On this day, the 17th of February, in 1600 Giordano Bruno, former friar, amazing thinker, difficult personality, and arguably the “first” martyr to science was burned alive at the stake.
Apparently on his way to the stake they drove a spike through his tongue to stop him from talking.
I am fascinated by the range of people who admire him, from as Puala Findlen notes in her essay A Hungry Mind, main stream scientists ranging from “Ernst Haeckel and Herbert Spencer to leading literary figures like Vicotr Hugo and Henrik Ibsen,” and I would include to pantheist philosophers as well as flying saucer enthusiasts.Clearly much of who Bruno was and is has become a canvas upon which we paint our own pictures. Not a terrible thing. But not a particularly good thing, either.
He is vastly less a scientist than his younger contemporary Galileo Galilei. But Bruno’s horrific death gives an image those of us who see the oppressions of rigorous thinking and the work of science. And so here he is…
And you know, the real person is always so much messier, so much more complex. And, I noticed, often so much more interesting.
I know one danger for me a bit too often is to drop someone into a tidy box rather than to let the real person in all her or his complexity to present, to challenge, and, maybe, to transform me.
All that said, someone important died. He was silenced by a kind of authority that has done much harm to the advancing of human good.
It happened on this day 419 years ago.
Something to pause and notice.