The Death of Pico della Mirandola


One of the famous predictions in the history of astrology was that of the death of Pico della Mirandola, the precocious young philosopher of 15th century Italy who wrote the key text of Renaissance humanism and the Hermetic Reformation.  Based on his philosophical beliefs, Pico was an ardent critic of predictive astrology.  Legend has it that in retaliation for this criticism, three astrologers of Florence studied Pico’s birthchart and predicted that the life of their philosophical enemy would end before the completion of his 33rd year.  We must remember that this was a period in which the prevailing religious authorities felt justified in torturing and killing anyone who disagreed with their opinions about dogma, so we shouldn’t fault the three astrologers too much for wishing Pico dead. To do so was part and parcel of the culture of the time.

Sure enough, Pico died on 17 November 1494 (OS) at the age of 31. He never reached his 32nd birthday, which would have taken place in February of 1495.  The average lifespan of Renaissance artists was about 63 years, and death at age 31 was certainly uncommon.

What might the Florentine astrologers have seen in Pico’s chart to make such a formidable prediction? During the Renaissance there was a rebirth of interest in Ptolemy and the use of primary directions in which one degree of movement of the MC in right ascension was equivalent to one year of life. According to the birth chart for Pico available at the time, when his MC advanced 33 degrees of Right Ascension (to his 33rd year of life), his Ascendant advanced to the position of Mars in his birth chart.  Mars, being malefic and opposing the Moon in the 8th house of death, was thus a symbol of his potential demise.

Pico face2

Pico was born 24 February 1463 (OS) in Modena, Italy.  The astrologer Girolamo Benivieni, a personal friend of Pico, had cast his chart with a birth time of 20:39 LMT (2h 42 m after sunset).  Here is the chart or a close approximation to the one used by the astrologers to predict Pico’s early demise.

PICO

Pico’s natal chart

The Renaissance astrologers looked at the Right Ascension of the 20 Cancer 59 MC, which is  11241′.  They then calculated the number of degrees of change in the MC which would be required to bring the Ascendant to natal Mars, as in this chart:

PICO2

Pico’s natal chart advanced to 10:59:44 pm LMT with Ascendant conjunct the body of Mars (age 36)

The MC of this latter chart lies at 25 Leo 42, which has a Right Ascension of 147o  58′.  The difference between the MC of the natal and this “directed” chart is  14858′ – 11241′ = 3617′, which in Ptolemy’s measure (one degree = one year of life) means that Pico might die by the age of 36.  It may be that the Italian astrologers who predicted his demise by the time of his 33rd year of life were using a slightly later Ascendant, or much more likely they were measuring the number of degrees of Right Ascension it took for the MC to advance so that the directed Ascendant reached exactly 13o Scorpio, which is the degree containing Mars, thus forming a partile conjunction of the directed Asc with natal Mars, (in theory, primary motion directs Mars to the Asc, but in practical terms the effect is the same).  Here is the chart:

PICO3

Pico’s natal chart advanced to 10:55:25 PM LMT with Ascendant entering 13o Scorpio (age 34)

The MC of this third chart lies at 24 Leo 35, which has a Right Ascension of 146o  53′.  The difference between the MC of the natal and this chart is  14653′ – 11241′ = 3412′, which in Ptolemy’s measure of one degree per year of life means that Pico might die by the age of 34.

In fact, Pico died on 17 November 1494 (OS) at age 31, during his 32nd year of life, probably poisoned by one of his enemies.  Pico had a rather provocative style (Sun opposite Uranus) and was known to fool around with the wives of some prominent and powerful Italian men, who didn’t take kindly to his dalliances. Around the time of his death, Pico had become friends with Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical Dominican friar, and thereby enemies with Piero de’ Medici who may have had him poisoned with arsenic.  Given Pico’s personality style and extreme political and religious views, even a non-astrologer could have predicted his early demise as the hands of a powerful enemy.

As a check on the Renaissance Italian astrologers’ prediction, we might look at the Hellenistic technique of Zodiacal Releasing from the Lot of Fortune, which shows what befall the body.  Here are Pico’s ZR periods from Fortune as calculated in Elías D. Molins’ program AstroSpica.

Pico5zr2

In Level 1, Pico is passing through a Virgo period, which is his 12th Whole Sign house.  This activates Uranus in the 12th and the Sun and Venus in the 6th, with Venus ruling his 8th house of death.  In his houses measured from Fortune, Venus also occupies his derived 8th house of death.

In Level II, Pico is in a Gemini subperiod.  Since Gemini is a mutable sign, this also activates his natal 12th and 6th houses (Virgo and Pisces, respectively).

In Level III, Pico is in a Capricorn subperiod, with Capricorn being his 4th house of the end of life.

In Level IV, Pico is in a Scorpio subperiod, which will change to Sagittarius at 19:55 in the evening.  This activates his natal Mars in Scorpio (death by poisoning?) as well as the opposite natal 8th house of death.  Also activated are the many planets in fixed signs: Pluto in Leo (which is also activated by primary direction), the Moon in Taurus in the 8th of death, malefic Saturn in Aquarius in the 5th (did he have an affair with someone’s wife which lead to his being poisoned?), and Mercury in the 5th (with Mercury ruling his 12th of secret enemies).

The 15th century astrologers were not aware of the existence of Pluto but it is striking that around the time of Pico’s death, by primary direction, there is a conjunction of the Asc with Mars and of the MC with Pluto, a modern symbol of death and the underworld.

Finally, here is a printout from Janus software of the converse primary directions for Pico from the ages of 30 to 37.  These are Placidus semi-arc mundane directions using the time key of Naibod (the Ptolemy key gives dates about 6 months earler than Naibod in this list).

PicoPDs

Looking at these directions for the period surrounding his death in November of 1494, we see

  • Saturn opp. Uranus (in 12th of secret enemies).
  • Jupiter conj. Mercury.
  • Ascendant conj. Mars (2 Dec 1494; death was 17 Nov 1494).  Mars rules the Dsc which opposes the Asc, and this opposition can mean a threat to bodily integrity.
  • MC opp. Saturn, malefic of the contrary sect in this night chart.  (Saturn rules his end-of-life 4th house and the 5th house of love affairs.)

Thus, regardless of whether the story of Renaissance astrologers accurately predicting Pico’s death is apocryphal, his early demise does seem to be foreshadowed in his birth chart.

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About Anthony Louis

Author of books about astrology and tarot, including TAROT PLAIN AND SIMPLE, HORARY ASTROLOGY, and THE ART OF FORECASTING WITH SOLAR RETURNS.
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