Political Ecologies in the Renaissance

Astrology > astrology books

Early modern publishers did not merely market scientific texts to an educated and elite readership. Indeed, a range of scientific pamphlets appeared throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and these small books were oriented toward a popular audience and came in a variety of genres, including how-to manuals and almanacs.  A Briefe and most easie Introduction to the Astrologicall Judgement of the Starres (1598) and A Prognostication for Ever, Made by Erra Pater (1694), respectively a how-to manual and an almanac, are but two examples of popular scientific texts housed in Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

A Briefe and most easie Introduction to the Astrologicall Judgement of the Starres (first printed in 1583) instructs it readers in the art of astrology, describing the zodiac signs, their characteristics, and their influence on human physiology, constitution, and personal health. Fabian Withers, the text’s translator, insists that his efforts to English, for the first time, Claudius Dariot’s astrological treatise are for the “common commodity” of the English people, a claim repeated in the 1598 edition (featured here).  The 1598 edition, however, contains more than astrology lessons, for one G.C., practitioner in physic, has annexed “a briefe treatise of mathematicall phisicke, entreating very exactly and compendiously of the natures and qualities of all diseases incident to humane bodies by the naturall influences of the coelestiall motions” to Dariot’s text.  G.C.’s treatise on physic depicts the human body as inextricably linked to the natural world, susceptible to alteration when the stars shift positions.  What is more, using astrological principles as guides, the treatise explains the nature of particular maladies, their duration, and “in what dayes it is convenient to use outward or inward medicines.” The book, then, couples astrology with medicine in order to teach its readers about the stars’ effects on human health. 

A Prognostication for Ever, Made by Erra Pater, an almanac, also uses astrology to communicate to its readers how celestial motions will affect crops, animals, human health, and the weather.  Almanacs followed a rigid formula, and most featured a calendar, a zodiacal man, a prognostication, weather predictions, as well as lists of feast days, fairs, English highways, and charts that assist in calculating interest. A Prognostication for Ever is no exception to the almanac formula, and the 1694 edition, which can be found in the library’s Smith collection, lists proper days for blood-letting, “the signification of Thunder on every day of the week,” and a table of when the moon rises and sets, items found in most almanacs. First printed in 1540, the almanac was reprinted, and oft-updated, continuously through the early eighteenth century, and Erra Pater even became the subject of a broadside ballad, entitled “Erra Pater’s Prophecy”, in 1683.  Like A Briefe and most easie Introduction, the text provides easily comprehensible scientific information to its popular readers and illustrates the ways in which scientific knowledge was disseminated to a broad readership in the early modern period.

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