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Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition Paperback – February 26, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0226950075 ISBN-10: 0226950077 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (February 26, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226950077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226950075
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'This brilliant book takes time to digest, but it is an intellectual adventure to read it.' – Hugh Trevor-Roper, The New Statesman

'Explodes the idea that the intellectual foundations of the Renaissance were exclusively logical and coherent, and lets back the mysterious into history' – BBC History Magazine

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Dame Frances Amelia Yates (1899-1981) was Reader in the History of the Renaissance at the University of London. She was a scholar of hermetic and occult philosophy in the Renaissance. Her book The Art of Memory, published by the University of Chicago Press, has been named one of the most significant non-fiction books of the 20th century. Among her other books is Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, also published by the Press.

Customer Reviews

This book is epic in every way.
G. Porter
I had to study this book during my Masters programme in Western Esotericism at the University of Exeter.
Grant Hemingway
It is this Bruno, the Hermetic, the Magus, and the very amateur scientist, which is Yates' centerpiece.
Ian M. Slater

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

229 of 235 people found the following review helpful By Ian M. Slater on June 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
I'm going to begin this review by explaining what the book is NOT about, since a number of reviewers seem to have been disappointed by what it contains. I will also include where to find information on some these topics.

"Giordano Bruno and The Hermetic Tradition" is NOT a biography of Bruno (1548-1600), who, according to the common view was burned at the stake for teaching Copernican astronomy (this was one of the charges, but was a side issue). There is a need for a modern biography, but this volume, first published in 1964 -- not, as the listing suggests, 1991 -- was a contribution to understanding Bruno, and not intended as a full account.

(Amazon gives the date of the current University of Chicago trade paperback; there was also a similar Midway Paperback edition in 1979, and a 1968 mass-market paperback edition, as well.)

It is NOT a study of the traditions surrounding Hermes Trismegistus ("thrice-great Hermes"), a Greco-Roman version of the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek Hermes, among other things, who has had a long history in Western (and Islamic) tradition; it discusses some of them, in the context of Renaissance and Reformation Europe. Collected papers by Antoine Faivre, "The Eternal Hermes: From Greek God to Alchemical Magus," translated by Joscelyn Godwin, now approximate such a full account (paperback, 1995).

It is also NOT an historical account of the Greek and Latin (and Arabic, and some other) mystical / philosophical, magical, and alchemical texts purporting to be the works of Hermes and his disciples. For that, the historically-minded can turn to Garth Fowden's difficult, but rewarding, "The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind" (1986; with new Preface and corrections, as a MYTHOS paperback, 1993).
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68 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Christopher I. Lehrich on October 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
This is Yates's masterpiece, a brilliant and lucid survey of a wide range of magical traditions in the Renaissance. Yates argues that magic lay at the heart of the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, and places the extraordinary misfit Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) at the center of that development. In later works, Yates often let her insight run wild, but this book rightly revolutionized thinking about magic and occultism in the Renaissance. It will be a difficult read for those not used to academic writing, but it is extremely clear, and well worth the effort.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By C Hill on March 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is quite disappointing given how renowned it is. While someone at U. of Chicago Press labeled this as a philosophy book on the back cover, note that this is not a book in philosophy nor about philosophy, but as the author herself states, a historical study of the Hermetic tradition. Less than half of this book deals with Bruno, the rest with Hermetism, before and after Bruno. It is arranged in chronological order starting with the character of Hermes and the Hermetic writings and going to the end of Hermetism with the beginning of modern science. While most chapters are labeled by topic, once we come to Bruno, the chapter titles, unhelpfully, become biographical (Bruno in...Paris, Germany, etc.)

The author covers at length the representatives of Hermetism during the Renaissance: Ficino, della Mirandola, Agrippa, Bruno, Campanella, and others. However, she does not discuss them in depth. Most of the discussion is fairly superficial and repetitive. What it boils down to is that these different Hermetists combined in one way or other the different strands of philosophy, religion, and magic known at the time- Egyptianism, Platonism, Christianity, Cabala, Copernicanism. What is termed Egyptianism doesn't really refer to the religious beliefs of the Egyptians but rather the preponderance they gave to images and the idea of a priestly political religious leader. Speaking of images, all Hermetists the author discusses adopt this "Egyptianism," that is to say, the belief in the power of images and the possibility of doing magic through images. And yet, there are only 16 pages of pictures in this book usually placed contrary to where you would expect to find them, pictures mentioned early in the book are found somewhere near the end.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Tanguero on September 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Actually, this book can not be evaluated at once. Rather, you should concede four stars to the greater part of the book and not any star to the rest. For this is widely an excellent book. Yates does not only prove that Bruno is not the pioneer of modern science he is often stated to be, but convincingly exposes the background against which his works have to be understood. To that purpose, she shows the impact of the Hermetic writings, an ancient source written in the second and third centuries A.D., but by some Christian Renaissance writers such as Ficino or Pico della Mirandola held to be of an authority greater and older than even Moses, on Renaissance thought. Thus it is demonstrated in chronological order how the corpus Hermeticum was received by Renaissance writers, focussing on magic that was derived from some passages of the corpus Hermeticum. Bruno is placed within this tradition. Congeniously, Yates acknowledges the significance of Casaubon's exact dating of what had been held a prophecy of Christianism for more than two centuries and discusses the following dispute which finally made the type of the Renaissance magus disappear, although this tradition of thinking never completely vanished. So this is, without any doubt, the fundamental book about Giordano Bruno and the impact of Hermetism on Renaissance thought. It provides information clear and dear also on magic in general and thus illuminates even some passages of Shakespeare and (unconsciously) Goethe's Faust.Thus the book inspires to study Renaissance authors such as Pico or Ficino or more literature on Renaissance Thought ( I recommend the overwhelming collection „Renaissance Thought and the Arts" by Paul Oskar Kristeller).Read more ›
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