In the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of VIA:Voices in Italian Americana, an excerpt from Nicholas Grosso's translation of "Ash Wednesday Supper" by Giordano Bruno was featured.
Get a sneak peek below or order your own copy of the issue today.
This is an excerpt from Giordano Bruno’s Ash Wednesday Supper. He described the allegorical play as five dialogues by four speakers with three reflections on two subjects, laying out his philosophy of nature and theory of an infinite universe, views contrary to the Catholic faith. On the 17th of February in 1600, Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy.
SMITH: Did they speak Latin well?
SMITH: Honest men?
SMITH: Of good reputation?
TEOFILO: Quite competent.
SMITH: Well bred, courteous, civil?
TEOFILO: Only mediocrely.
TEOFILO: Why, yes, master! Father, mother, by all means, yes! I believe from Oxford.
TEOFILO: How could they not? They are men of distinction, in long velvet robes of academia; one of them with two shining gold chains around his neck, and the other looks like the finest jeweler, with that precious hand and the twelve rings it wears. My God, he nearly carves out your eyes and heart as he gesticulates.
SMITH: Do they show some knowledge of Greek?
TEOFILO: That and of beer, eziamdio!
PRUDENZIO: Lose that eziamdio, it’s an obsolete and antiquated expression.
FRULLA: Keep quiet, sir. He is not talking to you.
SMITH: What did they look like?
TEOFILO: One looks like the supreme commander who patrols for the lady giant and the ogre, the other like a governor of the goddess of good repute.
SMITH: And there are two of them?
TEOFILO: Yes, such a mysterious number.
PRUDENZIO: Ut essent duo testes.
FRULLA: What do you mean, testes?
PRUDENZIO: Testimonials, examining witnesses of the Nolan’s sufficiency. But, me Hercle, why did you tell Teofilo that the binary number is mysterious?
TEOFILO: Because two are the primal coordinates, as Pythagoras says, the finite and infinite, straight and curved, right and left, so it goes. There are two kinds of numbers, odd and even, there is masculine and feminine. There are two cupids, one refined and divine, the other base and vulgar. There are two processes of life, cognizance and affect. Two objects of these, the true and the good. There are two kinds of motion: one straight whose bodies tend to conservation and the other circular by which they are conserved. Two essential principles of things, matter and form. Two specific differences in matter, rare and dense, simple and mixed. Two primary active and contrary principles, heat and cold. And two primary predecessors of all natural things, the sun and the earth.
FRULLA: Conforming to those aforementioned couplets. I’ll add another set of binaries. The animals entered the ark two by two and went out the same way. Two are the heads of the heavenly bodies of Aries and Taurus. Two are the kinds of Nolite fieri, those to not be: the horse and the mule. Two are the animals in image and likeness of man, the chimp on land and the barn owl in the sky. Two are the false and honored relics of Florence in this country: the teeth of Sassetto and the beard of Petruccio. Two are the animals that the prophet said had more intellect than the people of Israel: the ox because it knows its owner and the donkey who knows how to find the manger of its master. There were two in the mysterious cavalcade of our Redeemer, which signify his old belief in Judaism and the new Gentile: the donkey and the chicken. Two are the names, derived from those that created the names of the secretaries of Augustus, Asino and Pullione. Two are the types of the donkey, domestic and untamed, and two are their usual colors, ashen gray and blackish. Two are the pyramids in which there should be written and with eternal devotion to these names and of other similar folks: on the right the ear of the horse of Silenus and on the left the antagonist of the god of the vineyards.
PRUDENZIO: Optime indolis ingenium, enumeratio minime contemnenda. A marvel of the finest origin, the list is nothing to be frowned upon.
FRULLA: I praise you, my good sir, Prudenzio, for you approve my speech because you are more prudent than prudence itself. And accordingly, you are la prudentia masculinis generis.
PRUDENZIO: Neque id sine lepore, et gratia. Not without its charm and grace. Orsú isthaec mittamus encomia. Sedeamus, quia, ut ait Peripateticorum princeps, sedendo et quiesciendo sapimus. Now, let us offer these tributes. Being seated, as the leader of the Peripatetics said, sitting and resting we grow wise. And in this way until sunset, we carry on our tetralogue about the Nolan’s successful conversation with Dr. Torquato and Dr. Nundinio.
