The Astrological Autobiography of a Medieval Philosopher

Henry Bate's Nativitas (1280-81)

Edited by Steven Vanden Broecke, Carlos Steel, David Juste, and Shlomo Sela

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Critical edition of the earliest known astrological autobiography

The present book reveals the riches of the earliest known astrological autobiography, authored by Henry Bate of Mechelen (1246–after 1310). Exploiting all resources of contemporary astrological science, Bate conducts in his Nativitas a profound self-analysis, revealing the peculiarities of his character and personality at a crucial moment of his life (1280). The result is an extraordinarily detailed and penetrating attempt to decode the fate of one’s own life and its idiosyncrasies. The Astrological Autobiography of a Medieval Philosopher offers the first critical edition of Bate’s Nativitas. An extensive introduction presents Bate’s life and work and sheds new light on the reception and use of Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew texts among scholars in Paris at the end of the 13th century. The book thus provides a major new resource for scholars working on medieval science, autobiography, and notions of personhood and individuality.

 This publication is GPRC-labeled (Guaranteed Peer-Reviewed Content).


Table of Contents




Chapter 1: Manuscripts and text tradition of the Nativitas

1.1. Manuscripts (David Juste)

1.2. Text tradition (Carlos Steel)

1.2.1. Th e two traditions of the Nativitas Errors in P V (and their copies Par L) against S Errors in S against PV (and their copies) Par a copy from V P and L copies of a common model Another witness of β: Munich, BSB, Clm 3857 Three copies of the introduction of the Nativitas

1.2.2. Two different versions of the revolution of the 35th year Th e α version Th e S version Why are there two versions of the revolutions for the 35th year? Is S a direct copy of Bate’s autograph?

1.2.3. Title

1.2.4. Conclusion: a short text history

1.2.5. Stemma codicum

1.3. Editorial principles (Carlos Steel)


Chapter 2: A portrait of Henry Bate (Carlos Steel and Steven Vanden Broecke)

2.1. Introduction

2.2. Bate’s biography

2.2.1. Family background

2.2.2. Studies in Paris

2.2.3. Return to the Low Countries: courtly connections, astrology, and an ecclesiastical career

2.2.4. After the Nativitas

2.3. Bate’s self-portrait

Chapter 3: Bate’s astrological and astronomical works (David Juste)

3.1. Original works

3.1.1. Magistralis compositio astrolabii (1274)

3.1.2. [Equatorium planetarum] (date unknown)

3.1.3. Tables of Mechelen — Tabule Machlinienses (fi rst version before 1280)

3.1.4. Nativitas (1280-81)

3.1.5. De diebus creticis periodorumque causis (after 1281, perhaps 1292)

3.1.6. Commentary on Albumasar’s De magnis coniunctionibus (lost)

[3.1.7.] †Tractatus in quo ostenduntur defectus tabularum Alfonsi

3.2. Translations

3.2.1. Alkindi, Liber de iudiciis revolutionum annorum mundi (1278)

3.2.2. Abraham Avenezra, De mundo vel seculo I [Sefer ha-ʿolam I] (1281)

3.2.3. Abraham Avenezra, De luminaribus [Sefer ha-meʾorot] (1292)

3.2.4. Abraham Avenezra, Introductorius ad astronomiam [Reshit ḥokhmah] (1292)

3.2.5. Abraham Avenezra, Liber rationum I [Sefer ha-ṭeʿamim I] (1292)

3.2.6. Abraham Avenezra, Liber rationum II [Sefer ha-ṭeʿamim II] (1292)

3.2.7. Abraham Avenezra, Liber introductionis ad iudicia astrologie [Mishpeṭei ha-mazzalot] (1292)

[3.2.8] †De fortitudine planetarum

Chapter 4: Bate’s
Nativitas: the earliest known astrological autobiography (Steven Vanden Broecke)

4.1. Purpose

4.2. ‘Autobiography’ and astrological meaning-making in the Nativitas

4.2.1. Astrological judgment and self-guidance

4.2.2. Particularity and notions of selfhood

4.2.3. The inhabitable birth chart

4.3. Precedents and reception

4.4. Structure and synopsis of the Nativitas

Chapter 5: Bate’s Nativitas in context (David Juste)

5.1. The Nativitas in the history of astrology

5.2. Bate’s astrological sources

5.3. Bate and the University of Paris

5.3.1. Introduction

5.3.2. Peter of Limoges

5.3.3. Other scholars and opportunities

5.3.4. William of Saint-Cloud

5.4. Appendix: Bate’s astrological sources

Chapter 6: Bate and Abraham Ibn Ezra (Shlomo Sela)

