Monday, September 1, 2014

Cities of the Sun

Italo Calvino paid glorious tribute to most of the imaginable cities in the human world ("Invisible Cities", Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), and several of the unimaginable ones too, alas. As far as I am aware, he never made reference to any City of the Sun, though I am certain that, as a fellow Italian, he would have known the great work that bore that name.

Tommaso Campanella, Hermetic theologian and victim of the Inquisition, wrote his "Civitas Solis" ("City of the Sun", or "La città del Sole" in Italian) somewhere between 1599, the date of his first arrest, and 1639, the date of his death, in whichever Naples prison he happened to inhabit at the time.

Born in the Calabrian village of Stilo in 1568, he was baptised as Giovanni Domenico Campanella, but took the name Tommaso in honour of Saint Tomas Aquinas when he became the only thing a man of his epoch with such a prodigiously gifted intellect could become if he wanted a formal education and a career that required it, which was a monk, entering the Dominican Order when he was just fourteen. Alas, becoming a successful monk also required perfect and unquestioning faith in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the Almighty Wisdom and Goodness of the Catholic Church in particular, and with this gift Campanello was not endowed.

Six years after taking his obedientiary vows, and in response to Bernardino Telesio's just published "De rerum natura iuxta propriis principiis - On the Nature of Things According to Their Own Principles", he wrote "Philosophia sensibus demonstrata - Philosophy as Demonstrated by the Senses", not simply defending but adding weight and argument to the new Philosophy of Nature which had been so upsetting the clerical authorities ever since Copernicus published his "De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri sex - Six books on the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" in 1492.

The clerical authorities were duly upset by Campanella as well, and in 1594, after spying on him, and noting his meetings with other heretics such as Giambattista della Porta in Naples and Galileo Galilei in Florence, he was formally denounced, arrested, inquisitioned, and finally imprisoned, at this time in Rome, and bizarrely in a convent. Tortured into abjuration of his devilry, he was ordered to return to Calabria in 1597, but quickly became involved in a conspiracy against its Spanish rulers, and found himself in jail again when the Spanish sent troops to arrest the plotters. 

Prison this time meant Naples, where charges of rebellion were added to those of heresy, and the scale of torture was such that it left him crippled, and ill, for the remainder of his life. He managed to avoid the death penalty by feigning madness (or by being his usual lucid self - the generally stupid find these two very difficult to tell apart), and was condemned to the interminable and meaningless sentence of life in prison, which of course, to those who believe in the Philosophy of Nature, he was already serving in his mind, his body, and his epoch.

Undaunted by being constrained within the infinite cosmos of a prison cell, and allowed as much pen and paper as he could waste on what was deemed the pointlessness and uselessness of epistemological endeavour, he passed the next two and a half decades thinking deeply, and writing down the issue of those thoughts, a variety of projects connected by the Casaubonian aim of gathering all human knowledge in a single encyclopedia. Some of those writings were secreted away by the German scholar Tobias Adami, who was permitted to visit Campanella in 1612, and published over the next few years in Frankfurt. They included "The Monarchy of Spain" (probably written in 1600), "Political Aphorisms" (probably 1601), "Quod Reminiscetur" (probably 1606), "Atheismus Triumphatus" ("Atheism Conquered" is the usual translation of this 1607 work, but should it not be "Atheism Triumphant"?). These were followed by "Metaphysica" (1623) and "Theologia" (1624), the large gap between Adami's visit and the publication of these latter suggesting that other works may have been written, and then "lost". 

"La città del Sole" was probably started in 1602, and in Italian not Latin; it was among the works published by Adami in Frankfurt in 1623, though his version was a translation into Latin; the Italian was first published in Paris in 1638.

In 1626, twenty-seven years after entering his first prison, Campanella was released from his last one, the Castel Nuovo in Naples, at the behest of Pope Urban VIII, who had interceded on his behalf with Philip IV of Spain, and then employed Campanella as his personal astrologer in Rome. But in 1634 a new wave of unrest broke out against the Spanish occupation of southern Italy, and Campanella rightly feared that he would be re-arrested. He fled to France, where he discovered, as Brahe and Keppler had done in Prague, that not all European rulers were either despots or religious ignorami, and usually both; though Louis XIII was clearly being pushed towards both by his senior adviser Cardinal Richelieu. Campanella had the king's favour, in the form of a royal pension, the freedom to mix with other scholars, and to go on writing, political works especially, like the revision of the "Civitas Solis" as "La città del Sole". He lived out his final years at the convent of Saint-Honoré in Paris, completing his poem, "Ecloga in portentosam Delphini nativitatem" in celebration of the birth of the future Louis XIV, and publishing the first volumes of his "Opera omnia", though alas he died, on May 21st 1639, before that project could be completed.