FRULLA: I would like to know what you mean by this tetralogue
PRUDENZIO: I said tetralogue, id est, quatuorum sermo, that is a discourse between four. To say dialogue means an exchange between two, duorum sermo, trilogue, trium sermo, between three, to pentalogue, heptalogue, and so on with the others that are inappropriately called dialogues, in the way some equate it with diversorum logi, the talk of various people, but it is not likely that the Greeks, inventors of this phrase, meant the first syllable “di” as pro capite illius latinae dictionis “diversum,” at the head of that Latin word “diversum.”
SMITH: Goodness, sir, let us leave this grammatical rigidity aside and get to our purpose.
PRUDENZIO: O saeclum! O heavens, you seem to take too little notice of good literature. How could we make a good tetralogue if we don’t even understand the term? And, quod peius est, what is worse, should we think this is a dialogue? Nonne a difinitione et a nominis explicatione exordiendum—No, lest we begin with the definition and explanation of the name, as our Arpinate teaches it.
TEOFILO: Prudenzio, sir, you are too prudent. Please, let’s drop these lectures on grammar and recognize that our discussion is a dialogue. And that though we are four, only two of us will be given the right to declare and reply, to argue and listen. Now, to initiate and to report the whole business from the beginning, O Muse, come and inspire me. I am not talking to you who speaks in such swollen, supercilious verse on Helicon. Doubting, whether in the end you will mourn me after such a long and troublesome pilgrimage, sailing across menacing seas, exposed to such fierce customs, when there comes the need to take off my shoes and naked return home, because there are no fish for the Lombard. I recognize that you are not only a foreigner but also of that race which a poet said:
There was never a Greek clear of malice.
Besides I cannot fall in love with what I don’t see. There are others and others who have chained up my soul. I say to you others, gracious, gentle, tender, soft, young, beautiful, delicate beings, with blond locks, clear complexions, rosy cheeks, luscious lips, eyes divine, glistening chests, and hearts of diamond, for whom so many thoughts have been forged in my mind, so much tenderness welcomed by my spirit, so many passions dreamed up into my life, so many tears crossed my eyes, so many sighs cleared from my chest, and so many flames sparked by my heart. And to you, Muses of England, I say inspire me, help me, warm me, turn me on, prompt me, work it out with liquors, spark in me a great desire, and let me express not with a small, delicate, formal, short, succinct epigram but with an ample and copious vein of long prose, flowing majestic and bubbling, with waves sending out my streams not like from the feathers of a quill but like those from a great canal. And you, my Mnemosyne, mother of the muses, goddess of memory, hidden under thirty locks, sealed away in the prison of the shadows of ideas, sing a note into my ear.
A few days ago, two came to the Nolan on behalf of a royal squire, letting him know that the king was excited about a conversation with him to understand his Copernicus and other paradoxes of his new philosophy. To which the Nolan replied that he did not see with the eyes of Copernicus, nor with those of Ptolemy, but with his own in regards to judgment and determination. Although as far as those observations were concerned, he recognized his indebtedness to them as well as to other meticulous mathematicians, who, time after time, continuing to connect light to light, have contributed sufficient principles from which we are able to deduce such conclusions. These conclusions would not otherwise be possible, not without, and only after, long periods of study and labor. Adding that, in effect, it was like comparing interpreters, those who translate word for word from one language to another; and the others who emphasize the sentiments and not the words themselves. Much like peasants who report the forces and formations of a campaign to an absent captain without grasping the planning, the motives, or the art which led them to victory compared to he who recognizes patterns from experience and refines his judgment in military matters. Thus to the Theban Manto, who saw but did not understand, the blind but divine oracle Tiresias said:
A great share of truth lies hidden from those who lack vision.
But I will turn where my country and Phoebus call
And you, my daughter, guiding your poor, sightless parent,
Reveal to him the signs of the sacred response.
