Giordano Bruno Poems >>
The Heroic Enthusiasts: Part 1: Third Dialogue


There are several varieties of enthusiasts, which may all be reduced to
two kinds. While some only display blindness, stupidity, and irrational
impetuosity, which tend towards savage madness, others by divine
abstraction become in reality superior to ordinary men. And these again
are of two kinds, for some having become the habitation of gods or
divine spirits, speak and perform wonderful things, without themselves
understanding the reason. Many such have been uncultured and ignorant
persons, into whom, being void of spirit and sense of their own, as into
an empty chamber, the divine spirit and sense intrude, as it would have
less power to show itself in those who are full of their own reason and
sense. This divine spirit often desires that the world should know for
certain, that those do not speak from their own knowledge and
experience, but speak and act through some superior intelligence; for
such, the mass of men vouchsafe more admiration and faith, while others,
being skilful in contemplation and possessing innately a clear
intellectual spirit, have an internal stimulus and natural fervour,
excited by the love of the divine, of justice, of truth, of glory, and
by the fire of desire and the breath of intention, sharpen their senses,
and in the sulphur of the cogitative faculty, these kindle the rational
light, with which they see more than ordinarily; and they come in the
end to speak and act, not as vessels and instruments, but as chief
artificers and experts.

CIC. Of these two which dost thou esteem higher?

TANS. The first have more dignity, power, and efficacy within
themselves, because they have the divinity; the second _are_ themselves
worthy, potential, and efficacious, and _are_ divine. The first are
worthy, as is the ass which carries the sacraments; the second are as a
sacred thing. In the first is contemplated and seen in effect the
divinity, and that is beheld, adored, and obeyed; in the second is
contemplated and seen the excellency of humanity itself. But now to the
question. These enthusiasms of which we speak, and which we see
exemplified in these sentences, are not oblivion, but a memory; they
are not neglect of one's self, but love and desire of the beautiful and
good, by means of which we are able to make ourselves perfect, by
transforming and assimilating ourselves to it. It is not a
precipitation, under the laws of a tyrannous fate, into the noose of
animal affections, but a rational impetus, which follows the
intellectual apprehension of the beautiful and the good, which knows
whom it wishes to obey and to please, so that, by its nobility and
light, it kindles and invests itself with qualities and conditions
through which it appears illustrious and worthy. He (the enthusiast)
becomes a god by intellectual contact with the divine object, and he has
no thought for other than divine things, and shows himself insensible
and impassive towards those things which are commonly felt, and about
which others are mostly tormented; he fears nothing, and for love of the
divine he despises other pleasures and gives no thought to this life. It
is not a fury of black bile which sends him drifting outside of
judgment, reason, and acts of prudence, and tossed by the discordant
tempest, like those who, having violated certain laws of the divine
Adrastia, are condemned to be scourged by the Furies, in order that they
may be excited by a dissonance as corporeal through seditions,
destructions, and plagues, as it is spiritual, through the forfeiture of
harmony between the perceptive and enjoying powers; but it is aglow
kindled by the intellectual sun in the soul, and a divine impetus which
lends it wings, with which, drawing nearer and nearer to the
intellectual sun, and ridding itself of the rust of human cares, it
becomes a gold tried and pure, has the perception of divine and internal
harmony, and its thoughts and acts accord with the symmetry of the law,
innate in all things. Not, as drunk from the cups of Circe, does he go
dashing and stumbling, now in this and then in that ditch, now against
this or that rock, or like a shifting Proteus, changing now to this, now
to the other aspect, never finding place, fashion, or ground to stay and
settle in; but, without spoiling the harmony, conquers and overcomes the
horrid monsters, and however much he may swerve, he easily returns to
himself by means of those inward instincts that, like the nine Muses,
dance and sing round the splendours of the universal Apollo, and under
tangible images and material things, he comes to comprehend divine laws
and counsels. It is true that sometimes, having love for his trusty
escort, who is double, and because sometimes through occasional
impediments he finds himself defrauded of his strength, then, as one
insane and furious, he squanders away the love of that which he cannot
comprehend; whence, confused by the obscurity of the divinity, he
sometimes abandons the work, and then again returns, to force himself
with his will thither, where he cannot arrive with the intellect. It is
true also that he commonly wanders, and transports himself, now into
one, now into another form of the double Eros; therefore, the principal
lesson that Love gives to him is, that he contemplate the divine beauty
in shadow, when he cannot do so in the mirror, and, like the suitors of
Penelope, he entertain himself with the maids when he is not permitted
to converse with the mistress. Now, in conclusion, you can comprehend,
from what has been said, what is this enthusiast whose picture is put
forth, when it is said:


