Chiromantic Treatises of the Fifteenth Century

As we have seen, many of the earliest manuscripts on chiromancy were written anonymously and attributed to respected authorities such as Aristotle, Solomon and Albertus. This is particularly true of the bulk of the manuscripts written in the fourteenth century (eg BM Ms Harl 2030, Ms Sloane 3281, Ms Sloane 3584 and Ms Add. 15236, an extract of which is included below) which, in many cases, even cite these authorities in these texts themselves. In the fifteenth century, although Aristotle was still popular, we also find that the esteemed astrologer Regiomontanus is also attributed authorship of a number of chiromancies. However, there is no doubt that these texts are not derived from anything that may have been written by their purported authors; we can see these attributions of authorship more as a desire to establish the virtue and validity of the chiromantic art rather than as a poor attempt at fraud and deception.

A Pseudo-Aristotelian Chiromancy
British Museum: Ms Add 15236 c.1400

Extract from the original Latin manuscript as translated
by Lynn Thorndike and reproduced in Speculum v40 (1965)

A large hand sometimes comes from labour as in the case of a carpenter, sometimes from nature. When it is because of large bones and muscles, its owner is strong and robust but not of a lively intellect. If it is large from fleshiness, its owner is luxurious and naturally an excessive drinker. If one has big hands and fingers sharp at their ends, he is lustful and false. If the fingers are broad, he is faithful and writes well. If a woman, she has a deep womb and much seeks a man. If man or woman has a broad table in the hand and thin fingers, such a one is good at handiwork and well disposed for playing harp or organ. Such a woman also has a wide womb in the anterior part and very narrow near the matrix. If man or woman has a small table in the hand and large fingers, he or she will die of an apostume, and she will have a wide womb near the matrix but narrow at the mouth of the womb. And such women are disposed to prostitution because of the width near the matrix. Those whose hands are neither too large nor too small are more normal.

A man with small hands is womanly and deceptive, vindictive and unstable. He may love profusely but it soon turns to hate and such a one is never to be trusted. In the case of man or woman, the hatred is as vehement as a serpent. But women naturally have small hands, unless from work. If their hands are excessively small, their wombs are narrow at both ends and they do not seek a man unless one much beloved, and women of this sort are very difficult to have intercourse with. One with small hands is weak and timid in either sex. A true experiment is that a woman with greenish hands can quickly conceive but never delivers the foetus alive. One with coarse hands is naturally luke-warm and dull. If such is a woman, parum appetit coitum sed multum potest coire. Such persons never agree well from lack of choler and blood.

Those without a mass of flesh between thumb and forefinger, below the thumb and in the palm, are naturally leprous; but members of religious orders do not have such bunches of flesh because of their vigils and slight use of their hands. One with thin hands is very agile and ingenious and easily angered and lustful as a sparrow. Those whose fingers do not match or come together do not agree in their words and deeds. When a line near the joint of the thumb is like a net composed of many lines and openings, its owner will never enjoy his riches.

Whilst the majority of these early chiromantic manuscripts were written in Latin, there is one late thirteenth or early fourteenth century text extant which was written in Greek. Boll reproduces the text of this chiromancy in his catalogue of Greek astrological works and includes one illustration of a hand from the original manuscript which depicts the location of six of the planets in the hand. Curiously, the position of the moon within the hand is not given - and Mars is given dominion over the area directly beneath the index and middle fingers! We shall return to this theme of the relationship between astrology and chiromancy in due course.

Many early chiromantic manuscripts were written within a monastic or ecclesiastical context. Some texts (Bodleian Ms Rawl D 1362) were themselves primarily ecclesiastical manuscripts into which short treatises on chiromancy had been inserted. Other texts, however, were actually scribed by monks themselves. One early fifteenth century chiromancy of the summa type was written by a certain Ricardus Dove, a monk of Buckfastleigh, in 1407 (BM Ms Sloane 513 fol. 100-108) and a later fifteenth century text was scribed by a French Dominican monk by the name of Gelrya in 1474 (Clermont-Ferrand Ms 47). The persistence of this religious association confirms that even by the end of the fifteenth century - even after the date of the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum - the practice of the art of chiromancy would not have incurred any disfavour with the religious authorities of the day.

Indeed, it would seem that chiromancy had even found favour within the educational establishment of the day, for we find a whole cluster of manuscripts attributed to one Rodericus de Majoricus, who seems to have held some kind of official post within Oxford University during the early part of the fifteenth century. At least six copies of chiromantic manuscripts from the pen of Rodericus are still extant today and two of these are held in the British Museum whilst two more can be found at the Bodleian Library in Oxford itself. The manuscripts held in the British Museum (Ms Sloane 513 and Ms Egerton 847) are close copies of one another, in which Rodericus first sets out to accredit chiromancy as a natural science by reference to the effects of the waxing and waning moon on the quality of the lines in the palm of the hand. There then follows the standard passages on the significance of various line markings and formations to be found in the various parts of the hand, followed by a passage on the meaning of the size and proportions of the hand which echoes the Pseudo-Aristotelian chiromancy BM Ms Add. 15236 which we considered above.

The hand of Rodericus Majoricus, from MS Bodl 177 fol 51

 

The manuscript attributed to Rodericus that is to be found in the Bodleian Library (Ms Bodl 177) actually contains two short chiromantic texts written in Middle English and Latin sometime around the end of the C14th. These two treatises are entitled 'Ars Chiromancia' and 'Ars de Chiromancie' and include five large drawings of hands. As can clearly be seen, accurate illustrations were still considered unimportant in fifteenth century chiromancy!

 

 

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