The Medieval Review 13.01.13

Faracovi, Ornella Pompeo. Lo Specchio Alto: Astrologia e filosofia fra medioevo e prima età moderna. Bruniana & Campanelliana Supplementi, XXXII, Studi, 11. Pisa: Fabrizio Serra Editore, 2012. Pp. 205. . . 64.00 EUR. ISBN: 978-88-6227-449-4.

Reviewed by:

Darrel Rutkin
Stanford University

Ornella Pompeo Faracovi's Lo specchio alto: astrologia e filosofia fra Medioevo e prima età moderna is a minimally modified collection of recently published essays on the history of astrology from the 13th to the 17th century. Originally published between 2003 and 2008, the twelve essays range from the deliberately anonymous Speculum astronomiae in the 1260s to Gerolamo Vitali's Lexicon mathematicum astronomicum geometricum in the 1660s. The erudite and knowledgeable author of these essays is also the editor of the Sphaera section in Bruniana e Campanelliana, and the author of several valuable full-length studies, including her 1996 Scritto negli astri: l'astrologia nella cultura dell'Occidente and her 1999 Gli oroscopi di Cristo (both Venice: Marsilio). The essays under review here well repay reading and should become known to a wider audience.

The twelve essays, which she calls "soundings," fall into three main chronological groups. The first group (1-3) falls in the 13th and early-14th centuries and explores the Christian astrology of the Speculum astronomiae (1), the problem of elections in Guido Bonatti (2), and astral inclination in Andalò di Negro (3). The second group (4-6) falls predominantly in the late-15th and early-16th centuries, focusing on astrology and philosophy in Marsilio Ficino (4), and on two responses (by Lucio Bellanti and Giovanni Gioviano Pontano) to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's extensive attack on astrology (6). These are separated by a short and interesting discussion of the head and tail of the dragon (caput and cauda draconis), the moon's north and south nodes, as a multicultural image in the Western tradition (5).

The third group (7-11) falls in the 16th and early-17th centuries and for me is the most interesting. There are insightful essays on Girolamo Cardano's extensive commentary on Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos, and how this publication furthered a humanistically inspired movement of return to a purified Ptolemaic astrology (7). There are also two closely related essays on decans and lunar mansions in Giordano Bruno (9 and 10), and one on Tomasso Campanella's use of astrology during his long career that explores (among other things) his shift from an essentially negative early view to a full embrace of astrology over most of his career (11). Chapter 8, on the other hand, directly approaches and strives to clarify a significant node of historiographical confusion on the relationship between astrology and magic. In it, Pompeo Faracovi shows how important it is to be clear about what we mean by the two terms, so that we do not conflate or confuse them in our research.

The final essay (12) in a group of its own treats a fundamentally important landmark in the history of astrology, the extremely valuable, interesting and extensive Lexicon mathematicum astronomicum geometricum by Gerolamo Vitali (Paris, 1668), a learned disciple of the astrological reformer, Placido Titi. In addition to this brief essay which treats astrology and theology therein, Pompeo Faracovi rightly uses Vitali's Lexicon throughout her essays as a rich mine of detailed information to clarify the meanings of many of astrology's technical terms, a practice that I strongly support and encourage others to follow, especially now that it has been conveniently republished also by the editors of Bruniana e Campanelliana (La Spezia: Agora, 2003). The twelve main essays are then followed by an appendix of four brief essays, originally published between 1997 and 2002 that discuss the horoscopes of Ficino, Cardano, Bruno and Campanella.

Pompeo Faracovi's introduction to this volume is new and provides a useful entrée to some of the themes raised in the following essays, all of which were historicized and developed in greater depth in her important but not well enough known Scritto negli astri, which stands behind and below the essays in this volume. If at all possible, Scritto negli astri should be read in its entirety before engaging the volume of essays under review here in order to understand them more fully. Some of the more important distinctions she explores are: horoscopic astrology vs. astromancy; stoicizing fatalistic astrology vs. a Ptolemaic conjectural approach (in which she employs an arresting phrase: the "Ptolemaic revolution" in astrology); and signs vs. causes. These valuable distinctions are well worth further thinking and deeper probing.

