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Timelines of Ancient Europe => The Renaissance => Topic started by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 09:57:23 am

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 09:57:23 am


               Astrologer-astronomer Richard of Wallingford
               is shown measuring an equatorium with a pair
               of compasses in this 14th century work

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 10:04:07 am

                                               T H E   R E N A I S S A N C E

During the Middle Ages astrologers were called mathematici.

Historically the term mathematicus was used to denote a person proficient in astrology, astronomy
and mathematics. Inasmuch as some practice of medicine was based to some extent on astrology, physicians learned some mathematics and astrology.

In the XIII century, Johannes de Sacrobosco (c. 1195 - 1256) and Guido Bonatti from Forlì (Italy)
were the most famous astronomers and astrologers in Great Britain (the first) and in Europe (the second): the book Liber Astronomicus by Bonatti was reputed "the most important astrological
work produced in Latin in the 13th century" (Lynn Thorndike).

Jerome Cardan (1501-1576) hated Martin Luther, and so changed his birthday in order to give him
an unfavourable horoscope. In Cardan's times, as in those of Augustus, it was a common practice
for men to conceal the day and hour of their birth, till, like Augustus, they found a complaisant astrologer.

During the Renaissance, a form of "scientific astrology" evolved in which court astrologers would compliment their use of horoscopes with genuine discoveries about the nature of the universe.
Many individuals now credited with having overturned the old astrological order, such as Galileo
Galilei, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, were themselves practising astrologers.

But, as a general rule, medieval and Renaissance astrologers did not give themselves the trouble
of reading the stars, but contented themselves with telling fortunes by faces. They practised chiromancy (also known as palmistry), and relied on afterwards drawing a horoscope to suit.

As physiognomists (see physiognomy) their talent was undoubted, and according to Lucilio Vanini
there was no need to mount to the house-top to cast a nativity.

"Yes," he says, "I can read his face; by his hair and his forehead it is easy to guess that the sun
at his birth was in the sign of Libra and near Venus. Nay, his complexion shows that Venus touches Libra. By the rules of astrology he could not lie."

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 10:11:49 am

Historical proponents of astrology

The influence of the Medici made astrologers popular in France.

Richelieu, on whose council was Jacques Gaffarel (1601-1681), the last of the Kabbalists, did not despise astrology as an engine of government.

At the birth of Louis XIV a certain Morin de Villefranche was placed behind a curtain to cast the nativity of the future autocrat. A generation back the astrologer would not have been hidden behind a curtain, but have taken precedence over the doctor.

La Bruyère dares not pronounce against such beliefs, "for there are perplexing facts affirmed by grave men who were eye-witnesses."

In England William Lilly and Robert Fludd were both dressed in a little brief authority. The latter gives
us elaborate rules for the detection of a thief, and tells us that he has had personal experience of their efficacy. "If the lord of the sixth house is found in the second house, or in company with the lord of the second house, the thief is one of the family. If Mercury is in the sign of the Scorpion he will be bald, &c."

Francis Bacon abuses the astrologers of his day no less than the alchemists, but he does so because he has visions of a reformed astrology and a reformed alchemy.

Sir Thomas Browne, too, while he denies the capacity of the astrologers of his day, does not venture to dispute the reality of the science. The idea of the souls of men passing at death to the stars, the blessedness of their particular sphere being assigned them according to their deserts (the metempsychosis of J. Reynaud), may be regarded as a survival of religious astrology, which, even as late as Descartes's day, assigned to the angels the task of moving the planets and the stars.

Joseph de Maistre believed in comets as messengers of divine justice, and in animated planets, and declared that divination by astrology is not an absolutely chimerical science.

Kepler was cautious in his opinion; he spoke of astronomy as the wise mother, and astrology as the foolish daughter, but he added that the existence of the daughter was necessary to the life of the mother.

Kepler may have said this with the cynical meaning that the "foolish" work of astrology paid for the serious work of astronomy - as, at the time, the main motivation to fund advancements in astronomy was the desire for better, more accurate astrological predictions.

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 10:15:56 am


"You shouldn't dismiss as incredible the possibility that a long enough search might reveal

a golden grain of truth in astrological superstition." --

Johannes Kepler

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 10:19:42 am


 An image of a 'zodiac man', showing the parts of the body governed by the various signs of the zodiac.
Image by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Astrology - belief in the physical influence of planetary rays on earth - is one of the most important historical contexts in which astronomy developed.

Astrology served as a motivation as well as a means of gainful employment for astronomers.

The Babylonians meticulously compiled tablets of the position of Venus, as it was believed to signify omens for weather, war, famine, diseases, rulers and kingdoms.

Ptolemy composed the Tetrabiblos, believing that astrology could be placed on a rational footing, despite being a conjectural art like medicine.

In practice, belief in astrology meant that horoscopes were cast for new-born children, prospective spouses and political enemies, public buildings were opened and marriage and other ceremonies conducted on auspicious days. Numerous records of astrological practice can be found from the Roman times.

Several important Arabic authors on astronomy, such as al-Kindi, Masha'allah and Abu Ma 'Shar were astrologers: Abraham ibn Ezra and Ibn Yunus discussed astrology in a scholarly manner.

In the Latin West, the terms astrology and astronomy were interchangeable for a long time.

In the arts faculties of medieval universities, the theory of planetary motion of Sacrobosco, Ptolemy and Gerard
of Cremona (later Georg Peurbach) was always taught alongside guides for interpreting the influence of planetary configurations, through texts such as Alchabitius' Introduction to Astrology, Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos and Centiloquium and Albumazar's Great Conjunctions.

Johannes Kepler believed that he could set astrology onto a surer footing, and his astrological beliefs were fundamental to his heliocentric cosmology.

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 10:26:56 am

It is important to remember that one of the important reasons for studying astrology in the Latin West was medicine: parts of medical prognosis and treatment were determined by astrological information.

For instance, whether a disease 'turned' (on 'critical days') better or worse depended on the state of the patient's body and whether it was an astrologically favourable moment.

Bloodletting, a medical treatment intended to rectify the imbalance of bodily humours, was regulated
by the position of the moon, which was considered to exert greatest influence over the human body.

For instance, every sign of the zodiac was considered to rule a part of the human body:
the Saggitarius ruled the thighs, Pisces the feet, and so on.

When the moon was in the zodiac ruling a particular part of the body, bloodletting from that part was to be avoided, since the attraction of the moon might cause excessive bleeding. Numerous medical manuscripts and almanacs include the figure of the 'zodiac man' as a reminder of the specific influence of the moon. In addition, the power of the moon's pulling power varied by its phases, and thus almanacs usually showed the phases of the moon.

Thus, students of medicine at Bologna, for instance, learnt astrology for four years, including grounding in Euclid's geometry and Ptolemy's Almagest.

In addition, they learnt how to use instruments such as the astrolabe and the quadrant, and were taught how to use the Alfonsine Tables along with their canons.

The instruction to use astronomical tables indicates that students, or future practitioners of medicine were not expected to calculate afresh planetary positions each time they needed to make a prognosis or conduct blood-letting.

Several manuscripts for physicians contain short-cut tables or volvelles (paper discs) in order to establishing planetary positions and phases of the moon. More frequently, practitioners relied on calendars which listed the necessary astrological information.

Thus mathematics professors at Bologna were required to compile the official prognostication in order
to ensure the dissemination of proper and accurate astrological knowledge. The need for some mastery in astrology for the study of medicine explains why so many teachers of mathematics or astronomy had medical degrees or went on to become physicians, including the most famous astrologer of the Early Modern period, Nostrodamus.

The works of Copernicus and Regiomontanus, and contemporary expectations and reactions to them, also needs to be understood in this light: developments in astronomy were inextricably linked with, and were believed to have, implications for astrology. Astronomical developments did not necessarily mean the demise of astrology.

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 10:34:24 am

Outside the university walls, the belief in planetary powers was wide-spread enough that rulers retained their own court astrologers.

Frederick II (1194-1250) employed Michael Scot, Federigo da Montefeltro (Duke: 1468-82) Paul of Middelburg, and Rudolf II Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler in succession. Galileo Galilei, as courtier was also expected to meet the astrological needs of the prince.

Tracts and pamphlets came to be written, blaming astrological configurations for social upheavals or diseases, such as the Black Death, the Sack of Rome, the Peasants' War, the split of the Church, outbreak of syphilis.

Prognostications in the vernacular flooded sixteenth-century Europe, foretelling terrible weather,
major floods, political unrest and the coming of the Anti-Christ. Comets were eagerly studied as
signs portending disaster.

Novelties in the heavens were scrutinised for their influences and meanings on earthly matters.
Belief in the power of the heavens became part of a world-view; poems were written and meta-
phors developed in the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, to name only the most famous.

The supreme and central power of the sun was successfully employed as an image of kingship by
the advisors to Louis XIV, the 'Sun-King'.

It should also be remembered there were many who objected to astrology in one way or another.
The profusion of astrologers, their practice of divination and forecasting the future alarmed Christians as well as Muslims, who saw them as implying a deterministic world-view in which God would loose his omnipotence and humans their free will.

Constantine thus made divination a capital offence in 357, a ban repeated in 373 and 409; Augustine spoke out vociferously against it in his City of God. Avicenna, Al-Farabi and Averroes all objected to certain astrological practices. Important critiques of astrology in the Latin West included Nicole Oresme, Thomas Bradwardine, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and Martin Luther.

In 1586, Gregory XIII issued a Bull against astrologers, confirming existing prohibitions against predictions of fortuitous events or events depending on human will.

However, predictions based on nature and of use to medicine, agriculture and navigation were still permitted.

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 10:37:03 am

                                                           Recommended Reading

Eugenio Garin, Astrology in the Renaissance: the zodiac of life, trans. Carolyn Jackson and June Allen,
rev. Clare Robertson, London, Boston, 1983

Stephen Pumfrey, Paolo Rossi and Maurice Slawinski (eds), Science, Culture and Popular Belief in Renaissance Europe, Manchester 1991

Further Texts

Tamsyn Barton, Ancient Astrology, London and New York, 1994

Peter Burke, The fabrication of Louis XIV, New Haven, 1992

Keith Hutchison, 'Towards a political iconology of the Copernican revolution', in Patrick Curry (ed), Astrology, Science and Society: historical essays, Woodbridge, 1987, 95-141.

S. Kusukawa, 'Aspectio divinorum operum: Melanchthon and Astrology for Lutheran Medics', in Ole Grell and A. R. Cunningham (eds), Medicine and the Reformation, London, 1993, pp. 33-56

Ottavia Niccoli, Prophecy and people in Renaissance Italy, trans. by Lydia G. Cochrane, Princeton, 1990.

John North, The Fontana History of Astronomy and Cosmology, London, 1994

Olaf Pedersen, 'The Corpus Astronomicum and the traditions of medieval Latin astronomy', Studia Copernicana 3 (1975), 57-96.

James Randi, The mask of Nostradamus, New York, 1990, an amusing, if popular, anatomy of Nostradamus' success.

Nancy Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, Chicago 1990, for medical astrology.

R. S. Westman, 'The astronomer's role in the sixteenth century: a preliminary study', History of Science 18 (1980), 105-47.

Lynn Thorndike, University Records and Life in the Middle Ages, New York, 1944, for the University of Bologna.

Lynn Thorndike, A history of magic and experimental science, New York: Macmillan, 1923-58, 8 vols, still the best compilation of astrology, its practice and critics.

P. Zambelli (ed.), 'Astrologi Hallucinati': Stars and the End of the World in Luther's Time, Berlin and New York, 1986.

Sachiko Kusukawa

and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science
of the University of Cambridge

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 10:46:43 am

                                     Astrology In Medieval And Renaissance Europe

Astrology declined, rose, and declined again during the Latin Middle Ages and Renaissance.

During the early middle ages, the early Christian hostility towards astrology and the decline of education in Greek led to the near-disappearance of astrology.

It was re-introduced during the twelfth century when a great variety of Greek philosophical and scientific texts were translated from Arabic. Of course, Arabic language commentaries and original works were translated as well.

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries saw the first translations directly from Greek, notably Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, and the Renaissance of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries became one of the great ages of astrology. Astrology declined, however, with the rise of modern science in the late seventeenth century.

Allen, Don Cameron, The Star-Crossed Renaissance: The Quarrel about Astrology and its Influence in England (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1941) {Good survey.}

Blazekovic, Zdravko, Music in Medieval and Renaissance astrological imagery. (PhD Thesis, City University of New York, 1997. Photocopy. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI, 1998. [UMI 9807907] ) {Includes bibliographical references (pp. 523-45) and index of manuscripts.}

Calvin, John, An Admonicion Against Astrology Judiciall and Other Curiosities (London: Roulande Hall, 1561; University Microfilms, # 11404) {Calvin brings out all the classic anti- astrological arguments, emphasizing its conflict with free will (!). He uses the same arguments as Augustine.}

Capp, Bernard, Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs, 1500-1800 (London & Boston: Faber & Faber, 1979) {An excellent social history. Almanacs were the major media of the day, for astrology and much else. Almanacs primarily predicted weather, but also political events.}

Carey, Hilary M., Courting Disaster. Astrology at the English Court and University in the Later Middle Ages (Houndsmills, Hampshire, UK, and London: Macmillan, 1992) {A good dissertation on astrology in medieval English politics. Very good bibliography.}

Cross, F. L. and Livingston, E. A., eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd ed., (London, Oxford, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1974) {Short article, which referred me to Augustine's City of God. Augustine's influence, they say, suppressed astrology in Latin Europe down to the thirteenth century, when it was re-introduced the Islamic world.}

Dee, Dr. John, The Private Diary of, and the Catalogue of his Library of Manuscripts, from the original Manuscripts in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and Trinity College Library, Cambridge. ed. J. O. Halliwell (London, England, 1842) {"This Diary contains much fascinating material on the life, views and methods of Queen Elizabeth the great's leading astrologer, John Dee. The Appendix, which is a list of his Astrological, and other occult MSS is NOT aimed at works in English, for Dee was the master of many languages, but it constitutes the first attempt at a Bibliography of astrological books in the English speaking world. Dee is perhaps most famous for his attempts to contact the spirit world using a crystal, and his recording of the "Enochean" language and alphabet, but he was a serious historian, astrologer and mathematician in addition to his addiction to a primitive form of seance." --Win Rowe. Dee had a European reputation; the Emperor Rudolph and Ivan the Terrible competed to hire him. He was an important mathematician as well as astrologer, and was the first to translate Euclid's Geometry into English.}

Flint, Valerie I. J., The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991) {BF 1593.F45 1991. Magic and astrology made acceptable to Latin Medieval Christians in same ways I think it was to Late Antique Jews: the planets were interpreted as angels carrying out God's commands. Good bibliography, good ideas, but very poorly written.}

Fludd, Dr. Robert, Utriusque Cosmi Maioris scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica Physica Atque Technica Historia, (Frankfurt: Oppenheim, 1617) {Classic excursus on the Hellenistic/medieval/renaissance cosmology; particularly famous for its marvelous copper-plate engravings}

French, Peter J., John Dee; The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972; repr. as paperback, 1984) {A good biography of the famous astrologer.}

Kepler, Johann, De fundamentis astrologiae certioribus, 1602 {Kepler, the great astronomer, also practiced astrology. In this work he rejects many traditional aspects of astrology, such as the houses and zodiac signs, and emphasizes aspects, the angular relationships between the planets.}

Kepler, Johann, Concerning the More Certain Fundamentals of Astrology (Edmonds, WA: Sure Fire Press, 1987) {An English translation of above.}

Klibansky, R., Panofsky, E., and Saxl, F., Saturn and Melancholy (London: 1964) {An interpretation of Albrecht Dürer's print "Melancolia I," in light of astrological medicine.}

Lewis, C. S., The Discarded Image (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964) {Excellent survey of medieval and Renaissance intellectual commonplaces, such as the powers of the planets. Lewis is particularly good in that he emphasizes what a motley collection of books medieval people inherited, and the distinctive way in which they interpreted and reconciled them.}

Lilly, William, An Introduction to Astrology, ed. Zadkiel [pseudonym] (London: G. Bell, 1907) {Lilly was the most famous astrologer in seventeenth century England, with a great deal of political influence during the English Civil War. "Zadkiel" was the re-founder of modern astrology in the nineteenth century, according to Howe, 1968.}

Lilly, William, An Introduction to Astrology, reprinted (Hollywood CA, Newcastle Books, 1972) {"This William Lilly's most famous work, and the standard text for the Horary tradition. Pretty much all Horary work begins here. Absolutely essential." --Win Rowe. It is largely based on Abu Ma'shar's works. Lilly was a "Hermetic" astrologer, the last of the magi. Astrology went out of intellectual fashion after his death, and later proponents have tried to use the methods of modern science.}

Lilly, William, The Last of the Astrologers, ed. K. M. Briggs (London: Folklore Society, Mistletoe Books, 1974) {First printed 1602-81. +IU. Cavendish, Magic, 1977, 170. Lilly's autobiography. "This is a reprint of William Lilly's autobiography, which is valuable in assessing the sincerity of a typical astrological publicist, popularizer, and practitioner in the last century of its involvement in ordinary public life in England." --Win Rowe. Compare Parker's 1975 biography}

Nowoty, K. A., "Construction of Certain Seals and Characters in the Work of Agrippa von Netesheim," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 12 (1949): pages 46-57 {Magic squares symbolizing the planets in amulets traced to Sabians. Extensive notes.}

Parker, Derek, Familiar to All. William Lilly and Astrology in the Seventeenth Century (London: J. Cape, 1975) {A biography of England's most important astrologer.}

Picatrix: The Latin Version of the Ghayat Al-Hakim, ed. David Pingree (London: Warburg Institute, University of London, 1986) {Very good. Pingree promises a second volume with Renaissance Italian, French, and English translations.}

Pingree, David, "Between the Ghaya and Picatrix I: The Spanish Version," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 44 (1981): pages 27-56 {On fragments of a twelfth century Spanish translation. Spanish and Latin text in parallel columns. Contains a useful account of how medieval translations were actually made.}

Rowse, A. L., Sex and Society in Shakespeare's Age: Simon Forman the Astrologer (NY: Scribner's, 1976) {Simon Foreman was Lilly's teacher, and quite an interesting character in his own right. Rowse puts Forman's astrological sex diaries to good use. Compare Parker, Familiar to All.}

Seznec, Jean, The Survival of the Pagan Gods. The Mythological Tradition and its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art, tr. from the French by Barbara F. Sessoins, Bollingen Series 38 (Pantheon Books, 1953) {French edition, Warburg Inst. Studies Vol. 11, London: Warburg Institute, 1940. Very good account of astrological symbolism in use in the Latin Middle Ages and the Renaissance.}

Shumaker, Wayne, The Occult Sciences in the Renaissance. A Study in Intellectual Patterns (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: U. of CA Pr., 1972) {A good introduction to Renaissance occultism in general. The first chapter is on astrology. Shumaker deserves praise for the unusual step of explicitly stating his own skeptical views of the occult, in the foreword. Well illustrated with reproductions of Renaissance woodcuts.}

Strauss, H. A., and Strauss-Klöbe, S., Die Astrologie des Johannes Kepler. Eine Auswahl aus seinen Schriften (1926) {The famous Renaissance scientist was also a prominent astrologer.}

Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1971) {A well-known, good, survey. Magic declined with the rise of Protestantism.}

Turner, Robert, Elizabethan Magic: The Art and the Magus, fwd. by Colin Wilson (Longmead, Dorset, UK: Element Books, Ltd., 1989) {A basic introduction to careers of Dee, Forman, Fludd, et al. Moderately good.}

Vicente-Garcia, Luis Miguel, La Astrologia En El Cristianismo Y En La Literatura Medieval Castellana. Edicion De La Octava Parte Inedita Del 'Libro Conplido En Los Juyzios De Las Estrellas' (University of California, Los Angeles: doctoral dissertation, 1989) {abstract: This dissertation brings to light an unedited medieval manuscript, the eighth part of the Libro conplido en los juyzios de las estrellas, found in the Cathedral of Segovia's archives. The edition of the manuscript is preceded by a study that highlights the attitude of Christian thinkers toward astrology and demonstrates how this attitude manifested itself in medieval Castilian literature}

Wright, Peter William George, Astrology in Mid-Seventeenth Century England. A Sociological Analysis (London, UK: University of London, Dissertation, 1983) {The author studies the social uses and milieu of astrology, and reasons for its decline in late seventeenth century. Astrology did not die because of the new astronomy.}

Post by: Bianca on October 14, 2008, 02:21:35 pm

Roman statue of Urania from Churriana (nowadays part of Málaga, Spain), sculpted in marble between the end of the 2nd and the 1st century BC. It is at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, in Madrid.

                                        Urania was the muse of Astronomy and Astrology

At her feet there is a celestial sphere, symbol that represents her. The sculpture was made in the city of Rome and decorated the peristyle or the garden of a villa near Malaca (present-day Málaga).

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 09:41:44 am

                                       HISTORY OF ASTROLOGY IN THE RENAISSANCE


                                                       This series of articles


                                                         Originally Published

                                                                 IN THE

                                                        Mountain Astrologer

                                                     October/November 2002

Along with literature, painting and sculpture, the art of astrology reached new heights in the rebirth
of classical culture in the European Renaissance of 1450-1700.

The Renaissance philosopher and astrologer Marsilio Ficino, writing in 1492, proclaimed,

"This century, like a golden age, has restored to light the liberal arts, which were almost extinct:

grammar, poetry, rhetoric, painting, sculpture, architecture, music...this century appears to have

perfected [astrology]."

Quoted in Peter & Linda Murray, The Art of the Renaissance

(London, Thames & Hudson, 1963) page 7.

Several contrasting trends were manifest in Renaissance astrology.

There was a tendency towards the adoption of Hellenistic astrological techniques and a new emphasis on the Greek astrologer Ptolemy, alongside a continuation of medieval astrology largely derived from Islam.

There were also efforts to rationalize and improve the accuracy of astrology, although many astrologers persisted in their accustomed ways.

Astrology also became more popular than ever with the adoption of printing and the dissemination of almanacs, yet it increasingly came under fire as the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 09:57:05 am

                                               The Arabic and Medieval Legacy

Astrology flourished in Europe during the Hellenistic period from 300 B.C. to 1 A.D. and under the Roman Empire from its foundation in the first century A.D. until its fall in the 5th century. With the subsequent barbarian invasions and the disintegration of the Roman system of learning, astrology all but disappeared from Europe.

While a good deal of learning was conserved by the eastern Christian Byzantine Empire, it is to the advanced Islamic civilization of the Middle East that we owe the preservation and further development of Greek and Roman astrology. Moreover, while they wrote in Arabic, many astrologers of the Islamic civilization were Persians, Jews and pagan Harranian Sabians. This lent a new diversity to astrology in sources, techniques and philosophy.

Al-Biruni Islamic

Scientist & Astrologer

The development of astrology in the Middle East followed a course with considerable continuity, but there were some significant changes from Hellenistic and Roman practice. One of these changes was the adoption of house systems and aspect orbs. Greek and Roman astrologers appear primarily to have used the whole sign or sign-house system.

In the whole sign system, no matter what the degree of the rising sign, it is considered to be the first house, the second sign is the second house and so forth.

