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Book of Astronomy by Guido Bonatti, translated by Benjamin Dykes

Book Review

Guido Bonatti's Book of Astronomy
Translated by Benjamin Dykes PhD

Self published by Benjamin Dykes

Available for purchase from
Price $289.95 + p&p

Reviewed by Deborah Houlding

This review is based upon material previewed in the Introduction and Treatise Five (The 146 Considerations) and Six (Questions). I was one of a number of astrologers given the opportunity to provide the author with constructive feedback concerning content, layout, legibility, price, likely value to students, etc.

Being aware of the length of time committed to this project, and the particular suitability of Benjamin Dykes for this task, my expectations were high. This is such a compendious volume of work, that it is obvious a full translation is likely to create a considerable impact upon our understanding of medieval technique. Only chunks of this work have previously been translated out of Latin and these have been significant enough, but even in the new translation of material previously published, improvements in the understanding of Bonatti's intention are apparent on virtually every page.

Before detailing the reasons why I would heartily recommend this work, let me first deal with the drawback that will prove to be an obstacle for many: the price. At a round $300 this work represents a substantial investment, and initially I baulked at this and wondered whether it would have been better for each Treatise to have been sold independently, to make it more affordable for astrologers on a budget. But on reflection I feel that Ben Dykes is right to keep all the material together. One of the advantages of this production is the close attention given to indexing, and the footnotes and annotations that cross-reference the use of technique across the various treatises. Bonatti would have expected his work to have been read in full, and this is the approach that ought to be maintained. Treatise Six on Questions, for example, does very much expect that the material in Treatise five (the 146 Considerations), has been reflected upon and understood. With almost 1600 pages in total, the work requires a commitment in time as well as expense, but this is one of those texts that will make the need for many others superfluous - it is all embracing and complete within itself, and it will be impossible to give this book due attention and not develop a deep, secure understanding of traditional technique.

When put into context of what this text offers, and viewed against similar translations of traditional works, the price actually compares very favourably. For example, I recently paid £50 (about $100) for a translation of an Arabic work that was produced in paperback and ran to 500 pages. But of these only a small proportion offered an English translation of the astrological text (much of the book reverted to Latin or the original Arabic, which is great for scholars, but means that astrologers have to pay a high price for the material they need). This book is pure translation; it contains a huge amount of astrological information that is logically categorised together; so it is not just providing some interesting new insights and unappreciated details, but a whole body of relevant knowledge. As a limited edition, 500 copies are fittingly presented in two attractive, foil stamped, hardcover volumes. Given that 70 copies sold in the first week of advertisement, even before the official release date of 15th July, perhaps at a later stage a cheaper presentation will be made available in paperback. But still, it seems hard to envisage that the price is capable of much reduction, with the sheer volume of pages included. So all-in-all, yes - this text does requires some investment; but for anyone seriously committed to a study of traditional astrology, it is one that has to be recommended. Let me explain some of the reasons why I believe that to be the case.

I did not have to read many pages of Treatise Five before I realised how important this work is going to be. The 146 Considerations of Guido Bonatus have been familiar to me through the Coley translation since the early days of my study of traditional astrology. Just a few pages into my preview, I started to make a mental list of articles and tuition material that I now need to revise, correct or expand in order to incorporate a more secure understanding of points elucidated by Dykes's translation. For example, several of the Considerations are incomplete in Coley's translation, and some of these are marked with "notes by Lilly". These have been presumed to be a record of Lilly's opinion on the matter, but we can now see that they were Lilly's editorial record of omissions, capturing something of the gist of the missing comment, but certainly not giving full justice to the original text. The first few Considerations take on a new, and much more powerful significance in regard to questions that are 'radical' through being originated by the soul, rooted in purpose, and appropriately constructed; and we derive a much clearer understanding of technical issues such as reception and the conditions under which it is considered effective. Another significant highlight for me as a horary astrologer, was the clearer revelation of ways that planetary hour agreement is obtained. Dykes' translation agrees with the essence of Coley's on this point, but there the point is obscured and fails to draw attention. We can now see that Bonatti's method for determining hour-agreement, explained in Consideration 143, demonstrates a requirement that is quite different from any of those presented by Lilly - ie., where the ruler of the hour and the ruler of the ascendant are both placed in signs of the same nature.

Treatise Six, on Questions, offered many more surprises and delights. Again, the clarification of technical principles throughout the treatise is invaluable for offering a more informed appreciation of how the rules of horary apply. Much of the material can be seen to be the source of passages that are paraphrased or included as translations within William Lilly's Christian Astrology, but here the elegant translation and easy readability of the modern presentation makes this older, more original material, read much more smoothly than it does in Lilly's text. Whilst not as comprehensive as Lily's volume, and lacking the advantage of the many example charts that Lilly offers, the theoretical principles do seem to be clearer and more readily grasped, making this volume of horary greatly advantageous for students that are either beginning or developing their knowledge of traditional horary technique. And what is more important, this text stands apart as being one of the very few translated works available prior to Lilly's, to give a comprehensive treatment of horary principles.

It seems hard to overstate, not only the historical value of this text, but also the likely interest it will have for astrologers with regard to its theoretical, philosophical and practical principles. Two years' labour of love has paid off in the fruits of Benjamin Dykes's efforts. His additional commentary is sensitive, informed, and impressive in the way that it supports and illuminates Bonatti's words. This is not a dry, soulless, treatise of traditional techniques that seem complex or dated against the demands of modern astrological practise, but a rich, intriguing insight the astrological vision of a medieval master astrologer, that is informative, inspiring and enthralling to read. I would unhesitantly recommend his work, and as a member of the astrological community and an astrologer genuinely excited by the information Benjamin Dykes has allowed us access to, I offer him my personal congratulations - and my thanks!

Contents of Volume I (728 pages):
  • Introduction
  • Treatise 1: Defense of Astrology
  • Treatise 2: Signs and Houses
  • Treatise 3: Planets
  • Treatise 4: Conjunctions
  • Treatise 5: 146 Considerations
  • Treatise 6: Questions (Horary)

Contents of Volume II (857 pages):
  • Treatise 7: Elections
  • Treatise 8: Revolutions and Parts
  • Treatise 9: Nativities
  • Treatise 10: Weather
  • Index

Deborah Houlding
June, 2007