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Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  499 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Placing Brunoboth advanced philosopher and magician burned at the stakein the Hermetic tradition, Yatess acclaimed study gives an overview not only of Renaissance humanism but of its interplayand conflictwith magic and occult practices.
Hardcover, 502 pages
Published December 15th 1999 by Routledge (first published 1964)
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Nov 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Renaissance fans, every historian
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was revolutionary at the time of its publication because Yates rejected the imposition of 20th century categories on earlier periods. Those who studied Bruno's scientific and mathematical advances ignored his interest in magic and mysticism, and vice versa. Yates surmounted this division and showed how inseparable the two truly were. For instance, Bruno's involvement with Copernicus occurred because he needed more accurate astronomical calculations for his astrological work. This study ...more
Steve Evans
Apr 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a path-breaking book, and for me, a revelation. Yates' account of the little monk burnt at the stake in Rome in 1600 was revisionist history, but when I read it, I didn't realise it. Till Yates, Bruno was a revolutionary free-thinker murdered by Papism out of little more than pique. His thinking system was lionised, his memory system admired and his belief in multiple inhabited worlds considered very advanced and even scientific. But I didn't know any of this.

Yates paints a different
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dame Frances Yates is one of the most accessible and passionate scholarly writers I have encountered.

The case presented in this book is somewhat dated, with many of her assumptions and conclusions having been refuted by more modern scholarship. That being said this, along with Dame Yates follow-up works, are still the best and most accessible introductions to the case of the reinterpretation and popularization of occult science in the early Renaissance. The beginning of the book gives a brief
A. McMahon
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book by Frances Yates revolutionized the historical studies of Giordano Bruno. Up until Yates, Bruno was seen as a proto-typical scientist who was burned at the stake by the Catholic Church for his heretical scientific views. Yates demonstrates conclusively, with impeccable research, that Bruno was in fact a dyed-in-the-wool magician who believed thoroughly in magic and the occult, who believed that the One True Faith had existed in Ancient Egypt and that medieval Christianity was a pale ...more
Sep 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students of religion, philosophy, and the history of science
Yates' classic study of the 'Renaissance magus' Giordano Bruno left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the book is full of relevant information and insights into the world of esoteric thought in the Renaissance, and this makes it an essential read for students of hermeticism in the premodern period.

At the same time, I felt the work wavered a bit too much between being an introduction in hermetic thought from Ficino to Fludd and beyond, and being a biography of Bruno himself. I found the
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I really, really enjoyed reading this book. I think that Yates has a bit of a tendency to pigeon-hole Bruno's thought more than she should, insisting throughout that his central goal was a return to Egyptianism and that he was fundamentally anti-Christian, and I think that certainly is an overall flaw. But I'm still going to give it five stars anyways just because it's a book that's absolutely worth reading, especially it's beginning and ending. Yates puts Bruno (and his Hermetic contemporaries) ...more
Paul Johnston
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this an interesting book if a little out of my normal field and a little demanding particularly insofar as the expectation was that one could read Latin fluently (plus a few other things, e.g. some old French). I didn't know anything very much about Giordano Bruno before I read it and only have a fairly average understanding of the Renaissance. The most interesting thing is definitely the way that our modern ways of seeing things are challenged so science and magic go together and ...more
Joshua Stager
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an academic (lots of untranslated quotes from French, Italian, and Latin), groundbreaking analysis of the hermetic tradition (Renaissance magic) in the life of Giordano Bruno, and its place in the history of thought as a bridge between medieval scholasticism and Cartesian rationalism.

As a person who lives at the intersection of religion, science, and history, this book forced me to reconsider the narrative of the genesis of Science, and the history of thought within the Church in the
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A. Two main intentions of this book:
1. To show that the writings of Bruno are misunderstood. Bruno is normally celebrated in the history of science for his acceptance of the Copernican theory and his own addition that the universe in infinite. This broke the closed Ptolemaic universe. But, Bruno was not a forerunner of modern science. Instead, he advocated a magical hermetic tradition. For example Bruno used the Copernicus heliocentric chart as a talisman.
2. Bruno still deserves a major position
Jared Roberts
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an incredible read. Clear, logically-developed scholarship of the most rigorous kind, it's practically a blueprint for how good scholarship should be conducted.

