Giordano Bruno's De monade numero et figura (On the Monad, Number and Figure)

Has anyone read De monade numero et figura by Giordano Bruno? (On the Monad, Number and Figure)

According to this page,

De monade numero et figura (On the Monad, Number and Figure) is part of the trilogy of Latin verse works published in Frankfurt in 1591 and considered to be Bruno’s philosophical testament. In the De monade Bruno discusses Pythagorean number symbolism and the meanings of the numbers 1 to 10.

See also Giordano Bruno’s Hermeneutics: Observations on the Bible in De Monade (1591) [PDF] for a mention of at least one mnemonic device.

Bruno reforms medieval biblical exegesis on three counts: he increases the number of levels of meaning from four to nine; he expands the range of texts to which exegesis can be applied to include non-biblical texts; and he works out a mnemonic device, a combinatory wheel, in order to uncover a plurality of meanings in divinely inspired texts. The examples of non-biblical texts that can be subjected to hishermeneutic theory (Hesiod, Orpheus, Homer, the Sibyls) suggest that he was particularly keen to include works belonging to the Hermetic and Neoplatonic traditions, which informed large parts of his own philosophy.

Here is more detail:

For in De monade, printed in Frankfurt in 1591, Bruno assigns nine levels of meaning to the Bible and to other divinely inspired texts.

Chapters two to eleven deal with the numbers one to ten in consecutive order. Bruno assigns various symbolic senses to each number. Chapter two deals with number one, the monad, chapter three with number two, the dyad, and so on, up till chapter eleven, which deals with number ten, the decad. Chapter ten deals with number nine, the ennead, and this is where we find Bruno’s theory about the nine levels of meaning in the Bible and in other divinely inspired texts.

Bruno adds, however, that the utterances of ‘Hesiod, Orpheus, Homer, the Sibyls and [other]inspired persons’ can also be interpreted by means of his theory about the nine levels of meaning. The latter are, of course, all pagan figures from ancient Greek culture, to whom I shall return in a moment.

The writings attributed to them are undoubtedly non-biblical. Hence, Bruno’s theory about the nine levels of meaning can be applied to all divinely inspired texts, biblical texts or otherwise.

As we have already seen, Bruno’s theory about the nine levels of meaning is not only applicable to biblical texts, but also to texts written by divinely inspired pagan authors. These latter are, as he says in the quotation above, to be regarded as ‘vessels’ for an eloquent divinity – an idea well known from his Italian dialogues. Moreover, Bruno claims in this quotation that these nine meanings can be combined internally and illustrates his point with a combinatory wheel (Figure 6.1).

This combinatory wheel resembles the mnemonic wheel (Figure 6.2) used in Bruno’s De compendiosa architectura et complemento artis Lullii (Paris, 1582). [Figure 6.2 is this Lullian wheel, also mentioned here.]

These wheels are probably inspired by Ramon Lull (1232–1315), who produced a mnemonic device in the form of a combinatory wheel, similar to the one used in Bruno’s De monade, chapter ten. What we see here in De monade is thus a mnemonic device employed in the field of exegesis – probably unprecedented in the tradition of biblical exegesis, and certainly not discussed in the literature on Bruno’s mnemonics.

Here’s the wheel from Figure 6.1:

In the illustration from De monade, reproduced above, we see nine letters, A to I, which are internally connected by lines. In the centre we possibly see the nine letters put together, perhaps denoting the union of these nine meanings. Bruno explains that ‘A signifies the historical [meaning], B the physical, C the metaphysical, D the ethical, E the legal,F the allegorical, G the analogical, H the prophetic, [and] I the secret [meaning].’ While this list is not completely identical to the one givenin the passage translated above, it is extremely close. By means of this combinatory wheel, Bruno added yet another facet to his hermeneutical theory, namely a mnemonic technique of combination, enabling the exegete to arrive at a plurality of meanings.

It’s a bit easier to read in a table:

Letter Meaning
A signifies the historical [meaning]
B the physical
C the metaphysical
D the ethical
E the legal
F the allegorical
G the analogical
H the prophetic
I the secret [meaning]

The sources for the nine individual levels of meaning
So much for the sources and the application of Bruno’s theory aboutnine levels of meaning. In this final section I shall consider another point, namely the sources for the nine respective levels of meaning.

One obvious source is Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim (1486–1535) and his De occulta philosophia libri tres, first published in 1510. In Book Two [in English here], Agrippa assigns various symbolic meanings to aseries of numbers stretching from one to twelve. There is a striking similarity between the symbolism assigned to these numbers in Agrippa’s chapters and the symbolism assigned to the numbers one to ten by Bruno in De monade.

I wonder what this illustration is about. There are nine points, but it repeats “a” instead of going to the 9th letter (“i”).


I couldn’t find much more information about the book this evening, but I thought people might find it interesting. If anyone knows more about it, leave a comment below. :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll give my try at reading it today. The Latin doesn’t seem that difficult, that is, if you compare it to Horace or Tacitus. His method seems really interesting and it seems to me that it is going to be worth to dedicate time to, let’s see what comes out of it…

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