One corollary of Al-Biruni on the 12 Houses 

the whole sign house system is that aspects are sign to sign such that a planet in Aries is considered to be in sextile to a planet in Gemini and Aquarius, square to planets in Cancer and Capricorn, etc.
Arabic astrologers, by contrast, adopted various house systems, including the Porphyry and Alcabitius systems, which broke the one-to-one correspondence of sign and house. These new practices initiated a controversy over the proper choice of house system that has continued through the present day.
As a result of the adoption of these house systems, Arabic astrologers also began to use aspects based on degrees rather than signs. Thus, if a planet were at 5 degrees of Aries and another planet at 25 degrees of Gemini, they were no longer considered to be in a sextile aspect.

William Lilly's
Orb Table 

Along with the utilization of aspects using degrees rather than signs, came the introduction of zones of influence or orbs, consisting of a set number of degrees in which the aspect is effective both before and after the exact degree of the aspect. Unlike modern practice where each aspect has a particular orb in Arabic astrology each planet had its own orb.

More Information on
Orbs & Aspects 

In addition to adopting orbs and aspects based on degrees rather than signs Arabic astrologers also began using a very complex system of separating and applying aspects and such arcane relationships as translation, abscission and collection of light, refrenation, prohibition and frustration. These changes allowed them to extract a great deal of information regarding the interaction, both past and present of the planets involved.

Arabic astrology represented a heady mix of Persian, Hebrew, Harranian Sabian and Hindu astrologies, though its basis was Greek and Roman astrology. This core of classical astrology, as further developed by the Arabic astrologers, was then transmitted to the West as part of the "new science" in the twelfth and thirteen centuries.

As medieval civilization grew in size and complexity, the necessary knowledge to erect and delineate charts became more widely dispersed and employed. It became commonplace, particularly in the advanced city-states of northern Italy, for nobles, kings and the wealthy bourgeoisie to consult astrologers for guidance in their affairs. Astrology was taught at many universities and was a generally accepted part of the medieval world view, metaphysics and philosophy. Thus, Greek and Roman astrology, modified by Arabic practice and passed on to Europe in the Middle Ages, became the astrology of the Renaissance.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:00:36 am

                                             The Revival of Ptolemaic Astrology

These articles on the history of astrology in the Renaissance were originally published in the Mountain Astrologer. You can start the series at the Astrology in the Renaissance Main Page.

The Trend toward Ptolemaic Astrology

One of the most characteristic components of the Renaissance was the trend towards humanism, a revival of classical knowledge.

This rediscovery of the knowledge of antiquity also took place in astrology; astrologers increasingly turned to Ptolemy as the exemplar of "true" classical astrology.

Claudius Ptolemy was an Alexandrian Greek who lived in the 2nd century A.D. His Tetrabiblos, a
basic text of astrology, was always highly regarded, but during the Renaissance, astrologers began
to consider it canonical and to reject any astrological doctrine or technique that it did not include.

Some branches of astrology, like horary and electional, or techniques like firdaria were branded
"Arabic inventions" because they do not appear in Tetrabiblos. (Ironically, some modern scholars
have speculated that Ptolemy was not even a practicing astrologer, noting that he provided no examples and fails to mention such basic techniques as the influences of the planets in the signs
and houses.)

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:03:45 am

                                                Rationalizing and Refining Astrology

Along with a revival of classical astrology, the Renaissance saw many efforts to test and refine astrology. Many astrologers began to systematically collect and annotate natal charts in an effort to systematize and increase the quality of delineation.

The work of Italian astrologer Luca Gaurico was typical of these efforts. In 1552 he published his Tractatus Astrologicus which gave charts of the foundation of various buildings and cities as well as the natal charts of popes, cardinals and other eminent religious leaders, kings and nobles, scholars, musicians and artists.

Gaurico carefully examined each natal chart, compared it to the life of the native, and in the case of living subjects, predicted the outcome of their lives and careers.

Lynn Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science, Vol. IV, page 100 (New York, Columbia, 1941).

Many astrologers published their own collections of natal charts, and popular interest in the nativities and futures of the kings, popes and other eminent persons featured made for a number of Renaissance "best sellers".

Renaissance astrologers also made numerous advances in technique.

A number of new house systems including the Campanus and Regiomantanus systems were invented or more widely dispersed. New ephemerides were compiled, increasing the accuracy of chart ****.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:05:38 am

Ironically, Copernicus, who is considered by modern skeptics to have disproved astrology by discovering heliocentric astronomy, made a major contribution to astrology. Based on Copernicus' work, Erasmus Reinhold in 1551 published new astronomical tables, known as the Prutenic Tables, which greatly aided astrologers in the accuracy of their computations.

Similarly, while Johann Kepler is renowned by modern scientists as an astronomer, he practiced as an astrologer, and in 1627 published the Rudolphine Tables which further improved the accuracy of astrological prediction and delineation.
One of the most ambitious projects to advance and rationalize astrology was undertaken by the French astrologer Jean Baptiste Morin. His Astrologica Gallica, published in 1661, is a monumental work and provides a philosophical and rational basis for astrology as well as a complete system of delineation.

Morin carefully examined astrological doctrine, discarding those portions he found to be inaccurate or ineffectual and substituting his own methods, based upon his own systemic theory or experience. Morin systematically dealt with directions, revolutions of nativities and of years, progressions, transits, planetary conjunctions, eclipses, comets, as well as horary and electional astrology. It is unfortunate that only portions of Astrologia Gallica have been translated into English, given its great scope and penetrating insights.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:11:23 am

                            The Rising Popularity of ASTROLOGY Brings Increased Attacks

                                                          Growing Popularity

By the early sixteenth century, astrology had reached the heights of its popularity.

Popes such as Julius II, Leo X, Adrian IV and Paul III viewed astrology favorably.

Even a certain mistrust of astrology, as exhibited by Pope Gregory XIII, did not prevent the casting of his natal chart, now preserved in the Vatican Library.

Catherine de Medici, regent and ruler of France, was said to have been unwilling to take a step without first consulting her astrologers, who included the famous Michel de Nostradamus.

Nostradamus and the Italian astrologer Luca Gaurico were responsible for one of the most famous Renaissance astrological predictions, the death of King Henri II of France in a tournament in 1559. In the final joust the king's opponent's lance shattered and the splinters penetrated his face and head causing a painful death.

Nostradamus in his Centuries had written,

"The young lion will overcome the older one, in a field of combat in single fight:

he will pierce his eyes in their golden cage; two wounds in one, then he dies a cruel death."

Century I, Quatrain 35.

Another notable example of astrology's eminence during this period was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

The time of the ceremony, noon on January 15, 1559, had been carefully elected by the astrologer John Dee.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:12:42 am


In this chart, 4 degrees of Gemini rises and so Mercury is the ruler of the ascendant.

Mercury is dignified by triplicity as the day ruler of the airy triplicity because he is in Aquarius. He is also strengthened and appropriately placed in the 10th house of kings and authority.

The Moon, while peregrine (without essential dignity) and in the 12th house, is in a partile (exact to the degree) sextile of Jupiter, the Greater Benefic and a partile trine of the Part of Fortune.

The fact that several negative factors are present in the chart, for example, Mercury is combust and afflicted by Saturn and Mars, illustrates a truism of electional astrology:

A perfect election is rarely possible, particularly if you have a powerful client with a deadline!

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:15:40 am

While the use of astrology was already widespread among its traditional clients - kings, nobles and the wealthy, its popularity gained a tremendous boost with the invention of printing. Inexpensive almanacs flooded from the printing presses of Europe. Almanacs typically contained a calendar, showing the months and days of the week, astronomical events like eclipses, and planetary aspects as well as astrological predictions.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the famous English astrologer William Lilly issued an annual almanac, entitled Merlinus Anglicus (the English Merlin) with an estimated annual circulation reaching 30,000 copies. The total number of almanacs printed in England in this period exceeded the number of Bibles, and it is estimated that one third of all English households had astrological almanacs.
William Lilly also found his almanacs to be a potent advertising tool. Lilly was seeing nearly 2,000 clients each year at the height of his popularity in the mid 1600's. While still attracting the rich and titled, Lilly also served less affluent clients. Over a third of the querents in his workbooks, preserved in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University, are listed as ancilla (female servant). Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1971), p. 319.

As would be expected, querents frequently inquired about their romantic prospects, or about their financial and business outlooks. But as can be seen in his magnum opus, Christian Astrology, Lilly used the techniques of horary astrology to deal with a broad range of questions relating to all twelve houses of the horoscope, including health, the truth or falsity of rumors, buried treasure, the sex and number of children, illnesses, marriage, wealth & finances, which spouse would die first, dreams, career & position, friends and witchcraft.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:18:26 am

                                                 Growing Attacks on Astrology

Yet as the popularity of astrology grew, so did criticism against it.

The Catholic Church became uncomfortable with the spiritual, magical nature of astrology to the
extent that it might contravene established doctrine. More specifically, the Church voiced concern
over the perceived implication that, if in fact the stars absolutely determined all actions, then astrology denied man's free will.
One of the most famous works condemning astrology was Pico della Mirandolla's Disputations against Divinatory Astrology published in 1496, which detailed problems with astrological theory and technique and condemned the denial of free will that Mirandella saw in current astrological practice. Interestingly enough, the date of Mirandolla's death was predicted accurately by a Renaissance astrologer.

Anthony Grafton, Cardano's Cosmos (Harvard, 1999) page 51.

As this antagonism gathered force, astrologers had to contend with direct persecution by church authorities. In 1586, Pope Sixtus V issued a papal bull condemning magic and all forms of divination, including horary, electional and natal astrology.

The Italian astrologer Jerome Cardan was arrested and held under house arrest by the Inquisition under suspicion of violating Sixtus' bull.

In England, a Protestant country, astrologers were periodically hauled before church courts, although astrologers in London, like William Lilly, appear largely to have escaped prosecution.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:21:24 am

                    The Great Conjunction of 1524 AND Astrology Reaches Its Height & Declines

The Great Conjunction of 1524

In February of 1524, Renaissance astrologers reported that there was both a Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn and a conjunction of all the ancient planets in Pisces. The reaction to this significant astrological event is an interesting example of the confluent trends in Renaissance astrology.

The availability of printing allowed for wide publication of the many diverse views regarding the effects of the conjunction. Since the conjunction took place in a water sign, many prognostications focused on the possibility of flooding.

Some more sensational predictions asserted that there would be a world wide deluge on the order of Noah's Flood.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:22:55 am


Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:25:02 am

Other, more sober analyses predicted an abundance of rain and snow.

Indeed it appears that it was a very wet and rainy year according to a day-by-day meteorological diary kept by a Bolognese astrologer.

Lynn Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science,
Volume V
(New York, Columbia, 1941)
page 231.

There was also much controversy among astrologers over the propriety of using the Great Conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter as a predictive technique. This practice was criticized as an Arabic technique, improperly replacing the older Ptolemaic use of eclipses.

A number of astrological treatises on the conjunction of 1524 took the opportunity to decry not only the reliance on Great Conjunctions, but also the use of solar revolutions, neither of which was set forth in Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos. Nevertheless, despite a certain trend to Ptolemaic practice, most astrologers continued to use the techniques handed down from Arabic astrology.

We should note that modern astrological software reveals that the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter took place on January 30, 1524 before all of the seven planets were together in Pisces. On February 13, 1524 Mercury entered Pisces and all of the traditional planets were in Pisces, except for the Moon in Gemini.

On February 20, 1524 Venus entered Aries with the Moon in Sagittarius.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:26:49 am

                                    The Height and Subsequent Decline of Astrology

Along with the revival of classical knowledge of art and literature, the Renaissance saw the rebirth of classical philosophy and science. We have already noted the effects of the revival of Ptolemaic astrology. Astrology also had an important part in play in the Renaissance rediscovery of Neo-Platonic and Hermetic philosophy. Marsilio Ficino's translation of the Corpus Hermeticum attributed to the sage Hermes Trismegistus stimulated much research and writing into esoteric subjects like astrology, magic and alchemy.
Astrology in the Renaissance was acclaimed as the Queen of the Sciences, capable of providing an explanation for the birth, growth and decline of all things in the Material World. The Zodiac and the planets, the Celestial World, provided a key link in the Great Chain of Being, acting as the essential intermediary between the Divine World of Platonic Ideas and Angels and the Material World, composed of the four elements of air, earth, fire and water.

Astrology provided a window into a Cosmos filled with beauty and harmony, where spiritual correspondences united all things in existence. The beauty of the Renaissance world view is apparent, not only in its architecture, paintings and literature, but in its astrology, as exemplified by the writings of such astrologers and philosophers as John Dee, Robert Fludd, Cornelius Agrippa and Marsilio Ficino.
Yet astrology entered an abrupt decline as the beginning of the seventeenth century ushered in the Enlightenment. Contrary to the beliefs of some modern authors, astrology was not so much disproved in the early 1700's, but rather went out of fashion. The primary cause for the decline of astrology was the increasing acceptance of a mechanical theory of causality.

By denying the existence of the realm of the spirit, the study of astrology, a spiritual science, became untenable. Where in the Renaissance science and religion did not essentially disagree, the Enlightenment begat a conflict between the scientific and spiritual that has continued to this day.
The lack of a unified schema of knowledge has produced a societal schizophrenia where biologists cannot talk to theologians, and mystics are dismissed by philosophers. Renaissance astrology represents the highest development of not only astrological theory and technique, but of an astrology that was not estranged from all of the other branches of knowledge.

The study and knowledge of Renaissance astrology increases the accuracy and scope of our modern astrologies, but its ability to unify both mechanical and spiritual causality, to heal the breach between science and religion, is perhaps its greatest legacy.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:33:36 am

"Abraham, Planter of Mathematics":

                          Histories of Mathematics and Astrology in Early Modern Europe

Nicholas Popper

Princeton University

Francis Bacon's 1605 Advancement of Learning proposed to dedicatee James I a massive reorganization of the institutions, goals, and methods of generating and transmitting knowledge. The numerous defects crippling the contemporary educational regime, Bacon claimed, should be addressed by strengthening emphasis on philosophy and natural knowledge. To that end, university positions were to be created devoted to "Artes and Sciences at large," rather than to the professions. High salaries would render lecturers "able and sufficient," undistracted from their task. Most famously, he argued that teaching of the "operatiue studie of many Scyences" should involve sophisticated technical education. The study of natural philosophy demanded not only books, but globes, astrolabes, and other "instrumentals." Most significantly, yielding reliable and meaningful knowledge from experiential gleanings required a rigorous system of deductive reasoning.

The legacy of this colossal proposal has earned Bacon honored status as devisor of the scientific method.1 But Bacon's educational reform extended [End Page 87] beyond the methods of producing and transmitting knowledge. To facilitate more efficient "vse and administration" of the knowledge produced by his system, he also demanded a searching examination of the history of learning. This history would provide a mirror enabling his contemporaries to deploy the fruits of his method, by considering how learning in the past had been used successfully or ill-advisedly. Producing this history was the ambition of the Advancement, for he explained: "no man hath propounded to himselfe the generall state of learning to bee described and represented from age to age, as many have done the works of Nature, & the State civile and Ecclesiastical."

He continued:

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:34:38 am

"And yet I am not ignorant that in divers particular sciences, as of the Iurisconsults, the

Mathematicians, the Rhetoricians, the Philosophers, there are set down some smal memorials of the

Schooles, Authors, and Bookes: and so likewise some barren relations touching the Invention of Arts,

or usages. But a iust story of learning, containing the Antiquities and Originalls of Knowledges, & their

Sects; their Inventions, their Traditions; their diverse Administrations and Managings; their Flourishings,

their Oppositions, Decayes, Depressions, Oblivions, Removes, with the causes, and occasions of them,

and all other events concerning learning, throughout the ages of the world; I may truly affirme to be


Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:36:43 am

Bacon thus positioned himself not only as a Father of Modern Science, but also a Father of the History of Science.

Following Bacon's suggestion, I will examine the "small memorials" of the history of mathematics—and particularly the mathematical art of astrology—in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. My conclusion, however, will not bear out Bacon's claims. Despite his frustration, Bacon was only one of many early modern scholars appraising the role of mathematics within history. And he devoted less energy than others to mapping its origins and tracing its transmissions between communities. In fact, Bacon's 1605 proposal for a history of mathematics was already out-of-date. Discussions [End Page 88] of the history of mathematics had been rife on the continent and in England throughout the previous century.3

The evidence that Renaissance scholars inherited was sprawling and inconclusive. Several genealogies for mathematics could be found within classical Greek, Latin, and patristic references. One lineage claimed mathematics began in ancient Assyria, where the priestly caste, the Chaldeans, practiced a form of mathematics that seemed a corrupt admixture of philosophy, medicine, and religion, and relied heavily on observation of the heavens. Other scholars traced the origins to Egypt, claiming that the field developed to survey lands frequently flooded by the Nile. The real problem for ancient, late antique, and medieval scholars had not been the origins of mathematics, but what exactly mathematics were. For some, the term strictly referred to the quadrivium: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music. But for others, mathematics' origins amongst the Egyptians or Chaldeans inextricably linked it to forms of astrological divination, augury, and necromancy that were unsavory to both Latin and Christian traditions. Mathematici were included alongside ghastly lists of Magi, Brahmins, Aruspices, Genethliaci, and other diabolic practitioners of idolatrous magic. These might or might not be distinguished from mathematici such as Pythagoras and Euclid, who were considered philosophers, or from useful practitioners such as Archimedes. The term itself was a source of unending confusion. A mathematician in Aristotle's time, as later generations acknowledged, did geometry and arithmetic; but, by late antiquity, Augustine and Jerome could complain that nativity-readers were vulgarly called mathematici. This confusion and distrust spread in turn to later historical understandings of [End Page 89] mathematics, and justifies considering the Renaissance histories of magic, mathematics, astrology, and astronomy, as deeply interwoven.4 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:37:37 am

Renaissance scholars devoted serious attention to delineating the various kinds of mathematics. To help distinguish the licit from illicit, the question of origins was given a new priority in the years leading up to 1500. The debate originated with Pico della Mirandola's considerations of the orthodoxy of astrology, that most controversial of mathematical arts. Against the backdrop of a late Quattrocentro Italy bursting with astrological prediction, Pico set the grounds for debate in two considerations of the history of magic.5 The first, his Apologia, defended a rigorously narrow range of pious magic. This tract answered the papal condemnation of twelve of his famous 900 theses.6 In defense, he wrote, "I put forward magical theorems, in which I show Magic to be twofold. One side is supported by the work and authority of demons, and consists of things, by my faith, execrable and portentous; the other is nothing other, when it is well explored, than the absolute consummation of natural philosophy."7 Pico went on to claim that natural magic was necessary for faith, since it alone allowed one to distinguish miracles from simple extraordinary events. Pico did not, however, offer much support for modern practitioners of the magical arts. With few caveats, he defended the thesis that, "All the magic, [End Page 90] which is in use amongst the moderns, and which the Church has rightly banished, has no firmness, nor truth, nor support, because it is manipulated by the first enemy of truth."8 In defining contemporary magic as diabolic, Pico suggested that a legitimate natural magic had been corrupted, lost, or, he suggested, enclosed within the ancient Jewish tradition of cabala—orally transmitted and secret wisdom—that Pico firmly supported and to which he claimed unique access. Pico's dismissals of modern astrology enabled him to advertise himself as the lone point of entry to this alternative tradition that would lead to the recovery of an unimaginably potent ancient knowledge.

Pico did not construct a thorough account of the fall of magic in his Apologia, but he did towards the end of his life in his Twelve Books Against Divinatory Astrology. Unpublished in Pico's lifetime, this tract was compiled from his remaining manuscripts and published in 1496 under the close supervision of his nephew, Gianfrancesco. This younger scholar was notoriously unsympathetic to the astrological arts and the publication cemented the family anti-astrological reputation by comprehensively critiquing the philosophical, theological, and rational grounds for astrological divination.9 In the Twelfth Book, the elder Pico dismantled the historical data with which proponents of astrology supported their claims. Two of his points were particularly effective. According to Cicero, the Chaldean astrologers claimed to found their art on 470,000 years of observation. Since this claim set the beginnings of observation roughly 466,000 years before God created the universe, Pico noted, it was extremely unlikely.10 Following Ptolemy, the greatest ancient authority on both astronomy and astrology, he instead allotted relatively modern origins to astrology, an effective means of diminishing its legitimacy. Second, Pico argued that astrology's Chaldean origins did not indicate venerable antiquity. Rather the birth of astrology formed a significant part of Babylon's notorious corruption of true religion.11 Pico's devastating exposé grounded astrological criticism for the next century. [End Page 91]   

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:38:31 am

Pico's critical genealogy of Chaldean magic was not universally accepted. In the last years of the fifteenth century, two substantial works challenged Pico's claims. The first came from Polydore Vergil. An arch-humanist, Vergil argued with Erasmus over which of them had invented the modern genre of collections of sayings, and wrote a hefty history of England that discredited Geoffrey of Monmouth.12 In his 1499 De inventoribus rerum, Vergil devoted the eighteenth chapter of the first book to the origin of mathematics. He began with the proposition, expressed most famously by Proclus, that the Egyptians were the first to practice mathematics. Vergil, however, did not subscribe to this theory. Instead, he turned to the first-century Jewish general and historian, Flavius Josephus.13

According to Josephus, Adam received all knowledge available to man, wisdom he taught his son Seth. Seth's progeny, Josephus wrote, 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:39:25 am

discovered the science of heavenly bodies and their orderly array. Moreover, to prevent their

discoveries from being lost to mankind and perishing before they became known—Adam having

predicted a destruction of the universe, at one time by a violent fire and at another by a mighty

deluge of water—they erected two pillars, one of brick and the other of stone, and inscribed

these discoveries on both; so that, if the pillar of brick disappeared at the deluge, that of

stone would remain to teach men what was graven thereon and to inform them that they had

also erected one of brick.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:40:28 am

"It exists to this day," Josephus claimed, "in the land of Seiris."14 Vergil held Josephus in the utmost respect, and he first referred to this passage to prove that the Hebrews had invented letters, despite Greek and Latin claims to the contrary. He then used it to prove the Hebraic origins of mathematics, and finally to trace the origins of astrology. Vergil also followed Josephus in his postdiluvian histories, claiming that the mathematical arts were [End Page 92] recovered in Assyria, and that the Jewish Patriarch Abraham, an Assyrian, transported them to Egypt 430 years later. Assuming that the "science of heavenly bodies" required mathematics, Vergil yoked the history of star-gazing to the history of mathematics, and installed astrology within a sacred lineage opposed to Pico's diabolic genealogy.15

Pico too had cited Josephus's assertion that Abraham disseminated knowledge in Egypt. But for Pico, this learning amounted only to the mathematical observation of the heavens necessary to formulate a divine calendar; a form of licit, human knowledge similar to the interpretations of nature necessary for sailors, farmers, and physicians. Indeed, Pico claimed, idolatry and astrology had received a nefarious twin birth when the Chaldeans overextended this science, confusing celestial objects with divine entities. Both Pico and Vergil accepted astronomy—and therefore mathematics—as a practice of the ancient Hebrews, but Pico strenuously insisted that all arts that attributed divine agency to natural objects were corruptions of this accepted, Hebraic knowledge. His critique pursued a reformation of natural, non-revealed knowledge. 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:41:18 am

Vergil launched an extremely cautious challenge: he stated that astrology was extremely venerable, not revealed, and expressed doubts regarding its utility.16 The other response to Pico lacked any moderation. It came from another individual of immaculate humanist pedigree and possessed of a firm respect for and constant attention to Josephus. However, the Dominican Giovanni Nanni, otherwise known as Annius of Viterbo, was not possessed of a scrupulous moral fiber. Rather, he was blessed with a fanatical conviction that the ancient Romans had derived from Etruscan stock, a belief he bulwarked through a series of forgeries and planted archaeological finds.17 [End Page 93]

Annius believed that the ancient Greeks had been inveterate liars, given to taking credit for arts and practices they did not invent, and guilty of corrupting arts as they inherited them. To uncover their lies, he sketched genealogies of all peoples from the Creation onward, focusing on the aftermath of the Flood. Within these he traced the histories of various arts, showing that the sciences that the Greeks claimed to have pioneered had actually been stolen from Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Italians, Franks, and Jews. Annius concocted these claims in the form of commentaries on a set of ancient documents that he allegedly discovered, publishing the entire package in 1498 as Vetustissimi Auctores. . . . Though the texts were denounced as shams within a decade of their publication, for the next century and more scholars treated them as providing legitimate insight into the ancient world.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:42:23 am

The prize piece amongst Annius's forgeries was the lost annalistic work of Berosus. The authentic Berosus, a Chaldean priest of the late fourth century BCE, was known largely via fragments quoted in Josephus. The Annian Berosus gave a complete history of the pre-Greek world, rife with proof that the Chaldeans had been notable practitioners of astrology and mathematics well before the flood. Annius made Berosus begin his first book: "Before the famous destruction of the waters in which the entire world perished, many generations went past, which we Chaldeans faithfully preserved."18 The source, as most readers would have immediately grasped, was the Pillars of Seth. Annius granted them expansive significance: "Therefore there were letters in use, and the arts of smelting, and brickwork, and prophesying, one thousand years and more before the inundation of the earth."19 But Annius was not content merely to note that such knowledge had been available at that time. Instead, he showed that the Chaldeans had absorbed this knowledge in its very first stages: 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:45:25 am

But that letters and disciplines began and were disseminated by their first founder Adam, is proven

not only by faith alone, but also from the history of peoples and the tradition of the Chaldeans, which

asserts that they themselves knew astronomy and letters 3634 years before the monarchy of

Alexander . . . therefore [End Page 94] the conjecture and argument are firm, that Enoch received

letters from Seth the first son of Adam, in whose time, Theologians assert, letters and disciplines were

infused into Adam, and in which same time the Chaldeans affirm themselves to have grasped letters and


Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:46:21 am

Annius thus dated the origins of Chaldean learning to around 4000 BC; within the first generation of humankind. The Chaldeans and the Patriarchs developed wisdom at the same moment, from the same fount. Indeed, the transparent implication was that Seth and Enoch developed these arts because they were themselves Chaldeans.

