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


Now begins the enthusiast to display the affections and uncover the
wounds which are for a sign in his body, and in substance or essence in
his soul, and he says thus:


  Of Love the standard-bearer I;
  My hopes are ice, and glowing my desires.
  At once I tremble, sparkle, freeze, and burn;
  Am mute, and fill the air with clamorous plaints.
  Water my eyes distil, sparks from my heart.
  I live, I die, make merry and lament.
  Living the waters, the burning never dies,
  For in my eyes is Thetys, and Vulcan in my heart.
  Others I love; myself I hate.
  If I be winged, others are changed to stone;
  They high as heaven, if I be lowly set.
  I cease not to pursue, they ever flee away;
  If I do call, yet none will answer me.
  The more I search, the more is hid from me.

In accordance with this, I will continue with that which just before I
said to thee, that one should not strive so hard to prove that which is
so very evident--namely, that there is nothing pure and unalloyed; and
some have said that no mixed thing is a real entity, as alloyed gold is
not real gold, manufactured wine is not real simple wine. Almost all
things are made up of opposites, whence it comes that the success of our
affections, through the mixture that is in things, can afford no
pleasure without some bitterness; and more than this, I will say, that
were it not for the bitter, there would be no sweet; seeing that it is
through fatigue that we find pleasure in repose; separation is the cause
of our pleasure in union; and, examining generally, we shall ever find
that one opposite is the reason that the other opposite pleases and is

CIC. Then there is no delight without the contrary?

TANS. Certainly not; as without the opposite there is no pain; as is
shown by that golden Pythagorean poet when he says:

  Hinc metuunt cupiuntque, dolent gaudentque, nec
  Respiciunt, clausae tenebris, e carcere caeco.

This, then, is what the mixture of things causes, and hence it is that
no one is pleased with his own state, except some senseless blockhead,
who is so all the more the deeper is the degree of obscure folly in
which he is sunk; then he has little or no apprehension of pain; he
enjoys the actual present without fearing the future; he enjoys that
which is and that in which he finds himself, and has neither care nor
sorrow for what may be; and, in short, has no sense of that opposition
which is symbolized by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

CIC. From this we see that ignorance is the mother of sensual felicity
and beatitude, and this same is the garden of paradise of the animals;
as is made clear in the dialogues of the Kabala of the horse Pegasus;
and as says the wise Solomon, "Whoso increases knowledge increases

TANS. Hence it appears that heroic love is a torment, because it does
not enjoy the present, as does animal love, but is of the future and the
absent; and, on the contrary, it feels ambition, emulation, suspicion
and dread. One evening, after supper, a certain neighbour of ours said:
"Never was I more jolly than I am now." John Bruno, father of the
Nolano, answered him: "Never wert thou more foolish than now."

CIC. You would imply, then, that he who is sad is wise, and that other
who is more sad is wiser?

TANS. On the contrary, I mean that there is in these another species of
foolishness and a worse.

CIC. Who, then, is wise, if foolish is he who is content, and foolish he
who is sad?

TANS. He who is neither merry nor sad.

CIC. Who? He who sleeps? He who is without feeling--who is dead?

TANS. No; but he who is quick, both seeing and hearing, and who,
considering evil and good, estimating the one and the other as variable,
and consistent in motion, mutation, and vicissitude, in such wise that
the end of one opposite is the commencement of another, and the extreme
of the one is the beginning of the other; whose spirit is neither
depressed nor elated, but is moderate in inclinations and temperate in
desires; to him pleasure is not pleasure, having ever present the end of
it; equally, pain to him is not pain, because by the force of reasoning
he has present the end of that too. So the sage holds all mutable things
as things that are not, and affirms that they are no other than vanity
and nothingness, because time has to eternity the proportion of the
point to the line.

CIC. So that we can never hold the proposition of being contented or
discontented, without holding the proposition of our own foolishness,
which we thereby confess; therefore no one who reasons, and
consequently no one who participates, can be wise; in short, all men are

TANS. I do not intend to infer that; for I will hold of highest wisdom
him who could really say at one time the opposite of what he says at
another--never was I less gay than now; or, never was I less sad than at

CIC. How? Do you not make two contrary qualities where there are two
opposite affections? Why, I say, do you take as two virtues, and not as
one vice and one virtue, the being less gay and the being less sad?