  If towards the shining light the butterfly,
  Winging his way knows not the burning flame,
  And if the thirsty stag, unmindful of the dart,
  Runs fainting to the brook,
  Or unicorn, unto the chaste breast running,
  Ignores the snare that is for him prepared,
  I, in the light, the fount, the bosom of my love
  Behold the flames, the arrows, and the chains.
  If it be sweet in plaintiveness to droop,
  Why does that lofty splendour dazzle me?
  Wherefore the sacred arrow sweetly wound?
  Why in this knot is my desire involved?
  And why to me eternal irksomeness
  Flames to my heart, darts to my breast and snares unto my soul?

Here he shows his love not to be like that of the butterfly, of the
stag, and of the unicorn, who would flee away if they had knowledge of
the fire, of the arrow, and of the snares, and who have no other sense
than that of pleasure; but he is moved by a most sensible and only too
evident passion, which forces him to love that fire more than any
coolness; more that wound than any wholeness; more those fetters than
any liberty. For this evil is not absolutely evil, but, through
comparison with good (according to opinion), it is deceptive, like the
sauce that old Saturn gets when he devours his own sons; for this evil
absolutely in the eye of the Eternal, is comprehended either for good,
or for guide which conduces to it, since this fire is the ardent desire
of divine things, this arrow is the impression of the ray of the beauty
of supernal light, these snares are the species of truth which unite our
mind to the primal verity, and the species of good which unite and join
to the primal and highest good. To that meaning I approached when I


  With such a fire and such a noble noose,
  Beauty enkindles me, and pureness binds,
  So that in flames and servitude I take delight,
  Liberty takes flight and dreads the ice.
  Such is the heat, that though I burn yet am I not destroyed,
  The tie is such, the world with me gives praise.
  Fear cannot freeze, nor pain unshackle me;
  For soothing is the ardour, sweet the smart.
  So high the light that burns me I discern,
  And of so rich a thread the noose contrived
  That, thought being born, the longing dies.
  And since, within my heart shines such pure flames,
  And so supreme a tie compels my will,
  Let my shade serve, and let my ashes burn.

All the loves, if they be heroic and not purely animal, or what is
called natural, and slaves to generation, as instruments of nature in a
certain way, have for object the divinity, tend towards divine beauty,
which first is communicated to souls and shines in them, and from them,
or rather through them, it is communicated to bodies; whence it is that
well-ordered affection loves the body or corporeal beauty, insomuch as
it is an indication of beauty of spirit. Thus that which causes the
attraction of love to the body is a certain spirituality which we see in
it, and which is called beauty, and which does not consist in major or
minor dimensions, nor in determined colours or forms, but in harmony and
consonance of members and colours. This shows an affinity between the
spirit and the most acute and penetrative senses; whence it follows that
such become more easily and intensely enamoured, and also more easily
and intensely disgusted, which might be through a change of the deformed
spirit, which in some gesture and expressed intention reveals itself in
such wise that this deformity extends from the soul to the body, and
makes it appear no longer beautiful as before. The beauty, then, of the
body has power to kindle, but not to bind, and the lover, unless aided
by the graces of the spirit, such as purity, gratitude, courtesy,
circumspection, is unable to escape. Therefore, said I, beautiful is
that fire which burns me, and noble that tie which binds.

CIC. I do not believe it is always like that, Tansillo; because,
sometimes, notwithstanding that we discover the spirit to be vicious, we
remain heated and entangled; so that, although reason perceives the evil
and unworthiness of such a love, it yet has not power to alienate the
disordered appetite. In this disposition, I believe, was the Nolano when
he said:


  Woe's me! my fury forces me
  To union with the bad within,
  And makes it seem a love supreme and good.
  Wearied, my soul cares nought
  That I opposing counsels entertain,
  And with the savage tyrant
  Nourished with want,
  And made to put myself in exile,
  More than with liberty contented am.
  I spread my sails to the wind,
  To draw me forth from this detested bliss,
  And to reclaim me from the cloying hurt.