Annius's Berosus provided another source, alongside Moses, for the history of early time, but one that overturned the traditional theological status of Chaldeans. But this conflict with scripture did not discredit the text. While for Pico, Chaldean origins had been an incontrovertible demonstration of astrology's illicitness, Annius's forged genealogies made the Chaldeans entirely orthodox, an integral and esteemed part of the scriptural genealogy of knowledge, and Annius's Berosus presented himself as the mouthpiece of what Walter Stephens has called the "pious Chaldean." The Annian Berosus described the Chaldeans as God's first chosen people.21 And the Hebrews inherited and preserved astrology, a pure, original and divine Chaldean practice.

Pico's initial argument had relied on a particular vision of the early Assyrian empire and of Assyrian culture, and debate regarding the propriety of astrological knowledge was framed by discussion of this historical context. Scholars either approved of or denounced astrological arts by locating their origins before or after the Chaldeans abandoned true religion. The very tool that Pico used to criticize and condemn astrology, then, could be recalibrated, given a slightly different history in order to support it. Moreover, the history could also be adjusted to condemn any range of arts: one could further constrict Pico's range of acceptable mathematics by dating [End Page 95] the origins of any mathematical art to after the Chaldean lapse. While Pico had fixed the site of the debate, its terms remained plastic. 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:48:33 am

Annius provided a powerful genealogical sanction for astrology by evoking a world history that rubbed uncomfortably against the conventional historical narrative derived from scripture. Like those Neoplatonic and Neohermetic scholars who argued for their sources' legitimacy by claiming that all peoples, not just Israel, had received some divine revelation, Annius's vision of history potently suggested that Moses's books were not the only creditable sources for deep ancient history. And Annius's bookish solution, in some ways, hewed more closely to theological orthodoxy then the cabalist tradition glorified by Pico. Pico's vision described a shadowy group of initiates possessing secret, oral knowledge—a vision that displaced the Papacy from the center of the history of learning and described revealed knowledge as fundamentally unwritten. Annius's version, by contrast, rooted the lineage of divine learning in the production and custody of texts and monuments, and granted a continuous, documented history to the Church from the 4000 BC to his present. Perhaps for countering Pico's challenge, Pope Alexander VI appointed Annius Maestro del Sacro Palazzo, or official papal theologian.22

Still, scholars found Annius's claims unsettling, and over the course of the sixteenth century, more cautious commentators—often Protestant and Northern European—reclaimed the infallibility of scripture as a historical source. Rather than turning directly to the Bible, however, they used Josephus to secure the mathematical arts' linkage to the scriptural genealogy.23 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:51:03 am

Vergil's fragmentary Josephan history met Annius's strident and expansive version in Peter Ramus's 1569 Scholae Mathematicae. From the 1540s until his murder in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, Ramus spearheaded a movement to reform the curriculum of Parisian universities.24 His myriad publications included textbooks on geometry and mathematics, [End Page 96] and in his influential 1569 Scholae Mathematicae, Ramus presented an exhaustive vision of the history of mathematics. As he explained, "Aristotle judged the arts to be eternal, as the world is, but that just as stars rise and set, the arts sometimes are excited and flourish, and at other times are debased and condemned. This was the great verdict of that great philosopher: that the arts deal with eternal and immutable things; but that the knowledge of them among men is not eternal."25 Ramus's history covered more ground than his predecessors, including the entire sweep of history from creation to his present, and he incorporated all mathematical arts, from philosophy to hydraulics.

The revolutions in the fortunes of mathematics, Ramus claimed, could be analyzed by modifying the exegetical theory of the Four Monarchies for periods of mathematics. The first was the Chaldean period, lasting from Adam to Abraham. Ramus needed only the Pillars as evidence. The Abrahamic diffusion inaugurated the second era, but Ramus made clear that Abraham was hardly alone in his divine knowledge of mathematics: Diodorus Siculus, (pseudo-)Berosus, Pliny, and Cicero showed that the ancient world had recognized a general Chaldean mastery in the discipline. For Ramus this did not substantiate a uniform condemnation. Overzealous deployment of these arts was troublesome, but the arts themselves were not. 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:51:59 am

The Egyptian period that followed, Ramus noted, had witnessed increased sophistication of mathematical knowledge. Ancient Egyptians used mathematics for commercial and mercantile purposes, and for surveying flooded lands. Thales of Miletus transported mathematics from the Egyptians to the Greeks, inaugurating the third age. The final age was emerging in Ramus's time, a rehabilitation of mathematical knowledge similar to the Reformation.

Ramus, Vergil, and other humanists such as Joannes Stadius, Heinrich Rantzau, and Matthew Dresserus agreed on a history of mathematics that traced its origins to the Hebrew Fathers in ancient Assyria.26 This polemic [End Page 97] emerged in England in the last two decades of Elizabeth I's reign, when Bacon was just beginning his career in London. The orthodoxy and utility of mathematics were heavily debated in London at this time, and the issue of the origins of mathematics too faced close scrutiny.

London was a thriving metropolis, flooded with continental texts, and if Bacon did not encounter the history of mathematics from European scholars, local texts too would have offered him cogent histories of mathematics and astrology. The discussion in England surfaced early in 1583, when Richard Harvey's famous apocalyptic prognostication An Astrological Discourse appeared in London. This mathematical and astrological prophecy forecast massive upheaval and turbulence beginning that very spring. The disorder, Harvey claimed, would swell, culminating with a thunderous crescendo in 1588, after which the world would be profoundly and irrevocably altered.27 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:52:52 am

Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, and no friend to the Harvey family, adapted Pico's criticism later in 1583 in his weighty and learned rebuttal, A defensative against the poyson of supposed prophecies. Unlike Pico, who wanted to support true magic while condemning its corruptions, Howard brooked no art tinged by a hint of the magical. Still, Howard's criticism drew liberally from the criticism Pico had developed almost a century before. Relying heavily on scriptural condemnations of magical arts, Howard followed Pico in defending the possibility of natural philosophical knowledge that did not encroach on the domain of God. Using examples that astrology's defenders used to support the viability of their discipline, he distinguished forms of licit natural knowledge: "We reade not, that our Saviour Christ condemned those, that deemed of the weather that should follow by the rednes of the skie; nor those that gathered upon the fig trees putting forth her leaves, that Summer was at hand: for that the causes and [End Page 98] effects were tyed together, and combine in so streight a lincke of consequence, as either swerved not at all, or very seldome, from the course which kind had limitted. He rather used them as presidents of lawfull gessing & divining, by the proper causes of al things." Mariners too observed the world in an acceptable fashion. But this neither constituted prophecy, nor relied on mathematics.28

Howard maligned astrology's Chaldean origins with the standard tools of genealogical argument: 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:53:58 am

The Latines give themselves to follow Greece. The Greeks derive theyr knowledge from Arabia, Arabia

from Egypt and Chaldea: whereas Egypt and Chaldea, by the doctrine of our greatest Rabby Ptolome,

as I sayde before, are cast off and forsaken for theyr errours. Beside, the Chaldeis were a wicked and

ungodlie kinde of men, addicted wholie to the worshipping of false gods, and studdie of unlawfull artes:

in which respect, we should detest them rather as the teachers of abuse then vouch theyr credite as a

maske of false divinitie. Indeed, they gave themselves to practise much about the Mathematicalles,

which make not any man more wise, sayth Aristotle: but more rype and pregnaunt in the skyll of


Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:54:55 am

And yet Howard finished this section at pains to distinguish between the acceptable star-gazing of the ancients and the horrific pollutions of the Chaldeans: "We doubt not, but the Patriarches and holy Fathers of the covenant looked uppe to heaven, and praysed GOD in all his mightie workes: but that any one of them presumed to divine of thinges invisible, by Planets which they sawe, cannot be prooved by the Scripture."29

Howard admitted that Abraham possessed some astronomical knowledge, but this was not astrological, nor a product of his Assyrian context. Rather, he developed this knowledge in spite of his surroundings. Those who felt otherwise, "forgette the rule of Plato: that in all countries and Clymates under heaven, which bring foorth greater store of badde men then good, so ofte as any one applies himselfe to better menes, and degsnerateth[sic] from the comon trade, he prooveth excellent."30 The Patriarch's relationship to the Chaldeans again provided the key to understanding astrology. [End Page 99] 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:55:46 am

Richard Harvey's brother, Gabriel, responded by deploying the Josephan history.31 Gabriel Harvey never published a work regarding the genealogy of mathematics. Nevertheless his surviving notes in his copy of Joannes Thomas Freigius's 1583 world history Mosaicus accrued evidence for this lineage. Freigius was a prominent disciple of Ramus, and Harvey read him through a Ramist filter. While Freigius casually and infrequently mentioned expertise in many arts held by the ancients, Harvey meticulously annotated the passages in Freigius's narrative that fit a Josephan history. When Freigius, in a brief passage on notable individuals between Adam and Noah, included the story of Seth's ancestors, Harvey wrote, "The two famous Mathematical columns,"32 and at the bottom of the page, "The Two Astronomical columns, erected by the progeny of Seth."33 These notes show Harvey both conflating astronomy and mathematics, and introducing a general concern with the transmission of such knowledge. The margins of the text in Freigius's chapter on Abraham were especially fertile ground. Here Harvey wrote: "Abraham was the planter of Mathematics in Egypt, and from him came, not much later, all those mathematical and physical miracles. This was also the origin of almost all natural magic."34 On the next page Harvey noted that, "The arithmetic and astronomy of the Egyptians came from Abraham, a noble professor of the mathematical arts."35 Later, he made clear that Hermes Trismegistus's knowledge of mathematics was easily explained, since Hermes was a descendant of Abraham.36 Harvey filled out his history of mathematics by noting the invention of mathematical instruments: "The Radius, a very old instrument, most excellent and commodious of all geometric instruments. It is commonly called the Jacobs Staff, 'as if it was invented then by that sacred Patriarch.' See Ramus's Geometry, book 9. Doubtless it seemed necessary to add this mathematical [End Page 100] invention of Jacob's to the earlier mathematical inventions of his grandfather Abraham."37 Harvey thus followed Ramus in grafting the history of mathematics directly to the history of the Patriarchs while studying mathematical history alongside technical texts. In so doing, he found an orthodox and honored genealogy for the mathematical arts, salvaging the propriety of his brother's prognostication, and the dignity of his family reputation.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:56:38 am

Harvey never published a response to Northampton, and concern with the origins of mathematics faded from print for the next two decades in England. It would surface without kindling much debate, for example, in Thomas Hood's 1588 inaugural speech as Mathematical Lecturer to the City of London.38 But in the years surrounding Elizabeth's death and James's accession, the debate flared up again. The clergyman John Chamber's 1601 A Treatise against Judiciall Astrologie expressed militant abhorrence for the astrologers, augurs and figure-flingers who brimmed in the Babylonian streets of late Tudor London. Chamber claimed that Adam and Seth had held mathematical knowledge. But this did not include astrology; that diabolic practice, he claimed, originated in the later Chaldean corruption of divine knowledge. He memorably described the astrologers as, "bastards, the sons of an hedge hore, their mother was an Hittitie," and registered deep alarm: "But that is Babylon, where Babylonicall superstitions are maintained or suffered." Chamber followed Pico in attributing orthodox astronomical knowledge to the Patriarchs, that was later corrupted into astrology by the Chaldeans.39

The godly Protestant soldier Sir Christopher Heydon responded in his 1603 A Defence of Iudiciall Astrology by strenuously insisting on the Adamic origins of astrology. He conceded that Chaldean corruptions had produced heretical and idolatrous arts such as augury, but insisted that true astrology, which proceeds from natural causes to natural effects, was a divine gift from God to Adam, and had been passed along in an unbroken chain since. In illustration, he included at the end of his treatise a "Chronological Index of Astronomers from Adam," which began with the genealogy [End Page 101] from Adam to Joseph, and extended to Tycho Brahe and other contemporaries.40

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:57:35 am

Heydon's work prompted a defense from George Carleton, future chaplain to Prince Charles. Carleton classified astrology as part of magic, and attacked Heydon's chronology. Heydon, Carleton noted, had tried to hide suspect figures like Zoroaster and Hermes Trismegistus within the genealogy by placing them after the Hebrew Patriarchs, out of chronological order. Heydon's list was also dressed up with Joseph, Homer, and others for whom no evidence of astrological interest existed. Charleton traced a muscular anti-Josephan lineage: he wrote, "The first invention of Astrology, is by many learned men attributed to the divels," and its first disseminator was Zoroaster.41

Thus, by the 1605 appearance of the Advancement of Learning, there were two well-established, yet volatile interpretations of a single, modifiable chronology for the mathematical arts. While both sides agreed that some licit mathematical art could be traced from the time of Adam, astrology provoked bitter dissension. On the one hand, Pico and his followers rooted powerful criticisms in the historical and cultural conditions of astrology's perceived origins: that of idolatrous, Baal-worshiping Assyria. On the other hand, defenders posited Assyria as the setting in which astrology and related mathematical arts had flourished, nurtured by the pious learning of the Chaldeans. When this first flourishing gave way to idolatrous corruptions, the Jewish Patriarchs remained responsible for the maintenance of the discipline. The history of the mathematical arts was less barren and wanting than Bacon led his king to believe. 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:58:57 am

 Re: "Abraham, Planter of Mathematics"
« Reply #20 on: October 14, 2008, 11:39:43 pm » Quote Modify 


Bacon's proposal, despite his protestations, did not call for the creation of a radically new discipline.

In claiming that such histories of the arts did not exist, Bacon may have been reacting more to the historical methodologies with which he was familiar than to the existing state of mathematical histories.

 For example Jean Bodin, whom Bacon certainly had read, devoted considerable but unsystematic attention in his 1566 Methodus ad facilem [End Page 102] historiarum cognitionem to describing the conditions of learning throughout world history. He wrote, 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 10:59:54 am

Not only the virtues of our men are equal to those of the ancients but also the discipline. Literature

suffers changes of fortune. First the arts arise in some places through the practice and labor of

talented men, then they develop, later they flourish for a while at a fixed level, then languish in their

old age, and finally begin to die and are buried in a lasting oblivion by the eternal calamity of wars, or

because too great abundance (an evil much to be feared in these times, of course) brings satiety to

the frivolous, or because God inflicts just punishments upon those who direct useful knowledge to the

ruin of men. Although disciplines had gradually developed among the Greeks, so that they believed

these arts reached their peak, such a change came about afterward that Greece herself, to judge from

her present predicament, seems never to have existed.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:00:59 am

He continued, "I omit how Egypt, India, and Ethiopia teemed with many philosophers, geometrists, and astrologers; how many well-known mathematicians were in Chaldea before Greece had any literature. I come back to our times in which, after a long eclipse of letters throughout almost the entire world, suddenly such a wealth of knowledge shone forth, such fertility of talents existed, as no age ever excelled."42 Bodin shared with Bacon and Ramus a cyclical vision of the history of knowledge; but he and Bacon did not map transmissions as Ramus did. [End Page 103]

Bodin dotted his text with "small memorials," and made no great plea for a history of the sciences. But other artes historicae did contain systematic proposals for, and examples of, the sort of history Bacon desired. As Donald R. Kelley has shown, the innovative fifth chapter of Christophe Milieu's 1551 De scribenda universitatis rerum historia outlined a historia litteraria, which began with a discussion of the Pillars of Seth and charted the position of learning in societies from the Pillars to Milieu's present.43 Equally detailed was Reinier Reineck's 1583 Methodus Legendi Cognoscendique Historiam, in which a section on the historia scholarum described the Pillars as a schoolboys' primer from the time of Enoch to the Flood.44 Reineck also admiringly described both Vergil's work and Caspar Peucer's 1572 De Divinatione as exemplary instances of this kind of history.45 Bacon's plea for a history of science was only a later example of late sixteenth-century proposals for a genre that some felt already existed. The self-proclaimed novelty of his proposal was either ill-informed or disingenuous. 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:02:12 am

Through the seventeenth century the Pillars continued to play a central role in histories that located the origins of mathematics in the deep ancient world. In England, for example, Sir Walter Ralegh relied heavily on them in his 1614 History of the World. Ralegh followed Pico, discussing the history of magic within the setting of its postdiluvian corruption, but like Annius treated many of the mathematical arts—including alchemy and astrology—as predating Chaldean corruption.46 John Wallis's 1649 inaugural oration as Savilian Professor of Geometry relied heavily on the Pillars as evidence for the presence of intricate knowledge of mathematics in the ancient world. For Wallis, the astrological knowledge of the Chaldeans, corrupt as it was, proved beyond a doubt the widespread diffusion of mathematical learning.47 [End Page 104]

The Pillars thus served as crucial evidence for mathematics in the ancient world, and a history of mathematics that began almost from the Fall. To topple the Pillars was to topple this vision, a feat achieved in 1722 by William Whiston, Newton's successor as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. But the biblical antiquarian Whiston did not debunk the attribution of these Pillars to Seth to stake a claim regarding the history of mathematical learning. Rather, the Unitarian Whiston argued that second-century Jewish redactors had corrupted the true text of scripture by introducing Trinitarian fables. Whiston claimed that Josephus had been working with the authentic Scriptures—indeed, he thought, the Temple's copy of the Bible, which Josephus may have received directly from Titus. Whiston was thus forced to explain away any incongruities within Josephus's text, and he deemed the Pillars of Seth a "strange supposition," which needed to be dismissed.48 Josephus, Whiston claimed, was simply uninformed about Egyptian history, its pharaohs and obelisks, when he attributed the pillars to Seth instead of their rightful builder, the Pharoah "Seth-os, or Sethosis, or Sesotris the Great."49 While still dating the Pillars to almost 1200 BC—easily predating the high cultures of Greece and Rome—Whiston undermined the bedrock evidence for an Annian history of science.50 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:04:01 am

This history of histories illuminates contemporary understandings of mathematics, astrology, and astronomy from the late fifteenth to seventeenthcenturies. Consistent in all of the authors is the understanding that mathematics had a long history. Some virtue always obtained in learning Euclid or Ptolemy; nobody questioned the utility of these arts in agriculture, husbandry, navigation, and chronology. But though none of these scholars condemned all forms of sky-gazing, all agreed that they could be corrupted. The question was where and when corruptions were introduced. For individual [End Page 105] authors real differences existed between astrology and astronomy, even if there was no consensus regarding their boundaries. The issue was whether astrology properly belonged with the constellation of orthodox studies, or with the idolatrous divinatory arts of the Chaldeans.

Further, the debate was conducted entirely within ecclesiastical history. The history of mathematics was inseparable from the history of the church and the history of worship. The orthodoxy of various arts was proven neither by showing that they did not abrogate divine authority, nor by simply showing their venerable antiquity. The reputation of the communities that produced these specialized arts licensed or condemned their adoption, and their genealogies argued for or against their orthodoxy. Chamber was not being hysterical when he depicted London as a second Babylon; to him, the city swarmed with an idolatrous lay priest caste performing rites and offending the divine will, exactly as Babylon had under the sway of the erring Chaldeans. A practicing community of Hebraic astrologers in the ancient world, as described by Josephus, served the antithetical purpose. Theological and historical debate provided the terrain for justifying mathematical and astronomical activities.   

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:06:16 am

Despite Bacon's claims, there was a healthy history of science in the sixteenth century.

Scholars, admittedly, drew up a history of mathematics quite at odds with a progressive history of science.

Their history of science was a degeneration narrative, a problem of recovery instead of invention, of cleansing rather than expansion, with a Golden Age behind rather than ahead.

But it was a history, nevertheless, and one that fits neatly with the claims of Vesalius, Scaliger, and others who depicted their innovations as reformations of ancient disciplines.

These scholars conjured an ancient world teeming with mathematical practice, directing them towards various forms of lost or obscured expertise.51

The narrative of their history of science may not have resembled Kepler's, but by directing attention to the ancient authorization for mathematics, they contributed to the process of legitimizing mathematical knowledge. 

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:16:29 am


I would like to thank Lauren Kassell, Robert Goulding, James Byrne, Darrel Rutkin, Amy Haley, Anthony Grafton, Simon Schaffer, and Walter Stephens for their invaluable comments, suggestions and improvements. The paper was given in a slightly different form from the 2004 History of Science Society Meeting version at the 2004 Thomas Harriot Seminar, and I thank the participants of both for useful questions and suggestions.

1. Francis Bacon, The tvvoo bookes of Francis Bacon. Of the proficience and aduancement of learning, diuine and humane (London, 1605), Aa.1.r-Aa.4.v. The history of science literature on Bacon is immense. In this context see Paolo Rossi, Francis Bacon: From Magic to Science, trans. Sasha Rabinovitch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968); and Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann, Topica universalis: eine Modellgeschichte humanistischer und barocker Wissenschaft (Hamburg: Meiner, 1983), 212–25.

