In one of my researches in Rome’s libraries I found a copy of Astrolabium Planum, one of the most intriguing and enigmatic books written during Renaissance by Johannes Angelus, published in 1488 in Augusta, one of the oldest German cities, founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus- where the author Johann Engel stated that the second part - a collection of pictures showing the 360 degrees of zodiacal belt with an explicative sentence for each of them - was elaborated ab excellentissimo viro medicine facultatis doctore experto Petro de Abano. 1
The text - written in Latin - had a so great fortune that it was immediately translated in several languages as German and English.
This is Gadbury’s translation with forewords written by William Lilly, from Early English Books Online.2
So, according Engel himself, he was just the editor of a Medieval book written by Pietro Abano, a doctor and a scholar from Padua, an important cultural centre of Northen Italy during the end of 1200.
Engel is not a liar because an Italian scholar and expert of Pietro Abano, professoressa Federici Vescovini 3 found in Munich a manuscript (now it is scanned in Patrick Guinard’s DIAL astrological library), the only copy of the original text written by Abano around 1302-1303.
What does this part of the book describe? We can discover this from the incipit of Munich text, which says:
De 360 imaginibus: incipiunt ymagines signorum super triginta gradus quorum quilibet habet suam ymaginem propriam ad predicendum naturas et exercitia hominum.
Abano describes - in the original text in fact there are not pictures, on the contrary Engel’s Astrolabium Planum shows all the pictures of 360 degrees with women and men in Renaissance clothes- the images of the stars - which were called paranatellonta by the Greek astrologers- rising with the Ascendant and their influence on the nature of men and their activities.
Relevant quotes can be found in Proclus’ Commentary to Plato’s Republic and in Censorinus.
Proclus in fact writes: “Degrees rising with the horoscope contain all the virtue of generation, so for example they produce some births proper to the priesthood and others that are dishonoured. ”
But almost 200 years before, Censorinus could state in De Die Natali: “These points are thirty for every sign: i.e. three hundred sixty for the whole circle. Greeks call them Moira, without every doubt because this is the name of Goddesses of Fate, and so our fate depends on these points, and the fact of being born under one or another it’s the most important factor.”
Firmicus Maternus devoted all the last part of his Mathesis about paranatellonta describing the influence of the stars rising with several degrees of Zodiac, and as Abano- he believed stars made men professions and activities.4
If the theory is well known, it’s not the same for a more direct Abano source.
It’s evident as we will see below that a great part of Astrolabium Planum stars images comes from Liber VI of Albumasar’s Great Introduction, which the gentle author of this blog has translated here from the version of John of Seville, the longer one, never published (she copied the Latin version from the edited version by Richard Lemay for Istituto Orientale of Naples).
Some scholars as Saxl5 and Warburg think that Abano took his images from a Spanish manuscript written at the court of Alphonse the Wise, known now as Vat. Reg. 1283 (now it is closed in Vatican Library, but Alfonso d’Agostino edited the Spanish text together with the Italian translation ), 6 and in fact the two texts are so similar that it’s difficult thinking to a coincidence.
English readers can compare these texts because the pages of Vat.Reg.1283 about paranatellonta have been translated in the Library page of this blog since many months here.
In every case it’s not clear to me as Abano, who lived in the Northern Europe, could read the Spanish book, neither Warburg or Saxl say, but surely Abano knew Albumasar text in the Latin version of Hermann of Carinthia, who translated Albumasar in 1140.
Moreover Abano in 1293 was the translator of “The beginning of the wisdom” where the author - IbnEzra - copied as he could and would the images of 36 facies described by Albumasar, almost repeating word by word Hermann shorter version - it seems that copy and paste from others’s works without any reference is not just a mean action of some contemporary astrologers nothing new under the Sun.
In every case , whether if Abano knew Albumasar from a Latin translation, from IbnEzra or from the Spanish manuscript there is no doubt that Liber Vi had a paramount influence on his book and the edited version by Johannes Angelus.
