A Treatise of Blazing Starres in Generall.

London, Bernard Alsop for Henry Bell, 1618.


Small 4to.18 unnumbered ll.. Black Letter with some Roman. Woodcut illustration on tp. of a comet, woodcut headpieces and initials. A very good clean copy in modern calf.

Second edition of Abraham Fleming’s first English translation of  seventeen chapters of Nausea’s Libri Mirabilium Septem concerning ‘blazing starres’, first published in 1577, and again in 1618, to coincide with the comets of those years. “He (Nausea) raises the question whether anyone can foreknow the future from marvels of rare occurrence and answers it in the affirmative. He doubts, however, whether marvels which are entirely natural, like the magnet attracting iron or the salamander living in fire, can be signs of the future, since they always act in the same way and therefore cannot be special signs of unusual events.”, Thorndike.
The work starts with a general description of ‘blazing starres’, their names, origins, and a catalogue of the shape of their trails: (‘speare’, ‘sword’, ‘tunne’, ‘horne’, lampe’ a ‘horse maine’). “I find some disagreement betweene Philosophers and Astronomers”, Nausea writes, concerning what actually produces them in the heavens: some say it is the conjunction of two stars, Aristotle believes a comets is a dry vapour reacting with the upper region of the sky. Nausea then discusses “the good and evil which blazing stars doe prognosticate” citing past examples and referring specifically to the comet of 1531 and what its significance might be, and moves on to a discussion of the ‘starre’ that led the Three Wise Men and a collection of ancient opinions on them. He concludes with a chapter on whether such evils as the blazing star might predict can be prevented or avoided.

Nausea, a theologian of Wurtemberg, doctor of laws, and preacher who became Bishop of Vienna in 1541, was writing specifically about the comet of 1531 but used the occasion to write about comets and their interpretation in general, giving rise to the work’s republication at the advent of future ‘blazing starres’. Given that Nausea’s eventual conclusion was that the end of the world was nigh, its republication forty years later is curious. On the other hand, given public interest in comet coverage, combined with their inconclusive origins, comets became central to ongoing debates between Copernican scientists and their rivals. Aristotelian cosmology could incorporate unpredictable comets as products of the layer of fire he believed to be above the terrestrial sphere; Copernicus was nearly silent on the issue. In 1623 Galileo argued (based on comets observed around the time this work was published) that comets were purely optical phenomena.
Fleming was a renowned antiquary, publishing over fifty translations, including another part of Nausea’s Libri Miribilium Septem on earthquakes. A good copy of an uncommon work in English of particular astronomical and astrological interest.

STC 18413.3. Lowndes IV.1654. (edit. of 1577). Thorndike V 321-2, VI 491-2. Not in Houzeau and Lancaster or Honeyman. Barker and Bernstein “The Role of Comets in the Copernican Revolution” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 19 (3):299-319. Cantamessa II 5489n.


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