Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philosophy. Show all posts

14 December 2021

Guarino da Verona – Renaissance scholar

Humanist who lost Greek manuscripts went grey overnight

Guarino da Verona was a humanist philosopher
Guarino da Verona was a
humanist philosopher
Professor of ancient Greek, Guarino da Verona, who dedicated his life to learning the language and educating others to follow in his footsteps, died on this day in 1460 in Ferrara.

Da Verona studied ancient Greek in Constantinople for more than five years and returned to Italy with two cases full of rare Greek manuscripts that he had collected. It is said that when he lost one of the cases during  a shipwreck, he was so distraught that his hair turned grey in a single night.

Da Verona, who was also sometimes known as Guarino Veronese, was born in 1374 in Verona. He studied in Italy and established his first school in the 1390s before going to Constantinople.

After returning to Italy, he earned his living by teaching Greek in Verona, Venice and Florence.

Da Verona taught the philosophy of humanism to Leonello, Marquis of Este, who then became his patron and employed him to teach Greek in Ferrara. Da Verona’s method of teaching became renowned and he attracted students from all over Italy and Europe, even from as far away as England. He supported poor students using his own money and many of them became well known scholars themselves.

He was particularly influenced by the philosopher Georgiu Gemistus Pletho, one of the most famous Greek scholars during the late Byzantine era and a pioneer of reviving Greek scholarship in Western Europe.

Da Verona's Regulae Grammaticales
Da Verona's Latin grammar
Regulae Grammaticales
Da Verona is remembered for his translations of works by the Greek historian, geographer and philosopher, Strabo, and the Greek biographer, essayist and historian, Plutarch.

He also compiled Regulae Grammaticales, the first Renaissance Latin grammar, which was used well into the 17th century.

The layout of Leonello d’Este’s Studiolo in the Palazzo Belfiore was believed to have been the work of Da Verona. He is also said to have corresponded with the writer and humanist Isotta Nogarola, the first female humanist, who was considered to be one of the most important humanists of the Italian Renaissance and who was also from Verona.

Da Verona died in Ferrara at the age of 86.

The Castello Estense dominates Ferrara
The Castello Estense
dominates Ferrara
Travel tip:

The city of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna, about 50km (31 miles) northeast of Bologna, was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598 and is dominated by the magnificent Castello Estense (Este Castle)  in the centre of the city began, originally built in 1385 and added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the Este line ended with the death of Alfonso II d’Este.  It was constructed originally as a defensive shield to protect the palace of the Marquis Niccolò II d'Este following a revolt of the Ferrarese population against high taxes at a time when catastrophic floods had left many local people destitute.

A private residence now stands on the site of the former church of Santa Maria degli Angeli
A private residence now stands on the site of
the former church of Santa Maria degli Angeli
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Belfiore in Ferrara, of which Leonello d'Este's Studiolo was a feature, was destroyed by a fire in 1683, having suffered extensive damage 200 years earlier at the hands of a Venetian army. It is known that it was situated near the Corso Ercole I d'Este, approximately 1km (0.62 miles) north of the Castello Estense. The palace was one of the so-called delizie of the Este dynasty, which were palaces where members of the family could find pleasurable diversions from daily life.  These included pursuits that were intellectually stimulating and the Studiolo was a study designed by Da Verona and lined with paintings of the so-called Muses of Greek religion and mythology, nine inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts. The nearby church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, also destroyed, once was one of the main burial sites for the Este family. The site of the church is now occupied by a private residence.

Also on this day:

1784: The birth of Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily

1853: The birth of anarchist Errico Malatesta

1922: The birth of novelist and translator Luciano Bianciardi

1966: The birth of racing driver Fabrizio Giovanardi


2 December 2021

Ferdinando Galiani - economist and philosopher

Leading figure in the Neapolitan Enlightenment

Ferdinando Galiani spent much of his life in government service
Ferdinando Galiani spent much of
his life in government service
The economist and philosopher Ferdinando Galiani, whose theories on market economics are considered to be years ahead of his time, was born on this day in 1728 in Chieti, now in Abruzzo but then part of the Kingdom of Naples.

Galiani spent much of his life in the service of the Naples government, spending 10 years as secretary to the Neapolitan ambassador in Paris before returning to Naples in the role of councillor of the tribunal of commerce, being appointed administrator of the royal domains in 1777.

A fine writer and wit as well as a talented economist, Galiani wrote a number of humorous works as well as two significant treatises, the first of which, Della Moneta, was written while he was still a student, at the age of 22.

Initially published anonymously, Della Moneta - On Money - was ostensibly a work about the history of money and the monetary system, but Galiani used it as an opportunity to intervene in the Neapolitan debate on economic reform, his opinions on the development of the Neapolitan economy evolving into a theory of market value based on utility and scarcity.

At the same time, he put forward what was then a revolutionary notion of the importance of freedom to the well-being of any society, one shared by many contemporary thinkers, including the French writer and philosopher Voltaire.

Advancing arguments based on the principle of personal freedom, Galiani suggested that the value of anything should be determined by the mutual agreement of buyer and seller, with prices and wages set naturally according to demand.

Galiani's seminal work, Della Moneta, which he wrote at 22
Galiani's seminal work, Della
which he wrote at 22
He argued that any form of control of the market would lead to injustices in society and could therefore be defined as tyranny. 

Galiani’s views on fairness could almost certainly be attributed to the education he received from his uncle, Monsignor Celestino Galiani, a prominent archbishop, whose intention was to prepare his nephew for a life as a clergyman.

In the event, Galiani revealed a talent not only for economics but as a witty writer, whose clever parodies of the Neapolitan literary style established his reputation as a humorist. In all his writing, however, he was faithful to the fundamental principles of truth and justice imbued in him by his uncle. 