Likewise for us, how might we judge the many and varied proofs of the appearances of celestial bodies, had they not been deciphered and put before the eyes of reason? Not at all! Nevertheless, after having acknowledged our debts to the gift givers that proceeded the first, the infinite omnipotent light, and have praised the studies of those generous spirits, it is clear to us that we should open our eyes to what they observed and saw but not consent to what they imagined, understood, and set forth.
SMITH: Please, let me know, what is your opinion of Copernicus?
TEOFILO: He had a grave, elaborate, attentive, mature mind: a man not inferior, except by succession of time and place, to any astronomer who had come before him. A man with an innate judgment far superior to Ptolemy’s, Hipparchus’s, Eudoxus’s, and all the rest who’ve walked along these well-trodden paths; a man that freed himself from the false assumptions of the common and their bush-league philosophies. Or do I want to say their blindnesses? But for all of that, he did not get much beyond it. Being more of a scholar of mathematics than of nature, he was not able to immerse himself, to penetrate much further than to dispel the roots of disoriented and useless principles, to resolve the more difficult contradictions, and to free himself and others up from so many vain lines of research, to then focus their attentions on things constant and certain.
With all this, who can fully appreciate the magnanimity of Copernicus, who having little regard for the foolish masses, stood firm against the torrents of opposing beliefs? And although nearly defenseless to the living hearsay, he took on the abject and flawed fragments passed down from the hands of antiquity, gathered them, then resuscitated and refined them with his mathematical line of reason; fragments that had already been ridiculed, despised, and found otherwise worthless, were now honored and appreciated as closer to the truth than the previous and were certainly more convenient and useful for theoretical and computational analyses. So this German, without sufficient means to do more than resist, could also not completely reject, triumph over, or debunk the false, nevertheless, decided to take a stand and openly share his assessment that it was necessary to conclude that the globe moved with respect to the universe, such that a general principle of the countless celestial bodies, many of which are known to be more magnificent and more immense, would be a cruel joke of nature and reason if it were to recognize our planet as the center and the basis for all of their revolutions, holding sway over their movements. Who then would be wicked and disrespectful to the studies of a man, forgetting much of what he did was ordained by the gods as much as the rising of the sun (which was to precede the release of this ancient, true philosophy for so many centuries buried in the dark caverns of the blind, the maleficent, and the envious ignorant)? Who will want to judge him for what he wasn’t able to do, to rank him the same as the multitude who chattered, carried on, and plunged toward the doctrines of the simplistic and ill-informed? Or count him among those with a happy wit are able to straighten up and raise themselves with the guiding eye of divine intelligence?
Now, what shall I say about the Nolan? Being as close to him as I am to myself, should I still praise him? Certainly, a reasonable man would not correct me because sometimes not only should it be done but it is necessary as best put by the concise, cultured Tansillo:
But a person that craves praise and honor,
Should scantily speak of herself:
For the tongue, where the heart loves and fears,
Is not worthy of trust with such partial speech.
To be messenger of one’s own fame
Though may from time to time be appropriate
When speaking for one of two reasons,
To escape undue blame or for the good of others!
Even if one is so supercilious as to not want any self-praise in any form, knows that sometimes it cannot be separated from the available and reported impressions. Who would reproach Apelles, who tells when presenting his work that he is its maker? Who would blame Phidias if asked who is the artist of this magnificent sculpture? and responds that he is the one?
So that as long as you now understand the present business and its importance, I will prove to you my point quickly, clearly, and easily: if Typhon is to be praised for having recovered the first ship and, with the Argonauts, crossed the seas:
Too daring, was he to first violate
the treacherous waves with the frail draft
and, leaving the shore behind,
Entrusted life to the mercurial wind;
If in our times, we celebrate Columbus for whom it had been predicted long ago,
In the years to come,
centuries from now, oceans
shall remove the shackles
and an immense land shall appear. Another Tiphys will discover new
worlds and Europe will no longer be
the end of the world;
then what is to be done about he who found again this path forward to scale the heavens, runs the circumference of the stars, and leaves behind the convex surface of the firmament? The Typhons who recovered a method for disturbing the peace of others, of violating the guardian spirits of regions, of confusing what was distinguished by nature’s providence, doubling the defects of humanity through commerce, of joining vice onto vice from one generation onto another, and with violence propagated new follies, planting unimagined madness where none existed, concluding that stronger is wiser, showing new studies, instruments, and ways of tyrannizing and assassinating one another for the sake of it, the time will come for those who at their own expense learn by the force of the fickle nature of things how to produce similar and even worse fruits of such pernicious inventions.
