Vanini, Giulio Cesare

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(b Taurisano, Lecce, Italy, ca. 1585; d Toulouse, France, 9 February 1619)


The son of a local official and a Spanish noble-woman, Vanini became a Carmelite friar about 1603. The records of the University of Naples show that a doctorate in both canon and civil law was awarded Giulio Cesare Vanini on 6 June 1606. After selling a house and some personal belongings in Naples (16 May 1608), he enrolled in the faculty of theology at Padua University and preached in various places, including Venice.

Under threat of being banished to Naples by the general of his order, Vanini appealed to the English ambassador to Venice, who recommended him to the archbishop o Canterbury (7 February 1612). Five months later in the Italian church in London Vanini publicly renounced Catholicism in the presence of Francis Bacon. But his adherence to Anglicanism was short-lived. On 10 July 1613 his appeal to Rome for permission to reenter the Catholic church as a secular priest, without being required to rejoin the Carmelite order, was granted by the Holy Office and on 22 August by the pope himself.

After escaping from an English prison in the spring of 1614, Vanini made his way to paris, where (27 August 1614) he was denied permission to publish his work on the Council of Trent, a work that has not survived. In Lyons, in the summer of 1615, he published his Amphitheatrum aeternae providentiae . . . with the approval of the local ecclesiasticla censor and also with a royal privilege. Likewise with a royal privilege and with the approbation of the Sorbonne, a Parisian publisher, professing that he had surreptitiously procured a copy of Vanini’s sixty dialogues dealing with the secrets of nature, issued (1 September 1616) the philosopher’s only other surviving work. A month later the Sorbonne censors claimed that the printed version differed from the manuscript they had approved.

Having studied medicine in Paris, Vanini practiced in Toulouse where he also taught philosophy privately under an assumed name. In that stronghold of the Catholic counterreformation he was arrested (2 August 1618) and kept in jail more than half a year. On 9 February 1619, exactly nineteeen years after Giordano Bruno had been condemned to martyrdom at the stake, Vanini’s tongue was pulled out by pincers and cut off; he was strangled and then burned; and his ashes were scattered to the winds. To justify the savage sentence, Vanini’s biography was falsified and his character maligned by a host of unscrupulous writers.

Centuries later, after the historical record had been corrected, the auhorities in the authorities in the capital of Vanini’s native province of Lecce unveiled (24 September 1868) a bust of the philosopher.


I. Original Works. Vanini’s two published works are Amphitheatrum aeternae providentia divino-magicum christiano-physicum nec non astrologo-catholicum adversus veteres philosophos, atheos, epicureos, peripateticos, et stoicos (Lyons, 1615); and De admirandis naturae reginae deaeque mortalium arcanis (Paairs, 1616).

The Amphitheaturm in its entirety and extracts from the dialogues were translated into French by Xavier Rousselot, Oeuvres philosophiques de Vanini (Paris, 1842). Both works were translated into Italian by Guido porzio, Le opere di Giulio Vanini 2 vols. (Lecce, 1913).

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Vanini and his philosophy are Don Cameron Allen, Doubt’s Boundless Sea: Skepticism and Faith in the Renaissance (Baltimore, 1964), 58–74; J.-Roger Charbonnel, La pensèe italienne au XVle siècle et le courant libertin (Paris, 1919), 302–383; Luigi Corvaglia, Le opere di Giulio Cesare Vanini e le loro fonti, 2 vols. (Milan, 1933–1934); and Vanini, edizioni e plaigi (Casarano, 1934); Victor Cousin, “Vanini, ses ècrits, sa vie et sa mort,” in Revue des deux mondes4 (1843), 673–728; Francesco Firoentino, Studi e ritratti della rinascenza (Bari, 1911), 423–471; William L. Hine, “Mersenne and Vanini,” Renaissance Quarterly (forthcoming); Emile Namer, Documents sur la vie de Jules-Cèsar Vanini de Taurisano (Bari, 1965); and “Vanini et la préparation de l’esprit scientifique à l’aube du XVIIe siècle,” in Revue d’historie des sciences, 25 (1972), 207–220; Andrzej Nowicki, Giulio Cesare Vanini (Wrocław, 1968); John Owen, The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance, 2nd ed. (London–New York, 1893): 3rd ed. (London, 1908); reprint (Port Washington, New York, 1970), 343–419; Raffaele Palumbo, Giulio cesare Vanini e i suoi tempi (Naples, 1878); Guido Porzio, Antologia Vainiana (Lecce, 1908); Victor Ivanovich Rutenburg, Velikii italianskii ateist Vanini (Moscow, 1959); Giorgio Spini, Ricerca dei libertini (Rome, 1950), 117–135; and “Vaniniana,” in Rinascimento, 1 (1950), 71–90.

Edward Rosen

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Vanini, Giulio Cesare

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