VERVE NR. 2 1938 LITHOGRAPHS BY MOURLOT FRÈRES
THE TWELVE MANSIONS OF HEAVEN (14. Century)
GEORGIUS ZOTHORUS is the high-sounding and mystical name signed on the book d'Astrologie of which a few pages are reproduced in the following engravings. In the last century Leopold Delisle brought to light a copy of this book, which had belonged to Jean Duc de Berri, the brother of King Charles the Wise. Another copy, belonging to the Bibliothéque Nationale (No, 7344 of the Latin manuscripts), is perhaps even handsomer because of its dimensions and the painstaking execution of its drawings.
These curious pages are composed of bodies, torsos and members cut up in strange manners, or of various monsters, such as men with the heads of animals and the animals with the heads of men. A few ordinary objects are included as well, and one wonders what Ariadne's clew might serve as a guide through this labyrinth.
Astrology is based chiefly on knowledge of the constellations of the Zodiac, according to which the year is divided into twelve months. The ostensible displacements of the sun in these constellations are real for astrologers, and the duodecimal division of the belt has outlived all the dubious conclusions that have been drawn from it.
The names of the signs of the zodiac date from antiquity. They are: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn us, Aquarius and Pisces. The first of these signs corresponds to March, the first month of spring. The number of stars in each constellation, the apparent presence of planets in their sector, the correlations between the four elements, earth, air, water and fire, - these things were also considered as the multiple causes on which the frail destinies of mankind depended. Everyone is born amidst astrological conditions, which determine his future - the thing is to know these conditions and interpret them unerringly.
Unhappily for astrology, the conclusions of its adepts are far from being uniform. The Persians, the Indians and the Greeks all saw very different things in the heavens.
But Georgius Zothorus was not the man to be discouraged by such contradictions; on the contrary, he turns all of these traditions over to us that we may meditate upon them. In a picture of the whole, he placed the months, or the signs of the zodiac, in their natural order. Each month is divided into three equal parts, or decades. Each of these parts forms an illustrated page, and each page is again divided into three portions. The first register corresponds to the traditions of the Persians, the second the Indians and the third to those of the Greeks. All about are placed other symbolic scenes (twelve to a page), which are not commented on in the text.
The engravings that follow represent, the first two decades of the signs of Taurus, Leo and Sagittarius. It would be difficult to say what is the hidden meaning the Persians gave, in the first decade of Taurus, to the boat being piloted by a nude man and carrying the lower half of a woman's body in its hold. In the next decade the pilot is arising: he has a key, and it is now the upper half of the body that is visible. An armed Orion standing before two candlesticks and a cynocephalus surrounds the first scene.
The sign of Leo is associated with, fire, says our author. His first decade, still following the Persian version, presents a dog's tail, a bow, a lion's head, a boatman, a hydra head, a horse's head and a donkey's head. Occasionally Zothorus's text, which seems to have wearied the copyist, is quite as obscure as the pictures.
As a sample of our author's conclusions as to the signs of the
Zodiac, it will suffice to cite one passage: " Persons born under
Sagittarius (the month of November) will have long legs and thighs, an elongated face and a small skull. They will be handsomer seen from the back than from the front. Their hair will be fine and their belly proeminent. They will be fond of bustling about, and in all things fortune and misfortune will come to them as to the Archer (.Sagittarius). They will be light-hearted and fickle, rather wild, believing numerous things that should not be believed, destructive of property and full of bad will! "
All this is purposely vague, as room must be left for any modifications that may be contributed by the presence of such and such a star or planet. Thus speak Albumazar, Alymayro and Maimuide Raliffe. What Georgius Zothorus transmitted to us was the fruit of the sages' reflections and certainly not the truth, which he was in no position to know. In all such questions it is enough to say with Montaigne, who is hardly to be suspected of looking favourably on astrology, " Who am I to know? "