Dazzling age of our fathers,
Seeing crime banished far off:
Man keeps to his own shores,
Getting old then broken down into ancestral soils.
Rich with but little, save
What their native land yielded.
The world’s dominion clearly divided
Until drawn together with Thessalian pine,
Sailing across what was once sequestered,
Now becomes part of our dread,
The tumultuous sea.
The Nolan, to take full effect of the contraries, has unbound perception and the human soul that was imprisoned in the dank air of the narrowest of dungeons, the way in the darkness of certain holes one has the ability to ponder upon the most distant stars; like with wings cut lest it fly, one raises the veil of clouds and sees what is really going on, freeing oneself from the illusion of those conceived in mud and the caves of earth, almost like so many Mercuries and Apollos descending from the heavens, whose many forms have imposed on the world all of the insinuating madness, beastliness, and vice, as if they toiled in virtue, godliness, and discipline. Such mudslingers have diminished the light that made divine and heroic our ancestors by instead approving and corroborating the obscurity of sophists and jackasses. For so long the human mind has been oppressed, and sometimes in a moment of clarity weeping over the baseness of its condition turns to the divine and prophetic mind that in familiar tones perpetually whispers into its ear:
Madonna, who will ascend to the heavens,
And restore to me my lost reason.
Now here he is who has cut through the air, pierced the sky, fluttered about the stars, traversed the ends of the world, and made vanish the fanciful walls of the first, eighth, ninth, tenth spheres and any others that could have been appended by the accounts of vain mathematicians and the blind observations of crude philosophers. In the face of any sense and all reason, the key to the most critical inquiry that opens the cloisters of truth is given by presenting naked the sheltered and shrouded face of nature. It is eyes for the mole, illumination for the blind, who cannot lock eyes and admire their own reflection in so many surrounding mirrors that might as well cease to exist. He loosened the tongue of the feral, who did not know how and dare not try to interpret their own nuanced feelings; Mended the broken, who did not want to make progress with their spirit if it could not also be made by their humbled forms. He furnished a panorama rivaled only by that of the sun, the moon, or some other nomadic star. He demonstrated how similar, or dissimilar, how much greater, or worse, those celestial bodies we see so far away are to the earth beneath our feet and to which we are bound. And he opened eyes to see this god, this mother of ours that feeds and nourishes upon her back, after bearing us from her womb to which she welcomes us back again and again. And do not think she is body without a soul, life, or even the scum of our bodily remains. In this way we know that were we to be on the moon or another star, we would not be in a place very different from this one, perhaps worse, as some physical bodies can be so good and better still for themselves and the greater happiness of their inhabiting animals. As we know so many stars, many planets, many gods, hundreds of thousands assisting in the oversight and contemplation of the first, the universal, infinite, and eternal order. No longer is our mind held captive by the shackles of the mobiles and ethereal movers, eight, nine, and ten. We know that there is but one heaven, an immense, divine region, where these majestic stars preserve their spaces for a cozy alliance in perpetual life. These blazing bodies are the ambassadors who announce the eminence of God’s glory. Thus we are brought to discover the revelations of the infinite effect of the infinite cause, the true and living vestiges of the eternal force. And we have doctrine to not search for the divinity separated from us: if we have it with us, or better within us, in fact more so than we are within ourselves. No less is it with the cultivators of other worlds who should dare not look for it among us, having the divine already within themselves. The moon is no more heaven for us than we are heaven for the moon. Like so, a clear, more fitting purpose can be pulled from what Tansillo said almost certainly as a lark:
If you do not take the good that is near,
How are you going to get that that is far away?
