Add to bookbag
Title: Astrology
Original Title: Astrologie
Volume and Page: Vol. 1 (1751), pp. 780–783
Author: Edme-François Mallet (biography)
Translator: Steve Harris [San Francisco State University]
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

This text is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Please see for information on reproduction.

Citation (MLA): Mallet, Edme-François, and Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert. "Astrology." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Steve Harris. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Astrologie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 1. Paris, 1751.
Citation (Chicago): Mallet, Edme-François, and Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert. "Astrology." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Steve Harris. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Astrologie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1:780–783 (Paris, 1751).
highlight hits: on | off

Astrology . The word is composed of star and of exposition ; thus, Astrology in its literal sense would mean knowledge of the heavens and the stars, which is also reflected in its origins. Astrology formerly meant knowledge of the heavens and the stars; but the meaning of the term has changed and we now use the word Astronomy for what the ancients called Astrology . See Astronomy.

Astrology is the art of predicting future events by the aspects, positions and influences of celestial bodies. See Aspect, Influence, etc.

Astrology is divided into two branches: natural Astrology and judicial Astrology .

Natural Astrology is the art of predicting the natural effects, such as changes in the weather, winds, tempests, storms, thunder, floods and earthquakes, etc. See Natural. See also Weather, Wind, Rain, Storm, Thunder, Earthquake, etc.

It is this branch which is the subject of the English author, Goad, in his two-volume work, entitled Astrology . It seems that the study of the stars can lead to knowledge of floods and of infinite other phenomena. As a → result of this idea, he tries to explain the diversity of the seasons by the different positions and movements of the planets, by their retrograde movements, by the number of stars in a → constellation, etc .

Natural Astrology is, properly-called, a → branch of Physics or Natural Philosophy; and the art of predicting natural effects is nothing but the result, in hindsight, of observing the phenomena.

If you are curious to know the true bases of Natural Astrology , and in what situations you can make predictions, you should review the articles on Air, Atmosphere, Weather, Barometer, Eclipse, Comet, Planet, Hygrometer, Drainage, Emissions, etc .

Boyle was right when he recognized this type of Astrology in his study of Gases . The creation and corruption of which, according to him, were the end points of their potential states, and the thinning and condensation were intermediate states. He showed, as a → result of this principle, that the emanations from the celestial bodies immediately contributed to the production of the last two effects and could not fail to contribute to two former, as well as affect all physical bodies. See Generation, Corruption, Rarefaction, Condensation, etc .

It is certain that humidity, heat, cold, etc. (the qualities that nature uses to produce those two significant phenomena—condensation and rarefaction) depend almost entirely on the revolution of the movements, the environment, etc of the celestial bodies. It is no less certain that each planet must have its own light; a → light distinct from that of all other bodies, a → light which is not only visible in itself, but by virtue of which the planet is endowed with a → specific power. The Sun, as we know, is not only brighter than all the planets, but also warms them by a → primordial heat, keeps them alive and moving and gives them properties which are particular to each. But, this is not all. Its rays take to those bodies a → type of color, they change there and, as they are changed, they are reflected on the other parts of the world and above all on the surrounding area. Thus, depending on the degree to which the planets face this star, they are more or less bright; and the greater the angle with which the Sun’s rays strike them, the greater the distance at which they are placed, each being different in this regard. The rays convey more or less virtue and divide their effects to a → greater or lesser degree. They convey, if one can say so, a → stronger or weaker color and this virtue, these effects, this color are accordingly more or less powerful as to sublunary beings. See Mead , de imperio solis & lunae, etc .

Judicial Astrology , to which one properly gives the name of Astrology , is the supposed art of announcing moral events before they happen. By moral events, I mean those which depend on the will and free actions of men; as if the stars had some authority over them and could direct them. See Will, Action, etc.

