Alan Powers

Bristol Community College

Campania Felix

Giordano Bruno’s Candelaio and Naples

Over the course of our Campania Felix seminar, and a few days in Rome preceding it, I have been discovering what I can about Bruno, about his Neapolitan ambience—especially places he mentions in his only play—about the Risorgimento academic and political use of Bruno, and finally about the 1991 performance of Candelaio in Neapolitan dialect. After I report under three headings—the Risorgimento and Bruno, places associated with his life, and Tato Russo’s production at the Bellini Theater—, I shall finish with a reading from my translation of the play, Act 4, scene 16.

The Risorgimento interest in Bruno took form in the academy and in the plastic arts, so that the Naples cortile of the Biblioteca Universitaria looks like a Parnassus of Brunonians. The most famous Risorgimento monument to Bruno is of course the one by Ferrari on the spot where he was executed in 1600, but the sculpture in the University of Naples library courtyard predates it by a quarter century. Moreover, it is flanked by Giambattista Vico and busts of Bruno scholars (and Naples professors) like Fiorentino and De Sanctis.

A vivid sense of the change in daily life with the Risorgimento triumph comes through in the medieval historian Ferdinand Gregorovius’s Diari Romani 1852-74. He took the train from Monaco and arrived in Rome forty-eight hours later, on the 17th of June, 1870. Gregorovius describes the scene.

The Pope is declared a prisoner, has submitted a protest, and suspended the Council with a Papal Bull. In the Vatican one finds the national troops; across the half-opened gates of the collonade I saw intimidated Swiss Guards. In the Vatican itself now reside only the Pope’s best friends, among them also Kanzler. One does not see the Cardinals, or, if they come out, their carriages are without their usual insignia. All their pomp and magnificence is doused. Single, lone timorous priests go through the streets like shadows. Lamarmora now governs here. He left the field to urge the King to transfer his residence immediately to Rome, to create a fait accompli. The sovereign exists, but he does not yet have a palace in Rome to live in. He does not have access to the Quirinale to which the Pontifical functionaries refuse to give him the keys.

Clearly, under such challenges to the Church, Bruno became both an icon of anti-clericism and almost an herald of these very attitudes. In short, he became politically useful, especially since Church scholars until the early nineteenth century had denied that his trial had even happened.

During this nineteenth century Risorgimento unification of Italy, Bruno also represented—in a latitudinal schism that still divides Italy—rare South Italian intellectual achievement. A statue of Giordano Bruno was erected June 9th 1889, in Rome on the spot where he was burned, a stone’s throw from the Vatican. Pope Leo XIII called it a "wicked crime," malvaggio delitto, and he threatened to withdraw from Rome. The President of the Council at the time, one Crespi, warned that if the Pope left Rome (and took with him the principal employer of Romans), he (Crespi) could not guarantee that Church property would not be occupied by the crowds.

On the other hand, Bruno has had other prominent defenders, some even notorious. One of the contributors to the 1889 statue— a list that included every international celebrity of the time like Ibsen, Victor Hugo, etc.— a man from Boston, George Hill, thought that the Christian Calendar should be dropped in favor of dating years since Bruno’s death. After all, the Christian calendar was not instituted until several centuries after Christ’s birth. George Hill suggested instead of Anno Domini, we call it the Age of Mankind. That makes our milleniel year not 2000, but 400 since Bruno.

One twentieth century leader, asked by the Vatican to tear down the statue of the man for whom he had named his son, answered, "I must affirm that the statue of Bruno, melancholy as was the destiny of that friar, will remain right where it is….I have the impression that this will defend that philosopher who, if he was wrong and persisted in his errors, nevertheless has paid for it."3 This was Mussolini, whose minister of public instruction, Giovanni Gentile, was an early editor of Bruno’s Italian dialogs.4

Such opponents as the Pope and Mussolini forewarn us that our subject is contested ground. Bruno the speculative thinker, staking out his arguments against Aristotle, was a most unlikely political figure, more surprising even than the American recluse and botanist Thoreau, whose brief essay on his one night in jail led to Ghandi’s and Martin Luther King’s methods of freeing, respectively, India in 1947 and African-Americans in the 1960s. But Bruno’s statue came laden with politics, as some sort of capstone of the idealism in the Risorgimento. The great German poet Goethe who read Bruno from 1812 to 1818, seems to have it right in calling the Nolan "a paradoxical man" whose numerical mysticism was impenetrable, but who remained an "apostle of originality" (Levergeois 517).