To despise your own, seems to me a fault revealed,
As is to covet what is in the other hand.
You are the one who disowned yourself,
The posture of wanting in vain:
You are the hound, who flooded the river,
While your shadow craves what floods it.
Leave the shadows and embrace truth,
Don’t change the present for the future.
I do not yet despair to have better days,
But to live more joyously and more secure,
I enjoy the present and for the future I hope
It provides me with twice as much delight.
With this, though alone, one can and will be able to win, and in the end be victorious, triumphant over general ignorance. And there is no doubt about it, on the condition that it is not determined by the multitude of deaf and blind witnesses, of vain and pestilent words, but with the force of reasoned sentiment, needed to reach resolution. Because truly all of the blind are not worth one who sees and all of the foolish cannot serve in the place of a sage.
Rebus et in censu si non est quod fuit ante,
fac vivas contentus eo, quod tempora praebent.
Iudicium populi nunquam contemperis unus,
ne nulli placeas, dum vis contemnere multos.
If your reality is not what it was, in wealth and fortune,
See that you may live content with what the times offers.
Do not be the one looking down on the judgment of people,
Lest you please nobody while laying scorn on the multitudes.
TEOFILO: This is most prudently said about boarding houses and communal living and the practice of civil conversation, but not yet when it comes to the understanding of truth and the rule of reflection, of which the same wise man also said:
Learn but from the learned, he himself shall teach the uninstructed.
It is also what you say about the doctrine of use to many, and works as counsel where the masses are concerned, but the weight of this new cosmology cannot be put on the shoulders of anyone but those who can carry it, like the Nolan; or at least can move it toward its target without incurring too much added strain, as Copernicus was able to do.
Moreover, those in possession of this truth would not offer every type of person it to communicate: those who don’t want to wash the head of a donkey (as the saying goes), or see what the pigs are doing with pearls, or gather the fruits of study and hard work, coupled with presumptuous incivility, his perpetual and faithful companion, is wont to produce reckless, silly ignorance. To those seduced into such ignorance, we can be teachers, and to the blind, illuminators. Their ineptitude is not due to a natural impotence or privation of wisdom and discipline but for a lack of information and consideration, and this deprivation is the result of acts alone and not innate faculties. Of these some are so malicious and wicked, filled with a wearisome envy, they get angry and spiteful at those who seem to want to teach them. And what is worse is that they believe themselves to be well informed and educated, who would dare challenge them with what they do not know. Hence you see them red hot in a fury.
FRULLA: As it was with those two barbarian doctors we were speaking of, the one, no longer sure how to respond or argue, rose to his feet in an attempt to save face and end the conversation with proverbs of Erasmus or with his fists, shouting:
What? Are you not at sea to Anticyra, you, first among philosophers, does not Ptolemy or the monarch with so many great philosophers and astronomers allow you this? Are you not seeking a knot in the bulrush?
And other phrases, worthy of passing judgment on with those double rods (let’s call them poles) with which ranch hands use to measure wagons for donkeys.
TEOFILO: Let’s forget these for now. There are some others who because of some gullible lunacy, fearing that to see them will ruin them, they stubbornly want to persevere in that darkness that they once mistakenly learned. Then there are others, the fortunate and well-heeled lot, on whom the honorable work of study was not lost, who do not judge recklessly, keeping their minds open and free, being products of the sky if not as inventors, then at least as examiners, scrutineers, judges, and witnesses of truth. Of these the Nolan has gained, gains, and will gain approval and love. These are the noblest minds that are able to hear him and debate with him. Though, in reality, nobody is qualified to contest him on these matters, because not being capable makes it difficult to agree with him. Nevertheless one should endorse his many major and principled points and admit that those points he cannot know to be true are likely to be.
PRUDENZIO: Be as you wish, but I don’t want to deviate from the opinion of the ancients, for as the sage says, in antiquity is wisdom.
