Vanini, Giulio Cesare (1584 or 1585–1619)

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(1584 or 15851619)

Giulio Cesare Vanini was born in Taurisano, in the province of Lecce, Italy, in 1584 or early in 1585. After completing a course of study in law in Naples, he proceeded to Padua to study theology. He entered the order of the Carmelites, and he visited various Italian citiesVenice, Genoa, and perhaps Bolognaand traveled in Germany, England, and France. In 1612, in England, he abjured, but, having aroused suspicion because of his ideas, he moved on again. In 1615, in Lyon, he published his Amphitheatrum Aeternae Providentiae (published by the widow of Antoine De Harsy), and in 1616, in Paris, the dialogues, in four books, De Admirandis Naturae Reginae Deaeque Mortialium Arcanis (published by Adrian Périer). Both works were given the regular permission of the ecclesiastical authorities but nevertheless aroused suspicions. Vanini then went to Toulouse, where he taught and practiced medicine. In August 1618 he was arrested by the Inquisition. He was condemned, and then in February 1619 burned to death after horrible torture.

Vanini's work, which shows repeatedly a kinship with that of Averroes, reflects above all the influence of the writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, among whom he had a particular predilection for Pietro Pomponazzi, whom he called his master, the prince of the philosophers of his century, and a second Averroes ("in his body Pythagoras would have placed the spirit of Averroes"). Next to Pomponazzi he placed Girolamo Cardano, Julius Caesar Scaliger, and numerous others, whom he drew from freely. His liberal use of other sources, long passages of which he inserted, even verbatim, into his own works, has caused several recent historians to speak of plagiarism and of writings that are "devoid of originality and scientific integrity." In reality, his attitude toward using the writings of others was common in his time; the present-day preoccupation with the citation of sources did not exist (certain Latin writings of Giordano Bruno are a case in point). Furthermore, the writings from which Vanini borrowed generally underwent a marked transformation in his pages.

Intensely critical of all revealed religions (his "atheism" stemmed from this), Vanini believed strongly in the divinity of nature and in the immanence of God in nature, which is eternal and eternally regulated by strict laws ("Natura Dei facultas, imo Deus ipse"). He held that the world is without origin, at least so far as could be established by natural religion. The human spirit is material, the soul mortal. Using arguments and themes taken from Cardano, Vanini stated that there is a natural explanation for all supposedly exceptional and miraculous phenomena in universal determinism; and thus, going back to Pomponazzi, he interpreted rationally all the aspects and forms of religious life.

Despite his frequent declaration that, as a Christian, he would continue to accept on faith even that which reason had disproved, the radical bent of Vanini's criticism escaped no one, and, as the seventeenth century progressed, he became almost a symbol of "atheistic and libertine" thought.

See also Atheism; Averroes; Bruno, Giordano; Laws of Nature; Pomponazzi, Pietro.


works by vanini

Luigi Corvaglia, ed., Le opere di Giulio Cesare Vanini e le loro fonti, 2 vols. (Milan: Società Anonima Editrice Dante Alighieri, 19331934), is a reprint of the original editions with the texts of the "sources" printed alongside to show the "plagiarism." See also Guido Porzio, Le opere di Giulio Cesare Vanini tradotte per la prima volta in italiano con prefazione del traduttore, 2 vols. (Lecce, Italy, no date; published 1913), which includes biography, documents, complete bibliography.

works on vanini

See F. Fiorentino, "Giulio Cesare Vanini e i suoi biografi," in Studi e ritratti della rinascenza (Bari, Italy: Laterza, 1911); E. Namer, "Nuovi documenti su Vanini," in Giornale critico della filosofia italiana 13 (1932): 161198; E. Namer, Documents sur la vie de Jules-César de Taurisano (Bari, Italy, no date; published 1965); John Owen, The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance (London: Sonnenschein, 1893), pp. 345419; G. Spini, "Vaniniana," in Rinascimento 1 (1950): 7190; G. Spini, Ricerca dei libertini (Rome: Editrice Universale de Roma, 1950), pp. 117135.

Eugenio Garin (1967)

Translated by Robert M. Connolly