Evidence from the University of Vienna, 1500–1530
By Darin Hayton
Abstract: Historians have used university statutes and acts to reconstruct the official astrology curriculum for students in both the arts and medical faculties, including the books studied, their order, and their relation to other texts. Statutes and acts, however, cannot offer insight into what actually happened during lectures and in the classroom: in other words, how and why astrology was taught and learned in the medieval university. This paper assumes that the astrology curriculum is better understood as the set of practices that constituted it and gave it meaning for both masters and students. It begins to reconstruct what occurred in the classroom by drawing on published and unpublished lecture notes. These offer insight into how masters presented the material as they did, and why. The paper argues three points: first, the teaching of astrology centered on demonstrations involving astrological instruments: specifically, various kinds of paper astrolabes. Second, the astrological instruction focused on conveying the pragmatics of astrology rather than esoteric, theoretical issues. Finally, astrology as it was taught in the arts curriculum was explicitly intended to provide a foundation for students who would advance to study medicine at the university.
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