TEOFILO: Yes, years of prudence indeed. But you would better understand what you say, you see, if from your position, you inferred the opposite of what you think: what I mean to say, we being older have a longer history to look back upon than our ancestors to consider certain assessments, including this one. Born shortly after the renaissance of astronomy, if it was not reborn with him, Eudoxus’s conclusions cannot be as mature as those of Callippus who lived thirty years after the death of Alexander the Great, and adding years to years could too add observations to observations. Hipparchus, for the same reason, had to know more than Callippus, because he saw the transformation in understanding undergone in the 196 years since the death of Alexander. Menelaus, a Roman mathematician, too, saw the difference in celestial movements 462 years after Alexander died and had reason to grasp more than Hipparchus. More still could be seen by the Muslim Al-Battani 1202 years after that. And more by Copernicus 1849 years on, almost in our own times. But some of these, those closer to us, were no more judicious than those who came before and the multitude of the like that are now of our times go no further. This happens because the former did not live and the latter does not live through the years of those others and what’s worse is they live, both the former and the latter, as if dead in their own time.
PRUDENZIO: Say what you like, shoot your beautiful pleasure anywhere you like, nevertheless, I remain a friend of antiquity. And regarding your opinions and paradoxes, I don’t believe so many and such wise individuals stayed ignorant as you and other friends of the new think.
TEOFILO: Well, well, master Prudenzio, if your opinion, common as it may be, that something is as true as it is ancient, then it was certainly false when it was new. Before this philosophy came and conformed to your brain, it was that of the Chaldeans, the Egyptians, of the followers of the Magi, of Orpheus, of Pythagoras, and others of archaic memory that suited your mind, from which foolish and vain logicians and mathematicians rebelled against first, no more enemies of antiquity as they were alien to truth. Let us, therefore, sing the reason of the ancient and the new, because there is nothing new that can’t become old and nothing old that hasn’t been new, as your Aristotle well noted.
FRULLA: If I don’t speak, I’ll burst, or at least crack for sure. You speaking to Prudenzio, said your Aristotle. Do you know that Aristotle is his, what I mean to say, idest, that he is a Peripatetic? (Pray, let’s do this little digression parenthetically.) Like to blind people at the door of the archbishop of Naples, one saying he was a Guelph and the other a Ghibelline; and with that crude beginning they began to hit each other with sticks, and I don’t know how the whole affair would have ended if they weren’t separated. In this moment a gentleman approached and said: Come here, you depraved scoundrels; what is a Guelph? What is Ghibelline? In truth, one did not know how to answer nor what to say. And the other resolved to say: Mr. Pietro Costanzo, my liege and for whom I want the very best, is a Ghibelline. As such there are many Peripatetics who get angry, if they are worked up and restrained on behalf of Aristotle, they want to defend the doctrine of Aristotle, they are enemies of who those who are not friends of Aristotle, and they want to live and die for Aristotle; those who don’t even understand the significance of the titles of his books. If you want me to show you one, here he is, he whom you directed your Aristotle, and who from time to time will rattle off a Aristoteles noster, Peripateticorum princeps, a Plato noster, and so on.
PRUDENZIO: I give little import to your account, no regard for your estimation.
TEOFILO: Please, do not interrupt our conversation any more.
SMITH: Proceed, Mr. Teofilo.
TEOFILO: I say, your Aristotle made note that the variability of certain things is no less true of opinions and a variety of other impressions: it is so much like judging philosophies by their agedness as it is wanting to decide what came first day or night. What we then must fix our eye upon is whether we are in daylight with the light of truth upon our horizons or over on those of our antipodean adversaries, if we or they are in darkness; and finally, if topping our principles with the renewal of an ancient philosophy, we are in the morning at the end of the night or evening at the end of the day? And this is certainly not difficult to determine, even judging by the fruits of one and the modes of contemplation of the other.
Now let us see the difference between those and these. Those in living, temperate; in medicine, experts; in contemplation, judicious; in divination, singular; in magic, miraculous; in superstitions, prudent; in law, observant; in morality, irreproachable; in theology, divine; in all respects, heroic. As they show in their prolonged lives, the less diseased bodies, the lofty inventions, the prophesies fulfilled, the substance for their work transformed, the peaceful convocation of those peoples, their unbroken sacraments, the most just executions, the familiarity with the good and protectors of intelligence, and the vestiges (while they last) of their marvelous prowess. These other contradictions I leave to be examined by those whose judgments are here insinuated.
