Cardano's Cosmos

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Girolamo Cardano was an Italian doctor, natural philosopher, and mathematician who became a best-selling author in Renaissance Europe. He was also a leading astrologer of his day, whose predictions won him access to some of the most powerful people in sixteenth-century Europe. In Cardano's Cosmos, Anthony Grafton invites readers to follow this astrologer's extraordinary career and explore the art and discipline of astrology in the hands of a brilliant practitioner.
Renaissance astrologers predicted everything from the course of the future of humankind to the risks of a single investment, or even the weather. They analyzed the bodies and characters of countless clients, from rulers to criminals, and enjoyed widespread respect and patronage. This book traces Cardano's contentious career from his first astrological pamphlet through his rise to high-level consulting and his remarkable autobiographical works. Delving into astrological principles and practices, Grafton shows how Cardano and his contemporaries adapted the ancient art for publication and marketing in a new era of print media and changing science. He maps the context of market and human forces that shaped Cardano's practices—and the maneuvering that kept him at the top of a world rife with patronage, politics, and vengeful rivals.
Cardano's astrology, argues Grafton, was a profoundly empirical and highly influential art, one that was integral to the attempts of sixteenth-century scholars to understand their universe and themselves.
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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post - Michael Dirda
Cardano's Cosmos provides the pleasures characteristic of Anthony Grafton's other books devoted to the intellectual history of early modern Europe: As in Defenders of the Text and New World: Ancient Texts, we are regaled with donnish anecdotes and high-table factoids… Beyond doubt, Grafton is now our leading guide to the history of humane letters and scholarship between the Renaissance and the rise of Romanticism. In the end, Cardano's cosmos is nothing less than a world of wonders… [Grafton] shows us that the 16th-century thinkers found in astrology much of what we now look for in psychology, political theory, moral philosophy and economics—'fundamental tools for analyzing and controlling' our societies and ourselves.
Times Literary Supplement - Alastair Fowler
In Anthony Grafton's open-minded study Cardano's Cosmos, the question of how scientific Girolamo Cardano really was comes up often, giving the book much of its interest… Grafton's ambitious book aims to estimate the place of astrology in Renaissance society and perhaps to modify its place in our own.
New York Review of Books - Ingrid D. Rowland
[Cardano's Cosmos] accords Cardano all the respect the crusty Italian's industry and intelligence once warranted without question… [The] book delivers satisfaction on all…accounts… The combination of telling detail and intellectual sweep in Cardano's Cosmos is irresistible, and it shapes Grafton's book as Cardano once shaped his disparate empirical data into system. We do not accept the system now, but Cardano himself, as his biographer makes movingly clear, still 'deserves to be heard.'
Natural History
In this eloquent study of a sixteenth-century astrologer who combined mathematics, astronomy, and medicine in counseling people at every level of society, Princeton University historian Grafton offers readers both a microscopic investigation of an individual's mind and a wide-angled survey of the millennial intellectual traditions which nourished it.
Fernando Q. Gouvea
A fascinating picture of a very complicated man.
Katherine Park
This is a honey of a book, marked by Grafton's usual erudition, lucidity, and wit. Above all, it insists on presenting astrology not as an 'irrational' and intellectually questionable activity, but rather as a complicated and well-established body of theory and practice, similar to, say, contemporary medicine. The book situates astrology within the map of the contemporary study of nature (human and otherwise), where it clearly belongs, and rightly emphasizes the complexity and multiplicity of that map. The richness of Cardano's autobiographical writings allows Grafton to follow (at least through Cardano's eyes) the process of his own 'self-fashioning' and the way in which he built a successful career as a high-level practitioner and internationally known man of letters.
Short Book Reviews
Grafton's book is an engaging scholarly study of Cardano's work on astrology, and its place in his life and society.
Alastair Fowler
Grafton' aims to estimate the place of astrology in Renaissance society modify its place in our own.
Times Literary Supplement [UK]
Michael Dirda
Grafton is now our leading guide to the history of humane letters and scholarship between the Renaissance and the rise of Romanticism.
Washington Post
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Featuring the life of Girolamo Cardano, a Renaissance Italian mathematician, physician, and astrologer, this book is an in-depth history of Western astrology by way of biography. By detailing the social and political circles in which Cardano traveled, Grafton (history, Princeton Univ.; The Footnote) investigates astrology's influence on 16th-century medical and political thought. As a prominent physician, Cardano often treated patients with a mix of medicine and astrology, insisting he could read a given patient's future and infer the nature of his condition based on physical observation and astrological charts. This makes for fascinating reading. Well researched and scholarly (an extensive bibliography is included), this work will be an excellent addition to academic libraries.--Marija Sanderling, Rochester P.L., NH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Alastair Fowler
Grafton's ambitious book aims to estimate the place of astrology in Renaissance society and perhaps to modify its place in our own....Cardano's Cosmos is readable and interesting...
Times Literary Supplement
John Bossy
In rescuing Cardano from the Inquisition, and by his other scholarly achievements, Grafton has earned the right to our trust and admiration.
London Review of Books
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674006706
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2001
  • Pages: 306
  • Sales rank: 1,405,337
  • Product dimensions: 0.64 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthony Grafton is Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University.
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Table of Contents

Preface xi
1 The Master of Time 1
2 The Astrologer's Practice 22
3 The Prognosticator 38
4 The Astrologer 56
5 Becoming an Author 71
6 Astrologers in Collision 91
7 The Astrologer as Political Counselor 109
8 Classical Astrology Restored 127
9 Rival Disciplines Explored 156
10 Cardano on Cardano 178
11 The Astrologer as Empiricist 199
Notes 205
Bibliography 261
Index 281
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