A case study of “disease of the soul”: Girolamo Cardano

One of the most important chapters of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos is the one about the mind because, differently from what modern astrologers think, ancients were very attentive  to it, and in the same  time they were able to indicate mental problems or sufferings of psyche.

To test their method, which once and again is Ptolemy method we will use the birth chart of a famous Renaissance astrologer, Girolamo Cardano. So a controversial character could not in fact be forgotten. Cesare Lombroso, the founder of criminology, wrote one of his first works “on Cardano madness”  (( Sulla pazzia di Cardano, pagg. 24. Tip. Chiusi, Milano {Gazzetta Medica Italiana Lombarda, Milano, 1^ ott.). {Gazzetta Medica Italiana Lombarda,  Milano, 1^ ott., 1855). )) where discussed the thin border between between genius and folly.

And Dr. Ferrari, in the beginning of 1906, following Lombroso’s famous essay offers  in a few lines  many clues about the reason: We can find in Cardano  evidence, for example, of delusion of persecution  and delusion of grandeur, in the same exact way we find them in whatever paranoid, but we could never find a paranoid which looks like Cardano. (( Enzo Rivari, La mente di Cardano, Zanichelli, 1906))

Known for his aphorisms to the English speaking astrologers  who started to practise traditional astrology from William Lilly revival, because Lilly gave a selection  of them in his works, Cardano is mostly knew in the Italian astrological/academical environment  for his Comment to Tetrabiblos,  ((For  example see work of Ornella Pompeo Faracovi, who largely wrote about Cardano and his astrological work)) which is surely his more mature work.

Cardano’s conversion to Ptolemy was swift and sudden: in 1547 Cardano published both the Astrological Aphorisms and a short booklet on nativities, De Iudiciis geniturarum, where he repeated the old ways of Medieval and Arab astrology, already criticized  and put into discussion since the middle of the previous century, often occult and based more on the charts of Cardano’s friends and clients than on whatever astrological logic; and still in a few years, in 1554 he  will publish one of the most important and beautiful comments to Ptolemy, forgetting most of the things he wrote just a few years before.

But it was the man Cardano who was so controversial: on one side a polymath, a  physician, a writer, an astrologer,  a mathematician, skilled in many arts; on the other a plagiarizer, arrogant, envious and servile.

Well known is the story of the plagiarism of Tartaglia formulae  which Cardano published in the Ars Magna. The story is known, Tartaglia in poor economic conditions believed to Cardano promises of   being introduced in the palace of  some noble man, and showed to Cardano his formulae, which Cardano improved with the help of one of his students, and published as his, without any reference to the author. (Some men are very prone to amnesia!)

And about obsequiousness it’s  Aby Warburg  who tells us how Cardano, trying to enter in Luther’s entourage supplied him with a very nice birth chart version,- without any success because Luther was enough impermeable to these kind of compliments.  While in the same moment Gaurico, who Cardano hated  with all his feelings, even writing the most awful things about Luther, (Gaurico was gifted with a very sharp tongue, let’s say like that 🙂 ) could be welcomed in the heart of Lutheran capital city, Wittenberg, as “the prince of the astrologers.”  ((Aby Warburg, La Rinascita Del Paganesimo Antico Contributi Alla Storia Della Cultura. (Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1966).  ))

It is interesting for us astrologers, to see if we can see this from Cardano birth chart, with some comments taken by Cardano  himself and some from the gentle author of this blog.

Girolamo Cardano, born in Pavia on the 24th September 1501
Girolamo Cardano, born in Pavia on the 24th September 1501

Cardano gives us many readings of his birth chart in his astrological works – even his biography is arranged like a chart reading- and gives us several inputs about the trust he had in himself: he advises us he was born in the same day of Augustus, and that Fomalhaut was rising in his birth chart together with Jupiter.

