Germana Ernst, a foremost scholar on the Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella, passed away on 17 July 2016 after a very short illness. Prior to her retirement less than three years ago, she held the Chair of the History of Renaissance Philosophy at the Università di Roma Tre.
Born in Bergamo on 22 February 1943, Germana often recalled with fond memories her first teaching assignment at a secondary school in the Alpine town of Bormio, while still a student at the Università Statale di Milano. After graduating with a thesis on Campanella’s Apologia pro Galileo, written under the supervision of her mentor Mario dal Pra, she dedicated most of her academic career to research on the philosopher’s life, texts, and thought. Her stated aim in the introduction to her edition of Campanella’s Lettere (2010), which takes its cue from a self-referential metaphor employed by the philosopher himself, may be extended to describe her lifelong scholarly activities: “to remove some of the layers of rust so as to allow the bell [‘campanella’] to regain its silvery sound.”
Through her many articles, books, and editions of primary texts, Germana Ernst made important and original contributions to all the main aspects of Campanella’s elaborate philosophical enterprise: natural philosophy, metaphysics, theology, natural magic, prophecy, astrology, ethics, and politics. She privileged the text as the basis for any meaningful interpretation, and insisted on the importance of reading each one of Campanella’s writings within the unitary context of his entire corpus. Her editions of Campanella’s published and unpublished works include Articuli prophetales (1977), Città del sole (1996), Monarchia di Spagna (1997), Opuscoli astrologici (2003), De libris propriis et de recta studendi syntagma (2007), Del senso delle cose e della magia (2007), Lettere (2010), Ethica; Quaestiones super ethicam (2012), Tre Questioni politiche contro Aristotele (2013), and Economica; Questioni economiche (2016). Her Tommaso Campanella: il libro e il corpo della natura (2002), the most comprehensive intellectual biography of the Calabrian philosopher, traces “the origins, development and persistence of some of the fundamental themes of his philosophy.” It has since been translated into French (2007) and English (2010).
One of “the greatest emotions of [her] life,” she wrote very recently, was her discovery of the autograph Italian manuscript of Ateismo trionfato, which appeared in 2004 as the inaugural text in an ongoing series of Campanella’s works published by the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. The Ateismo, the work closest to Campanella’s heart, fascinated Germana on account of both the complexity of its contents and its tortuous history, which accompanied and mirrored the tragic life story of its author. When she got wind of preliminary plans to publish a Festschrift to mark her retirement, Germana actively dissuaded friends and colleagues from going to such lengths. This was typical of her genuine unpretentiousness as well as her endearing tenacity. As a compromise of sorts, she agreed to the publication of the anastatic reproduction of the 1631 Latin edition of Atheismus triumphatus (2013), which was dedicated to her and included a tabula gratulatoria featuring many friends and colleagues. This initiative had pleased her immensely.
Together with Eugenio Canone, in 1995 Germana Ernst founded Bruniana & Campanelliana, which has since established itself as a leading journal on Renaissance and early modern philosophy and history of ideas. Indefatigable as always, as its coeditor she was still soliciting submissions and reviewing articles until a few days before her untimely passing.
Besides her work on Campanella, Germana Ernst wrote about Bruno, Cardano, Della Porta, Galileo, and Vanini. She also dealt with various aspects of Renaissance thought and intellectual culture, particularly magic and astrology. She was appointed a corresponding member of the Académie Internationale des Sciences in 2006. The town of Stilo, Campanella’s birthplace, conferred her with honorary citizenship in 2007. She had been a member of the RSA for many years.
Germana was a brilliant scholar, a formidable teacher, a generous mentor, and a treasured friend to many. She will be remembered above all as a person of great wisdom and humanity, admirable simplicity, and contagious enthusiasm.
Jean-Paul De Lucca
University of Malta