SMITH: But what do you say if a majority of our generation thinks the opposite, especially as far as doctrine is concerned?
TEOFILO: It doesn’t amaze me, because (as is normal) those that miss what is intended, believe they know more. And those who are completely crazy, think they know everything.
SMITH: So then tell me, how can they correct this?
FRULLA: By doing away with their head and planting another in its place.
TEOFILO: By doing away through some argument that stature of knowing: with witty persuasions, strip them, as much as possible, of their foolish opinion, so that they are rendered listeners: first having assured the teacher, they are sharp wits and capable. These (according to the use of the Pythagorean school and ours) I do not want them to have the ability to exercise roles as interrogator or disputant, before having heard the whole course of philosophy. For, if the doctrine is perfect in itself and for those perfectly understood, it will purge all doubts and clear away all contradictions. Besides it may happen that we come across a more polished mind, who will see how much can be added, removed, corrected, and changed. Then he will be able to present these principles and these conclusions with those opposing principles and conclusions; and in such a way be able to reasonably agree or disagree; question and respond; otherwise it is not possible to know when to raise doubts around an art or a science or how to interrogate it accordingly, if one has not listened first. No one will be a good interrogator or judge of a case if they are not first informed of the whole business. But where the learning goes through its steps, proceeding from post to post, confirming principles and fundamentals, to the building and the perfection of things that for them can be found again; the listener must be close-mouthed before hearing and understanding everything, to believe that through the progress of learning, all difficulties cease. The Eclectics and the Pyrrhonists, those professing that nothing can be known, have another custom, always asking and searching for what can never be found again. No less miserable are the minds who want to dispute even the clearest of matters, making for the greatest waste of time that can be imagined. And those, to appear well educated or for other unworthy circumstances, they want not to teach nor learn, but only to dispute and oppose the truth.
SMITH: A scruple is needed for what you’ve said: being one of an innumerable multitude of those presumed to know and consider themselves worthy of being listened to constantly, as you can see that everywhere, the universities and academies are full of these Aristarchuses that do not yield an inch to the pomposity of Jupiter, while under are those that having studied with them will not cultivate anything in the end but to be promoted from not knowing (a privation of the truth) to thinking and believing in knowing, which is madness and dressing up a falsity. See then what these listeners have earned: cast from the ignorance of simple negation, in its place is put a bad disposition, as the saying goes. Now who will assure me that by using up so much time and effort and on the occasion of better studies and pursuits: what happens to me will be what usually happens that instead of acquiring enlightenment, my mind would be infected by pernicious lunacy? As I know nothing, will I know the difference between dignity and indignity, poverty and wealth, and of all those things that are valued and judged wise? I see clearly that we all are born ignorant, and readily believe that we are so; growing up, we are raised with the discipline and habits of our homes, and not without hearing the blame of laws, rites, faiths, and the customs of our adversaries and those alien to us, such is the case amongst us and our affairs. No less are they planted in us by virtue of certain naturally nourishing roots of zeal of our things, than are in those of many other and diverse affairs alien to us. So easily one puts these habits into practice, that our most esteemed will make a sacrifice to the gods when they oppress, kill, assassinate, and otherwise defeat the enemies of our faith; no less is true of all the others when they do the same to us. And not with lesser fervor or convictions of certainty, they thank god for having the light that promises eternal life, as we are thankful not to be in that blindness of the dark that they are in. To these convictions of religion and faith are added the convictions of science. I, or through the election of those who govern me, parents or teachers, or by my capriciousness and fantasy, or the reputation of a professor, and with no less satisfaction of my soul, I will consider myself to have gained under the arrogance or fortunate ignorance of a horse than any other under a less ignorant or even a learned person. Don’t you know how much force the practice of beliefs and fostered since childhood in certain systems prevents individuals from understanding the most obvious of things; in no other way than what happens to those accustomed to eating something poisonous, whose temperaments in the end, not only, do not sense disgust but instead absorb it as if it were naturally nourishing to the extent that the antidote itself is deadly to them? Now tell me, with what art will you reconcile these ears to you rather than another, being the soul of one who is perhaps less inclined to wait upon your theories than thousands of others?