2. Bacon, Bb.3.v.

3. There are few studies devoted to the histories early modern scholars composed for various sciences. By far the most important is Nicholas Jardine's Birth of History and Philosophy of Science: Kepler's A Defence of Tycho against Ursus, with Essays on its Provenance and Significance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). Jardine focuses on Kepler, who was more central to the Scientific Revolution than any of the individuals in this article. Kepler's history was distinct in its discussion of, and commitment to, a history of technical advancement. But to attribute the origins of the history of science to his work, as Jardine does, requires an understanding of the discipline as fundamentally committed to a progressive narrative. See also Peter Dear, Discipline and Experience: The Mathematical Way in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 93–123; Anthony Grafton, "From Apotheosis to Analysis: Some Late Renaissance Histories of Classical Astronomy," in History and the Disciplines: The Reclassification of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, ed. Donald R. Kelley (Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 1997), 261–76. D.P. Walker's, The Ancient Theology: Studies in Christian Platonism from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century (London: Duckworth, 1972) is the classic work on the power of genealogies of knowledge in early modern Europe.

4. For classical and late antique attitudes towards the disciplines under consideration here, see esp. Fritz Graf, Magic in the Ancient World, trans. Franklin Philip (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), esp. 20–60. See also Jan N. Bremmer, "The Birth of the Term 'Magic'" in The Metamorphosis of Magic from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, ed. Jan N. Bremmer and Jan R. Veenstra (Leuven: Peeters, 2002) 1–11 and Peter Brown, The Making of Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 19–26.

5. The classic studies of this context are Paola Zambelli (ed.), "Astrologi hallucinati": Stars and the End of the World in Luther's Time (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1986); and Ottavia Niccoli, Prophecy and People in Renaissance Italy, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

6. See S.A. Farmer, Syncretism in the West: Pico's 900 theses (1486): The Evolution of Traditional, Religious, and Philosophical Systems: with Text, Translation, and Commentary (Phoenix: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1998).

7. Pico della Mirandola, Opera Omnia (Basel, 1601), 80: "Proposuimus & magica theoremata, in quibus duplicem esse Magiam significamus, quarum altera daemonum tota opere & authoritate constat, res medius fidius execranda & portentosa: altera nihil est aliud, cum bene exploratur, quam naturalis philosophiae absoluta consummatio." Recent work on Pico includes H. Darrel Rutkin, Astrology, Natural Philosophy and the History of Science, c. 1250–1700: Studies toward an Interpretation of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Disputationes adversus Astrologiam Divinatricem (Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana University, 2002), esp. 230–467, with considered discussion of the various traditions of Pico scholarship; and Steven Vanden Broecke, The Limits of Influence: Pico, Louvain, and the Crisis of Renaissance Astrology (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 55–81.

8. Pico, 113. "Tota magia, quae in usu est apud modernos, & quam merito exterminat Ecclesia, nullam habet firmitatem, nullam veritatem, nullum firmamentum: quia pendet ex manu hostium primae veritatis, potestatum harum tenebrarum, quae tenebras falsitatis malae dispositis intellectibus offendunt."

9. See Anthony Grafton, Commerce with the Classics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 93–134; and Rutkin, 338–43.

10. Pico, 483.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:18:59 am

11. See books 11 and 12 of Pico della Mirandola's Disputationes adversus Astrologiam divinatricem, esp. 11.2 at 483. For Abraham's teaching, see 485.

12. For Vergil, see Denys Hay, Polydore Vergil: Renaissance Historian and Man of Letters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952); Brian Copenhaver, "The Historiography of Discovery in the Renaissance: The Sources and Composition of Polydore Vergil's De inventoribus rerum, 1–111," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 41 (1978): 192–214; and Copenhaver's introduction to Polydore Vergil: On Discovery, ed. and trans. Brian P. Copenhaver (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) vi-xxx.

13. On Discovery, 147–49.

14. Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, trans. H. St. J. Thackeray (Cambridge, Mass.: Loeb Classical Library, 1930), I.ii.68–71. For Josephus, and his later reputation, see Josephus, the Bible, and History, ed. Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989).

15. See On Discovery 139–47. For the references in Josephus, see I.viii.166–68. For the medieval readings of Seth's Pillars, see Cora E. Lutz, "Remigius' Ideas on the Origin and the Classification of the Seven Liberal Arts," Medievalia et humanistica 10 (1956): 32–49.

16. It should be noted that Vergil expressed caveats about astrology despite his genealogy: "Such was the beginning of the art of astrology, which doubtless was devised simply to befuddle sound minds" (On Discovery, 143). This runs contrary to his enthusiasm for letters, mathematics, and other arts that shared its genealogy.

17. For Annius see Walter Stephens, "Berosus Chaldaeus: Counterfeit and Fictive Editors of the Early Sixteenth Century" (Ph.D. Dissertation, Cornell University, 1979); parts of which were integrated into his Giants in Those Days: Folklore, Ancient History, and Nationalism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989); and his "Livres de haulte gresse: Bibliographic Myth from Rabelais to Du Bartas," MLN 120.1 Supplement (January 2005): S60-S83. See also Anthony Grafton, Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

18. I have used the 1552 Antwerp edition [Annius of Viterbo], Berosi sacerdotis Chaldaici, antiquitatum Italiae ac totius orbis libri quinque . . . (Antwerp, 1552), 41. "Ante aquarum cladem famosam qua universus periit orbis, multa praeterierunt saecula, quae a nostris Chaldaeis fideliter servata."

19. Annius, 45. "Erant igitur in usu litterae, & ars fusilis, & lateritia & vaticinia, mille annis & amplius ante inundationem terrarum."

20. Annius, 44. "Verum quod ab Adam primo condito coeperint literae & disciplinae infusae, non est ex [fide] tantum, sed etiam historia gentium & traditione Chaldaeorum qui se astronomiam & literas habuisse ante Alexandri monarchiam tribus millibus & sexcentis annis ac trigintaquator asserunt. . . . Quare coniectura & argumentum firmum est, ab ipso Atavo eius primo Adam eundem Enoch suscepisse literas & disciplinas, cuius tempore fuisse literas & disciplinas Adae infusas Theologi asserunt, & eodem tempore se cepisse literas & Astronomiam Chaldaei affirmant."

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:20:25 am

21. Stephens, "Berosus Chaldaeus." The notion of the "pious Chaldaean" is explored in depth 57–135, while the Annian Berosus's portrayal of the piety of his sources is discussed from 136–208.

22. See Stephens, "Berosus Chaldaeus," 136–208 for Annian-focused discussion of the importance to early modern scholars of saving ancient historical texts preserved from obliteration, with special focus on the Pillars. Some of this section has been published in Stephens, "Livres de haulte gresse."

23. For the Neohermetic tradition, see Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964); for the Neoplatonic tradition see James Hankins, Plato in the Italian Renaissance, 2 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1990).

24. For Ramus in general, see French Renaissance Studies, 1540–70, ed. Peter Sharratt (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1976). For Ramus and the history of mathematics, see Reijer Hooykas, Humanisme, science et réforme: Pierre de la Ramée (1515–1572) (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1958); and articles by Bruyère-Robinet, Vasoli, and Cifoletti in Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques 70.1 (1986).

25. Peter Ramus, Scholae Mathematicarum, Libri Unus et Triginta (Basle, 1569), 1. "Aristoteles igitur 1.coeli & 1.meteor. artes aeternas, ut mundum, arbitratur, sed earum tanquam stellarum varios ortus & occasus esse, ut modo excitentur & floreant, modo jaceant & contemnantur. Haec magni philosophi magna prorsus sententia, artes sunt aeternarum & immutabilium rerum: at ipsarum apud homines notitia nequaquam est aeterna." Ramus is here extrapolating from Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984) [270b1], and [352b1–353a1], though Aristotle here is not referring to arts specifically, but to the vicissitudes of all phenomena in an eternal world.

26. See Joannes Stadius, Tabulae Bergenses aequabilis et adparentus motus Orbium Coelestium . . . (Cologne, 1560), 1–3; Heinrich Rantzau, Catalogus Imperatorum, Regum, ac Principium qui astrologicam artem amarunt . . . (Antwerp, 1580), esp. 19–24; Matthaeus Dresserus, Isagoges historicae pars prima . . . (Leipzig, 1593), 26–29.

27. For Howard see Linda Levy Peck, Northampton, Patronage and Policy at the Court of James I (London: Allen & Unwin, 1982); and her article on Northumberland in The Mental World of the Jacobean Court, ed. Linda Levy Peck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). For the astrological debates of the 1580s, see esp. Margaret Aston, "The Fiery Trigon Conjunction: an Elizabethan Astrological Prediction," Isis 61/2 (1970): 159–87; see also Walter B. Stone, "Shakespeare and the Sad Augurs," The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 52 (1953): 457–79; Don Cameron Allen, The Star-Crossed Renaissance: The Quarrel about Astrology and Its Influence in England (Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 1941), 121–25; and Nicholas Popper, "The English Polydaedali: How Gabriel Harvey Read Late Tudor London," JHI 66 (2005): 351–81.

28. Henry Howard, A defensative against the poyson of supposed prophecies (London, 1583), G.iv.r-v.

29. Howard, O.i.v.

30. Howard, O.i.v-O.ii.r.

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:21:50 am

31. For Gabriel Harvey, see Virginia Stern, Gabriel Harvey, His Life, Marginalia and Library (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1979); Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, "'Studied for Action': How Gabriel Harvey Read His Livy," Past and Present 129 (Nov. 1990): 30–78.

32. Gabriel Harvey's copy of Joannes Thomas Freigius, Mosaicus: continens historiam ecclesiasticam . . . (Basle, 1583), 60. BL shelfmark C.60.f.4. "Duae famosae columnae Mathematicae."

33. Ibid., "Duae Columnae Astronomicae, a Sethi nepotibus excitatae."

34. Harvey's Freigius, 140. "Abrahamus, primus Mathematicarum plantator in Aegypto: Unde, nec ita multo post, tot Mathematica, et Physica Miracula. Hinc fere Magia omnis Naturalis."

35. Ibid., 141. "Aegiptiorum Arithmetica, et Astronomia, ab Abrahamo: Mathematicarum artium nobili professore."

36. Ibid., 158.

37. Harvey's Freigius, 166. "Radius, Instrumentum, Perantiquum, omnium Geometricorum Instrumentorum praestantissimus; vulgo Baculus Jacobi dicitur, tanquam a sancta patriarcha illo iam olim inventus sit. Ram. Geometriae lib.9. Nimirum hoc Jacobi, mathematicum inventum, superioribus avi Abrahami inventis Mathematicis addendum videbatur."

38. Thomas Hood, A Copie of the Speache: made by the Mathematicall Lecturer, unto the Worshipfull Companye of present (London, 1588), A.iiii.v-B.i.r.

39. John Chamber, A Treatise Against Iudicall Astrologie (London, 1601), 118, 121.

40. Christoper Heydon, A Defence of Iudiciall Astrology (Cambridge, 1603), Zzz.4.v

Post by: Bianca on October 16, 2008, 11:22:49 am

41. [George Carleton], AΣTPOΛOΓOMANIA: The Madnesse of ASTROLOGERS. Or an Examination of Sir Christopher Heydons Booke, Intituled A Defence of Iudiciarie Astrologie. Written nearly 20 yeares ago by G.C. (London, 1624), 56. Since there were multiple ancient figures identified with Zoroaster, it should be noted, both critics and proponents of astrology were able to claim one of them in support of their position. See Lauren Kassell's article in this volume.

42. Jean Bodin, Method for the Easy Comprehension of History, trans. Beatrice Reynolds (New York: Norton, 1969), 300. For the original, see Jean Bodin, Methodus, ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (Paris, 1566), 358–59: "Neque solum virtutes in nostris hominibus, sed etiam disciplinae pares, atque in veteribus extiterunt. est enim literarum sua quoque vicissitudo, ut primum quibusdam in locis ingeniosorum hominum experientia & labore artes oriantur, deinde incrementa suscipiant, post aliquantum in statu vigeant, tandem sua vetustate langueant, denique sensim emoriantur, & oblivione diuturna sepeliantur: vel bellorum diuturna calamitate: vel quod nimia copia (malum his temporibus valde metuendum) satietatem levissimo cuique afferre soleat: vel quod iustas Deus poenas expetit ab iis qui scientias salutares, in hominum perniciem convertunt. Nam cum disciplinae, apud Graecos sensim adolevissent, ut ad summum pervenisse crederentur, tanta mutatio postea secuta est, ut ne ipsa quidem Graecia ubi nunc est unquam extitisse videatur . . . Omitto quammultos philosophos, geometras, astrologos, peperit Aegyptus, India Aethiopia: quammulti apud Caldaeos nobiles mathematici ante fuerunt, quam ullae essent in Graecia literae: ad nostra tempora relabor, quibus multo postquam literae toto pene terrarum orbe conquierant, tantus subito scientiarum omnium splendor affulsit, tanta fertilitas extitit ingeniorum, ut nullis unquam aetatibus maior."

43. Christophe Milieu, De scribenda universitatis rerum historia (Basle, 1551). See Schmidt-Biggemann, 23–30; and Donald R. Kelley, "Writing Cultural History in Early Modern Europe: Christoph Milieu and His Project," Renaissance Quarterly 52.2 (1999): 342–65. Kelley also notes that Bacon seemed unaware of Milieu's work, though it had indeed addressed his precise concerns.

44. Reiner Reineck, Methodus Legendi Cognoscendique Historiam tam sacram tam profanam. . . . (Helmstadt, 1583), also including his oration on the dignity of mathematics. The section on the historia scholarum, is 22v-29v. For his description of the Pillars as a pedagogical tool, see within the Oratio, 36r-v.

45. Reineck, 28r.

46. Walter Ralegh, The History of the World (London, 1614), 1:199–212.

47. John Wallis, Geometriae Professoris Saviliani, Oratio Inauguralis in Auditorio Geometrico, Oxonii, habita . . . (Oxford, 1657). See b.3.r and passim. I thank Tony Mann for this reference. See also Stephens, "Livres de haulte gresse," for the continued resourcing of the Pillars through the eighteenth century.

48. William Whiston, An Essay Towards Restoring the True Text of the Old Testament; and for Vindicating the Citations made thence in the New Testament (London, 1722), clx. For Whiston, see James E. Force, William Whiston: Honest Newtonian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). For Whiston's biblical exegesis, and especially his study of ancient Egypt and the Near East, see John Gascoigne, "'The Wisdom of the Egyptians' and the Secularisation of History in the Age of Newton," in The Uses of Antiquity: The Scientific Revolution and the Classical Tradition, ed. Stephen Gaukroger (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1991), 171–212.

49. Whiston; the quote is on cxxxix; his analysis is on clix-clx.

50. Others in the early eighteenth century dismissed the Pillars just as easily. For example, Vico consigned them to the "Museum of Credulity," though on the assumption that they had been attributed to Seth to exaggerate the ancient origins of the Chaldeans rather than on antiquarian criticism (see Giambattista Vico, The New Science, trans. David Marsh (London: Penguin, 2000), [49], p. 43).

51. For this point, see Anthony Grafton, Joseph Scaliger: A Study in the History of Classical Scholarship 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983–1993), 2: 253–62; and Dear, 116–19.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 06:56:41 pm

                                      Histories of Science in Early Modern Europe

Robert Goulding
University of Notre Dame

In 1713, Pierre Rémond de Montmort wrote to the mathematician Nicolas Bernoulli:

"It would be desirable if someone wanted to take the trouble to instruct how and in what order the discoveries in

mathematics have come about. . . . The histories of painting, of music, of medicine have been written. A good

history of mathematics, especially of geometry, would be a much more interesting and useful work. . . . Such a

work, if done well, could be regarded to some extent as a history of the human mind, since it is in this science,

more than in anything else, that man makes known that gift of intelligence that God has given him to rise above

all other creatures."1

Such a history of mathematics was attempted by Jean-Etienne Montucla in his Histoire des mathématiques (first printed in 1758, and reissued in a [End Page 33] greatly expanded form in 1799).2 Montucla's great work is generally acknowledged as the first genuine history of mathematics. According to some modern historians, previous attempts at such a history had amounted to little more than collections of anecdotes, biographies or exhaustive bibliographies: "jumbles of names, dates and titles," as one writer in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography characterized them.3 Montucla, on the other hand, was thoroughly animated by the Enlightenment project expressed in Rémond's letter, and his Histoire was a philosophical history of the "development of the human mind," as he himself described it.4

It was precisely Montucla's vision of what mathematics meant and his conviction that mathematics itself must change in order to reflect the historical elevation of the human intellect, that allowed him to transform the scattered dates and anecdotes of his predecessors into a genuine history. All subsequent histories of mathematics—until the most recent social histories5 —have been in a sense "footnotes to Montucla."

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 06:58:27 pm

The papers here argue that there were indeed histories of mathematics before Montucla which are worthy of scholarly attention, and that the dismissal of Renaissance histories of science as nothing more than a "cloud of fine adjectives and metaphors" is unfair (although it contains a germ of truth). Anthony Grafton has argued in an article on the historical writings of Cardano, Rheticus, and Kepler, that the purpose of such texts was not so much to trace what actually happened, as to justify the study of a subject often derided—by both humanist and scholastic writers—as obscure, useless and undignified.6 The following four papers go further in arguing that writings in this genre (or, at least, some writings in this genre) were not limited to this characteristically humanist objective. Authors did not just use their histories to persuade others. They themselves relied on historical narratives in order to think about their discipline, define its parts, distinguish among its acceptable and unacceptable forms and prescribe its content [End Page 34] and method of teaching. By placing their discipline into a historical context shared by other, more mainstream humanistic arts, moreover, they could draw upon the large, narrative structures which Renaissance humanists had adapted to understand human intellectual and cultural development, origins, progress and decline.

James Byrne's article highlights a disparity of vision between those humanists who treated the origin of the arts as just another subject for humanistic display; and those (like Regiomontanus) who were invested in the arts and wrote their histories from an insider's perspective. Alongside Regiomontanus, one could include several other authors treated in this collection, such as Thomas Vaughan, Peter Ramus, and Henry Savile. In each case, history provided a means for working through problems of the legitimacy and nature of their disciplines. While their writings are not "histories of the human mind," their interests went beyond mere rehearsal of anecdotes. Ramus's histories, for instance, written 200 years before Montucla's Histoire, had the kind of unifying vision which de Montmort demanded, and shared Montucla's concern to find a meaning in the development of mathematics. Ramus, and the supporters and detractors he spawned, were convinced that constructing the history of this science was crucial to understanding how and why human beings have knowledge, and how that knowledge should be taught in the academies of Europe. 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 06:59:42 pm

Three of the papers in this collection address histories of mathematics which were written from the late fifteenth century to the early seventeenth century. The fourth examines seventeenth-century histories of another despised subject—magic—and reveals a surprising degree of common ground, in both techniques and sources, with the less controversial historians of mathematics. These papers show how Renaissance scholars used history to underpin larger claims about the usefulness and potential of the sciences for their society. In the case of mathematics, their writings also helped to overcome the indifference of university authorities and students—and even the lay public—towards the teaching of the sciences, and to frame the forms in which the sciences were eventually established in the academy.

The writing of history is the most humanist of activities, and to that extent the following four papers contribute to the debate about the role of humanism in the Scientific Revolution. As Owen Hannaway wrote in this journal, "humanism and science, like science and religion, form one of those subjects that invite periodic reassessment."7 It is a subject which has, perhaps, [End Page 35] become less urgent in recent years. The so-called antagonism between humanism and science was most evident when historians identified Renaissance science with astronomy and mathematics—subjects which, it is true, many humanists from Petrarch to Erasmus dismissed as petty-minded and reeking of the scholastic classroom. Even so, scholars who worked in these fields found much that humanism contributed even to the "hard" sciences—most importantly in the editing and translation of Greek scientific texts.8 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:00:47 pm

As historians' interests have extended beyond astronomy and mathematics to natural history in particular, as well as to "pseudo-sciences" such as alchemy and magic,9 the problem of humanism has all but vanished, in part because humanists themselves found such fields natural. Further, a more nuanced view of humanism itself has taken root, whereby humanism cannot be conveniently separated out as just one of the factors influencing a scientist or a scientific text, whether for good or ill.10 It was neither an ideology with a particular stance towards the world and humanity's place in it (as Burckhardt had it), nor did it in practice turn young boys into virtuous orators , "good men speaking well" (as the humanists themselves advertised the goal of their teaching) who would have little use for mathematics and the sciences.11 Rather, humanist education instilled a range of mental habits and (just as importantly) techniques for reading, gathering information and putting it to use, which were the common scholarly foundation of all writers in this period, whether they were reading history itself,12 or investigating natural philosophy13 —or even magic [End Page 36] and alchemy.14 In a survey article in this journal, Ann Blair and Anthony Grafton reminded us of the continuing work in this field, while warning us against taking too literally the claims of practitioners in the new disciplines that they had shaken off the baleful influence of humanism and made themselves over anew.15

The papers in this forum provide a new approach to considering the relationship which humanist culture had with the emerging new sciences. The histories considered here are clearly not stories of opposition; nor, however, are they straightforward examples of humanist research in practice. Peter Ramus's Aristotelian opponent Jacques Charpentier accused him of plagiarizing his influential history from Johannes Stadius's Tabulae Bergenses, a claim which, despite Charpentier's personal animus against Ramus, seems to have some merit.16 Henry Savile, another opponent of Ramus, cribbed much of his history (itself critical of Ramus) from the French philosopher. The histories of magic outlined in Kassell's paper again draw second-hand on well-established narratives of disciplinary history. Such histories do not fit easily into the modern scholarship on Renaissance historiography, with its emphasis on the role of antiquarian research and the development of the notion of the fact (even though some of the same authors, such as Savile and, arguably, Ramus, were important contributors to this kind of historiography as well). The papers presented in this forum suggest, however, that it was in part the very ubiquity of the historical narratives that helped to establish and define the disciplines within a wider intellectual community. The authors' hermeneutic interventions constituted their originality, and were their means for fashioning a distinctive response both to external criticisms and to internal issues of the material and organization of their arts. 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:01:50 pm

In general, then, the "facts" themselves were not in question. Most authors from this period agreed on a few fixed points: that, for instance, the earliest Hebrew patriarchs had an excellent knowledge of the arts, and that they preserved their discoveries from the Flood by inscribing them on stone and brick pillars; or that Abraham, "planter of mathematics" (as Gabriel [End Page 37] Harvey marginally honored him) played an important role in transmitting the sciences to other cultures. In hunting down the prisca scientia, their beliefs were underlined by the testimony of Josephus, as well as the mind-boggling detail provided in Annius of Viterbo's forged chronicles of ancient history. They may have molded their narratives to make their larger points, but there can be no doubt that most trusted the broadly-agreed accounts of origins.

Substantial divergences from this standard narrative were made with explicit and usually polemical intent. Rheticus, for instance, insisted quite idiosyncratically that the origins of astronomy were to be found in the construction of obelisks;17 while Popper's article below demonstrates Pico della Mirandola's historical creativity in rejecting claims to the great antiquity of astrology. It is arguable also that Paracelsians such as Richard Bostocke (in his 1585 work The difference betwene the auncient Phisicke . . . and the latter Phisicke) were engaged in the construction of a new historical narrative,18 sharing a common physicians' concern with history and the search for causes for contemporary phenomena.19 Their accounts could diverge widely from the broadly-accepted narrative found in most of the authors considered here.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:02:46 pm

Claims to antiquity—whether for mathematics, astronomy or magic—were an essential element in demonstrating the legitimacy and dignity of a science. But it also placed the historian-practitioner in an awkward situation. While it may be impressive to discover the sciences being practiced in the Garden of Eden, taught to the first human beings by God Himself, what room is then left either for individual accomplishment or (and this is most important) the extraordinary achievements of the Greeks?

