Giordano Bruno System (Renaissance)

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This page is about Giordano Bruno’ memory systems.

On the subject of the images

Of course, this conceiving and impressing of the images of visible things is proven not to have happened like that which is practiced on other materials (plainly on the surfaces of their bodies), where the greater ones have greater bodies and the smaller ones have smaller. Indeed, on many a tablet or paper we depict many images; on a larger scale we paint large things and write large characters. Yet here is each undivided substance, which likewise conceives the figures and characters of many things, as well as of great ones. For instance, we conceive in the center of our eyes’ pupils a whole forest of things at one undivided glance, and each thing’s mass we contract and judge at one single probe. Not only the interior but, in a certain way, the more spiritual power of the soul receives these species and arranges them, existing in a phantastic spirit,1 and should be judged to be something individual, from the genus of light, illumination and the act of the perceptible thing and form, differing from external sight, which is formed by another alien light, because it is both light and sight at the same time, just as, proportionally, the sun’s light is distinguished from the moon’s. For, just as natural light is visible from without, the other the light phantasm is visible from within. Finally, eyesight differs from the seeing power of the internal spirit, as a mirror that sees should be distinguished from a mirror that does not see, but is only distinguished by him who represents it as a mirror informed and illuminated by itself, and which is both light and mirror at the same time, and in which a perceptible object is one with a percipient subject.

This is a certain world and inlet, as it were, brimming over with forms and species, which contains not only the species of those things conceived externally according to their size and number but also adds, by virtue of the imagination, size to size and number to number. And, on the other hand, just as in nature innumerable species are composed of and coalesce out of small elements,2 so too by the action of this intrinsic cause not only are the forms of natural species preserved within this most ample inlet, but also they will be able to be multiplied there for the multiplication of the innumerable images conceivable beyond compare, just as when we figure winged centaurs from a man and a stag, or winged rational beings from a man and a horse and a bird,3 we can produce, by a similar mingling, the infinite from the countless, more ample than all the words which are composed by the various kinds of combination and coordination out of the numbered elements of many languages.

  1. For the term “phantastic,” see Dedicatory Epistle fn. 8, above.
  2. While Bruno appears to be speaking about atoms, he more likely is referring to the Ramusian mnemonic system in which things were classified into their parts, these split into their own parts, and so on practically ad infinitum. Cf. Yates (1966).
  3. Here “rational” is an adjectival form of ratio, Bruno’s term for conception, logic, etc., on which we have remarked above several times, so that the word is by no means “rational” in the colloquial sense but, rather, something achieved by a mental process. Bruno’s centaurs are not, then, those winged creatures, part man and part horse, which, in classical mythology, drew the chariot of Dionysus or were ridden by Eros. He is not, after all, using them out of belief or even for mythic purposes here.—Rather, he is arguing that they are a mental fusion, as would be the unified mind-picture of man+horse+bird, using this as an example to suggest that all sorts of other imagistic fusions are likewise possible, in fact, an infinite variety of such beings. Cf. i-1-8 and i-1-10.