As someone with an interest in the intellectual history of the time, I'd been wanting to read this book for a while. Yates's now classic study shed way more light than I was expecting. From Ficino and Mirandola to Agrippa to Bruno, Fludd, and even Shakespeare, she illuminates elements of these figures' thought that was unheard
Aug 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a difficult book to read without having any previous knowledge of Bruno or Renaissance magic. I had expected it to be a straight biography, but it is not. I know Frances Yates has an excellent reputation for scholarship, but I found the book to be a bit of a slog, which may have been because I did not have sufficient knowledge of the background of the subject rather than because her writing was truly difficult.

At any rate, this is not an introductory book to the subject of Renaissance
Feb 25, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good but dated (1964), where I started after our Moon landing and after 15pp of B's Latin poem on the Innumerable Worlds (400pp). Also, GB as magus* is only 1/4 the story. You'd never guess from this that 1) GB wrote a hilarious comedy, Candelaio*; and 2) GB laughed aloud after quoting Aristotle, which he mastered, and taught at the U of Toulouse (1579). 3) He also mastered Copernicus (spherical geometry) and wrote five books on math (one anticipating calculus, De minimo). He interviewed for the ...more
Jay Eckard
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are few historians whose obvious passion for their subject turns into such great reading. Yates' work are deeply, deeply scholarly (she quotes, expecting the reader to follow, in French, Latin, Italian and German) bur her arguments are lucid but intricately developed.

This books serves as a companion piece to her next (and maybe most widely regarded) work, The Art of Memory. This book focuses more on the theoretical framework and background Bruno sets up for his beliefs, while Art discusses
Christopher Plaisance
Oct 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As far as discipline defining monographs go, it is hard to think of a better example than Frances Yates' Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. When it was first published in 1964 there were, apart from D.P. Walker's Spiritual & Demonic Magic From Ficino to Campanella, no real academic works analyzing Western esotericism from an etic perspective. In this book, Yates, in the hopes of contextualizing the thought of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), provides an in-depth history of Hermetism, with ...more
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
As a stylist, Yates leaves something to be desired--and the scholastic detachment which is one of the great strengths of the book I think also sometimes works quite against some aspects of the subject's appeal; ultimately, she considers the Hermetic Tradition as, at best, a stimulus towards the more evolved perspective of 17th century science whereas (as a veteran of the English Department, the refuge for all "discarded" philosophies: myth, marxism, psychonalysis....) I can't help feeling that ...more
Apr 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: history buffs, spiritual people
The highest recommendation for Bruno's ideals is that he was burned at the stake. Frances Yates is brilliant here. Don't miss this one.
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
A bit repetitive at times, with some padding here and there, but otherwise an excellent and eminently readable history.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In what constituted a radical historiographic paradigm shift at the time of its writing, Frances Yates places Giordano Bruno within the intellectual tradition of practical and religious Hermetism, correcting the once-prevailing view of him as an advocate, and ultimately martyr, for a precociously scientific understanding of the cosmos. He was, rather, proselyte of a philosophical theurgy, formulated by Marsilio Ficino on the basis of his Christianized interpretation of the Corpus Hermeticum, ...more
Marcel Côté
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book should get ten stars for its meticulous rendering of an argument, revolutionary for its time, placing Bruno in the context of Renaissance magic (not science), a worldview remote from our own which itself draws its inspiration from late antiquity. Yates' contributions to her field are unparalleled, and need no introduction among the scholars who have followed her in gratitude for her trailblazing work on the Renaissance mindset and the wellsprings of occult thought in the West. For all ...more
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, fascinating read about an intellectual and spiritual luminary several centuries ahead of his time. Bruno imagined astrological, mathematical and and philosophical truths staggering in their modern sensibility and haunting in their implications:

- The universe is not helocentric nor earth-centric, but is infinite, with stars really as suns with their own planets surrounding them.