Simonetta, Feraboli, an Italian scholar and a Professor of Greek in the university of Genova, in my opinion the greatest expert of ancient stellar catalogues, wrote a wonderful paper about the images of Astrolabium Planum and the corresponding stars, better paranatellonta. 7
This is an example for the 10th degree of Scorpio, which is my Ascendant.
The latin text says - German is more difficult for an Italian girl
Facies multum tortuosa. Homo mirabilis erit opinionis.
Which stands for: a very twisted face. Man - and woman too obviously -with marvelous ideas - which it sounds very true to me
Which star is rising with the first 10 degrees of Scorpio according Albumasar?
John of Seville, true to the Arab version translates as the head of Serpentarius.The same Liber Hermetis:
From the eighth to the tenth degrees there arise Serpentarius, Aesculapius, Hygea and two entwined dragons, they make botanists, doctors, perfumers.
But Hermann and many texts (Feraboli quotes Gundel) indicate this head as Medusa head, Algol, because this star sets at the Descendant while the tenth degree of Scorpio is rising.
Is it a very sophisticated game, true?
In every case images of Astrolabium Planum - better the older Abano version were depicted on the walls of Salone della Ragione in Padua by one of the greatest Italian artists, Giotto.
Destroyed in the fire of 1420 they were painted again- we don’t know if as they were originally painted by Giotto, still again quite true to the 360 images listed by Pietro Abano (some scholars showed the link between the images and the 333 frescos which cover the palace walls)
All the living men are disposed in their life, in their inclinations, and in every kind of activity from Heaven, i.e. from Planets. 8
Frescoes are depicted on three lines, in the centre of the central line there is the zodiacal sign corresponding to the month, the month and the planet which rules the sign starting from Aries. In the upper part there are constellations rising with the sign while in the bottom line, the painter showed images from Astrolabium Planum.
The gentle author of this blog found a video in English taken from the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza in Florence. I hope you will like it as Gadbury version of Astrolabium Planum.
Written by Margherita Fiorello @ year 2009
- Giordana Mariani Canova , “Per la storia della figura astrologica a Padova. Il De imaginibus di Pietro d’Abano e le sue fonti” [↩]
- Johannes Angelus, Esoptron Astrologikon. Astrological opticks. Wherein are represented the faces of every signe, with the images of each degree in the zodiack: thereby describing, 1. The nature and quality of every person, according to the degree ascending in the east at his nativity. 2. The virtue and signification of every planet through the 12. signes. 3. A most excellent description of the more hidden and abstruse influence of [symbol for Mercury] in his [symbol for conjunction] with all other the planets. 4. A clear explanation of the signification of the horoscope in any signe of the zodiack. / Compiled at Venice, by those famous mathematicians, Johann. Regiomontanus and Johannes Angelus., Early English Books Online (London, : Printed for John Allen, and R. Moon, and are to be sold at their shops, at the Sun-rising, and Seven-starrs in Pauls Church-yard, in the new buildings between the two north-doors.,  [↩]
- Graziella Federici Vescovini, “Pietro d’Abano e gli affreschi astrologici del Palazzo della Ragione di Padova” [↩]
- Julius Firmicus Maternus, Ancient Astrology: Theory and Practice, Matheseos Libri VIII (Park Ridge N.J.: Noyes Press, 1975). [↩]
- Fritz Saxl, La fede negli astri : dall’antichita’ al Rinascimento (cura Salvatore Settis) (Torino: Boringhieri, 1985). [↩]
- Alfonso X, Astromagia : ms. Reg. lat. 1283 a (cura Alfonso d’Agostino), Barataria, 6 (Napoli: Liguori, 1992). [↩]
- Simonetta Feraboli, “Astronomia classica nell’Astrolabium di Pietro d’Abano” [↩]
- Antonio. Barzon, I cieli e la loro influenza negli affreschi del Salone in Padova (Padova: Tip. Seminario, 1924). [↩]