Here, arguably, the historian of magic was in a happier position. Magical texts have always delighted in impossibly antique claims, and the practice of magic itself—although continuously improvised and transformed—put enormous emphasis on stasis: the preservation of every step of every ritual, down to the letters themselves of the barbarous magical words. Woven into the very documents used by historians were promises of the original and divine nature of their contents. It is not surprising that Thomas Vaughan could take over the traditional account of the origin of the arts in [End Page 38] Paradise—and even borrow the brick and stone pillars, now as repositories of occult learning—since his art owed not only its legitimacy and dignity, but also its efficacy to the very fact of its continuous preservation. Even Vaughan, however, had to explain the periodic disappearances of magic, invoking human forgetfulness (just as Ramus had done for the history of mathematics), while John Aubrey explained that fairy-folk (or, perhaps, belief in them) had taken flight at the noise of technology. 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:03:53 pm

The early-modern historian of mathematics and the sciences, however, generally had to intervene more dramatically in the narrative. For reasons that will become clear from the papers below, almost all rejected a static conception of the arts. A few (like Regiomontanus and Savile) embraced a narrative of progress, in which the Greeks surpassed the biblical or mythical ancients, and moderns might hope to do the same. Others (such as Ramus and Raleigh) constructed a cycle of degeneration and recovery. But whichever model they adopted, they used their history to address the current state of their discipline. Unlike magic, mathematics was part of the medieval arts curriculum; most of the authors considered in these essays were, in one way or another, concerned with the reform of the syllabus and the introduction of newly discovered texts or techniques into the schools (or into popular currency). The mismatch between their ideals and the actual condition of the sciences all but demanded a historiographical model built upon change, whether for the better or the worse.

Regiomontanus, for instance, saw a break in the history of astronomy, but not between classical and medieval authors—as one might expect a humanist author to do. Instead, the divide occurs between the semi-mythical origins of the sciences, and their practice by historical human beings. He accepts that Abraham and Prometheus had some extraordinary knowledge of astronomy and were instrumental in its foundation as a science; on the other hand, historical records show that Hipparchus first discovered the precession of the equinoxes, a prerequisite to any adequate astronomy or accurate calendar. While Regiomontanus's own astronomy could claim continuity with that of the most ancient human beings, he found room for technical innovation and the increase of the art itself both in history and in its contemporary practice. 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:12:33 pm

Many of the authors here connected their reforms of their arts with other movements of reform, especially religious reform. Ramus teasingly hinted at the irenic outcome of a reform of the sciences, completing the process begun in the religious sphere while reconciling Catholics and Protestants through a new, common epistemological clarity. His history itself, [End Page 39] in its repeated redraftings, took on more and more the pattern of Protestant accounts of primitive Christianity and its subsequent effacement by non-Scriptural innovation. Reginald Scot attributes the rise of false charges of magic and witchcraft to the baneful and superstitious influence of Catholicism. A true understanding of nature and rejection of superstition were marks both of the earliest times (before the rise of "witchcraft") and the latest, in which the Protestant churches had done away with Roman excesses, returning Christians to a more primitive—and hence more authentic—relationship both with God and with the world.

As Nicholas Popper writes in the conclusion to his paper, the histories of science he surveys posed a problem of recovery, rather than invention—a narrative which might seem at odds with the progressive optimism of the authors of the "new science," from Bacon and Descartes through to Boyle. But, within their grand narratives, Renaissance historians seemed to uncover a profusion of mathematical practice, not at all made explicit in the ancient sources they drew upon. They legitimized expertise (another focus of modern histories of early-modern science)20 for the wider intellectual culture, a crucial step in the epistemological transformations which led to the Scientific Revolution. 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:13:48 pm

I am grateful to Lauren Kassell for comments and substantial advice on this introduction; to Nicholas Popper and James Byrne, who organized a panel at the 2004 History of Science Society annual meeting at which these papers were first presented; and to Anthony Grafton, who encouraged their publication and offered extensive criticisms on all of the papers presented here.

1. Jeanne Peiffer, "France" in Writing the History of Mathematics: Its Historical Development, ed. Joseph W. Dauben and Christoph J. Scriba (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2002), 3–43, at 6.

2. On Montucla, see Noel M. Swerdlow, "Montucla's Legacy: The History of the Exact Sciences," JHI 54 (1993): 299–328.

3. Cited by Christoph J. Scriba, Menso Folkerts, and Hans Wussing, "Germany," in Writing the History of Mathematics, 109–49 at 112. Note also the brief treatment and dismissal of Renaissance histories at 110.

4. Peiffer, "France," 10.

5. For instance, Serafina Cuomo, Ancient mathematics (London and New York: Routledge, 2001).

6. Anthony Grafton, "From Apotheosis to Analysis: Some Late Renaissance Histories of Classical Astronomy," in History and the Disciplines: The Reclassification of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, ed. Donald R. Kelley (Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 1997), 261–76 (especially 262).

7. Owen Hannaway, "Georgius Agricola as Humanist," JHI 53 (1992): 553–60, at 553.

8. For a survey of this literature, see H. Floris Cohen, The scientific revolution: a historiographical inquiry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 271–303. On humanists as translators and commentators, see Paul L. Rose, The Italian Renaissance of Mathematics: Studies on Humanists and Mathematicians from Petrarch to Galileo (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1975); Noel M. Swerdlow, "The Recovery of the Exact Sciences of Antiquity: Mathematics, Astronomy,Geography," in Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture, ed. Anthony Grafton (Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1993), 125–67.

9. See Brian W. Ogilvie, "Science," in Renaissance Historiography, ed. Jonathan Woolfson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 241–69, for a comprehensive survey of scholarship in the history of Renaissance science.

10. See especially Anthony Grafton, "The New Science and the Traditions of Humanism," in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, ed. Jill Kraye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 203–23.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:14:56 pm

11. Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986).

12. Lisa Jardine and Anthony Grafton, "'Studied for Action': How Gabriel Harvey Read his Livy," Past and Present 129 (1990): 3–51.

13. See, for instance, Ann Blair, "Annotating and Indexing Natural Philosophy," in Books and the Sciences in History, ed. Marina Frasca-Spada and Nick Jardine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 69–89.

14. Lauren Kassell, "Reading for the Philosophers' Stone," in Books and the Sciences in History, 132–50; Anthony Grafton, "John Dee Reads Books of Magic," in The Reader Revealed, ed. Sabrina Alcorn Baron (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 31–37.

15. Ann Blair and Anthony Grafton, "Reassessing Humanism and Science," JHI 53 (1992): 535–40.

16. Johannes Stadius, Tabulae Bergenses (Cologne, 1560). The preface, entitled "Astronomiae aetas, usus, peregrinatio, incrementum, utilitas," and occupying the first 25 pages of the work, seems to have been an important source for elements of Ramus's historical narrative.

17. See Grafton, "From Apotheosis to Analysis."

18. Allen G. Debus, "An Elizabethan History of Medical Chemistry," Annals of Science 18 (1962): 1–29.

19. Nancy Siraisi, "Anatomizing the Past: Physicians and History in Renaissance Culture," Renaissance Quarterly 53 (2000): 1–30.

20. See, most recently, Eric Ash, Power, knowledge, and expertise in Elizabethan England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:18:37 pm


                                                   R E G I O M O N T A N U S

Johannes Müller von Königsberg (June 6, 1436 – July 6, 1476), known by his Latin pseudonym Regiomontanus,
was an important German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer.

He was born in the Franconian village of Unfinden near Königsberg, Bavaria, not in the more famous Königsberg
in East Prussia.

Thus, he is also called Johannes Müller, der Königsberger (Johannes Müller of Königsberg). His full Latin name
was Joannes de Regio monte, which abbreviated to Regiomontanus

(from the Latin for "Königsberg"—"King's Mountain").

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:21:15 pm

Born June

6, 1436


July 6, 1476





Doctoral advisor

Georg von Peuerbach

At eleven years of age, he became a student at the university in Leipzig, Saxony.

Three years later he continued his studies at Alma Mater Rudolfina, the university in Vienna, Austria. There he became a pupil and friend of Georg von Peurbach.

In 1457 he graduated with a degree of "magister artium" (Master of Arts) and held lectures in optics and ancient literature.

He built astrolabes for Matthias Corvinus of Hungary and Cardinal Bessarion, and in 1465 a portable sundial for Pope Paul II.

His work with Peurbach brought him to the writings of Nicholas of Cusa (Cusanus), who held a heliocentric view. Regiomontanus, however, remained a geocentrist after Ptolemy.

Following Peurbach's death, he continued the translation of Ptolemy's Almagest which Peurbach
had begun at the initiative of Basilios Bessarion.

From 1461 to 1465 Regiomontanus lived and worked at Cardinal Bessarion's house in Rome.

He wrote De Triangulis omnimodus (1464) and Epytoma in almagesti Ptolemei. De Triangulis
(On Triangles) was one of the first textbooks presenting the current state of trigonometry and
included lists of questions for review of individual chapters. In it he wrote:

"You who wish to study great and wonderful things, who wonder about the movement of the stars, must read these theorems about triangles.

Knowing these ideas will open the door to all of astronomy and to certain geometric problems."

In the Epytoma he critiqued the translation, pointing out inaccuracies.

Later Nicolaus Copernicus would refer to this book as an influence on his own work.

In 1467 Regiomontanus left Rome to work at the court of Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. There he calculated extensive astronomical tables and built astronomical instruments.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:33:02 pm

In 1471 he moved to the Free City of Nuremberg, in Franconia, then one of the Empire's important seats of learning, publication, commerce and art. He associated with the humanist and merchant Bernhard Walther who sponsored the observatory and the printing press. Regiomontanus remains famous for having built at Nuremberg the first astronomical observatory in Germany. In 1472 he published the first printed astronomical textbook, the "Theoricae novae Planetarum" of his teacher Georg von Peurbach. Peurbach worked at the Observatory of Großwardein (Oradea) in Transylvania, the first in Europe, and established in his "Tabula Varadiensis" this Transylvanian town's observatory as lying on the prime meridian of Earth.

In 1475 he went to Rome to work with Pope Sixtus IV on calendar reform. On the way he could publish his "Ephemeris" in Venice. Regiomontanus died mysteriously in Rome, July 6, 1476, a month after his fortieth birthday. Some say he died of plague, others by (more likely) assassination.

A prolific author, Regiomontanus was internationally famous already in his lifetime. Despite having completed only a quarter of what he had intended to write, he left a substantial body of work. Domenico Maria Novara da Ferrara, the teacher of Nicolaus Copernicus, referred to Regiomontanus as having been his own teacher.

It is not true that he came to be called posthumously after the place of his birth, Königsberg/Bavaria (in Latin, Regiomontanus). In Regiomontanus' day it was common for scholars to Latinize their names when publishing.

He is known for having built one of the most famous automata, the wooden eagle of Regiomontanus, which flew from the city of Königsberg to meet the emperor, saluted him, and returned. He also built an iron fly of which it is said it flew out of Regiomontanus's hands at a feast, and taking a round, returned to him.

In 1561, Daniel Santbech compiled a collected edition of the works of Regiomontanus, De triangulis planis et sphaericis libri quinque (first published in 1533) and Compositio tabularum sinum recto, as well as Santbech's own Problematum astronomicorum et geometricorum sectiones septem. It was published in Basel by Henrich Petri and Petrus Perna.

Regiomontanus crater, on the Moon, is named after him.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:35:13 pm


Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:36:27 pm

One biographer has claimed to have detected a decline in Regiomontanus' interest in astrology over his life, and came close to asserting that Regiomontanus had rejected it altogether. But more recent commentators have suggested that the occasional expression of skepticism about astrological prognostication reflected a disquiet about the procedural rigour of the art, not about its underlying principles. It seems plausible that, like some other astronomers, Regiomontanus concentrated his efforts on mathematical astronomy because he felt that astrology could not be placed on a sound footing until the celestial motions had been modeled accurately.

In his youth, Regiomontanus had cast horoscopes (natal charts) for famous patrons. His Tabulae directionum, completed in Hungary, were designed for astrological use and contained a discussion of different ways of determining astrological houses. The calendars for 1475-1531 which he printed at Nuremberg contained only limited astrological information—a method of finding times for bloodletting according to the position of the moon; subsequent editors added material.

But perhaps the works most indicative of Regiomontanus' hopes for an empirically sound astrology were his almanacs or ephemerides, produced first in Vienna for his own benefit, and printed in Nuremberg for the years 1475-1506. Weather predictions and observations were juxtaposed by Regiomontanus in his manuscript almanacs, and the form of the printed text enabled scholars to enter their own weather observations in order to likewise check astrological predictions; extant copies reveal that several did so. Regiomontanus' Ephemeris would be used in 1504, by a Christopher Columbus stranded on Jamaica, to intimidate the natives into continuing to provision him and his crew from their scanty food stocks, when he successfully predicted a lunar eclipse for February 29, 1504.[1]

Regiomontanus did not live to produce the special commentary to the ephemerides that he had promised would reveal the advantages the almanacs held for the multifarious activities of physicians, for human births and the telling of the future, for weather forecasting, for the inauguration of employment, and for a host of other activities, although this lack was again made good by subsequent editors. Nevertheless Regiomontanus' promise suggests that he either was as convinced of the validity and utility of astrology as his contemporaries, or was willing to set aside his misgivings for the sake of commercial success.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:38:08 pm


^ Samuel Eliot Morison, Christopher Columbus, Mariner, 1955, pp. 184–92.

^ Victor J. Katz-Princeton University Press

[edit] Literature

Irmela Bues, Johannes Regiomontanus (1436-1476). In: Fränkische Lebensbilder 11.
Neustadt/Aisch 1984, S. 28 - 43

Rudolf Mett: Regiomontanus. Wegbereiter des neuen Weltbildes.
Teubner / Vieweg, Stuttgart / Leipzig 1996, ISBN 3-8154-2510-7

Helmuth Gericke: Mathematik im Abendland: Von den römischen Feldmessern bis zu Descartes.
Springer Verlag, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-540-51206-3

Günther Harmann (Hrsg.): Regiomontanus-Studien. (= Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte, Bd. 364; Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Geschichte der Mathematik, Naturwissenschaften und Medizin, Heft 28-30), Wien 1980. ISBN 3-7001-0339-5

Samuel Eliot Morison, Christopher Columbus, Mariner, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1955

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:39:48 pm

                                              Regiomontanus and Astrology

One biographer detected a decline in Regiomontanus' interest in astrology over the course of his life, and came close to asserting that he rejected it altogether.

But more recent commentators have suggested that occasional expressions of scepticism about astrological prognostications reflect a disquiet about the procedural rigour of the art, not its underlying principles.

It seems plausible that, like certain other astronomers, Regiomontanus concentrated his efforts on mathematical astronomy because he felt that astrology could not be placed on a sound footing until the celestial motions could be modelled accurately. 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:41:05 pm


              A Horoscope "He will be a Doctor"

             from the Astrolabium planum (Augsburg, 1488)
             of Johannes Engel (c.1453-1512),
             who is said to have been a student of Regiomontanus.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:42:22 pm

In his youth, Regiomontanus cast horoscopes for famous patrons.

His Tabulae directionum, completed during his time in Hungary, were designed for astrological use,
and contained a discussion of the different ways of determining the astrological houses.

The calendars for 1475-1531 which he printed at Nuremberg contained only a limited quantity of astrological information, namely the method of finding times for blood-letting according to the
position of the moon; subsequent editors added a quantity of additional material.

But perhaps the works most indicative of Regiomontanus' hopes for an empirically-sound astrology
were his almanacs or ephemerides, produced first in Vienna for his own benefit, and printed for the years 1475-1506 in Nuremberg.

Weather forecasts and observations were juxtaposed by Regiomontanus in his manuscript almanacs, and the form of the printed text enabled scholars to enter their own weather observations in order
to likewise check astrological predictions; extant copies reveal that several did so.

Regiomontanus did not live to produce the special commentary to the ephemerides which he promised would reveal what advantages these almanacs hold for the multifaceted activities of physicians, for human births and telling the future, for weather forecasting, for the start of employment, and for a host of other activities, although this lack was again rectified by subsequent editors.

Nevertheless this announcement suggests that Regiomontanus was either as convinced of the validity and utility of astrology as his contemporaries, or willing to put aside his misgivings to achieve commercial success.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:43:56 pm

A page from Regiomontanus's Tabulae Primi Mobilis.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:45:02 pm

Regiomontanus' Astronomical Tables

One scholar has remarked that Regiomontanus was a "lightning calculator, and a very accurate one too." Certainly, he was a prolific compiler of tables and ephemerides.

He produced tables of sines at intervals of sixths of a degree in which the value of sin 90° was set
at 6 000 000 and 10 000 000; these were printed by Johann Schöner in 1541.

His Tabulae primi mobilis, completed in Hungary and dedicated to King Matthias, were first published
in 1514. They gave values of a, an unknown side of a right-spherical triangle, in accordance with the relationship a = sin-1 (sin a sin c) for values of a and c from 1 to 90° at one degree intervals.

Never widely used, they were rendered obsolete by the advent of logarithmic calculating techniques.

The Tabulae directionum, produced with the assistance of Martin Bylica, were primarily for astrological use and seem to have been correspondingly more popular: they were first printed in 1490, and went through eleven editions up to 1626.

In addition to tables for calculating horoscopes, the collection included a table of the declination of
the sun for every degree of longitude in the ecliptic, and introduced, probably for the first time in
the Latin West, a table of tangents.

Tan 45° was set to 100 000, in accordance with Regiomontanus' developing and influential preference for a decimal system over a sexagesimal one for performing such calculations.

With respect to astronomical tables proper, Regiomontanus expressed misgivings about both the Alfonsine and the Toledan Tables.

He did not live to produce tables of his own, but did issue almanacs and calendars from his press in Nuremberg.

The calendars included the times of new and full moons and eclipses for the years 1475-1531;
the almanacs gave mean planetary positions, true positions for the sun and moon, and eclipse times
for 1475-1506.

Both were extremely popular, and an edition of the almanacs was used by Christopher Columbus. 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:46:16 pm

Recommended Reading

J. Bennett & D. Bertoloni Meli, Sphaera Mundi: Astronomy Books in the Whipple Museum 1478-1600, Cambridge 1994, pp. 14-15, 32-44, 65
C. D. Hellmann & N. Swerdlow, "Peurbach", Dictionary of Scientific Biography, New York 1970-1990, vol. XV, pp. 473-479

B. Hughes, Regiomontanus on Triangles, Madison 1967

F. Johnson, "Astronomical text-books in the sixteenth century", in A. Underwood (ed.), Science, Medicine and History: Essays on the Evolution of Scientific Thought and Medical Practice written in honour of Charles Singer, Oxford 1953, vol. I, pp. 285-302

J. North, The Fontana History of Astronomy and Cosmology, London 1994, pp. 258-259

O. Pedersen, "The Decline and Fall of the Theorica Planetarum: Renaissance Astronomy and the Art of Printing", Studia Copernicana 16 (1978), pp. 157-185

K. Reich, "Problems of Calendar Reform from Regiomontanus to the Present", in E. Brown, Regiomontanus: His Life and Work, Amsterdam 1990, pp. 345-362

E. Rosen, "Regiomontanus", Dictionary of Scientific Biography, New York 1970-1990, vol. XI, pp. 348-352

G. L'E. Turner & D. King, "The astrolabe presented by Regiomontanus to Cardinal Bessarion in 1462", Nuncius 9 (1994), pp. 165-206

E. Zinner, Leben und Wirken des Joh. Müller von Königsberg, Osnabrück 1968. Translated by E. Brown as Regiomontanus: His Life and Work, Amsterdam 1990 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:47:36 pm

Other Texts

E. Glowatzki & H. Göttsche, Die Tafeln des Regiomontanus: Ein Jahrhundertwerk, Munich 1990
F. Schmeidler, "Supplements to Zinner's Book, Leben und Wirken des Johannes Müller von Königsberg, Gennant Regiomontanus", in E. Brown, Regiomontanus: His Life and Work, Amsterdam 1990, pp. 313-324, especially pp. 319-320

J. Shipman, "Johannes Petreius, Nuremberg Publisher of Scientific Works 1524-1580, with a Short-Title List of His Imprints" in H. Lehmann-Haupt (ed.), Homage to a Bookman: Essays in Manuscripts, Books and Printing written for Hans P. Kraus on his 60th Birthday, Berlin 1967, pp. 147-162

N. Swerdlow, "Regiomontanus on the Critical Problems of Astronomy", in W. Shea & T. Levere (eds.), Nature, Experiment and the Sciences, Dordrecht 1990

N. Swerdlow, "Regiomontanus's Concentric-sphere Models for the Sun and Moon", Journal for the History of Astronomy 30 (1999), pp. 1-23

This page is Copyright 1999, Adam Mosley and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science of the University of Cambridge.

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               CALENDARIUM - 1476

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Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:58:08 pm


                CIRCLE GEOMETRY

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 07:59:18 pm


              Johannes Regiomontanus - Kalender,
              Augsburg 1512
              (astrological sign details)

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                                        Regiomontanus's Padua Oration in Context

James Steven Byrne

Princeton University

In the spring of 1464, the German astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician Johannes Müller (1436–76), known as Regiomontanus (a Latinization of the name of his hometown, Königsberg in Franconia), offered a course of lectures on the Arabic astronomer al-Farghani at the University of Padua.

The only one of these to survive is his inaugural oration on the history and utility of the mathematical arts.1 Regiomontanus tells his audience that the purpose of the oration is to

relate first the origin of our arts, and among which nations they first began to be cultivated, in what way they were at last translated from various foreign tongues into Latin, which of our ancestors were famed in these disciplines, and to whom in our lifetimes recognition should be granted.2

To this end, he offers a history of the quadrivial arts (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) and other important mathematical disciplines from [End Page 41] antiquity to his own time, praises their utility, and exhorts his audience to revive the languishing study of mathematics at Padua.

Astrology, a discipline with which Regiomontanus himself was closely associated, is singled out for particular praise.     

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:20:12 pm

Traditionally, Regiomontanus's Padua oration has been seen through the lens of its rather obvious humanism. In particular, the Padua oration has come to be understood as the rhetorical embodiment of the fifteenth-and-sixteenth-century revival of ancient (Greek) mathematics. Just as this revival is inextricable from the rise of humanism, so Regiomontanus has come to be seen as an exemplar of humanist mathematics.3 It is the aim of this paper to examine the Padua oration in the context both of contemporary humanist rhetoric and of Regiomontanus's own intellectual background in order to argue that, while the oration is stylistically consistent with humanist norms, the vision of mathematics presented in it is also deeply grounded in the university mathematical curriculum and in Regiomontanus's own reading of mathematical texts.

