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Accademia Editoriale

ASTROLOGY IN EARLY MODERN ITALY


Author(s): H. Darrel Rutkin
Source: Bruniana & Campanelliana, Vol. 9, No. 2 (2003), pp. 511-515
Published by: Accademia Editoriale
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24333820
Accessed: 12-08-2016 18:20 UTC

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H. Darrel Rutkin

ASTROLOGY IN EARLY MODERN ITALY

Elide Casali's Le spie del cielo,' the rich results of thirty years of scholarly la
a vast and underexplored mine of primary source material, makes a signi
contribution to our understanding of the important but still imperfectly
stood roles astrology played in premodem Western Europe. Casali's high
bitious aim is to explore and map out many of astrology's locations in the
cultural map of Renaissance and Early Modem Italy, 1450-1800, primarily by
ing annual prognostications of various sorts. In this she succeeds admirab
The book is divided into three parts. In the first, I segretan delle stelle,
discusses the astrologer's profession and the various kinds of astrologica
nostications. In part two, I segni del cielo, she discusses comets, and the
astrology played in agriculture, medicine and politics. Each of these chapt
7) is a useful mini-monograph on its subject. The third section, Ciarlata
timbanchi, almanacchisti, treats popular astrology, satirical attacks and th
tual transformation of the almanacs into their modem form. The text is fol
lowed by an extremely valuable bibliography of primary sources (274-314) and
mostly Italian scholarship (317-331). Casali's mapping of this vast cultural terrain
and her extensive bibliography provide a solid foundation for the further re
search required to make astrology's historical and conceptual contours more
precise.
It is problematic, however, that a book of this sort full of minor and obscure
figures is provided with no indices whatsoever, not even an index of names.
Thus, anyone wishing to use this important book must read it in its entirety and
compile their own indices, surely an excessive reader-unfriendliness, especially
in this age of the computer generated index. Although this might be considered
a blessing in disguise in that the book amply repays a full reading, the omission
is unfortunate. Hopefully this defect will be remedied in the translations this
useful book richly deserves.*
I would also like to make a global methodological criticism. Although it is
obvious that Casali carefully read the works cited in her bibliography, she does
not quote enough of the primary sources at sufficient length if at all. This is
unfortunate given the rhetorical structure of many of her arguments, where she
makes a general claim and then draws a conclusion from it, citing only the bib
liographic information for the text she relies on, but without quoting the con
tents of the text itself. If these texts were more easily accessable, it would not
matter; but since they are all but completely unavailable, especially to scholars
outside Italy (or Europe more generally), there is simply no way to evaluate her
arguments without going to Italy and retracing her footsteps. I would be the last

1.E. Casali, Le spie del cielo : oroscopi, lunari e almanacchi nell'Italia moderna, Einaudi, Τ orino
2003,331 pp.
2. Likewise, in the translations such typographical errors as F. Yeats (for Frances Yates) and
Y. Curry (for Patrick Curry) should also be corrected.

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512 Bruniana &■ Campanelliana

person to deny that this would be an exce


made signifìcantly more expédient by Casal
of a work's current location. It would also,
expensive, and it would not serve the need
ty. I strongly suggest that the author and pu
two (or possibly both) ways: (i) to publis
primary sources, at least the most importa
text; or, more usefully, (2) to publish a cd-
the texts discussed. Then Casali's study wo
she intends, and other more detailed and pa
easily be undertaken.

Casali présents a panoramic view of her sub


the premodern (Medieval, Renaissance, E
scape. The view over such a vast subject is
quality given the many areas to which astr
whelming abundance of primary source m
of the historiography. Often her picture is
within her disciplinary expertise, Italian l
ture and folklore, which she teaches at th
mains, however, her reconstructions can be
relies too much on general descriptions or
detailed recourse to primary texts.
In my view, one of the major problems in
tures and importance of astrology in its v
especially for the history of science and p
unconsciously for the most part, impose th
ry understanding of astrology (with ali its
udices) on the historical material, thus bui
their historical reconstructions. Two impo
misconceived interprétations of, first, the
Aristotelian naturai philosophy c. 1200-170
Grant, and, second, that between astrology
ously advocated by Paul Lawrence Rose.3 In
it is fondamentally important to build up o
dation of texts themselves conceived and w
We must do so carefolly and explicitly, prov
may then be assessed critically and revised

3. E. Grant, Pianeti Stars and Orbs: The Medieval C


Press, Cambridge 1994; P. L. Rose, Humanistic Cultu
Libraries o/tite Quattrocento, «Smdies in the Renais
these views and a revised reconstruction, see chapt
tion, Astrologay, Naturai Philosophy and the History o
prétation of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's Dispu
PhD Thesis, Indiana University, 2002.