Those who profess this art claim that

“the heavens are a → great book in which God wrote the history of the world by hand and where all men can read their destiny. Our art,” they say, “comes from the same cradle as astronomy . The ancient Assyrians who enjoyed skies whose beauty and serenity favored astronomical observations, closely studied the movements and the periodic revolutions of the celestial bodies. They noticed a → consistent analogy between these bodies and terrestrial bodies and they concluded that the stars were really the Fates and destiny of which they so often spoke, that they presided over our birth and disposed of our future.”

See Horoscope, Birth, House, Fates, Destiny, etc. This is how Astrologers have protected their art in times past. Currently, the main activity of those to whom we give this label is to make almanacs and calendars. See Calendar and Almanac.

Judicial Astrology seems to have been born in Chaldea, from where it spread to Egypt, Greece and Italie. There are authors who make it Egyptian in origin and who attribute its invention to Ham. We received it from the Arabs. The Romans were so infatuated with it that Astrologers or Mathematicians (since that is what they called them) were able to support themselves in Rome in spite of the Imperial edicts which banished them. See Genethliacs.

As to other countries, the Brahmas or Brahmins who had introduced this so-called art to India and who practiced it there, deing devoted to the dispensing of future benefits and harms, exercised a → prodigious authority over the people. They were consulted as oracles charged dearly for their answers. and It was only for a → very high price that they sold their visions. See Brahmin.

The ancients gave the name aspostelesmatic Astrology or barbaric sphere to this superstitious science, which concerned the effects and influences of the stars. The ancient Jews, in spite ot their religion, fell into this superstition, from which Chrisians themselves were not exempt. The modern Greeks have carried it to the oint of excess and it is difficult to find one of their authors who, at any time, didn’t speak of predictions by stars, horoscopes or talismans. Further, if you want to believe it, there is hardly a → single column, statue or building in Constantinople or in all of Greece that was not built according to the rules of aspostelesmatic Astrology ; since it is from this word that we get the word talisman .

We have been infected with the same superstition in recent centuries. French historians observe that judicial Astrology was quite in fashion under Queen Catherine de Medici, who didn’t dare to undertake anything important without having previously consulted the stars. Under the reigns of Henri III and Henri IV, there was no more popular topic of conversation in the French court than the predictions of astrologers.

In the second book of his “Argenis,” Barclay created a → clever satire of the unique prejudice that occurred in the court. He was inspired by the story of an astrologer who was responsible for predicting the results of a → war to King Henri (who was threatened by the Guise faction).

“You say, so-called soothsayer,” says Barclay, “that it is the influence of the stars which rules at our birth, on which depends the different circumstances—happy or unhappy—of our life and death. You swear, on the other hand, that the heavens move so swiftly that a → single instant suffices to change the position of the stars. How are we to reconcile these two things? And when such a → shift, so quick that one cannot conceive it, pulls with it all the celestial bodies, mustn’t all the opportunities or dangers attached to them change according to the new configuration? How can destiny be fixed at that time? You can’t know (which knowledge is, according to you, necessary) under which star someone will be born. Perhaps you believe that the midwife’s first thought is to check the clock to determine the exact minute of the child’s birth and to preserve the newborn’s stars as his patrimony? But often the risk to the mother doesn’t leave time for such attention. Even when one could, how many neglect to do it, no longer believing in this superstition? And supposing even if the moment had been captured. The infant could not appear in an instant, circumstances may lead to a → long interval: besides, are the clock faces always exact? Aren’t clocks, however good they may be, often off a → little or too dry or humid? Who can thus be sure of the instant in which an attentive person places the birth of a → child, finding the true moment which answers to his star?

But let me join you in supposing that one had found the exact point, the star which ruled, its position and power; shall we not consider the stars which were dominant during gestation rather than those which appeared while the body was still tender and the imprisioned soul ignorant of itself and learning patiently to support its life?

