Courting Disaster: Astrology at the English Court and University in the Later Middle Ages by Hilary M Carey - review by Ann Geneva

Ann Geneva

Nancy Reagan was Following an Ancient Tradition

Courting Disaster: Astrology at the English Court and University in the Later Middle Ages

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Macmillan Academic 280pp £45 order from our bookshop
 

Neo-Platonic peoples saw the universe as interconnected in every particular. Thus not only did bodily parts have planetary rulers, but so did metals, gemstones, plants and eyen cities as well. Hilary Carey reminds us that such words as influence, humour, melancholy, aspect, sanguine and lunatic are remnants of ‘the impact of astrology on our thinking’. This is not to say that everybody believed in this science of the stars. Carey is at pains to point out that astrology, then as now, came in for its share of opprobrium even in the ‘superstitious’ Middle Ages. One leading medieval astrologer complained that ‘although many have faith in it…there are just as many who despise it’.

In England, scholars at universities were the first to devote serious attention to astrology. That Carey’s excellent book is based on a D Phil dissertation will give little comfort to Oxonians who learn that Merton College was the centre of astrological ferment during the fourteenth century. It seems that Mertonians,

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