SeeStan ChapLee

Thursday, August 25, 2016

1628: The Astrology Affair

digital background by Selkis

One of the craziest episodes in Tommaso Campanella's crazy life was the Astrology Affair. In 1628 some astronomical phenomena made wheeler-dealers think, hope, and say that the Pope -- Urban VIII -- would die soon, in 1630. [He would reign until 1644, and would meanwhile condemn Galileo Galilei, even if they used to be friends.] For a counter-omen the Pope asked the top expert in the field: Campanella, who however was a notorious and dangerous "heretic" whom the Inquisition had kept locked up in jail for 27 years, so the meeting needed some discretion.

Campanella reassured the Pope about his death date, and would finally prove to be right, but his, or rather their enemies divulged the philosopher's secret instructions on "How to escape Fate" (De siderali fato vitando). Campanella reacted by writing another booklet, Apologeticus ad libellum De siderali fato vitando, that aimed to show that his ideas on astrology were perfectly orthodox; but Urban made more than that. Since he was furious about having become the villain of star wars, in 1631 he issued a Papal bull, titled Inscrutabilis, which banned all kind of books on horoscopes, divination, palmistry, etc. It was forbidden to read and even to own one, and punishments would be tougher than against the heretics. So, poor Campanella -- who fled to France -- had to write one more essay, the Disputatio an bullae. . ., to demonstrate that official Church documents did not prevent Catholic scholars from dealing with astrology, at least in order to challenge it.

The only type of astrology that remained legitimate was what we would simply call weather forecast, to help agriculture, health care, and travels. This position is well mirrored in Torquato Tasso's long poem Il Mondo Creato (1592-4), which reworks and updates St. Basil's sermons on the Hexaemeron (the six days of Creation), which in their turn are sometimes quoted in Campanella's works.