cover image Cardano's Cosmos: The Worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer

Cardano's Cosmos: The Worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer

Anthony Grafton. Harvard University Press, $54 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-674-09555-7

An ambitious young man from Milan, lifesaving physician, traveler, mathematician, scholar of antiquity, 16th-century academic superstar and victim of the Inquisition, Girolamo Cardano embodied in one life much of what makes the Italian Renaissance fascinating to modern readers. The polymathic and resourceful Grafton (The Footnote), a Renaissance historian at Princeton, places Cardano's life and works at the center of a detailed investigation of Renaissance astrologers, their work, their beliefs, their clients and their impact. Grafton aims ""to do justice to both the rationalism and the irrationality of Renaissance astrology,"" addressing ""both its ancient sources and its modern [that is, 16th-century] social role."" Seers across Europe pegged 1524 as the date for a second Noah's Flood, causing fears, then jokes, as the date approached. Famous predictors were asked for political counsel--and put themselves in danger by giving it. Cardano's early book of horoscopes made him a celebrity; his arguments with his critics illuminate the everyday impact of the Protestant Reformation. His voluminous writings, Grafton explains, ""combined wide astrological interests with obsessively detailed self-revelation."" Explaining how European readers regarded astrology and its rival arts, Grafton also relates the often ferociously personal intellectual battles that were fought. A writer of superb perspective and clarity, Grafton aims both at other historians and at lay readers. The latter will have to wade through some abstruse detail but will likely find the varied, informative, sometimes bizarre journey more than worth the effort. (Jan.)