Places: The City of the Sun

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Civitas solis, 1623 (English translation, 1885)

Type of work: Novella

Type of plot: Utopian

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Places DiscussedCity of the Sun

City City of the Sun, Theof the Sun. Utopian society on the island of Taprobane in the Indian Ocean, on the equator. The island is entirely fictional, but Tommaso Campanella may have been thinking of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) when he wrote this dialogue. A Dominican friar with reformist ideals, Campanella hoped that some of his utopian principles would be introduced in his native Calabria, in southern Italy, and was imprisoned and tortured by the papal government for his beliefs.

The City of the Sun is two miles across, built on a hill above an extensive plain, in the form of seven concentric rings. Each ring has gates to the north, south, east and west and is heavily fortified with earthworks, ditches, towers, and cannons. Within the city are palaces, marble steps, and richly decorated rooms. At the center is a circular temple supported on columns and surmounted by a dome.

The prince who rules over the city is also the high priest, called Hoh or Metaphysic. His deputy Pon is in charge of all military matters including defense, the army, and the manufacture of armaments. Another deputy, Sin, controls the arts and sciences; much of the known detail of these is pictorially inscribed on the inner walls of the concentric rings of the city: mathematics and laws, minerals and weather, plants and fish, birds and insects, science and law, respectively. A third deputy, Mor, is responsible for the welfare of the people–breeding, education, food, and clothing.

One of the most important tenets of belief is that property is held in common–though Campanella seems to be thinking more of the organization of a monastery here than of a communist state. Similar togalike clothes are worn by all, being washed each month and renewed four times a year; the clothing is always white in the city, though red is allowed outside or at night; black clothes are forbidden.

Education is formal, carefully prescribed, and obligatory for all (a radical suggestion at the time Campanella wrote). Young people are put into training schemes and professions according to their intelligence and aptitude–not their fathers’ professions, as was customary in Italy at the time. Because everything is done for the greater common good, and this is accepted by the people of the City of the Sun, there is no jealousy.

Because nutrition is centrally controlled to be balanced and healthy with sufficient food for everyone, and because physical exercise is obligatory, the women are strong of limb, tall, and agile. People with disabilities are put to work at jobs they can excel at, for example, the physically lame are employed as guards, the blind sort wool, and those with crippling disabilities serve as spies for the city. Both men and women are trained for war. Although the city is peaceful, with no intention of invading other states, it is also prepared to fight to right wrongs committed against other states. The army has a particularly skillful and well-armed cavalry.

The city trades by barter rather than money. Visitors are welcomed for short stays and may apply for citizenship. Agriculture is so efficient that people work only four hours a day. Medical facilities are said to be very good. Passing reference is made to ships powered not by oars or the wind, and to the secret restoration of life after the age of seventy.

There is a highly developed judicial system, based on the decisions of the people themselves. It is harsh only on criminals who are trying to harm the liberties enjoyed by fellow citizens. However, the system uses no prisons or torture–a subject of personal interest to Campanella, who was a victim of both in Italy.

BibliographyBonansea, Bernardino M. Tommaso Campanella: Renaissance Pioneer of Modern Thought. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1969. A generally difficult book, but the chapter on The City of the Sun is quite clear and useful. Notes, extensive bibliography.Donno, Daniel J. Introduction to La Città del Sole. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981. The introduction gives a sketch of Campanella’s life and discusses the themes of The City of the Sun.Eurich, Nell. Science in Utopia: A Mighty Design. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. Examines Campanella’s interest in and defense of science. This book’s brief section on him is very helpful.Manuel, Frank E., and Fritzie P. Manuel. Utopian Thought in the Western World. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979. An excellent chapter on Campanella and The City of the Sun. Notes, bibliography.Negley, Glenn, and J. Max Patrick. The Quest for Utopia: An Anthology of Imaginary Societies. New York: Henry Schuman, 1952. Includes a partial translation of The City of the Sun; short, insightful introduction.
Categories: Places