TANS. This occurs when spirits are vicious and tinged as with the same
hue; since, through conformity, love is excited, enkindled, and
confirmed. Thus the vicious easily concur in acts of the same vice; and
I will not refrain from repeating that which I know by experience, for
although I may have discovered in a soul vices very much abominated by
me--as, for instance, filthy avarice, base greediness for money,
ingratitude for favours and courtesies received, or a love of quite vile
persons, of which this last most displeases, because it takes away the
hope from the lover, that by becoming or making himself more worthy he
may become more acceptable--in spite of all this, it is true that I did
burn for corporeal beauty. But how? I loved against my will; for, were
it not so, I should have been more saddened than cheered by troubles and

CIC. It is a very proper and nice distinction that is made between
loving and liking.

TANS. Truly; because we like many--that is, we desire that they be wise
and just; but we love them not because they are unjust and ignorant;
many we love because they are beautiful, but we do not like them,
because they do not deserve it; and amongst other things of which the
lover deems the loved one undeserving, the first is, being loved; and
yet, although he cannot abstain from loving, nevertheless he regrets it,
and shows his regret like him who said, "Woe is me! who am compelled by
passion to coalesce with evil." In the opposite mood was he, either
through some corporeal object in similitude or through a divine subject
in reality, when he said:


  Although to many pains thou dost subject me,
  Yet do I thank thee, love, and owe thee much,
  That thou my breast dost cleave with noble wound,
  And then dost take my heart and master it.
  Thus true it is, that I, on earth, adore
  A living object, image most beautiful of God.
  Let him who will think that my fate is bad
  That kills in hope and quickens in desire.
  My pasture is the high emprise,
  And though the end desired be not attained,
  And though my soul in many thoughts is spent,
  Enough that she enkindle noble fire,
  Enough that she has lifted me on high,
  And from the ignoble crowd has severed me.

Here his love is entirely heroic and divine, and as such, I wish it to
be understood; although he says that through it he is subject to many
pangs, every lover who is separated from the thing loved (to which being
joined by affection he would also wish to be actually), being in anguish
and pain, he torments himself, not forsooth because he loves, since he
feels his love is engaged most worthily and most nobly, but because he
feels deprived of that fruition which he would obtain if he arrived at
that end to which he tends. He suffers, not from the desire which
animates him, but from the difficulty in the cultivation of it which so
tortures him. Others esteem him unhappy through this appearance of an
evil destiny, as being condemned to these pangs, for he will never cease
from acknowledging the obligation he is under to love, nor cease from
rendering thanks to him because he has presented before the eyes of his
mind such an intelligible conception through which, in this earthly
life, shut in this prison of the flesh, wrapped in these nerves and
supported by these bones, it is permitted to him to contemplate the
divinity in a more suitable manner than if other conceptions and
similitudes than these had offered themselves.

CIC. The divine and living object, then, of which he speaks, is the
highest intelligible conception that he has been able to form to himself
of the divinity, and is not some corporeal beauty which might overshadow
his thought and appear superficially to the senses.

TANS. Even so; because no tangible thing nor conception of such can
raise itself to so much dignity.

CIC. Why, then, does he mention that conception as the object, if, as
appears to me, the true object is the divinity itself?

TANS. The divinity is the final object, the ultimate and most perfect,
but not in this state, where we cannot see God except as in a shadow or
a mirror, and therefore He cannot be the object except in some
similitude, but not in such as may be extracted or acquired from
corporeal beauty and excellence, by virtue of the senses, but such as
may be formed in the mind, by virtue of the intellect. In which state,
finding himself, he comes to lose the love and affection for every other
thing senseful as well as intellectual, because this, conjoined to that
light, itself also becomes light, and in consequence becomes a god:
because it contracts the divinity into itself, it being in God through
the intention with which it penetrates into the divinity so far as it
can, and God being in it, so that after penetrating, it comes to
conceive, and so far as it can, receive and comprehend the divinity in
its conception. Now in such conceptions and similitudes the human
intellect of this lower world nourishes itself, till such time as it
will be lawful to behold with purer eye the beauty of the divinity. As
happens to him, who, absorbed in the contemplation of some elaborate
architectural work, goes on examining one thing after another in it,
enchanted and feeding in a wonder of delight; but if it should happen
that he sees the lord of all those pictures, who is of a beauty
incomparably greater, leaving all care and thought of them, he is turned
intently to the examination of him. Here, then, is the difference
between that state where we see divine beauty in intelligible
conceptions apart from the effects, labours, works, shadows, and
similitudes of it, and that other state in which it is lawful to behold
it in real presence. He says: "My pasture is the high emprise," because
as the Pythagoreans remark, "The soul moves and turns round God, as the
body round the soul."