Leaving all these difficulties to the side, I grant you that the state of the heavens was well known at the moment of birth. But why attribute an absolute power to the stars, not only over bodies, but also over man’s will? This requires that there are stars which oversee myh happiness, on which my life and death are dependent. Those who take up arms and who perish in the same battle, aren’t they born under the same constellation? And, can one say that a → ship which runs aground is subject to nothing but those bad stars which have condemned it to being born to suffer shipwreck? Experience makes us see every day that people born in different times who go into combat or climb onto a → vessel where they perish have nothing in common but the instant of death. All those who enter the world under the same astral sign, don’t they have the same destiny for life and death? Look at the King. Do you believe that those who are born under the same star rule over kingdoms or have a → fraction of the wealth which shows the happy and favorable influence of the stars over their birth? Do you even believe that they have ever lived? Take M. de Villeroy; those who are born under the same planet, do they have the same share of wisdom? Are they, like him, honored by the Prince’s favor? And those who were born at the same time as you, are they all astrologers, not to say worse? What if someone died at the hand of a → thief, would you say that his fate was to be killed by this wretch? Are these the same stars that have fixed the destiny of this traveler from the moment of his birth, to be exposed one day to the knife of an assassin, having also given to the assassin, perhaps long before the birth of the traveler, the intention and strength to desire and be able to implement his evil plan? Because the stars, as you claim, equally support the cruelty of those who kill, and the unhappiness of those who are killed. Someone is struck down under the ruins of a → building, is it thus because he is condemned by his destiny to be buried in his own home in which the walls have fallen in? The same rationale must apply even when you are honored for what you have earned. The planet or the stars which have presided at someone’s birth and which, under your principles, destine him for greatness, could they also extend their power to cover other men who were not yet born, on which always depend all the effects of these happy influences?

It could be correct to believe that the influence of celestial bodies is real, it is like the Sun producing different effects on different parts of the earth, although it is always the same rays and the same light which warms and maintains some seeds and kills others, that it dries out some herbs while others which have more moisture are hardier. Just as a → group of children who are born at the same time are like a → field tilled in different ways, according to the differences in nature, temperament and habit of those to whom they owe their life. This astral power affects all children, but doesn’t produce the same effects in each one. If the nature of the child is aligned with this power, it will dominate, if it is opposed, I doubt that it could be moderated. In order to judge intelligently what the character of a → child must be, it is necessary to consider not only the stars, but also to look at his parents and pay attention to his mother’s condition when he was conceived, as well as many other unknown things.

Finally, I ask you, Chaldean, if this influence, which you regard as the cause of happiness and unhappiness, remains always in the heavens until the appropriate time, when it descends to the ground and there acts through its own instrumentalities on those that the stars have held up, or if contained in the child, udnertakena nd crossing with him, it must act at certain times to accomplish the irrevocable decrees of the stars? If you claim that it stays in the heavens, there is a → manifest contradiction in your principles, because then the good or bad of he who comes into the world depends on the alignment of the stars at the moment of his birth, the course of these same stars seems to have destroyed this initial structure and produced another one, possibly entirely different. In what part of the heavens does this first power remain, that need not appear or play, so to speak, its role for some years later, until the child becomes 40 years old? What to believe of another, hypothetical, side of destiny, that when the child reaches an advanced age, he is still tied to his infancy; it’s a → presumptuous fantasy. What thus to make of him who, in a → shipwreck where he must perish, will be the cause of the winds increasing or that the pilot, forgetting himself, runs aground? Is the laborer in the fields the source of the war that impoverishes him or of the good weather that gives him an abundant harvest?

It is true that some among you have spoken highly of oracles, as justified by events, but these events are so few in number, relative to the multitude of false oracles that you and your colleagues have endorsed, that they themselves demonstrate the few cases in which they have been accurate. You ignore a → million unhappy lies in favor of seven or eight in which you were right. Supposing that you acted by chance, you frequently speculated that there was something surprising, that there would be perhaps something that you didn’t run into very often. In a → word, you who foresee all that will happen in Sicily, how is it that you haven’t foreseen what will happen to you today? Would you ignore the fact that I must interfere with your plan? Mustn’t you, to do credit to your art, warn the King that someone, who would be present, would trouble you? When, finally, your science shows whether the King must triumph over his enemies, tell us beforehand if it will increase our faith in your oracles.

