20.8.17 Library fire in southern Italy causes three deaths and destruction of priceless Renaissance books


Italian magistrates opened an inquiry into the causes of a fire that gutted an aristocrat's library in the southern city of Cosenza on Saturday, killing three people living in an adjacent apartment and destroying ‘priceless’ works by the Renaissance philosopher Bernardino Telesio and letters to Galileo Galilei,  judicial sources said.

The leading Corriere della Sera newspaper described the private museum housing the collection of the Bilotti Ruggi D'aragona family as "the most important library in southern Italy."  

The owner of the library and well-known collector, Roberto Bilotti, said he had informed local authorities repeatedly about the risk posed by the three mentally handicapped squatters living in the apartment below the library, where the fire started.

The three people who died were identified as Serafina Speranza, 51, Antonio Noce, 54, and Roberto Golia, 34.

Books that went up in flames in the blaze included the first printed edition of Telesio’s great work 'De rerum natura iuxta propria principia' (On the Nature of Things according to their Own Principles). 

Telesio was hailed by Francis Bacon, the English “father of empiricism,” as “the first of the moderns” among philosophers for his development of scientific method based on observation.

His works, questioning medieval obscurantism and Aristotelean philosophy led the Roman Catholic Church to place them on the Index of banned books soon after his death in 1588, although he escaped persecution during his lifetime due to good relations with a number of clerics.

In addition to his standing with Bacon, Telesio was an important influence on Giordano Bruno, Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes.

Among other works lost in the fire was handwritten correspondence between Paolo Bombini, a priest, and Galileo Galilei, and original parchment manuscripts by the 16th century writers Sertorio Quattromani and Aulo Giano Parassio, also both from Cosenza, which was a thriving cultural centre during the late Renaissance.

The mayor of Cosenza, Mario Ochiutto, declared a day of mourning in the city on Monday 21st August following the tragedy.

Story collated by Liz Turnbull.

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