Monday, November 8, 2010

Politics and the Weather (A Weird Rare Book Adventure)

by Stephen J. Gertz

Action in the sky = Politics on the ground.
Frontispiece to Meteorologia Philosophico-Politica.

It was either sunny and warm or cold and rainy on Election Day last week, depending on your political perspective. 

Climate change was in the air in the aftermath of the election, though no one seemed to know whether it was man-made or a natural phenomenon. Politicos and the Commentariat have moistened fingers in the air and still no one knows which way the wind is really blowing. About the only thing everyone can agree upon is that a high-pressure system is stuck over Washington with no relief in sight.

In these troubled times, our obvious need is for a guide to politics based upon the weather, right? But where to find one?

Hop in my  Time Machine, zip into the future, take a look at the lissome Eloi, recoil from the troglodyte Morlocks, and gnash gears as we tear into reverse,  wave to Washington D.C. 2010, and  wind up in Ausburg, Bavaria 1698.

Say hello to Meteorologia Philosophico-Politica, a remarkable, delightfully bizarre, unique, and fantastical natural science emblem book by Francisco Reinzer (1661-1708), a Jesuit priest and professor of philosophy, rhetoric, and theology, who took the science out of poli-sci by tying it to atmospheric conditions, astrology, and Western Hermetic tradition.

Within, he posits that political wisdom can be derived from meteorological phenomena and that  appropriate political policy and behavior can be revealed by them, the weather as oujia board, sort of like predicting political action by examining the entrails of  a TV meteorologist. (Watch out, Willard Scott). Reinzer liberally references his Jesuit brothers of the prior generation, Fathers Athanasius Kircher (d. 1680) and Gaspar Schott (d. 1666) and their works throughout, including Mundus Subterraneus (1664), Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (1665), Physica Curiosa (1662), etc.

Scoff if you will but the results of last week's election were foreseen by Reinzer long ago.

Dawn on the Potomac, Nov. 2, 2010.

Citing the writings of Julius Caesar, Cicero, and Pliiny, amongst other ancient politician-scribes, Reinzer proffers advice, like Machiavelli to Lorenzo de'Medici, to his patron, Joseph I, eldest son of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, and King of the Romans/Emperor-designate, on political action within the context of, well, just about everything in the atmosphere and on the ground as it was then understood.

Divided into twelve Dissertations of eighty-three questions and answers with marvelous copperplate engravings to illustrate each, Reinzer (1661-1708) covers, with typical Jesuit thoroughness, every aspect of the atmosphere and its manifestations. Among the associated subjects discussed and illustrated are mining, metal working, diving for corals, fossils, ice and freezing landscapes, volcanos, pharmacy and hot springs. What those things have to do with politics is a mystery to me. And unless you’ve had a classical education it will be all prehistoric Greek to you, too.

It’s written in Latin.

7PM EDT, Nov. 2, 2010, Washington D.C.

But for the sake of this discussion, let’s say, for instance, that a vote is up in the legislature to pass a major, landmark health care bill. All of a sudden, a tornado rips down the Mall right up to the Capitol building. Coincidence? Not to Reinzer! Hunker down, wait for it to blow over, then vote your health care bill; no one can think straight when the House is carried away. Best to wait until the tornado stops and the home of Congress finally rests atop the Wicked Witch of the East. Welcome to Oz.

High humidity? Moisture in the air means tears in Congress. We know from empirical knowledge that this is true; Washington D.C. is a steam bath during the summer months; it’s no accident that Congress recesses from August to mid-September. When Congress sits, don't want to shvitz. Sweat the big issues when it's cold outside.

"A dark and stormy night"? Let Bulwer-Lytton’s opening line in purple to Paul Clifford be your watchword: War is in the air. Button up your trench coat; before the military starts shooting, legislators will be lobbing mortar shells across the aisle in mortal trench combat.

Message to Sharron Angle from The Big Man, up.

You can only raise taxes when the earth shifts its axis.

If a hurricane should hit get your ass on the scene, don't sit.

If lightning should strike tell Congress, "Take a hike."

If an earthquake rocks town welcome back Jerry Brown.

This book was published during a fascinating time in the sciences. By 1698, Isaac Newton and the Rationalists had begun to move science away from the Hermetic blend of naturalism and metaphysics into a strictly fact-based, tested by replicable experiment endeavor; the transition of the Renaissance  to the Age of Enlightenment. Men like Kircher and his disciple, Schott, stood at the nexus of the old way and new. Even though Kircher was roundly criticized for his many blunders in thinking by the new generation of scientists, he was still the most influential investigator of nature of his time, whether you agreed with him or not. In 1698, he’d been dead for eighteen years; we tend to think that Hermeticism in the sciences died with him. It did not. It lingered as a legitimate, if somewhat dubious, way to look at the world for another generation. Reinzer and Meteorologia Philosophico-Politica provide the evidence.

The Democratic Caucus, 11PM EDT, Nov. 2, 2010.

With fifty states each with their own typical climate and weather patterns, as well as micro-climates, trying to gauge political action by atmospheric conditions is tough. As anyone living in Florida can tell you, it can be raining on one side of the street and sunny on the other; clear skies one minute, a downpour the next. We know how wacked-out politics in Florida can often be. Perhaps Reinzer was on to something.

REINZER, Francisco. Meteorologia Philosophico-Politica, in duodecim Dissertationes per Quaestiones Meteorologicas & conclusiones Politicas divisa, appositisque Symbolis illustrata... Ausburg: J. Wolfus, 1698.

First edition, second printing, rarer than the first printing (of 1697), and subsequent 1709 and 1712 editions, with no copies at auction within  the last thirty-five years.  Folio (12 1/4 x 7 3/4 in; 311 x 197 mm). [6], 297, [5 index], [2 blank] pp. With engraved frontispiece by A.M.Wolffgang after W.J.Kadariza, and eighty-three in-text copperplate emblem engravings  by J.Müller, J.Stridbeck, & J.S.Krauss after W.J. Kadariza.

Praz p. 463. De Backer-Sommervogel IV, 1640.3. Landwehr 494.

Images courtesy of David Brass.

Political wonks and the curious can read the full text of Meteorologia Philosophico-Politica here. A Latin to English dictionary and grammar will help. A lot.

1 comment:

  1. it seems it is as good a way as any-however and unfortunately so-politics seems the same as usual or as the republicans would perhaps subscribe even more to a return to the 17th c. pgt


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