Three Zodiacs from Cecco d'Ascoli's Necromantic Commentary on the Sphere of Sacrobosco
The Sphere of Sacrobosco was a very popular medieval and
Renaissance textbook on Ptolemaic astronomy, composed by an English astrologer/astronomer and mathematician,
John of Sacrobosco in the 13th century. Since the geocentric Ptolemaic astronomy was the basis of
traditional astrology, the Sphere of Sacrobosco was a key introductory text for astrologers covering
the basics of the celestial circles, poles, meridian, ecliptic, the Zodiac and its signs and the movement
of the planets. One interesting aside for moderns is the various proofs that the Earth is sphere, well
known to the ancient and medieval worlds, despite the self flattering modern "flat Earth" myth!
The Sphere of Sacrobosco circulated widely in manuscript and
attracted many commentators. Among them was Cecco d'Ascoli, the 14th century Italian poet, physician
and astrologer. Cecco wrote what has been described as a "necromantic" commentary on the
Sphere of Sacrobosco because of its frequent references to magic, magical works and spirits.
His commentary also includes interpretations of the natal chart of Jesus. All of these were dangerous
subjects and Cecco was arrested by the Inquisition and burned as a heretic in 1327.
The portion of Cecco's commentary translated below discusses various divisions,
referred to as "arcs" of the signs of the Zodiac. Cecco explains how different divisions of the Zodiac
are used for astrology, for magic [referred to in the commentary as necromancy] and for
geomancy, an ancient form of divination. The translation is from
the Latin critical edition of Lynn Thorndike, The Sphere of Sacrobosco and its Commentators, (UChicago,
1949) translated into English by John Michael Greer.
The Sphere of Sacrobosco and its Commentators
translated by John Michael Greer
The Necromantic Commentary of Cecco d'Ascoli
Another thing you ought to know is that the arc ought to be understood
in three ways, that is, astrologically, necromantically, and chiromantically. Astrologically,
as our author does here, as well as al-Kindi in the Book of Daily Motion, where he says these words:
"From the exaltation of the Sun to its fall is called the northern arc, and from its fall to the end
of Pisces the southern arc, and these two arcs are the substance of all things." In order for you
to understand this saying of al-Kindi, remember that the Sun's fall is in Libra, and the arc thus
extends from Aries to Libra. Therefore you who are inexperienced in this science should understand
that the Sun's exaltation is in Aries and his fall in Libra, wherefore from Aries to Libra is called
the northern arc and from Libra to the end of Pisces is called the southern. These two arcs are the
substance of all things, that is, the whole circle of the Zodiac is informed by the rays of the Sun
and of the other planets, so that by its virtue the Zodiac contains the elements.
Second, necromantically, as Solomon does in the book
On the Shadows of the Ideas, where he says these words:
"The northern arc on account of its nobility quickly comes in answer, and performs miracles, God willing."
By this you should understand that the demons that are in the north are called Northerners and are noble
by nature, and they know the secrets of the elemental world. Such is their nobility that when a man of
noble nature summons them with a brief invocation, they come at once in answer. These are the demons
who dwell freely in the houses of the nobility and speak on familiar terms with the family, and serve
them freely without hurt. Sometimes in the homes of usurers and base people they throw stones and
filth, and overturn the furniture and tapestries of the room, and at night let forth groans, and
tremulous and terrible voices.
Third, chiromantically, as Ablition accepts in his Chiromancy,
where he says the following words:
"When there is an arc in the hands, believe this to be of the nature of the heavens." From this
you should understand, chiromancy being from the Greek word chiros which means "hand," that when
an arc, that is, a line is in the hand naturally, this signifies effects coming to the person
according to that planet that imprinted the line in the hand in the process of generation.
From this you will be able to see at once, that when a human creature leaves the womb,
he has signs impressed by nature in his hands. Many signs, however, are made in the
hands by accident, that is, by constriction of the hand or by the customs of some craft.
For this reason, when you want to see the natural signs, it is necessary that the hand be put
in hot water, so that the accidental signs will pass away, while the natural ones will remain.
The planets, indeed, make signs in the entire body and not only in the hands. Thus Mars rising
makes a mark on the face, as Ptolemy says in his Centiloquium.
When, however, the Sun is greater. This is because, as earth
is the excrement of the entire
elemental world, so the Moon is the excrement of the entire celestial world. A certain spirit
who was named Florion was asked what the shadow of the Moon was, and his answer was this:
"As the Earth is earth, so the Moon is the idea of humidity. If you have the whole shadow,
it will not deceive you as a shadow." From this, as you should understand, you ought to know
that as the Earth is earth, that is, excrement, the idea of humidity, that is, the Moon, is
excrement, but of a celestial kind. By this is denoted the grossness of those parts of the Moon
that are not illuminated. If you have the whole shadow, it will not deceive you as a shadow.
From this you should understand, that you should know that when the Moon is full, all its shadow
is seen in the full Moon, and the spirits naturally give answer, nor do they deceive as they do
when there is an experiment for finding a thief with a virgin boy, using a polished object, such
as a sword, mirror, crystal, or fingernail, in which is great deception.
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