Images of the Roman Gods

  • A is Jove’s attendants and surrounders, Mercury’s winged shoes, Sol’s attendants.
  • В is Jove’s palace, Mercury’s wings, the Demiurge.
  • С is Luna’s waning, Saturn’s death, those against attending Sol, those against Luna’s contrasts.
  • D is Cupid’s right-hand things.
  • E is Cupid’s left-hand things.
  • F is the Courts of Mars and Saturn, those that shun Æsculapius, those that shun Arion, Jove’s left hand.
  • G is Æsculapius, Mercury’s court, the contraries to Saturn’s court, and other species according to Nature.
  • H is those that attend Jove, the Crown,2 the eye of Mercury; in the second rank, Mercury’s right hand.
  • H is those that are against the fisher, falsity and Mercury’s left hand.3
  • I is Saturn’s doubt, against those that assist Jove, Mercury’s left hand, contraries to the eye, against those that assist Pallas, the first and second shunners, the waning of Luna.
  • К is Intent, Influence, winged shoes, wings, Mercury’s attend ants, flying.4
  • L is Cupid, Cupid’s right hand and wings, with the caduceus and Mercury’s eye.
  • M is Mercury’s attendants and right hand.
  • N is the First Ass of Cyllenius.5
  • О is Mercury’s right hand.
  • P is Mercury’s left hand’s first, second, third and fourth fingers.6
  • Q is the Demiurge, with Pallas’s handmaidens and Mercury’s wings.
  • R is Sol’s attendants of the first and second ranks, Luna’s waxing and others according to their ways of containing, and the contraries to Saturn’s poverty, and Cupid’s swift flight.
  • S is Æsculapius, Orpheus, Jupiter, Apollo, Sol, contrary Saturn, Mars, Luna’s waning.
  • T is the court of Venus and Cupid
  • V is Luna’s waxing, and others according to the different appearances of their size, as knowledge from the house of Pallas and Mercury, or wealth from the house of Sol and Pluto.
  • X is the waning of Luna and the conditions from Saturn’s court with the suppression of Mars.
  • Y is Jove’s throne and what is in his region, and other species, as in Mercury the speaker, Sol the possessor, or Venus the lovely.
  • Z is those that assist Sol according to species or Luna’s contrasts.

Bruno’s Alphabet for memorizing verses:

