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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Astrology and the novatores, part 2

Following my previous post on the status of astrology in early modern Spain, I want to give a more detailed account of the debate between Martin Martinez and Diego Torres de Villaroel. In today’s post I want to focus on the specifics of Martinez´s rejection of astrology in Juicio final de la astrologia (the final judgment of astrology).

As I commented last time, Martinez directs his attack against Diego Torres de Villaroel, a scholastic mathematician and astrologist famous for his almanacs. Martinez attacks the use of astrology on three fronts: its application in natural philosophy, in morals, and in politics. Let’s focus only on the first of these aspects here.

Martinez complains that, in order to enhance the reach of their discipline, astrologers have placed celestial bodies as the cause of almost all natural effects:

    …they [astrologers] confer to them [celestial bodies] the rains, winds, and all other alterations of the air. There is no metal in the depths of the earth that escapes their influence; they say Mars rules iron; the Moon rules silver, Jupiter rules tin, Saturn rules lead, Venus rules copper, and Mercury rues quicksilver… There is no animal, whether terrestrial, aquatic, or airborne, whose birth, life, and death does not depend on the judgment of the Celestial Bodies…even today, one or another Physician is possessed by this mistake, fixing to each celestial body its special qualities without ever experimenting them; just on their devotion, they make some hot and other cold; just on their word they make some dry and other wet; they assign a Planet to each body part: the Sun to the heart, the Moon to the brain, Mars to the liver, Saturn to the spleen, Venus to the kidneys, Jupiter to the uterus, and Mercury to the lungs…

Martinez first points out that, not being founded on experience, the conjectures of the astrologists lead to disagreements between them. One astrologist assigns the five moons of Jupiter to the fingers, while another assigns them to the five upper left teeth. Mocking the astrologists for the inconsistencies among their unfounded conjectures is only an initial stab at them, but Martinez has a more substantial philosophical argument behind it. The thrust of Martinez’s argument is that, given the presence of evident qualities, any reference to occult qualities can be nothing more than a fiction. The sun, the weather, and the observation of nature here on earth are enough to explain natural effects. There is no need to look for a connection between the celestial bodies and the ailments of the human body or the best times for harvest. The former are explained through medicine and the latter through natural philosophy, but astrology does not play any role in either.

To illustrate this, Martinez draws from natural phenomena and shows that natural philosophy always offers a better explanation than astrology. He refers to a particular event where we experience some warm days during winter as well as fresh days during summer. He emphasizes that not even the sun is a necessary cause of the seasons, but rather a sign of them. If the sun truly was the cause, then the temperature would gradually rise and decrease between the two solstices, and every year our summers and winters would be identical, given that the position of the sun is the same each year. So how do we explain the phenomenon? Astrologists, Martinez says, say that “the cold that we experience during summer is caused by the influence of the very cold Saturn, and the warm days during winter are due to the influence of raging Mars.” But if this were true, then this effect would be the same all across the globe, which is clearly false. Martinez refers to the different observations in Madrid and Valencia to illustrate the implausibility of the astrologists’ conjecture.

Natural philosophy offers a better explanation of this phenomenon: “the cause of these alterations is the variety of situations between Countries, and the variety of winds specific to each of them; since when the Austral blows in winter there is warmth, and when the Boreal blows in summer there is fresh climate…it is always necessary to refer to the specific constitution of the regions, and the diverse fermentations and other elemental alterations, in order to explain these phenomena, and reject the musings of the astrologists as unnecessary.”

Martinez drives the argument home by commenting on the superfluousness of consulting the stars when it comes to harvest:

    Of the rains and storms I say the same, since when there is an evident cause, it is not philosophical to refer to obscure causes…We must think in the same manner regarding the infertility and abundance of harvests: for if the farmer, by manuring a ground which is watered promptly by rain, collects a bountiful harvest, we must not look at any Celestial body for the cause but rather to his diligence and the prompt rain; in the same manner we must account for the infertility of harvest by a defectuous watering, small crops, the locust plague, or other evident causes; but it is never necessary to refer to Celestial Bodies to explain such events.

In essence, Martinez appeals to the astrologists’ unfounded conjectures and their appeal to obscure causes to reject the application of astrology in our explanation of natural phenomena. However, the popularity of almanacs in Spain and the confidence and reputation of figures like Torres de Villaroel meant that Martinez was facing a fierce opposition. In my next post we will examine Torres de Villaroel’s defence of astrology and his subsequent attack on the novatores.