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Sphaera 513

I would now lik


related to the ce
ly, astrology's p
ally and institut
of legitimate sci
in premodem W
we must first cl
sorts, 'naturai' a
their complex re
approaches to su
duction, where s
rai or conjectur
contrasts an 'ort
iting with

una cultura e un'interpretazione degli astri scandite dai saperi ereditati dall'antichità
pagana greca, araba, egizia, indiana, si fonde con le mitologie dei demoni astrali e
delle magie astrologiche, s'incontra con le teorie dei figli dei pianeti, della congiun
zionistica e dell'oroscopo delle religioni (vii-vni).

She then uses these imperfectly defined concepts as analytic catégories to sup
port her broader arguments conceming important historical developments.
Unfortunately, the distinction is neither obvious nor unproblematic, and thus
requires a detailed, properly historieized analysis. Only then will the arguments
based on this distinction be sound.
The issue is also problematic in that her brief description of judicial astrology
relates it directly to another conceptual problem area, the relationship of astrol
ogy to the so-called 'occult sciences', especially magic. To associate judicial as
trology closely with magical practices without a nuanced historieized under
standing of their complex relationship - which often has différent textures in
différent thinkers - can lead to misunderstandings. Perhaps it holds for Marsilio
Ficino, especially in book m of De vita, but Albertus Magnus in his profoundly
influential Spéculum astronomiae explicitly distinguishes the legitimate astrology
he promûtes from problematic astrologico-magical practices. As I have leamed
in my work on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino, none of these
issues are obvious to a modem sensibility. To import our own conceptions and
distinctions as virtually universal analytic catégories without a detailed, nuanced
and contextualized reading of primary sources - especially those that discuss
these issues explicitly - is a recipe for historiographie confusion. Unfortunately,
Casali's conceptual imprécision on this issue also affects her larger argument on
the changes that took place in relation to astrology during the Counter-Refor
mation, with the formation of what she calls «Catholic astrology».
Τ ο understand properly the distinction between judicial and naturai astrolo
gy, one must examine a range of authors' usages over time, say, fforn Albertus
Magnus's Spéculum astronomiae (c. 1270) to the article «astrology» in the first édi
tion of Ephraim Chambers's Cyclopedia (1728) which was translated Verbatim in
the first édition of Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie (1751). Albertus clearly
distinguishes the two «sciences of the stars», what we would cali astronomy and
astrology, following Ptolemy's equally clear distinction in Tetrabiblos 1, 1. For

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5i4 Bruniana àr Campanelliana

Albertus, «astrology» is called the «scien


braces ali four kinds ofpractical astrolog
interrogations, thus collapsing the norm
the other hand, makes very much the sa
as in Casali, by naturai vs judicial astrol
tion is not important and that it can nev
a properly historicized manner.
What, then, about the place of astrolog
edge? Astrology was taught for several
Aristotelianism', which articulated Aris
damentally Ptolemaic mathematical fram
tronomy and geography integrated with
tary action. This astrologizing Aristotelia
tific disciplines (mathematics, naturai p
modem universities (including Bologna a
the well-known 1405 Bologna statutes.4
first chapter: The Professional Astrologer.
Given that Casali is based at the Univer
great interest for her to develop our und
cation at the university in greater détai
tremely important, in that, in addition to
in arts and medicine comprising mathem
(ali of which had a strong astrological c
professor of astrology compose and publ
he also participate in and publish two dis
first, a more tightly focused systematic
tions and their authors at Bologna, both
then a comparison with other centers wo
of any research on astrological disputatio
ducted over its entire historical trajecto
teenth century would also be very intere
when precisely these statutory requirem
ty and, hopefully, how this carne about
These concems lead to another major ar
be removed from its previously centrai p
ing the scientific revolution. Although C
she provides a great deal of relevant info
however, is diminished by the lack of a c
tation. One of my centrai research ques
ogy was removed from its teaching in t
mathematics, naturai philosophy and m
Italy, mainly Bologna, Padua and Ferrara
tice in the mathematics course, for exam
from the changing contents of printed e

4. For a detailed reconstruction, see chapters


cited above.

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Sphaera 515

ly revealing. Ind
turies, ali of th
ical introduction
to construct hor
annual tables pr
gress into Aries
change only at t
Casali provides
structure of ann
stages. In the fi
tions, which had
cations. Althoug
teenth centuries
from the univer
change from lea
content from th
properly constr
into Aries with
prognostications
professors of as
Andreas Argoli
ular almanacs, o
generalized astr
astrological aspe
move the astrolo
rythm of the y
medicine, agricu
to our understan
literary genre.
Elide Casali's Le
tant and underu
politics, religion
losophy, and the
develop and refi
ommend it stro
brary's and mos

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