it is the primary element with which the universe is built. Everything is born of and reducible to the "minimum". Being the sole permanent reality in the flux of things, it is, however, also the maximum. Bruno's atom, his minimum, is not merely an abstract entity, it designates a minimum of real existence, an actual physical minimum, or atom - we could also call it matter.
The other two minima that are presented here, and which are inseparable from the first, are unity and soul. Unity contains all and cannot divide itself - it is, in fact, the monad (Leibnitz, as we know, takes his concept of monad from Bruno). And the soul is the guide and preserver of natural life.
"The three "minima", like the three "principles" are, as a matter of fact inseparable. In the universe, where God remains present - "in rebus" - there is no form without matter any more than there is matter without form: the smallest corpuscle is permeated by soul. Nevertheless, these principles, or three "minima", are distinguished not only by analysis, but common experience also suggests this distinction." (Michel, p. 81).

All of Bruno's surviving works were finished between 1582 and 1591 and most appeared in less than serene conditions; some show the marks of haste more than others and some are more obscure in their form than others. Nonetheless, "Bruno's use of comedy and satire to annihilate the hated pedants, and of myth and allegory to cover his ideological tracks, produced a richer and more unruly language than most philosophers have written. After Plato and Nietzsche, few philosophers in any age can have matched him in comic, poetic, or dramatic talent, which doubtless he would have expressed with less bluster and more elegance had his life been calmer. Besides the Italian dialogues, the memory treatises, and a play, the "Torchbearer", his works fall into two other groups, both of philosophical interest. Most important are the three long Latin poems with prose accompaniment…" (Copenhaver & Schmitt, p. 297).

The first and most important of these three seminal Latin works was "De Triplici Minimo", printed in Frankfurt in 1591. The work, which was to become of great influence to the rest of the world, was of immense importance to Bruno himself; he worked directly with the printer and saw the work almost completely through the press. He even carved the illustrations himself and corrected all but the final leaves of the volume. For Bruno, this work not only constituted a formulation of one of his key theories of the world - the atomistic theory - it also proved to himself and the world that poetry could indeed be combined with science. "Bruno, essentially poet as well as thinker, regarded with deep emotion the glowing life and stupendous intelligence displayed in an Infinite Universe... It would be a great achievement, were it possible to unfold the secrets of the Universe in music and re-invest what we have painfully disinterred from Nature with the warm beauty of her life" (Boulting, p. 227) - which is exactly what "De Triplici" epitomizes. Here, Bruno's love of nature is combined with the unveiling of the scientific explanation of it. The work is in five books, divided into chapters, each of which begin with verses followed by explanatory annotations in prose. "The main argument is concerned with the threefold unity of the speculative sciences, which are of God, who is "both the greatest and the least that may be"; of the unitary individual soul, and of the material atom or physical unit." (Boulting, p. 228).

Bruno arrived in Frankfurt in 1590, presumably at the beginning of July. "At Frankfurt he devoted himself to the production of the great Latin works (of which "De Triplici" is the first) which had been in his mind and partly on paper from the period of his sojourn in London. As usual, a publisher was at once forthcoming, and indeed the Frankfurt firm of John Wechel and Peter Fischer smoothed his path in every way. The Wechels had been in contact with Sir Philip Sidney (who had died four years previously) and this may have led to Bruno's introduction to them. On 2nd July, 1590, Bruno petitioned the Senate for permission to lodge in Wechel's house, but this was refused. Not to be beaten, the printer succeeded in obtaining permission for him to dwell in the Carmelite Monastery, and here he was established for six or eight months. Yet he did not see the first of his great poems completely through the press. The volume (i.e. "De Triplici") appeared with no preface from Bruno, but with a Dedication to the Duke of Brunswick, penned by the faithful John Wechel. The title is "Five Books on the Threefold Minimum and on Mensuration for the Foundation of the Three Speculative Sciences and Many Active Arts". Wechel, expressing Bruno's desire to dedicate the volume in gratitude to Duke Henry Julius, describes how the author carved his own figures for printing, and corrected every detail of the book until, when he had reached the very last folio, he was suddenly "torn from us". At his request, the publishers therefore offered the volume to the Duke in his name and their own. This Dedication is dated "The Ides of February 1591", so that Bruno had probably left Frankfurt about the end of January. The guess has been hazarded that the civic ban on Bruno's residence in Frankfurt was suddenly put into operation. All we know is that he journeyed to Zurich where he was among a congenial circle of friends." (Singer, pp. 149-50).

Giordano Bruno was born in Nola in Southern Italy in 1548, and entered the Dominical order in Naples at the age of 18. While pursuing theological studies, he also thoroughly studied the ancient philosophers and began doubting some of the teachings of the Catholic Church. When he was in Rome in 1576, these doubts became known to the authorities of his order, and an indictment for heresy was prepared against him. Before he could be arrested, he escaped and began a long journey which took him to many European countries, among these Germany where his important Latin poems were published, in 1591. In 1592 he was denounced to the Inquisition and arrested. In 1593 he was taken to Rome, imprisoned, and subjected to a 6 year long trial. He firmly refused to recant his philosophical opinions, and in 1600 he was condemned for heresy, sentenced to death, and burned alive.

