7 - The XVth century.

Many of the works included in the Statutes of 1405 were later printed at the end of the 1400s or beginning of the 1500s in Bologna or Venice (38). This suggests that the teaching programme, as outlined in the Statute, was broadly followed throughout the XVth century. This century proved to be a truly critical one for Europe and Italy: the study of the humanities expanded and reached a level never before seen and never, perhaps, reached again.

At the University of Bologna new disciplines in the liberal arts were introduced. In 1424-25, the celebrated scholar Giovanni Aurispa (1369-1459), who had already taught astrology there from 1392 to 1400, was appointed, after a long stay in the Middle East, lecturer in Greek. In 1440 a chair called "rhetoricae et poesiae et studiorum humanitatis" was established, followed in 1464 by a chair in Oriental Languages.

The most important institute for the spread of new ideas was the so called "Accademia Platonica" of Florence which emerged under the auspices of the Medici family.

In the new attitude towards life that was beginning to develop there was a strong shift in values away from the idea of "fortune" to one of "virtue"; the former pointed to the dependency of human destiny on factors beyond man’s control, the latter the opposite. As Pico della Mirandola pithily remarked: "You will be able to let things of a bad nature degenerate to a lower condition. You will be able to let things of a divine nature regenerate to a higher condition through the free exercise of your thought." (39)

If the old Princes sought their fortunes in the stars, the new gentry learnt instead to rely only on themselves. This brought with it a profound change in attitudes regarding astrology, as can be seen in Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), and, to a greater extent, in Pico.

This new attitude is to be glimpsed in Johannes Pontanus’s (1426-1503) XVth-century commentary on Ptolemy’s Centiloquium (40), considered more important sometimes for its insights into how the ancients thought than for its actual content.

This changed intellectual climate was not without its effects on medicine itself. More than one physician publicly expressed doubts on the actual value of the art of medical astrology. Among these was Nicolò Leoniceno (or da Lonigo) (1428-1524) who read medicine and Greek philosophy at Bologna in 1509-1510.

Pico della Mirandola, in his famous treatise Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem, written shortly before his death in 1494 at a tragically early age, makes frequent mention of this famous physician and scholar (41). Included in the Opera omnia first published in Bologna a few years after his death, the text examines judicious astrology in the minutest detail and takes issue with it not merely from a general point of view but by analysing all the contradictions stemming from its stratification over the centuries.

With astrology’s decline, astronomy began once more to be considered in its own right, for its contribution to human learning, as a "liberal art" and not just a technical instrument in the service of medicine. It did of course take some time for this attitude to win out - and we know that until the Enlightenment it did not prevail completely - and many astronomers had to navigate carefully between the two, even after judicious astrology had been officially condemned by the Roman Church in 1586, with a papal bull of Sixtus V (1520-1590).

  1. - Alcabizio: 1477, Introductorium, Bologna. Sacrobosco: 1477, Sfera, Bologna.
    Gherardo da Cremona: 1480, Theorica planetarum, Bologna.
    Tavole alfonsine con i canoni di Giovanni di Sassonia: 1483, Venezia.
    Tolomeo: 1484, Quadripartito e Centiloquio col commento di Haly Haben Radan, Venezia.
  2. - Iohannes Pici: 1557, Oratio, in: Opera, Venezia, c. 56r.
    "Potrai far degenerare in condizioni inferiori le cose di natura bruta. Potrai far rigenerare verso condizioni superiori le cose di natura divina mediante la volontà del tuo pensiero."
  3. - Centum sententiae, ex interpretatione et cum commentariis J.Pontani: 1519, Venetiis.
  4. - Iohannes Picus: 1557, Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem, in: Opera, Venezia, c.77v.