Sacred Texts  Age of Reason  Giordano Bruno  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 88

Fourth Dialogue.



SEV. You will see the origin of the nine blind men, who state nine reasons and special causes of their blindness, and yet they all agree in one general reason and one common enthusiasm. 1

MIN. Begin with the first!

SEV. The first of these, notwithstanding that he is blind by nature, yet he laments, saying to the others, that he cannot persuade himself that nature has been less courteous to them than to him; seeing that although they do not (now) see, yet they have enjoyed sight, and have had experience of that sense, and of the value of that faculty, of which they

p. 89

have been deprived, while he came into the world as a mole, to be seen and not to see, to long for the sight of that which he never had seen.

MIN. Many have fallen in love through report alone.

SEV. They have, says he, the happiness of retaining that Divine image present in the mind, so that, although blind, they have in imagination that which he cannot have. Then in the sistine he turns to his guide and begs him to lead him to some precipice, so that he may no longer endure this contempt and persecution of nature. He says then:


The first blind man.

Ye now afflicted are, who erst were glad,
For ye, have lost the light that once was yours,
Yet happy, for ye have the twin lights known.
These eyes ne'er lighted were, and ne'er were quenched;
But a more grievous destiny is mine
Which calls for heavier lamentation.
Who will deny that nature upon me
Has frowned more harshly than on you?
Conduct me to the precipice, my guide,
And give me peace, for there will I a cure
For this my dolour and affliction find;
For to be seen, yet not to see the light,
Like an incapable and sightless mole,
Is to be useless and a burden on the earth

p. 90

Now follows the other, who, bitten by the serpent of jealousy, became affected in the organ of sight. He wanders without any guide, unless he has jealousy for his escort. He begs some of the bystanders, that seeing there is no remedy for his misfortune, they should have pity upon him, so that he should no longer feel it; that he might become as unmanifest to himself as he is to the light, and that they bury him together with his own misfortune. He says then:


The second blind man.

Alecta has torn from out her dreadful hair,
The infernal worm that with a cruel bite,
Has fiercely fastened on my soul,
And of my senses, torn the chief away,
Leaving the intellect without its guide.
la vain the soul some consolation seeks.
That spiteful, rabid, rancorous jealousy
Makes me go stumbling along the way.
If neither magic spell nor sacred plant,
Nor virtue hid in the enchanter's stone,
Will yield me the deliverance that I ask:
Let one of you, my friends, be pitiful,
And put me out, as are put out my eyes,
That they and. I together be entombed.

[paragraph continues] The other follows, who says that he became blind through having been suddenly brought out of the darkness into a great light accustomed to

p. 91

behold ordinary beauties, a celestial beauty was suddenly presented before his eyes--a sun-god--in this manner his sight became dull and the twin lights which shine at the prow of the soul were put out: for the eyes are like two beacons, which guide the ship, and this would happen to one brought up in Cimmerian obscurity if he fixed his eyes suddenly upon the sun. In the sistine he begs for free passage to Hades, because darkness alone is suitable to a dark condition. He says:


The third blind man.

If sudden on the sight, the star of day
Should shed his beams on one in darkness reared,
Nurtured beneath the black Cimmerian sky,
Far from the radiance of the glorious sun
The double light, the beacon of the soul
He quenches. then as a foe he hides.
Thus were my eyes made dull, inept,
Used only, wonted beauties to behold.
Conduct me to the land where darkness reigns!
Wherefore being dead, speak I amidst the folk?
A chip of Hell, why do I mix and move
Amongst the living, wherefore do I drink
The hated. air, since all my pain
Is clue to having seen the highest good?

The fourth blind man comes forward, not blind for the same reason as the former one. For as

p. 92

that one was blinded through the sudden aspect of the light, this one is so, from having too frequently beheld it, or through having fixed his eyes too much upon it, so that he has lost the sense of all other light, but he does not consider himself to be blind through looking at that one which has blinded him: and the same may be said of the sense of sight as of the sense of hearing, that those whose ears are accustomed to great noises, do not hear the lesser, as is well known of those who live near the cataracts of the great river Nile which fall precipitously down to the plain.