Fomalhaut, the brightest star of Aquarius, and the other ones behind of it, of Venus and Mercury nature, give a persistent memory. (( From De Iudiciis geniturarum, chapter about fixed stars, here in this blog. ))

In effect Fomalhaut is not in the constellation of Aquarius, but according the Almagest it is between the water of Aquarius and Piscis Austrinus.

At the MC, the Aquila and its brilliant star, one the most brilliant stars of the sky, Altair, nature Jupiter and Mars.

Venus ruler of the Ascendant is with Mercury, in its house,  in a human sign, but falling in the 6th house.

Let see how the significators of the mind are placed.  Mercury, it’s in a wonderful trine with Saturn from Gemini.

together with a star of  Venus/Mercury nature in trine with Saturn, gives deep concentration, scholarship, assiduity, endurance in work. (( Girolamo Cardano, La natività di Girolamo Cardano (from De exemplis centum geniturarum) translation of Ornella Pompeo Faracovi. ))

– the star should be Alphecca, Cardano did not mention it- Mercury is in a mutual reception and most important in Saturn sign and aspect with it- it makes very deep astrologers.

Centiloquium, 38:

When Mercury shall be well fortified or placed in either of the houses of Saturn in any one’s nativity, the native hath a divining soul, and is capable of prying far into matters;

The other significator, the Moon, is in Pisces, separating from its ruler Jupiter, and in mutual reception with it.

the list of fixed stars given by Cardano for his birth chart

It looks like a very interesting chart, but where is Cardano madness, as Lombroso maybe a little hastily called ?

Diseases of the mind, madness, folly, incapacity to live as others live,  or as the ancients said of  the diseases the soul are given when: (( see Centiloquium n. 70 too. Mercury is not in conjunction with the Moon in their nativities, who divine by a kind of fury of things to come, nor is either of them in the ascendant of those who are daemoniack, in such a kind of a figure in the night time Saturn shall possess that angle, but in the day time Mars, especially in Cancer, Virgo or Pisces ))

1) the significators are inconjunct.

Since the account of the principal diseases of the soul, in a sense, follows upon that of the soul’s characteristics, it is in general needful to note and observe the positions of Mercury and the Moon relative to each other, to the angles, and to the planets whose nature it is to do injury; for if, while they themselves are unrelated to each other, or to the eastern horizon, they are overcome, or surrounded, or held in opposition by unfamiliar stars in injurious aspect, they cause the incidence of various diseases which affect the soul’s character.

In this chart Mercury and Moon are inconjunct AND they don’t behold the Ascendant, because both are in cadent houses, Mercury in the 6th house and Moon on the cusp of the 12th house.

2) when the  malefic stars attack them.

In most cases those are epileptic in whose genitures the Moon and Mercury are, as we said before, unrelated to each other or to the eastern horizon, while Saturn by day or Mars by night is angular and in the aspect previously described. They are violently insane when, again under the same conditions, Saturn by night and Mars by day rules the position, particularly in Cancer, Virgo, or Pisces. They are afflicted by demons and have water on the brain when the maleficent planets are in this position and control the Moon in phase, Saturn when she is at conjunction, Mars when she is full, and particularly in Sagittarius and Pisces.

And this we find in this chart.

The Moon is largely conjunct in the sky with the Caput Medusae, Algol, the malefic star of Jupiter-Saturn nature. It is leaving Jupiter sextile and applying to both Mars and Saturn.

Writes Cardano about this configuration:

Of this cruel mixture could not be, not even invented, nothing more damaging: it puts together with extreme dangers a frail heart, a weak brain, perils, danger, enemies, misfortune, persecutions.

It is partly so, but Cardano forgets – this is what Dr. Ferrari calls the delusion of persecution– when one lives in honesty cannot be involved in scandals,  problems or rumours, and if he was involved for example in the scandal of plagiarism, it was just because he broke his promises to not reveal Tartaglia’s formulae, and copied them in  his book without any credit to the author.

From an astrological side is interesting  Ptolemy’s mention to Sagittarius and Pisces, which are obviously the signs where Mercury suffers.

