SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS ON ASTROLOGY
This study traces changes in astrological practice in sixteenth-century Europe. When using the term “practice,” I refer to “the mutual adjustment of cultural elements.”1 These cultural elements belong to various types: things, ideas, data (e.g., birth chart, harmonic theory, inscribed positions of celestial bodies). In the case of astrology, their adjustment emerges in the prediction of future events on earth (e.g., the growth of crops, the success of marriages, the fate of dynasties). Astrology hardly monopolized the prediction of future events in the sixteenth century. Some of its most important contenders were Christian theology, popular proverbs, and medical prognosis. This means that a reliable definition of astrology must include a characterization of the things, ideas, and data that were specific to it. This characterization should also have sufficient spatio-temporal stability to be at least relevant to late medieval and Renaissance Europe. This chapter sets out to develop a reliable definition of astrology, and to explore some of its crucial ramifications.
Dissolving the thorny semantics of “astrology” in a pre-modern context requires that we first expose the problem. This section does so through a historicizing look at the modern antagonism between “astronomy” and “astrology.”2
Addressing his fellow banqueteers in Plato’s Symposium, the stern Eryximachus describes astronomy as the study of love-connections. “Astronomy,” he explains, “investigates the movements of the stars and the seasons of the year.” It shows how celestial bodies exemplify both orderly and unruly “love,” thereby providing fertility and frost, or health and hail. In other words: Plato’s “astronomy” referred to
1 Pickering, “From Science as Knowledge to Science as Practice,” p. 10. Pickering
attributes this definition to Ian Hacking.
2 For an introduction, see Pines, “The Semantic Distinction,” pp. 343–344.