A close analysis of terminology and a focused attention on the internal history of astrology including its many technical features are hallmarks of her approach. As she says in essay 9 on Bruno: "Astrological terms carry a specific conceptual content--often much elaborated--layered, stratified and articulated in time over a long history, in which, in relation to elements strong in continuity, there are also revealed variations, discussions, and especially on specific points, radically divergent options (131, my translation)." As a historian of philosophy with a penchant for the archeology of knowledge, Pompeo Faracovi thus uses terminology and technical features to explore astrology's rich history.

The first essay on Giordano Bruno (9) provides a splendid example of Pompeo Faracovi's analytic skill as she discusses the terms imagines and facies signorum in the De umbris idearum. In it, she teases apart the significant but often misunderstood distinction between imagines coelestes and imagines astronomicae as part of a larger argument that sharpens and revises our understanding of Bruno's intellectual relationship to Henricus Cornelius Agrippa. Using the lemmata in Vitali's Lexicon, she clarifies that the former refers to the constellations of actual stars in the heavens, while the latter refers to the imaginary mythological and other images used in the making of talismans. She then employs this distinction to clarify Bruno's use of imagines as memory images that in his case refer primarily to the twelve zodiacal constellations and 36 extrazodiacal constellations or "paranatellonta," which relate closely to the 36 Egyptian decans and do not have a specific magical resonance for Bruno, thus sharpening earlier arguments by Frances Yates who still casts a large shadow over Bruno studies. This example indicates how Pompeo Faracovi's focus on terminology and conceptual content in articulating astrology's internal structures and practices--a central theme in these essays--can be used to great effect in analyzing the works of individual authors.

In all of these essays, Pompeo Faracovi develops themes from her important 1996 study, Scritto negli astri, whose center of gravity is in the ancient world and late antiquity, with the three final chapters moving into medieval and early modern Europe, the focus of all the essays in the volume currently under review. If these essays were more fully integrated, she could have systematically developed one or more of the themes over this entire period, and showed more fully both how the essays work together as well as how her scholarship relates to other research in the field. In this respect, it is particularly disappointing that she does not discuss any of the relevant and valuable work of more recent scholarship, including that by Jean-Patrice Boudet, Steven Vanden Broecke and the author of this review, let alone the older and more recent highly relevant researches of Graziella Federici Vescovini and Stefano Caroti. She does, however, discuss work by Charles Burnett, Paola Zambelli and David Juste, and much important earlier scholarship.

With respect to the horoscopes in the appendix, she discusses them usefully, but in most cases fuller discussion (or at least mention) of earlier treatments of relevant questions would have been valuable. And for scholars with older eyes, it is unconscionable that the font in the horoscopes is unbelievably small, on the order of one- or two-point type, making it virtually impossible to read, at least for this reviewer, without a magnifying glass. Given the large amount of blank space surrounding them, either larger type or a separate list of the data with larger type would have been welcome.

In addition, to my mind, at this stage of the historiography, one of the most valuable services a scholar as knowledgeable as Pompeo Faracovi can perform for both students and fellow scholars is to provide a rich and detailed orientation to the bibliography, which she does to some extent in some essays, but minimally in others. Likewise, translating the original Latin of quotations into Italian is of dubious value for a scholarly audience who will need to check the Latin anyway.

In the end, publishing the essays as such essentially adds nothing beyond convenience to the original publications, which were all recent and relatively easily accessible. If, however, the essays were significantly modified--for example, by amplifying and bringing the already recent bibliography further up to date--or by integrating them more fully, this would have given some further reason for the collection. Even better, if both of these suggestions were combined with translating these worthwhile essays into English, this would certainly justify the collection, and at the same time would provide the valuable service of making Pompeo Faracovi's important research accessible to a broader scholarly and popular audience, especially since very little of her work is available in translation. Regardless, none of these comments and suggestions are meant to detract from the value or interest of the essays published here. I primarily want to encourage others to read her learned and insightful studies and to make them more widely know.