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Telesio, Bernardino

1. Dates
Born: Cosenza, Calabria, latter part of 1509
Died: Cosenza, Oct. 1588
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 79
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat
Giovanni Telesio and his wife were both from noble families. The Telesio's nobility was of very long standing. For that matter, Bernardino Telesio also married a woman of noble birth.
Although the indications are not wholly clear, it appears that the family was wealthy. Telesio inherited an estate described by at least one observer as quite rich. The circumstances of his life support this. He never held or sought a salaried position. If Telesio died poor, it was because he and his brother were unable to manage the estate.
3. Nationality
Birth: Italian
Career: Italian
Death: Italian
4. Education
Schooling: Padua, Ph.D.
His uncle, Antonio Telesio, a humanist of note, took over Telesio's education from an early date. In 1518, when he was only (or perhaps not yet) nine, he went to Milan with the uncle, and three years later they moved to Rome, where they were caught in the sack of 1527.
From sometime after the sack Telesio studied in Padua, earning a doctorate in 1535. I assume a B.A., though it is not mentioned. He left Padua profoundly unhappy with the Aristotelian philosophy as he found it taught there.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
For a period of about nine years, probably right after his studies in Padua, Telesio lived in a Benedictine monastery, though he did not take orders. Two brothers were clerics, one an Archbishop. Telesio was buried in the cathedral of Cosenza.
However, his writings were placed on the Index of 1593-- after his death, note. Telesio's philosophy was certainly naturalistic, but I have not seen any evidence that he considered himself heterodox in any way, as some philosophers would in not too many years.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy
Telesio is often referred to as a nature philosopher, a title intended to distinguish him from Aristotelian natural philosophers. He is considered strongly anti-Aristotelian, though some scholars find his thought similar enough to Aristotle's that he might rather be called a revisionist.
De rerum natura iuxta propria principia, 1565 (with expanded editions in 1570 and 1586). Despite the implications of the title, the book contains no atomism whatever. Rather Telesio made heat and cold the active principles in nature, and his philosophy has been described as pre-Socratic naturalism. All commentators seem agreed on his tendency toward making nature an autonomous order. The book contains concepts that move toward absolute space and time as they would later be expounded.
Telesio's disciple, Antonio Persio, published a group of shorter pieces by Telesio after his death--Varii de naturalibus rebus libelli, 1590.
7. Means of Support
Primary: 7. Support: Per, Patronage
Telesio inherited an estate termed significant. He never held or sought a salaried position, and especially in his earlier years appeared independent. Through mismanagement, or perhaps non-management the estate disintegrated completely.
After Padua he spent the years 1535 to 1565 back in Calabria, though the details are thin and highly speculative. Apparently he lived in a Benedictine monastery during roughly 1535-44, then in the Neapolitan home of Alfonso III Carafa, duca di Nocera during roughly 1544-53. He married in 1553 and settled in Cosenza.
In about 1561 his wife died. Apparently she had managed the patrimony. Neither Telesio nor his brother could. Pius IV offered to make him Archbishop of Cosenza; Telesio rather got the Pope to appoint his brother.
After the death of his wife, Telesio apparently went to Rome. He spent the years 1576-86 in Naples with Ferrante Carafa, son and heir of Alfonso.
About eighteen months before his death he returned to Cosenza.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Eccesiastic Official
The Carafa family were long term patrons, and Telesio dedicated the third and definitive edition of De rerum natura to Ferrante Carafa, duca di Nocera.
A funeral oration for Telesio mentioned the favor and protection of successive Popes--Clement VII (given the dates I find this highly improbable), Paul III, Marcello, Paul IV, Pius IV, and Gregory XIII. Gregory (Pope from 1572-85) invited Telesio to expound his philosophy in Rome and welcomed him there with great honor. Everyone accepts the story of the Archbishopric offered by Pius IV. Cardinals Bembo, Contarini, and Farnese (later Paul III) also showed him favor. The Popes shielded Telesio from criticism, which traditional philosophers certainly levelled at him, and it must be significant that Telesio went on the Index not long after his death--rather like Patrizi.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
From about 1553 Telesio was the dominant figure in the Accademia Cosentina, shaping it to his interest in the observation and study of nature, so that it became known as the Accademia Telesiana.
He corresponded with Patrizi.
Antonio Persio was his ardent disciple.
  1. Francesco Fiorentino, Bernardino Telesio, 2 vols. (Florence, 1872-4).
  2. Neil van Deusen, Telesio, the First of the Moderns, (New York, 1932). Nicola Abbagnano, Bernardino Telesio, (Milano, 1941).
  3. Cesare Vasoli, "Introduzione," in Telesio, De rerum natura iuxta propria principia libri IX, reprint ed. (Hildesheim, 1971).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Edoardo Zavattari, La visione della vita nel rinascimento e Bernardino Telesio, (Torino, 1923).
  2. Francesco Bartelli, Note biografiche, (Cosenza, 1906), pp. 7-73.
  3. Accccording to everyone, this is the definitive study of Telesio's life. Apparently there is only one copy in the United States, at the Newbury.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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