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Giordano Bruno's View on The Earth without a Moon
(This is part of a larger project involving the translation into English of Bruno's Latin Works. The project is under the direction of Dr. Lynn E. Rose, SUNY at Buffalo, N. Y. The translations are being edited by Dr. A. M. Paterson, SUNY, College at Buffalo, N. Y. The Latin translator of this material was Gail Paterson, M.A. candidate, Classics, SUNY at Buffalo.)
Bruno (1548-1600) was a philosopher from the province of Nola, in southern Italy. He was well ahead of his times as he pushed the Copernican hypothesis to its fullest logical conclusion.
Bruno denied the physics of Aristotle. For Bruno, the sun rotated on its own axis and had dark areas. He wrote that the earth revolved around the sun. There were an infinite number of suns, an infinite number of solar systems and an infinite space. All of the planets (including the sun and moon) were made of the same substances as our earth. All planets including the sun and the moon were of the same species and were subject to generation and decay. The moon was no exception. Bruno wrote in De Immenso: (Bk IV, x, pp. 56-57)
"There are those who have believed that there was a certain time (as our Mythologian says) when the moon, which was believed to be younger than the sun, was not yet created. The Arcadians, who dwelt not far from the Po, are believed to have been in existence before it (the moon). Apollonius says in the fourth book of his Argonautica that the Danaan race had been heard of by no one; but at one time there were only the Arcadians dwelling in the Alps. Those Arcadians said that they were before the moon, in time and years. They were dispersed throughout the high mountains and lived on acorns. Theodorus writes in his first book that the moon had appeared a little while before the war which was fought by Hercules against the giants. Aristochius, and Dionysius Chalcidensis, in the first of their works, confirm the same. Mnaseas says that Proselenus, son of Orchomenus, had ruled over the Arcadians; this Duris of Samos affirmed in the fifteenth book of his Macedonian deeds, when he said that he named the river Orchomenus after his father; and Mnaseas said that the Arcadians were born before the moon, and so they were called "proselenian"; meaning, "before the moon." There is nothing unfitting in nature adduced by these historians, nor is anything said here not most befitting nature (whatever may be said in peripatetic philosophy and the censure of the grammarians). For the earth, which is of the same species as the moon, is of creatable and destructible substance, and is truly animal and even mortal, although divine. Therefore, the planets (worlds) are able to be created and destroyed, and it is not possible that they have been eternal, since we have proved them to be alterable and consisting of changing parts. I shall not make interpretations of their matter and their spirit, since it requires a higher judgment. This, however, is certain, that all things, according to their whole being, come from God. But as to the beginning of the creation (according to its duration) there is much dispute. The vulgar herd cannot understand that the eternal, according to its whole being, can come from another."
Bruno points out here that planets, taken as members of a physical species, cannot be eternal. "Eternal" is not an object which has been created physically. "Eternal" is a characteristic of infinite power. This characteristic does not belong to created species or their members. Created species and their members are said to have duration. They have duration according to their whole being [species] which follows divine laws.
"Whole being comes from God," Bruno wrote. Whole being, in turn, belongs to its own species of God-given or divine laws. Man must understand that "eternal," a characteristic of God or Origin, is a divine law which governs created physical species and their physical members. This divine law governs the physical generation and physical decay of physical things.
When a pilot governs his ship, we do not take the ship to be the pilot even though the ship makes manifest the will and the power of that pilot. Bruno is saying here, very emphatically, that human experience cannot force the divine law of the universe to break its rules. In the De l' Infinito,
Bruno writes that human reason must follow nature; nature does not follow human reason (p. 516 and p. 525). See further The Infinite Worlds of Giordano Bruno, Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, 1970.
Dr. Paterson is associate professor of Philosophy, State University of New York, College at Buffalo. She is author of The Infinite Worlds of Giordano Bruno (Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, 1970).
PENSEE Journal III