During his time in Paris, Galiani wrote his second important treatise, Dialogues sur le commerce des blés - Dialogues on the Grain Trade - in which he argued in favour of regulation of the corn market on the basis that free international trade in grain, not so much a commodity as a necessity, risked the wellbeing of the population if foreign markets were more attractive to producers than domestic ones.

Galiani wrote fluently in both French and Italian, and his letters are seen as valuable for their depiction of economic, social, and political life in 18th-century Europe. He died in Naples in 1787 at the age of 58.

Chieti's Baroque Cathedral of San Giustino
Chieti's Baroque Cathedral
of San Giustino
Travel tip:

Chieti, the capital of the Abruzzi region, is among the most historic Italian cities, reputedly founded in 1181BC by the Homeric Greek hero Achilles and named Theate in honour of his mother, Thetis. The city is notable for the Gothic Cathedral of San Giustino, which has a Romanesque crypt dated at 1069 but is mainly of later construction, having been rebuilt a number of times, usually because of earthquake damage.  The main part of the cathedral is in early 18th century Baroque style.  Situated about 20km (12 miles) inland from the Adriatic city of Pescara, the city consists of Chieti Alta, the higher part and the historic centre, and the more modern Chieti Scalo.

Pescara, with the snow-capped mountains of the Gran Sasso range in the background
Pescara, with the snow-capped mountains of the
Gran Sasso range in the background
Travel tip:

Pescara, a city of almost 120,000 people on the Adriatic in the Abruzzo region, is known for its 10 miles of clean, sandy beaches, yet is only 50km (31 miles) from the Gran Sasso mountain range, the snow-capped peaks of which are visible even from the coast on a clear winter’s day. The city is the birthplace of the poet, patriot and military leader, Gabriele D’Annunzio. His childhood home, the Casa Natale di Gabriele D’Annunzio, which can be found in the historic centre of the city on the south side of the Fiume Pescara, which bisects the city, houses a museum about his life and works. The Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo has exhibitions on regional industries like ceramics and olive oil. Pieces by Miró and Picasso are on view at the Vittoria Colonna Museum of Modern Art.

Also on this day:

1684: The birth of cook and unlikely war hero Maria Bricca

1916: The death of composer Paolo Tosti

1930: The birth of fashion designer Roberto Capucci

1946: The birth of fashion designer Gianni Versace


25 February 2021

Benedetto Croce – philosopher and historian

Prolific writer opposed the Fascists and supported democracy

Benedetto Croce influenced literature, philosophy and politics in his lifetime
Benedetto Croce influenced literature,
philosophy and politics in his lifetime
Benedetto Croce, one of the most important figures in Italian life and culture in the first half of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1866 in Pescasseroli in the region of Abruzzo.

Croce was an idealist philosopher, historian and erudite literary scholar whose approach to literature influenced future generations of writers and literary critics. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 16 times.

He became a Senator in 1910 and was Minister for Education from 1920 to 1921 in the last pre-Fascist government of the so-called Giolitti era. He is also remembered for his major contribution to the rebirth of Italian democracy after World War II.

Croce was born into a wealthy family and raised in a strict Catholic environment.  However, from the age of 16 he gave up Catholicism and developed a personal philosophy of spiritual life.

In 1883, while he was still a teenager, he was on holiday with his family on the island of Ischia when an earthquake struck the town of Casamicciola Terme and destroyed the house they were staying in. His mother, father and sister were all killed, but although he was buried for a long time, he managed to survive.

Croce inherited his family’s fortune and was able to live a life of leisure, devoting his time to philosophy and writing while living in a palazzo in Naples. His ideas began to be publicised at the University of Rome by Professor Antonio Labriola.

After his appointment to the Senate, Croce was a critic of Italy’s involvement in World War I. He left Government office about a year before Benito Mussolini assumed power.

Benedetto Croce (left), with the first president of the post-War Italian republic, Enrico De Nicola
Benedetto Croce (left), with the first president of
the post-War Italian republic, Enrico De Nicola
In 1923, Croce was instrumental in relocating the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III to the Palazzo Reale in Naples.

After Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated by the Fascists in 1924, Croce was one of the signatories to the manifesto of the anti-Fascist intellectuals and he provided financial support to anti-Fascist writers.

His home and library in Naples were ransacked by the Fascists in 1926 and he was put under surveillance. No mainstream newspaper or academic publication was allowed to refer to him.

Croce kept a diary during World War II entitled ‘Quando l’Italia era tagliato in due (When Italy was cut into two)’.

He made daily entries in this diary between July 1943 and June 1944. He had left his home in Naples, Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca, and gone to Sorrento to escape the Allied air raids.

He was staying in the Villa Tritone, a clifftop residence in Via Marina Grande overlooking the sea. The Germans entered and occupied Naples during September and on 12 September the Germans rescued Mussolini - who had been overthrown by the Fascist Grand Council and held captive - from his prison on Gran Sasso in the mountains of Abruzzo with a glider-borne team.

The entrance to Villa Tritone on Via Marina Grande
in Sorrento, where Croce moved during World War II
On 13 September, Croce writes that he has been receiving anonymous threats. The following day he reports that there were lots of Fascists roaming the streets of Sorrento.

He is advised to leave the Villa Tritone immediately to avoid being taken hostage by Fascists who would use him for propaganda purposes.

The next day’s entry was written by him on Capri. Croce reports that a floating mine was found in the sea below the villa and it was thought the retreating Germans might have been planning to come and take him as they had taken other prominent Italians in Salerno.

A motorboat was sent for him and his daughters from Capri, which was at the time firmly in Allied hands. The family were able to use the stairs that led from Villa Tritone down to the beach to get away. On board were a police commissioner from Capri and an English army officer who had been tasked with rescuing him. 

