Astrology (gr. Astron = star, logos = science) is undoubtedly one of the oldest sciences and, as the name itself says, includes many beliefs, traditions and knowledge on the relationship between the position of celestial bodies and how they put their mark on people’s lives. Astrology has evolved over time and in the lines that follow we will provide you information on how astrology was perceived in medieval times.
The connection between heavenly bodies and events that have occurred on Earth over time influenced to a great extent the history of mankind in many ways.
The beginnings of astrology, which were broadly defined as “understanding the stars”, have their roots around the third millennium BC. Astrology was born when people began to notice changes taking place in nature (such as seasonal cycles) and the connection between them and the position of celestial bodies. Astrology was the one which gave birth to astronomy.
Gradually, astrology has become an important part in the lives of all civilizations. It is assumed that the Babylonians were the first who put up a whole astrological system around the second millennium BC. Over time, astrology and information about this spread throughout the ancient world, thus becoming an important element of the Greek and Roman culture. Astrology is considered one of the most practiced disciplines around the world, being considered at the same time an occult science.
Scientists concluded that astrology was a branch of mathematics, perhaps the most complex one. Along with astronomy, astrology represents the deepest studies of humanity.
Astrology has remained the most important science in human history until the end of the medieval period. However, once science has modernized, scientists began to treat astrology in a different manner. Its importance was diminished, whereas astronomy was the one to be considered the real science, astrological beliefs being just “superstitions”.
Astrology in the Middle Ages
Astrology developed gradually during antiquity, becoming the supreme science that influenced human life in all respects. Evolution of astrology continued in the medieval period and reached its peak in the sixteenth century. Medieval astrologers were called true mathematicians and the knowledge acquired by them was largely due to the research and information left by ancient scientists. Astrology in the Middle Ages was an important part of medicine, the latter being highly based on astrological principles. Astrology is based on two main principles. The first principle refers to the fact that in the entire Universe, all things and events are in a permanent relationship and that the sun and the rest of heavenly bodies influence each other. The second principle refers to the fact that the events that happen on Earth are influenced by the position of the sun and other stars.
Since the thirteenth century, astrology became an important part of medieval medicine. Doctors were combining knowledge about ancient medicine, inherited from the ancient psychologist Galen, with the study of stars. In the fifteenth century, before performing complicated medical procedures, doctors were forced to calculate the position of the moon in relation to other celestial bodies and to interpret their position. Astrology became an important matter for those who were attending a university in the Middle Ages, especially medicine. It was believed that the movement of the stars influenced the nature, including the human body, thus for this reason, there was a strong connection between medicine and astrology. Each part of the body was associated in the Middle Ages to a zodiacal sign. Medical books dating from the medieval period were marked by complex zodiacal systems that were very helpful for doctors, in order to detect problems but also to provide appropriate treatment.
As we mentioned earlier, astrology continued to evolve in this period, so that many scientific papers have been written on the subject, among which that of Johannes de Sacrobosco or of the astrologer Guido Bonatti, of Italian origin. The Pope, as well as other important figures in religious or political life, had an astrologer, whose role was that of a counselor.
Moreover, astrology influenced the educational system. University courses were divided into seven distinct branches, each being assigned a planet, according to the principle introduced by Dante. Each art had a heavenly counterpart. For example, grammar had the Moon as a corresponding astral body because it was the fastest celestial body. The celestial counterpart of dialectic was Mercury, of rhetoric -Venus, the Sun was for music, Mars was for arithmetic, Jupiter for geometry and astronomy and Saturn was for astrology, the one characterized by a very slow motion. Astrology in the Middle Ages had also a great impact on literature. The writers of this period have used powerful symbols of astrology, cultivating it in works of reference in literature. One of the works of reference of this period when astrology played a very important role is Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Authentic astrological allegories can be found in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, as well.
As we have said previously, the influence of the stars on events that happen on Earth is visible, as the Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly stated himself in a comprehensive essay based on the fact that the stars influence major historical events that take place on our planet.