On Placido de Titis’ Physiomathematica sive coelestis philosophia
– December 6th – 16th, 2006

I am a little confused by differing bibliographic accounts of the astrological works of Placidus and their titles and dates:

It seems to be generally accepted that his major theoretical work ‘Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres’ was first published in 1650 and later reprinted in 1675. It is described by Holden as a ‘revolutionary treatise… on house division, primary directions, and secondary directions’ (A History of Horoscopic Astrology, p. 168)

However, here is where accounts diverge:

Holden says that the 1675 reprint was done by ‘his students’ and given the title ‘Physiomathematica sive coelestis philosophia…’ (AHHA, p. 168).

Gardner agrees with the dates and titles, though not stating that the 1675 work is a reprint of the 1650 one, and gives the 1675 work 319 pages and one folding plate, the original 323 pages and nine plates.

Thorndike, however, gives a completely different account of the chronology and identities of the works, in A History of Magic and Experimental Science Book VIII, pp. 302-3:

He has the ‘Physiomathematica sive coelestis philosophia…’ first appearing in 1650, as an entirely separate work, published in the same year as the first edition of the ‘Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres’. Then he states that in 1675 ‘the Physiomathematica was re-issued… along with the three books of physio-mathematical questions and additions to his doctrine by Cursinus Francobacci’ (AHMES VIII p. 303). Does Thorndike imply by this that the 1675 reprint was a combined edition of the two works originally published separately in 1650? If Thorndike is correct, why does Holden give such a wildly different account, regarding the Questionum and Physiomathematica as being the same work but the latter the 1675 reprint of the former? And why does Gardner show that the 1675 Physiomathematica has four pages fewer than the 1650 original of the Questionum if the former was a reprint of the 1650 Questionum combined with an entirely separate work (by Thorndike’s testimony) also from 1650 called the Physiomathematica? Surely then it would have many more pages than the 1650 Questionum, not fewer!

It strikes me that there are only two possibilities here logically. Either Thorndike is incorrect and has mistakenly regarded the Physiomathematica as a separate work from the Questionum, spuriously attributing its initial year of publication to 1650 in common with (but distinctly from) that of the Questionum, or Holden is incorrect and has oversimplified matters by equating the two works with each other.

I would like to believe that Holden is correct, since I have strong faith in his skills as a researcher and have not come across any convincing evidence to justify Thorndike’s more elaborate claims to date. Thorndike devoted about one chapter to astrology in each of his eight volumes, and might have made an occasional error in the course of amassing, sorting and eventually writing up his vast tracts of literary evidence, I would presume.

I would not have expected either Thorndike or Holden to make so careless a mistake as this appears to have been, but in view of their dually excellent contributions to the study of the history of astrology I think we can forgive whichever may prove to have been incorrect in this instance for one bibliographical slip!

I’ve been curious about Placidus’s astrological works other than his 1657 work ‘Tabulae Primi Mobilis’ (which as I’m sure virtually everyone reading this will know has been widely available in John Cooper’s English translation under the title ‘Primum Mobile’ since the early 19th century) ever since obtaining a Ballantrae reprint of the ‘Primum Mobile’ about four years ago.

John Cooper’s introduction to the ‘Primum Mobile’ sows further seeds of confusion in this matter by giving 1647 as the date of the first edition of the ‘Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres’, which is contradicted by Holden, Gardner and Thorndike, who all agree on 1650!

And what’s more, Cooper appears to suggest that in 1675 was printed the second edition of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis, and not of the ‘Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres’, which assertion is not supported by any of Thorndike, Holden or Gardner, who contend, respectively, that in 1675 came a combined reprint of the separate works both originally published in 1650 called the ‘Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres’ and the ‘Physiomathematica sive coelestis’ (Thorndike), a reprint of the 1650 ‘Questionum…’ retitled as the ‘Physiomathematica…’ (Holden) or simply a work called the ‘Physiomathematica…’, with no connection drawn or denied to any earlier works by the same author (Gardner), but with almost exactly the same number of pages (just two or three fewer) as the 1650 Questionum.

So with regard to the identity of Placidus’s 1675 publication, there is no direct agreement between any of these four sources (Cooper, Holden, Thorndike or Gardner), but I think we can fairly rule out Cooper’s testimony since it has nothing in common with the others and he has already given a presumably incorrect date for the first edition of the Questionum with which none of the others agree! In short, it strikes me that Cooper has translated Placidus’s 1657 work ‘Tabulae Primi Mobilis’ and does not know so much about the 1650 or 1675 publications of the same author so he has misrepresented the date of the first and the identity of the second.