What of the statue and ceremony of June 9th? All accounts agree that it was a watershed, a date that will live in history—or infamy. A Catholic journalist and compiler, Antonmaria Bonetti, admits that the opposition speaker that day, Professor Bovio, was right to claim that the Bruno statue caused the Pope more grief than the invasion of Rome twenty years earlier.5 At the dedication, Bovio also remarked,

They well understand, those who have come here, that as in 313 at Milan imperial decree established the Christian religion, here on the 9th of June in Rome is founded, by consent of free people, the religion of thought (Bonetti 135).

Antonmaria Bonetti claims to have counted the crowd he addressed: 675 banner-wavers, 665 women, and 685 youths, short of the thousand banners planned. He also counted the band members: 26 adults and perhaps 40 youths. They had been playing, perhaps only at the Campo de’ Fiori, and singing the Marseilles and popular national song, Verdi’s hymn to Garibaldi. Bonetti points out that the hymn concerns battling Austria; it ends, "Long live the king from the Alps to the sea!" (Viva il re dall’Alpi al mare) [Bonetti 39]. When they were not singing these republican songs, they processed very quietly, as if in a cortege.

Two of Bruno’s heresies particularly bothered Cardinal Santaseverina, the supreme Inquisitor who managed through months of diplomacy to get the trial transferred from Venice, where Bruno had a few friends, to Rome where he had none. Bruno argued the eternity, not the creation, of the universe, and the infinite number of inhabitable worlds. This was flat out heresy, which today must nearly be a majority opinion. The current Roman doctrine on other worlds has undergone little change from the Counter-reformation position the Church may have backed into. One generation ago, in The Crime of Galileo, Santillana says,

Father Agostino Gemelli, a well-known physiologist in his own right and late Rector of the Gregorian University, stated in the press in 1953 that the increased belief in the occurence of conscious life in other planets or galaxies that is noticed in present-day cosmological speculation can come only of an ignorance of theology; for theology, while leaving a completely open field to scientific speculation, is able to affirm categorically in advance of facts that there are not and cannot be any beings endowed with soul anywhere in the universe except on Earth (231).

Father Gemelli’s assurances aside, red-shift studies by astronomers like Margaret Geller, once considered unglamorous science, have resulted in an whole new map of the galaxies which apparently cluster in lines resembling the intersection of vast bubbles.

Moving from the universe to the Bay of Naples, here Bruno spent over eleven years at Santo Domenico Maggiore, the Dominican monastery and church where Thomas Aquinas taught awhile earlier. Before he took his monastic name of Giordano, the young Phillipo Bruno probably also attended lectures in a school that looked out on the Piazza at San Domenico Maggiore.6 Naples is the setting of his one play. Candelaio or Candle-maker or Candle-bearer translates something like "stud" with gay or bisexual suggestions. Like the title, the play is outrageous in parts, its settecento critical history consisting largely of testimony why the critic has not read it—and also why the critic disapproves it.

The only major landmark in the play that no longer exists is the Vicaria prison. I have visited such sites as the Piedigrotta, near the so-called Tomb of Vergil, and the Porta Nilo—not the piazetta Nilo near the statue of the cornucopic Father Nile (close to Bruno’s monastery) but the port area near Santa Maria della Carmine, a gritty quarter of far different ambience from the homonymous church of the Cenacolo in Milan. The name of the "Nile" quarter has a couple of derivations. There was since Roman times the grain trade with Egypt, and apparently a significant Egyptian community in Naples. But Altamura gives two other etymologies:

The sixth quarter, the section of Nido, stands near Porta Ventosa, which

For its plenitude of water and [padule] appeared as the Nile, which is the great river in Egypt: at that place they say there was a marble statue of a beutiful woman who nurses or feeds five childrren, three on one side….Another derivation comes from its being the place which teemed with "cells" (which are termed "nidi" or nests) from which the Piazza is named "Nido," largely the habitation of scholars who live around there. That place, with those said habitations, is a "nido" or nest of scholars. The people who associated with them in early times were called "scoluso," or "those who use the school and rooms of scholars.