In this chart the attack is mostly to the emotional side showed by the Moon, and this caused the grandeur, the arrogance, the hallucinations, the recurring dreams, and visions; Mercury is surely better placed and made the scholar and the astrologer we know.

Written by Margherita Fiorello, CIDA certified member, for heaven astrolabe blog @ year 2010. If you want to be notified the next time I write something, subscribe to my RSS feed.



8 thoughts on “A case study of “disease of the soul”: Girolamo Cardano

  1. The moon is cadent in the 12th house, but she does behold the ascendent, as pisces is not in aversion to taurus.

  2. Hello Yuzuru.

    Yes, Moon is not in aversion to Taurus, but I don’t like so much the sign-house system.
    Anyway if we consider the separating sextile, and we can without any problem, I believe it does not change so much. The significators of the mind are inconjunct, and the Moon is very damaged by both malefics. And Saturn is predominant on Mercury.

    It’s a night chart so here Saturn damages more than Mars for me: and in fact we don’t find anger or violence but – what Ptolemy says of this combination? In dishonourable positions he makes them frivolous talkers, malignant, with no pity in their souls, given to toil, hating their own kin, fond of torment, gloomy, night-prowlers, layers of ambushes, traitors, unsympathetic, thieves, magicians, poisoners, forgers, unscrupulous, unfortunate,

    It sounds a little Cardano or not?

    On the other Gaurico, Cardano “mortal” enemy, was a man of great good sense: he came from the Southern province and arrived to the Papal court.


  3. Hi Margherita,

    Very interesting chart! The fact he cites the star Fomalhaut rising is clear proof he is using in mundo rising. By simple zodiacal projection its at 26 Aquarius! How accurate is the birth time? My software has Fomalhaut rising at 18:17. On the time given the star Procyon is on the IC at 18:23 and Polux at the IC at 18:24.



  4. I did not notice…strange- not I did not notice 🙂 for Cardano calculation.
    I will give another look.

  5. You are incorrect in stating that Cardano did not give credit to Tartaglia. He did so repeatedly, including in his Ars Major (groundbreaking text on algebra). Cardano wrote hundreds of works on a wide variety of topics, and Tartaglia’s math, when at last he published one work on the topic, was not remotely on the same level. Cardano, and a student, had taken the topic infinitely beyond Tartaglia’s understanding, and it would not have served science to not publish these insights. With full credit to Tartaglia, as you would have known if you had read Ars Major. It is, somewhat, amusing that you would accept these rumors of plagiarism as truth, without proper fact checking, and then look for evidence in the horoscope. As is apparent from his autobiography Cardano was very open about his flaws; not someone trying to pose, or look better than he was. For further reference, you may also want to read ‘Cardano, the gambling scholar’. It was, in fact, his taste for gambling (note that in those days chess was included under ‘gambling’), that would inspire scientists of later centuries to categorize him in a negative light. Such is the power of dogma. In his later years, after a brief period in prison for casting and interpreting the horoscope of Christ, Cardano lived out his final years on a pension from the Pope. A remarkable turnaround (from the Church!), and, in all likelihood, not a privilege assigned to one of such questionable character as your caricature description of this scientist.

  6. I will check Ars Major, but you are not Italian, obviously.

    In Italy Cardano is forgotten, hardly his name is remembered in Encyclopedia of great Italians. But Tartaglia is very famous to all teen-agers for his algebra methods, so it looks that in end, a way or another, Tartaglia won. Everybody knows Tartaglia triangle,

    About “the gambling scholar” was exactly what I meant- and what Lombroso highlighted in his famous essay. A mix between a scientist and an adventurer. Don Ferrante, a collector of Cardano’s work- don’t ask me who is Don Ferrante- said of Cardano that “of a man like that, one should hear him, even when wrong.” Everybody knows which was the end of Don Ferrante’ s books.

  7. E pericoloso sporgersi. I did not know it was possible to be a true scientist (one who explores the unknown), without also being adventurous. Perhaps the final word on Cardano has yet to be written. 😉

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