MIN. Thus, all those who have accustomed the body and the soul to things more difficult and great, are not apt to feel annoyed by smaller difficulties. So that fellow ought not to be discontented about his blindness.

SEV. Certainly not. But one says, voluntarily blind, of one who desires that every other thing be hidden because it annoys him to be diverted from looking at that which alone he wishes to behold. Meanwhile he prays the passers-by to prevent his coming to mischief in any encounter, while he goes so absorbed and captivated by one principal object.

MIN. Repeat his words!

SEV. He says:

p. 93


The fourth blind man.

Headlong from on high to the abyss,
The cataract of the Nile falls down and dulls the senses
Of the joyless folk to every other sound,
So stood I too, with spirit all intent
Upon. the living light, that lights the world;
Dead henceforth to all the lesser splendours,
While that light shines, let every other thing
Be to the voluntary blind concealed.
I pray you save me stumbling 'mongst the stones,
Make me aware of the wild beast,
Show me whether up or down I go;
So that the miserable bones fall not,
Into a low and cavernous place,
While 1, without a guide, am stepping on.

To the blind man that follows, it happens that having wept so much, his eyes are become dim, so that he is not able to extend the visual ray, so as to distinguish visible objects, nor can he see the light, which in spite of himself, through so many sorrows, he at one time was able to see. Besides which he considers that his blindness is not from constitution, but from habit, and is peculiar to himself, because the luminous fire which kindles the soul in the pupil, was for too long a time and with too much force, repressed and restrained by a contrary humour, so that although he might cease from weeping, he

p. 94

cannot be persuaded that this would result in the longed-for vision. You will hear what he says to the throng in order that they should enable him to proceed on his way:


The fifth blind man.

Eyes of mine, with waters ever full,
When will the bright spark of the visual ray,
Darting, spring through each veiling obstacle,
That I may see again those holy lights
That were the alpha of my darling pain?
Ah, woe! I fear me it is quite extinct,
So long oppressed and conquered by its opposite.
Let the blind man pass on!
And turn your eyes upon these founts
Which overcome the others one and all.
Should any dare dispute it with me,
There's one would surely answer him again;
That in one eye of mine an ocean is contained.

The sixth blind man is sightless because, through so much weeping, there remains no more moisture, not even the crystalline and moisture through which, as a diaphanous medium, the visual ray was transmitted, and the external light and visible species were introduced, so that the heart became compressed because all the moist substance, whose office it is to keep united the various parts and opposites, was absorbed, and the amorous affection remains without the effect of tears. Therefore the

p. 95

organ is destroyed through the victory of the other elements, and it is consequently left without sight and without consistency of the parts of the body altogether. 1 He then proposes to the bystanders that which you shall hear:


The sixth blind man.

Eyes, no longer eyes, fountains no longer founts,
Ye have wept out the waters that did keep
The body, soul, and spirit joined in one,
And thou, reflecting crystal, which from without
So much unto the soul made manifest,
Thou art consumed by the wounded heart.
So towards the dark and cavernous abyss,
I, a blind and man, direct my steps.
Ah, pity me, and do not hesitate
To help my speedy going. I who
So many rivers in the dark days spread out,
Finding my only comfort in my tears,
Now that my streams and fountains all are dry,
Towards profound oblivion lead the way.

p. 96

The next one avers that he has lost his sight through the intensity of the flame, which, proceeding from the heart, first destroyed the eyes, and then dried up all the remaining moisture of the substance of the lover, so that being all melted and turned to flame, he is no longer himself, because the fire whose property it is to resolve all bodies into their atoms, has converted him into impalpable dust, whereas by virtue of water alone, the atoms of other bodies thicken, and are welded together to make a substantial composition. Yet he is not deprived of the sense of the most intense flame. Therefore, in the sistine he would have space made for him to pass; for if anybody should be touched by his fires he would become such that he would have no more feeling of the flames of hell, for their heat would be to him as cold snow.