CIC. Then the body is not the habitation of the soul?

TANS. No; because the soul is not in the body locally, but as intrinsic
form and extrinsic framer, as that which forms the limbs indicates the
internal and external composition. The body, then, is in the soul, the
soul in the mind, the mind either is God or is in God, as Plotinus said.
As in its essence it is in God who is its life, similarly through the
intellectual operation, and the will consequent upon such operation, it
agrees with its bright and beatific object. Fitly, therefore, this
rapture of heroic enthusiasm feeds on such "high emprise." For the
object is infinite, and in action most simple, and our intellectual
power cannot apprehend the infinite except in speech or in a certain
manner of speech, so to say in a certain potential or relative
inference, as one who proposes to himself the infinity, so that he may
constitute for himself a finality where no finality is.

CIC. Fitly so, because the ultimate ought not to have an end seeing
that it is ultimate. For it is infinite in intention, in perfection, in
essence, and in any other manner whatsoever of being final.

TANS. Thou sayest truly. Now in this life, that food is such that
excites more than it can appease, as that divine poet shows when he
says: "My soul is wearied, longing for the living God," and in another
place; "Attenuati sunt oculi mei suspicientes in excelsa." Therefore he
says, "And though the end desired be not attained, And that my soul in
many thoughts is spent, Enough that she enkindle noble fire:" meaning to
say that the soul comforts itself, and receives all the glory which it
is able in that state to receive, and that it is a participator in that
ultimate enthusiasm of man, in so far as he is a man in this present
condition, as we see him.

CIC. It appears to me that the Peripatetics, as explained by Averroes,
mean this, when they say that the highest felicity of man consists in
perfection through the speculative sciences.

TANS. It is true, and they say well; because we, in this state, cannot
desire nor obtain greater perfection than that in which we are, when our
intellect, by means of some noble and intelligible conception, unites
itself either to the substance of things hoped for, as those say, or to
the divine mind, as it is the fashion to say of the Platonists. For the
present, I will leave reasoning about the soul, or man in another state
or mode of being than he can find himself or believe himself to be in.

CIC. But what perfection or satisfaction can man find in that knowledge
which is not perfect?

TANS. It will never be perfect, so far as understanding the highest
object is concerned; but in so far as our intellect can understand it.
Let it suffice that in this and other states there be present to him the
divine beauty so far as the horizon of his vision extends.

CIC. But all men cannot arrive at that, which one or two may reach.

TANS. Let it suffice that all "run well," and that each does his utmost,
for the heroic nature is content and shows its dignity rather in
falling, or in failing worthily in the high undertaking, in which it
shows the dignity of its spirit, than in succeeding to perfection in
lower and less noble things.

CIC. Truly a dignified and heroic death is better than a mean, low

TANS. On that theme I made this sonnet:


  Since I have spread my wings to my desire,
  The more I feel the air beneath my feet,
  So much the more towards the wind I bend
  My swiftest pinions,
  And spurn the world and up towards heaven I go.
  Not the sad fate of Daedalus's son
  Does warn me to turn downwards,
  But ever higher will I rise.
  Well do I see, I shall fall dead to earth;
  But what life is there can compare with this my death?
  Out on the air my heart's voice do I hear:
  "Whither dost thou carry me, thou fearless one?
  Turn back. Such over-boldness rarely grief escapes."
  "Fear not the utmost ruin then," I said,
  "Cleave confident the clouds and die content,
  That heaven has destined thee to such illustrious death."

