Medieval Studies Cecco d’Ascoli (Francesco Stabili)
by
James Hannam
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0262

Introduction

Cecco d’Ascoli (c. 1269–1327) was the diminutive used by the writer and poet Francesco Stabili, from the commune of Ascoli Piceno in central Italy. He was a lecturer on astrology at the University of Bologna, best known for being burnt at the stake as a relapsed heretic. He was first convicted of heresy in Bologna in 1324 by the inquisitor Lambert of Cingoli (fl. 1316–1324), who stripped him of his lectureship and forbade him to practice astrology. Cecco moved to Florence where he became the court astrologer of Duke Charles of Calabria (1298–1328), then ruler of the city. However, he was quickly caught up in the politics of the ducal court. His rivalry with Duke Charles’s chancellor, the Bishop of Aversa, led to the Inquisition’s file on him being reopened. In 1327, following an investigation by the Florentine inquisitor, Accursius, Cecco was found to have relapsed into heresy and was burnt outside the Church of Santa Croce. It is likely that Cecco earned a master of the arts degree at Bologna before being appointed to teach astrology in about 1315. Astrology was then considered an essential adjunct to the practice of medicine and physicians were expected to be competent in casting horoscopes. Material from his lectures is preserved in his Latin commentaries, including one on the Sphere of John Sacrobosco (d. c. 1250). The Commentary on the Sphere was specifically condemned to be burned in 1327 at the same time as Cecco. Cecco also composed a long poem in Italian on the nature of the universe, with a focus on astrology and magic, called l’Acerba. This was also condemned by the Inquisition at the time of his execution. The poem of 4,867 lines is in five books, the last of which was left unfinished at the time of his death. L’Acerba covers the constitution of the heavens (Book 1), virtues and vices (Book 2), the magical properties of minerals and a bestiary (Book 3), questions of natural philosophy (Book 4), and an incomplete theology (Book 5). It is widely interpreted as a criticism of the natural philosophy of Dante Alighieri. It enjoyed some popularity in the early modern period, most likely because of the notoriety of its author. During the 19th century, Cecco’s fate at the hands of the Inquisition led to a revival of his reputation as a potential “martyr of science.” Since then, it has become clear that Cecco’s interests were not “scientific” in the modern sense and most scholarly attention has consequently been focused on l’Acerba.

General Overviews

During the 19th century, various popular accounts attempted to shoehorn Cecco into the role of a “martyr of science,” the most influential of which was White 1993 (originally published in 1896). Fabian 2014 provides a detailed overview of Cecco’s life and works but otherwise there is no reliable English monograph. Hannam 2009 places him in the context of medieval science, the universities, and the Inquisition. Censori 1976 and Rigon 2007 collect the papers from conferences on Cecco that took place in Ascoli Piceno in 1969 and 2005 respectively. Modern studies on Cecco began with Bariola 1879 while some old articles on Cecco, again in Italian, are reprinted in Albertazzi 2002. Del Puppo 2006 and Ventura 2014 are short encyclopedia articles. Thorndike 1946 presents an earlier summary of Cecco’s significance.

  • Albertazzi, Marco. Studi stabiliani: raccolta di interventi editi su Cecco d’Ascoli. Trento, Italy: La finestra, 2002.

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    This volume features reprints of a number of older Italian articles on Cecco d’Ascoli.

  • Bariola, Felice. “Cecco d’Ascoli e L’acerba, parte prima’ Rivista Europea 15 (1879): 606–640.

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    This essay in two parts represents the beginning of modern scholarship on Cecco d’Ascoli. The second essay is “Cecco d’Ascoli e L’acerba, parte seconda.” Rivista Europea 16 (1879): 199–232, 415–452.

  • Censori, Basilio, ed. Atti del I Convegno di studi su Cecco d’Ascoli: Ascoli Piceno, Palazzo dei congressi, 23–24 novembre 1969. Florence: Giunti-Barbèra, 1976.

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    The papers in this collection were presented at a conference on Cecco d’Ascoli in Ascoli Piceno in 1969. Many of the papers, all of which are in Italian, cover minor works attributed to Cecco or sources about his life. Where relevant, these are noted in this bibliography.

  • Del Puppo, Dario. “Cecco D’Ascoli.” In Key Figures in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopaedia. Edited by Richard K. Emmerson, 116–117. London: Taylor & Francis, 2006.

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    An article on Cecco’s life and work with a brief bibliography.

  • Fabian, Seth B. “Cecco vs. Dante: Correcting the Comedy with Applied Astrology.” PhD, Columbia University, 2014.

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    Fabian’s PhD thesis is the most substantial work of scholarship on Cecco in English. The first chapter describes the sources for Cecco’s life and analyzes the reasons for his death. He concludes that Cecco was executed through the machinations of rivals who manipulated the Inquisition for their own ends. The thesis also reviews Cecco’s other writings before considering the first part of l’Acerba in detail.

  • Hannam, James. God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science. London: Icon Books, 2009.

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    This is a history of medieval science for general readers, placing Cecco in the overall context of the relationship between natural philosophy, magic, and Christianity during the Middle Ages. Cecco is covered on pages 127 to 130.

  • Rigon, Antonio, ed. Cecco d’Ascoli: cultura scienza e politica nell’Italia del Trecento: atti del convegno di studio svoltosi in occasione della XVII edizione del Premio internazionale Ascoli Piceno (Ascoli Piceno, Palazzo dei Capitani, 2–3 dicembre 2005). Rome: Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo, 2007.

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    These collected papers were presented at a conference on Cecco d’Ascoli in Ascoli Piceno in 2005. The focus of most of the papers is l’Acerba or uncovering new archival evidence on Cecco’s life and death. The most significant of these are individually noted in this bibliography. All the papers are in Italian.

  • Thorndike, Lynn. “More Light on Cecco d’Ascoli.” Romanic Review 37 (1946): 293–306.

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    Thorndike provides a succinct overview of Cecco’s life, death, and works.

  • Ventura, Iolanda. “Cecco D’Ascoli.” In Medieval Science, Technology and Medicine: An Encyclopeadia. Edited by Thomas Glick, Steven J. Livesey, and Faith Wallis, 122–124. London: Routledge, 2014.

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    A short summary of Cecco’s scientific credentials and a bibliography.

  • White, Andrew Dickson. A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. 2 vols. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993.

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    This is a reprint of White’s magnum opus, originally published in 1896, which cemented the conflict between science and religion into the history of science. It notes Cecco as an example of a victim of religious oppression on page 107 of Volume 1. White’s presentation of Cecco as a “martyr of science” is highly tendentious but has been extremely influential.

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