Italian renaissance astrology

These debates are often considered to be important for the reconsideration of the status of astrology in the Renaissance. Yet, the texts that form the basis for these debates have not received the attention they deserve.


  • Influences: Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance?
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Without going into reforming astronomy or modifying obsolete mathematical calculations, Pico put forward radically new ideas about the problem of astrology within the context of the Renaissance revival of ancient culture. Request changes or add full text files to a record. Email us: wrap warwick.

Renaissance Astrology (In Our Time)

Skip to content Skip to navigation. Arguments about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of astrology in the past may make us lose the opportunity to study the downfall of astrology as a well-documented case of how scientific programs fail. Its my impression that astrology lost its mojo in England around A full answer to his enquiry would be more than book length but I will attempt an outline of an answer here.

The status of astrology in Europe, as we understand it today, and its respectability as an academic discipline has gone up and down like a roller coaster over the centuries since it emerged in ancient Greece in the 5 th century BCE. In antiquity it reached a high point in the second century CE with the codification of its rules and methodology by Ptolemaeus in his Tetrabiblos, which would remain the bible of astrology up till at least the 18 th century.

As civilisation and urbanisation returned to Europe at the beginning of the High Middle Ages, to CE, the renaissance of the sciences did not include astrology as one of the respectable discipline because of the dominance of the Catholic Church in education. For the Church astrology was suspect, and had in fact been strongly criticised by both Augustinus and Thomas Aquinas, because it seemed to contradict the Churches teachings on free will. However in the secular world those rulers on the boarders of the Islamic Empire, in Sicily or Spain, started to adopt the Islamic practice of having court astrologers as political advisors, the evil vizier of Hollywood film, in about the 12 th century.

This practice spread and by the 15 th century nearly every European court had its own mathematicus or astrologus to interpret the stars, amongst other things.

The Duke and the Stars: Astrology and Politics in Renaissance Milan | Villa I Tatti

Astrology entered the world of higher education with humanism at the end of the 14 th century. The main driving force was the rise of astro-medicine derived from newly available texts from the Hippocratic corpus. In the 15 th century humanist university in Italy and famously in Krakow established chairs for astrology and throughout the next two hundred and fifty years nearly all European universities offered Astrology for medical students taught by the professor for mathematics.

Nearly all of the leading Renaissance mathematicians were practicing astrologers, many of them court astrologers. Even Galileo, a practicing astrologer, routinely taught Astro during his tenure as professor for mathematics in Padua. This is not to say that astrology was without its critics, the most extensive criticism of astrology being written by the humanist scholar Giovanni Pico della Mirandola — , his Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem , which contains all of the standard arguments against astrology still in use today.

Astrology continued to thrive well into the 17 th century but went into a steep decline from about The big question is why? In general histories of science and cultural histories the standard answer, if they deal with the question at all, is that the new heliocentric astronomy killed off astrology as an academic discipline. This is completely false as any superficial examination of the historical facts immediately shows.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Robert Westman famously wrote that there were only ten Copernicans in the entire world between the publication of the De revolutionibus in and the beginning of the 17 th century and as a historian of astrology correctly pointed out all ten of them were practicing astrologers. Although Kepler, whose heliocentric system was the one that came to be accepted, rejected traditional horoscope astrology as it was practiced in his own times he believed deeply in celestial influence and wrote extensively about his own attempts to create a reformed astrology.

So how are we to explain the loss of status of astrology in the 17 th century?

Influences: Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance

The answer lies in another aspect of the scientific revolution. The Renaissance belief in astrology was based on the micro-cosmos macro-cosmos theory or as above so below. This theory said that the world of the heaven or celestial sphere is reflected in the normal world or terrestrial sphere and that the ability to read the one enabled predictions in the other.

This philosophy was inherited from Greek philosophy and was also present in the interpretation of Aristotle that dominated mediaeval philosophy.

As Aristotle was replaced as the foundation of natural philosophy by the new scientific philosophy of the 17 th century and disappeared out of the academic realm the micro-cosmos macro-cosmos theory also lost its foothold in academia and with it astrology. Although this process was general throughout Europe it would appear that the reasons for the final loss of respectability for astrology varied from country to country. This has been researched in some countries, such as Britain, but not in others, such as Germany.

In the decades leading up to the English Revolution the social status of astrology was very strong and there was even a Society of Astrologers in London, which boasted many members of the intellectual elite amongst its supporters, such as Elias Ashmole and John Evelyn. During the Revolution astrologers on both sides used their reputations and supposed skills to make war propaganda for their troops, predicting victories and losses that were written in the stars. Following the restitution of the monarchy astrology fell into disrepute because the puritan astrologers had been more successful than the royalist ones.

The Society of Astrology was also suspected as being a secret puritan organisation and so the members dissolved the society to remove the suspicion. The fashions in medicine also changed throughout the 16 th and 17 th century and by at the latest astro-medicine was out and Astro was no longer part of the university curriculum. In the 18 th century astrology was still alive and well but was no longer part of the academic establishment however in the 19 th century not only astrology by the occult sciences, in general experienced a surprising social renaissance amongst the well heeled and well educated.

Art, Optics, and Astrology in the Italian Renaissance

There were great fashions for things such as spiritualism, theosophy and other forms of mysticism and magic. I know too little about the subject to say why this occult renaissance took place but Dr SkySkull at Skulls in the Stars has an interesting post on one aspect of the subject.


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  2. Influences : art, optics, and astrology in the Italian Renaissance.
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  4. Filed under History of Astrology. Pingback: The rise and fall of astrology Whewell's Ghost. He claimed that the ratio of planetary orbits were probably incommensurable and therefore there could be no repetitions but he never actually demonstrated the truth of his claim, which is by the way incorrect.

    The system is essentially chaotic. Under either a purely Newtonian system or a purely relativistic system they will never repeat with probability 1. Am I missing something here?

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    Sorry very sloppy answer. Ptolemy is a rather incorrect Anglicised version of his name. Yea, I figure it was due to some improved transliteration though he was Greek and wrote in Greek, why care what the Latin version of his name would be? But Ptolemy seems to have been the standard way to write his name for a considerable time, abandoning it now seems to cost a high price in comprehensibility for a pretty minor gain in linguistic correctness.

    The use of the Latin ending is because since the Middle Ages Greek philosophy has always been dicussed in Latin. Thanks for this rip-roaring ride through the history of science! I had understood that the early Christian Church actually borrowed a lot of symbolism from astrology, as they had from other mythologies. This would suggest that, even if somewhat fallen from elite culture, it was still important to many of the people that the church was trying to reach. The other thing is the fall of Aristotle and the rise of the new philosophy.

    Burns on Azzolini, 'The Duke and the Stars: Astrology and Politics in Renaissance Milan'

    Why exactly was going on here? Request removal from index. Revision history. This entry has no external links. Add one. Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server Configure custom proxy use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy. Configure custom resolver. Some Other Words on Skepticism and Christianism. Astrology, Fate and Causation. Terence Rajivan Edward - - Philosophical Pathways John Monfasani - - Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 1 :pp.

    Astrology and Magic. Brian P. Copenhaver - - In Charles B. Cambridge University Press.

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