It is also worth noting that Holden claims that Manoah Sibly’s book ‘Astronomy and Elementary Philosophy’ is an inferior (to Cooper’s) earlier translation of the ‘Tabulae Primi Mobilis’. Yet Sibly’s book has much more in common page-count-wise and name-wise with the Questionum (1650) and Physiomathematica (1675) editions found listed in Gardner. I have a copy of Manoah Sibly’s translation somewhere at the back of my shelves, and fully intend to cross-check it against the Latin text of the Questionum as soon as I can gain access to a copy, to ascertain whether or not my wondering if it was a translation of this and not, as Holden states, of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis may have been in any way justified – but for now I shall gladly accept Holden’s testimony, which would mean that there has never been a translation of the Questionum into English but there have been two translations of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis, even though the latter contains but a summary of the ideas detailed more fully in the former by all accounts, followed by a host of tables. Gardner lists Sibly’s translation but does not indicate of which work by Placidus it was a translation, though pouring scorn on its quality. If Holden took this reference as a source, might he have assumed it was a translation of the same work translated by Cooper without verifying this? I presume Holden was correct, though, but intend to verify it for myself later.

If Thorndike is correct in thinking that the Physiomathematica was still another separate work from the Questionum, then there are not one but two key theoretical works on astrology by Placidus both first published in 1650, predating the Primum Mobile by seven years, that have not been translated into English by anyone at all to date. However, I’m inclined at present to side with Holden and Gardner because their testimonies coincide mutually more neatly than either’s does with Thorndike. But just possibly, in theory at least, if Holden was using Gardner as a source he might have made an assumption that it was the same work whereas Thorndike might have known better!

Placidus’s later work on the critical days is another story altogether. This was one of the books I bought from Krown and Spellman earlier this year, and I’m looking forward to comparing it with Argoli’s second edition on the same subject and Galen’s original ideas from many centuries before at some point in the future – it could certain make for an interesting study of the transmission and adaptation of an astrological theory….

One thing that is entirely clear in all this is that the Tabulae Primi Mobilis was a later work than the Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres. On this point all four sources (Cooper, Garnder, Holden, Thorndike) agree, and it has been dated to 1657.

It is also entirely apparent in Cooper’s translation that the early part of the Primum Mobile was intended as a summary of the theoretical points discussed in much more detail in Placido’s earlier work(s).

But Cooper’s translation gives Placidus, in his ‘The Author to the Reader’ preface of the Primum Mobile, as having referred to his earlier work being summarised in the early chapters of the Primum Mobile as having been entitled ‘Celestial Philosophy’, which appears to equate much more closely to the Latin ‘Physiomathematica sive Coelestis’ rather than ‘Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres’.

Cooper also in his own earlier introduction appears to equate the two titles, stating that Placido ‘published that most elaborate Treatise known by the appellation of his Celestial Philosophy’, under the title of ‘Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres…’. Thus Cooper would appear to be asserting, in common with Holden, that the Questionum and the Physiomathematica sive Coelestis were one and the same work, albeit with two different titles.

If this is so, then there is no contradiction on this point between Cooper, Holden and Gardner, except for the fact that Holden asserts and Gardner also indicates that the Physiomathematica title was given only to the second edition in 1675, whereas Cooper does not make this distinction. Thorndike, on the other hand, is left completely out in the cold with his notion that the Physiomathematica and Questionum were two distinct and separate works both independently published in 1650!

If you’ve followed all that without having to check the above sources, you must have the mind and retentive memory of a lawyer: well done! But otherwise, I hope that it makes sense once you have cross-checked them.


Just a quick update here:

I managed to locate my copy of Manoah Sibly’s ‘Astronomy and Elementary Philosophy’ (1789) this morning, and have been able to partially confirm Holden’s statement that it was an earlier translation of the ‘Tabulae Primi Mobilis’, and not Placidus’s earlier work(s).

However, the translation of the Tabulae, correlated against Cooper’s translation, begins only on P.123 of ‘Astronomy and Elementary Philosophy’. This accounts for the longer overall page count than one would expect if it contained only the canons from the first part of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis.

Sibly’s translation of ‘A Collection of Thirty Remarkable Nativities’ was issued separately, but sometimes also found bound together with ‘Astronomy and Elementary Philosophy’, and I have not yet seen a copy of it but it can be presumed to correspond exactly with the later part of Cooper’s translation of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis as ‘Primum Mobile’ (c. 1820).

Thís leaves the first 122 or so pages of ‘Astronomy and Elementary Philosophy’ as a separate work, presumably written (or at least, compiled) by Manoah Sibly himself, appearing under the general heading of ‘Introductory Observations’. If this turns out to have been derived from Placidus’s earlier work(s) from 1650, I would be most surprised, as it seems to be a basic and conventional introduction to astrological delineation, including derivative sketches of the planets and luminaries in the signs as indicators of physical appearance (a seemingly standard feature of many astrology books from just after Lilly’s time until the late 19th century, and almost always copied directly from the sources that went before!) In fact I’d be inclined to suggest, without cross-checking but from first appearances correlated with my memory of Lilly’s text, that the first 122 pages are chíefly a précis of extracts of Lilly’s work, adding nothing of any original substance.