  • A — Apistos has a man dressed in black vestments with red hair. Ornamented with a beard he holds a fire constantly in his hand. (This probably is a term for asbestos, mentioned in antiquity in Pliny Natural History, 37.10.54 par. 146. It was also associated with Arcadia.)
  • B — Baroptenus likewise has someone wearing black clothes, who has a chest dyed with blood and snow in his hands, as he walks upon the waters. (The term may be barippe, an unknown precious stone, black with red and white spots, mentioned in Pliny 37.10.55 par. 150.)
  • C — Brontia has Jove striking Prometheus with lightning. (Or brontea, “thunder-stone,” possibly a meteorite.)
  • D — Chelidonia has a teen-age girl dressed in purple who is freckled with black spots. (Celandine, “swallow-spice,” mentioned in Pliny 25.8.50 par. 154. It was fabled to be found in a swallow’s stomach.)
  • E — Cinedia shows a very old fish of that name riding upon the waters, that also holds a diviners’ rod. (Cinædia, an unknown precious stone found in the brain, it was supposed, of the fish cinædus, mentioned in Pliny 37.10.56 par. 153 and 33.11.53 par. 146. Cf. i-2-13 Fields fn. 31.)
  • F — Chbrites contains an image of Circe in an iron chariot who is gutting a scylla bird. (Chlorite, a precious stone, grass green in color, possibly the same as smasragdoprasus,
  • mentioned in Pliny in 37.10.56 par. 156. In Hyginus the scylla is a fish in Fabulæ 198, but in Ovid Metamorphoses 8.151, and in all other known citations, Scylla is a bird. Scylla and Circe were bitter love rivals, per Ovid Metamorphoses 7.65, 13.732 and 14.1-764.)
  • G — Dracontias shows someone holding a sliced-off dragon’s hand in his left hand, a gem in his right. (Dracontias is an unknown precious stone mentioned in Pliny 37.10.58 par. 160. Its name comes from the genitive of draco (“dragon”), hence Bruno’s image.)
  • H — Eumetris shows Mercury or Apollo standing next to a girl who is asleep with her head placed on flint The god is dressed in clothes dyed in a hue midway between green and white. (Eumetris is an unknown precious stone mentioned in Pliny 37.10.88 par. 160. Its name suggests “well-measured” or “well-proportioned;” thus its associations here. Cf. i-2-13 Fields fn. 46.)
  • T — Galactites shows a woman nursing, white-hued and generally in white clothes. Gasidane shows a pregnant woman crowned with flowers.(Galactites is milk-stone, an otherwise unknown precious stone mentioned in Pliny 37.10.59 par.162. Gasidane (Gassinades) is a semiprecious stone mentioned in Pliny 37.10.59 par. 193.)
  • K — Glossopetra shows Philomela who is fleeing Diana. (This is tongue-stone, a stone in the shape of a human tongue, mentioned in Pliny 37.10.59 par.193; the story of Philomela transformed into a nightingale appears in Ovid Metamorphoses 6.668.)
  • L — Gorgonia shows Perseus changing men into stones when he shows them Medusa’s head. (Gorgonia is “gorgon-stone,” so called because it hardens when taken from water and exposed to air. It is a form of coral, and is mentioned in Pliny 37.10.59 par. 164.)
  • M — Heliotropium shows a boy who has red hair in greenish muslin who is staring at the sun. Around him are clouds. (This is girasole (It.) or heliotrope (“turnsole”), mentioned in Pliny, 2.41.41 par. 109 and 22.21.29 par. 57.)
  • N — Hephestites shows a gleaming girl in a black cloak, crowned with a golden wheel, who, with her right hand, is extinguishing a fire’s flame with water, while holding a mirror in her left one.(Hephæstitis is “vulcan-stone,” an unknown precious stone mentioned in Pliny 37.10.60 par. 166.)
  • O — Hamonites shows a youth, dressed in a saffron robe with ram’s horns, sleeping under a laurel tree.(This precious stone, mentioned in Pliny 37.10.60 par. 197, comes from the term Hammonis cornu (Amnion’s horn); it is typically shaped like a ram’s horn and is associated with the Egyptian ramheaded god, Ammon, identified with Zeus by the Greeks and Jupiter by the Romans. Cf. i-2-13 Fields fn. 38.)
  • P — Hienia shows a young man holding a rod in his right hand and putting an animal’s eye in his mouth. A top his head a crow sits.(This is an unknown precious stone mentioned by Pliny at 32.11.54 par. 154; its name suggests Hyænia gemma (hyena stone).)
  • Q — Liparis shows a woman who gives off a scent. To her vapor the forms of wild animals come
  • running. (Liparis is an unknown precious stone is mentioned by Pliny in 37.10.62 par. 62. Its name suggests a connection with the Islands of Lipari in the Tyrrhenian Sea off Sicily, which include Vulcano, Stromboli and Lipari itself. In ancient times they were known as the Æoliæ Insulæ (Islands of Æolius, the wind god).)
  • R — Mitrax contains an effigy of Venus or Flora in a multicolored field. (This Persian precious stone, Mithrax, is connected somehow with Mithra, the Persian sun god, perhaps because of its brilliant color. It is mentioned in Pliny 37.10.63 par. 173. Flora is a Roman
  • goddess of flowering plants, a fertility goddess.)
  • S — Meroctes shows a shepherd sprinkling milk on his face. (We have been unable to discover anything concerning this stone.)
  • T — Nebrides carries Bacchusls image. It has the same shape as Brontia. (This stone, Nebrides, was a precious stone sacred to Dionysus. The name comes from nebris, the
  • fawnskin worn by the Bacchæ at the Bacchanalia. The name suggests a brown, dappled gem, probably more properly a semi-precious stone. It is mentioned in Pliny 37.10.64 par. 175.)
  • U — Orites shows a salamander in a fire.(The name suggests oritis (mountain-stone) or perhaps sideritis (star- or steel-stone); it is an unknown semi-precious stone mentioned in Pliny 37.10.65 par. 176. Cf. i-2-13 Fields fn. 27.)
  • X — Paneres holds Venus’s image.(Paneres or panerastos is a precious stone with the supposed property of making fruitful, mentioned in Pliny 37.10.66 par. 178.)
  • Y — Peantis has the figure of Lucina, who assists a woman in childbirth. (The stone peanitis takes its name from Рæаn the Healer, an epithet for Apollo; see C. Julius Solinus, a Latin grammarian of the third century AD, in chapter nine of his book on grammar. Cf. Pliny
  • 37.10.66 par. 180.)
  • Z — Alectorius has a soldier disembowelling a rooster’s belly. (This must be alectoria gemma (rooster gem), a gem found in a rooster’s mouth. See Pliny 37.10.54 par. 144.)