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I recently saw an image where this quote

Non temete nuotare contro il torrente, è d'un anima sordida pensare come il volgo, perché il volgo è in maggioranza

is attributed to 16th Century Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno.

Searching for it on Google returns several results (mostly people using it as "signature" in discussion forums, this article, and the quote at the beginning of this book) attributing it to Giordano Bruno, but I can't find it anywhere on Wikiquote (for example).

The sentence can be translated to:

Do not be afraid to swim against the torrent [i.e. upstream], it is of a sordid soul to think like the common people, because the common people are always the majority.

Did Giordano Bruno ever said anything to that effect?

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  • Well, more than two dozen of Bruno's works in Italian and Latin survive, however, I can find no particular mention of this in McIntyre's 1903 opus Giordano Bruno.
    – bishop
    Sep 6, 2018 at 15:02
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    @bishop - so..... must be Einstein? Sep 6, 2018 at 17:20
  • @PoloHoleSet Clearly. :p My hope is another soul will brave the collected works and provide a more definite answer.
    – bishop
    Sep 6, 2018 at 17:22
  • side note: if the stream is turbulent, if you are dead you can swim upstream rather easily youtube.com/watch?v=_ZBWnhzYvts
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 12, 2023 at 12:01
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    @EarlGrey but only if you are (or were) a trout and are being towed upstream.
    – phoog
    Jul 17, 2023 at 23:07

1 Answer 1

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He said something like it (possibly the same thing), then later penned a book that says a similar thing (and much else in the same vein). Both speech and later book are in Latin, so the quote in Italian is neccessarily not the true wording.

There is a citation site that describes the provenance of the quote (or something very similar, we are talking about the translation of a quote after all) as such:

Included as a quotation in The Great Quotations (1977) by George Seldes, p. 35, this appears to be a paraphrase of a summation of arguments of Bruno's speech in a debate at the College of Cambray (25 May 1588)

The problem with this account is that, according to wikipedia and all sites that i could find, Bruno was in Wittenberg in 1588 (had been for a few years) and left for Prague somewhen between March and June of that year (that varies across sources). To make an appearance at Cambrai in 1588 would be quite the detour... enter image description here Indeed, Bruno is attested at Cambray/Cambrai in 1586, when he left it for Wittenberg.

Yet what happened in 1588 was that the "Camoeracensis Acrotismus seu rationes articulorum physicorum adversus Peripateticos" came out(translation: 'Cambrai lecture, or arguments for the theses in physics against the Aristotelians') - this is,from what i can see, and, given the confusing naming scheme, if it is truly the same book (Acrotismus seu Rationes articulorum physicorum adversus peripateticos — Wittenberg, 1588) - one long rant about how bad it is that the majority shapes what is considered right and true. One part of it looks pretty close to the quote (Transcription mine):

enter image description here

Sordidi nimirum ingeny est cum multitudine, quia multitudo est, sentire velle, si quidem vulgi opinionibus & confirmatione multitorum veritas non variatur, neque ideo doctum se quispiam babere debet, quod talus habeatur. ------------ (Translation (bad, please feel free to improve on it): ------------ It is, of course, a dirty mind that wants to think with the multitude because they are a multitude, if indeed the truth is not varied by the opinions of the common people & the confirmation of the multitude, and therefore no one ought to be taught to drool, because he is considered to be a fool.)

A pretty ok match to the quote, i think. A work on that book(s) has some insight on how it was produced: Bruno did one last speech at Cambrai, which was pretty tumultuous, he got bodily thrown out but had to swear to come back the next day to explain himself further (?) - instead he left for Wittenberg (which had already been his plan beforehand), where he authored a book that somehow is supposed to be the speech plus explanations (...or something along those lines)

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  • 2
    If someone with Latin chops could look at my transcription and translation, that would be great. Also, as stated, the whole book seems to drive home the same message : 'Just because your wisdom is ancient and shared by the majority, doesn't make it right', so it is entirely possible that there is an even closer quote somewhere else in that book. Feel free to look. The OCR (or lack of it) makes searching not much fun.
    – bukwyrm
    Jul 7, 2023 at 6:50
  • reg "quite the detour": it was XVI century, but people were not just walking around or riding their own horses. Carriage services may have forced him to do that path (about coaches in the XVI century: think about Flixbus, but slower and of better quality)
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 12, 2023 at 12:03
  • @EarlGrey Regular coaches were not that much of a thing in Germany at that time, i dont thimk de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postkutsche#/media/… He could have left Cambrai via coach, but shortly after that it would have gotten hairy
    – bukwyrm
    Jul 12, 2023 at 19:11
  • if by coach was hairy and difficult, then how?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 13, 2023 at 9:27
  • @EarlGrey My guess is he travelled Wittenberg - Prague on foot (found a source for him travelling on foot from Geneva to Tolouse, which is about the double distance) - which would have taken him a bit more than a week, though there is nothing saying there was no coach to take him, just that there were no REGULAR coaches for that trip, at least according to that document i linked above. Walking source: fb10.uni-bremen.de/homepages/wildgen/pdf/kosmgedaechtnis.pdf
    – bukwyrm
    Jul 13, 2023 at 10:21

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