However, one thing I would like to record in Manoah Sibly’s favour is that he was the first translator of the Tabulae Primi Mobilis, and on cross-checking quite extensive passages of his translation against that of Cooper, it is very apparent that, far from Sibly’s translation having been inept and Cooper’s definitive, Cooper’s translation reads for the most part as a wholesale verbatim copy of Sibly’s, with just a few words changed here and there. The fact that history has given Cooper all the credit (thanks to Gardner in the first place, and Holden echoing his view) for what amounts to an act of thinly disguised plagiarism from Sibly’s pioneering translation just thirty years earlier is outrageous! I am prepared to believe that Cooper cross-checked his copy of Sibly’s translation against the original source and made a few edits here and there where he felt a different word would have been more suitable, but Sibly did most of the work here as is clear from the almost exact replication of his words by Cooper.

So that was a revelation to me if nothing else!

I have resolved to purchase an original copy of Placido’s ‘Questionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres’ (1650) since it has clearly indeed not been translated yet and deserves some careful examination. Cooper mentions in his introduction that:

‘It was from this book that Mr. Partridge took all the best of the matter which he inserted into his Opus Reformatum and Defectio Geniturarum, though he very rarely acknowledged the obligation.’ (Page iv)

Both the Opus Reformatum and the Defectio Geniturarum are readily available as affordable reprints from John Ballantrae (the latter also appears on Christopher Warnock’s Renaissance Astrology CD Library), so this will make for a very interesting comparison in the future too!


Well, whether foolishly or intrepidly, I have carried out my threat to purchase an original copy of Placidus’s 1650 work – there has been one listed by Krown and Spellman for quite a long time for $1250, and I was kindly allowed a 10% direct-purchase discount, making $1125: still a lot of money, but while the exchange rates have been so extraordinarily favourable to the British pound against the US dollar lately, almost 2:1, this converted into less than £600 even after exchange rate losses, so I felt it was worth it as the work is so scarce and important in the history of astrology, and as yet unpublished in any English translation.

The book has arrived here, and by all appearances, both by Krown and Spellman’s assessment and, based on the more limited bibliographic sources available to me, mine too, it is the 1650 edition.

It runs to 323 numbered pages (as Gardner gives for the first edition of the Quaestionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres from 1650).

Yet it has two title pages. I’ll describe the prefatory pages in the precise order of their appearance, starting with the first:

The first is a title page reading:

Naturalibus hucufq; defideratis oftenfa principijs.
Oluietanae Congregationis Monacho.

A Io. Baptifta Malatefta R. Cq; Typographo.

2) The second begins with an introduction by ‘D. Timotheus Podianus de Perisia, Abbas Generalis Congregationis Oliuetanae’ (? – this last word is almost illegible owing to malformed print characters), which starts:

‘Librum hunc, cui titulus Quaestionum Phyfiomathematicarum Libri tres, a P. D. Placido de titis Perufino noftrae Congregationis Monacho Composfitum’

[Philip’s note: for the sake of anyone whose grasp of Latin is even less sure-footed than mine, the core meaning of this is ‘This book, whose title (is) The Three Books of Physiomathematical Questions, was composed by P. D. Placido de Titis….’ Since this page follows immediately after the Physiomathematica title page, it is easy to see why Holden is of the view that the two titles are equivalent and refer to one book, although he held that it was renamed Physiomathematica for the 1675 edition, which contention is not supported by the material evidence before my eyes. If this copy is the 1675 edition, not the 1650 edition, it fails to tally with Gardner’s assignation of fewer pages and plates to the 1675 edition, besides which there is no reference to 1675 anywhere in this copy.]

Beneath this introduction by Timotheus Podianus comes an ‘IMPRIMATUR’, which dates the printing to 20 September 1650.

3-5) There follow three pages of what appear to be additional notes by the printer, one Reverend P. Aversa, on particular portions of text he references to specified pages in the book.


A brief introduction to the work by Placido himself!

D. Lyufij Manzini

A ten-line verse in support of the author’s efforts and intentions!

8: Second title-page:

In quibus
Ex Naturae Principijs hucufq; defideratis de-
monfratur ASTROLOGIAE parsilla, quae
ad Meteorologiam, Medicinam, Nauigium,
& Agriculturam fpectat.

Ad Eminentiffimum, & Reuerendiffimum
S:R:E:Cardinalem Senogalliae Epifcopum.