The boat returned to Sorrento later to collect Croce’s wife and another of his daughters who had stayed behind to pack up their possessions. On board were the same police commissioner and Major Munthe, the son of Axel Munthe, the Swedish doctor who was a Capri resident for a large part of his life and was famous for his best-selling memoir, The Story of San Michele. The Fascist and German radio stations broadcast that ‘Croce and others’ were to be severely punished, but the Allies were able to counter this by broadcasting that the philosopher was now safely on Capri.

When democracy was restored in Italy in 1944, Croce became a minister in the governments of Pietro Badoglio and Ivanoe Bonomi.

He voted for the Monarchy in the Constitutional referendum in 1946. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly that existed until 1948 but he declined to stand as provisional president of Italy.

Croce’s philosophical ideas were expressed in more than 80 books and 40 years worth of articles in his own literary magazine, La Critica. His theories were later debated by many Italian philosophers, including Umberto Eco.

Croce was President of PEN International, the worldwide writer’s association, from 1949 until his death in Naples in 1952.

His widow and daughters established the Fondazione Biblioteca Benedetto Croce in the Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca in 1955. The street on which the palazzo stands is now named Via Benedetto Croce.

The Palazzo Reale in Naples, which houses the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III
The Palazzo Reale in Naples, which houses the
Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III
Travel tip:

The Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III, a national library of Italy, now occupies the eastern wing of the 18th century Palazzo Reale in Naples as a result of efforts made on its behalf by Benedetto Croce in the 1920s. It houses nearly one and a half million printed volumes, as well as hundreds of thousands of pamphlets, manuscripts and periodicals. The library had been founded in the 18th century in the Palazzo degli Studi but after various collections were added to it, following the suggestion of Croce, the library was moved to Palazzo Reale and installed in accommodation granted to it by King Victor Emmanuel III.

Hotels in Naples from

A plaque on the exterior wall of the Villa Tritone commemorates Croce's stay
A plaque on the exterior wall of the
Villa Tritone commemorates Croce's stay
Travel tip:

A plaque on the exterior wall of Villa Tritone in Sorrento records the residence there during World War II of Benedetto Croce ‘when Italy was cut in two’. A villa had been built on the site in the first century AD by Agrippa Postumus, grandson of Emperor Augustus, and Ovid was said to have been a frequent visitor. This became the site of a convent in the 13th century and then the land was purchased in the 19th century by Count Labonia and the present villa was built. At the beginning of the 20th century William Waldorf Astor bought the villa and designed the garden behind it with windows cut in the high wall on the seaward side to give views of the sea and Vesuvius across the bay.

Book your stay in Sorrento with

More reading:

How Mussolini's thugs kidnapped and murder brave politician Giacomo Matteotti

The controversial general who turned against Mussolini

Political philosopher who defined Right and Left in simple terms

Also on this day:

1626: The death of painter Enea Salmeggia

1683: The birth of pathological anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni

1707: The birth of playwright Carlo Goldoni

1873: The birth of opera singer Enrico Caruso

2003: The death of comic actor Alberto Sordi

(Picture credit: Palazzo Reale by Vitold Muratov via Wikimedia Commons)


16 May 2020

Maria Gaetana Agnesi – mathematician

Brilliant scholar gave her time and money to the poor

Maria Gaetana Agnesi learned seven languages by the age of 11
Maria Gaetana Agnesi learned
seven languages by the age of 11
Maria Gaetana Agnesi, the first woman to write a mathematics handbook, was born on this day in 1718 in Milan.

Maria became a mathematician, philosopher, theologian and humanitarian and was also the first woman to be appointed as a mathematics professor at a university.

She was one of at least 21 children born to Pietro Agnesi, a wealthy man whose family had made their money from silk production. Her mother was his first wife, Anna Fortunato Brivio, who was from a noble Milanese family.

Maria was soon recognised as a child prodigy, who could speak Italian and French by the time she was five and had learnt Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German and Latin by the time she was 11.

When she became ill at the age of 12, it was thought to have been because of excessive studying and reading, but after she was prescribed vigorous dancing and horse riding to improve her health, she suffered convulsions and was then advised to moderate her activities.

By the time Maria was 14 she was studying ballistics and geometry. Her father regularly invited learned men to his house to listen to her read and to discuss philosophical questions with her.

The cover page of Agnesi's Instituzioni  analitiche ad uso della gioventu italiana
The cover page of Agnesi's Instituzioni
 analitiche ad uso della gioventu italiana
After Maria’s mother died, her father remarried twice and Maria was given the task of teaching all her siblings and half-siblings.

This stopped her from fulfilling her wish to enter a convent.  Instead, her father agreed to let her live away from society and devote herself to the study of mathematics.

In 1740 she began studying differential and integral calculus with esteemed Italian mathematician Ramiro Rampinelli.

By 1748 Maria had published her Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana. She said this was to give a systematic illustration of the different results and theorems of infinitesimal calculus. The work was translated into French and English and Maria received letters and gifts from the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and Pope Benedict XIV.

In the book, Maria discusses a curve that had been studied earlier by the mathematician Luigi Guido Grandi. He had called the curve ‘versoria,’ the Latin word for a rope that turns a sail, because that is what it reminded him of.  This was mistranslated as the word ‘witch’ in the English version and so the curve became known as ‘The Witch of Agnesi’.

The bust of Maria Gaetana Agnesi at the Palazzo di Brera in Milan
The bust of  Agnesi at the
Palazzo di Brera in Milan
In 1750 Pope Benedict XIV appointed Maria to the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy and physics at Bologna University, although she never actually taught there. She was the second woman in the world to be granted a professorship at a university, Laura Bassi, an Italian physicist being the first.

After the death of her father in 1752, Maria finally had the chance to study theology. She then worked with the poor, sick and homeless, founding a home for the elderly in Milan, where she went to live.

In January 1799, Maria Gaetana Agnesi died at the age of 80. She was buried in a mass grave for the poor along with 15 other bodies.

