PTOLOMAEUS, Claudius. [Bourdin de Villennes, Nicolas.]


PTOLOMAEUS, Claudius. [Bourdin de Villennes, Nicolas.] L’Uranie, ou la Traduction des quatre livres des jugemens des astres

Paris, Cardin Besongne, 1640


FIRST EDITION thus. 12mo. pp. [xlvi] 432. á12, é11, A-S12. Roman letter. Engraved printer’s device on title, floriated woodcut initials and headpieces, typographical ornaments, woodcut astrological table, “Pour Mr. Sainct Leger” in Bourdin’s hand on ffp., ten blank leaves bound in at end with four page autograph dedication by Nicolas Bourdin entitled “A Monsieur de Sainct Leger, En Avignon” dated Paris 1640 “en la conionction des Benefiques au Sagittaire”. Age browning, slightly heavier in places, some minor spotting, title fractionally trimmed in lower margin just touching the privilege. A good copy in contemporary tan sheep, covers bordered with a double gilt rule, Bourdin’s arms gilt at centres, spine with raised bands gilt ruled in compartments, sun fleurons gilt at centres, all edges marbled, small chip at head and tail of spine, lower corners worn, a little rubbed.

A remarkable authorial presentation copy of this rare first edition of the first French translation of Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, finely bound with the authors arms and a long manuscript presentation letter to Monsieur de Saint Léger of Avignon. Little is known about Nicolas Bourdin, except that he was born around 1583 to a Berry family, was a protégé of Gaston d’Orleans and died governor of Vitry-le-François in 1676. His controversies with Jean-Baptiste Morin (1583-1656), another Ptolemaic astrologer, probably derived from Morin’s status as the protégé of Richelieu. The ms. dedication is most interesting as he refers to the nature of his translation and to the marginal notes he has made, stating that they are not made for the scholarly St. Andre, who already has a copy of the Basle edition in his collection, and who could have undoubtedly make better notes than the author.

Ptolemy (c.100-170AD) was a Roman geographer, mathematician and astronomer from Alexandria. His extant works, all written in Greek, influenced Western knowledge for centuries. Tetrabiblos ‘four books’, also known in Latin as Quadripartitum “Four Parts”, is a text on the philosophy and practice of astrology. Ptolemy’s Almagest was an authoritative text on astronomy for more than a thousand years, and the Tetrabiblos, its companion volume, was equally influential in astrology, the study of the effects of astronomical cycles on earthly matters. But whilst the Almagest as an astronomical authority was superseded by acceptance of the heliocentric model of the Solar System, the Tetrabiblos remained an important theoretical work for astrologers. Besides outlining the techniques of astrological practice, Ptolemy’s philosophical defence of the subject as a natural, beneficial study helped secure theological tolerance towards astrology in Western Europe during the Medieval era. This allowed Ptolemaic teachings on astrology to be included in universities during the Renaissance, which brought an associated impact upon medical studies and literary works. “Ptolemy regards the Tetrabilblos as the natural complement to the Almagest: as the latter enables one to predict the positions of the heavenly bodies, so the former expounds the theory of their influences on terrestrial things. […] From the obvious terrestrial physical effects of the sun and moon, he infers that all heavenly bodies must produce physical effects’ and ‘by careful observation of the terrestrial manifestations accompanying the various recurring combinations of celestial bodies, he believes it possible to erect a system which, although not mathematically certain, will enable one to make useful predictions. […] Book I explains the technical concepts of astrology, book II deals with influences on the earth in general (‘astrological geography’ and weather predictions), and book III and IV with influences on human life.”

A most interesting presentation copy of this very rare work. USTC locates four copies only; three in France and one at the BL.

USTC 6028506. Caillet I, 1548. “Rare ouvrage et des plus estimés sur l’astrologie: c’est la seule traduction française des Quatre livres de Ptolémée” Cioranescu, XVII, 15 691. Cantamessa 1068.
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