- God is not only one and within all of nature, but is a force and blinding love completely separate even
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
This is Francis Yates first work published in 1964 on esoteric philosophers of the early modern period. This book looks into the Hermetic Tradition and Giordano Bruno. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for denying the trinity , Heliocentrism, believing in infinite worlds with other creatures on them (the first writer of space aliens), and being a conjuror (raising spirits). He traveled widely and had eclectic writings. Yates places his thoughts squarely in the Hermetic tradition which was ...more
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, italy
If only all historians were such brilliant writers as Frances Yates! As with all her efforts, the work is clear and prettily writ - as well as well researched and carefully thought out. As for the content, while it's true that Clement VIII shouldn't have had Bruno burned, the pope was right about Bruno being a heretic and a witch. Not that the last is a bad thing. Both this book and Yates' "The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age" make a powerful arguments about the development of the ...more
Gary Bonn
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Without a doubt one of the finest texts I have read and a profound insight into so many aspects of the way humans think and act.
It's also a model for how non-fiction can be structured and written with stunning clarity and accessibility.
A treasure in many respects.
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Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and sound to the mind! Accolades for the story behind...
Esoteric and dense.
Maan Kawas
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great detailed historical study which is an examination of Giordano Bruno's life, doctrines, and tragic death; focusing, particularly,on the role of Hermeticism in his work. The book sheds light on the role magic, mysticism, and neoplatonism in the Renaissance thinking. Yates also talks about mysticism, occult, including, Hermeticism, in the life of Queen Elizabeth I, Dr. John Dee, Shakespeare, and others. A great and enchanting book, though not an easy read.
A bit of a slog, partly because it's a highly specialized volume where fairly in-depth pre-existing knowledge of hermeticism and Renaissance philosophy and history would be helpful and partly because I don't read Latin. But quite valuable nonetheless in that it shatters the standard grade school narrative of the rise of science and the modern age. Or as Yates puts it:

"The basic difference between the attitude of the magician to the world and the attitude of the scientist to the world is that the
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading Frances Yates is like listening to your favorite history professor. She has a wonderfully conversational style, a knack for providing helpful context, and the ability to calmly walk the reader through some very dense and cryptic material. It's a moderately difficult but immensely rewarding reading experience. I think I'm going to be a sizable Yates fan.

One gripe, partly with Yates but mostly with the publisher: the interested non-specialist audience that this book speaks to no longer
Cat Williams
Mar 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you are interested in the the magic of science, astronomy, philosophy, and mathematics, I recommend this book. Yates does an amazing job of explaining the history of the Hermetic Tradition and its resurgence in the Renaissance and why she considers that Giordano Bruno was a Hermetic philosopher-magician and why that got him executed (instead of the official reason of heresy).

Very interesting book and topic. I highly recommend it.
Keith Heiberg
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Yates does a good job of introducing the Hermetic Tradition (including alchemy, the art of memory, etc.) and Bruno himself. The more we learn about this complex and fascinating character, the more we realize that it's impossible to answer the question, "Was he a sincere practitioner of ancient magic, or a cynical gadfly, or both?" If you're not put off by the scholarly style and long quotations in Latin and French (untranslated), you'll enjoy this classic work.
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Dame Frances Amelia Yates DBE FBA was an English historian who focused on the study of the Renaissance. In an academic capacity, she taught at the Warburg Institute of the University of London for many years, and also wrote a number of seminal books on the subject of esoteric history.

Yates was born to a middle-class family in Portsmouth, and was largely self-educated, before attaining a BA and MA

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“Giordano Bruno was to take the bolder course of maintaining that the magical Egyptian religion of the world was not only the most ancient but also the only true religion, which both Judaism and Christianity had obscured and corrupted.” 6 likes
“through the light which shines in natural things one mounts up to the life which presides over them.” 0 likes
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