History and Philosophy Of Science | Cultural History of Astrology
X320 | 7450 | William Newman

X320/521:  History of Western Astrology

This course will give a cultural history of astrology from late
antiquity through the seventeenth century.  Despite the close
relationship between astrology and politics from Tiberius to
Machiavelli, historians have only recently begun to consider the
impact of astrological practice on Western civilization.  Astrology
was a discipline in which most pre-modern people, both learned and
unlearned, believed.  Why?  What was the impact of this belief?  The
course will trace the origins of astrology and show their
relationship to astronomy, and it will explore the widespread
character of astrological belief through the seventeenth century.
Participants will study sufficient basic spherical astronomy to make
the practice of astrology comprehensible, and they will then learn
to use (and possibly construct) some of the basic tools of the
astrologer, such as the astrolabe.  The course will focus on such
issues as the role of astrology in politics and religion, the use of
astrological motifs in medieval literature (e.g. Geoffrey Chaucer),
and the late medieval development of astrological medicine (e.g.
when should a physician let blood?).  The roles played by Pico della
Mirandola, John Dee, and Johannes Kepler in the early modern
reformation of astrology will be assessed.  The course will conclude
with the vexed question of astrology’s decline:  Why, after so many
centuries of success, did astrology fall into disrepute in the late
seventeenth century?

Grading:  Three exams, no term paper

Texts:  Course reading packet, Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, Tester’s
History of Western Astrology, and possibly more.