He was born at Taurisano, near Lecce, and studied philosophy and theology at Rome. After his return to Lecce he applied himself to the physical studies—chiefly medicine and astronomy—which had come into vogue with the Renaissance. Like Giordano Bruno, he attacked scholasticism. Vanini resembles Bruno, not only in his wandering life but also in his anti-Christian ideas.
From Naples he went to Padua, where he came under the influence of the Alexandrist Pomponazzi, whom he styled his divine master. At Padua he studied law, and was ordained a priest. Subsequently he led a roving life in France, Switzerland and the Low Countries, supporting himself by giving lessons and disseminating anti-Christian views. He was obliged to flee from Lyon to England in 1614, but was imprisoned in London for an unknown reason for forty-nine days.
Returning to Italy, he made an attempt to teach in Genoa, but was driven once more to France, where he tried to clear himself of suspicion by publishing a book against atheism, Amphitheatrum Aeternae Providentiae Divino-Magicum (1615). Though the definitions of God are somewhat pantheistic, the book served its immediate purpose. That the book does not expound Vanini's actual views, the author expressly stated in his second work, De Admirandis Naturae Reginae Deaeque Mortalium Arcanis (Paris, 1616), which, originally certified by two doctors of the Sorbonne, was later re-examined and condemned.
Vanini was a polygenist, who argued that Africans are descended from apes because of their skin colour, while other races are not. In his book De Admirandis Naturae Reginae Deaeque Mortalium Arcanis (1616), he wrote that only the Negro descends from the monkey and that there are lower and higher levels within humanity (a race hierarchy); he also reported in the book that other atheists supported this position as opposed to the theory of monogenism.[not in citation given (See discussion.)]
Vanini then left Paris, where he had been staying as chaplain to the marechal de Bassompierre, and began to teach in Toulouse. In November 1618 he was arrested, and after a prolonged trial was condemned to have his tongue cut out, and to be strangled at the stake, his body to be afterwards burned to ashes. The sentence was executed on 9 February 1619.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- La Vie et L'Oeuvre de J.C Vanini, Princes des Libertins mort a Toulouse sur le bucher en 1619, Emile Namer, 1980.
- Francesco De Paola, Vanini e il primo '600 Anglo-veneto, Cutrofiano, Lecce (1980).
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- Giovanni Papuli, Francesco Paolo Raimondi (ed.), Giulio Cesare Vanini - Opere, Galatina, Congedo (1990).
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- Plumtre, Constance (1877). "V Vanini". General Sketch of the History of Pantheism. London: Spottiswoode & Co.
- Guido Bolaffi, Dictionary of race, ethnicity and culture 2003, p. 221
- Richard Henry Popkin, Isaac La Peyrère (1596-1676): his life, work, and influence, 1987, p. 39