Archive for January 8th, 2010

1603: Not Tommaso Campanella

Add comment January 8th, 2010 Headsman

The wise were forced to live as the mad were accustomed, in order to shun death, such that the greatest lunatic now possesses the royal burdens. The wise now lived alone with their wisdom, behind closed doors, applauding only in public the others’ mad and twisted caprices.

-Tommaso Campanella

On this date in 1603, freaky-deaky Dominican philosopher Tommaso Campanella drew a life sentence — avoiding execution by dint of a painfully convincing performance of insanity.

Campanella had some problematically heterodox notions about the sun (namely, that it was going to consume the earth) and everything under it, and had had a recent scrape with the Inquisition.

What really got him in trouble was trucking with a Calabrian conspiracy to overthrow Spanish domination, apparently a product of the monk’s millenarian anticipation of a sort of proto-communist revolution.

Campanella was a strange guy, but this was quite a far-out plot.

As Joan Kelly-Gadol writes in this fine tome,

This took place, let it be noted, after he had written two works advocating a Papal monarchy for Italy and the world and two works promoting the interests of the Spanish Empire also in Italy and throughout the world.

Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Once the conspiracy was betrayed,

Campanella was imprisoned … in the Castel Nuovo, one of the principal fortresses in which the Spaniards maintained a military garrison. He was arraigned before the civil tribunal for rebellion and before the ecclesiastical tribunal for heresy. His “examination” which began in January 1600 was gruesome. He claimed innocence in his first interrogation before the civil tribunal, was thrown into a dungeon, actually a cleft in the bedrock of the Castle, to remain there for seven days. Then followed torture. He “confessed,” admitting that he preached about the coming political upheaval but denying that he was part of a conspiracy to bring it about …

His desperation at this point can be gauged by the fact that by April of 1600 he began to feign madness. The ecclesiastical action against him began now, and he persisted in this attitude of insanity through three interrogations, including an hour of torture … On the fourth and fifth of June 1601, he was subjected to the cruel torture of “the vigil” to test whether his insanity was genuine. This was the usual torture of the rope, suspending the body of the victim by his tied hands over a blade which cut into his flesh whenever he yielded to the strain of holding himself in the air; but the vigil refined this cruelty by continuing it for forty hours. Campanella endured the ordeal without breaking.

And it wasn’t just a feat of toughness to beat the torturer at his own game, impressive as it is on those terms alone: Campanella pulled off a genius gambit exploiting the Inquisition’s own legal machinery to duck the separate capital charges he faced in civil and ecclesiastical court.

Joseph Scalzo’s “Campanella, Foucault, and Madness in Late-Sixteenth Century Italy”,* an academic paper that reads like a thriller, narrates Campanella’s “dangerous competition” with his persecutors.

In fine: on Easter Sunday 1600,** as he was approaching conviction and condemnation in his state trial for treason, Campanella began his insanity ploy, successfully forcing a delay in that case and initiating his separate church trial for heresy.

Then, by remaining stubbornly committed to what most of his examiners believed was a charade, Campanella won … by forcing them to inflict that juridically determinative 40-hour “vigil” torture.

the jurisprudence of the time accorded torture so much force, such as to annul all other proofs and “to purge circumstantial evidence”; if the torture had been vigorous and unusual. The accused came, all the more to avail himself of the result obtained, according to the scholarship of the criminologists most in vogue. Thus, Campanella had judicially to be regarded as insane, although everyone was persuaded that he probably simulated insanity. The consequence, in the tribunal of the Holy Office, was not indifferent: He was a “relapsed heretic,” and even if repentant, he would have been disgraced and consigned to the secular court of justice, which would have executed him; being mad, he could no longer suffer condemnation, and in the circumstance in which he might already have been condemned, he would have been spared the death penalty, to reason and repent.

(this is Scalzo’s quotation of Luigi Amabile, an Italian who wrote the book on Campanella; I have been unable to find the Amabile original online.)

Home free.

Having reached this judicial safe haven, Campanella soon — in fact, according to the man who tortured him, literally on the walk from the vigil back to his cell — resumed a recognizable rationality.

He’d languish in prison until 1626 (a few years after he got out, he had to flee to France), but he made the most of it. Campanella wrote his magnum opus, the utopian City of the Sun, while awaiting his sentence in 1602. A number of other works on a wide array of subjects — science, philosophy, theology, political governance (he returned to giving the Spanish empire supportive advice), a vigorous defense of Galileo — were also composed during his 27 years under lock and key.

Campanella’s visionary anticipation of radical egalitarianism would, like Thomas More‘s, help shape the utopian literary genre. But Campanella’s take, while still a theocratic one, lent itself to distinctly more subversive interpretation.†

For example, this Brezhnev-era Soviet essay‡ (unearthed and translated by Executed Today friend and sometime guest-blogger Sonechka) decants the Dominican’s heretical notions into Marxist orthodoxy.

How many times were the communists denounced by their enemies for this “commonality of wives”! Scientific communism, certainly, is not responsible for the figments of a monk like Campanella. But it is instructive to penetrate his logic. It is not commodification or dehumanization that hides behind Campanella’s “commonality of wives”. The women of the “City of Sun” have the same rights as men … The “commonality of women” is equivalent to the “commonality of men” on the basis of mutual equality. That is why, though [we are] decisively rejecting this type of family-free communism, it is necessary to consider who stands on the higher moral grounds — Campanella’s woman, alien to deceit and pretense, or a false bourgeois woman, whose lot in life is adultery and legalized prostitution.

Ultimately, this wild man not only got the high moral ground: he got to die in bed. Once in a while, we get a happy(ish) ending.

So although it actually has nothing to do with Tommaso, “La Campanella”“Little Bell”, a Paganini violin concerto — allows us here at this blog (in common with our day’s hero) an atypically soothing* denouement.

* Joseph Scalzo, “Campanella, Foucault, and Madness in Late-Sixteenth Century Italy”, The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1990)

** Campanella’s Easter 1600 madness was initiated only a few weeks after fellow intellectual omnivore Giordano Bruno was burned for heresy up the road in Rome. Strictly coincidence.

† Since so much of Campanella’s work was produced while the author was under duress — fighting capital charges, applying for clemency and release — it remains disputable just which parts of it can be taken to represent his real beliefs.

‡ L. Vorob’ev. “Utopija i dejstvitelnost”. (“Utopia and Reality”) in Utopicheskij roman XVI-XVII vekov (Utopian Novel of XVI-XVII century); Series “Biblioteka vsemirnoj literatury”, Khudozhestevnnaja literature, Moscow, 1971, p. 19.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Artists,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Famous,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Naples,Not Executed,Notable Jurisprudence,Religious Figures,Spain,Torture,Treason

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