An asteroid, 16765 Agnesi, a crater on Venus and a brandy are all named after her, as well as the mathematical curve, the Witch of Agnesi.

The Villa Agnesi Albertoni at Montevecchia in the province of Lecco, where Maria and her family spent the summer
The Villa Agnesi Albertoni at Montevecchia in the province
of Lecco, where Maria and her family spent the summer
Travel tip:

You can visit the Villa Agnesi Albertoni, where Maria and her family spent time during the summer, which is in Largo Maria Gaetana Agnesi at Montevecchia in the province of Lecco, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) northeast of Milan. The villa has been preserved in the rococo style in which it was built during the 17th century. Visitors can still see the ‘salotto’, where eminent visitors would discuss philosophy with Maria Gaetana Agnesi and hear one of her sisters, Maria Teresa Agnesi play her own compositions on the harpsichord.

The famous Archiginnasio, the  university's anatomical theatre
The famous Archiginnasio, the
university's anatomical theatre
Travel tip:

Bologna University, where Maria Gaetana Agnesi was the first woman to be appointed as a mathematics professor, was founded in 1088, making it the oldest university in the world. It attracted popes and kings as well as students of the calibre of Dante, Copernicus and Boccaccio. You can still visit one of the original university buildings in the centre of Bologna, the former anatomy theatre, the Archiginnasio, in Piazza Galvani. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm, admission free.

Also on this day:

1915: The birth of film director Mario Monicelli

1945: The birth of business tycoon Massimo Moratti

1974: The birth of singer-songwriter Laura Pausini


10 April 2020

Jacopo Mazzoni – philosopher

Brilliant scholar could recite long passages from Dante

Jacopo Mazzoni was known for literary criticism as well as philosophy
Jacopo Mazzoni was known for literary
criticism as well as philosophy
Jacopo Mazzoni, a University professor with a phenomenal memory who was a friend of Galileo Galilei, died on this day in 1598 in Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.

Mazzoni, also sometimes referred to as Giacomo Mazzoni, was regarded as one of the most eminent scholars of his period. His excellent powers of recall made him adept at recalling passages from Dante, Lucretius, Virgil and other writers during his regular debates with prominent academics. He relished taking part in memory contests, which he usually won.

Mazzoni was born in Cesena in Emilia-Romagna in 1548 and was educated at Bologna in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, rhetoric and poetics. He later attended the University of Padua where he studied philosophy and jurisprudence.

He became an authority on ancient languages and philology and promoted the scientific study of the Italian language.

Galileo Galilei was a fellow professor at Pisa University
Galileo Galilei was a fellow
professor at Pisa University
Although Mazzoni wrote a major work on philosophy, he became well known for his works on literary criticism, in particular for his writing in defence of Dante’s Divine Comedy - Discorso in Difesa Della Commedia della Divina Poeta Dante - published in 1572 and Della Difesa Della Commedia di Dante, which was not published until 1688.

Mazzoni was also influenced by Plato and Aristotle and often made references to their works.

In turn, his theories about poetry influenced romantic writers who came later such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Friedrich von Schiller.

Mazzoni is also credited with helping to found the Accademia della Crusca, a society of scholars of Italian linguistics and philology, in 1583. The academy, in Florence, is the oldest linguistic academy in the world and the most important research institution into the Italian language.

The pala - shovel - given to Mazzoni by the Accademia della Crusca
The pala - shovel - given to Mazzoni
by the Accademia della Crusca
Crusca is the Italian word for bran, its use a reflection of the society's symbology, which likened 'good' language to flour sifted from bran.  The society's emblem was the frullone, a machine used to separate flour from bran. The operator would load bran into the machine using a pala - shovel - and the society extended the symbolism by presenting each member with a shovel bearing the member's name and a motto, usually a line of verse.

Mazzoni worked as a university professor, first at Macerata and then at Pisa, where he taught philosophy from 1588 to 1597. It was there he met Galileo, who was a young mathematics professor at the university. They became good friends and in May 1597, Galileo wrote Mazzoni a letter in which he commented on Mazzoni’s latest book, In universam Platonis et Aristotelis philosophiam praeludia, and also stated his inclination towards the Copernican system over the Ptolemaic one.

Later that year, Mazzoni accepted the chair in philosophy at Rome’s La Sapienza University.

He was asked to accompany Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini on a mission to Venice in 1598. After they stopped off in Ferrara on the way back, Mazzoni was taken ill and later died. He was 57 years old.

The Rocca Malatestiana in Cesena, once a prison, now houses a museum of agriculture
The Rocca Malatestiana in Cesena, once a prison, now
houses a museum of agriculture
Travel tip:

Cesena, the birthplace of Jacopo Mazzoni, is a city in Emilia-Romagna, south of Ravenna and west of Rimini. One of the main sights in the town is the 15th century Biblioteca Malatestiana, which houses many valuable manuscripts and was the first public library in Europe. The library has been preserved in its 15th century condition and is now a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. The city’s castle, the Rocca Malatestiana, was used by Cesare Borgia as a prison during the Italian Wars and is now a museum.

The Castello Estense is the centrepiece of the city of Ferrara, where Mazzoni died
The Castello Estense is the centrepiece of the city
of Ferrara, where Mazzoni died
Travel tip:

Ferrara, where Jacopo Mazzoni died, is a city in Emilia-Romagna, about 50 km (31 miles) to the northeast of Bologna. It was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598. Building work on the magnificent moated Este Castle (Castello Estense) in the centre of the city began in 1385 and the castle was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the end of the Este line. The castle was purchased for 70,000 lire by the province of Ferrara in 1874 to be used as the headquarters of the Prefecture. You can still see Ferrara’s original narrow, medieval streets to the west and south of the city centre, between the main thoroughfares of Via Ripa Grande and Via Garibaldi. These were the original heart of the city in the middle ages before the Este family redesigned it.

