Reader title


Nicholas Copernicus
 De Revolutionibus

John Dee
 The Mathematicall Praeface

Robert Recorde
 The Castle of Knowledge

Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus
 The Zodiake of Life

Thomas Digges
 A Perfect Description of the Celestial Orbs

Giordano Bruno
 The Ash Wednesday Supper

Galileo Galilei
 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems

Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus

Palingenius was an Italian poet (Pier Angelo Manzolli of Stellato?) About whom precious little can be ascertained. He published his epic philosophical poem, Zodiacus Vitae, which was divided into twelve books, one for each sign of the zodiac, in the 1530's, which is to say that it is a pre-Copernican text. It is also a book published prior to the inception of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, begun with the Council of Trent (1545-63). He managed to die quietly before his book (probably published in the early 1530's) before the Catholic Church burned his heretical bones and Pope Paul IV placed his book upon the very first Index Librorum Prohibitorum, or Index of Prohibited Books, in 1559.

This greatly increased his popularity among Protestants, and the poem did brisk business in England. At the age of nineteen, Barnabe Googe zealously undertook the translation of Zodiacus Vitae, publishing the first three books in 1560. A version with the first six books translated appeared in the following year, and finally, the complete translation, The Zodiake of Life, in 1565, republished in 1588. The Latin edition first appeared in 1572, and went through no fewer than six subsequent printings in the ensuing decades.

The poem as a whole presents an unorthodox philosophy, but this is not to say it is particularly original. Rather, it is an odd mash of traditional sentiments and beliefs, and novelties old and new. For example, in Aquarius, the book concerned with astronomy which is presented here, one finds an essentially Ptolemaic construction, but with some interesting variations. Yet what is perhaps its most controversial point, the suggestion of a plurality of worlds, can be traced to a decree by ttienne Tempier, bishop of Paris, in 1277. Palingenius' principle aim was not dogmatic, but rather social commentary, partly through satire, and he attempted to disassociate himself from many of the ideas he presented. Nevertheless, this was not 1277, and the atmosphere for independent thinkers in Catholic countries was becoming decidedly unhealthy in the wake of Luther's 95 theses. The specific reasons Zodiacus Vitae offended are unknown, but it has been conjectured that in and of itself the eleventh book, Aquarius, would have been sufficient to cause its condemnation.

Dartmouth College
Copyright 1999, MATC
Last updated 1 September 1999