was born in Stilo, a town of Calabria Ulteriore and today it is part of the
province of Reggio Calabria. He was the son of a humble cobbler. The parish
books registered him under the name of Giovan Domenico Campanella and they
reported September 5, 1568 as his birth day. He was a very poor child but he
was thirsty for knowledge, he followed the lessons of the teacher of the
village hidden behind the window of the classroom, unable to pay the fee. It is
said that often intervened in the lesson when some schoolboy, questioned, was
not able to respond. It was the young Campanella, from the window, answering
At 14, his father was planning to have him study in Naples, host of one of his brothers. But the young man, eager to continue his studies without material concerns, entered the Dominican convent of Placanica as a novice. He took the vows the following year, assuming the name of Tommaso, in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas, philosopher and Doctor of the church. He completed his theological preparation in the convent of Cosenza, after studying in various convents. Friar Tommaso, not satisfied with the teachings received, which he considered partial and obscurantist, wanted to expand his culture by reading the classics of the ancient philosophers. In the same city of Cosenza the philosopher Bernardino Telesio spent his last years. Intrigued by the personality of Telesio he read his book “De rerum natura iuxta propria principia”, convincing that, as Telesio claimed, the classical conception of nature, created at the service of men, could not be accepted, but that nature should be investigated with the observation and reason.
These ideas cost him the first reprimand of his superiors who transferred him to a small monastery in Altomonte. Despite this Tommaso Campanella, having read a libretto by Jacopo Antonio Marta who intended to prove as unfounded of Telesian theories, in 1589 he wrote his first work “Philosophia sensibus demonstrata” where in supporting the philosophy of his teacher Telesio, he embraced the theories of Neoplatonism , subordinating them to the conviction of divine action in the creation of nature. After writing the work Campanella moved on his own initiative to Naples, tired of being in the small town of Altomonte where he had no access to the philosophical texts that he loved to study. He was housed in the convent of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples. The convent housed hundreds of friars and therefore there was no control over the activities of the same, who enjoyed great freedom. Later, tired of convent life, he entered as a guest, perhaps as a tutor, in the house of the Marquises Del Tufo, by whom he had had the opportunity to be appreciated in Calabria, where the Marquises had vast fiefdoms.
Outside religious structures, he had the freedom to deepen his philosophical theories, not disdaining to read texts related to alchemy and magic. He met Giovanni Battista della Porta with whom he had a literary dispute over antipathy and sympathy. Then he wrote “De investigationen rerum”, with which he partially refuted the neo-Platonic theses, wishing to be a guide for young people who faced the theses of the Greek philosopher.
In 1592 he met Torquato Tasso, recently moved to the
city from his native Sorrento. He rebuked Tasso for his attention to profane
subjects, inviting him to direct his literature in philosophical research. In
those years he also wrote the first of the twenty volumes of his work “De
The news was spread that he had abandoned the conventual life and accompanied himself with a rabbi, a certain Abraham, a practitioner of magic and astrology in the Dominican convents of Calabria, among his confreres, based on fragmentary news on the Campanella. In 1592 he was reported by a friar who declared that the philosopher had a demon hidden under the nail of little finger. Tommaso Campanella underwent his first trial in the court established by the Dominicans at the convent of San Domenico Maggiore. There was no mention of the supposed demon hidden under the nail during the trial, but of Telesio’s philosophies that Campanella had embraced. Campanella was accused being too scholarly for his studies. The philosopher, referring to the long vigils of studies, replied by quoting St. Jerome: “I have consumed more oil (of lamp) than you wine.” On August 28, 1592, the first trial ended with a substantial acquittal. He was sentenced to penance and to return to Calabria.
Tommaso Campanella had no intention of returning to his homeland. He went to Rome instead of going to Calabria on the pretext for wanting to adequately punish his accuser for the falsehoods witnessed in the trial from which he had been acquitted. He stayed a few weeks in the Eternal City before leaving for Tuscany where he hoped for a university job. In Rome he had contacts with Alessandro de Franciscis, Fabio Albergati and cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, who, however, knew of his intentions to go to Tuscany, preceded him with a letter to the Dominicans of Florence, in which he informed the confreres about the intentions of Campanella, providing bad references on the philosopher.
In Florence Campanella made contact with the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici, by whom, despite his personal appreciation, he was unable to obtain the desired university chair. After a few days he moved to Bologna, a guest of the Dominican convent of the city. During this stay, all his papers were stolen from him, which he then saw among the papers of the accusation in the trials that he later underwent in the Holy Office, and which he would not be able to get back into his possession. At the beginning of 1593 he took himself to Padua. During his stay in the city the superior father of the Dominican convent was sodomized by some unknown friars. In the subsequent investigation Campanella was accused of having participated in the violence against the General of the order. However, he was acquitted in this second trial by the infamous accusations which had been moved to him.
Campanella followed the lessons given in the local university in Padua in disguise of a Spanish student. He met Paolo Sarpi, Galileo Galilei, professor of the university, and he met Giambattista Della Porta who had fled from Rome in fear that the Holy Office would put him under investigation. At that time he rewrote his “De rerum universitate” whose first draft was lost, and he also wrote a book that defended the thesis of Telesio “Apologia pro Telesio”. In the “Della monarchia de’ Cristiani” Campanella supported the necessity of ecumenical unification under a single civil and religious law. This abundant philosophical production made suspicious the Holy Office which had put surveillance on Tommaso Campanella after the first trial suffered under the order of the Dominicans.
