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Giordano Bruno and the Virtues of the Zodiac

Mis à jour : mars 31

Extract from:

Frances A. Yates

Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition


"In the following pages I hope to show that both Bruno's proposed moral reform and his philosophy are related to his Hermetic religious mission. Since the full "Egyptian" character of Bruno's message comes out very clearly in one of the so-called moral dialogues, the Spaccio della bestia trionfante, I shall discuss this first. ...

A basic theme of Bruno's Spaccio della bestia trionfante (1584) is the glorification of the magical religion of the Egyptians, which Bruno states that he prefers to any other religion. ...

He claims that the marvellous magical religion of the Egyptians will return, their moral laws will replace the chaos of the present age, the prophesy of the Lament will be fulfilled, and the sign in heaven proclaiming the return of Egyptian light to dispel the present darkness was the Copernican sun. ...

The implication is that the world being now at its lowest ebb of "opinions" and "works", the nadir of that fall into darkness prophesied in the Lament, it may now expect to return back into such light and splendour as Egypt enjoyed in the days of Hermes Trismegistus when men consorted with gods and were most religious.

The peculiarity of the reform in the Spaccio is that it begins in the heavens; it is the images of the constellations of the zodiac and of the northern and southern constellations which are reformed or cleansed through a council of the planetary gods which is summoned by Jupiter for this purpose. ...

« Up, up, O ye gods ! and remove from heaven all these spectres, statues, figures, images, pictures, histories of our avarice, lusts, thefts, hatreds, contempts, and shames. May this dark and gloomy night of our errors pass away, for the dawn of a new day of justice invites us. And let us place ourselves in such a manner that the rising sun does not disclose our uncleanness.

We must purify ourselves and make ourselves beautiful. We must place ourselves, I say, first in the intellectual heaven which is within us, and then in this sensible and corporeal heaven which presents itself to our eyes.

Let us remove from the heaven of our minds the BEAR of Deformity, the ARROW of Detraction, the HORSE of Levity, the DOG of Murmuring, the LITTLE DOG of Flattery.

Let us banish the HERCULES of Violence, the LYRE of Conspiracy, the TRIANGLE of Impiety, the BOOTES of Inconstancy, the CEPHEUS of Cruelty. May the DRAGON of Envy be far from us, and the SWAN of Imprudence, the CASSIOPEIA of Vanity, the ANDROMEDA of Laziness, the PERSEUS of Vain Anxiety.

Let us chase away the OPHIUCHUS of Evil-Speaking, the EAGLE of Arrogance, the DOLPHIN of Lust, the HORSE of Impatience, the HYDRA of Concupiscence. Let us put far from us the CETUS of Gluttony, the ORION of Ferocity, the RIVER of Superfluities, the GORGON of Ignorance, the HARE of Timidity.

Let us no longer carry in our breast the ARGO of Avarice, the CUP of Insobriety, the BALANCE of Iniquity, the CANCER of Slowness, the CAPRICORN of Deception. Let not the SCORPIO of Fraud come near us, nor the CENTAUR of Animal Affection, the ALTAR of Superstition, the CROWN of Pride, the FISH of Unworthy Silence.

May the TWINS of Indecent Familiarity fall with them, and the BULL of Concern for mean things, the RAM of Inconsiderateness, the LION of Tyranny, the AQUARIUS of Dissoluteness, the VIRGIN of Fruitless Conversation, and the SAGITTARIUS of Detraction.

If we thus purge our habitations, O ye gods, if we thus renew our heaven, the constellations and influences shall be new, the impressions and fortunes shall be new, for all things depend on this upper World, and contrary Effects depend on contrary Causes. O Happy ! O truly fortunate we ! if we could make a good colony of our Minds and Thoughts. »

Giordano Bruno - Spaccio de la bestia trionfante (1584)

These words are part of a speech made by Jupiter in the Spaccio to an assembly, or "General Council", of the celestial gods. The Almighty Thunderer feels that he grows old, and he is in a mood of penitence. Casting his eye around the heavens he perceives that the images of the forty-eight constellations are either in the ugly forms of animals, like that great deformed Bear, the Ursa Major, or like Aries and Taurus and other animal forms of the zodiac, or their images recall shameful actions of the gods.

As each constellation image is discussed, vices associated with it are deplored and the virtues opposite to these vices are praised. More than that, there is an active movement of ascent and descent going on; the vices are thrown out by the gods, cast out of the heavens, and to their places ascend the opposite virtues. Thus, in the end, the Triumphant Beast is fully expelled. And the Triumphant Beast is not the Pope, as used sometimes to be thought. It is the sum of all the vices which are opposite to the virtues. This is stated by Bruno in the dedication of the work to Philip Sidney:

"Then the triumphant beast is driven out, that is the vices which predominate, and oppose the divine part (of the soul)."


We can already begin to see, in part, what the Brunian reform of the heavens means. The prophecy at the end of the Lament is coming true; the old age of the world after the collapse of the Egyptian religion and the Egyptian moral laws is over; the magical religion mounts up again into the sky and so do the virtues of the Egyptian society. ...

In the dedication to Sidney, Bruno explains that the gods represent "the virtues and powers of the soul", and that, since "in every man . . . there is a world, a universe", the reform of the heavens is the reform, or the production, of a personality. Jupiter says, in the speech already quoted, that the reform begins in the minds of the gods themselves, who are to "place themselves in the intellectual heaven" within them, to "drive from the heaven of their minds" the bad qualities and replace them with good qualities.

It is this interior reform of the gods themselves which is reflected all round the vault of heaven as the virtues rise to replace the vices in the forty-eight constellations. It is thus a "personality" which is being formed in the Spaccio, a personality whose powers are being formed into a successful whole.

What kind of personality ? That we can know by looking round the heavens and reading off the victorious good qualities in the constellations. It is a predominantly solar personality, for Apollo is the patron of magic and divination, and the prophet and leader of a revival of magical religion. The triumph of good solar characteristics is witnessed in, for example, Draco, where Apollo with his magic "charms the dragon".

Another most important influence in this character is that of Jupiter. The Jovial characteristics of benevolent law-giving and tolerance are prevailing. There is also a strong Venus influence, making for friendship and love, harmonising of discords, and the tempering of Mars, or of forces making for war. The Saturnian unsociability and other disagreeable qualities are tempered by Jupiter or Venus influences in other constellations. These virtues and vices represent good and bad influences of the stars. The personality is mastering the stars by choosing out their good gifts, the good side of their influences and also by tempering the predominantly bad planets, Mars and Saturn, by attracting strong Solar, Jovial influences."


Further reading:

Giordano Bruno and astrology