Regiomontanus was educated primarily at the University of Vienna (he was also briefly at the University of Leipzig), where he enrolled in 1450, completed his baccalaureate in 1452 and became a master in 1457.4 He remained at Vienna until 1461, when the death of his friend and teacher Georg Peurbach prompted him to travel to Italy with his patron, Cardinal Bessarion.5 In Regiomontanus's day Vienna was probably the most important of the German universities, rivaled only by Prague, whose prestige had declined after it was stripped of its theology faculty in the aftermath of the Hussite Wars.6 The curriculum at the University of Vienna was modeled [End Page 42] after that of Paris, and Parisian scholars played a major role both in its founding in 1365 and in its re-establishment (this time with a theology faculty) in 1384.7 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:21:31 pm

Most importantly for the purposes of this paper, the Viennese mathematical curriculum of Regiomontanus's day included all of the traditional authorities taught at Paris in the fourteenth century. For arithmetic and algebra, various "algorisms" (prose or poetry instructions for carrying out arithmetical operations that often also included a small amount of number theory) were the basic texts, supplemented in the fourteenth century by the Quadripartitum numerorum of Jean de Murs. Jordanus de Nemorare's De numeris datis and al-Khwarizmi's Algebra were common sources for those engaged in more advanced studies (i.e., they were not normally the subject of ordinary lectures, but were readily available to interested students, and would perhaps have been the subject of occasional extraordinary lectures). Euclid's Elements, supplemented by the commentaries of Pappus and Campanus, was the central text for geometry, and a number of medieval texts on practical and speculative geometry were in circulation as well. For astronomy, the Sphere of Sacrobosco and the Theorica planetarum were the most commonly used teaching texts, sometimes supplemented by al-Farghani's Elements of Astronomy (the subject of Regiomontanus's Padua lectures). Advanced students could read numerous more specific treatises by Arabic and Latin authors. For optics, the Perspectiva communis of John Peckham was the most common basic text, with texts by Witelo and Roger Bacon (both generally known as Perspectiva) being the most common advanced texts. Alhazen's Perspectiva (also known as De aspectibus) was likewise available, as were the optical writings of Euclid and Ptolemy.8 [End Page 43]

Most of the above texts were the subjects of lengthy commentaries, which often circulated independently. In addition, numerous encyclopedic texts played an important role in university culture and, while not specifically about mathematics, included information on its history or place in the division of knowledge (one of these, Isidore of Seville's Etymologies, will be discussed in more detail below). It should be noted that mathematics at Vienna, as at Paris, was never central to the curriculum; logic and philosophy were more important. Nevertheless, all students who took arts degrees at Vienna were expected to acquire basic competence in mathematics, and more advanced instruction was certainly available for those who desired it. A succession of mathematically inclined masters, most notably including Johannes von Gmunden and Regiomontanus's own teacher Georg Peurbach, taught at the university in the first half of the fifteenth century.   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:26:07 pm

Humanism, too, was present at the University of Vienna in Regiomontanus's day. Ordinary lectures on humanist subjects began to appear in the arts curriculum at Vienna in 1451, shortly after Regiomontanus's arrival, when Phillip Mautther lectured on the Nova rhetorica (that is, the Rhetorica ad Herrenium) of Cicero.9 For the next decade, humanist topics regularly appear on the lists of ordinary lectures. Even before this, there had been a humanist presence in Vienna. The great Italian humanist Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (later pope Pius II) was a member of the Habsburg court in Vienna during the 1440s, and in 1445 even took part in disputations at the university, speaking on, among other topics, the question of why so few poets existed in the present day.10 Regiomontanus's mentor Peurbach also held humanist sensibilities, lecturing on Virgil and Juvenal and writing classical-inspired poetry.11

Regiomontanus's background at Vienna, and as university-trained mathematician in general, provides the context for his vision of the mathematical arts. He was not among those humanists who denigrated their university educations. There is no reflection of Petrarch's famous sentiment regarding the University of Bologna, "I never did anything prudently . . . but, if I did, this is among the first things which, if not wise, has certainly been fruitful, namely, that I saw Bologna and that I did not remain there," [End Page 44] in Regiomontanus's attitude towards his own education.12 When he mentions Vienna in the oration, it is to speak highly of it. "You, Vienna, created the most worthy doctor of the arts," he exclaims in the oration (he is speaking here not of himself but rather of his beloved mentor Peurbach).13

It is no accident that the Padua oration has been strongly associated with humanism: it is the most immediately striking aspect of the text. The grammar and vocabulary of the oration both display classicizing tendencies, but the clearest sign of humanism is the use of elaborate periodicity that was so central to humanist stylistic ideals.14 For example, Regiomontanus opens his oration by declaring to his audience:

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:27:42 pm

Unless your clemency should favor the beginning of the course as I will make it, and would set straight

the thread of trembling oration, Oh most distinguished men, I would prefer to have remained silent than

to ascend this philosophical pulpit too boldly, particularly because I could easily be deterred by both

the novelty of this enterprise, especially in so great a gathering of celebrities, and by my long

abstinence from academic rituals.15

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:28:45 pm

The intricate relationship between the clauses and the setting up and resolving of suspense ("unless . . . I would rather . . . because") are both hallmarks of what Michael Baxandall has called
"one of [humanists'] most anti-popular interests."16

Regiomontanus was clearly aiming to impress his audience with his oratorical prowess.

Of course, the oration itself is a genre that is closely associated with humanism, and Regiomontanus's oration, praising the mathematical arts [End Page 45] and their practitioners, falls firmly into that most humanist genre of oration, epideictic.17 Indeed, it is a member of a specific sub-category of epideictic rhetoric, the oration in praise of the arts (or an art).

A number of such orations survive, and many of them were given on the same occasion on which Regiomontanus gives his: the inauguration of a course of lectures.18

The conventions that Regiomontanus follows in praising mathematicians are largely those followed by his contemporaries. For example, Lorenzo Valla in his encomium of St. Thomas Aquinas compares Thomas to St. Dominic:   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:29:46 pm

Dominic, then, founded the house of the Preachers, Thomas covered its pavements with marble;

 Dominic raised its walls, Thomas adorned them with beautiful paintings; Dominic was the crowning ideal

of the Brothers, Thomas was their model. Dominic planted, Thomas watered. One shunned and rejected

the distinctions and the bishoprics which were offered to him, the other fled from nobility, wealth,

family, parents, as if they were the Sirens. . . .19

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:31:21 pm

Valla's rhetoric is particularly broad here because the oration is a parody of traditional epideictic. He begins by offering, in classical style, extravagant praise of Aquinas's sanctity, only to continue by denigrating, in equally classical style, the saint's ability as a theologian.20 Regiomontanus uses similar techniques, though of course without the parodic inversion, in comparing the great classical mathematicians Archimedes and Apollonius: [End Page 46]

Archimedes was a citizen of Syracuse, and Apollonius of Perga [was] customarily called divine

because of the height of his genius; I cannot easily say which should be preferred to the other.

For although Apollonius most subtly composed the conic elements in eight books that have not yet

appeared in Latin, nevertheless the variety of Archimedes's publications seem to have won him the

prize. . . . When Apollonius is translated by someone from Greek into Latin, all of you will come to

admire him.21

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:32:34 pm

The back-and-forth of "the one . . . the other" is a typical example of classical rhetorical techniques. Again, Regiomontanus's aim is both to educate his audience (Apollonius, in particular, is a figure who was unlikely to be appreciated by the average university student), and also to impress them with his proficiency.

Regiomontanus also makes use of the kind of visual language that John O'Malley has shown is central to humanist epideictic.22 He speaks of "the most visible splendor of mathematics,"23 or tells his listeners "you have the cause before your eyes. . . ."24 He does not take the use of epideictic as a kind of spoken painting so far as some of the preachers that O'Malley cites, but there is certainly an element of this in his rhetoric.

However, when one begins to delve into the actual content of Regiomontanus's history, it is apparent that he departs somewhat from humanist norms. Humanists were interested in the literature of antiquity not only for the sake of eloquent Latin, but also for the historical information contained therein, and Regiomontanus shows little indication of sharing this interest. This can first be seen in his stories of the origins of the quadrivial arts, which derive from, and have a great deal in common with, the standard medieval accounts given in Isidore of Seville's Etymologies. For example, this is Isidore's version of the origin of geometry:     

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:40:47 pm

The science of geometry is said to have been discovered first by the Egyptians, because when

the Nile overflowed and all their lands [End Page 47] were overspread with mud, its origin in the

division of land by lines and measurements gave the name to the art.

And later, being carried further by the keenness of the philosophers, it measured the spaces of

the sea, the heavens, and the air.25

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:41:55 pm

And, in comparison, this is what Regiomontanus tells his audience:

In those times when the River Nile, violently overflowing, erased the boundaries of the Egyptians'

fields and completely flooded everything, the farmers began to argue; each one desired to define

the fields according to his own estimate—as it is the nature of man to be fixated on that which is

more than enough—each one, whether by speech or by force, wanted more than the others; even

if he had a narrow field before [the flood], he set up [his borders] where he pleased; when this

affair went beyond what was equitable, the matter fell to the prince of that land, who by certain

just calculations and sure measurements restored the borders of each [field].

Thus, [the Egyptians] were turned by a certain general and extraordinary impulse of the human

mind towards making measurements; they began to pose questions to one another, and whatever

they considered well invented in this sort of exercise, however confused it was at that point, they

desired to commit to writing.26

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:42:52 pm

Regiomontanus's account is obviously much more elaborate than Isidore's, as befits his style of oration; he also adds a narrative to the process of the [End Page 48] discovery of geometry that is lacking in Isidore's account. However, what it has in common with Isidore, in addition to a general agreement on the facts of the story, is that it lacks the detailed sourcing that humanists tended to give their histories. There are no references to Cicero, Virgil, Strabo or other authorities to give the history the grounding in the world of classical texts that was so important to the humanist sensibility.

Regiomontanus does, however, go beyond Isidore and other readily available texts in compiling his account. The figure of the prince who restores the fields to their proper sizes, in particular, is not found in the standard medieval sources. Rather, it seems to be a modified version of Herodotus's story of the king Sesostris, who, when a portion of a subject's lands were destroyed by flooding, would measure the remainder and reduce his rent accordingly.27 Lorenzo Valla had recently completed his translation of Herodotus, so it is possible that Regiomontanus knew of it through Cardinal Bessarion, their mutual acquaintance.28 At any rate, Regiomontanus never actually mentions Herodotus, which in itself is a departure from humanist norms. In fact, the only classical authorities mentioned in any of Regiomontanus's histories are mathematicians. He mentions Plato and Cicero at the beginning of the oration, but as models of eloquence rather than as sources of historical knowledge.29   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:44:22 pm

In contrast, this is the English humanist Polydore Vergil's version of the story, given in his
On Discovery:

In all the world the most famous river is the Nile. Each year from the summer solstice to the
autumnal equinox, as Herodotus shows in book 2 and Diodorus in book I, it floods all of Egypt
with an immense quantity of water.

In its rise the Egyptians foresee either abundance or scarcity for the crops to come. For when
the Nile rises 12 cubits, Egypt knows famine; with thirteen cubits she goes hungry; fourteen
cubits bring cheer, fifteen security and sixteen exultation.

This is said to be the regular level of the rise, but the [End Page 49] highest was eighteen cubits
in the time of the Emperor Claudius, and the lowest came with the battle of Pharsalus as if by
some prodigy to show horror at the killing of Pompey the Great, according to Pliny in book 5 and
Strabo in book 17.

Thus, since these Nile floods muddled the borders of the fields . . . it was necessary to measure
the land over and over again. For this reason, some have claimed that the Egyptians first disco-
vered geometry, just as the Phoenicians invented arithmetic, the science of numbers, for
commercial purposes, according to Strabo in book 17 of the Geography and Herodotus in book 2.30 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:45:27 pm

This account generally agrees with those of Regiomontanus and Isidore—not surprising, as Isidore's ultimate source was Cassiodorus, who knew his classics. But, it contains a wealth of citations of classical authors. The references to Pliny, Strabo, and Herodotus signify to the reader that this is not just an origin story, but also a part of the classical corpus. Of course, On Discovery is not in the same genre as the Padua oration: it is a learned encyclopedia, meant to be read rather than heard, and will therefore display the author's erudition in a manner different from that of a spoken oration. However, the same phenomena can be seen in fifteenth-century orations on the arts. For example, Andrea Brenta, a Paduan who was professor of rhetoric and ancient languages at Rome, cites Livy and Thucydides in the brief section on mathematics in his oration in praise of the arts.31

Turning to astronomy, Regiomontanus's own most beloved discipline, here is what the Padua oration has to say about the origin of that art: [End Page 50]

Indeed, some claim to hold Abraham of the Hebrews, and Moses, as the father of astronomy.

Others attribute the theft of the divine fire, which carried the light of astronomy to mortal men,

to Prometheus.

They say that Hercules carried the heavens on his shoulders for Atlas, either because he learned

astronomy under Atlas or because he served as an overseer when Atlas was absent from his reign.32   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:46:23 pm

Again, this account generally agrees in its details with that given in the Etymologies.33 Also note that Regiomontanus actually offers two different histories of mathematics, one rooted in pagan, the other in scriptural, antiquity, without giving any indication of which his audience ought to prefer. For sixteenth-century historians of mathematics, the issue of the Greek or Hebrew origins of astronomy would be a subject of heated discussion. Regiomontanus seems not to care; it is enough for him that astronomy is an ancient discipline.

In comparison, this is the history of astronomy given by the fifteenth-century Italian humanist Gregorio da Città di Castello, also known as Tiphernas, in his oration on astrology:   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:47:55 pm

They say that the discovery of astronomy came from the Egyptians.

For because of the perpetual calmness of the air in that region, and because the Egyptian priests,
who desired learning, abounded in leisure and in those things necessary to life, as Aristotle says,
they applied themselves to observing and discovering many things that concern the science of the heavens . . . but after many thousand years, as certain men have recorded, [this knowledge] was carried to Greece, and was studied by many, as can be seen particularly from the poets.

Then followed Pythagoras and Pherecydes, who, being learned in mathematics, added many things
to this discipline.

After this came Erathosthenes, Berosus [Note that Berosus was not Greek, but Babylonian], Hipparchus, and many other men, in whom Greece abounded.

But Plato and [End Page 51] Eudoxus, when they went to Egypt in order to learn, brought many

secrets learned from Egyptian priests back to Greece, both those of other arts, and notably those
of astronomy, as Strabo says.

Thus, little by little, through the passing of time and continual increase, [the knowledge] came
down to the time of Ptolemy, by whom that wonderful, almost divine book of astronomy was
written, so that, in some ways, nothing seems to be able to be added to that science.34 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:48:59 pm

Tiphernas grounds his account in references to classical tradition that are lacking in Regiomontanus's account: Aristotle, Strabo, and the "certain men," who are, in fact, Cicero, and Pliny.35

Of course, Tiphernas, though he gives an account of the Egyptian origins of astronomy, focuses primarily on classical figures, and ends with Ptolemy—after him, "nothing seems to be able to be
added to that science."

In contrast, Regiomontanus, after relating the story of astronomy's origins with either Abraham
and Moses or Prometheus, Atlas, and Hercules, goes on to say this:   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:50:22 pm

It can be said without injustice that while Hipparchus of Rhodes was the first parent of this
discipline, Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria was its author and chief.

For, before Hipparchus, very few men freely observed the motion of the stars, and no one had
yet thought that the fixed stars revolved with anything other than a simple, diurnal motion, which Hipparchus noticed, concluding [End Page 52] that the said stars move with their own very slow
motion towards the east.

Then Ptolemy, taking up the discoveries of the ancients . . . pronounced that motion to be one
degree in one hundred years, as can be seen in the third theorem of chapter 7 [of the Almagest;
the printed text of the oration actually cites the seventh theorem of chapter 3, which is incorrect
and likely the result of a misreading] . . . many other esteemed Greek professors of that art are being passed over in silence . . . moreover, how much value the Arabs placed on that art is shown by the writings of the most worthy al-Bategni, whom Plato of Tivoli translated into Latin. Likewise, a certain Gerard of Cremona translated Geber of Spain, whom Albertus Magnus did not fear to call the corrector of Ptolemy in the Speculum astronomiae. . . .36 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:51:37 pm

Regiomontanus's account of Hellenistic philosophy is much more detailed than Tiphernas's, giving details about the theories of Hipparchus and Ptolemy gleaned from his reading of the Almagest, an Epitome of which he had only recently completed.37 Hipparchus's theories are discussed in chapter 7 of the Epitome (for which Regiomontanus was responsible), although interestingly, he is there referred to as "Abrachis," a garbled version of his name stemming from Gerard of Cremona's translation of the Almagest.38 Nevertheless, it is clear that Regiomontanus derives his history of Hellenistic astronomy from his reading of the Almagest itself.

Further, whereas Tiphernas ends his account with Ptolemy, Regiomontanus continues, mentioning medieval Arabic and Latin sources, and describing [End Page 53] how the Arabic sources were translated into Latin. As with his description of Hellenistic astronomy, his treatment of Arabic and Latin shows a deep familiarity with the texts themselves. He portrays Arabic and medieval Latin sources in a positive light, implying that they can supplement and even supersede (Geber is the "corrector of Ptolemy") the body of knowledge left behind by classical authorities. Humanist hostility towards canonical medieval texts can be overstated, but it is nevertheless the case that there was a strong tendency to compare medieval authors unfavorably to their antique predecessors. Valla's encomium on Aquinas, which assigns the great Dominican theologian to the lowly place of cymbalist in the orchestra of theologians ("the first pair, Basil and Ambrose, [are] playing on the lyre; the second Nazianzen and Jerome, playing on the zither . . . the fifth, the Damascene and Thomas, playing on the cymbals") is a good example, as is Petrarch's marshalling of classical sources in opposition to St. Bernard in his invective Against a Detractor of Italy.39   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:53:15 pm

More important than the mere inclusion of favorable references to medieval sources, however, is the concept of the history of astronomy that is apparent in the passage.

For Regiomontanus, there is a break in the history of astronomy, but it occurs not between classical and medieval authors, but rather between the origins of astronomy and what might be considered the actual discipline of astronomy.

Ptolemy is the "author and chief" of astronomy because it is his texts that survive and form the basis of the astronomical tradition that persists in Regiomontanus's own time. This attitude can be seen most clearly in Regiomontanus's account of the history of arithmetic:   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:54:28 pm

Although, through his skill and numbers, Pythagoras attained immortality among future generations, both because he submitted himself to wandering Egyptian and Arab teachers, who were greatly
skilled in that study, then because he tried to probe all the secrets of nature by the certain
connection of numbers, nevertheless, Euclid made a much more worthy foundation of numbers in
three of his books, the seventh, eighth and ninth, whence Jordanus gathered the ten books of elements of numbers and from this produced his three most beautiful books on given numbers.

Diophantus, however, produced thirteen most subtle books (which no one has [End Page 54] yet translated from Greek into Latin), in which lie the very flower of all arithmetic, namely the art of assessing and accounting, which today is called algebra after its Arabic name.

Indeed, Latin authors treat many fragments of that most beautiful art, but after Giovanni Bianchini,
an excellent man, I find a scarcity of greatly learned men in our own time.

In our time, the Quadripartitum numerorum is certainly thought to be quite distinguished, likewise
the Algorithmus demonstratus and the Arithmetic of Boethius, the introduction [of which] was
taken from the Greek Nichomacus.40 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:58:50 pm

Again, it is Euclid, rather than Pythagoras, who "made a much more worthy foundation" of arithmetic because Euclid's writings actually survive, and thus form a part of the arithmetical tradition that has, in Regiomontanus's view, existed continuously until his own time (Giovanni Bianchini was a correspondent of Regiomontanus's). Boethius, Jordanus, and Jean de Murs (author of the Quadripartitum numerorum) all deserve mention in a history of arithmetic because their writings were widely read. The same pattern is apparent in Regiomontanus's history of optics, where he cites Greek works by Euclid and Archimedes, the Arabic author Alhazen, and Latin texts by Witelo and Roger Bacon, all of whom were important authorities in Regiomontanus's time.41 Diophantus's Arithmetic, which was not widely read (this was the first public mention of the text, and it would not be translated into Latin until the next century) is an interesting case, because it seems to be an example of Regiomontanus trying to establish the same kind of pattern for algebra, which until then had been considered an Arabic art.42 [End Page 55]

Paul Lawrence Rose has noted the great emphasis that Regiomontanus places on the translation and transmission of mathematical knowledge, which contribute to a vision of mathematics as existing in a continuous tradition stretching back to antiquity.43 This is true, but it should be noted that given the distinction that Regiomontanus makes between the origins of the mathematical arts and their true founders—men like Euclid and Ptolemy, whose works still survive and are used—the real continuity in the mathematical disciplines is between the earliest mathematical texts and the mathematics of the fifteenth century.   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 08:59:43 pm

Regiomontanus's history of mathematics is one that is founded in the practice of university mathematicians. Other than Diophantus (who, again, had only recently been discovered), the figures that Regiomontanus cites in his post-origin accounts of the mathematical disciplines were all known to contemporary mathematicians. Many of them were central to the traditional university mathematical curriculum and therefore to Regiomontanus's own education. He praises works like Euclid's Elements, Jordanus's De numeris datis, Jean de Murs's Quadripartitum numerorum, and Witelo's Perspectiva that, as mentioned above, had been widely used since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He also mentions his contemporaries, men whose works had not yet had time to circulate extremely widely, but whom he saw as having made particularly important contributions to the mathematical arts, and also the great patrons of mathematics, men like Bessarion (his own patron) and Nicholas of Cusa. The history of mathematics, for Regiomontanus, is necessarily bound up with those figures who are central to the education and practice of his fellow mathematicians.

However, while Regiomontanus's vision of mathematics is grounded in university practice, it goes beyond it in scope. The authorities whom he praises most highly, Archimedes, Apollonius, and Ptolemy were known to university mathematicians but very rarely used. Latin translations of the works of Archimedes and of Ptolemy's Almagest were both available, and Archimedes, at least, was occasionally used.44 Apollonius had not been translated, although Witelo's Perspectiva shows at least a passing acquaintance [End Page 56] with his Conics.45 Regiomontanus, following the work of his mentor Peurbach, had recently completed an Epitome of the Almagest, but the scarcity of detailed knowledge of the Almagest even in Peurbach's Vienna can be seen in his Theoricae novae planetarum, written about a decade before he began work on the Epitome, in which Peurbach seems unaware, for example, of Ptolemy's solution for finding stationary points.46 By emphasizing the importance of Archimedes, Apollonius, and Ptolemy in addition to the traditional medieval sources, Regiomontanus advocated an augmentation of the standard practice of mathematics. The contemporaries for whom he had the highest praise, Peurbach and Bianchini, were men whom he knew shared his interests; Peurbach, of course, was his collaborator on the Epitome, and in 1463, Regiomontanus had begun corresponding with Bianchini over a variety of astronomical questions.47   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:01:45 pm

Regiomontanus's comments on the utility of mathematics provide more insight into his understanding of the discipline. He begins conventionally enough, listing, by way of claiming that he neglects to mention them, those practical pursuits to which mathematics is important, including architecture, commerce, and military matters.48 Emphasis on practical utility was generally characteristic of those Italian humanists who considered mathematics in a positive light. Andrea Brenta, for example, focuses on Archimedes's ability to delay the overrunning of Syracuse by Marcus Marcellus's troops (a story told by Valerius Maximus).49 Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, in his The Education of Boys, also relates that story, along with accounts of generals whose knowledge of eclipses allowed them to soothe their soldiers' terror during those unsettling events.50

Regiomontanus, however, quickly moves on to a more specific kind of utility: understanding the Aristotelian corpus. For example, "I think there is no one who is able to learn the seventh [book] of the Physics without [End Page 57] understanding proportions."51 According to Regiomontanus, important sections of De caelo et mundo, the Meteora, the Physics, and the Metaphysics all require that the reader be fluent with mathematics. The idea that a grounding in mathematics was necessary for the study of philosophy was one propounded by a number of Byzantine educators, particularly John Argyropoulos, who probably taught mathematics in conjunction with the works of Aristotle.52 In a letter to his son, Argyropoulos's pupil Alamanno Rinucinni explained the importance of mathematical studies:

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:02:46 pm

When the listener arrives at natural philosophy, he will taste the first elements of astronomy
and geometry. . . . However, after understanding the principles of those disciplines, he will

easily understand what is said by Aristotle. And so, he will be considered to have learned

enough of those disciplines that pertain to philosophy if he has studied that brief little work

on the sphere [i.e, Sacrobosco] and the Theorica planetarum, in which the elements of

astronomy are contained, and in geometry, the first book of Euclid.53 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:03:57 pm

Note, however, that Alamanno is here recommending a much lower level of mathematical learning than Regiomontanus advocates; the Sphere, the Theorica planetarum, and the first book of the Elements were among the most basic mathematical texts taught at the university level. Alamanno is interested in providing the necessary background for philosophical studies, not in exploring the glory of Ptolemaic astronomy or Archimedean geometry.