Since our seminar has studied the caldron of myth-making in this area—the so-called baths of Vergil, the lighthouse at Miseno, etc.—I offer the next legend from Bruno’s youth. The oral culture in Naples seems to generate saints legends; every pilaster in the Duomo holds a bust of a bishop of Naples who had been sainted. It turns out there are even saints’ legends to heretics. I have not visited the crossroads near Nola where the following incident from Bruno’s youth took place. In Franco Salerno’s Luoghi Interiori, a book of itineraries, we find this portrait of the young Bruno.

At a trivium outside the Nola city walls, where the Nola road meest two roads to Naples (San Paolo Belsito and Casamarciano), two Bruno scholars, Spampanato and Ammirati place an incident where Bishop Francesco Scaccavo visited to say a mass for the dead. The account emphasizes the presence of domestic animals, of cows and chickens, tells about the structure of the house, not in the best condition, with some cracks in the walls. In a cradle was a four to five year old boy named Fillipo who started crying when he saw a snake coming out of a fissure in the wall. Such was the child Bruno who upon entering the monastery at Santo Domenico Maggiore took the name of Giordano.

Evidently, the parish records are good enough to document even humble beginnings.

Turning from Bruno’s childhood to his legacy, Tato Russo rewrote Candelaio in a version "sliding into Neapolitan dialect," as one reviewer put it. This production opened the season at Naples’ Bellini Theater on 18 October, 1991. Enrico Fiore reviewed it for Il Mattino, observing that "Russo’s translation into Neapolitan orients the text toward an exasperated realism."

Bruno was condemned to burn, but he had, by his own account, already foreseen and thrown into flames his entire century, from literature to science, from religion to ethics, from politics to social institutions, in their forms now petrified and reduced to hollow shells. And the pyre on which he set things smouldering was in fact Candelaio that, not by chance, constitutes itself an implacable polemic against the theater itself, and particularly against fifteenth century Italian comedy. It starts with a monstrous multiplication of prologs (proemial sonnet, dedication, extensive plot summary, anteprolog, proprolog, and Janitor) to arrive at its open structure with situations and scenes that grow out of themselves—or that intersect with preceding works—until they signify nothing more than the spontaneous and uncontrollable flow of life with which it tends to coincide….

Evidently the exasperated realism of Russo’s version coincides with the "spontaneous flow of life." Bruno puts in play an extraordinary mixing of levels of language that are "bound, one takes it, to a petrified superstructure, though reproduced with absolute fidelity, thus—one takes it, again—desacralized and demystified from within under the layer of irony."

Fiore sees the Nolan as a forerunner of Sartre’s "embodied word," such that the three main characters do not simply "use" their respective jargons (either the formulas of Petrarchan love, or the smoke an mirrors of fake science, or academic Latin) but purely and simply, the characters are those languages.

In other words, the polemic unleashed by Bruno in Candelaio turns out to be as ferocious as it is lucid: all the more so, because, in its turn, it is not "declared" by the text, it is that text…. This production, described in the program as translated, directed and obviously interpreted by Tato Russo, is performed as a national premier for the 1991-92 season at the Bellini. It speaks (in the better spirit under the Romantic impulse, in the worrse, quasi-millenial) above all of chaos and viscerality: its "obscenity" or "corporality" serves the Nolan as a chemical reagent to corrode in a more destructive manner the vacuity of those jargons cited. This obscenity Bruno places in the mouths of street people who elevate themselves (by disguises, etc.) to the level of judges and lawmen, though only symbolically.

