Giordano Bruno: De Umbris Idearum ('The Shadow of Ideas')

Joshua Foer quotes excerpts translated from this work by Bruno in his book “Moonwalking with Einstein” but the entire work has not been translated to English.

Would anyone be interested in donating to a Paypal account to have the work translated by my university’s Greek and Roman department?

I just emailed them asking for a quote.

bump or comment for support! I’d give $5!

Yeah. I’d donate 5$

Yeah. I’d donate 5$

Yes… how much would it cost?

The secretary of the department just told me she has sent off a request for availability and a quote; hopefully we’ll know shortly. If it is expensive I’ll try and add the project on and see how much funding we can drum up.

i like these kinds of projects. i’m interested.

Is this the whole thing?

It looks short. If it’s expensive, here’s another idea:

Maybe the Latin-mnemonics people could collaboratively work out a rough translation as a learning project. If the Wiki isn’t suitable, I could upload some other translation software.

Some Latin enthusiasts/teachers would probably be happy to proofread it for us when it’s done…

Hey – yeah that is my source too – it’s just under 9000 words but the visuals are in the second half after the discourse (I took Latin 8 years ago, can’t get much out of it)

Those are some good idea’s for getting a copy too!

LOGIFER. - Et vt vno verbo tanden omnia complectar: varij variè sentiunt, diuersi diuersa dicunt, quot capita tot sententiae.

Guy: and a single word can take all sort of ideas: a plethora of meanings, diverse … …, who people all …

I wonder if I was close at all?

I hope to hear a quote soon, nothing yet. The secretary said no-one was there, I hope she didn’t mean sabbaticals.

So here is the first response


I’m not available to do a translation at this time, but since I admire your enthusiasm I thought I would send a short note suggesting why responses may be few.

The first is that its a substantial document, and people are busy (I’d estimate two weeks of full-time work to do a professional translation); the second is that not many people have a background in renaissance philosophy and artes memoriae; and the third is academic reputation (there is no prestige in translating something which isn’t published, and some danger in doing a bad job early in your career).

Offhand I would guess a price around 10 cents/word but I would have to see how difficult the language is (renaissance Latin can be tricky if you don’t know the speaker’s native language or if you aren’t an expert on the technical subject).

You might have better luck contacting a department with people working on early modern history or philosophy. Unfortunately philosophers these days are lazy about languages, and medieval studies programs are rare in Canada.

Good luck!


So my to-do list is to start a project looking for $800 bucks. People donate whatever they choose, and if $800 is never reached, the money is never withdrawn from your Paypal accounts.

Also search for colleges with a strong medieval renaissance program with latin professors. I just emailed Vassar, any other colleges you can suggest?

If all else fails we can go the amateur route and see what we can mash-up.

Nice response at least. Maybe grad students would do it for cheaper?

or there’s the online latin to english translation. this one might be okay as it’s basically a gloss from whitaker’s words: link

That is what I thought to do too, but the translation is pretty ruddy in the visual section. The prof that got back to me was right about needing someone who specializes in the memory arts translating it.


I found a copy of Bruno’s “On the Composition of images signs and ideas”! I think this is basically what we all wanted so I think this thread could probably be closed.

“Nevertheless … as we also said in our book Concerning the Shadows of Ideas, we consider that there is nothing wrong in repeating ourselves…”

Good ol’ Bruno…

good find. i actually found a pdf of that this morning. haven’t checked it out yet. that could be why shadow of ideas was never translated.

Ok, so couldn’t a couple people into latin essentially use the original of “images” and the translation of it as a decoder for Idearum with the context?

New highly abridged wiki post:

I have On the Composition of Images, Signs and Ideas, but haven’t read it yet. It can be ordered here:

wow, its expensive… josh, would u mind reviewing the book and distilling the ideas when u’ve read it? :smiley: thanks so much!

thank you thebluemonk for that link!!!

I won’t be back in the US until September (where the book is), but will when I get back… :slight_smile:

Hi, new here, but I do have some working knowledge of Bruno.

De Umbris idearum: I think you’d be wasting your money to do a translation this way. The text is very complex and dense, and Bruno’s Latin is not the most graceful. It’s not always clear what he’s talking about in even the most basic senses, much less at a more technical level. If someone is ever going to translate this well, it’s going to be someone more like yourselves than a normal Latinist, which is to say, it’s going to be someone with actual working knowledge of memory arts. I’ve skimmed the text a few times, and as far as I can see, Bruno assumes that everyone already knows the “basics” of the richly developed methods (loci, signatures and characters, etc.) used within the Dominican order. He also assumes, I think, that his readers are aware of certain theological concerns about the limits of appropriate memory usage and image construction. If these things aren’t true of a translator, you’re not going to get any kind of accuracy.

On the Composition: Doria and Higgins did a terrific job with this difficult book, and I’m delighted to see it available for $40 (plus shipping) at Lulu – since if you buy it already bound somewhere, it’s going to run you at least $200! I haven’t made any attempt to put this into practice, but I got interested in the whole problem when I read this thing carefully. I can’t see how you could use this without ending up in a kind of infinite hyperlink situation from which you could never escape.

In this book, Bruno seems (in my understanding, as someone who has not as yet tried hard to practice memory-arts) to condense a number of different things into one, and I don’t see how that can possibly work. Let me draw an analogy to systems that top memory athletes use, OK?

Start with a PAO system. Now for each of these combinations, use a preexisting image from classical mythology. Now set up a memory palace, but instead of using a place (even an imaginary one), have your sequence of loci use those same classical images you used for the PAO system. In other words, if your first PAO image (#00, let’s say) was Atlas–supporting–the globe, the first locus in your memory palace would also be Atlas Supporting the Globe as an image. Now you decide you’re going to compose a declamation about the ethics of capital punishment, to take an arbitrary example. For the first, introductory section of the declamation, you’re going to key it to Atlas Supporting the Globe, and begin each of the three sub-headings of that introduction with the letters A–S--G. So it seems as though if you have memorized a single dense system very thoroughly, and that system is not totally arbitrary but in fact contains a great deal of the highest knowledge and wisdom (i.e. classical Greek thought), you can reduce all memory to that single system.

But the problem, as I see it, is that when faced with Atlas and his Globe, what does it mean? Is it 00? A place? A sequence of letters A-S-G? Something about capital punishment? So far as I can tell, Bruno never really explains how you’re supposed to distinguish among these things.

To sum up, my bet is:

  1. Bruno does explain himself, but not very clearly, because he doesn’t care if some average slob understands him or otherwise; AND
  2. Bruno does explain himself, but I don’t have enough concrete experience with memory arts to understand what he’s getting at; AND
  3. Bruno could actually make this work, but at least in part this is because he was an exceptional master with a huge range of memory arts; AND
  4. There are important details missing because Bruno forgot (!!) to put them in; AND
  5. Bruno is not only talking about memory but also about a symbolic analysis system that he deems fundamentally superior to mathematics because of its ability to handle infinitude, and as such it is at least as important to him that the system be able to reduce anything to anything else arbitrarily as it is that one be able to memorize anything with it.

Hope that’s of some value to you all.