The seventh blind man.

Beauty, which through the eyes rushed to the heart,
And formed the mighty furnace in my breast,
Absorbing first the visual moisture; then,
Spouting aloft its grasping flashing flame,
Devouring every other fluid,
To set the dryer element at rest,
Has thus reduced me to a boneless dust,
Which now to its own atoms is resolved. p. 97
If anguish infinite your fears should rouse
Make space, give way, oh peoples!
Beware of my fierce penetrating fire,
For if it should invade and touch you, ye
Would feel and know the fires of hell
To be like winter's cold.

The eighth follows, whose blindness is caused by the dart which love has caused to penetrate from the eyes to the heart. Hence, he laments not only as being blind, but furthermore because he is wounded and burnt so fiercely, that he believes no other can be equally so. The sense of it is easily expressed in this sonnet:--


The eighth blind man.

Vile onslaught, evil struggle, unrighteous palm,
Fine point, devouring fire, strong nerve,
Sharp wound, impious ardour, cruel body,
Dart, fire and tangle of that wayward god
Who pierced the eyes, inflamed the heart, bound the soul,
Made me at once sightless, a lover, and a slave,
So that, blind I have at all times, in all ways and places,
The feeling of my wound, my fire, my noose.
Men, heroes, and gods!
Who be on earth, or near to Ditis or to Jove,
I pray ye say, when, how, and where did ye
Feel ever, hear, or see in any place
Woes like to these, amongst the oppressed
Amongst the damned, 'mongst lovers?

p. 98

Finally comes the last one, who is also mute through not having been able, or having dared, to say that which he most desired to say, for fear of offending or exciting contempt, and he is deprived of speaking of every other thing: therefore, it is not he who speaks, but his guide who relates the affair, about which I do not speak, but only bring you the sense thereof:


The guide of the ninth blind man.

Happy are ye, oh all ye sightless lovers,
That ye the reason of your pains can tell,
By virtue of your tears you can be sure
Of pure and favourable receptions.
Amongst you all, the latent fire of him
Whose guide I am, rages most fiercely,
Though he is mute for want of boldness
To make known his sorrows to his deity.
Make way! open ye wide the way,
Be ye benign unto this vacant face,
Oh people full of grievous hindrances,
The while this harassed. weary trunk
Goes knocking at the doors
To meet a death less painful, more profound.

Here are mentioned nine reasons, which are the cause that the human mind is blind as regards the Divine object and cannot fix its eyes upon it. And of these, the first, allegorized through the first blind

p. 99

man, is the quality of its own species, which in so far as the degree in which he finds himself admits, he aspires certainly higher, than he is able to comprehend.

MIN. Because no natural desire is vain, we are able to assure ourselves of a more excellent state which is suitable to the soul outside of this body, in the which it may be possible to unite itself, or to approach more nearly, to its object.

SEV. Thou sayest well that no natural impulse or power is without strong reason; it is in fact the same rule of nature which orders things. So far, it is a thing most true and most certain to well-disposed intellects, that the human soul, whatever it may show itself while it is in the body, that same, which it makes manifest in this state, is the expression of its pilgrim existence in this region; because it aspires to the truth and to universal good, and is not satisfied with that which comes on account of and to the profit of its species.

The second, represented by the second blind man, proceeds from some troubled affection, as in the question of Love and Jealousy, the which is like a moth, which has the same subject, enemy and father, that is, it consumes the cloth or wood from which it is generated.

p. 100

MIN. This does not seem to me to take place with heroic love.

SEV. True, according to the same reason which is. seen in the lower kind of love; but I mean according to another reason similar to that which happens to those who love truth and goodness. which shows itself when they are angry against those who adulterate it, spoil it, or corrupt it, or who in other ways would treat it with indignity, as has been the case with those who have brought themselves to suffer death and pains, and to being ignominiously treated by ignorant peoples and vulgar sects.

MIN. Certainly no one truly loves the truth and the good who is not angry against the multitude; as no one loves in the ordinary way who is not jealous and fearful about the thing loved.