"Bruno burned for philosophy; he was killed for moral, physical, and metaphysical views that terrified and angered authorities." (Copenhaver & Schmitt, p. 315).

There has been a centuries-long misconception that Bruno was condemned and burned because of his Copernican world view alone. This is only partly true, and it is now generally accepted that his philosophical ideas and general cosmological theory were as much cause of his condemnation.

"His death made of Bruno a martyr, not so much of modern science, as was thought for a long time, but rather of his convictions and of philosophical liberty. It is now quite evident that Bruno's acceptance of the Copernican system constituted but one out of a very large number of accusations, which included a long series of philosophical and theological opinions as well as many specific instances of alleged blasphemy and violations of Church discipline." (Kristeller, Eight Philosophers..., p. 129).

The fact that Bruno was burned for his convictions has made him famous and admired by professionals and laymen alike. With a mind like Bruno's there is no doubt, however, that he would have been just as famous had he not suffered this tragic fate. His thought and ideas are so important and so extremely influential that it is difficult to imagine the development of modern philosophy and cosmology without Bruno.

"His merit and his limitation lie in the fact that, through his intuition and vision, he anticipated a number of ideas that resemble those which later centuries were to adopt and to develop on the basis of much more solid evidence. Yet the more we are inclined to extol the role of imagination in the sciences, alongside that of empirical observation and logical deduction, the more we should appreciate the contribution made by such thinkers as Bruno." (Kristeller, Eight Philosophers..., p. 138).

In presenting for the first time his doctrine of the minimum in his "De Triplici", Bruno became the first modern Western thinker to present the atomistic theory of space, directly influencing later thinkers such as Leibnitz - whose theory of monads is deeply influenced by Bruno - and Spinoza. "To Spinoza Bruno offered the naturalistic conception of God (God is the "first cause" in the universe, to which self-manifestation or self-revelation is essential. He is "natura natuans, the numberless worlds are "natura naturata")." (Paterson, p. 65).

"Atoms were the last piece of the Nolan (i.e. Bruno's) philosophy to fall into place, the minimum particles that composed his boundless universe, and they only appear as a fully developed aspect of the Nolan philosophy in 1591. Bruno may have begun "On the Immense" first among his three Latin poems, but the one he was so eager to publish in Frankfurt was his discussion of atoms, "On the Triple Minimum", because it was in this poem that he finally managed to put atomic theory at the heart of his cosmic system." (Rowland, p. 216).

As almost all of Bruno's revolutionary ideas, also a theory of the atom had been ventured by ancient Greek philosophers. Democritus was the first to use the word "atoma", and Lucretius was the first to try to establish an actual theory around them. Bruno, however, was the first to revive the atomistic theory and the first to put the atom into a context that still makes sense today. "But the ancients had confronted nature by using mathematics that relied on geometry and numerology, contemplating the individual characters of numbers rather than subjecting them to arithmetical, and especially algebraic, operations... Lacking algebraic formulas for those operations, he (i.e. Bruno) resorted instead to diagrams that were meant to illustrate the ways of nature to those readers erudite enough to penetrate poetry, prose, and graphics. "On the Triple Minimum" uses precisely this combination to show how the infinite universe is built, throughout its entire vast extent, of tiny particles floating within a field of energy that he describes variously as soul, as love, as an ocean." (Rowland, p. 217).

Bruno had never written for a large public, but the works published in Frankfurt in 1591 were aimed at an even more restricted readership than his other works. His Latin poetry was quite obscure, which explains why he supplied almost every passage with a prose explanation of what he had just tried to formulate in verse. Nonetheless, the "De Triplici Minimo" was widely read by the most important thinkers of the era and thus came to influence generations of scientists. Germans in particular got hold of this scarce work printed in Frankfurt, and these include Kepler, Leibnitz, and Kircher. "By this unusual means, some of Bruno's most radical ideas were transmitted to generations of readers in their most developed form".

Sturlese: 24; Salvestrini: 197; Hayward: 23 ("The location of copies of the first editions of Giordano Bruno", 1956).

For reading on Brono and the "De Triplici Minomo", please see: Cassirer: "Das Erkenntnisproblem", 1922 Bd. 1; "An Essay on Man", 1944. Garin: "Italian Humanism", 1965. Paterson: "The Infinite Worlds of Giordano Bruno", 1970. Kristeller: "Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance", 1964. Copenhaver & Schmitt: "Renaissance Philosophy", 1992. W. Boulting, "Giordano Bruno". Singer: "Girodano Bruno. His Life and Thought", 1950. Rowland: "Giordano Bruno. Philosopher/Heretic", 2008. P.H. Michel: "The Cosmology of Giordano Bruno", 1973.


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