Astrology through the Centuries

This will be an ongoing and not a definitive post where I will continually update chronological and historical information about astrologers from the past, and also, about people who wrote against astrology or in defense of astrology. The aim of the post is acquiring better understanding of he times and climes in which this Art was developed.

The list will not take the chronological order immediately. I will ‘throw’ into this post names and events from time to time, not in a chronological manner, but in accordance with my own continual acquiring of information through reading different books, papers, articles et cetera.

Umar al-Tabari (full name: Umar bin al-Farrukhan al Tabari) was a Persian astrologer and architect who wrote in Arabic and lived in 8th century (fl. Baghdad, Iraq, 762–815). Around 800 he translated Dorotheus’ five books from Middle Persian into Arabic. He was one of the most celebrated astrologers in his own time, and was chosen to establish the election chart for the foundation of the city of Baghdad (31 July 762), alongside Masha’allah, Newbakht, al-Fazārī, and several other astrologers.

His works:
– A tafsīr or paraphrase of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos (812) was a paraphrased translation from the Pahlavi version.
– A tafsīr of the astrological work of Dorotheus of Sidon, again from a Pahlavi version from 5th century.
Mukhtasar masā’il al-Qaysarānī (“Abridgment of the Caesarean Interrogations”) in 138 chapters.
Kitāb fi’l-mawālīd (“Book About Nativities”). This is most probably the most famous work of his, which was translated into Latin by Iohannes Hispalensis with name De nativitatibus secundum Omar in three books.
Kitāb al-‘ilal.

His name is also translated as “Omar Tiberiades”.

Abu Bakr (full name: Abu Bakr al-Hassan ibn al-Khasib [lat. Albubather]) was an Arab astrologer and physician who lived in 9th century. He wrote astrological work in 4 parts, of which the 3rd part “On Nativities” was most popular throughout medieval period [lat. ‘De Nativitatibus]. First and second part of his work is dedicated to introduction into astronomy and astrology, and in part to mundane revolutions; the 4th part is dedicated to solar revolutions. His astrology approach is clearly based on that of Umar al-Tabari’s, and Abu Bak’r even states in his book that his own father was “an observer” of the astrological practice of Umar.

omarOmar Khayyám (full name: Ghiyāth ad-Dīn Abu’l-Fatḥ ʿUmar ibn Ibrāhīm al-Khayyām Nīshāpūrī (18 May 1048 – 4 December 1131;) was Persian polymath:poet, astronomer, mathematician, physycian, court astrologer et cetera. He wrote on many different subjects, such as geography, music, theology and other. He was commissioned by Malik Shah, sultan of the Seljuk Turks, to work on reforming the calendar. His later years were spent in teaching mathematics and astrology.

I was unable to devote myself to the learning of this al-jabr and the
continued concentration upon it, because of the obstacles in the
vagaries of Time which hindered me; for we have been deprived of
all people of knowledge save for a group, small in number, with
many troubles, whose concern in life is to snatch the opportunity,
when Time is asleep, to devote themselves meanwhile to the investigation
and perfection of a science; for the majority of people who

imitate philosophers confuse the true with the false, and they do
nothing but deceive and pretend knowledge, and they do not use
what they know of the sciences except for base and material pur
poses; and if they see a certain person seeking for the right and

preferring the truth, doing his best to refute the false and untrue
and leaving aside hypocrisy and deceit, they make a fool of him
and mock him.[1]

Tommaso di Benvenuto da Pizzano was a 14th century physician, court astrologer, and Councillor of the Republic of Venice. Father of the famous Christine de Pizan – a poet, writer who was famous for raising her voice against misogyny and other medieval stereotypes. Tommasso was highly learned man, and after the birth of his daughter he went to the court of Charles V of France and appointed himself as astrologer, alchemist and physician. He graduated at University of Bologna and lectured on astrology often throughout his life. In 1357 he moved to Venice where Christine was born in 1364. In 1368 he and his family moved to Paris. He was highly respected as astrologer, so he had several offers from most famous courts in that time; the major were from the Hungarian king and from the French king Charles the V. He decided to take the second job offer and settled at the court of Charles V of France (1338 – 1380). Here he was called in French style Thomas de Pisan and gathered a nick name “the Wise”.[2]

