Description of John Gadbury – De Cometis (1665)

18 October, 2017 - MA Coursework

John Gadbury, De Cometis, 1665.

John Gadbury’s 1665 publication De Cometis, written in response to the three comets that appeared between 1664 and 1665, gives a philosophical, historical, and astrological description of comets. It is dedicated to Robert Peyton, Sergeant Major to Lord Craven and Principle Examiner in the High Court of the Chancery. On the title page, Gadbury refers to himself as φιλομαθηματικοσ (philomathematikos). Adjacent to the title page are drawings of each of the three comets under assessment. If I had not seen images of other printings also including these images, I might have thought they were cut from some other work; the leaf is of a different size from those of the rest of book, and has cut off the bottom of a poem underneath the images. The poem reads: “These Blazeing Starrs!//Threaten the World with Famine, Plague, & Warrs:// To Princes, Death: to Kingdoms, many Crosses:// To all Estates, inevitable Losses!// To Herds-men, Rot; to Plowmen, haples Seasons:// To Saylors, Storms: to Cittyes, Civill Treasons.” This poem more or less summarizes Gadbury’s approach to prodigies succinctly. He emphasizes and clarifies the poem by stating in the depth of the text: “And although Comets or New Stars, may be fortunate (or seem to be so at the least) unto some; yet are they not sent unto that end, but to denounce and threaten more sorrowful things, and to heap up the death and calamaties of Princes, &c.” De Cometis functions as a kind of natural history of comets, providing both a taxonomy and annal of comet appearances, details the supernatural effects of comets (not in the causal sense, but in the significatory sense), and provides nativities for various potentates and the Grand Seignior, the treatise’s dedicatee.

The work is of particular interest for my research as it, like John Bainbridge’s, employs cometary prognostication by constellar position. More useful still, Gadbury attributes this method to Haly, though I am unsure whether this refers to Ali ibn Ridwan or Haly Abenragel (Ali ibn Abi I-Rijal), both were astrolgers, ibn Ridwan wrote a Treatise on the significations of Comets in the twelve Signs of the Zodiac, printed in Nurnberg in 1563. Bainbridge’s well-documented orientalist arabism might indicate ibn Ridwan was the proximal source of this cometary-astrological method.

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