Claims about the utility of mathematics, whether for civic or academic purposes, still place it in an ancillary position. Mathematics is praiseworthy because it is necessary for other pursuits. This, to be sure, is praise, but not of the highest order, and Regiomontanus follows it with a much more [End Page 58] forceful argument for not just the utility, but rather the supremacy of mathematics.   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:05:06 pm

How many different branches have grown from the trunk of that [Aristotelian] sect? Some follow Scotus; others St. Thomas; a few, out of innate promiscuity, follow both. . . . However many
leaders philosophy has, by that much less is our time learned.

Meanwhile, the prince of philosophers is completely abandoned, and he who is better than others
in sophismata usurps his name, so that if Aristotle himself were revived, he would not, I believe,
even understand his followers and disciples.

No one, unless insane, would dare speak these things of our own discipline [i.e., mathematics],
since indeed neither time nor the ways of men are able to detract from them.

The theorems of Euclid are just as certain today as they were a thousand years ago and the discoveries of Archimedes will be no less admired after a thousand centuries [than they are now].54 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:06:03 pm

For Regiomontanus, it is the certainty offered by mathematics that demands it be ranked highly among the disciplines. This was not a unique argument, as certainty was occasionally invoked by Regiomontanus's humanist contemporaries as one of the beneficial aspects of mathematics. For example, Pier Paolo Vergerio, who taught at Padua, mentions that "knowledge of [geometry] is most pleasant and contains within itself a high degree of certainty."55 Vergerio, however, is primarily focused on the pleasure offered by mathematical pursuits, particularly astronomy:

as we gaze upwards, it is pleasant to pick out the constellations of the fixed stars . . .

there is nothing that is not pleasant to understand, [End Page 59] but it is especially

pleasant to concern ourselves with those things which cause sensible effects in the air

and round about the earth.56

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:07:28 pm

Vittorino da Feltre, another Paduan, also accorded mathematics a great deal of importance, so there was at least a tradition of respect for mathematics in Paduan humanism that Regiomontanus could build upon.57

However, Regiomontanus's ideas about the certainty of mathematics cut against the grain of many of his humanist contemporaries. Hanna Gray, in her seminal article "Renaissance Humanism: The Pursuit of Eloquence," argues that humanists contrasted the scholastic pursuit of universal truth to their own emphasis on the virtuous life.58 Gray quotes Petrarch's invective On his own Ignorance and that of Many Others: "the object of the will is to be good; that of the intellect is truth. It is better to will the good than to know the truth."59 A more proximate example can be found in Piccolomini, who notes that "although arts of this sort [i.e., geometry and logic] engage in investigation of truth, it is contrary to duty to be drawn away from attending to our affairs by studying them, since all the glory of virtue, as [Cicero] says, consists in action."60 Regiomontanus, on the other hand, opposes the search for truth through philosophy with the even greater certainty offered by mathematics. Mathematics is superior to scholastic philosophy not because it leads its students towards the good but because it offers real certainty, not continually contested opinions. Astrology, in Regiomontanus's view the greatest of the mathematical arts, is praised even more highly. "You [astrology] are without doubt the most faithful messenger of the immortal God, you who provide the rule for interpreting his secrets, by whose grace the omnipotent decided to regulate the heavens, in [End Page 60] which he everywhere placed starry fires, signs of future events."61 Astrology is preeminent among the arts because of the knowledge it offers: insights into the secrets of God himself. 

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:08:30 pm

Like his conception of the history of mathematics, Regiomontanus's vision of its utility is linked to mathematical practice. The outward sign of philosophy's lack of certainty is manifest in the state of contemporary scholarship, namely the endless warfare between the followers of various authorities. Mathematics, on the other hand, suffers from no such divisions. The truths offered by mathematics make the idea of rival camps of "Euclideans" and "Archimedians," as philosophy has its Thomists and Scotists, absurd. Both men's theorems have stood the test of time and, Regiomontanus assures his audience, will continue to do so for "a thousand centuries." Likewise, the implication of juxtaposing a revived Aristotle's presumed inability to understand the work of his followers with the continuing certainty of Euclid's theorems is clearly that Euclid, were he to rise from the grave, would have no trouble understanding his disciples: Regiomontanus and his fellow mathematicians, who continue to build on the certain foundations that he established. The practice of mathematicians, like that of philosophers, relies on the use of authorities, but for mathematicians, this reliance is progressive and cumulative. Geber of Spain can be the "corrector of Ptolemy" and Jordanus can use the number theory in Euclid to produce his own De numeris datis without causing rifts among mathematicians. Certainty is the tie that binds ancient, medieval, and contemporary mathematics together.

In the end, Regiomontanus's vision of mathematics is that of a mathematician, rather than that of a historian, an educator, or a philosopher. It is simultaneously humanist and deeply rooted in the traditional university curriculum because a mathematician can (and for Regiomontanus, probably should) be both of those things. Above all, it is rooted in mathematical texts, both curricular and extra-curricular.   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:12:28 pm


An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the 2004 History of Science Society meeting in Austin, Texas. Thanks to Robert Goulding, Lauren Kassell, Nicholas Popper, and Anthony Grafton for their comments at the HSS meeting.

1. Regiomontanus, "Oratio Iohannis de Monteregio, habita in Patavii in praelectione Alfragani," in Opera collectanea, ed. Felix Schmeidler (O. Zeller: Osnabrük, 1972), 43–53. Further citations of the Padua oration refer to this edition.

2. "Memorare possem in primis originem nostrarum artium, et apud quas gentes primum coli coeperint, quo pacto ex linguis peregrinis variis ad Latinos tandem pervenerint, qui in hisce disciplines apud maiores nostros claraverunt, et quibus nostra tempestate mortalibus palma tribuitur." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 43.

3. See, for example, Paul Lawrence Rose, The Italian Renaissance of Mathematics: Studies on Humanists and Mathematicians from Petrarch to Galileo (Geneva: Droz, 1975); Helmuth Grössing, Humanistische Naturwissenschaft: zur Geschichte der Wiener mathematischen Schulen des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts (Baden-Baden: V. Koerner, 1983); N.M. Swerdlow, "The Recovery of the Exact Science of Antiquity," Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture, ed. Anthony Grafton (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1993), 125–68; Jens Høyrup, "A New Art in Ancient Clothes: Itineraries Chosen Between Scholasticism and Baroque in Order to Make Algebra Appear Legitimate and their Impact on the Substance of the Discipline," Physis 35 (1998): 11–50.

4. Ernst Zinner, Regiomontanus: his Life and Work, tr. Ezra Brown (New York: North-Holland, 1990), 13–50.

5. Ibid., 51–55.

6. On the medieval history of the University of Vienna, see Rudolf Kink, Geschichte der kaiserlichen Universität zu Wien (Vienna: C. Gerold und Sohn, 1854), vols. 1–2; Joseph Ritter von Aschbach, Die Wiener Universität und ihre Gelehrten (Vienna: Verlag der k.k. Unversität, 1888), vols. 1–2; Alphons Lhotsky, Die Wiener Artistenfakultät, 1365–1497 (Vienna: Hermann Bohlaus, 1965); Paul Uiblein, Mittelalterliches Studium an der Wiener Artistenfakultät (Vienna: WUV-Universitätsverlag, 1995); Uiblien, Die Universität Wien im Mittelalter: Beitrage und Forschungen (Vienna: WUV-Universitätsverlag, 1999).

7. The curricular bonds between German universities and the University of Paris are further discussed in Astrik L. Gabriel, The Paris Studium: Robert of Sorbonne and his Legacy (Notre Dame: United States Subcommission for the History of Universities, 1992), 113–68.

8. On medieval mathematics in general, see Michael S. Mahoney, "Mathematics," in Science in the Middle Ages, ed. David Lindberg (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 145–78; A.P. Iushkevich, Geschichte der Mathematik im Mittelalter, trans. Viktor Ziegler (Leipzig: Teubner, 1964); on arithmetic, see, Jordanus de Nemore, De numeris datis, ed. and trans. Barnabas Hughes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Ghislaine L'Huillier, Le Quadripartitum numerorum de Jean de Murs: Introduction et edition critique (Geneva: Droz, 1990); on geometry: H.L.L. Busard, The Latin Translation of the Arabic Version of Euclid's Elements Commonly Ascribed to Gerard of Cremona (Leiden: Brill, 1984); on astronomy: Lynn Thorndike, The Sphere of Sacrobosco and its Commentators (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949); Francis S. Benjamin, Jr. and G.J. Toomer, Campanus of Novara and Medieval Planetary Theory (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971); on optics: David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).

9. Acta Facultatis Artium. Vol. 3. Universitätsarchiv, Vienna. Codex Ph. 8, 51r.

10. Lhotsky, Die Wiener Artistenfakultät, 139–41.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:13:30 pm

11. Zinner, Regiomontanus, 18. One of Peurbach's poems on nature can be found in Grössing, Humanistische Naturwissenschaft, 210–13.

12. "Me autem nichil unquam provide fecisse . . . aut, si quicquam, hoc in primis, non audeo dicere sapienter, sed feliciter factum est: et quod Bononiam vidi et quod non inhesi." Petrarch, Rerum familiarum libri I-VIII, trans. Aldo S. Bernardo (Albany: State University of N.Y. Press, 1975), 223; Idem, Rerum familiarum IV-VII, ed. Ugo Dotti (Paris: Société d'édition Les Belles Lettres, 2002), 109.

13. "Te Vienna Doctorem Artium creavit dignissimum." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 48.

14. On humanist periodicity, see Michael Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators: Humanist Observers of Painting in Italy and the Discovery of Pictoral Composition, 1350–1450 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 20–27.

15. "Nisi primitias lectionum facturo mihi mansuetudo vestra aspiraret, orationisque tremebundae filum dirigeret, praestantissimi viri, silvisse prorsus mallem quam pulpitum hoc philosophicum audentius conscendisse, praesertim cum novitate coepti facinoris, tanto tamquam celebri clarissimorum hominum conventu, diuturna demum a scholasticis exercitiis abstinentia facile deterreri potuerim." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 43.

16. Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators, 21.

17. On humanist epideictic, see John W. O'Malley, Praise and Blame in Renaissance Rome: Rhetoric, Doctrine, and Reform in the Sacred Orators of the Papal Court, c. 1450–1521 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1979), 39–41.

18. A number of such orations can be found in Karl Müllner, Reden und Briefe Italienischer Humansiten (Munich: W. Fink, 1970).

19. "Dominicus igitur domum praedicatorum condidit, Thomas eius pavimenta marmore vestivit, Dominicus parietes struxit, Thomas picturis eos egregiis adornavit, Dominicus fratrum columen extitit, Thomas specimen, Dominicus plantavit, Thomas irrigavit, ille dignationes atque episcopatus ultro delatos refugit atque aversatus est, hic nobilitatem, opes, propinquos, parentes tamquam sirenes effugit. . . ." Lorenzo Valla, "In Praise of Saint Thomas Aquinas," trans. M. Esther Hanley, in Renaissance Philosophy, ed. Leonard A. Kennedy (The Hague: Mouton, 1973), 13–27, 21; J. Valen, "Lorenzo Valla über Thomas von Aquino," Vierteljahrsschrift für Kultur und Litteratur der Renaissance 1 (1886): 384–96, 393.

20. Hannah H. Gray, "Valla's Encomium of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Humanist Conception of Christian Antiquity," in Essays in History and Literature: Presented by the Fellows of the Newberry Library to Stanley Pargellis, ed. Heinz Bluhm (Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1965), 37–51.

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:14:28 pm

21. "Archimedes Siracusanus civis et Apollonius Pergaeus ob ingenii altitudinem divinus vocari solitus, quorum uter alteri praeferendus sit, non facile dixero. Nam etsi Apollonius elementa conica in octo libris, quos nondum vidit latinitas, subtilissime conscripserit, Archimedi tamen Siculo varietas rerum editarum principatum contulisse videtur . . . Apollonius quoque ubi in Latinum ex Graeco versus fuerit, nemini vestrum non admirandus veniet." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 45.

22. O'Malley, Praise and Blame, 63–65.

23. "spectatissimus mathematicarum splendor . . ." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 43.

24. "Ante oculos igitur causam habetis." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 53.

25. "Geometriae disciplina primum ab Aegyptis reperta dicitur, quod, inundante Nilo et omnium possessionibus limo obductis, initium terrae dividendae per lineas et mensuras nomen arti dedit. Quae deinde longius acumine sapientium profecta et maris et caeli et aeris spatia metiuntur." Isidore of Seville, "On the Quadrivium or Four Mathematical Sciences," trans. Ernest Brehaut, in A Source Book in Medieval Science, ed. Edward Grant (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974), 3–16, 8; Idem, Etimologie o Origini, 1.10, ed. Angelo Valastro Canale (Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 2002), 290.

26. "Dum Nili flumen solito vehementius exundans limites agrorum Aegyptiorum vastaret, et pene universos delevisset, contendere coeperunt agricolae, sua quisque pro opinione (ut est ingenium hominum ad rem plus satis attentum) agros suos definire cupiebat, quique sive sermone, sive viribus plus caeteris valuit, tametsi antea angustum haberet agrum pro libito terminus instituit, quae res cum praeter aequum et bonum verteretur, ad principem eius patriae devoluta est, qui iusta quadam ratione mensurisque certis suos cuique reparuit limites. Sic generali et inusitato quodam impulsu mortalium animi ad mensuras tractandas converse coepere alter alteri questiones anteponere, et quicquid in huiuscemodi exercitiis bene inventum putabant, quamvis indigestum, ut ita loquar, adhuc foret, literis mandare studuerunt." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 44.

27. Herodotus, The Histories, 2.109, trans. George Rawlinson (New York: Knopf, 1997), 177.

28. On Valla's translation of Herodotus, see E.B. Fryde, "Some Fifteenth Century Latin Translation of Ancient Greek Historians," in Humanism and Renaissance Historiography (London: The Hambledon Press, 1983), 83–114.

29. "Cum Platonis in dicendo suavitas, tum Ciceronis nostra lingua dissertissima non assint, qui etsi reviviscerent haud quaquam pro dignitate idipsum assequerentur." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 43. Plato, though he was of course Greek, was seen by fifteenth-century humanists as exemplifying excellent style. See, for example, Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators, 22–24.

30. "Nilus totius orbis fluviorum celeberrimus a solstitio aestivo usque ad autumnale aequinoctium, ut Herodotus libro 2 et Diodorus in 1 testatur, immensa aquarum mole quotannis totam Aegyptum exundat, ex cuius incremento Aegyptii vim aut penuriam futurarum frugum praevident. Aegyptus enim cum Nilus in 12 cubitos excrescit famem sentit; in 13 etiamnum esurit; 14 cubiti hilaritatem afferunt, 15 securitatem, 16 delitias, quod iustum fertur esse incrementum. Maximum autem aetate Claudii principis fuit cubitorum 18, sicut minimum Pharsalico bello veluti caedem magni Pompeii prodigio quodam aversante, autores Plinius libro 5 et Strabo 17. Cum huiusmodi itaque Nili inundationes limites agrorum confunderent, nunc minuendo, alias immutando, nonnunquam delendo signa quaedam quibus proprium ab alieno discerneretur, iterum atque iterum metiri eam terram oportebat, propter quod Strabo 17 Geographiae et Herodotus 2 aiunt nonnullos prodidisse geometriam ab Aegyptiis primo inventam esse, quemadmodum arithmeticam, id est, numeralem scientiam a Phoenicibus propter mercaturas." Polydore Vergil, On Discovery, ed. and trans. Brian P. Copenhaver. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 146–49.   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:15:40 pm

31. Andrea Brenta, In disciplinas et bonas artes oratio, in Reden und Briefe, 71–85.

32. "Abraham enim Hebraeorum patrem Astronomiam tenuisse clamant atque Mosen. Prometheo ignis divini furtum imputant, quod Astronomiae lumen mortalibus tradiderit. Herculem pro Atlante coelum humeris suis sustinuisse aiunt, sive quod sub Atlante astronomiam didicerit, sive quod in regno eius absentis praefectus aliquamdiu fuerit." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 46.

33. Isidore, "On the Quadrivium," 11. The main difference between Regiomontanus's account and that of Isidore is Regiomontanus's mention of Prometheus.

34. "Astronomiam ab Aegyptiis inventam tradunt. Nam cum in ea regione perpetua aeris serenitas contingeret et Aegyptii sacerdotes, qui disciplinis studebant, otio et rebus ad vitam necessariis abundarent, ut Aristoteles, multa et observasse et invenisse perhibentur quae ad caeli rationem pertinebant. . . . Post multa vero annorum milia, ut quidam prodiderunt, in Graeciam delata est et a multis cognita, ut maxime ex poetis cognosci potest. Deinde secuti sunt Pythagoras et Pherecydes, qui mathematicarum rerum studiosi permultum huic disciplinae addiderunt. Hos secutus est Eratosthenes, Berosus, et Hipparchus et innumerabiles alii, quibus Graecia plurimum abundavit. Plato vero et Eudoxus, cum discendi gratia in Aegyptum profecti essent, multa cum rerum aliarum tum vero eius scientiae secreta, ut Strabo refert, ab Aegyptiis sacerdotibus in Graeciam reportarunt. Ita paulatim ac per aetates aucta et ad cumulum perducta usque ad Ptolemaei tempora pervenit, a quo mirandum illud ac prope divinum astrologiae opus editum est, ut nihil quodam modo ad hanc scientiam addi posse videatur." Gregorio da Città di Castello, "Gregorii Tiphernii, viri clarissimi atque Graecarum litterarum eruditissimi, de astrologia oratio," in Reden und Briefe Italienischer Humansiten, 177–78.

35. Müllner, Reden und Briefe, 177 n. 2; Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.24; Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, 2.19; Strabo, Geography, 14.1.14; Cicero, De finibus, 5.87; Pliny, Historia naturalis, 30.1.

36. "Hipparchus tamen Rhodius huius disciplinae primus parens, Claudius autem Ptolemeus Alexandrinus auctor atque princeps non iniuria praedicabitur. Nam ante Hipparchum pauci admodum astrorum motus expedite contemplati sunt, nemo autem prorsus stellas fixas alio quam diurno motu circumferri putaverat, cui rei Hipparchus oculos adiecit crebriores, conclusitque memoratas stellas motu quodam proprio ac tardissimo Orientem versus mutari. Deinde Ptolemaeus inventa priscorum resumens . . . motum huiusmodi in centum annis per unum gradum pronunciavit quemadmodum in septima dictione capituli 3. intueri licet. . . . Multos denique huius artis Graecos professores silentio praetereundos censeo . . . Arabes praeterea quantum in hoc genere atrium valuerunt, testes ostendunt dignissimi Albategnius quem Latinum fecit Plato quidam Tiburtinus. Item Geber Hispalensis Gerardo quodam Cremonensi traductus, quem Albertus Magnus in speculo Astronomiae correctorem Ptolemaei vocare non formidat." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 46–47; Ptolemy, Almagest, 7.3, trans. G.J. Toomer, in Ptolemy's Almagest (London: Duckworth, 1984), 329–38.

37. Georg Peurbach and Regiomontanus, Epytoma in almagestum Ptolomei, in Opera collectanea, 59–274; Zinner, Regiomontanus, 51–55.

38. Peurbach and Regiomontanus, Epitome, 7.3, 172–173; Zinner, Regiomontanus, 54.

39. Valla, "In Praise of Saint Thomas Aquinas," 26; Petrarch, Against a Detractor of Italy, ed. and trans. David Marsh, in Francesco Petrarca: Invectives (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 364–475, 411–25.

40. "Nam etsi Pythagoras numerorum peritia apud posteros immortalitatem reliquerit, tum quod peregrinis praeceptoribus Aegyptiis atque Arabibus, qui plurimum in eo studio valuerunt, se submiserit, tum quod numerorum certa compagine omnia naturae secreta scrutari tentaverit, longe tamen digniora Euclides fecit numerorum fundamenta in tribus libris suis, septimo, octavo et nono, unde et Iordanus decem numerorum elementa decerpsit, hinc tres libros de datis numerorum pulcherrimos edidit. Diofanti autem tredecim libros subtilissimos nemo usque hac ex Graecis Latinos fecit, in quibus flos ipse totius Arithmeticae latet, ars videlicet rei et census, quam hodie vocant Algebram Arabico nomine. Huius equidem artis pulcherrimae multa fragmenta passim Latini contrectant, paucissimos autem egregie doctos offendo nostra tempestate post Ioannem de Blanchinis virum optimum. Habetur demum apud nostros quadripartitum numerorum, opus insigne admodum, item Algorithmus demonstratus et Arithmetica Bohecii, introductio ex Graeco Nicomacho sumpta." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 46.   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:17:20 pm

41. Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 49.

42. Some scholars have linked Regiomontanus's praise of Diophantus and failure to mention Arabic sources to humanist anti-Arabism and the sixteenth-century effort to establish an entirely classical genealogy of algebra. See, for example, Giovanna Cifoletti, Mathematics and Rhetoric: Peletier, Gosselin and the Making of the French Algebraic Tradition (Ph.D. Dissertation, Princeton University, 1992), 254–86; and Høyrup, "A New Art in Ancient Clothes."

43. Rose, The Italian Renaissance of Mathematics, 95–98.

44. On the use of Archimedes in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, see Marshall Clagett, Archimedes in the Middle Ages (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), vol. 3.

45. See Sabetai Unguru, "A very early acquaintance with Apollonius of Perga's treatise on conic sections in the Latin West," Centaurus 20 (1976): 112–28.

46. Peurbach, Novae theoricae planetarum, trans. E.J. Aiton in "Peurbach's Theoricae novae planetarum: a Translation with Commentary," Osiris, 2nd Series 3 (1987), 4–43; Olaf Pedersen, "The Decline and Fall of the Theorica planetarum," in Science and History: Studies in Honor of Edward Rosen (Wroclaw: Ossolineum, 1978), 157–85.

