Sergius Kodera (Universität Wien)

Fellow in Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"
October – December 2019

Giordano Bruno and Matteo Ricci. 16th Century Arts of Memory between Paris and Beijing

Sergius Kordera’s research project at EXC 2020 compares two different texts on the art of memory, both written and published towards the end of the 16th century, albeit in very different parts of the world: in 1582, Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), a runaway Dominican priest from Naples, dedicated his book On the Shadows of Ideas to Henry III, King of France; in 1596, Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), the first Jesuit missionary to enter Ming China, presented his Xiguo Jifa (The Western Method of Learning) to the court of Ming Emperor Wanli in Beijing. The art of memory is a site where fundamental questions on the role of mental images in our intellectual and emotional lives can be negotiated. In different ways, both Bruno and Ricci address this challenge: Ricci, because he is translating the art of memory into classical Chinese, a scripture which is itself ideographic; Bruno, because he is convinced that we are fundamentally dependent on (emotionally charged) images. Despite their fundamentally different approaches, the project will also consider potential similarities in outlook in both texts. This might at first sight seem unlikely, with Bruno being burnt at the stake for heresy and Ricci a missionary dedicated to propagating the cause of Catholicism. Yet upon closer scrutiny, the contexts are in fact quite similar: the Jesuit missionaries were supervised not only by their own Collegium in Rome – they also had to face censorship and critique at the hands of the Dominican order; both Bruno and Ricci were born and brought up on the Italian Peninsula; both wrote in exile; both tried to win the favour of sovereigns whose power was in decline – from 1600 on, Wanli virtually retired from office, and Henry III was struggling not to lose control over the religious factionalism that would soon ravage France; both authors sought to promote their persons and their causes; both were deeply steeped in Thomist theology.

Sergius Kodera teaches Early Modern and Renaissance Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vienna. He is senior research fellow at New Design University, St. Pölten, Austria, where he served as Dean of the Faculty of Design from October 2012 to March 2019. Previous fellowships have taken him to London (Warburg Institute), Vienna (IFK) and New York (Columbia). Kodera has published on and/or translated Renaissance authors such as Marsilio Ficino, Fernando de Rojas, Machiavelli, Leone Ebreo, Girolamo Cardano, Giovan Battista Della Porta and Giordano Bruno. He is currently working on a book-length study on Della Porta in English. His main fields of interest are the history of the body and sexuality, magic and media.