Tato Russo risked losing the philosophical paradoxes and Bruno’s ideolect by reducing the dialog to one language—and that of the street, at that. But Fiore thinks his gamble was a qualified success.

Tato Russo has translated the original text into Neapolitan—thereby cancelling the clash of various jargons and languages in Bruno, and grounding the comedy on a realistic base; the consequence is that the degradation of this human and social microcosm becomes illustrated and illuminated often by external means. For example, Marta, the alchemist’s wife, here becomes lame and hunchbacked, continually shouting growing insults at the fake cops.

In Bruno’s text, Marta is a neglected (and adulterous) wife, one whose husband spends all his time in the lab experimenting with "Christ dust." She could be a more modern type than merely a figure of pity.

As for the final scenes, here Russo makes a millenialist adaptation.

The concluding sequence of the play is invented as a counterweight to its exasperation and violence: a sort of ceremonial "auto de fe" with the pedant Manfurio killed, an immense cross leaning upstage, a trumpet that intones a real Christian dirge [deguella], a chorus of mothers with children in their arms (life continues notwithstanding all) and the last stroke no less invented, the request in Neapolitan for applause,

Plaudite comme a me pe chisto nfierno

Ca nce ha mannato Dio

Per mmalovierno.

The Neapolitan is a nice touch, though a considerable change in register. Bruno does feature a request for applause, in Latin, from the pedant, who is only humiliated, not killed. Bruno’s conclusion is a wonderful metadramatic moment, when the pedant Manfurio awakens from his dream of superior knowledge, stripped and lashed by the conmen. It is a degradation, but not unredeemed. Manfurio awakens to his true position: i.e., as a character. A page asks him to look around and evaluate his true position. Where is he? There seems to be an audience, Manfurio admits, he seems to be in a play. At what point would he like thie play to be? The End, Manfurio agrees. So Ascanio coaches him how to ask for applause. It is a fine moment, significantly less self-conscious in Tato Russo’s version.

Tato Russo’s recent production situates the play in its provenient ambience, the Neapolitan streets. This is important, because Bruno’s parodies of Petrarchan and alchemical languages suggest an academic audience, but his maruioli suggest the streets of Naples. I think the play is Rabelaisian, moving between the world of thought and the clearly embodied characters whose obscenity critiques the academy. From Tato Russo’s production, let us move to my translation of a scene fairly late in the play where the pedant Manfurio—Manny in my text—tries to convince theives disguised as cops that he is really an academic.


Candelaio 4.16 Sanguino (dressed as Capt. Palma), Marca, Barra,

and Corky (as security men). Manny.

Sang.Sure enough, this guy who's taking off is absconding and leading some poor soul into purgatory. For sure, he has a bad conscience. Grab 'im.

Bar. Who is that?

Manny. [Intones as if Latin] Doctor Manfurius. A malefactor I am not, nor thief, adulterer, nor false witness. I want no wife, nor any other skirt.

Sang. What prayers are you saying, Compline or Matins?

Marca.The Seventh Psalm or Office of the Dead?

Sang.What's your university position? He's some overeducated clergyman.

Man. Headmasterum I'm. Middlum schoolum.

Sang.Is he trying to say he's crazy? Handcuff 'im so he can be lead in for observation.

Cork.Hold out your hands, Mr. Lost Sheep. Come, we want to give you free lodging for the evening, at State expense.

Man.My good sirs, I am a schoolmaster who just this last hour was robbed of some fifties and stripped of my clothes.

Sang. Why then do you flee from Security? You're a thief, enemy of the law. Tsk, tsk.

Man. I implore you, do not strike me. I just ran to avoid being seen in these deplorable tatters which are not my own.

Sang.Aha, my Brethren! Can't you see this mink stole he stole-- from Versace at Burlington Mall.

Corky.Excuse me, sir Captain, your Lordship is mistaken, because that lady's coat had a yellow ribboned collar...

Sang.Can't you see it? You blind? Isn't this ribbon? Isn't it yellow?

Corky. Why, by Saint Cudgel, it's true!