Also on this day:

1726: The birth of physicist Giovanni Aldini

1886: The death of physician and politician Agostino Bertani

1926: Airship leaves Rome for the North Pole

1991: The Moby Prince disaster

(Picture credits - Mazzoni's shovel by Sailko CC-BY-3.0; Rocca Malatestiana by Otello Amaducci CC-BY-SA 3.0) 


26 February 2020

Emanuele Severino - philosopher

Thinker famous for theories on eternity and being

Emanuele Severino was removed from the Catholic University of Milan because of his belief in the 'eternity of  all beings'
Emanuele Severino was removed from the Catholic University
of Milan because of his belief in the 'eternity of  all beings'
The contemporary philosopher Emanuele Severino, who died in January of this year, was born on this day in 1929 in Brescia, in northern Italy.

Severino is regarded by many as one of Italy’s greatest thinkers of the modern era, yet came into conflict with the Catholic Church, so much that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the body that once stood in judgment of those it deemed as heretics, banished him from the Church in 1969 on the basis that his beliefs were not compatible with Christianity.

The basis for their action was his belief in “the eternity of all being”, which essentially denies the existence of God as a creator.

Severino believed that the ancient Greek theory of all things coming from nothing and returning to nothing after being granted temporary existence was flawed, and that the Greek sense of becoming was an error. He contended that the idea that an entity can move from ‘being’ to ‘non-being’ and vice-versa was absurd.

He argued that everything is eternal, not only all people and all things, but every moment of life, every feeling, every aspect of reality, and that nothing becomes or ceases to be. He challenged the notion of death as annihilation, explaining birth and death through his theory that “we are eternal and mortal because the eternal enters and exits from appearing. Death is the absence of the eternal”.

Severino argued that nothing could come of nothing and therefore everything is eternal
Severino argued that nothing could come of
nothing and therefore everything is eternal
According to Severino, the incorrect faith in becoming, and the subsequent fear of becoming, in particular the fear of death or other undesired outcomes, underpins every aspect of Western civilisation and its continual attempts to defy the will of nature.

As a young man, Severino had been initially consumed by mathematics but turned to the study of philosophy after his brother, Giuseppe, with whom he often discussed the ideas of contemporary philosophers, had been killed in action in the Second World War.  He had a talent for music, too, and composed a suite for wind instruments that was performed in public.

Severino studied at the University of Pavia and subsequently at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, where he became Professor of Moral Philosophy.  His philosophical position, which was described as neo-Parmenidism after the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides, who similarly had contended that existence is unchanging and timeless, and that appearances to the contrary were the result of false conceptions produced by deceitful sensory faculties.

As a result of the Catholic Church’s judgment, Severino had to leave his position in Milan. He moved from there to the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where he was director of the Department of Philosophy and Theory of Sciences until 1989.

Despite the Church’s view that his opinions were dangerous, Severino was awarded the Gold Medal of the Republic for Meritorious Culture by the President of the Italian Republic. He won many prizes and regularly expressed his opinions in a column in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Severino died in January 2020 at the age of 89 in Brescia, where his body was cremated in a private ceremony before his death was announced.

Brescia's Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda, which is thought to date back to the 11th century
Brescia's Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda, which
is thought to date back to the 11th century
Travel tip:

Brescia, where Severino was born and died, is a city in Lombardy, situated about 90km (56 miles) east of Milan between the lakes of Iseo and Garda. It is a city of artistic and architectural importance. A Roman colony before the birth of Christ, it still has the remains of a forum, theatre and a temple. Brescia came under the protection of Venice in the 15th century and there is a Venetian influence in the architecture of the Piazza della Loggia, an elegant square, which has a clock tower similar to the one in Piazza San Marco in Venice. Next to the 17th century Duomo is an older cathedral, the unusually shaped Duomo Vecchio, also known as la Rotonda.

The Ca' Foscari and the Palazzo Giustinian, also part of the university, on Venice's Grand Canal
The Ca' Foscari and the Palazzo Giustinian, also part of the
university, on Venice's Grand Canal
Travel tip:

The Ca' Foscari University of Venice has been housed since its foundation in 1868 in the Venetian Gothic palace of Ca' Foscari, which stands on the Grand Canal, between the Rialto and San Marco, in the sestiere of Dorsoduro.  Originally the Regia Scuola Superiore di Commercio - the Royal High School of Commerce - it became a university in its centenary year in 1968.  Nowadays, it has eight departments and almost 21,000 students and regarded as one of top five universities in Italy, of which there are around 90.

3 May 2019

Francesco Algarotti - writer and art collector

Francesco Algarotti was a man of many talents with a colorful love life
Francesco Algarotti was a man of many talents
with a colorful love life

Philosopher and polymath with a playboy lifestyle

The multi-talented writer, philosopher and art connoisseur Francesco Algarotti, one of the most prominent and colourful individuals in 18th century intellectual society, died in this day in 1764 in Pisa.

Algarotti, who wrote many essays and a number of books, was something of a polymath in his breadth of knowledge on a wide number of subjects, including architecture and music as well as art. He was also a charismatic figure who became friends with most of the leading authors of his day, including Voltaire, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens and Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis.

His urbane manner and suave good looks, combined with his considerable intellect, led him to acquire admirers of both sexes. Indeed, at one time he is said to have found himself at the centre of a colourful bisexual love triangle involving John Hervey, the English peer and politician, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the aristocratic travel writer, who became infatuated with Algarotti at the same time as Hervey, her one-time lover.

Algarotti was often engaged by the courts of European monarchs to acquire or commission paintings and other decorative artworks, or to advise on architectural projects, but also amassed a considerable collection of his own.  He commissioned works by Tiepolo, Pittoni, Piazzetta, Castiglione, Panini and Balestra among others, while helping to further the careers of Giuseppe Nogari, Bernardo Bellotto and Francesco Pavona.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is said to have become infatuated with Algarotti
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is said to have
become infatuated with Algarotti
Giovanni Paolo Panini’s famous view of the interior of the Pantheon in Rome, painted in around 1734, was commissioned by Algarotti.

