Astrology: A History by Peter Whitfield

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Astrology: A History by Peter Whitfield

4to. pp. 207. 150 illustrations (including 110 plates in full colour). index. boards. dw. (some shelf wear to lower spine & upper edge of dust wrapper cover, otherwise new). [New York: Harry N. Abrams, [2001].

New & out-of-print.

ISBN-10: 0810942356 / ISBN-13: 9780810942356


This book tells the story of an idea both simple and profound: that the destiny of humankind is somehow linked to the stars. The belief system that we now call astrology originated about 2,500 years ago during the last phase of Babylonian civilization; over the centuries it has crossed and re-crossed the boundaries between science and religion, and has continuously fueled the human imagination.

Often criticized and manipulated, astrology nevertheless sprang from the highest philosophical motivations, and it was a powerful force in the intellectual life of ancient Greece and Rome. With the rise of Christianity it was condemned to near extinction, but was reawakened in the Middle Ages and once again came to permeate philosophy, literature, and art. The scientific revolution of the seventeenth century condemned astrology to a second near death, from which its revival in modern times could scarcely have been predicted.

Peter Whitfield provides a full account of the history of astrology, its intellectual roots, its social setting, and its technical language. He shows convincingly that for very many centuries astrology was an accepted facet of both scientific and religious thought; it was in fact an essential component in people's understanding of their own nature and being Special spreads throughout the book highlight particular themes, subjects, 
or events, such as the sources of Indian astrology; the astrolabe; Shakespeare's position on astrology; and astrology in World War I.

This beautifully illustrated book is a fascinating journey through history. The ambitious intellectual claims made by and for astrology, its importance to religious and political figures, and a large cast of heroes and villains are all memorably described. Whitfield is neither for nor against astrology, but he shows that no debate on the subject can be meaningful without understanding its rich and controversial past.