Casebooks Of Early Astrologers Published Online | History Today
In the September issue of History Today, Dr Lauren Kassell explores the work of Simon Forman, a 16th century astrologer who left a copious amount of casebooks behind. These casebooks, along with those of Forman's protege, Richard Napier, are in the process of being published online by the University of Cambridge and the Bodleain Libraries in Oxford.
In the days before a quick visit to the local GP was the answer to a particular ailment, astrologers performed much the same service, albeit with slightly less success in their diagnoses. Both Forman and Napier were unusually diligent in recording their findings. Each would note down the patient's name, the question put to them, and the start time of the consultation. From this they would then construct an astrological chart, using the positions of the sun, the moon and the five planets known at the time; they would then use the chart to ascertain the effect of the celestial bodies on their patients.
As the authors of the Casebook Project note, the material, which was written between 1596 and 1634 and contains over 50,000 documents, is "probably the richest surviving set of medical records from the period before 1700".
In contrast to the often spurious predictions offered by astrology in modern times, the questions posed to Napier and Forman were predominantly about medical problems. One example shows Forman's formulation for calculating which of a particular married couple will live longer:
Mary & Jhone being man & wife which shall die first. Mary the number of her letters are 4 & the number of the letters of Jhone are 5 & Jhone is the elder & she was a mayd & he a bacheler & neyther of them was contracted to any other before, & the number of boath of the names being added togeather make 9 then because Jhone is the elder I begin with Jhone & say Jhone mary Jhone mary 9 times & the number doth end on Jhone. Therfore dico quod Jhoanna prius morietur.
To date only a small number have been published; the difficulty of reading some of the handwriting, and the often complex nomenclature used in the observations, has made a lengthy task of transcribing them. Yet it's clear that, once complete, the it will be of immense interest to historians and to those interested in the early modern period.