47. Zinner, Regiomontanus, 60–69.

48. Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 49–50.

49. Andrea Brenta, "In disciplinas et bonas artes," 77; Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia , 8.7 ext. 7, ed. John Briscoe (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1998), 526–27.

50. Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, The Education of Boys, ed. and trans. Craig W. Kallendorf, in Humanist Educational Treatises (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 251–53.   

Post by: Bianca on October 17, 2008, 09:18:35 pm

51. "Qui septimum Physicorum absque notitia proportionum discere possit arbitror esse neminem." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 50.

52. Arthur Field, The Origins of the Platonic Academy of Florence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 114–15.

53. "Cum se primo ad naturalem philosophiam conferet auditor, astrologiae geometriaeque prima elementa degustet. . . . Principiis autem earum disciplinarum perceptis, facile quae ab Aristotele dicuntur intelliget. Itaque satis, quod ad philosophiam attinet, earum disciplinarum didicisse putabitur, si De spera brevissimum opusculum et Planetarum theoricam, quibus astrologiae continentur elementa, in geometria vero primum Euclidis librum perceperit." Alamanno Rinucinni, "Alamannus Rinuccinus ad Philippum filium," in Lettere ed Orazioni, ed. Vitto R. Giustiniani (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1953), 100.

54. "Quos ramos inter se et a stipite suo diversos haec secta produxit? Pars Ioannem Scotum imitatur; alii sanctum Thomam; nonnulli autem ingenio promiscuo hac atque illac defluunt . . . Igitur quo plures philosophia duces habet, eo minus hac nostra tempestate addiscitur. Princeps interea philosophorum prorsus destituitur, nomenque suum is sibi usurpat, que in sophismatibus plus caeteris valet, neque Aristoteles ipse si revivisceret discipulos suos atque sequaces satis intelligere crederetur. Quod de nostris disciplinis nemo nisi insanus praedicare ausit, quandoquidem neque aetas neque hominum mores sibi quicque detrahere possunt. Theoremata Euclidis eandem hodie quam ante mille annos habent certitudinem. Inventa Archimedis post mille secula venturis hominibus non minorem inducent admirationem." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 50–51.

55. "Quae cognitio iucundissima est et praeceptum in se certitudinem continet." Pier Paolo Vergerio, The Character and Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth Dedicated to Ubertino da Carrara, in Humanist Educational Treatises, 54–55.

56. "In quam aspicientem, iucundum est et fixarum stellarum imagines discernere. . . . Quae cum omnia iucundum est intellegere, tum maxime negotiari circa eas quae in aere et circa terram fiunt impressiones iucundissimum est." Ibid, 54–55.

57. William Harrison Woodward, Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators (New York: Columbia University Teacher's College Bureau of Publications, 1963), 43, 234–41.

58. Hanna Gray, "Renaissance Humanism: the Pursuit of Eloquence," JHI 24 (1963): 497–514.

59. Petrarch, De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia, tr. H. Nachod in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. Cassirer, Kristeller, and Randall (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 47–133,105; cited in Gray, "Renaissance Humanism," 501.

60. "Quamvis enim artes huiusmodi in veri vestigatione versentur, earum tamen studio a rebus gerendis abduci contra officium est, quia virtutis omnis laus, ut ille dicit, in actione consistit." Piccolomini, The Education of Boys, 246–47; Cicero, De officiis, 1.6.19,

61. "Tu es procul dubio fidelissima immortalis Dei nuncia, quae secretis suis interpretandis legem praebes, cuius gratia coelos constituere decrevit omnipotens, quibus passim ignes sidereos, monimenta futurorum impressit." Regiomontanus, Padua oration, 52. 

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 04:58:41 pm

                    F I R S T   C A U S E   O F   M O T I O N,   C R U E L   F I R M A M E N T

The difficulty about tracing the development of astrology is the enormous amount of evidence to be sifted. As one 20th-century writer, Don Cameron Allen, has put it, 'The literature of astrology is as vast as the history of man. No one scholar can possibly hope to untangle all of its intricately woven strands.' (The Star-crossed Renaissance, 1941).

Mr Allen was thinking in the main of books on the theory and practice of the subject, of 'theological' arguments; but from the 14th century onwards, there is a proliferation of comments and allusions in non-astrological literature, which has been seized upon by adherents and antagonists alike, as though to produce evidence that Dante or Shakespeare or Chaucer were 'believers' or not was to add something to the argument.
Nevertheless, authors' use of astrology in their work is of enormous value, for it tells us about the general public's varied views on the subject.

It is difficult to discover, from a fictional work, the attitude towards astrology of its author; the old trap of attributing to a writer the opinions held by his characters yawns wide, and has swallowed many. And even if a writer seems to be unequivocally speaking in his own voice, there may be doubt about his motives - especially if he contradicts himself.

The French poet Eustache Deschamps (c 1338-1415), for instance, wrote two ballades in which he claims that but for free will man would be completely controlled by the stars. Yet elsewhere (in his Demonstracions contre sortileges) he inveighs against all sorts of divination, and makes free use of the arguments of Nicole Oresme, an opponent of astrology (of whom more later).

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 05:00:20 pm


With Boccaccio (1313-75) as with his acquaintance, Chaucer, we come to a man whose use of astrology in his work seems as good a mirror of the general view as we are likely to find. His attitude is rather that of the serious astrologers of later generations: that is, when he says that Mars and Venus map out, in a horoscope, the sexual disposition of its subject, he is not saying that those planets actually provoke passion, but that through their positions at the time of birth they influence the subject's attitude to love. It would be difficult to claim Boccaccio as a proselytizer of astrology, but it certainly could not be claimed that he was a serious opponent.


Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) had clearly read the work of Boethius, and while in the Inferno he condemns some astrologers, in the Paradiso he positively celebrated astrology as the interpreter of the will of God. Even in the Inferno Dante admits that the planets may make man act ('Lo cielo i vostri movimenti inizia'), while underlining the fact that from that moment of action he is on his own. He also believed that it was the positions of the planets that make children different from their parents, adding to inherited factors a new set of personality traits and inclinations.

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 05:02:10 pm

Piers Plowman, for many people today the earliest accessible English poem, written by William Langland some time between 1360 and 1399, has in the earliest of its versions a sideswipe at astrology as 'evil for to know'; but the third version betrays a clear belief in the influence of the planets. It has sometimes been suggested that the slighting earlier reference was cut because of the general popularity of astrology and Langland's desire to popularize his poem.

A contemporary author, John Barbour, in his 1275 poem about Robert the Bruce, mistrusts astrology on religious grounds, but on the other hand admits that the constellations can incline a man to good or evil, and that an astrologer can tell a man's character from the positions of the planets at the time of his birth.
But it is with Chaucer (c 1345-1400) that we come to the first English writer whose work is from beginning to end shot through with astrology. It is possible to argue that he made use of the subject as a selling point, as a popular ingredient in The Canterbury Tales; but this is not a persuasive point of view.

It is much more likely that he spoke of astrological elements in the characters in his poem for the very good reason that he saw them as integral, and knew that by referring to them he made those characters more real, made their actions more credible. Which is not to say that he was an astrologer, as some have claimed, or that he was a superstitious fool, which a total acceptance of all the claims of astrology would have made him.

The Canterbury Tales (I use Nevill Coghill's modern 'translation' throughout) both opens and closes with an astrological reference: the Prologue announces that the pilgrimage begins when

the young sun

His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run

and at the end of the poem, in The Parson's Prologue, the pilgrims approach the end of their journey as

the power of Saturn

Began to rise with Libra ...

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 05:04:03 pm

More use is made of astrology in some of the Tales than others. The Parson's Prologue has that one brief reference, but in The Knight's Tale, astrology has a crucial effect on the characters: there is a positive astrological dispute when Arcite and Palamon both ask for victory in a fight, and Arcite is promised it.

Immediately an uproar was begun

Over this granted boon in Heaven above

As between Venus, fairest Queen of Love,

And the omnipotent Mars; it did not cease

Though Jupiter was busy making peace,

Until their father Saturn, pale and cold,

Who knew so many stratagems of old,

Searched his experience and found an art

To please the disputants on either part ...

'My dearest daughter Venus,' said old Saturn,

'My heavenly orbit marks so wide a pattern

It has more power than anyone can know;

In the wan sea I drown and overthrow,

Mine is the prisoner in the darkling pit,

Mine are both neck and noose that strangles it,

Mine the rebellion of the serfs astir,

The murmurings, the privy poisoner;

And I do vengeance, I send punishment,

And when I am in Leo it is sent ... 

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 05:05:13 pm

In The Man of Law's Tale we see an actual horoscope at work; the heroine has agreed to an arranged marriage, but the Man of Law sees that a horoscope drawn up for the moment of departure from home for her wedding reveals an unhappy future:

First cause of motion, cruel firmament,

Driving the stars with thy diurnal sway

And hurling all from east to occident

That naturally would take another way,

Thy crowding force set heaven in such array

That this her first, fierce journey must miscarry

And Mars will sway this marriage, if she marry.

O thou unfortunate oblique degree

Of the Ecliptic, whence the cadent Mars,

Thrust from his proper angle, helplessly

Falls into Scorpio, darkest house of stars!

O lord of war, whose influence debars

All hope! O feeble Luna, vainly knit

To him, thrust forth from where thou shouldest sit!

And O imprudent Emperor of Rome,

Is one time like another in such case?

Haddest thou no astrologer at home

To choose the favourable time and place

For journeying?...

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 05:06:30 pm

Nevill Coghill has taken certain liberties in translation, introducing the sign of Scorpio into the second verse I quote, for example. In the original this verse begins

Infortunat ascendent tortuos,

Of which the lord is helplees falle, alas,

Out of his angle into the derkeste hous!...

This seems to mean that the Ascendant, or sign rising over the eastern horizon at the moment for which the horoscope is cast, is an unfortunate one. Since Chaucer refers to Mars, and it has a special influence when in Aries, it seems likely that that was the Ascendant.

Coghill was presumably advised to bring Scorpio in because that is the sign allied to the eighth house, the house of death (traditionally also ruled by Mars). The Moon (Luna, in the Coghill version) is either in conjunction with or in aspect to Mars, the 'wicked' planet.

Versifying an astrological chart is unlikely to add to its clarity, but any astrologer reading the verses would agree that poor Custance is unlikely to enjoy a happy wedding, and indeed as it turns out she not only fails to get married at all, but just escapes massacre.

This is not the place for a detailed analysis of all the astrological allusions in The Canterbury Tales, but we cannot ignore the most famous, which occur in The Wife of Bath's Tale. Again, much play is made with the horoscope - this time the natal horoscope, drawn up for the moment of birth, rather than for some other moment of time in the life of an individual.

Once again the verse abbreviates and simplifies the horoscope; not surprisingly, for a full horoscope would be far too complex to versify, or even for a poet to use in contriving a character

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:34:21 pm

 The Wife of Bath uses her horoscope to excuse, or at least explain, her happy sexuality:

For Venus sent me feeling from the stars

And my heart's boldness came to me from Mars.

Venus gave me desire and lecherousness

And Mars my hardihood, or so I guess,

Born under Taurus and with Mars therein.

Alas, alas, that ever love was sin!

I ever followed natural inclination

Under the power of my constellation

And was unable to deny, in truth,

My chamber of Venus to a likely youth.

The mark of Mars is still upon my face

And also in another privy place.

For as I may be saved by God above,

I never used discretion when in love

But ever followed on my appetite

Whether the lad was short, long, black or white.

Little I cared, if he was fond of me,

How poor he was, or what his rank might be ... 

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:37:37 pm

It is a vivid enough horoscope, however sketchy. The Ascendant is Taurus, and Mars is in that sign - a placing which contributes stubbornness, a hot temper, perhaps even leading to violence, sensuousness and possessiveness.

Interestingly, Boccaccio (who Chaucer knew) was told by Andalo di Negro, of Genoa, that anyone born with Mars in Taurus would be 'venereal in all things', and Abholi, an Arabian astrologer, pointed out that Mars when in a 'bad' position always portended the birth of a devious person, and that Venus allied with it would produce a garrulous, mendacious virago - a reasonable description of the Wife. She herself makes the point that Venus gives her 'desire and lecherousness', though she does not say in what position the planet was; perhaps in Scorpio?

It is amusing that she refers to Mars' mark, found upon her face and elsewhere. There was often believed to be a correspondence between the horoscope and the 'marks of the body' - indeed, William Lilly, the 17th-century astrologer, believed that the truth of astrology could be usefully proved by telling someone where 'the privy marks of the body' were to be found, after merely consulting his or her birth chart; and claimed to have done it himself.

As we will find again with Shakespeare, Chaucer was able to assume that his readers had some technical knowledge of astrology - far more than any general reader today would have; they would know what was meant by allusions to the Ascendant, to planets 'in angle', to the houses, and so on.

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:40:03 pm

It is certainly open to any reader to doubt whether, just because Chaucer attributes a belief in astrology to characters in a work of fiction, he necessarily accepted the theory himself. His Treatise on the Astrolabe, written for his son (and not, of course, a work of fiction) seems to indicate that he entirely rejected judicial astrology - the astrology that claimed to be able to foretell the future. But at the same time it suggests that he considered astrologia naturalis - the astrology that claims the planets affect at least some significant areas of human life - quite another matter.

May it not be significant, too, that at no point in The Canterbury Tales does he actually condemn astrology, even judicial astrology, as stupid, or wicked, or mistaken?

It would have been difficult for Chaucer to avoid taking an interest in the subject, whatever conclusions he eventually reached about it. Few thoughtful men could escape astrology, even if they wished.
( Petrarch, who was certainly capable of sharp gibes about superstition, and in his letters to Boccaccio was extremely caustic about indifferent astrologers, corresponded with distinguished doctors about astrological medicine, and in a letter to the Emperor Charles IV confessed (perhaps sycophantically) that long ago an astrologer had promised that he would be on familiar terms with the greatest rulers of his age.

Some time after his death, an historian claimed that Petrarch was himself an astrologer, and had predicted an earthquake in Tuscany and the deaths of various great men.


But it should at least be noted that Petrarch was far harder on alchemy, magic in general, and the power of gems, than astrology.

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:45:26 pm

Francesco Degli Stabili

The death at the stake of Cecco d'Ascoli (Francesco degli Stabili) failed to dissuade any other men from the study of astrology; and in fact it is notable that that study flourished particularly among the friars of the Middle Ages (who were not only theologians, but supporters and manipulators of the Holy Inquisition).

Only a few years after d'Ascoli's execution, Niccolo di Paganica, a Dominican friar, published a book on medical astrology; he may have been the astrologer who drew up the horoscope of John the Fearless, later Duke of Burgundy, at his birth in 1371. His book was to be found in Petrarch's library.

Another Italian Dominican, Bishop Ugo de Castello, wrote and published a book on 'critical days' in 1358. This was particularly addressed to physicians, and argued that it was far more accurate to fix on the critical days of an illness by astrological means than simply to watch for physical symptoms, describing too how to fix the position of the Moon and interpret the planetary effects in the context of particular illnesses.

Some scholars made a special study of astrological medicine, and wrote voluminously on it. One such scholar was Gentile da Foligno, a severely practical man whose lectures and writings were influential. His work was not all astrological; he wrote about many aspects of medicine.

Much of Gentile's attention was given to the plague, of which he himself died in 1348. This was the notorious Black Death, and his essay on it was written at the commission of the University of Perugia just as it was attacking the city (Augustine of Trent had written on the same subject seven years earlier). It was, Gentile asserted, a sickness caused by certain planetary dispositions - most astrologers suspected eclipses of the Sun and Moon and conjunctions of Saturn and Mars as prime movers, especially when they occurred in one of the 'human' signs of the zodiac.

The planets, then, it was suspected, produced a kind of rotting of the air which became poisonous when breathed into the lungs. Gentile made various suggestions for combating the plague, some based on hygiene, and extremely sensible; others based on perhaps less effective notions, such as the drinking of potable gold.

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:46:58 pm

Andalo di Negro was another theorist of astrological medicine, suggesting how from the study of planetary positions you could tell whether a patient would or would not recover from an illness, what the cause of that illness was, the best times to administer laxatives, for bleeding, operating, and so on, and even suggesting, for the lay reader, the means of discovering whether the doctor attending a patient was experienced and honest, or even whether though of an evil nature he might be likely to do the patient good by accident! Interestingly enough, Andalo admits that the patient's horoscope is not likely to be helpful, because it is extremely unlikely to be accurate (the difficulty of finding out the birth time of an ordinary, undistinguished member of the general public was almost insuperable).

Boccaccio thought him a splendid man, and complimented him on his grave deportment and vast knowledge of the stars, who 'since he has travelled almost the whole surface of the earth, gaining experience in every climate and under every horizon, knew by direct vision what we can only learn from gossip.'

Geoffrey of Meaux is said to have predicted the approach of the Black Death (although to be fair there is no actual record of this), allegedly connecting it to the appearance of a notable comet in 1315, another in 1337, and a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 1325. He was obviously a man of some reputation - he is named as one of the six physicians who attended Charles IV at his coronation in 1326, magnificently clothed in fine furs at the king's expense, and taking precedence over the six surgeons who attended.

Geoffrey seems to have worked for some time at Oxford, for it is from there that he dates a work on the causes of the Black Death (in which, among other things, he suggests that because there were at the time few stars of magnitude in the sign Aquarius, the plague attacked the peasantry rather more violently than the nobility). In his work on the comet of 1337, he points out that it was generated by Mars and Saturn in Gemini, and therefore signalled infections of the blood, which suggested (since Gemini was involved) an epidemic of some kind, perhaps particularly affecting rulers and the clergy.

He gave special attention to the contagious elements of the plague, why it should attack some people and not others, why rage in one street and leave another unscathed. This was, of course, nothing to do with hygiene, but could be explained entirely by a study of the planets. As for remedy, he advised people to keep warm, not to eat or drink too much, and to encourage liberal perspiration two or three times a week.

A patient could be rubbed down with a solution of linseed and camomile cooked in wine, and given spiced brandy. There is one extremely sensible piece of advice: 'Everyone should avoid standing or talking for any length of time with anybody who has the sickness, for it is contagious, poisonous and deadly in every way'. 

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:48:55 pm

Another strong adherent of astrological medicine was the remarkable Guy de Chauliac, born at the turn of the century, an ordinary peasant boy taken up by the local nobility and given an education. He became a canon and provost of St Just at Lyons, and physician to three Popes: Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V. While serving them in their palace at Avignon, he met and became a friend of Petrarch.

His interest in medicine was compulsive, and among his writings is one of the most comprehensive treatises on surgery to have survived from his time. Much of his work was sound and original (he was the first surgeon we know to have used a catheter to diagnose stone in the bladder).

He, like Geoffrey, ascribed the Black Death to the 1345 conjunction of the three superior planets in Aquarius, entirely accepted the connection between various zodiacal signs and certain areas of the body, advised the use of the planets to time the administration of purgatives or bleeding, noted 'critical days', and produced such astrological aphorisms as 'A wound in the neck while the Moon is in Taurus will always be dangerous'! 

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:50:21 pm

Another use of astrology emphasized in the 1300s and 1400s was in weather forecasting.

The meteorologists of the Middle Ages observed astronomical tables rather than barometric pressure; with agriculture playing so important a part in national economies, it was natural that astrologers should turn their attention to weather forecasting - the prediction of fine weather, storms, rain or flood.

One of the earliest English astrological meteorologists was one Robert of York, a friar who lived in the first half of the 14th century (he may have died of the plague in 1345).

Robert seems to have published, at York in 1325, a work on weather prediction into which a great deal of original thought had gone; after a long preamble about the nature of the four elements and their relationship to terrestrial weather, he provides rules for predicting rain, frost, hail, snow, thunder, wind and tides, and for good measure earthquake, pestilence, wars and rebellions.

William Merlee, or Morley, a fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and a Lincolnshire rector (who died in 1347) was not only an astrological weather forecaster, but is the first Englishman of whom we hear who kept a detailed record of the weather (over seven years). Using these records, he compiled a discourse on meteorology which went into twelve chapters, in which he not only discusses the signs of good or bad weather but interprets them. It is an intensely empirical work, and Merlee makes use not only of his own observations, but those of farmers, seamen, and others depending on the weather.

At least one continental European produced a parallel study: Enno of Wurzburg published a very similar work during which he shows how he was able to forecast heavy snows, storms, high winds and other phenomena.   

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:51:42 pm

General astrological work continued at all levels: at the highest, Leo Hebreus made predictions for Pope Benedict XII and for Clement VI, and John de Murs was commissioned by the latter to produce an astrological calendar, and allegedly forecast the Pope's death in 1352. De Murs was a considerable astronomer, and agitated for calendar reform.

In England, John Eschenden (we choose, arbitrarily, one of at least fourteen alternative spellings of his name) produced a number of astrological works which are close to the almanacs that were to proliferate in the 16th century and later: he forecast such general results of astronomical activity that almost anything that happened could be verified by reference to his work.

For instance, as a result of the total eclipse of the Moon of 20 March 1345, and the conjunction of the three superior planets - which according to Geoffrey of Meaux and Guy de Chauliac signalled the approach of the plague - Eschenden predicted diseases for men and beasts, death and many wars, cold, rain and snow, violent winds, rotten-ness in the air, worm-eaten crops, the sickness of domestic beasts, the birth of several men of genius, ill behaviour within the Church, wind and thunder, robberies, shipwrecks, drought, arson, great heat, thunderbolts and 'much cold and heat in their seasons'.

Apart from all this, serious theological argument continued, if not at very high pressure. The most notable English participant was Thomas Bradwardine (c 1290-I349), known as 'the profound doctor', Chancellor of Oxford University and Professor of Divinity, chaplain and confessor to Edward III, and in 1349 Archbishop of Canterbury (though he died only a month after his consecration).   

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:54:10 pm

In De causa Dei, Bradwardine advanced all the well-tried objections to astrology (more or less recapitulated from Augustine and other early authorities). But once having made it quite clear where he stood on fatalism, he put up a rather spectacular defence of astrology, totally approving Ptolemy's approach to the subject, and suggesting that it is a positive Christian duty to consider the effect the planets have on man's character, and to foster the good traits they have implanted while suppressing the evil ones.

He gives the example of a merchant he once met, who confessed to him that the planets at the time of his birth indicated homosexual lust. But by application, he had overcome this. Bradwardine also quotes from a work attributed to Aristotle which told of Hippocrates visiting a physiognomist, being told that his face was that of a wanton deceiver, and admitting that he had perceived these traits in himself through a study of his horoscope, and had stifled them.

Summing up, Bradwardine suggests that all theologians should study astrology, the science of celestial things and therefore the science closest to God.

This was by no means the unanimous view of all theologians. John Wycliffe (c 1320-84), the man who instituted the first complete English translation of the Bible, studied astrology quite closely, and apparently came to the conclusion that it was unimportant rather than positively evil.

When he spoke of it, as he did in his sermons, it was as a subject which was futile; it was a waste of time for friars to study 'vain sophystry and astronomy' rather than the Bible - although it must be said that his arguments, which include an attack on astrologers for not being able to explain whether angels regulated the movements of the planets, and the accusation that Joshua's causing the Sun to stand still in the sky made a nonsense of the whole astrological theory, are not of the keenest.

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:55:37 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. 

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 08:57:44 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.

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 09:00:44 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.

Post by: Bianca on May 23, 2009, 09:02:12 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 ...