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Reviewed by:
  • Del senso delle cose e della magia
  • Edward A. Gosselin
Tommaso Campanella . Del senso delle cose e della magia. Ed. Germana Ernst. Bari-Roma: Editori Laterza, 2007. xxxiv + 260. index. €24. ISBN: 978–88–420–8397–9.

The Neapolitan monk Tommaso Campanella was born in Calabria in 1568 and died in Paris in 1639. He belonged to the Dominican Order, but he repudiated Aristotle's teachings, which his order taught and accepted. He spent many years in Inquisition jails, and he lived his last years under the protection of the French court in Paris. Over the course of his life, Campanella developed his own individualistic philosophy and became one of the late Renaissance philosophers of [End Page 929] nature (for example, Telesio, Patrizi, and Bruno). In fact, he accepted many of the teachings of Bernardino Telesio in his own early writings. As will become clear in this review, Campanella can also be considered a practitioner of the Paracelsian chemical philosophy that stretched down to Sir Isaac Newton and the Scientific Revolution.

Del senso delle cose e della magia fits squarely into this view of Campanella as a philosopher of nature and emerging chemical philosopher. It was written in the early 1590s and was published in Latin in Frankfurt (1620) and in Paris (1636, 1637). Like Telesio, Campanella relates everything to nature and the senses in the early part of this work. Human actions, sense perceptions, and even universal concepts derive from sensus (sensation). His ideas were, as in the case of Telesio's, close to the materialism and epistemology of the Stoics (P. O. Kristeller, Eight Philosophers of the Italian Renaissance [1964], 105). In books 1–3 of Del senso, all matter is endowed with sensus, or sensations. According to Campanella, minerals and plants have the lowest level of sensation, animals the next higher, and man the next most refined sensus of created beings. Stars and planets are at the highest level. Thus man is able, unlike plants and animals, to connect through his senses with the infinite and God.

While books 1–3 therefore derive most closely from Telesio and the Stoic pneuma, book 4, on natural magic, becomes non-mechanistic and derives from Giovan Battista della Porta and, through him, from Paracelsus. (Campanella's criticisms of Galen's mechanistic medicine in the earlier books of Del senso foretell his move at this point to the chemical philosophy.) In this book, Campanella discusses the good kind of magic, which is a form of sapientia that has practical uses for humans. It is important to realize that the good magic of which Campanella speaks is not demonic magic, nor is it the kind that astounds people by its trickery. Rather, this natural magic is related to the observation and use of nature and the chemical changes and healing that, he believed, could be effected through the chemical philosophy.

This reviewer found three instances of natural magic most interesting. The first involved the "unguento armario," the "weapon-salve" treatment derived from the "school of Paracelsus" (188). Volume 8, book 14 of della Porta, Magia naturalis, published in 1589, discusses the weapon-salve ointment. As mentioned before, Campanella knew della Porta in the 1590s in Naples. Paracelsus and followers such as della Porta and Campanella believed that natural magic worked through sympathetic action. Thus, if a soldier was wounded by a weapon, his wound would heal only if an unguent or powder made from his blood was spread on the weapon that had wounded him. (See A. G. Debus, The French Paracelsians: The Chemical Challenge to Medical and Scientific Tradition in Early Modern France [1991], 105, for a discussion of the weapon-salve treatment; and Debus, Paracelso e la tradizione paracelsiana [1996] for a broader discussion of the chemical philosophy and the Scientific Revolution.) Another case of sympathetic natural action cited by Campanella deals with a man who was bitten by a rabid dog, causing bitter spirits to enter his body through the air. These could be expelled, Campanella [End Page 930] believed, only after the dog has been killed and the evil spirits returned to the moribund dog. In a third instance of sympathetic magic, this time from stories...


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