TEOFILO: This is a gift from the gods, if they guide you and dole out such a fate that makes you come into contact with a man who not only has the reputation of a true guide but in truth is such, and if the gods light your inner spirit to make the choice of what is best.
SMITH: But commonly one goes along with popular opinion, and if in the end one makes such a mistake, it will not be without broad support and much company.
TEOFILO: A thought most unworthy of man! This is why there are very few wise and divine men, and this is so by the will of the gods; indeed, nothing valued or so precious is common or widespread.
SMITH: I believe it, the truth is known by few and what is honorable possessed by even fewer. But what confuses me is that there are many things, rare things in but few or maybe only one that shouldn’t be valued and are worth nothing and could be more crazy and depraved.
TEOFILO: Very well but in the end it is safer and more convenient to look for truth away from the masses, nothing precious or worthy was ever brought out of there, instead always from amongst the few are perfect and praiseworthy things found. And of those things, even if they were rare or rarer still, everyone, though they may not find them, would know them; and in this way what is so rare is not knowing them but possessing them.
SMITH: Ok, let’s put aside these lectures, and listen to and contemplate the thoughts of the Nolan for a bit. As it is very much so, with much faith being reconciled so far, that we deem him worthy of being heard.
TEOFILO: That is enough for him. Now watch how forcefully his philosophy to preserve and defend itself, to uncover vanities and reveal the fallacies of the Sophists and the blindness of the commoners with their vulgar philosophy.
SMITH: To this point, as it’s already night, let us come back tomorrow at the same time and consider the experiences and teachings of the Nolan.
PRUDENZIO: Sat prata biberunt; nam iam nox humida caelo praecitpitat. The fields have drunk their fill; Like so night is cast down thus from the humid sky.
 Translator’s note: All appearances of Latin are not translated in the original.
 Testes refers both to “witnesses (testimoni)” and to “testicles (testicoli)”.
 Corifei: Head of ancient Greek chorus, from the translator.
 See Psalm 31:9.
 See Tommaso di Vincenzio Sassetto and Ubaldini Petruccio, two Tuscans who lived in England.
 See Isaiah 1:3.
 The horse of Silenus is a donkey as was the antagonist of the god of the vineyard, Priapus.
 Bruno mistakenly translates dialogo as “discourse between two” but more correctly it means “discourse.”
 See John of Vercelli, “nun sunt pisces pro Lombardi,” refers to the monk’s visit to a German convent. He went disguised to better understand the quality of the convent and was not offered any fish, only badly prepared vegetables.
 Visu carentem magna pars veri latet/sed quo vocat me patria, quo Phoebus, sequar./Tu lucis inopem gnata genitorem regens,/manifesta sacri signi fatidici refer.
 Audax nimium, qui freta primus/ rate tam fragili perfida rupit/ terrasque suas post terga videns/ animam levibus credidit auris;
 Venient annis/ saecula seris, quibus Oceanus/ vincula rerum laxet, et ingens/ pateat tellus, Tiphysque novos/ detegat orbes, nec sit terris Ultima Thule;
 Candida nostril saecula patres/ videre procul fraude remota./ Sua quisque piger littoral tangens,/ patrioque senex fractus in arvo/ parvo dives, nisi quas tulerat/ natale solum, non norat opes.// Bene dissepti foedera mundi/ traxit in unum Thessala pinus,/ iussitque pati verbera pontum,/ partemque metus fieri nostril/ mare sepostum.
 Disce, sed a doctis; indoctos ipse doceto.
 Quid? nonne Antyciram navigas? Tu ille philosphorum protoplastes, qui nec Ptolomaeo, nec tot tantorumque philosophorum et astronomorum maiestati quippiam concedis? Tu ne nodum in scirpo quaeritas?
 et ultra.