SEV. And so he comes to be really blind in many things, and according to the common opinion he is quite infatuated and mad.

MIN. I have noted a place which says that all those are infatuated and mad, who have sense beyond and outside of the general sense of other men. But such extravagance is of two kinds, according as one goes beyond and ascends up higher than the greater number rise or can rise, and these are they who are inspired with Divine enthusiasm; or by going down

p. 101

lower where those are found who have greater defect of sense and of reason than the many, and the ordinary; but in that kind of madness, insensibility and blindness, will not be found the jealous hero.

SEV. Although be is told that much learning makes him mad, yet no one can really abuse him. The third, represented by the third blind man, proceeds from this: that Divine Truth according to supernatural reasoning, called metaphysics, manifests itself to those few to whom it shows itself, and does not proceed with measure of movement and time as occurs in the physical sciences, that is, those which are acquired by natural light, the which, in discoursing of a thing known to reason by means of the senses, proceed to the knowledge of another thing, unknown, the which discourse is called argument; but immediately and suddenly, according to the method which belongs to such efficiency. 1 'Whence a divine has said: "Attenuati sunt oculi mei suspicientes in excelsum." So that it does not require a useless lapse of time, fatigue, and study,

p. 102

and inquisitorial act to have it, but it is taken in quickly, as the solar light, without hesitation, and makes itself present to whoever turns himself to it. and opens himself to it.

MIN. Do you mean then, that the student and the philosopher are not more apt to receive this light than the ignorant?

SEV. In a certain way no, and in a certain way yes. There is no difference, when the Divine mind through its providence comes to communicate itself without disposition of the subject; I mean to say when it communicates itself because it seeks and elects its subject; but there is a great difference, when it waits and would be sought, and then according to its own good will and pleasure it makes itself to be found. In this way it does not appear to all, nor can it appear to others, than to those who seek it. Hence it is said, "Qui quærunt, me, invenient me;" and again--"Qui sitit, veniat et bibat!"

MIN. It is not to be denied, that the apprehension of the second manner is made in Time. (Comes with time?)

SEV. You do not distinguish between the disposition towards the Divine light and the apprehension of the same. Certainly I do not deny that it requires time to dispose oneself, discourse,

p. 103

study and fatigue; but as we say that change takes place in time, and generation in an instant, and as we see that with time, the windows are opened, but the sun enters in a moment, so does it happen similarly in this case.

The fourth, represented in the following, is not really unworthy, like that which results from the habit of believing in the false opinions of the vulgar, which are very far removed from the opinions of philosophers, and are derived from the study of vulgar philosophies, which are by the multitude considered the more true, the more they appeal to common sense. And this habit is one of the greatest and strongest disadvantages, because as Alcazele and Averroes showed, it is like that which happens to those persons who from childhood and youth are in the habit of eating poison, and have become such, that it is converted into sweet and proper nutriment, and on the other hand, they abominate those things which are really good and sweet according to common nature; but it is most worthy, because it is founded upon the habit of looking at the true light; the which habit cannot come into use for the multitude, as we have said. This blindness is heroic, and is of such a kind that it can worthily satisfy the present heroic

p. 104

blind man, who is so far from troubling himself about it that he is able to explain every other sight, and he would crave nothing else from the community save a free passage and progress in contemplation, for he finds himself usually hampered and blocked by obstacles and opposition.

The fifth results from the disproportion of the means of our cognition to the knowable; seeing that in order to contemplate Divine things, the eyes must be opened by means of images, analogies and other reasonings which by the Peripatetics are comprehended under the name of fancies (fantasmi); or, by means of Being, to proceed to speculate about Essence, by means of its effects and the knowledge of the cause; the which means, are so far from ensuring the attainment of such an end, that it is easier to believe that the highest and most profound cognition of Divine things, is through negation and not through affirmation, knowing that the Divine beauty and goodness is not that which can or does fall within our conception, but that which is above and beyond, incomprehensible; chiefly in that condition called by the philosopher speculation of phantoms, and by the theologian, vision through analogies, reflections and enigmas, because we see, not the true effects and the true species of things,

p. 105

or the substance of ideas, but the shadows, vestiges and simulacra of them, like those who are inside the cave and have from their birth their shoulders turned away from the entrance of the light, and their faces towards the end, where they do not see that which is in reality, but the shadows of that which is found substantially outside the cave. Therefore by the open vision which it has lost, and knows it has lost, a spirit similar to or better than that of Plato weeps, desiring exit from the cave. whence, not through reflexion, but through immediate conversion he may see the light again.