Ex Typographia Io. Baptiftae Malateftae Reg.
ac Cameralis Impraefforis.
De confenfu Superiorem.

The printing information appears to agree with that on the earlier Physiomathematica Sive Coelestis title page. Apologies for making it harder to read by representing the antiquated lettering (f for s, u for v, etc.) as it appears on the page here, by the way!

9) A blank page

10-12) A dedicatory epistle starting: CAESARI

Confusingly, this ends ‘Mediolani Kalendis Maij 1647’.
It is signed just underneath ‘Eminentiae Tuae Reuerendifs.

Most of the rest of the 12th page is blank, but in the bottom right corner of the same page, in small lettering, we then find: ‘Addictiffimus D. Placidus de Titis Perufinus.’ I must admit I’m a little confused by this.

13-14) A letter to the reader, I presume, in very tiny italic script, crammed into two pages, beginning:

15) Another letter in the same very small script, headed:

Then we come to the first book itself, and the first properly numbered page of the book, page I:


Inftrumentalis Aftrorum Virtus, quae, & quotuplex.


The chapter starts immediately on the same page and continues in densely formatted text, with 44 lines per complete page, until page 122.

We then find on Page 123 a full-page title page for Book II:


Ex Typographia Io. Baptiftae Malatesftae Reg. ac Cam.
De confenfu Superiorum.

This is followed on P. 124 by a separate ‘AD LECTOREM’ introduction to the reader for the second book.

Then on P. 125 the book itself starts with a smaller heading akin to the one on Page 1 for the first book, leading thence straight into the first chapter on the same page. This book continues until P. 210.

On P. 211 we find a full-page title page for the third book:


…etc., with the same printing information at the foot of the page as earlier.

P. 212 is another book-specific ‘AD LECTOREM’ page.

P. 213 commences with a smaller heading to the third book and leads directly into it, in keeping with the two earlier books.

This continues until and concludes with ‘FINIS’ on P. 308.

Nine plates of celestial diagrams follow, not included in the pagination. This was a feature of Gardner’s 1650 edition, but not his 1675 edition.

Then Pp. 309-321 constitute an index, with an ERRATA list starting on P. 321 and concluding on P. 323 rounding off the page count.

Could it be that the two manuscripts Thorndike saw of the 1650 edition had somehow each lost one of the two early title pages, and he consequently thought they were separate works? This would seem to be an unlikely error, but if this 1650 edition has both titles, I find it hard to imagine how the Physiomathematica Sive Coelestis… can also have been an entirely separate work published in 1650, unless its title page has been incorrectly prefixed to this copy of the Quaestionum Physiomathematicarum Libri Tres.

By the way, this copy needs rebinding, which was probably why it hadn’t sold all year even though it was the only copy on the market! But it’s internally very clean for a book of its age, besides which it is untrimmed, in the original paper binding, so there is plenty of space around the margins to play with. This said, the thought of taking this book along to a bookbinder in Stockholm does fill me with immense trepidation….


I think if I attempted to scan my copy of this work the residual binding, already torn at the holding cords between certain pages, would be damaged a whole lot more, and the pages might accidentally suffer in the process, so I’d rather not risk it. It might be possible in the future, once I have had the binding repaired and restored, for me to take digital pictures from above, as has been done by the Czech owner of a copy of the ‘Astrologia Gallica’ elsewhere, however.

Just to follow up my earlier reply addressing the editions:

I have just re-read Thorndike’s footnotes, and as you point out, he says that the 1675 edition has three separate title pages and presents them as being three separate works integrated into one in effect. He also specifies that it was printed by Fran. Vigoni and dated to 1675. My copy lacks both the reference to Fran. Vigoni on the title pages, and the third title page from the 1675 edition he inspected ‘Ad Placidianam doctrinam additamenta excerpta ex iii libro astronomicarum rerum praemittendarum ad futuram astrologiam Italicam a Cursino Francobacci ex Africano Scirotha Romano’, further certifying that mine is a 1650 edition.

The publication details on my copy in fact match those given by Thorndike in Footnote 1, Vol. VIII P. 302 of ‘A History of Magic and Experimental Science’, for the 1650 edition of ‘Physiomathematica’, yet the page count and inner title correspond to his Footnote 2 for the 1650 edition of the ‘Quaestionum’, which he believes a separate work, on the same page of ‘AHMES’.

If the Physiomathematica and Quaestionum were separate works from 1650, then what I have is a copy of the latter with the Physiomathematica title page erroneously prefixed to it, although there is no sign of the binding having been tampered with. Until I see hard evidence of the existence of a separate work called the Physiomathematica from the same year as my copy of the Quaestionum with the Physiomathematica title page prefixed to it, I regret I have no option but to regard Thorndike as having erred here for now.

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