Porta, Giambattista della

(ca. 1535-1615)
   Neapolitan writer, known for his learning and his authorship of works on science and magic as well as for his numerous and successful neoclassical dramas. He was deeply learned in scientific and magical lore at a time when the modern distinction between science and magic did not exist. He travelled widely, read omnivorously, and collected artifacts repre-senting natural phenomena. Della Porta's involvement in magic was extensive enough that about 1580 the Neapolitan Inquisition ques-tioned him about his beliefs and practices; on its recommendation, in 1610 the pope suppressed an association (Academia Secretorum Nat-urae) that he had helped found for the investigation of nature.
   Della Porta insisted that no "black" or diabolical magic was in-volved in his studies. He also quarreled with several prominent con-temporaries, accusing the English scientist William Gilbert of steal-ing and publishing his own discoveries on magnetism and also claiming priority to Galileo in the invention of a telescope. He was active in two important scholarly academies at Naples, the Accade-mia dei Lincei and the Accademia degli Oziosi. The best known of his writings on science were De humana physiognomonia / On Hu-man Physiognomy (1586) and Magiae naturalis libri XX / Twenty Books of Natural Magic (1589). The latter was translated into Italian, French, German, and English. His scientific and magical writings contained much information gleaned from his wide reading and his close observation of nature.
   Della Porta's parallel career as a playwright developed from his own enjoyment of dramatic presentations at Naples during his youth and his interest in the works of the Roman comedian Plautus, which he translated into Italian. His own plays included comedies, tragi-comedies, and tragedies, some written in verse and others in prose. They were printed and widely read, beginning with the comedy LOlimpia in 1589 and ending with La furiosa / The Madwoman in 1609. These plays strictly observed the neoclassical unities of time, place, and action. Despite his difficulties with the Inquisition, Della Porta was a firm supporter of the Catholic Reformation, a member of a lay society affiliated with the Jesuits, and an energetic promoter of use of the arts to promote Christian piety.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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