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April 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
Darin Hayton has a short post discussing a review of John Hessler’s A Renaissance Globemaker’s Toolbox, a new book about the cartographical endeavours of the Renaissance mathematicus Johannes Schöner. As well as being the addressee of Rheticus’ Naratio Prima, the first published account of Copernican heliocentricity, Schöner played a very central roll in the history of globe making as well as the evolution of cartography in the sixteenth century and it is with this aspect of his life that the new book is concerned. Schöner put together a private bound volume of cartographical material that he used for his own work. This volume contained, amongst other things, the only known copy of the first map to name the newly discovered western continent America, Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 map of the world, that was purchased by the Library of Congress for ten million dollars in 2003. In his latest book Hassel analyses all the cartographical material contained in Schöner’s “toolbox” to develop a picture of how he worked. I might write more about this book when I’ve read it, I ordered it today, but here I’m concerned with one troubling paragraph of the review to which Darin has already drawn attention in his post. The reviewer, John Wilford, wrote at the end of his piece the following:
Nothing in the book points up more clearly Schöner’s pivotal place in a world in transition from the medieval to the modern than his residual interest in astrology and his awakening curiosity when he apparently heard reports of a new theory being formulated by a Polish Catholic cleric. A brilliant young student of Schöner’s, Georg Joachim Rheticus, went to see Copernicus in 1539 and learned more about the Earth orbiting the Sun. Rheticus then composed a short treatise, written in the form of a letter to his teacher, “most illustrious and learned” Johannes Schöner.
In his post Darin comments on this paragraph thus:
Schöner’s interest in that “new theory being formulated by a Polish Catholic cleric” probably owed more to his interest in astrology and making astrological prognostications than the modernity we see in Copernicus’s theory. Along with his prognostications and calendars, Schöner also wrote books on astrology before and after Copernicus’s De revolutionibus was published, notably his Opusculum Astrologicum in 1539 and De iudiciis nativitatum Libri Tres in 1545. Schöner might also have been the author of a horoscope cast for Copernicus. Judging from the table of contents, Hessler spends some time assessing Schöner’s astrology. Schöner’s interest in astrology shouldn’t diminish our interest in him, but it should, perhaps, prompt us to wonder about the labels “modern” and “medieval” and the work they do for us…
Darin criticism is right on the button and in what follows I would like to expand upon it somewhat and expose what I see as a common misconception concerning the history of astrology.
Darin is perfectly correct when he surmises that any interest that Schöner had in the work of Copernicus was almost certainly motivated by his very active interest in astrology and it should be noted that Schöner’s “brilliant young student”, Georg Joachim Rheticus, who famously undertook the arduous journey to Frauenburg to visit Copernicus did so after spending several months in Nürnberg studying astrology under Schöner. The central section of Rheticus’ Naratio Prima consists of an excurse on what he sees as a confirmation of an astrological cyclical theory of history, popular at the time amongst Renaissance scholars, delivered by Copernicus’ theory of the precession of the equinoxes. However I see a major problem in Wilford’s labelling of Schöner’s astrology as medieval.
Schöner’s astrology is Renaissance astrology and it is for various reasons a very different beast to medieval astrology. His astrological practice cannot and should not be seen, as Wilford wishes us to do so, as a residual left over from earlier times but as the, for the sixteenth century, central and actual activity of the working Renaissance mathematicus; Schöner’s astrology was modern. read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Kate Belim
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