One painting thought to have been in his collection, Sebastiano Ricci’s Vision of St Bruno, sold at auction in the United States for $500,000 after turning up in a warehouse in Texas in 2008.

Algarotti was born in Venice in 1712. His father, a wealthy merchant, was an art collector and it was expected he would join his older brother, Bonomo, in the family business.

Instead, he went Rome to for a year, and then studied natural sciences and mathematics at Bologna and Florence. At age of 20, he went to Paris, where he became friendly with Voltaire and, in 1737, published Newtonianesimo per le dame, ovvero Dialoghi sopra la luce e i colori (Newtonianism for Ladies, or Dialogues on Light and Colour), a work on Newtonian optics, in which he had a particular expertise.

He spent time in London, where he met Lord Hervey, who would later become Lord Privy Seal in the government led by Robert Walpole. Hervey, who is known to have had many affairs with both men and women, was drawn towards his sophistication and physical attractiveness, but at the same time Algarotti attracted the attention of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who became so enamoured of him that she left her husband and proposed that they live together in Italy.

Algarotti's tomb, paid for by Frederick the Great, at Campo Santo in Pisa
Algarotti's tomb, paid for by Frederick
the Great, at Campo Santo in Pisa
The relationship came to nothing, however, after Algarotti received an invitation to go to Berlin from Frederick the Great of Prussia, and stayed there for more than nine years as court chamberlain.

A member of the Royal Society, Algarotti was popular in many European courts. Frederick the Great made him a Prussian count.  Augustus III of Poland also honored him with the title of Councillor.

In 1754, he returned to Italy, living in Bologna, Venice and then Pisa, where he died from tuberculosis ten years later at the age of 51. In his memory, Frederick the Great erected a monument to him on the Campo Santo in Pisa.

Algarotti's writings include several studies on classical themes and a series of treatises on language, opera, architecture, the poet Horace, painting and on influences on national character. He is credited with introducing the genre of essay-writing into Italy.

His 1745 book Il congresso di Citera, which was published in English as The Modern Art of Love, was a lighthearted comparison of English, French, and Italian attitudes toward love.

Panini's painting of the interior of  The Pantheon in Rome
Panini's painting of the interior of
The Pantheon in Rome
Travel tip:

The Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda in Rome is considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building. It was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. It was consecrated as a church in the seventh century and many important people are buried there, including Victor Emmanuel II, his son, Umberto I, and his wife, Queen Margherita.  It was as much a tourist attraction in Panini’s day as it is today and Panini manipulated the proportions and perspective to include more of the interior that is actually visible from any one vantage point.

The Campo Santo is part of the Piazza dei Miracoli complex, the most famous landmark of which is the Leaning Tower
The Campo Santo is part of the Piazza dei Miracoli complex,
the most famous landmark of which is the Leaning Tower
Travel tip:

The Campo Santo, also known as Camposanto Monumentale, is a huge oblong Gothic cloister at the northern edge of the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa. Designed by Giovanni di Simone, who began work on it in 1278, it was the fourth and final structure erected in the piazza, following the cathedral, the baptistery and the campanile - the leaning tower. It is thought the building was not meant to be a cemetery, but a church called Santissima Trinità (Most Holy Trinity), but the project changed during construction.  It is called Campo Santo, which literally means ‘holy field’, because it is said to have been built on sacred soil from Calvary, or Golgotha, the site outside the walls of Jerusalem where the Gospels say Christ was crucified, which had been brought back to Pisa from the Third Crusade by Ubaldo Lanfranchi, archbishop of Pisa.

More reading:

Panini's eye for capturing scenes of Rome

Tiepolo's legacy to Venice

How 18th century Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni reinvigorated commedia dell'arte

Also on this day:

1461: The birth of patron of the arts Cardinal Raffaele Riario

1469: The birth of statesman and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli

1815: Austria defeats Napoleon's troops at the Battle of Tolentino


9 January 2019

Norberto Bobbio - political philosopher

Intellectual regarded as foremost 20th century commentator

Norberto Bobbio was a university professor and a forthright political commentator
Norberto Bobbio was a university professor
and a forthright political commentator
Norberto Bobbio, a philosopher of law and political sciences who came to be seen as one of Italy’s most respected political commentators in the 20th century, died on this day in 2004 in Turin, the city of his birth.

He was 94 and had been in hospital suffering from respiratory problems. His funeral was attended by political and cultural leaders including the then-president of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.  He had been writing essays well into his 90s, despite for much of his life suffering from bouts of what was described as “fatigue and melancholy”.

His extensive catalogue of work spanned almost seven decades of Italian political life and societal change from the rise of Fascism in the 1930s to the second premiership of Silvio Berlusconi, of whom he was an outspoken critic.

For much of his career, Bobbio was a professor at the University of Turin, where he was chair of philosophy of law from 1948 and, from 1972, of the faculties of legal and political philosophy and political science.

He was made a Life Senator in 1984, although he stayed away from playing an active role in Italian politics after failing to gain election to the parliament of the new Republic in 1946, standing on a liberal-socialist ticket.  Later he confessed that he was much relieved when a move to make him President in the 1990s did not succeed.

Bobbio was part of a famous group of Turin  intellectuals who opposed Fascism in the 1930s
Bobbio was part of a famous group of Turin
intellectuals who opposed Fascism in the 1930s
Many of his books and collections of essays are regarded as seminal works, but among them The Future of Democracy: A Defence Of The Rules Of The Game (1984), State, Government and Society (1985), The Age of Rights (1990) and Right and Left (1994) are considered to have particular importance.

