decorative bar


corner Last update of this page: May 11th 2003 corner
Tommaso Campanella
(September 5, 1568 - May 21, 1639) Italy

Tommaso Campanella

Writer and philosopher


Born Giovanni Domenico Campanella at Stilo in the province of Calabria. He was a facile writer of prose and verse at the age of thirteen, and when not yet fifteen entered the Dominican Order, attracted by the fame of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. With a predilection for philosophical inquiry, he was sent to different convents to hear the best masters. Campanella wrote his first work, Philosophia sensibus demonstrata (1590) in defence of the naturalistic philosopher Bernardino Telesio.

He next went to Rome and afterwards to the University of Padua, from 1592, to the end of 1594. An ardent and somewhat captious temperament led him into the expression of views offensive to many of the older and newer schools alike. He was especially vigorous in his opposition to the authority of Aristotle, and was cited before the Holy Office at Rome, where he was detained till 1597. Some accounts speak of his having been accused of magic and of his fleeing to Florence, Venice, Padua, and Bologna, thence back to Naples and Stilo.

Continuing to lecture and write, however, he retained favour in certain circles. At length, in 1599, he was seized as head of a conspiracy against the Spanish rule. In the trial at Naples, involving many persons, lay and ecclesiastical, he was charged with divers heresies and with aiming to set up a communistic commonwealth. Arraigned before an ecclesiastical tribunal, he was at the same time harassed and put to torture by a political court. He saved his life by feigning madness. In 1603, he was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment.

Among several who sought to obtain his liberation was Pope Paul V. In the meantime the viceroy, Giron, who used to visit Campanella in prison, seeking his counsel about matters of state, became involved in trouble. In his endeavours to extricate himself he laid the blame largely on Campanella, who was again subjected to many indignities. Through Pope Urban VIII, who applied directly to Philip IV of Spain, the unfortunate prisoner was at last released from his Neapolitan captivity in1626. He was taken to Rome and held for a time by the Holy Office, but was restored to full liberty in 1629.

In 1634 another Calabrian conspiracy under one of Campanella's followers threatened fresh complications. With the aid of Cardinal Barberini and the French ambassador, De Noailles, Campanella, disguised as a Minim, withdrew to France. Louis XIII and Richelieu received him with marked favour, the latter granting him a liberal pension. He spent the rest of his days, enjoying papal favour, in the Dominican convent of St-Honore at Paris, where he died.

John Addington Symonds, who translated a book of his sonnets (Sonnets of Michael Angelo Buonarotti and Tommaso Campanella, London, 1878), refers to him as the "audacious Titan of the modern age, possessing essentially a combative intellect; a poet and philosopher militant, who stood alone making war upon the authority of Aristotle in science, of Machiavelli in statecraft, and of Petrarch in art".


Tommaso CampanellaThe discovery of Campanella's homosexual tendencies is very recent, notwithstanding reports by his contemporaries. In 1985, Luigi Firpo published the transcript of conversations held between Campanella and his cellmate, which had been overheard by a spy sent during his trial in Naples to determine whether the philosopher's madness was only simulated.

On the night of April 14, 1600, Campanella said to his cellmate, "O Father Pietro, why don't you do something so that we may sleep together, and we may get pleasure?" Pietro replied: "I wish I could, and I'd even bribe the gaolers with ten ducats. But to you, my heart, I would like to give twenty kisses every hour."

Following the pubblication of this transcript, a new meaning was read into the presence of two love sonnets contained in his highly regarded and heterosexual poetical work. The poems Sonetto fatto al signor Petrillo and Sonetto fatto al medesimo, date from July 1601, and were composed when Campanella was in Jail. They were written for Petrillo Cesarano, the adolescent nephew of the doctor who cared for Campanella after his torture.

In the first of them, Campanella praised the youth's beauty and says:

Glorious lad, who pricks my heart
With very chaste love using an arrow
Adding new sense to my lost sense...

In the second he remembered that the physical beauty is fated to disappear in a short while, unless, as the expression of inner beauty, it turns towards the God who has created it:

Therefore be careful to give it in exchange
To the one who gives you virtue, goodness and sense
Not vain words in return.

Despite these evidences, the question of Campanella's sexual preferences remains open.


Source: excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, from Antiquity to WWII, Routledge, London, 2001

Click on the letter A to go back to the list of names

corner © Matt & Andrej Koymasky, 1997 - 2008 corner