Campanella's "Città del Sole"

"A dream of light in all that darkness both physical and intellectual. An uninhabitable utopia" is Jonathan Raban's description, in his splendid account of  "La città del Sole" ("Soft City", Collins, 1988):

"Campanella starts with architecture, and to begin with he shows us a city without people, or, at least, with only the wispiest of sketch-figures, of the kind that architects like to put (merely as indications of relative scale) walking outside projected factories and town halls. It consists of seven concentric fortified circles, named after the planets, and four streets following the points of the compass. At the centre is the Temple of Knowledge and Metaphysics, an awesome and uncomfortable place which sounds darkly like the Royal Festival Hall. Each of the seven city walls is painted with representations of various aspects of human knowledge – maths, geometry, botany, physics, folklore, geology, medicine, engineering, and so on – so that living in the city would be like inhabiting a symmetrical three-dimensional encyclopaedia…"

Living in that city would actually be rather like inhabiting the inside of an Ayn Rand nightmare, the very opposite of our current western approach, in which Corporate Capitalism protected by Hedge Funds... a world, as the Encyclopedia Britannica sums it up "governed by men enlightened by reason, with every man's work designed to contribute to the good of the community. Private property, undue wealth, and poverty would be nonexistent, for no man would be permitted more than he needed." Egalitarian Socialism, two hundred years before Karl Marx or Pierre-Joseph Proudhon!

The creation of utopias was very much a fashion of the age, commencing with Thomas More's "Utopia" in 1516, which gave the genre its eponym. After several millennia of being told that the universe was created and controlled by God, that the Earth was flat, and static, that all creatures existed now in the form that they were made in the beginning, and that there was no need to know more than this because God had priests to explain mysteries, and all that was required of you was obedience if you wished to go to Heaven when you died; after several millennia of this, the sudden discovery that it was all a giant Ponzi scheme not only led men to seek enlightenment through science, but also to imagine what a human world might be like if there were neither God nor priests. So, alongside More, there would be Erasmus and Montaigne, Henry Neville's "The Isle of Pines" in 1668, Swift's satirical Utopiae in "Gulliver's Travels", and then the dystopiae as well, Zamyatin's "We", Orwell's "1984", Margaret Atwood ... too many to need listing.

But also those - very few, but also, alas, too many - who tried to make the Utopia without the U - or Outopia without the Ou as it should be, from the Greek "ou-topos", "there is no such place". To make it, that is to say, in some form of reality, of which the most obvious are also the greatest failures, the actual political attempts, from Stalin to Mao, from Hitler to Ceausescu, from kibbutz to Responsible Capitalism.

Of the ones that came closer to achievement in reality, I have spoken of Alberto Manguel's attempt at this on the Welcome page of this blog. Voltaire's endeavour is explored in more detail in my "Travels In Familiar Lands"; but worth a brief mention here: Voltaire redesigned the Marquise du Châtelet's ruined house at Cirey-sur-Blaise in exactly the manner Campanella described. On the grand entrance door to the gallery, for example, he expressed his philosophical conviction, rooted in Maupertuis' pre-Darwinian theory of evolution, which portrayed the sea as the source of life, by sculpting into the stone of the door-frame a set of sea-shells and the two faces of Neptune, one awake, the other sleeping. That entire door is in fact an imagistic philosophical treatise on the significance of the arts and sciences – a revolutionary statement in those High Catholic times, and precisely the sort of heresy that had put him in the Bastille in the first place (he was living at Cirey in exile and several volumes of Campanella were in the vast library that he and his beloved Marquise Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil established there).

A proper building - proper in the sense of "nihil obstat", the formal awarding of consent and approval by the clerical authorities - should have had representations of saints on its walls and doors, not world astronomical maps, votive candles for piety not a compass, a ruler and T-square for geometry, and if there must be a pen and its holder to adorn the left side of the door, let it represent the gospels, not secular, atheistic literature. But Voltaire equated literature with architecture, as Manguel did when he built his library, as Borges did when he invented his, as Dante did when he constructed his Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, as Solomon did when he constructed the First Temple in Jerusalem, as Campanella did, when he designed his City of the Sun.