Right and Left was an analysis of left-right political distinctions, in which he argued that the incompatibility of the two poles boiled down to the Left's belief in attempting to eradicate social inequality, set against the Right regarding most social inequality to be the result of inherent natural inequalities, and seeing attempts to enforce social equality as utopian or authoritarian.

Bobbio was born into a middle-class Turin family, the son of a doctor  whose attitude to Fascism was that, set against Bolshevism, which was gathering pace in Italy at the time, it was the lesser of two evils.

His own political thinking was influenced by the group of friends he made at the Liceo Classico Massimo d'Azeglio in Turin, where he became part of the intellectual movement that included the novelists Cesare Pavese and Carlo Levi, his future publisher Giulio Einaudi, the critic Leone Ginsburg and the radical politician Vittorio Foa. 

Bobbio argued in favour of the Historic Compromise between the Communists and the Christian Democrats in the 1970s
Bobbio argued in favour of the 'historic compromise' between
the Communists and the Christian Democrats in the 1970s
They were all involved with the anti-Fascist magazine Riforma Sociale - Social Reform - published by Einaudi’s father, Luigi, a future President of Italy - that Mussolini had closed down and spent several weeks in jail as a result.

He was imprisoned again in 1943, this time by the Germans, after the illegal political party of which he was a member, the Partito d’Azione - the Action Party - became involved in resistance activity. Arrested in Padua, he was released after three months.

The party - for a while the main non-Communist opposition group - lacked popular support, however, and Bobbio failed in his bid for election to the assembly of the new Republic in 1946, after which he devoted himself to his academic life, taking positions at various universities teaching the philosophy of law.

Throughout his intellectual life, he was a strong advocate of the rule of law, and although by nature a socialist, he was opposed to what he perceived as the anti-democratic, authoritarian elements in most of Marxism. He was a strong supporter of the so-called 'historic compromise' - the proposed coalition of the Italian Communist Party and the Christian Democrats in the strife-torn 1970s - and a fierce critic of Silvio Berlusconi, whom he accused of presiding over a moribund political system that lacked idealism and hope.

Turin is famous for its beautiful royal palaces
Travel tip:

Turin was once the capital of Italy. It has a wealth of elegant streets and beautiful architecture, yet over the years has tended to be promoted less as a tourist attraction than cities such as Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice, possibly because of its long association with the Savoy family and subsequently the Italian royal family, who were expelled from Italy in disgrace when Italy became a republic at the end of the Second World War, their long-term unpopularity with some sections of Italian society compounded by their collaboration with Mussolini’s Fascists. Yet there is much to like about a stay in Turin. Aside from the splendour of the royal palaces, it has an historic café culture, 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in northern Italy.

Rivalta di Torino, looking towards the castle
Rivalta di Torino, looking towards the castle
Travel tip:

Norberto Bobbio was laid to rest at the cemetery in Rivalta di Torino, a small town in Piedmont, located about 14km (9 miles) southwest of Turin in the Sangone valley.  It is home to a medieval castle, which formed the heart of what was then a village in the 11th century. The castle and the village were owned by the Orsini family - long-standing Italian nobility dating back to medieval times - until 1823. In 1836, the French writer Honoré de Balzac was guest at the castle of its new owner, Count Cesare Benevello, as is recorded in an inscription on the wall.

More reading:

How Cesare Pavese introduced Italian readers to the great American novelists

Why the murder of Aldo Moro ended hopes for a 'historic compromise'

Giulio Einaudi - the publisher who defied Mussolini

Also on this day:

1878: The death of King Victor Emmanuel II

1878: Umberto I succeeds Victor Emmanuel II

1944: The birth of architect Massimiliano Fuksas


5 September 2018

Giacomo Zabarella – philosopher

Scholar devoted his life to explaining Aristotle’s ideas

Giacomo Zaberella: a portrait by an unknown artist kept at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford
Giacomo Zaberella: a portrait by an unknown
artist kept at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford
The leading representative of Renaissance Aristotelianism, Giacomo Zabarella, was born on this day in 1533 in Padua in the Veneto.

His ability to translate ancient Greek enabled him to understand the original texts written by Aristotle and he spent most of his life presenting what he considered to be the true meaning of the philosopher’s ideas.

He had been born into a noble Paduan family who arranged for him to receive a humanist education.

After entering the University of Padua he was taught by Francesco Robortello in the humanities, Bernardino Tomitano in logic, Marcantonio Genua in physics and metaphysics and Pietro Catena in mathematics. All were followers of Aristotle.

Zabarella obtained a Doctorate in Philosophy from the university in 1553 and was offered the Chair of Logic in 1564. He was promoted to the first extraordinary chair of natural philosophy in 1577.

Zabarella became well known for his writings on logic and methodology and spent his entire teaching career at the University of Padua.

The title page of Zabarella's book, Opera Logica, published in 1577
The title page of Zabarella's book,
Opera Logica, published in 1577
As an orthodox Aristotelian, he sought to defend the scientific status of theoretical natural philosophy against the pressures emanating from the practical disciplines such as the art of medicine and anatomy.

His knowledge of Greek enabled him to consult Greek commentators on Aristotle’s work as well as medieval writers.

Zabarella’s first published work was Opera Logica in 1577 and his commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics appeared in 1582.

He died in Padua at the age of 56 in 1589. His great work in natural philosophy, De rebus naturalibus, was published posthumously in 1590. It contained 30 treatises of Aristotelian natural philosophy and an introduction that he had written only weeks before his death. His two sons edited his incomplete commentaries on Aristotle’s texts and published them a few years later.

Zabarella’s works were reprinted in Germany early in the 17th century, where his brand of philosophy had a big following, especially among Protestant Aristolelians.

