“Vir sapiens dominabitur astris”. Astrological knowledge and practices in the Portuguese medieval court (King João I to King Afonso V)
Helena Avelar de Carvalho
Revista, ￼Medievalista online, Número 12, Julho – Dezembro (2012)
This study addresses the practice of astrology and its cultural repercussions in the 14th and 15th century Portuguese court. It is based in the comparative study of three sets of sources: 1) the astrology books from the royal libraries, which reveal the dominant concepts of astrology; 2) the writings of kings João I and Duarte, and prince Pedro, as examples of the practical application of these concepts; 3) the royal chronicles of Fernão Lopes; Gomes Eanes de Zurara and Rui de Pina. The comparative study of the astrological references in these three sets of sources allows a better understanding of the role of astrology and its cultural repercussions in the Portuguese medieval court. The topic of astrology is addressed as a cultural practice within the Portuguese medieval court in the 14th and 15th centuries. The acknowledgment of this practice as a structural factor in medieval culture, as well as the correct understanding of the astrological system per se, allows a deeper knowledge of the medieval culture and mentalities.
Part I presents a survey on the existing studies on medieval astrology. This study revealed that the Portuguese historians seldom approach medieval astrology from the perspective of the History of Culture. When they do, most of them present it in a dismissive and unfavourable fashion, as an example of “medieval superstitious belief”, which was swiftly replaced by rational thought. Quite often, the references to astrology serve only to enhance the “improvements” and the “rationality” of the Renaissance thought. Nevertheless, there are a few relevant studies on the practice of astrology from the cultural perspective.