Random Quote #43 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778


Astrology may rest on better foundations than Magic. For if no one has
seen either Goblins, or Lemures, or Dives, or Peris, or Demons, or
Cacodemons, the predictions of astrologers have often been seen to
succeed. If of two astrologers consulted on the life of a child and on
the weather, one says that the child will live to manhood, the other
not; if one announces rain, and the other fine weather, it is clear that
one of them will be a prophet.

The great misfortune of the astrologers is that the sky has changed
since the rules of the art were established. The sun, which at the
equinox was in Aries in the time of the Argonauts, is to-day in Taurus;
and the astrologers, to the great ill-fortune of their art, to-day
attribute to one house of the sun what belongs visibly to another.
However, that is not a demonstrative reason against astrology. The
masters of the art deceive themselves; but it is not demonstrated that
the art cannot exist.

There is no absurdity in saying: Such and such a child is born in the
waxing of the moon, during stormy weather, at the rising of such and
such star; his constitution has been feeble, and his life unhappy and
short; which is the ordinary lot of poor constitutions: this child, on
the contrary, was born when the moon was full, the sun strong, the
weather calm, at the rising of such and such star; his constitution has
been good, his life long and happy. If these observations had been
repeated, if they had been found accurate, experience would have been
able after some thousands of years to form an art which it would have
been difficult to doubt: one would have thought, with some likelihood,
that men are like trees and vegetables which must be planted and sown
only in certain seasons. It would have been of no avail against the
astrologers to say: My son was born at a fortunate time, and
nevertheless died in his cradle; the astrologer would have answered: It
often happens that trees planted in the proper season perish; I answered
to you for the stars, but I did not answer for the flaw of conformation
you communicated to your child. Astrology operates only when no cause
opposes itself to the good the stars can do.

One would not have succeeded better in discrediting the astrologer by
saying: Of two children who were born in the same minute, one has been
king, the other has been only churchwarden of his parish; for the
astrologer could very well have defended himself by pointing out that
the peasant made his fortune when he became churchwarden, as the prince
when he became king.

And if one alleged that a bandit whom Sixtus V. had hanged was born at
the same time as Sixtus V., who from a pig-herd became Pope, the
astrologers would say one had made a mistake of a few seconds, and that
it is impossible, according to the rules, for the same star to give the
triple crown and the gibbet. It is then only because a host of
experiences belied the predictions, that men perceived at last that the
art was illusory; but before being undeceived, they were long credulous.

One of the most famous mathematicians in Europe, named Stoffler, who
flourished in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and who long worked
at the reform of the calendar, proposed at the Council of Constance,
foretold a universal flood for the year 1524. This flood was to arrive
in the month of February, and nothing is more plausible; for Saturn,
Jupiter and Mars were then in conjunction in the sign of Pisces. All the
peoples of Europe, Asia and Africa, who heard speak of the prediction,
were dismayed. Everyone expected the flood, despite the rainbow. Several
contemporary authors record that the inhabitants of the maritime
provinces of Germany hastened to sell their lands dirt cheap to those
who had most money, and who were not so credulous as they. Everyone
armed himself with a boat as with an ark. A Toulouse doctor, named
Auriol, had a great ark made for himself, his family and his friends;
the same precautions were taken over a large part of Italy. At last the
month of February arrived, and not a drop of water fell: never was month
more dry, and never were the astrologers more embarrassed. Nevertheless
they were not discouraged, nor neglected among us; almost all princes
continued to consult them.

I have not the honour of being a prince; but the celebrated Count of
Boulainvilliers and an Italian, named Colonne, who had much prestige in
Paris, both foretold that I should die infallibly at the age of
thirty-two. I have been so malicious as to deceive them already by
nearly thirty years, wherefore I humbly beg their pardon.


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