17 Oct. 2019 — 3:30 pm — GAR 4.100 

Alberto Martínez (UT History Department) 

“Burned Alive: Giordano Bruno, Galileo and the Inquisition”

In 1600, the Catholic Inquisition condemned the philosopher and cosmologist Giordano Bruno for heresy, and he was then burned alive in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome. Historians, scientists, and philosophical scholars have traditionally held that Bruno’s theological beliefs led to his execution, denying any link between his study of the nature of the universe and his trial. But in Burned Alive (University of Chicago Press, 2018), Alberto A. Martínez draws on new evidence to claim that Bruno’s cosmological beliefs—that the stars are suns surrounded by planetary worlds like our own, and that the Earth moves because it has a soul—were indeed the primary factor in his condemnation.

Linking Bruno’s trial to later confrontations between the Inquisition and Galileo in 1616 and 1633, Martínez shows how some of the same Inquisitors who judged Bruno challenged Galileo. In particular, one clergyman who authored the most critical reports used by the Inquisition to condemn Galileo in 1633 immediately thereafter wrote an unpublished manuscript in which he denounced Galileo and other followers of Copernicus for their beliefs about the universe: that many worlds exist and that the Earth moves because it has a soul. Challenging the accepted history of astronomy to reveal Bruno as a true innovator whose contributions to the science predate those of Galileo, this book shows that is was cosmology, not theology, that led Bruno to his death.

“In his provocative new book, Martínez revisits the grim fate of Italian natural philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600. Bruno was an innovative thinker with unusual views on the nature of the universe; he believed that life on other worlds might exist, that the motion of planets was not perfectly circular, and that Earth itself had a soul. Many modern historians have argued that the Catholic Inquisition’s decision to sentence Bruno to death was not primarily about his cosmological views but about other heresies against Catholic teachings, such as his denial of transubstantiation. Martínez, however, draws on the Inquisition’s records to argue that Bruno’s cosmology was in fact the major reason that Inquisitors singled him out as a dangerous and heretical thinker. Burned Alive also shows that some of those same Inquisition personnel were involved in Galileo’s trial in 1633, which provides further evidence of the Inquisition’s interest in stamping out heresies about the cosmos.” —Physics Today

Alberto Martínez is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico. He is a Professor of History and Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at UT Austin. In addition to Burned Alive, he is also the author of four other books: The Cult of Pythagoras: Math and Myths (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), on the evolution of myths in the history of mathematics; Science Secrets: The Truth About Darwin’s Finches, Einstein’s Wife, and Other Myths (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011); Kinematics: The Lost Origins of Einstein’s Relativity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009); and Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can Be Positively Bent (Princeton University Press, 2005).

Further details on the event and the book.

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to cmeador@austin.utexas.edu to reserve your seat and receive a copy of the reading selection to be discussed. This event is part of the 2019–2020 History Faculty New Book Talk Series at the Institute for Historical Studies.