In 1594 the inquisition ordered the arrest of the Campanella on charges of complicity with a Jew. His friend Clario and a certain Ottavio Longo, originally from Barletta, were arrested with him, all locked up in the prisons of Padua. The first interrogations and the first tortures began. The Archduchess Mary of Habsburg, urged by the powerful members of Clario, wrote a letter of recommendation to the pope in favor of the three accused. The family members of Campanella’s friend also organized an escape from the prison of Padua for the three inmates. The attempt failed because it was discovered in advance by the prison guards. Following the attempt to escape, the Roman inquisition ordered the transfer of the three to Rome, a transfer that was carried out unlawfully without a request for extradition to the Venetian authorities who were always unwilling to grant it. The theses sustained in his book “Della Monarchia de’ Cristiani”, and the lack of confession, despite hard tortures, of the presumed heresies of which he was accused, turned the third trial in his favor. The abjuration that the philosopher underwent in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva earned him a simple confinement in the Dominican convent of Santa Sabina in Rome, while his friend Clario came out completely acquitted.
Campanella wrote some of his works that were intended to be freed from forced confinement in the convent of Santa Sabina. “Political dialogue against Lutherans, Calvinists and other heretics” was intended to demonstrate his loyalty to the church. A “treaty of knightly art”, dedicated to the Marquis del Tufo, and “Poetica”, dedicated to Cardinal Cinzio Aldobrandini, followed. In 1596 he made a request to the Inquisition Court to be freed from confinement in the convent of Santa Sabina. His request was met with the transfer to the convent of Minerva, the most important Dominican convent, completely acquitted of the charges.
A few months later another accusation was made. A criminal in his native country, condemned to hanging for common crimes, to delay his execution accused Tommaso Campanella of being a heretic. Campanella was again arrested and locked up in the prison of the Inquisition for his fourth trial. While waiting for the inquisitors to carry out the appropriate investigations, the philosopher became friends with his cellmate, Francesco Pucci, a Florentine philosopher of eschatological and irenic formation. Pucci soon after was sentenced to death and executed. In his honor, Campanella wrote the “Sonetto fatto sopra uno che morse nel Santo Uffizio in Roma”. On December 17, 1597, the philosopher was finally released, acquitted of false accusations by his fellow countryman. However, he was handed over to his superiors with the recommendation to ban him to a convent. To his profound disappointment, his superiors decided to send him back to Calabria.
At the beginning of 1598 Campanella left for Calabria, stopping in Naples for a few months, having no hurry to reach the convent must have been intended. In Naples he found his old friends and supporters. He tried, with the help of these, to delay as far as possible his departure for Calabria. On August 15 he was forced to reach his native village where he was joined to the Dominican convent of S. Maria di Gesù. Here he wrote his work on the free will “De predestinatione et reprobatione et auxiliis divinae gratiae”. Campanella was able to observe the moral and civil degradation of his region Calabria. There were brigands, abuses, friars who, collected in bands, extorted from poor and rich, extreme poverty, factions always in combat among suggested to the philosopher to devise a utopian society, a republic founded on communist and theocratic values. His sermons predicted, with the advent of the new century, upheavals that would have erased injustice. In this logic he foresaw or, perhaps, hoped for the expulsion of the Spaniards: a real conspiracy, so at least it was interpreted by the Spanish authorities who, in fear of a revolt, reinforced the military garrisons in the region. Tommaso Campanella was sought after as the inspirer of this alleged and next popular uprising. On 6 September, betrayed by a friend, he was captured by the Spanish gendarmes. He gave the names of the conspirators, denying that he was part in the organization of the revolt. He was transferred to Naples where he was locked up in a cell in Castel Nuovo awaiting his fifth trial.
Making use of the privileges of the clergy, the Holy Office claimed the ownership of the trial by the Dominican Campanella. Pope Gregory VIII was against the Spaniards and with this move he wanted to avoid the death sentence of the philosopher. Campanella confessed his faults but at the same time pretended to be crazy, so he could not be condemned. After repeated torture aimed at revealing his false madness, to which Campanella resisted stoically, was declared by insane judges on June 5, 1601. Despite the fact that the Holy Office wished him handed over Inquisition, with relative relocation to Rome, the Spanish authorities gave no answer, holding the Campanella in prison for 27 years.
During his imprisonment, spent in the dungeons of Castel Nuovo, Castel Sant’Elmo and Castel Dell’Ovo, Campanella was able to write several works. The most important and perhaps the most revolutionary was “The City of the Sun”, in which the philosopher imagined a utopian city in which the cult of the Sun-God prevailed, where the communion of goods and women was exercised. It was the theory of the “hypothesized” society supported by Plato, and resumed, in his writings, by Thomas More. This theory was the exact opposite of the “concrete” society advocated by Niccolò Machiavelli. The philosopher, despite his state of reclusion, was not afraid to take sides for Galileo Galilei with his writing “Apologia di Galileo”.
In 1626 he was finally freed and transferred to Rome for the intervention of Archbishop Maffeo Barberini who later became Pope with the name of Urban VIII. After three years spent in the availability of the Sant’Uffizio he was definitively liberated. He became the Pope’s astrologer. After 5 years, as new accusations, coming from Calabria, were moved against him, he moved to Paris, to the court of Louis XIII, protected by Cardinal Richelieu, solicited in this directly by Pope Urban VIII. He was housed in the Dominican convent of Saint Honoré, where he wrote his last poem “Ecloga in portentosam Delphini nativitatem”, where he celebrated the birth of the king’s heir. He died in the convent of Saint Honoré in Paris on May 21, 1939, at the age of 71.
(Photo at the top: Casa di Tommaso Campanella, 2009, Marcuscalabresus, CC BY 3.0)