MIN. It appears to me that this blind man does not refer to the difficulty which proceeds from reflective vision, but to that which is caused through the medium between the visual power and the object.

SEV. These two modes, although they are distinct in the sensitive cognition, or ocular vision, at the same time are united together in the rational or intellectual cognition.

MIN. It seems to me that I have heard and read that in every vision. the means, or the intermediary is required between the power and the object. Because as by means of the light diffused in the air and the figure of the thing, which in a certain way proceeds from that which is seen, to that which

p. 106

sees, the act of seeing is put into effect, so in the intellectual region, where shines the sun of the intellect, acting between the intelligible species formed as proceeding from the object, our intellect comes to comprehend something of the divinity, or something inferior to it. Because, as our eye, when we see, does not receive the light of the fire and of gold, in substance, but in similitude; so the intellect, in whatever state it is found, does not receive the divinity substantially, so that there should be substantially as many gods as there are intelligences, but in similitude; therefore they are not formally gods, but denominatively divine, the divinity and Divine beauty being one, exalted above all things.

SEV. You say well; but for all your well saying, there is no need for me to retract, because I have never said the contrary. But I must declare and explain. Therefore, first I maintain that the immediate vision, so called and understood by us, does not do away with that sort of medium which is the intelligible species, nor that which is the light; but that which is equal to the thickness and density of the crystalline or opaque intermediate body; as happens to him who sees by means of the waters more or less turbid, or air foggy and cloudy, who

p. 107

would believe he was looking as without a medium when it was conceded to him to look through the pure air, light and clear, All which you have explained where it says:

"When will the bright spark of the visual ray
Darting, spring through each veiling obstacle."

[paragraph continues] But let us return. The sixth, represented in the following, is caused only by the imbecility and unreality of the body, which is in continual motion, mutation, and change, the operations of which must follow the condition of its faculty, the which is a result of the condition of its nature and being. How can immobility, reality, entity, truth be contained in that which is ever different, and always makes and is made, other and otherwise? What, truth, what picture can be painted and impressed, where the pupils of the eyes are dispersed in water, the water into steam, the steam into flame, the flame into air, and this in other and other without end: the subject of sense and cognition turns for ever upon the wheel of mutation?

MIN. Movement is change, and that which is changeable works and operates ever differently, because the conception and affection follow the reason and condition of the subject; and he who sees other and other different and differently must,

p. 108

necessarily be blind as regards that beauty which is one and alone and is the same unity and entity.

SEV. So it is. The seventh, contained allegorically in the sentiment of the seventh blind man, is the result of the fire of the affections, whence some become impotent and incapable of comprehending the truth, by making the affection precede the intellect. There are those who love before they understand: whence it happens that all things appear to them according to the colour of their affections, whereas he who would understand the truth by means of contemplation, ought to be perfectly pure in thought.

MIN. In truth, one sees how much diversity there is in meditators and inquirers, because some, according to their habits and early fundamental discipline, proceed by means of numbers, 1 others by means of images, others by means of order and disorder, others through composition and division, others by separation and congregation, others by inquiry and doubt, others by discussions and definitions,

p. 109

others by interpretations and decypherings, of voices, words, and dialects, so that some are mathematical philosophers, some metaphysicians, others logicians, others grammarians; so there are divers contemplators, who with different affections set themselves to study and apply the meaning of written sentences; whence we find that the same light of truth, expressed in the selfsame book, serves with the same words the proposition of so numerous, diverse, and contrary sects. 1