Palazzo del Bó is the main building of Padua University
Palazzo del Bò is the main building of Padua University
Travel tip:

The University of Padua was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

The Caffè Pedrocchi is just a few yards along Via VIII Febbraio from Palazzo del Bò
The Caffè Pedrocchi is just a few yards along Via VIII
Febbraio from Palazzo del Bò 
Travel tip:

Via VIII Febbraio commemorates the date and location of the struggle between Austrian soldiers and students and citizens of Padua, when both the University and the Caffè Pedrocchi became battlegrounds. The Padua rebellion was one of a series of revolts in Italy during 1848. The Austrians were seen as arrogant and aggressive and the ideas of Mazzini and Cavour about a united Italy were becoming popular with progressive thinkers. Students and professors at Padua University had been meeting at the University and in Caffè Pedrocchi to discuss their discontent. You can still see a hole in the wall of the White Room inside Caffè Pedrocchi made by a bullet fired by an Austro-Hungarian soldier at the students. The café has been a meeting place for students, intellectuals and writers for nearly 200 years. Founded by coffee maker Antonio Pedrocchi in 1831, it quickly became a centre for the Risorgimento movement and was popular with students because it was near Palazzo del Bò, the main university building.

More reading:

The philosopher who wrote the 'Manifesto of the Renaissance'

Why a renowned Aristotelian philosopher refused to look through Galileo's telescope

The philosopher with a Utopian dream to banish poverty

Also on this day:

1568: The birth of philosopher Tommaso Campanella

1970: The birth of Paralympian Francesca Porcellato


19 July 2018

Cesare Cremonini - philosopher

Great thinker famous for Galileo ‘denial’

Cesare Cremonini was one of the most revered Aristotelian philosophers of his day
Cesare Cremonini was one of the most
revered Aristotelian philosophers of his day
The philosopher Cesare Cremonini, the contemporary and friend of Galileo Galilei who famously refused to look at the Moon through Galileo’s telescope, died on this day in 1631 in Padua.

Cremonini was considered one of the great thinkers of his time, a passionate advocate of the doctrines of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. He was paid a handsome salary by his patron, Alfonso II d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, and kings and princes regularly sought his counsel.

He struck up a friendship with the poet, Torquato Tasso, while he was studying in Ferrara, and met Galileo in 1550 after he was appointed by the Venetian Republic to the chair of the University of Padua.

The two built a relationship of respect and friendship that endured for many years, despite many differences of opinion, yet in 1610 their divergence of views on one subject created an impasse between them.

It came about when Galileo observed the surface of the Moon through his telescope and proclaimed that he had discovered mountains on the Moon.

But Cremonini said that Aristotle had proved that the Moon could only be a perfect sphere and was having none of Galileo’s claim that it was not true. Galileo invited him to look through the telescope and see for himself but Cremonini refused.

Cremonini first met Galileo in Padua in 1550
Cremonini first met Galileo
in Padua in 1550
It may be that Cremonini simply refused to countenance the idea that Aristotle’s assertion may have been wrong. An alternative theory is that he feared for the consequences if he aligned himself with Galileo.

The Tuscan polymath was already in trouble with the Roman Inquisition for stating his belief in heliocentrism - the idea that Earth and the other planets in the solar system revolve around the sun,  which contradicted the idea to which the Catholic Church subscribed - based on the wisdom of Aristotle - that the sun revolved around Earth as the centre of the universe.

Cremonini had himself been under the scrutiny of the Inquisition. Indeed, he had been charged with atheism and heresy for propagating Aristotle’s argument that the human soul was mortal. As a citizen of Padua, however, he was protected by the leniency of Venice and had been spared punishment.

It may be that he felt that if he had seen what Galileo saw with his own eyes he would have been obliged to argue in support of his friend and could land himself in trouble again.  Given that Galileo was threatened with being burned at the stake and was held under house arrest for the remainder of his life over his belief in heliocentrism, some may argue that Cremonini was wise not to get involved.

He also had genuine concerns for Galileo’s wellbeing, warning his friend that if he decided to move to Tuscany from Padua it would bring him under the Inquisition's jurisdiction.

Born in Cento, nowadays a town of around 35,000 residents about 35km (22 miles) southwest of Ferrara, Cremonini was chair of natural philosophy and chair of medicine at the University of Padua from 1591 until his death.

He died in 1631 when an outbreak of plague swept Padua. He was buried in the Benedictine monastery of St. Justina of Padua, to which he also willed his possessions.

Cento's 14th century castle, originally built by the Bishop of Bologna and enlarged by future pope Giulio della Rovere
Cento's 14th century castle, originally built by the Bishop
of Bologna and enlarged by future pope Giulio della Rovere
Travel tip:

Cento, which was part of the Papal States when Cremonini was born, is best known as the birthplace of the Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, better known as Guercino. The town’s main square, the place at which the four ancient roads into the town once converged, is called Piazza Guercino. Monuments around the square include the Palazzo del Governatore, which has a 17th century clock tower, and the Palazzo Comunale, built in 1612 but improved with the addition of an elegant facade in the 18th century. The town has an impressive castle, built in 1378.

Donatello's statue of the condottiero Gattamelata outside St Anthony's Basilica
Donatello's statue of the condottiero
Gattamelata outside St Anthony's Basilica
Travel tip:

Padua’s well-preserved medieval layout and artistic heritage attract many hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, although it is much quieter than Venice, which is only a little over 40km (25 miles) away.  The presence in the city of Giotto, Donatello and Mantegna support the claim that Padua was the capital of Italian art in the 15th and 16th centuries. The most famous example of Giotto’s work are the frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, there are works by Donatello in and outside the Basilica di Sant’Antonio, including the equestrian statue in front of the church, while there are restored frescoes by Mantegna in the Chiese degli Eremitani.

More reading:

Why the philosopher and scientist Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy

The mysterious death of philosopher Giovanno Pico della Mirandola

How a simple friar laid some of the cornerstones of Western philosophy

Also on this day:

1249: The death of Jacopo Tiepolo, Doge of Venice

1374: The death of the scholar and poet Petrarch