TANS. Because both the contraries in excess--that is, in so far as they
exceed--are vices, because they pass the line; and the same, in so far
as they diminish, come to be virtues, because they are contained within

CIC. How? The being less merry and the being less sad are not one virtue
and one vice, but are two virtues?

TANS. On the contrary, I say they are one and the same virtue; because
the vice is there where the opposite is; the opposite is chiefly there
where the extreme is; the greatest opposite is the nearest to the
extreme; the least or nothing is in the middle, where the opposites
meet, and are one and identical; as between the coldest and hottest and
the hotter and colder, in the middle point is that which you may call
hot and cold, or neither hot nor cold, without contradiction. In that
way whoso is least content and least joyful is in the degree of
indifference, and finds himself in the habitation of temperance, where
the virtue and condition of a strong soul exist, which bends not to the
south wind nor to the north. This, then, to return to the point, is how
this enthusiastic hero, who explains himself in the present part, is
different from the other baser ones--not as virtue from vice, but as a
vice which exists in a subject more divine or divinely, from a vice
which exists in a subject more savage or savagely; so that the
difference is according to the different subjects and modes, and not
according to the form of vice.

CIC. I can very well conceive, from what you have said, the condition of
that heroic enthusiast, who says, "My hopes are ice and my desires are
glowing," because he is not in the temperance of mediocrity, but, in the
excess of contradictions, his soul is discordant, he shivers in his
frozen hopes and burns in his glowing desires; in his eagerness he is
clamorous, and he is mute from fear; his heart burns in its affection
for others, and for compassion of himself he sheds tears from his eyes;
dying in the laughter of others, he is alive in his own lamentations;
and like him who no longer belongs to himself, he loves others and hates
himself; because matter, as say the physicists, with that measure with
which it loves the absent form, hates the present one. And so in the
octave finishes the war which the soul has within itself; and when he
says in the sistina, but if I be winged, others change to stone and that
which follows; he shows his passion for the warfare which he wages with
external contradictions. I remember having read in Jamblichus, where he
treats of the Egyptian mysteries, this sentence: "Impius animam
dissidentem habet: unde nec secum ipse convenire potest, neque cum

TANS. Now listen to another sonnet, as sequel to what has been said:


  By what condition, nature, or fell chance,
  In living death, dead life I live?
  Love has me dead, alack! and such a death,
  That death and life together I must lose.
  Devoid of hope, I reach the gates of hell,
  And laden with desire arrive at heaven:
  Thus am I subject to eternal opposites,
  And, banished both from heaven and from hell,
  No pause nor rest my torments know,
  Because between two running wheels I go,
  Of which one here, the other there compels,
  And like Ixion I pursue and flee;
  For to the double discourse do I fit
  The crosswise lesson of the spur and bit.

He shows how much he suffers from this dislocation and distraction in
himself; while the affections, leaving the mean and middle way of
temperance, tend towards the one and the other extreme, and so are
wafted on high or towards the right, and are also transported downwards
to the left.

CIC. How is it that, not being really of one or the other extreme, it
does not come to be in the conditions or terms of virtue?

TANS. It is then in a state of virtue when it keeps to the middle,
declining from one to the other opposite; but when it leads towards the
extremes, inclining to one or the other of those, it fails so entirely
from being virtue, that it is a double vice, which consists in this,
that the thing recedes from its nature, the perfection of which consists
in unity, and there where the opposites meet, its composition and virtue
exist. This, then, is how he is dead alive, or living dying; whence he
says, "In a living death a dead life I live." He is not dead, because
he lives in the object; not alive, because he is dead in himself;
deprived of death, because he gives birth to thoughts; deprived of life,
because he does not grow or feel in himself. He is now most dejected
through meditating on the high intelligence, and the perceived
feebleness of power; and most elated by the aspiration of heroic
longing, which passes far beyond his limits, and is most exalted by the
intellectual appetite; which has not for its fashion or aim to add
number to number, is most dejected by the violence done to him by the
sensual opposite which drags him down towards hell. So that, finding
himself thus ascending and descending, he feels within his soul the
greatest dissension that is possible to be felt, and he remains in a
state of confusion through this rebellion of the senses, which urge him
thither where reason restrains, and _vice versa_. This same is
thoroughly demonstrated in the following sentences, where the Reason,
under the name of "Filenio" asks, and the enthusiast replies under the
name of "Shepherd," who labours in the care of the flocks and herds of
his thoughts, which he nourishes in the submission to and service of his
nymph, which is the affection of that object to which he is captive.


FILENIO. Shepherd!

SHEPHERD. What wilt thou?