SEV. That is to say, that the affections are very powerful in hindering the comprehension of the Truth, notwithstanding that the person may not himself perceive it; just as it happens to a stupid invalid who does not say that his mouth is bittered but that the food is bitter. Now that kind of blindness is expressed by him whose eyes are changed and deprived of their natural powers, by that which the heart has given and imprinted upon it, powerful not only to change the sense, but besides that, all the faculties of the soul as the present image shows. According to the meaning of the eighth, the high intelligible object has

p. 110

blinded the intellect, as the high superposed sensible has corrupted the senses. Thus it would happen to him who should see Jove in his majesty, he would lose his life and in consequence his senses. As he who looks aloft sometimes is overcome by the majesty. 1 Besides, when he comes to penetrate the Divine species, he passes it like a ray. Whence say the theologians that the Divine word is more penetrating than sharp point of sword or knife. Hence is derived the form and impression

p. 111

of His own footstep, upon which nothing else can be imprinted and sealed. Therefore, that form being there confirmed and the new strange one not being able to take its place unless the other yields, consequently he can say, that he has no power of taking any other, if there is one who replaces it or scatters it through the necessary want of proportion. The ninth reason is exemplified, by the ninth who is blind through want of confidence, through dejection of spirit, the which is caused and brought about also by a great love which He fears to offend by His temerity. Whence says the Psalm: "Averte oculos tuos a me, quia ipsi me avolare fecere." And so he suppresses his eyes so as not to see that which most of all he desires, as he keeps his tongue from talking with whom he most wishes to speak, from fear that a defective look or word should humiliate him or bring him in some way into misfortune. And this generally proceeds from the apprehension of the excellence of the object above its potential faculty whence the most profound and divine theologians say, that God is more honoured and loved by silence than by words; as one sees more by shutting the eyes O the species represented, than by opening them, therefore the negative theology of Pythagoras and

p. 112

Dionysius is more celebrated than the demonstrative theology of Aristotle and the scholastic doctors.

MIN. Let us go, and we will reason by the way.

SEV. As you please.


88:1 May one suggest an analogy between the nine months of gestation, during which time the fœtus goes through various stages and conditions to complete the "individual cycle of evolution," and the nine blind men who, at the end of their probation, are brought to see the light--to be born--illuminated?--("Translator.")

95:1 Water is the first principle of all things; this was the central doctrine of his system (Thales). Now, if we may believe Aristotle, this thought was suggested to him not so much by contemplating the illimitable ocean, out of which, as old cosmogonists taught, all things had at first proceeded, as by noticing the obvious fact, that moisture is found in all living things, and that if it were absent they would cease to be. Thales, no doubt, believed this humour or moisture to be, as he said, the essence and principle of all things.--("Encyclopædia Metropolitiana.")

101:1 When somewhat of this Perfect Good is discovered and revealed within the soul of man, as it were in a glance or 'flash, the soul conceiveth a longing to approach unto the Perfect Goodness.--("Theologia Germanica.")

108:1 Number is, as the great writer (Balzac) thought, an Entity, and, at the same time, a Breath emanating from what he termed God, and what we call the ALL; the breath which alone could organize the physical kosmos.--("The Secret Doctrine.")

109:1 As the Bible serves as the basis for all the different Protestant sects.


* . . . Gaze, as thy lips have said,
On God Eternal, Very God! See me, see what thou prayest!
        *        *        *        *
  O Eyes of God! O Head!
  My strength of soul is fled.
Gone is heart's force, rebuked is mind's desire!
  When I behold Thee so,
  With awful brows a-glow,
With burning glance, and lips lighted by fire,
  Fierce as those flames which shall
  Consume, at close of all,
  Earth, Heaven!
        *        *        *        *
  God is it I did see,
This unknown marvel of Thy Form! but fear
  Mingles with joy! Retake,
  Dear Lord! for pity's sake,
Thine earthly shape, which earthly eyes may bear!
                                --("The Song Celestial.")
                            (Sir Edwin Arnold's translation.)

Next: Fifth Dialogue