Monica Azzolini – The Duke and the Stars

28 September, 2017 - MA Coursework

Monica Azzolini, The Duke and the Stars: Astrology and Politics in Renaissance Milan (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2013).


It should be noted at the outset that the index to this volume contains no entry for comets. They are mentioned only very infrequently and mostly in endnotes.

Monica Azzolini’s The Duke and the Stars: Astrology and Politics in Renaissance Milan participates in the recent academic rehabilitation of astrology studies. Her present volume seeks to fill the gap in that rising wave of scholarship of the relationship of astrology to political power, especially in a courtly context. The Duke and the Stars, then, is a story of the influence-nexus of astrology, medicine, and political and martial strategy embodied in the intimate and often contentious relationship between the physician-astrologer and courtly patron in the context of the Viscontine and Sforzan ducal courts of renaissance Milan.

Her investigation originated in untidy and often impenetrable Milanese archives, and as such she first sought to answer the question: was there, corresponding to the corpus astronomicum, a corpus astrologicum composing a standard late-medieval and renaissance university reading curriculum? She proceeds, from student notes, transcriptions, and book lists, to reconstruct oft-assigned texts and estimate their ubiquity within the curriculum at the local University of Pavia. Her reconstruction consists of Sacrobosco’s Algorismus, Euclid’s Elementa geometriae, Theorica Planetarum, Messhallah’s De astrolabio, Alcabitius’s Introductorius ad iudicia astrorum, pseudo-Ptolemy’s Centriloquium, Tetrabiblos, and the third book of his Almagest. Perhaps most interesting among this reading list: William of England’s De urina non visa, an instruction in the interpretation and analysis of urine, not by inspecting it, but by casting a horoscope. The reconstruction of this Pavian curriculum lays an important foundation for Azzalini, most of the physician-astrologers explored in her text were educated at Pavia.

With the educational and theoretical context of Italian Renaissance astrology well established, Azzolini proceeds to her main subject: astrological practice in the courtly context. The volume progresses chronologically through the Sforza dynasty beginning with Bianca Maria Visconti and her husband Francesco Sforza and ending with Ludovico Sforza. Notably, the fourth chapter, focused on Gian Galeazzo Sforza, dives into medical astrology. The other chapters focus on the role of astrology in political/martial consultation including nativities, elections (the proper time to initiate an action), and interrogations (Q&A).

While much of the volume, as did contemporaneous astrology, focuses on the influences of the constant celestial bodies — the planets, fixed stars, and luminaries (sun and moon), some scraps pertaining to comets can be scrounged, mostly from the notes. In 1472, two astrologers were asked to interpret the appearance of a comet, countermanding the plague warnings of prophets, instead predicting wars in distant lands and troubles for Christianity. By the time of its disappearance, Duke Galeazzo had ordered five astrological interpretations of the comet. In 1491, a comet happened to accompany the marriage of ducal heir Ludovico. It was interpreted as a sign of dynastic legitimation. In 1456, a physician-astrologer prepared a iudicium (judgment/prediction) for Ludovico Gonzaga in response to a (known now as Halley’s) comet. This assessment of a rare phenomenon was considered a kind of “astrological intelligence.” In preparing it, the astrologer referenced Eusebius, Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Haly Avenrodoan (Ali Ibn Ridwan) on the nature and properties of comets.
















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