Translating Early-Modern Astrology

Opening page of a 1485 edition of Firmin's Handbook.

Opening page of a 1485 edition of Firmin’s Handbook.

Hello friends! My name is James Truitt, and this summer I’m working with professor of history Darin Hayton through the Hurford Center’s Student Research Assistantship program. My work centers around translating a 14th century Latin text on astrometeorology, Firmin de Beauval’s Handbook of Changes in the Weather (available, conveniently enough, through Google Books).

Title page to a 1539 printed edition: "Firmin's Handbook of Changes in the Weather, by means of astrology as much as meteorology, restored to its former luster by Philip Iollainus Blereius with scholia of the same."

Title page to a 1539 edition of Firmin’s Handbook.

What’s astrometeorology, you ask? Well, people have been looking at the sky for a long time to figure out future weather conditions—after all, who wants to get caught in a thunderstorm unprepared? What might come as a surprise is the parts of the sky they’ve paid attention to—astrometeorology used the stars (well, mostly the planets) to predict future weather. The practice goes back to the Ancient Greeks, and was situated in the wider field of astrological knowledge, the complexities of which I’ve been familiarizing myself with in order to make sense of the text.

Beginning of Part 2 Chapter 1, "On predicting the disposition of the weather from great conjunctions of the planets," from the 1485 edition.

Beginning of Part 2 Chapter 1, “On predicting the disposition of the weather from great conjunctions of the planets,” from the 1485 edition.


This brings us to my role in the project—translator. I have a long-standing fascination with translation, and Firmin’s Handbook gives me an excellent opportunity to explore all sorts of questions and issues about the act of rendering a text into another language. In particular, most of the translation I’ve done previously has been of literary texts, so working with something as technical as Firmin is giving me a good deal of new things to consider.

That’s all for now, but you can expect another post from me before the summer’s out. Until then!

1 Comment

  1. Baade’s study of the Crab nebula was holistic although he was a great observer. I Supposing that the Nebula was the remnant of an 11th century nova, Baade relied on contemporary Chinese and Latin texts which described the light curve of the nova to estimate the time for the shell or remnants of the nova to assume the present configuration…


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