Christine had very changeable fortune. On the one hand life provided her with a wonderful father who allowed and nurtured her gift for writing and poetry, on the other hand, she became a widow very early in life. Somewhere around the same time she lost her father too (in 1387) and she was left alone with her children and taking care of her mather. Here is where she become melancholically introverted and dedicated her self into writing. What follows is an excerpt from her famous poem “Mutation of Fortune”:

Mutation of Fortune
I wish to tell my history,
‘Twill seem to some pure mystery.
But even though they won’t believe,
I’ll tell the truth and won’t decieve.
It all happened to me, really;
I was twenty-five, or nearly,
It was no dream when it occured,
No need to evoke the absurd
When one has seen what I have seen,
These wonders that have really been,
That we do not see every day
Because of Fortune’s clever way,
Of disguising her mutations,
Those deceptive situations
Which I hope to unveil here…
…Before my discourse grows in size,
Let me summarize, this moment,
Just who I am, what all this meant.
How I, a woman, became a man by a flick of Fortune’s hand
How she changed my body’s form
To the perfect masculine norm.
I’m a man, no truth I’m hiding,
You can tell by how I’m hiding
300px-Christine_de_Pisan_-_cathedra
And If I was female before-
It’s the truth and nothing more-
It seems I’ll have to re-create
Just how I did transmutate
From a woman to a male:
I think the title of my tale
Is, if I’m not being importune,
“The Mutation of Fortune.[3]

Charles V king of France (21 January 1338 – 16 September 1380) called “the Wise” (in French: ‘le Sage”). He was known for hi promotion of culture and literature, and his vast library is a subject of admiration even today. For us as astrologers, most interesting are the astrological books contained in his library, some of which I will expose here.

Ptolemy's Quadr

Ptolemy: Quadripartitum, with gloss by Ali Ibn Ridwan, French translation by Guillaume Oresme

Paris Bibliothèque nationale de France MSS Français 1348

You can download free digital copy from here.

French version.

Leovits Cyprian (1524 – 1574) lat. Cyprianus Leovitus, was a Czech (Bohemian) astrologer and mathematician, also a court astrologer of Otto Heinrich and Maximilian II. He is author of several astrological treatises, some of which were particularly popular in his own time. Here is a list of his treatises:
Tabulae directionum et profectionum … – Aug. Vindelic., 1552. (Tables of Directions and Profections)
Eclipsium omnium ab anno 1564 usque ad annum 1606 accurata descriptio et pictura etc. – Aug. Vindelic., 1554, 1556. (“All of the eclipse from 1564 until the year 1606, precisely described and painted”)
Ephemeridum novum atque insigne opus ab anno 1556 ad annum 1606. – 1557.  (New Ephemerides for years 1556 to 1606)
De conjunctionibus magnis … – Lauingae ad Danubium, 1564. (On great conjunctions)
Strauch-Leovitius. Astrologische Aphorismen.  Grimm, 1924. (Astrological Aphorisms)

200px-Michael_ServetusMichael Servetus (29 September 1509 or 1511 – 27 October 1553) was a remarkable Spanish polymath. He wrote on many different subjects, such as: theology, medicine, geography, mathematics, astronomy et cetera.
In 1538 he wrote Apologetic discourse of Michel de Villeneuve in favour of Astrology and against a certain physician. (Michaelis Villanovani in quedam medicum apologetica disceptatio pro Astrologia). In this discourse Servetus criticizes Jean Tagault, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris for attacking astrology and astrologers, while arguing that very great names such as Plato, Galen, Aristotle and Hipocrates, were of the opinion that the stars are related to certain aspects of the health of the patient, and how a good physician can use Astrology to predict the effects and consequences of some illness. He was also arguing about the influence of Sun and Moon on the sea, on women and winds. He was of the opinion that it is not wise to criticize astrology and based his reasoning on the above mentioned names and effects, arguing that they were wise enough not to dispute astrology.