CIC. I understand when you say: "Enough that thou hast lifted me on
high;" but not: "And from the ignoble crowd hast severed me;" unless it
means his having come out from the Platonic groove on account of the
stupid and low condition of the crowd; for those that find profit in
this contemplation cannot be numerous.

TANS. Thou understandest well; but thou mayst also understand, by the
"ignoble crowd," the body, and sensual cognition, from which he must
arise and free himself who would unite with a nature of a contrary

CIC. The Platonists say there are two kinds of knots which link the soul
to the body. One is a certain vivifying action which from the soul
descends into the body, like a ray; the other is a certain vital
quality, which is produced from that action in the body. Now this active
and most noble number, which is the soul, in what way do you understand
that it may be severed from the ignoble number, which is the body?

TANS. Certainly it was not understood according to any of these modes,
but according to that mode whereby those powers which are not
comprehended and imprisoned in the womb of matter, sometimes as if
inebriated and stupefied, find that they also are occupied in the
formation of matter and in the vivification of the body; then, as if
awakened and brought to themselves, recognizing its principle and
genius, they turn towards superior things and force themselves on the
intelligible world as to their native abode, and from thence, through
their conversion to inferior things, they are thrust into the fate and
conditions of generation. These two impulses are symbolized in the two
kinds of metamorphosis expressed in the following:


  That god who shakes the sounding thunder,
  Asteria as a furtive eagle saw;
  Mnemosyne as shepherd; Danae gold;
  Alcmene as a fish; Antiope a goat;
  Cadmus and his sister a white bull;
  Leda as swan, and Dolida as dragon;
  And through the lofty object I become,
  From subject viler still, a god.
  A horse was Saturn;
  And in a calf and dolphin Neptune dwelt;
  Ibis and shepherd Mercury became;
  Bacchus a grape; Apollo was a crow;
  And I by help of love,
  From an inferior thing, do change me to a god.

In Nature is one revolution and one circle, by means of which, for the
perfection and help of others, superior things lower themselves to
things inferior, and, by their own excellence and felicity, inferior
things raise themselves to superior ones. Therefore the Pythagoreans and
Platonists say it is given to the soul that at certain times, not only
by spontaneous will, which turns it towards the comprehension of Nature,
but also by the necessity of an internal law, written and registered by
the destined decree, they seek their own justly determined fate; and
they also say that souls, not so much by determination of their own will
as through a certain order, by which they become inclined towards
matter, decline as rebels from divinity; wherefore, not by free
intention, but by a certain occult consequence, they fall. And this is
the inclination that they have to generation, as towards a minor good.
Minor, I say, in so far as it appertains to that particular nature; not
in so far as it appertains to the universal nature, where nothing
happens without the highest aim, and which disposes of all things
according to justice. In which generation finding themselves once more
through the changes which permutably succeed, they return again to the
superior forms.

CIC. So that they mean, that souls are impelled by the necessity of
fate, and have no proper counsel which guides them at all.

TANS. Necessity, fate, nature, counsel, will, those things, justly and
rightfully ordained, all agree in one. Besides which, as Plotinus
relates, some believe that certain souls can escape from their own evil,
if knowing the danger, they seek refuge in the mind before the corporeal
habit is confirmed; because the mind raises to things sublime, as the
imagination lowers to inferior things. The mind always understands one,
as the imagination is one in movement and in diversity; the mind always
understands one, as the imagination is always inventing for itself
various images. In the midst is the rational faculty, which is a
mixture of all, like that in which the one agrees with the many,
sameness with variety, movement with fixedness, the inferior with the
superior. Now these transmutations and conversions are symbolized in the
wheel of metamorphosis, where man sits on the upper part, a beast lies
at the bottom, a half-man, half-beast descends from the left, and a
half-beast, half-man ascends from the right. This transmutation is shown
where Jove, according to the diversity of the affections and the
behaviour of those towards inferior things, invests himself with divers
figures, entering into the form of beasts; and so also the other gods
transmigrate into base and alien forms. And, on the contrary, through
the knowledge of their own nobility, they re-take their own divine form;
as the passionate hero, raising himself through conceived kinds of
divine beauty and goodness, with the wings of the intellect and rational
will, rises to the divinity, leaving the form of the lower subject. And
therefore he said, "I become from subject viler still, a god. From an
inferior thing do change me to a god."