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209 J.C. Eade, The Forgotten Sky: A Guide to Astrology in English Literature, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1984. When up against astrological matters, academics commonly adopt a stance, either of helpless ignorance or of sanctimonious disdain. Underlying both attitudes is the feeling that astrology is an enormously complex subject, whose techniques are not worth mastering because the whole thing is a load of rubbish. At best, the medievalist will regard astrology with a charitable tolerance for the delusions of an untutored age. But besides impairing understanding of our past, such views are a little ironical when compared with our modern admiration for the cosmology of the Dogon or the complexities of the Mayan calendar, or, for that matter, our readiness to read science fiction and to believe whatever astronomers currently tell us about black holes and quasars. No one, least of all Chris Eade, would deny the absurdity of the basic assumptions that underpin astrology. How could a planet take on the attributes of a Graeco-Roman god? But to dismiss it from attention on that ground would be to ignore several points. In the first place, it is hardly necessary to observe that medieval views of man and his relation to the universe were inextricably tied up with astrological doctrine, with which everyone had some acquaintance. Secondly (and this is an important emphasis of this book), astrology was a "science" in so far as it had an internal logic and strict rules of its own. Medieval and Renaissance astrologers exercised the scientific skills of reckoning, reasoning and observation to an extent that put them far in advance of their contemporaries in the practice of medicine. (To judge from surviving recipes, modern herbalists grossly exaggerate the empirical knowledge of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century druggists.) Finally, as a mythology, astrology has a most attractive coherence and elegance, which Eade ably stresses and demonstrates. Indeed, one of its most important strengths was that it gave a more satisfying explanation for variations in individual character and temperament, and for "personality problems", than anything produced by the bickering psychologists of today. So to dismiss as mere superstitious nonsense the medieval and early-modern fascination with the stars and their influence is easy but hardly helpful to the serious student of ages for which astrology provided practical help and a reassuring symbolic pattern of divine purposes. Unfortunately, an enquirer who seeks to penetrate into the mysteries of this medieval science is likely to be deterred once he appreciates the amount of knowledge and skill necessary for a real grasp of the subject. The blunders likely to befall those of us rash enough to venture out into the murky waters are entertainingly and alarmingly exposed in the second part of Dr Eade's book. The first part is a most welcome explanation of the terms and techniques of astrologers, clearly set out and lucidly discussed. 210 It will be useful both to the student who wishes to become adept in the basic apparatus of the art, and to those who simply feel less at home than they would like with such concepts as retrogression, right ascension, cusps, orbs, sestiles, reception, medium coelum or the lordship of a house, not to mention "the trutine of Hermes". For both kinds of reader, the complexities are made admirably clear. Assisted by a tame computer, Eade fully and painstakingly expounds all you ever needed to know but were unable to ask (or, perhaps, understand). The present reviewer has to admit that, being practically innumerate, she skipped most of the mathematical workings that give practical demonstration of method, but plainly these will fascinate those better equipped to appreciate them. Eade also, unlike the writers of popular text-books, has a concise section on the all-important matter of old and new-style dating. This first half of the book concludes with a detailed examination of the horoscope that Robert Burton drew up for himself, as a practical example of procedure. Here there is a little about the esoteric matter of interpreting significance, though it is no part of Eade's purpose to provide any handy guide to the conclusions to be drawn from all possible occurrences. Practitioners in this area will...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 209-211
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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