Although judicial Astrology had be vigorously attacked, as much by Barclay as by other famous authors, who had shown its vanity, one could not say that they had completely uprooted this ridiculous means of forecasting. It remained strong, particularly in Italy. At the end of the last century, an Italian sent to Pope Innocent XI a → prediction in the style of a → horoscope concerning Vienna, which was then besieged by the Turks; which was warmly received. In our time, the Count of Boulainviliers, otherwise quite intelligent, became infatuated with judicial Astrology , on which he wrote very seriously.

Tacitus, in Book VI, Chapter xxi of his Annals, reports that it pleased Tiberius, while in exile on Rhodes, under the reign of Augustus, to consult soothsayers on a → cliff high above the sea. If the soothsayer’s answers gave Tiberius even the suspicion of ignorance or foolishness, Tiberius would have a → slave throw him instantly into the sea. One day, he consulted in the same place a → certain Thrasyllus, who was quite clever in his art. The soothsayer promised that he would win the Empire and great riches. “ Since you are so clever, ” Tiberius asked him, “ can you tell me how long you will live ?” Thrasyllus, who seemed to doubt Tiberius’ motives for this question, calmly studied (or at least appeared to study) the aspect and position of the stars at the moment of his birth. Soon after, he allowed the prince to see that he was surprised followed immediately by fear. He wrote that as well as he could judge, he was at that exact time at risk from a → great danger . Tiberius, charmed by this response, considered him thereafter as an oracle and admitted him into his inner circle.

One finds even in this historian, one of the greatest geniuses that ever was, two passages which show that when there is general prejudice, the best minds cannot prevent him from sacrificing himself, but to do so however only with some restriction and , so to say, with a → sort of repugnance. The first of these passages occurs in Book VI, Chapter 27, where after having reflected on the different sentiments of the Philosophers on the subject of Astrology , he adds these words: “ Caeterum plerisque mortalium nom eximitur, quin primo cujusque ortu ventura destinentur : sed quaedam secus quàm dicta sint cadere, fallaciis ignara dicentium ; ita corrumpi fidem artis, cujus praeclara documenta, & antiqua aetas & nostra tulerit. ” which can be translated as:

“There is no doubt that all that comes to us is not fixed at the first moment of our birth. But the ignorance of soothsayers leads them sometimes to give us mistaken predictions and, as a → result, they discredit in some ways their art, the reality of which is clearly shown by the experience of our century and, similarly, of earlier times.

The other passage is found in Book IV of the Annals, Chapter 58:

“As Tiberius was leaving Rome,” Tacitus says, “the Astrologers predicted that he would never return. This prediction casued the loss of several citizens, who, concluded that the prince had but little time to live and who were imprudent enough to publicly say so. Because they could only doubt that Tiberius would live more than eleven years without returning to Rome in a → sort of voluntary exile. But, at the end of this time,” added the historian, they saw the fine line by which the science of divination was separated from the art of fantasy and how the clouds had obscured the truth. The prediction they had made that Tiberius would not return to Rome, was not made by chance and without any basis, since that is what occurred, but all the rest remained hidden. Also, they couldn’t foresee that the prince would reach an old age without returning to the city, although he must have often come quite near.”

Mox patuit breve confinium artis & falsi ; veraque quàm obscuris tegerentur. Nam in urbem non venturum, haud forte dictum: caeterorum nescii egere, cum propinquo rure aut littore, & saepe maenia urbis adsidens, extremam senectam compleverit. [It soon became clear what a → narrow margin there is between such science and delusion and in what obscurity truth is veiled. That he would not return to Rome was not a → mere random assertion; as to the rest, they were wholly in the dark, seeing that he lived to extreme old age in the country or on the coast near Rome and often close to the very walls of the city.] It seems to me that this was written by a → great genius who struggled against the prejudice of his time and who, however, couldn’t figure out how to overcome it.

highlight hits: on | off