Bartolommeo della Rocca

With the Renaissance starting in Italy, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that Italy was an important centre for chiromantical studies during the latter half of the fifteenth and the early part of the sixteenth centuries. One of the most renowned Italian chiromancers of this period was Bartolommeo della Rocca, also known as Cocles (1467-1504).

Cocles lived at Bologna and was not only an accomplished student of astrology, physiognomy, chiromancy and geomancy but was also a student of mathematics, surgery and medicine. He wrote at least two treatises on chiromancy and at least two more were produced under his name by Patritio Tricasso. Cocles' opus magnus was the 'Chiromantiae Principiis...Anastasis', first published at Bologna in 1503, a Latin work of six volumes including sections on both chiromancy and physiognomy. 'Anastasis' means 'awakening' and gives a suggestion that Cocles thought himself as something of a revivalist of these arts. Such a pretentious title would, in any case, have come naturally to Cocles, for he seems to have been a somewhat proud and boastful man in general. He was particularly proud of his chiromantical ability, boasting that his many predictions had all come true, and also went as far as to say that he thought his book was far superior to any previous work on chiromancy that had been written.

Chiromantiae Principiis

The 'Anastasis' begins with three chapters on physiognomy, its general principles, the planets and their rulerships in the body and the meaning and significances of the different parts of the body themselves. The fourth part is a short essay criticising all previous writers on chiromancy for their failings and limitations, though he then proceeds to provide a reproduction of a chiromantic treatise which he asserts to be a copy of a work originally written by Peter of Abano, thus somewhat negating his thesis of the previous part.

The final section is his treatise on chiromancy itself, some 178 pages long, and is concerned with the practical aspects of reading hands, which for Cocles meant making predictions. As with all the mediaeval chiromancers, he is still very much preoccupied with ascertaining the length of one's life and the nature and manner of death. Cocles developed a tremendous reputation as a chiromancer, particularly for his predictions of the manner and timing of the death of his clients, an approach which suggests that he was more a seer than simply a handreader, using the hand as springboard for his intuitive abilities. Many legendary tales regarding his prophetic abilities abound, including the story that he even accurately predicted the date and manner of his own death! However, it seems that his murderer caught him somewhat unawares, since he was successful in his objective and Cocles did not manage to avoid such a fate!

Cocles was quite familiar with astrology (and even gives us his own birth details!) but seems less favourably disposed towards alchemy. He saw chiromancy as a natural subdivision of physiognomy, though thought chiromancy was a more reliable art than physiognomy since he believed that the lines of the hand remained the same from birth (!). He also reports having made a study of the hands of those suffering from syphilis and tells us that he found that all those with this disease had hands which all showed certain resemblances in their line formations. His interest in the medical significance of the features of the hands seem to have held some sway with medical practitioners at that time, for the introduction to the 'Anastasis' was written by Achillinus, one of the foremost surgeons of the day, as an approbation of the work.

The popularity of this work was such that it underwent many reprintings and was published in various European languages, right up until the latter half of the seventeenth century. Cocles undoubtedly had a profound impact on the development of chiromancy at this time for he is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the history of chiromancy from this period.

Andreas Corvus

Some confusion seems to have arisen in some scholars' minds as to whether Cocles also went under the name of Andreas Corvus, even though Cocles repeatedly cites Corvus in his 'Anastasis' in a way that makes it quite clear that they were in fact two different people. Andreas Corvus (b.1470) was a contemporary of Cocles and an accomplished chiromancer in his own right. Having said that though, nothing more is known about Corvus other than the one treatise on chiromancy that he wrote. This was printed under several titles, the original version being 'Chiromantia Exercitatissimi Andrea Corvi' published at Venice in 1500.

Woodcut Illustration from Andreas Corvus, c1500

The confusion seems to have arisen from the publication of the 'Physionomiae et Chiromantiae Compendium', usually attributed to Cocles but which in fact contains the physiognomy of Cocles and the chiromancy of Corvus. Several copies of the work by Corvus that I have seen are identical to the chiromantic treatise found in the Compendium, including the Italian and French versions of the text reprinted under the titles of 'Opera Nova' or 'La Trattata de la Chiromantia'. It would seem from this that Corvus in fact only wrote one work on chiromancy, despite the variety of titles attributed to him which might otherwise have suggested that he was a prolific chiromantic author.

The main preoccupation in his writing is with the lines of the hand, although there is also some consideration of the morphognomy of the fingers and the humoral significance of the size and shape of the hand as correlated with the length of the fingers. For example, a long palm with long fingers (Water handshape) Corvus corresponds with the phlegmatic humour and temperament (of the nature of Venus and the Moon/Water). Knotty, smooth and bent fingers are all considered in some detail as are the mounts, which are given with their astrological rulers in the standard format for planetary allocation within the palm of the hand. He read and compared both hands and considered that the left hand was a manifestation of the product of one's conception whereas the right hand was a reflection of one's nativity/birth. Unlike the mediaeval authors, the fourth main line is recognised to be the Saturn line - rather than the Health line - and the Mensal line was considered to flow from the ulna edge of the hand towards the index finger.

Markings on all the lines are considered extensively and 153 woodcuts are used to illustrate their various formations. For instance, an island formation at the beginning of the Mensal line is given as being indicative of venereal disease whilst circles found on the lifeline show the loss of an eye (or two!). As usual, there is much preoccupation with the markings of the manner of one's death, although Corvus also outlines those markings (such as a cross or star on the index finger mount) which are indicative of the religious life, honour and grand dignity. He also pays especial attention to the rascettes, which were thought to reveal one's fortune, health and happiness in each stage of life, the strength of each rascette showing in which quarter of one's life these would come. Particularly, the rascettes were used to ascertain the length of one's life. Four clearly formed rascettes indicated a lifespan of 80 years, but given that life expectancy in the sixteenth century was something like 40 years, it must have been rare to find these so clearly formed!

Back to Top