6.1. Introduction

6.2. The Triple Abraham

6.3. Abraham Avenezra

6.4. Abraham Princeps

6.5. Abraham Compilator

Chapter 7: Basic elements of Bate’s astrological technique (Steven Vanden Broecke)

7.1. The four astrological charts of the Nativitas

7.2. Rectifying the nativity

7.3. Hyleg, alcochoden, and empirical verifi cation of the rectified nativity

7.4. A template for analysis: the twelve houses

7.5. Bate’s procedure of astrological self-analysis: the example of the first house

7.5.1. Complexion and shape of the body

7.5.2. Qualities of the soul Jupiter Mercury Interpreting the decans

7.6. Solar revolutions of the nativity

Index of manuscripts

Bibliography to the introduction

Nativitas Magistri Henrici Baten

Conspectus siglorum



Appendix i. Versio altera in codice Segoviensi 84

Appendix ii. Digressio in Libro Rationum

Index fontium ab editoribus allegatorum

Editiones et manuscripta fontium ab editoribus allegata


Format: Text edition - ebook

304 pages

ISBN: 9789461662699

Publication: November 27, 2018

Series: Ancient and Medieval Philosophy - Series 1 17

Languages: English | Latin

Carlos Steel is emeritus professor of ancient and medieval philosophy at KU Leuven and director of the “Aristoteles Latinus” project.
David Juste is research leader of the project Ptolemaeus Arabus et Latinus at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (Munich).
Shlomo Sela is emeritus professor at the department of Jewish Thought at Bar-Ilan University (Tel Aviv).
Steven Vanden Broecke is associate professor in the History Department of Ghent University.
Das Buch ist ein schönes Beispiel dafür, was in Kooperation erreichbar ist – es handelt sich um eine mustergültige Edition, die man sich für so manchen astrologischen Quellentext wünschen würde.
Günther Oestmann, Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters, 77. Jahrgang, Heft 1, 2021

Cette publication de la Nativitas, l’autobiographie astrologique du savant et philosophe Henri Bate de Malines (1246 – après 1310), un texte unique en son genre, représente un événement attendu depuis près d’un siècle avec la publication, en 1924, d’un article du grand historien des sciences Aleksander Birkenmajer, qui résumait sa thèse sur Henri Bate, restée inédite. Le présent volume, issu de la collaboration entre quatre chercheurs de renom, vient donc combler un vide important, dont on comprend très bien qu’il ait duré si longtemps, considérant l’extrême difficulté de la matière.
Jean-Patrice Boudet, Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 56,1 (2021)

Bate’s rich treatise touches on more themes than the editorial team could begin to address; I flagged several passages to which I wish to return in my own work on astrology and prophecy. For all of these reasons, 'The Astrological Autobiography of a Medieval Philosopher' is a real gift, for which scholars will long remain in the editors’ debt.


Die insgesamt äußerst sorgfältige Edition macht damit einen Text verfügbar, der eine Vielzahl von Einblicken in die Welt des späten 13. Jahrhunderts eröffnet. Auch jenseits der Forschung zur Geschichte der Astrologie ist dem Werk daher uneingeschränkt eine breite Rezeption zu wünschen.
Klaus Oschema, The Medieval Review 20.04.06

'The Astrological Autobiography of a Medieval Philosopher' offers the first critical edition of Bate’s 'Nativitas'. An extensive introduction presents Bate’s life and work and sheds new light on the reception and use of Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew texts among scholars in Paris at the end of the 13th century. The book thus provides a major new resource for scholars working on medieval science, autobiography, and notions of personhood and individuality.
Studi Medievali 2019, II

This is the first complete Latin edition of Bate's Nativitas, and it is an impressive scholarly achievement whose depths can only be hinted at in this review. Not only have the editors produced the definitive edition of Bate's text, they have also written what amounts to a separate monograph to contextualize it.
Justin Lake, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.09.58

It would require an undue amount of space to list all of the aspects that make this edition of Bate’s Nativitasan arresting source for anyone interested in medieval intellectual and cultural history. Most importantly, perhaps, the book subtly undermines facile clichés about the nature of medieval astrology and in their place gives us a glimpse of the inner workings of the art, revealing an occasionally stunning degree of complexity and psychological depth.
C. Philipp E. Nothaft, Journal for the History of Astronomy, Volume 50 Issue 2, May 2019,