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(VIII.) HISTORY - First Cause of Motion, Cruel Firmament

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Author Topic: (VIII.) HISTORY - First Cause of Motion, Cruel Firmament  (Read 533 times)
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« Reply #15 on: August 17, 2007, 07:34:09 pm »

A much more coherent, dangerous opponent of astrology was Nicole Oresme, a theological student from Paris who became head of the College of Navarre, and was at his death Bishop of Lisieux. He seems to have been particularly concerned at the too great reliance placed on astrology and divination by princes, though he was far from condemning the whole idea of astrology.

In one short treatise he seems to be trying to prove that on the whole those princes much devoted to astrology were unfortunate in their lives; but in the same essay he carefully discriminates between 'good' and 'bad' astrology. Most opponents repeated (and still repeat) the old anti-astrological arguments. Oresme was a little more original. He argued that as it was impossible fully to predict the movements of the planets and stars, so it was obviously impossible to use them for prediction.

He claimed, not producing any great body of evidence, that the Bible condemned astrology; attacked it as an inexact and often fallacious science; and claimed that, anyway, astrologers did not know nearly enough about the effects of the planets to be able to draw any firm conclusions about them.

One point he makes very clearly would appeal to most modern astrologers: he disclaims any idea that the planets or stars could have any occult effect on man. If there is an influence, he says, it must be material - the result of light and heat, he thought. Modern astrologers would mostly say, rather, that any planetary effect is the result of some very real but so far unfathomed force (similar in nature to that of gravity), but would agree with Oresme that whatever that force is, it is certainly not occult.

He recapitulates the familiar argument about the birth of twins, the different deaths of people born at different times, and so on. As far as the mustering of a large body of argument is concerned, he seems most determined of all opponents of astrology. And yet - and this illustrates the continuing general attitude as strongly as anything - he concludes:

"I say that the prince and any other person should greatly honour true students in astrology who make tables of observations and critical rules for judgements and those who know how to consider scientifically the natures of things, discriminating the true from the false, and consents to the propositions that many of men's actions would not take place if 'the sky' did not prompt them; that astrological weather prediction was possible (if often inaccurate), that the planets seemed to influence certain general activities such as political or religious movements."

He was not an easy man to fool: when he experimented with 'elections' - the setting up of a chart for the moment of time, in order to determine an action or an attitude - and failed, he complained to an astrologer, and was told that there were factors in his own horoscope which showed that he would not be good at that aspect of the subject. 'And why', he enquired tartly and with reason, 'did you not tell me that in the first place?'

The fact that despite his antagonism he was forced to conclude that there were aspects of astrology deserving respect has a certain force.
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« Reply #16 on: August 17, 2007, 07:35:52 pm »

                                             CHARLES V

Oresme's arguments were certainly familiar to his patron Charles V of France (1337-80) - Charles the Wise, as he was called - who collected a notable library at the Louvre (it became the foundation of the Bibliotèque Royale), and whose other scholarly advisers included Raoul de Presles, Philippe de Mésières and a large number of astrologers.

He was not the only monarch, of course, to find the subject of interest. When King John of France came to grief at Poitiers in 1356, he spent his subsequent captivity talking with an astrologer who had been brought by the English from Bourges because his predictions were so accurate.

The whole Hundred Years War was conducted amid a cacophony of prediction and advice from astrologers. Jacques de Saint André, a canon of Tours (later to become a friend of King John) firmly predicted the victor of Cocherel in 1364; Thomelin de Turgof, an English captain, had even earlier selected du Guescim as the victor of Cocherel.

Yves de Saint Branchier accompanied the Constable of France into battle, and selected the precise moment when he should launch his attacks. Jacques de Montciclat predicted the deaths of du Guesclin and King John. Charles the Wise himself employed Pierre de Valois of Coucy, who had also worked in England, and André de Sully, who forecast the battle of April 1366 in Spain and drew up the horoscopes of Charles' three sons, Charles, Louis and John.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2007, 07:38:14 pm by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2007, 07:37:22 pm »

But there are lesser astrologers whose names have not survived, who worked at a lower level among the troops, predicting the success or failure of this battle or of that; many of them just such cheapjacks as sprang up at the sign of any disaster, to predict illness, recovery, death, to the gullible who wanted to know what the future held.

Charles himself, whatever Oresme's attempts to wean him from reliance on the planets, seems to have conducted much of his private as well as his public life on the advice of his astrologers - who for instance drew up the horoscopes of himself and his fiancée before their marriage. He is known to have read Ptolemy, Albenragel, Guido Bonatti, as well as more modern writers, and founded a college for the study of astrology and astrological medicine at the University of Paris, giving it a good library, a fine collection of astronomical instruments, and several scholarships.

Of course there were occasional failures, some risible. On one occasion astrologers ordered a knight to prepare his arms for a duel at a particular moment of time which would ensure his success. He did so, only to find that at the moment when the conflict was to begin, it poured with rain, and the whole thing was called off.

Well, at least he escaped death or injury, which was success of a sort.
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« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2007, 07:38:42 pm »

As the 14th century ends, there is still no real sign of a diminution of the powers of astrologers. The French and English courts, the Bohemian court, the German court all relied on them to some extent, and it is difficult not to see serious attacks on them as uncharacteristic and even eccentric - except for jokes at the expense of the over-credulous; such as that of Sebastian Brant, in his Das Narrenschiff (Ship of fools), first published in 1494 in Basel.

This long satirical work sees the whole world as populated by fools, and attacks dishonest cooks, crooked lawyers, jerry-builders, blasphemers, cheating tradesmen, adulterous wives, with equally splenetic vigour. Astrologers, or 'star-gazers', were among his targets (as these lines, from William Gillis's translation, illustrate):

The stars, they say, aren't independent,

Events both great and small attendant

Upon them; every flea-brain notion

Is read in each celestial motion:

What he should say and what advise.

And will his fortunes sink or rise,

His plans, his actions, well or sick

Outrageous hocus-pocus trick.

The world, which grows more stultified,

To trust in fools is satisfied.

The traffic in these divinations

Appeals to printers' inclinations;

They print as much as fools can bring,

Each shameful word dolts say or sing.

The public's failure to reprove it

Must witness that the folk approve it ...
« Last Edit: January 05, 2008, 07:48:17 am by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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