There are many other such Utopiae, likewise committed unconditionally to the pursuit of whatever genuine intelligence was thought to be at that time, most of them only written down, and maybe sketched, like Campanella's, but some of them existing in reality at some point in time - usually a point brought to an end by the arrival of barbarians, who then destroyed it. 

Amongst these can be included several which unquestionably provided models for Campanella. The hanging gardens of Babylon, for example, which vanished without any trace beyond the residual carbon, though history has no idea which particular barbarians were responsible. The two greatest libraries in pre-20th century history likewise, the Alexandrian which housed the entirety of Greek knowledge until it was burned down by Julius Caesar, the Moslem one in Cordoba which was reduced to ashes by the Inquisition. 

The greatest temple and garden complex since Babylon, the magic garden of Yuan Ming Yuan outside Bei-jing, was similarly burned to the ground - though only after its valuables had been looted - by the British in October 1860. And speaking of temples, the one that Solomon built was wrecked by Nebuchadnezzar, though it was a mere chapel by comparison with its replacement, which the Emperor Titus burned to the ground in 70 CE.

The modern city of Kyoto was architected on principles not terribly dis-similar from those described by Campanella - Sir Francis Bacon, publishing his version in 1627 as "Salomon's House", may well have seen a first edition of the Campanella and plagiarised it. Kyoto was itself an imitation, of the Chinese city of Chang'an (present-day Xi'an) in fact, arranged in accordance with traditional Chinese Feng Shui, with the Imperial Palace facing south, and the remainder of the city in two sectors, the Ukyō to the west and the Sakyō to the east.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the architect who completed the construction of Kyoto, equated architecture with literature, as Frank Lloyd Wright did when he built Fallingwater, as Colin St John Wilson did when he built the new British Library in London.Campanella was in Rome in 1632 when Galileo Galilei published his "Dialogo sopra i massimi sistemi del mondo - Dialogues on the Two Chief Systems of the World" , a surprising decision, even despite his being another of Pope Urban's favourites, given that the church had issued an edict as long before as 1616, prohibiting him from teaching the Copernican view of the solar system, which this clearly did. Summoned to Rome to stand trial, Campanella was one of the few who dared to witness in his defense, and wrote to him before his second trial:

"I felt great disgust upon understanding that theologians of the Congregation are to prohibit the Dialogues of yours truly, and no person will be (in that council) who knows mathematics, or about recondite things. Be warned that while yours truly does state the thoroughly-forbidden opinion of the motion of the earth, you are not obliged to believe the reasons of those who contradict you. This rule is theological, and the validity is like that of the second Council of Nicaea which decreed that angelorum imagines depingi debent, quam'am vere corporei sunt (images of angels must be depicted as they are in the flesh): while this decree is valid, the reason is not, since all scholars in our day accept that angels are incorporeal. There are other very reasons. I doubt violence to people who do not know. The present Pope likely has not made his mind up in this case... but for my part, I will write and warn the Grand Duke of Tuscany, that if they put Dominicans, Jesuits, Theatines, and secular priests against your books in this council, they should also admit Father Castelli and me."

Galileo was found guilty of heresy, and sentenced to life imprisonment, though this was later reduced to permanent house arrest, on condition that he publicly renounced, however insincerely, both Copernican theory and the motion of the earth. The Christian ban on the Dialogues remained in force until 1990.

While so many of the works of the great thinkers of Europe lie on the shelves of prohibited literature in the Vatican - Voltaire among them - or among the ashes of the fires of the autos-da-fé, Campanella's "City of the Sun" has managed to remain available, most readily today at Project Gutenberg, though there is a version for Kindle if you prefer. A must-read.

The illustration at the top of the page is a 1609 attempt to illustrate the utopian Civitas Veri, or City of Truth, by Bartolomeo Del Bene.

The other illustrations are a sketch (possibly by 
Campanella himself) for "La città del Sole", and two undated and anonymous attempts to depict Bacon's "New Atlantis", with Salomon's House pre-eminent, and unclear whether the two men in the first drawing are holding a skipping rope or performing at a Jacobin pop concert - in the fantastic world of Britain's greatest ever intellectual failure, Sir Francis Bacon, either explanation is feasible.

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