A medieval summary of astrology with early work in meteorology (1520)


Compilatio Leupoldi ducatus austrie filij de astrorum scientia. Decem continentis tractatus.

Published: Venice, Melchiorre Sessa and Pietro de Ravani

Date: 1520

4to in 8s (219 × 160 mm), ff. 94; engraved woodcut and device to title-page, head- and tail-pieces, numerous engraved illustrations and diagrams; a few leaves slightly creased and some marginal repairs; occasional light finger-soiling, else generally clean and crisp; marbled endpapers; near fine in modern citron morocco, gilt inner dentelles.

See Pierre Duhem, Le systéme du monde, III, pp. 312-317. Adams L516, CLC, 278 (for editio princeps); William Lilly cites this second edition in the bibliography of his Christian Astrology (1647), sig. 5N4r; COPAC records copies held in UK institutions at Cambridge, Oxford, York Minster and the V&A.

Sometimes, mistakenly, identified with Leopold VI (1176-1230), known as Leopold the Glorious, Duke of Austria from 1198 and of Styria from 1194, in reality the author (or authors) of this work seemingly flourished some time in the second half of the thirteenth century. In the incipit the author identifies himself only as 'Leupoldus ducatis Austrie filius', which means no more than 'Leopold, a son of the duchy of Austria', not that he is the son of the Duke. The work is in part based on the writings of the Persian astrologer, astronomer and philosopher, Abu Ma'shar al-Balkhī (787-886 CE), known in the west as Albumasar, Albusar, or Albuxar, reputedly the greatest astrologer of the Abbasid court in Baghdad. Indeed it is from another of Ratdolt's works, Abu Mash'ar's Liber de magnis coniunctionibus, published in the same year as the Compilatio (1489), (and again by Melchiorre Sessa in Venice in 1515) that whole sections of the present work seem to derive. The Compilatio is organised into ten treatises: the first dealing with the geometrical orbits and motions of spheres; the next applying these principles to the movements of the planets; and then progressively into the arcana of astrological influence. Nevertheless, among these treatises is one, De mutatione aeris, which provides information about the signs used by the peasants of the thirteenth century to predict the weather; this is also the treatise which shows the greatest degree of originality being the result of a synthesis of a large number of earlier works. It was the treatise by which Leopold was best known by the scholastics. In addition to astrology, the work also summarises current astronomolical knowledge, outlining both the work of Albumasar, but also European authorities such as Johannes de Sacrobosco, Albert the Great and Gerard of Cremona, discussing such 'observations' as the precession of the sphere of fixed stars, its retrograde motion of around one degree per century, and the distances calculated between the Earth and the other heavenly bodies. The editio princeps was published by Erhard Ratdolt at Augsburg in 1489. This second edition, by Melchiorre Sessa and Pietro de Ravani, follows Ratdolt's edition very closely.

Near fine