For the sake of simplicity, it would be tempting to say that this paper on astrology in the Renaissance begins with Petrarch (1304-1374) and ends with Shakespeare (1564-1616). Petrarch, “the first man of the Renaissance,” was no fan of astrology and railed against its fatalistic leanings. “Leave free the paths of truth and life… these globes of fire cannot be guides for us… Illuminated by these rays, we have no need of these swindling astrologers and lying prophets who empty the coffers of their credulous followers of gold, who deafen their ears with nonsense, corrupt judgment with their errors, and disturb our present life and make people sad with false fears of the future.” By contrast, Shakespeare’s work some 250 years later gave the world the term “star-crossed lovers” and would have the murder of two young princes at the hands of an evil king attributed to a bad opposition aspect. This evidence in literature suggests a radical turnaround in public opinion of astrology, but what caused this?
It is important to note from the outset that the changes brought forth in the Renaissance had a myriad of manifestations. As Richard Tarnas points out in The Passion of the Western Mind, “the phenomenon of the Renaissance lay as much in the sheer diversity of its expressions as in their unprecedented quality.” The Renaissance did not just express itself through literature alone (or at the same time or place for that matter) but through art, theology, the burgeoning of scientia and the discovery of new lands on earth as likewise a new perspective on the heavens. Therefore, it will be asserted, it is particularly important that commentary on the learning climate prior to the Renaissance is investigated in order to establish a point of contrast.
When reflecting on the Renaissance and its glories in art, music and literature–and astrology–it is important to bear in mind that the remarkable changes of this era took place against the backdrop of the plague, war, religious strife, economic depression, the Inquisition and ecclesiastical conspiracies. Over this broad expanse, in this fascinating period of history, an attempt will be made to determine the renewed interest in and development of astrology during the Renaissance.
The Twin Stars: A Shift from Aristotle to Plato akashic records
The discovery and translation of ancient texts has been an instigator of major transitions in history, particularly the works of Plato and Aristotle. In his book, The Sleepwalkers, Arthur Koestler commented on the influence and popularity of these Greek thinkers. “Insofar as their influence on the future is concerned,” Koestler wrote, “Plato and Aristotle should rather be called twin stars with a single centre of gravity, which circle round each other and alternate in casting their light on the generations that succeed them.” Each would have his turn to enjoy being “in fashion” whilst the other went out of style. According to Koestler, Plato would reign supreme until the 12th century, then Aristotle’s work would be re-discovered and after two centuries, when the world’s thinkers tired of Aristotle’s rhetoric, Plato would re-emerge in a different guise. In the period up to the emergence of the Renaissance, it was Aristotle’s star that shone and though it may be difficult to believe given modern Christianity’s lack of approval for astrology, it was a scholastic theologian who united Aristotle, Church doctrine and astrology.