He was a Protestant reformator and was well known for his Nontrinitarian Christology. He was versed in many languages and read the Bible in its original languages. He believed that the doctrine of the Trinity is not based on the Bible. He believed that this doctrine was influented by the Greek philosophers and argued that every Christina need to devote his time to study the Gospels in their simplicity, without the premises from outer influences upon the Christianity, such as was, according to him, the doctrine of the Trinity. He was condemned as a heretic by Chatolic Church but by the Protestants too. He was arrested in Genova and burned at a stake.

Here is a an excerpt from a very interesting interview with Servetus, in which he was asked about the rumors that he is foolish t apply faith in the validity of astrology.

INTERVIEWER:  While later practicing medicine you were charged with being a quack,
mainly because you believed in astrology. Was the charge true?

SERVETUS: I believed that a doctor should be versed in weather forecasting, and in
geography, and other sciences as well. I pointed out that Plato, Aristotle,
Pythagoras, Galen, Hypocrites and others recognized the validity of astrological
medicine. Why have signs been established by the Creator if they may not signify
something? I said that those are blind who  never lift their eyes to the heavens to
behold the most beautiful mechanism of Creation, and that doctors who decline to
avail themselves of all aids are ignoramuses.[4]

John Chamber (1546 – 1604) was a canon of Windsor born in Swillington, Yorkshire. Graduated on Oxford, he was quite familiar with the Greek literature. His particular interests were medicine, astronomy and astrology, with not so good opinions about the later. He wrote the back then famous ‘Treatise against Judicial Astrology‘ (Lond. 1601), to which Sir Christopher Heydon replied with his ‘Defence of Judicial Astrology‘ (Camb. 1603). To this, Chamber replied again in his ‘A Confutation of Astrological demonology in the Devil’s School‘, which was never printed. In addition to this, Chamber received help from George Carleton, bishop of Chichester, writing the treatise ‘The Madnesse of Astrologers‘, printed in 1624.

Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton (1540 – 1614) wrote ‘A Defensative against the Poyson of supposed Prophecies (1583)’, was a very controversial figure among the English aristocrats, though very learned and eloquent. Francis Bacon regarded him as: “the learnedest councillor in the kingdom to present to the king his Advancement of Learning.”

Image

Howard’s main argument against the credibility of astrology was probably the oldest and more frequent one: if every individual possess its own destiny according to the astral influences, how can be that the twins born in the very near amount of time, has different destiny, that is, different kind of death, diseases and time of death.

Philip Stubbes (c. 1555 – c. 1610), English writer who wrote the famous ‘The Anatomie of Abuses‘, work dedicated on the fashions and customs of the time, in which he didn’t escape mentioning astrology. He argued that stars incline the soul, that is, they effect the soul through their operations, but that they do not cause (that is, they are not efficient cause) neither bad nor evil. In other words, man is responsible for his actions, and one should not to blame it on the stars. Man through free will, can choose his actions.

References:
1. The great Umar Khayyam, a global reception of Rubaiyat. A.A. Seyet-Gohrab (ed.)1
2. Middle Ages Biographies by Judson Knight, edited by Judy Galens. An imprint of the Gale Group, 2001.2
3. Pizan, Christine de. “From the book of the Mutation of fortune” in The Writings of Christine de Pizan trans. Nadia Margolis ed. Charity Cannon Willard (New York: Persea Books, 1994), 110 & 112.3
4. Servetus, Our 16th century contemporary, A brief introduction to the life and teachings of Michael Servetus, a pioneer of religious freedom. (© Copyright of the International Association for Religious Freedom 2011), p.58.4

Sources:
Carrol Camden – Astrology in Shakespeare’s day.

Persian Nativities II, introduction into the nativities of Umar al-Tabari and Abu Bakr by Benjamin N. Dykes. The Cazimi press, Minneapolis, Minnesota 2010.

D. Pingree, “The Fragments of the Works of al-Fazārī,” in Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 29 (1970), 103–123, esp. 104.

“ʿUmar Ibn Al-Farrukhān Al-Ṭabarī.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (February 6, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830904414.html

Wikipedia.org

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