F. What doest thou?

S. I suffer.

F. Wherefore?

S. Because neither life has me for his own, nor death.

F. Who's to blame?

S. Love.

F. That rascal?

S. That rascal.

F. Where is he?

S. He holds me tight in my heart's core.

F. What does he?

S. Wounds me.

F. Who?

S. Me.

F. Thee?

S. Yes.

F. With what?

S. With the eyes, the gates of heaven and of hell.

F. Dost hope?

S. I hope.

F. For pity?

S. For pity.

F. From whom?

S. From him who racks me night and day.

F. Has he any?

S. I know not.

F. Thou art a fool.

S. How if such folly be pleasing to my soul?

F. Does he promise?

S. No.

F. Does he deny?

S. Not at all.

F. Is he silent?

S. Yes, for so much purity (_onesta_) robs me of my boldness.

F. Thou ravest.

S. How so?

F. In vain efforts.

S. His scorn more than my torments do I fear.

Here he says that he craves for love, and he complains of it, yet not
because he loves--seeing that to no true lover can love be displeasing;
but because he loves unhappily, whilst those beams which are the rays of
those lights, and which themselves, according as they are perverse and
antagonistic, or really kind and gracious, become the gates which lead
towards heaven or towards hell. In this way he is kept in hope of future
and uncertain mercy, but actually in a state of present and certain
torment, and although he sees his folly quite clearly, nevertheless he
does not care to correct himself in it, or even to feel displeased with
it, but rather does he feel satisfied with it, as he shows when he says:

  Never let me of Love complain,
  For Love alone can ease my pain.

Here is shown another species of enthusiasm born from the light of
reason, which excites fear and suppresses the aforesaid reason in order
not to commit any action which might vex or irritate the thing loved.
He says, then, that hope rests in the future, without anything being
promised or denied; therefore, he is silent and asks nothing, for fear
of offending purity (_l'onestade_). He does not venture to explain
himself and make a proposition, lest he be rejected with repugnance or
accepted with reserve; for he thinks the evil that there might be in the
one would be over-balanced by the good in the other. He shows himself,
then, ready to suffer for ever his own torment, rather than to open the
door to an opportunity through which the thing loved might be perturbed
and saddened.

CIC. Herein he proves that his love is truly heroic; because he proposes
to himself as the chief aim, not corporeal beauty, but rather the grace
of the spirit, and the inclination of the affections in which, rather
than in the beauty of the body, that love that has in it the divine, is

TANS. Thou knowest that, as the Platonic ideas are divided into three
species, of which one tends to the contemplative or speculative life,
one to active morality, and the third to the idle and voluptuous, so are
there three species of love, of which one raises itself from the
contemplation of bodily form to the consideration of the spiritual and
divine; the other only continues in the delight of seeing and
conversing; the third from seeing proceeds to precipitate into the
concupiscence of touch. Of these three modes others are composed,
according as the first may be coupled with the second or the third, or
as all the three modes may combine together, of which one and all may be
divided into others, according to the affections of the enthusiast, as
these tend more towards the spiritual object, or more towards the
corporeal, or equally towards the one and the other. Hence it comes,
that of those who find themselves in this warfare, and are entangled in
the meshes of love, some aim at enjoying, and they are incited to pluck
the apple from the tree of corporeal beauty, without which acquisition,
or at least the hope of it, they hold vain and worthy only of derision
every amorous care; and in such-wise run all those who are of a
barbarous nature, who neither do nor can seek to exalt themselves by
loving worthy things, and aspiring to illustrious things, and higher
still to things divine, by suitable studies and exercises, to which
nothing can more richly and easily supply the wings than heroic love;
others put before themselves the fruit of delight, which they take in
the aspect of the beauty and grace of the spirit, which glitters and
shines in the beauty of the body, and certain of these, although they
love the body and greatly desire to be united to it, bewailing its
absence and being afflicted by separation, at the same time fear, lest
presuming in this they may be deprived of that affability, conversation,
friendship, and sympathy which are most precious to them; because to
attempt this there cannot be more guarantee of success than there is
risk of forfeiting that favour, which appears before the eyes of thought
as a thing so glorious and worthy.

CIC. It is a worthy thing, oh Tansillo! for its many virtues and
perfections, and it behoves human genius to seek, accept, nourish, and
preserve a love like that; but one should take great care not to bow
down or become enslaved to an object unworthy and base, lest we become
sharers of the baseness and unworthiness of the same: appositely the
Ferrarese poet says

  Who sets his foot upon the amorous snare,
  Lest he besmear his wings, let him beware.

TANS. To say the truth, that object, which beyond the beauty of the body
has no other splendour, is not worthy of being loved otherwise than to
make the race; and it seems to me the work of a pig or a horse to
torment one's self about it, and as to myself, never was I more
fascinated by such things than I am now fascinated by some statue or
picture to which I am indifferent. It would then be a great dishonour to
a generous soul, if, of a foul, vile, loose, and ignoble nature,
although hid under an excellent symbol, it should be said: "I fear his
scorn more than my torment."