Marc. By the body of Christ, here's a formal thief. Take that! and that.

Man. Good lord! Why keep knocking me? I've told you that I was given in these rummage sale castoffs instead of my jacket because of some surreptors, or to use your jargon, hoods, thieves.

Sang. Now you've confessed that you're our man, these clothes aren't yours. To jail, where we'll see who's the real thief.

Man. Take me to my school in the suburbs and I'll prove I'm no malefactor.

Sang. We don't arrest people to lead them home, Zo, zo. Do we look like a taxi? You'll go to County Court, and try out your defense on someone besides us cops.

Man. Dear me, is this how you treat the learned? If you're arresting me, with what offense am I charged? Quo delicto?

Marca. Speak English, speak like a Christian, for Chrissakes, so we can understand, man.

Barra. He is speaking Christian, 'cause he sounds like a priest saying mass in the old days.

Marca. Bet 'chya he's a monk in disguise.

Corky. Now you're talkin'. There once was a priest from Tangiers / Who tried to say mass using beer / When he blessed it he burped / Then he dropped down his skirt / And his congregants left all in tears.

Man. I have not entered holy orders.

Sang. See how he wears his hair? The top of his head looks like a communion wafer.

Man. That's from allopicia, a form of calvitium.

Sang. 'Vizi' he says for 'vice'. We knew it all along. A sicko.

Man. I distinctly said 'calvitium,' which means a defect (vitium) of the cranium. And DON'T hit me, I'll scream.

Barra. 'Don't hit me, I'll scream' [said like a girl].

Man. Is this how the police are accustomed to treating witnesses, and professors, to boot?

Sang. You lied. You don't bear the slightest resemblance to a professor. Zo, zo...

Man. Okay, I'll recite a hundred verses from the Roman poet Virgil, or from the start, however much of the Aeneid, the first book of which, according to the scholars, begins "I am he who once...," according to others who say these verses of Varro, not Virgil, begin, "Arma virumque cano"-- I sing of arms and of the man.

Sang. Don't fool yourself, you wall-ball, with these Latin phrases got up for the moment. You are uneducated. If you were educated, you wouldn't be such a conman and rascal.

Man. Bring someone educated, and I'll debate with him.

Sang. "Of how many genders, gents and cinders, do all nouns partake?"

Man. Now, this is a Jr. High question for uninitiates and third-graders, for those whose lips are scarce weaned, to whom one instructs: "masculine" is for male, "feminine" for female, and "neuter" for whatever's neither one nor the other, "common" for what is both one and the other.

Barra. No. "Masculine" and "feminine."

Man. ..."epicene" for what doesn't distinguish one sex from the other.

Sang. Which of all these are you? Aren't you "epicene"?

Man. To repeat, "what does not distinguish the sexes, you may call 'epicene.'"

Sang. Tell me, if you're really a "magister": what do you teach first, to first-graders?

Man. In Desputeres' Grammar there is this rule: "What attaches to men only, that is masculine."

Sang. Explain.

Man. All (that is, in entirety, if you wish, the universal, what you will) that agrees with (that is congruent, similar to) male alone (by this we refer only to what makes something masculine in gender) is in fact (that is, may be called, enjoys all the rights and privileges) of masculine; videlicet, what masculine alone has, is masculine.

Sang. What the hell kind of teaching is this for kids to hear in grammar school! What's masculine, and no women ever have: any idiot knows what that is, his weinie, his prick.

Bar. Jesus, what a great lesson that is!

Man. Negative. No, I'm not saying what you think.-- See what it amounts to, to talk to the uneducated. I'm talking what fits with feminine and masculine, what agrees with them.

Sang. Zo, zo, zo. We know what agrees with women, and what fits them, too.

Man. What you call "masculine" is but an attributive, partial meaning, and feminine, by relation to it.

Sang. Quick, we'll put him in this room and then hand him before the Bishop. He wants to prove he's learned; he can tell him all about his Masters in humping sheep.

Man. O me miserum! Words do not suffice. It's just not my lucky day.