Cecco d’Ascoli


Cecco d'Ascoli (1257 – September 26, 1327) is the popular name of Francesco degli Stabili (sometimes given as Francesco degli Stabili Cichus), an Italian encyclopaedist, physician and poet. Cecco (in Latin, Cichus) is the diminutive of Francesco, Ascoli was the place of his birth. ... he devoted himself to the study of mathematics and astrology. In 1322 he was made professor of astrology at the University of Bologna. ... Having published a commentary on the Sphere of John de Sacrobosco, in which he propounded audacious theories concerning the employment and agency of demons, he got into difficulties with the clerical party, and was condemned in 1324 to certain fasts and prayers, and to the payment of a fine of seventy crowns. To elude this sentence he went to Florence, where he was attached to the household of Carlo di Calabria. His freethinking and plain speaking had made him many enemies; he had attacked the Commedia of Dante, and the Canzone d'amore of Guido Cavalcanti. But according to Ernst Cassirer's The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, he died at the stake for his attempt to determine the nativity of Christ by reading his horoscope.

The Acerba

The book by which he achieved his renown and which led to his death was the Acerba (from acervus), an encyclopedic poem, of which in 1546, the date of the last reprint, more than twenty editions had been issued. It is a compendium for the contemporary natural science of the time, including the order and influences of the heavens, the characteristics and properties of animals and precious stones, the causes of phenomena such as meteors and earthquakes—and of commonplace moral philosophy. The work actually consists of four books in sesta rima (six-line stanzas in a specific rhyming scheme). The first book treats of astronomy and meteorology; the second of astrology, of physiognomy, and of the vices and virtues; the third of minerals and of the love of animals; while the fourth propounds and solves a number of moral and physical problems. Of a fifth book, on theology, the initial chapter alone was completed.

[Adapted from Wikipedia]

L'Acerba is presented in five books, with the fifth book unfinished.

  • Book 1: The heavens and their properties
  • Book 2: Fortune, astrology, the formation of humans, the virtues and emotions
  • Book 3: Animals, birds and serpents; lapidary
  • Book 4: Answers to questions on many topics
  • Book 5: Faith (incomplete)

Despite being banned by the church, the work continued to be popular, and illustrated medieval manuscripts still exist. During the Renaissance many editions were printed, all in Italian. Modern editions in both Italian and English are available.

See also Encyclopedia.